Sunday, January 25, 2015

Guess I'll Never Understand.......

After three plus years of living in Panama I've come to realize there are some things that I still don't understand, and probably never will.  The other day I woke up at 6am to the all too familiar sound of fireworks.  Loud explosions of sound burst with color into the dark sky as I lay in bed thinking "why?" Never in my life have I awakened in the middle of the night thinking, "now's a great time to set off some fireworks." Never have I jumped out of bed, dashed out the front door with matches in hand ready to bombard the neighborhood with loud, obnoxious noises at the crack of dawn. Last night around eleven the colorful array of lights lit up our bedroom like a disco as we lie in bed snuggling. I felt almost guilty lying there ignoring the display outside our window.  Doesn't one always stop what they're doing and watch when fireworks are happening? If everyone in Panama stopped what they were doing every time fireworks went off then absolutely nothing would be accomplished. And perhaps that's why nothing does get accomplished here, at least not in a timely manner. But seriously folks, fireworks are a way of life here and can and will happen any time of the day, or night.  Panamanians LOVE fireworks and those of us that have moved here have come to accept them as part of everyday life, even if we question why?

Another peculiar thing to us foreigners is the Panamanian obsession with staples.  Those little pieces of bent metal that get pushed through when a hand-held device is squeezed, the staple is a vital part of life here. Go into any office and surely the clerk will staple the receipt to the bill you just paid.  When any purchase is made the cashier will put the item in a bag, fold it over and secure it with a row of staples across the top of the bag. After that she'll staple the receipt to the bag using three or four more staples.  Just try and get the stuff out of the bag after getting it home.  It's no small feat!  Pay with a credit card and the cashier will staple the receipt to the charge slip before handing it back. Per capita Panamanians use four times more staples than anywhere else in the world. Ok so I just made that up but surely if someone, somewhere conducted a study on staple use, Panama would come in number one. So if your local department store is ever out of staples you know that they're being hoarded here in Panama.

Store bags are closed with millions of staples to ensure that the customer won't add other items into it as they exit the building. Security is taken seriously here and staples are just a little measure to help. Usually everything is bagged here, no matter how big or odd sized the item might be.  Stores here have oversized bags big enough to hold trash cans, comforters and other large items.  The bags are large enough to use as trash bags once we get them home, that is IF we can remove the hundreds of staples without tearing it. But the other day we were shocked by what happened in one store.  Clyde's tummy was a bit upset and he thought eating some mints might help settle it.  He picked up a small bag of starlight mints in a store and went to the register to pay. To our surprise the cashier stapled the receipt to the bag of candy and didn't put it into a bag.  We looked at her in shock as she handed it back to Clyde with his change. Apparently she thought he was going to eat it immediately as one would do with a pack of gum or candy bar and felt no need to bag it. But for us this was a first in Panama!

The exception to this staple thing happens in grocery stores since they choose to tie the bags instead. Unloading groceries in our house involves a pair of scissors used to cut off the knots in each bag. Just recently here the grocery stores are getting into the sale of reusable bags like we have in the states.  But the bag boys aren't quite sure what to do with them yet as they still use the disposable bags first, tying them tight then putting them into the canvas bag.

Speaking of security in stores,  purchases are NEVER taken out of one store and into another.  Instead there are locker rooms called "paqueteria's," where bags are left.  Bags are held in cubicles and in turn we're given a number to identify the location until we return.  It's a rather efficient system that annoyed us at first, but now we realize it's easier than carrying everything.  Stern looking security guards stand tall in the front of every store making sure bags are not brought in. The same guard will give your purchases the once over upon leaving, making sure everything has been paid for.  Throughout the store there are well dressed security personnel with walkie-talkies that carefully watch everything. A few months back one of the guards yelled at a customer that was taking pictures of the Christmas trees that were on sale.  We don't know why that wasn't allowed  but apparently it's not.  But having worked in retail management for many years in my younger days I can appreciate the need for security since I've seen my share of theft over the years.

But as the years go on and we become accustomed to the ways of our new country. So perhaps one of these days I'll buy some fireworks and run outside in the middle of the night to set them off, never asking why.....along the gringo trail.



Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Special Day Spent With Special Kids.......

Sunday was the day of giving back a little something to the community in the way of helping out families with special needs kids.  The annual event is sponsored by CASA (Coronado Area Social Association) along with hostess Maribel at her home near San Carlos. CASA along with the help of others put together 80 baskets of basic food items and other necessities to give out to families in need.  It all came together in one giant fiesta full of music, balloons, food, merriment, gifts and so much more.  JoAnne Burrill and myself entertained while dressed in elf costumes bringing smiles to everyone as they watched our antics.


The Band Entertains.....Local Bands Use Accordians
 

The families with special needs kids piled in via bus, wheel chair, carried by caretakers, with the help of crutches or other aids. CASA members helped by carrying in the food baskets, inflating balloons, helping serve the food, taking photos and helping to entertain.  Kids and adults alike were made to feel like royalty as they were crowned with foam crowns constructed by CASA volunteers.

Hostess Maribel
 


A local church provided a lunch for all which included turkey, rice, potato salad, fruit and cake.  Kids were all treated to ice cream cones, candy, and gifts before the food baskets were handed out.  With loud Latin sounds permeating from a local band, elf Jo Anne and myself kicked up our pointy elf shoes on the dance floor as we coaxed the kids up for some fun.  Although some of the physically challenged kids couldn't stand for too much dancing others kept us up and dancing until we tired out.
Clyde took photos of the kids and CASA members printed them out on the spot before handing them out to the families as a keepsake of the days event.

Families Enjoying Lunch
 
 
Another View
 
From The Inside Out
 
 


Along with CASA a big thanks goes out to Poco Loco's Rock and Roll Band for coming out of retirement to perform a fundraiser concert.  Ferreteria (hardware store) HIM helped by buying several of the food items (80 of each) on the list and our friends at Mailboxes Etc. provided reusable bags to hold the items. Playacommunity.com purchased 80 canned hams to add to the bags and Eileen at the Coronado Equestrian Club helped our by giving us a place to store all of the food until it was needed.
And a special thanks goes out to our hostess Maribel who opens her home each year to 80 plus families. She and her volunteers cooked up a ton of food, set up chairs, provided a band, drinks and so much love for these families and the kids. And none of this would be possible without Louise, the President of CASA who goes out of her way every year to organize the event with the help of Vice President Clyde and other volunteers. This is a special group of friends with such big hearts who are always willing to help those less fortunate without a hesitation

Jo Anne And Terry
 
Elfin' Around
 
Dancing With The Kids
 
A Dancing Train
 

 Maribel, Louise,  Terry and Clyde
 


Personally I had a blast with some great kids, some of who I remembered from last year.  I enjoyed dancing, joking, tickling, hugging, and playing with them as a silly elf that I was.  Jo Anne and I interacted with each and every child, even the shy ones that wanted to be left alone. Hopefully this special event helped put a smile on many faces and helped make their lives a little brighter......along the gringo trail.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Little Problems Of Living In Paradise.......

Don't get me wrong living in Panama is pretty good most of the time, but sometimes living in paradise isn't all that perfect.  Let me explain, for example one day last week I decided to go to the gym instead of working out at home.  Since Clyde had some errands to run and work to do for a client he dropped me off. I did my usual two hour workout which includes an hour of weight lifting followed by 45-minutes on the treadmill and then some stretching.  After that I changed into a bikini, downed a protein shake to feed the muscles I just worked, and headed out to the resort (with the gym) pool.  Like so many other times I had the whole pool to myself.  After dropping my stuff on a chair I grabbed a noodle to float on and quickly cooled off from the 90-degrees temperature.  The water felt cool at first to my hot, overworked skin but soon felt refreshing and wonderful.

My Other Gym
at Punta Chame Resort
 

After a while I decided to park myself halfway between the big pool and the smaller one on a landing.  Laying here works well since I can be laying out of the sun but half submerged in a few incles of water as well. While the sun was hot and providing me with more than my daily share of Vitamin D, the dry-season breezes were fierce.  After a short while I became chilly and my body became covered with goose bumps as the wind blew over my wet and dry body. This was my first problem of the day as I had to get out of the pool because I was cold and relax on a lounge chair.  Whoa is me....it's 90 degrees outside and I'm cold!

Pool at Punte Chame Resort


As I laid there chillin' Yovanny, the resort's maintenance man.... slash.....pool boy began to clean out a few leaves from the pool. Finally I'd be able to engage my mind as it wandered into my imagination of what the perfect pool boy should look like.  Dark. chocolate skin, bulging biceps, young, cute and of course.....scantily clad.  And while this guy is kinda cute with a hunky little body, dark skin and strong accent he wasn't exactly dressed to stimulate much of anything in my brain.  He was wearing baggy blue jeans with a blue tee shirt and work boots.  Over the shirt he wore a white hooded sweatshirt, zipped up the front. To cover his head he had another shirt wrapped around the side of his head over his ears and on his face he had sunglasses. About the only thing that showed was an inch of cheek space on his face, if even that.  Perhaps he didn't know what the law states about hunky pool boys and their proper dress code? As I laid there I went over in my mind how I would say all of this in Spanish to joke with him, but thought it would be lost in translation.  So I decided to let it all stay in my imagination and keep my mouth closed. Panamanians are conscious about protecting themselves from the sun, unlike us silly gringos that subject ourselves to it's danger.

Instead I enjoyed the tropical paradise that surrounded me as I watched the poolside palms blow in the breeze.  Squawking birds flew by as I slowly began to warm up in the hot summertime air. A while later Prince Charming (Clyde) showed up to take me out of that place, which was a good thing since I was hungry now for lunch.

After a quick veggie and ham wrap at the house we headed out to the mall for a few things. We made our way home by 8pm tired from another long day of retirement.

Later that day we met up with others for the monthly CASA meeting to finalize plans for the big party this weekend of giving back to the community.  CASA with the financial help of a many individuals will be handing out food baskets and interacting with special needs kids of the area.  Also at the CASA meeting, we will join other crafty minded expats to make crowns for the handicapped kids which we'll place on their heads during the fiesta.   Friday we will assemble 80 gift baskets of food for families with handicapped kids. They'll be given out at the big event on Sunday (another blog with photos to follow).  This annual shin-dig is put on by CASA (Coronado Area Social Association), a local group in which Clyde serves as the Vice President.  Then we're off to partake in a Happy Hour tonight with friends before turning in for the evening. 

And so you should all feel sorry for those of us that are now cool when the temps drop below 75 degrees, as we're enjoying the tropical breezes of retirement in Panama......along the gringo trail.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Summertime In Panama......A Pool In The Road?

It's summertime in Panama when the days are hot as usual, but there's no rain for the next four months.  Unless watered, the pretty flowers, shrubs, grass and other green vegetation turn to brown and dry up. Every weekend the locals that live in the city head to the interior of the country to spend time at their weekend homes near the beaches.  For those of us that live near the beaches that means heavy traffic on the highway all weekend long. 

Summertime means the stores are stocked up on coolers, tents, pools, straw hats, beach towels, bathing suits, beer and other necessities. Panamanians tend to paint the outside of their homes with the absence of rain. Store employees can be seen wearing straw hats with visions of beach filled days coming soon on the weekend.

Yesterday we made a fast 30 or so minute drive to the mall at Costa Verde to visit The Do It Center.  Similar to stores like The Home Depot in the US, The Do It Center is a home improvement type of store common to Panama. The ice maker on our fridge went out recently and despite Clyde's trying to repair it, it's still not working. Clyde figured it was time to buy a new one and instead of ordering one from the US we thought we'd first look locally.  A friend mentioned that her husband tried to order one from this store so we thought we'd follow suit and do the same. Unfortunately the girl in the appliance department said they didn't have any and couldn't order one either. But she did give us the name, address and phone number of a Frigidaire dealer in Panama City that she said could help us.

Do It Center At Costa Verde Mall


On our way back home we drove off the highway into a huge development of houses called Montelimar.  We drove through the maze of small cement homes lined up on each street.  All were unique in their own way yet similar also.   Situated on small lots these belong to more of the middle class Panamanians that have decent jobs in Panama City but don't want to live in the chaos that is city life. As we turned down one street and followed it to the end an above ground, round blue swimming pool sat half way out into the street.  We laughed as we thought of the innovative parent that set this thing up obviously trying to entertain kids on the weekends with no where else to put it.  Clyde managed to drive around the pool and turn around at the end of the dead end street as we made our way out.  I wanted to get a photo but Clyde pulled out the memory card from our camera and forgot to put it back, so no snap shots of that one for this blog today.

Montilimar.....A Large Housing Development
A Typical House in Development
 
 
Last night after Clyde (not me) was working on a sewing project (more of this in another blog) we decided to head out for a quick dinner.  But since this IS summertime or the dry season the roads were bumper to bumper with weekend travelers headed back to their homes in Panama City. So creative Clyde decided to head out of Chame on the back roads so we avoided making a U-turn onto the crowded side of the highway. We ended up at El Pampero, a hangout for locals that's known for it's "chorizo" or sausage, and rolls. For $1.50 each Clyde dined on two different types of chorizo in a bun, each topped with a special sauce.  I choose a chicken filet accompanied by fried yucca which looked like fries but is thicker and denser.  My meal was $6.75 and so large that I brought some home for today's lunch.  This restaurant is so close to our house that we really could have walked but instead we made the quick five minute drive there and back.

El Pampero Restaurant.......They Recently Remodeled
So It Now Looks Different
 
What Are These Pigs Doing?
The Long White Thing Is A Thermometer 
   We Think.......But It Looks Like Something Else.....
 


Portable, blue, above ground pools pop up almost everywhere as locals prepare for the dry days of summer. It's odd to see tiny, run-down, unpainted cement homes that might not have electric or indoor bathrooms manage to invest a few hundred dollars in a temporary swimming pool.  Guess that shows us what's important to Panamanians.  Spending time with large extended families over some good food, a dip in the pool and of course some adult beverages. 

As for Clyde summer in Panama means taking it easy from weekly mowing of the yard and trimming of the shrubs.  Often people ask us, "why don't you water your yard?"  Clyde's response to this is, "it's the cycle of plant life here.  It dies off then regrows once the rains begin again. And besides it gives me a break." For me it might mean a little more time out in the sun at a pool or beach.  The trade winds change direction and provide a refreshing but sometimes annoying bunch of wind gusts. 

Clyde is out today doing some handy man jobs again for extra money.  I ventured out by myself with our two Dobermans, something I'd never tried before.  While we do try to walk our dogs on most days I'd never attempted to walk two 65 pound Doberman's on my own. I merely needed to maintain the pack leader mentality and the walk actually went well.  After that I enjoyed some time in our home gym lifting weights, something I enjoy more than cardio.  I love to feel the sensation of my muscles waking up as my whole body comes alive with strength.

No Explanation Needed!


Hard to believe it's snowing with freezing cold temperatures in other parts of the world.  Here it's 90 degrees and breezy, blue skies and sun shining over us.  In other words it's just another day in paradise here in Panama.......along the gringo trail.



Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year From Panama......Partying With A Bang

The festivities are over and so are the seven holiday parties that involved food, drinks and socializing with friends both old and new. New Years Eve began with the pre-party at Picasso's Bar and Restaurant for their happy hour.  It was nice to spend time again with owner Claire's family who are visiting from Europe.  Her parents, sister and boyfriend were sitting with our friend Phil who invited us to join their table.  From there we headed down the highway to the beach resort of Bijao where we  ended the year with an explosion of fireworks and sky lanterns on the beach. Bijao is a luxurious resort community with condos, houses, townhouses and amenities too numerous to name.  With expansive white sandy beaches, six pools, restaurants, a gym and so much more it was the perfect setting to relax and sip away our worries with friends. A big thanks to Bobby and Sally for inviting us again this year.
Aerial View Of Bejao


After meeting up at their condo for drinks we all made our way down to the beachside bohio for a night of fun  The place was packed with Panamanians all dressed in white clothing apparently worn for good luck.  Somehow though our white-faced bunch of gringos missed the memo and we showed up dressed in a variety of colors. As the midnight hour approached we all headed down to the beach for the fireworks spectacular.  There was a Latin disc jockey jammin' at the waters edge and hundreds of people lighting up Chinese or sky lanterns into the night sky. Clyde and I bought four lanterns at a local "fuegos artificiales" or "fireworks" store in Bejuco, while Leon and Sue ordered some from the states. Patience seemed to be the key to launching these light-filled bags of wonder.  It took a while for the little wax square to catch on fire as several sets of hands held the balloon erect.  Eventually the lantern became hot enough to rise as it was guided along by a gentle wind.  Up, up an away they went as we watched each one, eventually going out of sight into the vast universe of stars above.

 
Olive, Rey And I Inflating A Lantern
 
Bobby Releasing A Lantern

And Another

And Another.....
 

Everyone Watching......Is It Going To Fly?

We Think This One Is Almost Ready
 
Let Go Leon......Or You Might Fly Away.....
 


Shortly before midnight the DJ made a few announcements and counted down the seconds as the crowds welcomed in the new year.  Diez, nueve, ocho, siete, seis, cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno.......Feliz Nuevo Ano!

Just then the sky exploded to an array of fireworks that never seemed to end.  We watched overhead and all around us at the rainbow display that painted streaks of color across the dark sky.  The fallout from the explosives fell like gentle snowflakes against our skin. Once the fireworks were done and the sky lanterns had risen out of sight the kisses and hugs went around the group as we wished each other a Happy New Year.



Back at the bohio we enjoyed some champagne and nibbled a bit more on the food as Bobby tried to initiate  a sing-along.  Later on Clyde and I headed back home along the deserted Pan American highway.  Our neighbors were still rockin' the night away with loud music and merriment as we found our way into the house.  We made our way to bed around 3am wearing earplugs and sleep masks ensuring us a good nights sleep well into the middle of the next morning.

On New Years day we crawled out of bed around 10am ready for yet another day of partying.  We left the house around 1pm and headed over to city of La Chorrera which looked like a ghost town. This bustling , congested city is usually packed with people, cars, taxi's and busses but today being a holiday it was dead.  On the other side of the city lies a hidden development called "Brisas del Lago," where our friends Jennifer and Dan live.  When we first moved to Panama we rented a house in Capira and attended the expat mixers held in La Chorrera.  It's there that we met this group of people who invited us to house parties where we met even more people from these neighborhoods. So it was wonderful to reunite with some of the old crowd that we haven't seen in a while. We chatted away the hours over drinks and food catching up with old friends and making some new ones.  A young couple that follow this blog recognized us and came over the chat.  Jennifer and Manual, an American young lady married to a Panamanian, divide their time between working in the states and visiting his family here. It was fun getting to know them especially since his family is from around where our house is now. 

We made our way home just in time to chill out and relax for the rest of the evening. Hopefully today we'll have time to catch up on things around the casa.  I'd like to take down the Christmas tree and ornaments and get the house back to normal. Clyde plans to mow the last of the green grass before it dies off during the next few months of the dry season. But there is just one more holiday event to come, a very special time of giving back to the community.  You'll have to wait for the details of that one in a few weeks as we head into a new year of more exciting adventures......along the gringo trail.