19 Minutes of WOW!

This post has nothing to do with Panama other than the fact that I saw what is to follow while living here.

About 40 years ago, when I was living in Fort Lauderdale, I had a friend who lost one of his legs, below the knee, in a motorcycle accident when a woman ran a red light and crashed into him. He had a prosthesis and, unless you knew he had it, you’d never have guessed it. He didn’t walk with a limp at all and he danced with all the girls at the bars.

We won quite a bit of money, together, at bars with his leg. I’d be talking with some of the people at the bar and set the up by telling them that my friend could do something that would amaze them. What? I’d pick out some object on the ceiling, one that most people couldn’t even touch with their hands and tell them my buddy could touch it with his foot while the other foot remained rooted to the ground. Of course no one ever believed it and so the money would be put up. My friend would go through a bunch of histrionics and exercises; judging the distance between the floor and the object in question and the he’d reach down, take off his leg and touch whatever we’d selected while standing on his good leg firmly attached to the floor. There’s be a stunned silence from the suckers as they were processing the fact that they’d been had. But no one ever got angry losing their bets.

Aside from total paralysis or death, probably the most traumatic thing that can happen to a person is the loss of a limb, or two, three or four. There are certain species in the animal world that can regenerate a lost limb. Lobsters and salamanders come to mind, but God was too busy making sure that his favorite sports teams were victorious than making sure that human beings could do the same thing as a salamander.

So, science had to do what God wouldn’t. And science has done an amazing job. Years ago there was the television show, ‘The Bionic Man.’ Science fiction, of course, but what man (yeah, yeah, and women, too, but you know what I meant) can think, man can do.

Now, go get yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or your favorite beverage and sit back for the next 19 minutes and be prepared to be amazed…


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I always thought of myself as a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of guy. Growing up my mom always made a dessert for our suppers, but I preferred to have a second, or sometimes, third helping of the main course, foregoing the sweets.

That’s not to say that I don’t like sweets. I do. My maternal grandmother’s lemon meringue pie was fantastic, and my maternal grandfather made the most wonderful chocolate caramels a person was ever lucky enough to put in their mouths. For my birthday I always wanted to have a cherry pie, and I absolutely adored my mom’s Boston cream pie. She also made great fudge. My ex wife also was a master with Key Lime Pie and even ‘Conchs,’ natives of the Florida Keys said her’s was great!

When you go to the supermarket or a ‘pharmacy’ in the States you’re always assaulted with an enormous assortment of candies. Not so, here in Panama. There’s a very limited selection and what there is, is almost extortionately priced.

So, a while back I got to thinking about making some of my own candy and I naturally thought of my mom’s fudge. But making some seemed to be a bit of an ordeal. I remember my mom had a candy thermometer which seemed to be as important in the making of fudge as the chocolate itself. I looked for a candy thermometer in a couple of places but to no avail. But through the wonders of the internet I stumbled across a fudge recipe that seemed simple to make, required no thermometer and used the microwave. Why not try it?

Well, I did, and it was GREAT! I’ve made a couple of batches over the past few weeks and I’m going to tell you how it’s done and maybe if you get a fudge hankering you’ll try it yourself.

First you need to buy a package of The kind you would use for Toll House cookies. I’ve found, with this method, if you can get the TINY chips they work best because they melt faster.


1 package of Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips. (The tiny chips work best because they melt faster.)

1 14oz can of SWEETENED condensed milk

¼ cup butter (Come on! Use the REAL stuff. I’ve found that this works best if you melt it in the microwave first.)

Nuts! (This is optional, but not for me. I splurge and buy a small can of Diamond Brand walnuts and run them through the food processor to make smaller pieces.)

In a large, microwaveable bowl put in the chocolate bits, milk and butter. Stir it all together to mix and put in the microwave and nuke the mess for a minute or two but no more. Stir to mix and nuke it again for a minute at a time until the chocolate chips are completely melted. Add nuts and stir.

While the chocolate has been melting, grease an 8X8-inch pan with butter. (A 9X9 pan does just as well. I spray the pan with PAM instead of using butter and it works fine.)

When the chocolate is completely melted pour into the pan and stick it in the fridge for a couple of hours before enjoying.


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April 14, 2014 · 3:48 pm

Dog Day Afternoon

Does it get any better than lying in the dirt at the foot of your favorite tree on a hot afternoon?

dog day


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More Than A 60¢ Fare

I’ve often written about how I’ve been accepted here as an integral part of my neighborhood even though I’m an expat. Today was proof that I’m an accepted part of the community of Boquerón as a whole.

I do most of my grocery shopping at a supermarket called Romero in the San Mateo section of David.

bus route

Let me try and explain this map so you’ll see what I mean about today’s tale. When I go shopping I get let off at Bus Stop 1. At “La Bomba” the gas station. I then walk across the street and into the market.

When I’m through shopping I could wait for the bus at Bus Stop 2 and catch the bus back home there. It’s heading in the right direction. (It will make a right turn down there at the corner) But at this time of the year I usually don’t do that, for a very simple reason. School is in session, by the time the bus reaches Stop 2 it’s filled to capacity with students and I’d have to stand up the 20 kilometers or so to Boquerón. Naturally I don’t want to do that.

Instead I haul my groceries across the street back to Stop 1 and then, for 35¢ I take whatever bus comes along to the terminal. I never have to wait longer than 5 minutes for a bus to come by. Down at the terminal, my favorite place in Panama for people-watching, I’ll often get a cup of chocolate ice cream or a cold soda until my bus comes into its terminal slot. Now, I get on, usually in the seat opposite the door, slide my groceries under the seat ahead of me, plug my head phones into the latest book I’m listening to from Audible.com and I don’t have to worry about having to stand up.

Today, though, as I was standing at the corner waiting for traffic to pass so I could  cross the street to Stop 1, along came the Boquerón bus. I was a block away from the bus stop, but the driver recognized me, knew where I was ultimately headed and pulled over and picked me up. There were only three seats available on the bus, but at least I wasn’t going to have to stand.

Now you have to realize, he could have kept right on going past me. I hadn’t signaled to him and when it’s all said and done I’m only a 60¢ fare. But that’s not how it is down here. I live in Boquerón, I’m part of the community just like the driver is, and there is a respect here in Panama for older folks that’s lacking back in the States. It might have been like that once, there, but it sure isn’t any more. And can you imagine any bus driver up there stopping at a place that’s not a designated bus stop?

No, things are different here in Panama, and I absolutely LOVE IT HERE!

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San Andres/Dominical Bus Ride

Yesterday, April Fool’s Day, I did another of my ‘let’s see where this one goes’ bus rides. Turns out I wasn’t a fool at all.

Regular readers know I occasionally get on a bus just to see where it goes. It’s a great way to see the countryside, it’s inexpensive, and sometimes you meet some interesting people along the way. Of the buses that pass El Cruce at the foot of the Boquerón Road headed west towards the Costa Rican border, I’ve ridden the Armuelles bus that ends up at the Pacific Ocean, the Porton Bus (there isn’t any Porton. It isn’t even as grand as Boquerón which is nothing.), the Cerro Punta bus up into the bread basket of Panama and the Rio Serrano bus WAY up in the mountains and is a border crossing town into Costa Rica. The remaining two, Divala and San Andres was cut in half when I boarded the San Andres bus yesterday.


Canoas is the main border crossing into Costa Rica. The main sign on the buses say ‘San Andres’ and then in smaller letters it says Dominical. That’s the end of the route. San Andres, what there is of it, is about 2/3rds of the way between Canoas and Dominical.

Since I stopped smoking over three months ago I haven’t been over to Bugaba/Concepcion in the last couple of months. I was surprised to see that the little layover bus stop for the Cerro Puna and Serrano buses has been torn down and something, who knows what, is going to be built in its place.

I’ve only been west of Bugaba a few times, so the scenery is new and interesting, and of course, when we made the right-hand turn off the InterAmericana it was ALL new.

The bus was fairly full when it pulled away from El Cruce, swapped a few people out in Bugaba and now, as we proceeded into the countryside more and more people left. The houses, quite close together and very similar to middle class houses in the south Florida style became further and further apart with small farms between. At first most of the crops were corn and then what looked like trellised fields of pole beans, but were actually fields of Ñame (nyah may), a tuber-type vegetable much valued here. I wouldn’t have known what these were if it wasn’t for the fact that my neighbors grow the stuff. As the housing thinned out there were fields of yucca. plantains and papaya. Every so often there were small, lean to-like structures with tobacco hanging to dry and sometimes you could spot small fields with red and yellow peppers growing. Here and there we came across shady stands of bamboo and every once in a while small, modest houses built from bamboo.

We passed half a dozen elementary schools and finally came to what I assume was the center of San Andres. The only clue that it might actually have been the town was that, the houses were grouped close together and there were three fairly large ‘super mini’ markets and two or three fondas (small, informal restaurants).

By this time three quarters of the original passengers had left the bus. The young man at the door who takes the fares (you pay based on how far you’ve ridden) looked at me quizzically and asked where I was going. I explained, in my butchered Spanish, that I lived in Boquerón, didn’t have a car and liked to take the buses just to see where they go and see what the countryside is like. This, then, got me into a discussion with three Panamanian gentlemen about my age at the back of the bus. I went back and chatted with them for a while. They were interested in where I came from and what I was doing in Panama. It was an interrogation of interest, not aggression and as it turned out I was the first foreigner they’d ever spoken with in their lives. One by one they arrived at their destinations and departed with a handshake and a smile.

By now we were out of what could be considered San Andres and well into the mountains. This Google Earth photo gives you an idea of what the topography of the area is like.

2200 FEET AT Dominical

The vistas are breathtaking and their grandeur simply can’t be captured in the two-dimensional medium of a camera. The following photos were all taken quickly out of the window of the moving bus.

The road, as we ascended, got narrower and rougher. We crossed probably a dozen rickety, scary bridges. Simple iron structures long in need of a coat of paint and the surface simply sheets of iron.


If you look closely you can see in the upper part of the photo, just left of center, the road we’ve just come up on…


Around noon I was the only passenger on the bus. The young man at the door got off and the bus took off again and stopped about five minutes later on the side of the road. The driver asked me if I had any specific place in mind I wanted to go, and I explained again how I liked to ride the buses to see ‘el campo.’ I noticed, in the seat opposite the driver, there was a young boy, perhaps four or five years old, sound asleep. It was the driver’s son. It was the driver’s lunch time and he brought out a Tupperware kind of container with rice, beans, plantain and a small piece of some kind of meat. He handed me a local newspaper, La Critica, and I retired to my seat where I learned a new Spanish word…Wao that translates to Wow in English.

After a half hour the driver turned the bus around, we picked up the doorman and proceeded on our way. A short while later the driver stopped and took the young boy on his shoulders and took him to what was apparently their house.


As we went on our way the road turned from blacktop to dirt and we left a trail of thick dust behind us. We stopped and picked up two passengers. A young man in his early 20s and an old Indian man well into, I’d guess, his 80s though it’s hard to say. They were loaded down with plastic grocery bags and after about a mile they were let of at a crossroad. There were no houses to be seen and it didn’t look as if any money changed hands. It doesn’t surprise me. Way up there in the mountains it was like one neighbor helping another.

Way up here, along the dirt road the houses were fairly basic shelters with wide, thick plank siding and gaps of probably an inch or more between them.


And then, out in the middle of nowhere you’d see something like this and ask, ‘yeah, but why would you build that here?’


Eventually, of course, the road turned from gravel to macadam and we started to pick up passengers, including a group of five, giggling, frolicking first grade schoolgirls who were enjoying themselves to the utmost. A few passengers got off in Bugaba, others got on to fill every seat by the time we got back to El Cruce nearly six hours after I got on in the morning. Total cost: $6.00 and worth every penny. Time and money well spent.





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Mirror, Mirror On The Wall…

I’m currently ‘reading’ Water for Elephants via Audible.com. I think it’s another case of where the audio version outdoes the printed word. Sara Gruen’s book is written from the perspective of the young and the old Jacob Jankowski. Each of the Jacobs has a different reader rather than a single actor trying to portray both parts giving the story a unique ‘feel.’

The old Jacob is 90, or perhaps 93, and, naturally he thinks about the aging process. Looking in the mirror one morning he observes, ‘I still expect to see myself. Instead I find an Appalachian apple doll…I can’t find myself anymore. When did I stop being me?’

I know the feeling. I go to shave myself and it’s my father’s face in the mirror instead of mine. I look at my gnarled and twisted fingers. They aren’t mine; they’re my mother’s. Sometimes, riding on the bus I look up and catch a glimpse of an old man in the rear view mirror. I know it’s me, but I wish it wasn’t.




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