Happy 3rd Year of No School!

jptYesterday began pre-planning days in Broward County for teachers. This is the third year that I wasn’t there.  And I still don’t miss it.  How is that possible?  A job that I did and loved for well over 30 years just vanished from my life and I never think about it.  Ever.

One reason is that schools begin in February here so the back-to-school sales and ads are in winter and not in August.  There’s nothing to remind me of this time of year.  Also, my friends here don’t work either so no one is getting ready for the new school year.  I see posts from former colleagues but it’s so far away when it doesn’t apply to you.

It still amazes me that I don’t miss my job as an American History teacher.  And I really, really liked my profession, especially when I began teaching Advanced Placement classes.  But the demand from school administrators and our County officials began to wear me down.  They had to make ridiculous demands of us so that we could get our appropriate checkmark to prove we were a good teacher.  Any evaluation that relies on checkmarks would obviously suck – and it did.  Stupid codes on the white boards, elementary bulletin boards, lesson plan details that only took up our time but proved worthless, and the list of craziness never ended.  Actual teaching became a side note to the side show we had perform day after day.

teacher2

I was lucky in that when the worst of this came about, I was in my last years.  Since it takes 3 years to fire a teacher who doesn’t get enough checkmarks, I could actually do my job and ignore the demands.

teacher eval

I feel for the teachers left behind, the students who are only being taught what can be measured on a scantron, and even the administrators who must blindly follow the politicos who have never taught.

But year 3 of no “this is going to be the best year ever” speeches, endless (and mindless) meetings, making sure those meaningless codes are on the boards, taking more time to write the lesson plans than it does to teach the lesson,  and having to keep Johnny in my class because he has an IEP – no, don’t miss it!

teacher1

For my friends who are back at it this year, good luck!  Only 180 more student contact days.

badge-featured-blog-dblue-125

casademontana


panamadudeliving in Panama
Blog Expat: living abroad

expatblog

PFR-Logo-with-stamp-5

blogexpat_logo

expat exchange

Locations of visitors to this page

Snakes, Why Did it Have to be Snakes?

Another week and another snake.  This time I was just walking in the side yard and about a 15 inch red-black-yellow snake slithered away.  Now I’m trying to remember the “black touches yellow” is a friendly fellow or is it “”yellow touches red and you are dead”.  This isn’t the time to be a bad poet.

I am not afraid of snakes.  Because of that lack of fear, I would have been very careless with last week’s discovery of a pit viper on the other side of the lawn.  Luckily, Carlos the gardener took care of that problem.  This time it was just David and I.  David hates snakes.  He even hates little grass snakes.  So his best guess was that this snake was a Coral Snake and he severed its head.  After our scary incident last week, we weren’t taking any chances.  This wasn’t because of us since coral snake attacks are really rare.  But we have pets that would think this thing was their latest toy.

If this wasn’t a Coral Snake, I wanted to make sure we never killed another one in haste so the research began.

They sure are similar.  So this is the one we executed this morning.  What do you think?

snakeLooking at our dead snake and the two pictures above, I think David made the right call.  It may be time for snake repellent.

badge-featured-blog-dblue-125

casademontana

living in Panama
Blog Expat: living abroad

expatblog

PFR-Logo-with-stamp-5

blogexpat_logo

expat exchange

A Slithery Visitor

Our gardender, Carlos, called me from the backyard earlier today.  He had a snake draped over a tool and was taking him out to the back lot.  I wasn’t real happy that he had killed a snake.  Since he’s a local guy, he should know that most snakes are harmless. Good thing for me (and my pets) is that he’s a local guy and knows about snakes.  This one was extremely dangerous.

Bocaraca

Usually found in the trees in rain forests, this bocaraca was in our garden and was only noticed when Carlos came by with the weedwacker.  Panamanians call this snake Bocaraca but it’s official name is the Eyelash Pit Viper.  They come in different colors, from bright yellow to almost black.  It is extremely dangerous and would have easily killed one of our cats or dogs.  This is not the snake in question since that particular one is a headless, drying corpse in the lot behind us.

He told us that they are very common in Caldera, about 40 minutes away.  It’s also the beginning of rainy season so our insects and other wildlife change with the climate. I just hope the snakes stay elsewhere.

casademontanabadge-featured-blog-dblue-125

expat_exchange_10living in PanamaBlog Expat: living abroadexpatblogPFR-Logo-with-stamp-5blogexpat_logoexpat exchange

Aprendiendo Espanol en Guatemala

I am completing my third week of school in Antigua, Guatemala.  Most people wonder why I left Spanish-speaking Panama to learn Spanish here.  In Boquete, it is difficult to learn Spanish quickly for a number of reasons.

First, many people speak English only and that includes most of our friends.  Second, many of the locals want to learn English and will answer your Spanish-spoken questions in English for practice.  Third, although we have an excellent Spanish school in Boquete, their bread-and-butter clients are students who come in for several weeks of intensive study, not us locals who can’t/won’t devote 20-30 hours a week to classroom instruction.

I chose Antigua for a few reasons.  David and I have been here before so I would not be distracted by shopping or sightseeing.  My homestay hostess, Sarah, speaks to me in Spanish only although I think she speaks more English than she lets on.  For the last week, I have been the only guest in Sarah’s house so she has plenty of conversation directed solely at me.  More importantly, she corrects my mistakes – which are almost always verb tenses.

My classroom under the avocado tree

My classroom under the avocado tree

I chose the Don Pedro Spanish School.  The most popular schools were all rated high but I chose Don Pedro.  Most likely, the teacher is more important than the school and I got lucky.

Claudia deserves a halo and a bottle of Jack for putting up with me

Claudia deserves a halo and a bottle of Jack for putting up with me

Claudia was the unfortunate soul that got me.  She was a kindergarten teacher so has a lot of patience with ‘slow learners’.

I have one more day of instruction before leaving Saturday morning.  I have learned a lot.  For four hours each day, Claudia (my private instructor) teaches, drills, practices, corrects and otherwise pounds Spanish into my brain.  Today I read a ‘longish’ story, maybe on a 5-6th grade level, and I understood almost everything.  I did not know words from the story dealing with skiing, knolls etc. but I knew that the pretty girl turned out to be a battery powered robot.  I still need a few seconds to remember the correct verb tense but I am much better.

Learning another language after a certain age is difficult.  I was always a great student that could read and remember everything.  Bit here, I felt like I rode the short bus to school almost every day.  I would study 15-20 irregular verbs at night until I “knew” them.  The following day it seemed like I never saw those words before.  I am not used to being the dumb one but the harder I studied, the worse I got.  I never understood how my very bright students just didn’t “get” something.  Now I fully understand.

I wish I had taken more Spanish in Florida before we moved since it was available at every community school, community college, public libraries and colleges for little or no cost.  I must make an effort to continue practicing or I will lose much of what I gained during the last three weeks.  All in all this was a great experience but I’m ready to be home!

Other classes under the vines

Other classes under the vines

badge-featured-blog-dblue-125

casademontana

living in Panama
Blog Expat: living abroad

expatblog

PFR-Logo-with-stamp-5

blogexpat_logo

expat exchange

Welcome to Guatemala????

I’ve been to Guatemala before but my experience arriving in Guatemala City this time was one for the books.

The Copa flight was uneventful, as it should be.  Once I got to customs, things changed quickly.  I was pulled over so a customs man could check my luggage.  Already unusual, he only wanted to check my suitcase, not my other bag or my purse.  He proceeded to take every single article of clothing, appliances, books – everything – out of my suitcase.  Then he went through my new notebooks that I bought for my Spanish classes.  They were brand new notebooks with nothing but blank pages.  He unzipped the zipper at the bottom of the bag and searched through the wheel mechanism.  He opened my vitamin bag and fingered them before taking a glucosamine capsule, opening it and tasting the powder.  If I wasn’t so mad by then, I would have told him that it was strong hormones and that in the morning he would have breasts but not penis.  I gave him written prescriptions for all my medication knowing he had no idea what he was looking at.  By now I am fuming and he still wasn’t done.  Next, he called the drug dog over – TWICE!!  It’s the same dog that I had been standing next to during the entire ordeal, now going on about 10 minutes.  And he still wasn’t done.  He took my passport and starts to walk away and I asked him where he was going.  So he stopped and decided just to write down my passport information on some kind of paper.  Then he began shoving my stuff back in my bag.  That’s when I stopped him and repacked myself.

I’ve traveled to Russia, China and several Middle Eastern countries and have never been treated like this.  It was ridiculous and infuriating.  I wanted to take pictures or video, but they probably would have introduced me to Guatemala’s jail if I did.

So what was so interesting about this one bag?  No idea.  But certainly not a Welcome to Guatemala.  No wonder half of their population is trying to get out.  So as I exit customs, I take a deep breath and move on to the next step – getting to the homestay.

Luckily the driver was still waiting since I was definitely the last person to leave customs. He was sent by the school to take me to the home.  The ride was $40 and split between two people.  When we got to my homestay, I gave him $20.  I found out later that he was getting paid by the school and said that I had only given him a tip.  That was corrected immediately and he will no longer be working for the school.  Second strike, Guatemala.

I applied to stay at a Level C home, which was suppose to be an upscale colonial home including private bath and internet. homestay 1I arrived at a run down house with no hot water.  To use the sporadic internet, I had to stand near their front door in the yard.  homestay 2My room looked like a hostel and the windows could not be opened.  The woman that owns the place was extremely nice but this was not going to work.  After a cold shower and a few attempts at using wifi, I called the school and they arranged for a much nicer place.

All of this occurred in the first 3 hours of my arrival in Guatemala. Not a shining moment for a country who could really use tourista dollars and a little help with their reputation for corruption.  Guatemala’s first family has been implicated in getting payments from a drug cartel and the head of the cartel was just found guilty in Miami.

I am writing this three days after the fact and things have improved immensely.  The school, Don Pedro, has been great and my teacher, Claudia, is amazing.  She has so much patience and knows when to shift to another activity before my brain explodes.  After 3 days of class, I can already see the progress.  Sarah, my homestay landlady is very helpful.  She speaks no English and forces me to use Spanish, even correcting my never-ending mistakes.  For the last 3 days, everything has been the smooth experience that I was expecting.

Next post – Spanish progress!

badge-featured-blog-dblue-125

casademontana

living in Panama
Blog Expat: living abroad

expatblog

PFR-Logo-with-stamp-5

blogexpat_logo

expat exchange

4 bathrooms AND 4 toilets!

banoTwo of our bathrooms have just gotten a complete remodel. They both needed it badly and were on the chopping block before we even moved in.  When a major leak was found under the shower floor in the guest room,  the remodels moved quickly to the top of the to-do list.

Then we wished for a Home Depot or Lowes, but settled with Elmec, DoIt, Novey, Cochez and Franklin Jurado.  Definitely not the one stop shopping we once enjoyed.  If a store had what we wanted, it had to be ordered from Panama City – which must be on the moon because it took 3 weeks for each of our orders to get here.

Except for the shower floor in the hall bath, all the sinks, hardware, tile, toilets and accessories came from several intense shopping trips in David. I brought the hall bathroom shower floor from the US.

P1020223The guest bathroom was completed first since we had people staying in the guest room. It was u-g-l-y!   Once the leak under the shower was repaired, the rest of the job was pretty standard. Hot water was added to the sink. It is a small bathroom so white and grey tile makes it seem larger. Replacing the toilet and sink was super easy since we hired out everything.  Towels, rug and knickknacks = done!

The hall bath did not have hot water going to the sink either.  Typically, Panamanian houses do not have hot water at all, even in the kitchen.  Since the walls were being totally cleared, it seemed like a good time to correct that.  The tiling was finished a few weeks back. We chose to tile floor to ceiling with decorative accents.  The granite guys cut holes for the sink and faucet and then the plumbing was complete.

Installing molding and hardware was on us (by “us” I mean David).  Curtains, towels and antique Berber tent poles (a whole other story) are hanging and the hall bathroom is complete

With only a fireplace remodel and a few kitchen cabinets to go, we say that we are coming close to the end of renovations.  But, is any homeowner really ever at the end of renovations?

badge-featured-blog-dblue-125

casademontana

expat exchange

living in Panama
Blog Expat: living abroad

expatblog

PFR-Logo-with-stamp-5

Doing the Lawn

I was reminded today by my friend Kris, that sometimes we get so involved in our lives in Panama that we forget to write about what’s going on.  I know I read every blogger word I could find before we moved.  Even if it seemed mundane to the writer, I was salivating – waiting for our big move.  Now that it’s here, even though we still love Panama, the writing is more and more sporadic.

So, the activity for today –  I spent most of the day on the lawn.  Luckily we have a gardener who does the unfun stuff like cutting, clipping and disposing of grass and weeds.  David used to do most of that when we lived in Florida.  Now I can do the lawn things that I enjoy.  Planting, trimming, fertilizing and such.  One of the big draws about Boquete is its fertile soil.  Put it in the ground and it will probably grow.  tree fence

Panama has tree limb fences.  Along the highways you can see that people have taken tree limbs and put them in holes and then run barbed wire from tree to tree.  Before long, the branches begin growing into new trees, creating a beautiful fence.

We are nearing the end of dry season so it’s time to get things ready for rain.  lipstick palmTwo weeks ago I planted some bulbs I got at the Chiriquí Flea Market.  They are already about 8 inches tall.  I also got another Lipstick Palm for the front lawn and a couple of vines for the back fence.  The native flowers are beginning to blossom so they need to be watered.

Scottish-ThistleToday I also planted some seeds.  Vegetables and herbs for the green house and flowers in the garden.  I got some Scottish thistle seeds and I hope they grow.

The native plants are beginning to bloom.

It’s also time to weed and feed the lawn.  We get some very unusual weeds.  Many have roots that run down to China and have some pretty nasty thorns.  Apparently they do very well during the dry season but their life expectancy is coming to an end.

It’s time to fertilize the trees I planted in the fall – right before dry and windy season.  They are alive and still look healthy but they need to see a major growth spurt from now until November.

I also planted some kind of pod seed that is suppose to keep leaf cutter ants away from my roses.  I replanted some lilies in the front near the cool trees that went in a few months ago.

In another month or so we will be making the trip to Conception and Volcan for fruit trees and other vegetation.  Our yard is pretty large and needs more plants.  We found a small sapling in the lot next door and replanted it in our yard.  We planted several hibiscus a few months ago and they are big and blooming like crazy.  The fruit trees are in blossom.  Another pineapple top is almost ready to be put in the ground.   I routinely throw my papaya seeds in the back lot, hoping that a few will take root when the rains come.  I still have passion fruit seeds that I need to plant.

Everything grows in Boquete.  And I just heard thunder!!  Rainy season is almost here!

 

badge-featured-blog-dblue-125

casademontana

living in Panama
Blog Expat: living abroad

expatblog

PFR-Logo-with-stamp-5

expat exchange

Water

Before moving to Panama, I never gave a thought about tap water.  You turn the faucet and highly chlorinated water came out.  In Boquete, it is very different.  Water is an issue that people discuss in the grocery store, at the animal clinic, at the recent charity golf tournament, on Facebook, just about anywhere there are 2 or more people.  It’s worse in the summer – verano, which is now.  It’s dry season.

The Boquete population has increased steadily in the last 10 years or so but its water system has seen few upgrades.  We have 2 – 500 gallon tanks that should be full even in dry season.  But in December, we ran out of water.  We had a major leak that was repaired quickly.  Then, in February,  we noticed the water level in the tanks getting lower and lower.  Water was not filling them except for a little at night.

Our friends offered us their showers, washers and bottles of agua.  That’s just what people do here in Panama.  We have offered our shower when our friends have had water issues too.  We were lucky that we noticed the lack of water before it became a huge problem.

We still prioritized what would be laundered.  We took quicker showers.  Our lawn got brown.  We were getting a little nervous since there’s at least 2 more months before rainy season.

Earlier this week David talked to Alex, our next door neighbor.  He told us that he has 3 sources of water while we only had one.  If that one pipe broke (which it did) we would have to go without water until it was repaired.  That could take months.  So our contractor, Gene, got his guys out to find more pipes.  And they did!

Now we also have 3 sources of water.  Two go directly into our tanks and water is pumped from there for the house, hoses and sprinkler system.  The third source goes directly to the backyard spigot.

The sound you hear is the giant sucking sound of dry dirt under the brown grass getting water for the first time in months.

The sound you hear is the giant sucking sound of dry dirt under the brown grass getting water for the first time in months.

Fast forward 3 days – Our clothes are clean.  Our dishes are clean.  Our floors are clean.  Our yard is getting green.

We have it easy since we have pipes that we can tap into. It only took a few man-hours and our problem was solved.   Many areas in Boquete just don’t get water for days or, sometimes, weeks.

Living in Panama is simpler in many ways.  It also makes you adjust.  If you can’t adjust, you don’t make it here.

Live here is different but we’ve adjusted well.  We had our second scorpion in the house.  The lot behind us was on fire two nights ago.  Internet, electricity and television aren’t perfect. On the other hand, I’ve never had better medical or dental care.  I eat healthier, fresher food.  Every single day I admire my beautiful surroundings.   And at the end of the day,  the good far outweighs the few discomforts.

Rainy season is just a few weeks away.

********************************************************************************************

badge-featured-blog-dblue-125

casademontana

living in Panama

Blog Expat: living abroad

expatblog

PFR-Logo-with-stamp-5

expat exchange

Ecuador, no es para mi

Any of the many retirement sites will rank Panama and Ecuador as top locations for expats to begin their new lives.  We fell in love with Boquete so quickly, that we never made the jaunt further south to check out Cuenca.  Last year we went to Peru and found that the elevation of Cuzco was too difficult for our old lungs.  Huffing and puffing after climbing a few sets of stairs made me feel just old.  But we knew we wanted to visit Ecuador anyway – just to see what was all the hubbub was about.

We landed in Quito, spent an evening in Old Town and left the next day.  ECUADOR OTAVALO MKT We stopped at the Mitad del Mundo (the equator which is really not but they built a nice monument we went anyway) and then north to Otavalo.    Otavalo is known for its huge Saturday market.  It took up about half of downtown, running along all the streets near the central park.  There’s not a lot of variety but there were a lot of bargains.

Two lesser known places around Otavalo are Cotacacchi and the Condor Park.  Cotacacchi is known for its leather goods and its high percentage of expats.  The town was very clean, as were all the towns we saw in Ecuador.  There was no desire on our part to stay more than a day.  ecuador eagleThe Condor Park came highly recommended by our friends who had just returned from Ecuador.  They were right.  It turned out to be one of the few highlights of our trip.  They really are a rehabilitation center for large birds and owls.

And then the bad…. I got food poisoning from our hotel restaurant the night before we left.  Probably the chicken in the pot pie.

Off to Lasso, a small town about 4 hours south by bus.  Ecuador’s bus secuador lassoervice is as good, if not better, than Panama.  They are fairly comfortable, not freezing and they did not play videos at full blast.  Hats off and a big gracias for that.  Lasso is close to Cotapaxi, the tallest of the many volcanoes in the area.  We stayed in a beautiful, 400 year old hacienda that belongs to the Lasso family.

And then the bad…. The maid stripped our bed before we checked out – no I don’t know why since the place was almost deserted.  But with the sheets, she also got my make-up bag.  I called the hotel at our next stop, not 5 hours later, and they denied ever seeing it.  It was a bright pink Lancôme bag that not only had my make-up, but my hygiene products and my retainer.  The biggest replacement cost was my retainer, in a bright yellow container.  The biggest pain in the butt was trying to replace Lancome make-up in central Ecuador or any place south of the US border.  But even though I called and emailed several times, the manager said it was “never turned in” and “his staff is completely honest”, yadda, yadda, yadda –  I never saw my stuff again.

Next stop – Banos.  Banos is known for its volcanic baths. It’s a cute town.  Our hotel was just a block from the public baths.  Our first night there, we got our bathing caps and walked down.  We were warned about the clientele but hey, when in Banos, you bathe.  There were 3 pools.  The first one was too hot, the second was too cold.  The third was just right – to everyone since it everyone in Banos was in it.  We scooted our way to an edge and looked at the warm, mineral filled water.

And then the bad…   I noticed the guy next to me pleasuring himself. (no pictures of this, you’re welcome). I could only wonder what extra “minerals” he was adding to the water.  We were only at the baths for about 20 minutes but that was more than enough.  gone.

ecuador waterfall hikeThe next highlight of our trip was also in Banos.  We rented bicycles and drove down the calle de cascades.  It was 17 km to the final waterfall, which he had to hike down to.  It was a beautiful ride and hike.  And for $2, a guy in a truck will bring you and your bike back up the hill to town.

Our last stop was Cuenca, the mecca for expats in Ecuador.  It’s very pretty in the old section.  It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site so it will stay beautiful for future generations.  It’s a very large city.  But it would not have enticed us to retire there.  ecuador blue mudThey do have a beautiful spa which features the normal amenities but also  red and blue volcanic mud.  It was peaceful and relaxing until

And then the bad…. Although there are silencio signs everywhere so that people can relax in complete quiet, the spa invited about 15 young boys to use the “relaxing pool” that is suppose to finish off your visit.  We had planned to eat lunch in the shade by the pool.  Other guests apparently had the same idea.  But with 15 yelling, jumping, splashing boys in the silencio area, we all took a pass on lunch.   But it was very nice and I would definitely go again, but would inquire first about children.

We spent a week in Cuenca, visiting friends from Boquete, shopping, eating, even riding the Big Red Bus.  But we were ready to come home to our little pueblo in Panama.

So what did we like and not like?

Like:  Ecuador is clean.  Very little trash and litter.  In Cuenca, there were no stray dogs in the downtown area.  Their busses are user friendly and efficient.  Ecuador is beautiful.  Ecuador has a lot of green spaces for the public, particularly Cuenca with its numerous family parks.  Bike friendly.  The native Inca people are treated much better than indigenous in either the US or Panama and are, in many cases, a large percentage of the upper social class.  The fruits and vegetables are awesome. Real Ecuadorian Panama hats.  Their new president is a socialist and he has created many work projects that is apparent when you see their excellent road system.

Dislike:  Ecuadorians are not as friendly as the people in Chiriquí.  They don’t greet people/strangers on the street.  Tremendous amount of graffiti on buildings, especially in Cuenca.  High crime in Cuenca.  We were told by numerous people to be careful about robbery and theft crimes.  While having coffee, a man at a nearby table had his backpack stolen when he walked away for a few moments.  (But that was just dumb on his part)

Of course this is just my humble opinion.  There about 6,000 expats in Cuenca who would totally disagree with me.

********************************************************************************************

I recommend that future expats visit the links below.

badge-featured-blog-dblue-125

********************************************************************************************

casademontana

Boquete’s newest B&B – Highly Recommended

********************************************************************************************

living in Panama

******************************************************************************************

Blog Expat: living abroad

**********************************************************************************************

expatblog

***********************************************************************************************

PFR-Logo-with-stamp-5 *************************************************************************************************

******************************************************************************************************

expat exchange

*******************************************************************************************************