Language Learning Breakthroughs

Spanish is the second foreign language I’ve had to learn because I ended up living somewhere with a different language than the one I grew up with. Sometimes there are little things we encounter, daily, in our new lives that are mysteries of the language, and then, one day there is a breakthrough and the “secret” is revealed. I had one of those moments yesterday which I will explain a little later.

The first breakthrough happened when I was living in France back in 1990. Antibes, where the boat I was running was located, is a major European tourist location and tour buses were seen all the time. Most of the buses had a mysterious little sign in a window advertising K7. This cryptic message was also seen on music store windows as well, but I had no idea what it was all about.

I arrived in France at the beginning of 1989, but didn’t really come to grips with learning the language until the following year. All that time I kept trying to puzzle out the meaning of K7. Slowly my mind began thinking differently with the new language. My French girlfriend, Florence, and I used to drive a lot on Route Nacional 7 between Cannes, Antibes and Nice. This road was shortened to RN7 which, when vocalized, sounds like Eyre (as in Jane) N Set (actually 7 is “sept” in French but pronounced “set”). As you can see, the way the letters are pronounced are different than we pronounce them in English. For example the letter A is pronounced as AH. B is Bay, etc. The letter K is pronounced “Cah” (like Bostonians pronounce an automobile). Then, one day, walking over to the post office in Antibes, I passed the local music store and the sign in the window didn’t say K7 that morning. It said “Cah Set.” CASSETTE… Of course! Or as the French would say, “Voilà!” (Incidentally, voilà, is my absolute favorite word in ANY language. It covers so much ground)

So, about the revelation in Spanish, yesterday. In stores items are often priced with the notation C/U. When I first came to Panama and encountered it I wondered, “what’s that?” Didn’t know, but assumed it meant “each” and let it go at that. Obviously I was right, but I never delved into exactly what C/U actually meant.

Yesterday my blogging friend, Kris Cunningham, invited me to go along with her and her neighbor, Cedo, to Cedo’s finca up in the mountains near Volcan where she raises dairy cattle and pigs.

IMG_0643(Kris and Cedo entering the finca.)

On the way over, Cedo asked Kris to stop at the Mercado Municipal in Bugaba to buy some rice that is sold at discount prices on Saturdays. She bought two sacks that felt like they probably weighed twenty pounds each. On the way back to the car I asked her how much they cost. She said they were $6 (or here B/6. That’s six Balboas). “Total?” I asked. “No, cada uno.” (Each one) As they say in Antibes, Voilà!  C/U = Cada/Uno.


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Boquerón Celebrates Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. Houses all over the neighborhood are sporting flashing Christmas lights, even the worst-kept house on the street, the one where they toss their trash into the front yard, has a couple of strings of colored lights. Go into the supermarkets to do your shopping and you’re assaulted with the same Christmas carols you hear in the States. And I mean the SAME because most of the ones I heard the other day in Romero were in English!

Yesterday, the 19th, when I got on the bus at the terminal to come home after paying a couple of bills in downtown David and checking out the inventory at the city’s major bicycle store, there was a notice taped to the window of the bus about Boquerón’s Christmas celebrations. There was to be a choral presentation at the bandstand in our lovely little park up the hill at 5 p.m. Then there was going to be a parade going from El Cruce (the crossroads where the Boquerón Road meets the Interamerican Highway on up to the park starting at 7 p.m. followed by fireworks at 9. Naturally the times listed were merely suggestions, approximations since this is Panama, after all, with the typical Latin attention to punctuality.

Taking that into consideration and factoring in that my street is about two kilometers up the hill from El Cruce I headed up to the corner at about 7:45. That this was a major event in the year for my neighbors was evident when I got to the bus stop and nearly every one of my neighbors was there, many having brought a chair from home to sit on. The little kids ran around playing tag while the teenaged girls all stood or sat around totally absorbed in texting away on their cell phones, probably to teenaged girls on the other side of the street waiting for the parade to come by, too.

The head of the parade made it to our street at about 8:30 with a float, of sorts, with what I have to assume was the Queen of the event who waved at the crowd of about 50 or so. It just struck me, but besides myself, there was only one other adult male in the group on either side of the street. Like New Orleans parades the riders on the float tossed goodies to the plebeians. No beads, but handfuls of tiny, penny candies which were pounced on with unbridled fury. It took over an hour for the parade of floats, lit up cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles to pass our location. It wasn’t that the parade was incredibly lengthy, but this is a two-lane road up and past the town square with one single, two-lane road branching off from it so there were long delays while the first participants were disbanding up above.

Looking at the parade with gringo eyes it was pretty shoddy. The floats were extremely basic with a few lights and minimum creativity. But that’s looking at it with “gringo eyes.” An expat has to look at it with a local’s eye. This was put on by people who, for the most part, have very little disposable income compared to people living even in small towns in the States. Those in the parade don’t have a lot of money to spend making elaborate, Rose Bowl Parade-style floats. The handful of candies tossed to the crowd is probably in proportion to THEIR income as the beads and doubloons  tossed by Krewe members on a Mardi Gras float. For the residents of tiny Boquerón this WAS a major event for both the parade participants and the people lining the route. THEY were happy. THEY enjoyed it. And, when it’s all said and done I enjoyed it because it was nice to see my neighbors having fun on a warm summer evening (yes, it’s SUMMER HERE down by the equator).

The fireworks went off at about 9:30 and they would have done ANY small town in the States proud. People here LOVE their Fuegos Artificiales.

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Suited Up And Ready To Ride

Justin, who was supposed to be buying the motorcycle left his passport over in Bocas del Toro, so technically I sold the bike to his girlfriend, Brandy. We went over to Bugaba and worked out all the paperwork. Fortunately there was a young lady who handles titles and registration for some care dealership standing behind us and she helped us fill out the two forms we needed to complete (in Spanish, of course.) I’m sure we could have made it on our own, but the line behind us was growing longer by the minute so the lady was a great help…

Here’s Justin all suited up and ready to ride. They plan on going to spend the night in Boquete and then ride the bike over to Bocas del Toro in the morning.


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Heading over to Bugaba this morning to transfer title on the motorcycle. Got close to my asking price so I’m satisfied. Of course the money is already gone. I have some massive dental work that needs to be done. Fortunately it’s a LOT less expensive here than in the States, but it’s still a serious chunk of change.

Home Safe 3

I just never used it like I thought I was going to. There were roads I’d pass on the bus going to and from David and Bugaba and wonder what was down them. I did ride down several of them and the answer was…not much.


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Getting Ready For Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly and I’m getting into the groove here in Boquerón. I spent all weekend getting my Christmas tree up, but it was certainly worth the effort.



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An Honor

Back the last week in September our little community of Boquerón celebrated the feast day of its patron saint San Miguel. A little old man, Jorge Luis Ríos, who lives just up the main road from me said he was putting together a small magazine and he wanted me to write an article for it. He and I talk a couple of times a week and he knows that I was a newspaper reporter way, way, way back, and I lent him the Spanish version of my book which he said he enjoyed. He must have because every time we are on the bus together going in to David (DahVEED) he tells everyone around that I’ve written a book.. Sr. Ríos is a radio journalist reporting on farm news for Radio Chiriquí. So, I gave him about a thousand words in a little article titled “Mi Boquerón” (My Boquerón). He produced a 14-page magazine (revista in Spanish).


My story was extremely heavily edited, but parts of it were quoted…



On the facing page is a national hero here in Panama and the Pride of Boquerón, without a doubt…


It’s an honor to be in such good company and definitely an honor to appear as the only extranjero (foreigner) in this community’s celebration of their year. I think it’s called assimilation.



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Dianne’s Rose

I recently received this comment from Roy Schreyer: “Would you be interested in a write up on DIANNE’S ROSE a “Tiny” Houseboat?” As it happens this is a boat I’ve admired as I’ve roamed through the cyber world looking at shanty boats to write about and possibly build and own, so naturally I wrote back in the affirmative. This is what I received…

DIANNE’S ROSE, Shanty/Camp/Houseboat

DIANNE’S ROSE is now complete and on her second season as our “Tiny Cabin” on the water.

My wife, Dianne Roselee, was the inspiration behind this design. I loved sailing our beach cruiser, Whisper, accessing the wilds. “Roughing it”! Dianne, not so much! She encouraged me to build her a more comfortable boat, nothing tippy please! I like my wife, so decided to oblige. The result has made quite an impression on others but most importantly Dianne likes it! She is less adventurous than I and in this boat I’m able to enjoy more time on the water in the wilds, with my wife. DIANNE’S ROSE has kept us dry in rain, cool under the hot sun, safe during storms and warm when the snow was on the river banks (we havve a mini wood stove to warm the cabin, driftwood being plentiful)!

This spring took forever to arrive and our first trip out on Georgian Bay (the Great Lakes) we helped break up the ice (see You Tube)! Thanks to this unique boat I’ve had my share of adventure and Dianne has been comfortable and safe even if I’ve pushed my luck!  I did just that last fall on an overnight trip on our local Nottawasaga River. Wanting to see the river’s upper reaches where there is a large swamp, we (the boat and I) were happily boating between trees and bumping over submerged logs. The scenery was breath taking, just imagine a Louisiana Swamp but colder. Squeezing past many “pinches” to get here, I was proud of my boat handling skills. For every such moment experience tells me I will soon be humbled! Dianne was concerned generally but at one of these pinches in particular. The main stream of the river was running strong from recent rains, she questioned if we would be able to navigate it on the return trip, with the current pushing fast from our stern. I’ll admit I did scrape a few more branches than I cared to and stressed Di more than I cared as well! On the up side, we found a beautiful nook to spend the night where we fished and enjoyed hot soup from our galley (Not even a bite!). We woke relaxed with mist on the water and enjoyed a simple breakfast of toasted egg sandwiches as the sun burned the mist away. Yesterday’s mistakes also faded. I enjoyed a fresh start.

On hot days we sit in the shade with windows and doors open, funneling cool breezes to our passengers. This is a social boat with room for eight (we’ve had as many as twelve). Some boaters have passed by asking if it’s hot inside unaware how wrong they are! Yet the cold has not been a problem either with the tiny portable wood stove I mentioned. It warms the cabin up, when outside is near freezing! This has doubled the length of our boating season. There was snow on the river banks on the last outing of last season and ice still in the bay on our first outing of this season!

DIANNE’S ROSE is 17’ X 8’ beam and needs only 6” to float, making her perfect for sneaking into shallow coves (swamps) and pulling up to isolated beaches.


The boat has a refined barge hull with the sides having a slight “V”, providing the extreme shallow draw and the accommodations for our comfort. We can easily find shelter from wind and waves as we did on another trip during a severe thunderstorm. Tucked well up a creek, thanks to our shallow draw,we enjoyed the sound of the heavy rain without a care! Others anchored in a reasonably sheltered bay that our creek fed were tossed about all night. We later found out this storm spawned a small tornado (no one hurt).

This hull shape has surprised many as being quite sea worthy, not limiting our adventures to just protected waters! The next morning we were the rare boat out in choppy waters (others may have been catching up on their sleep?)! Confidence in such conditions come from a high freeboard, a cabin that can be secured tightly, a strongly built hull with divided compartments and a boat with positive buoyancy. The size of the boat and the shape of the hull also help. Smaller boats bob between waves like a duck, never dealing with two waves at once. Not being overpowered we don’t run on top of waves, slamming as we go, but ride in the water as a displacement hull does! We use a 9.8 hp outboard, which keeps fuel costs low and propels us at 6 mph (3/4 throttle). I tested her in 3-4’ breaking waves (not my wife, just the boat), she performed well, light enough to rise over large waves but heavy enough to punch through smaller chop. There was lots of spray but not one wave broke on deck! Of course using good judgement is part of good seamanship, I intend to use her mostly on good weather days but I want confidence in case the weather turns!


Another unforeseen advantage is being able to launch off less than perfect sites, as is often the case in the wilder places we enjoy.  The interior has surpassed our expectations! On our first trip we experienced the biggest advantage of this design. It rained for most of the first day but we were completely comfortable inside, opening the rear windows for just the right air flow. It was surreal to enjoy what would normally be a miserable day on the water. Later that day we navigated down a long narrow channel (Lost Channel… really!), we slipped over submerged logs and rocks, settling into a wild lagoon for our first night on board. The bugs were horrible but with screens in place, we paid little attention to our pesky neighbors and enjoyed a dry retreat. Hardly claustrophobic, with large windows we have almost a full 360 degree view. A simple supper from our modest galley was soon ready.

The 8’ X 10’ cabin has areas that perform dual function and more! Two couches, 62” long, face each other and serves as lounge, driver’s seat, dinning and sleeping areas. We have bigger than a queen-sized bed when filler boards are in place! These boards transform into dining table, additional seats, storage shelves (under the deck) and into the steps in and out of the cabin.  There is a small bathroom with full standing headroom on the left rear side. This space is also our coat closet and a change room with the composting toilet (which does not smell) slid back under the rear deck.


The kitchenette is on the opposite side and doubles as our vanity. A propane camp stove sits on a 36 X 32” counter with a sink. The stove and cooler can be taken ashore for cookouts. A curtain hung across the aisle, the back of the boat now becomes a full bathroom. Toilet, sink and bathing, camp style of course, using a basin to stand in and a pitcher to wet and rinse. Hot water is provided from a pot or solar bag! The front, 4’ X 8’, and back 28” X 8’ porches add livability. We fish off the rear deck sitting on the fuel boxes as one sits at the end of a cottage dock. The front is our main entrance and swim platform with boarding ladder. It could accommodate a small tent arranged similar to “pop-up” tent trailers. This adds space to accommodate a small family!  I design DIANNE’S ROSE to be home built so kept construction straight forward but strong, combining “stitch and glue” and “frame” construction. Most panels are built on a bench, then assembled “egg carton” style. Other parts are simply butt joined, epoxied and screwed. The curved ply skin is dry fitted, marked, cut and then easily wrapped onto the framework. The roof appears difficult but is not with the templates provided. It is broken into three manageable sections and “T&G” planks follow the shape easily, creating a strong but light structure when fiberglass is added.



About 600hrs were needed to build DIANNE’S ROSE. I personally know there are many rewards along the way. The milestones come steadily encouraging you to push on! On occasion a boat party breaks out as curious friends drop in, some even help. As time passes regardless, building this Tiny Houseboat will give years of pleasure when complete! Some unforeseen uses at home when on its trailer (saving marina costs) are; it is my “man cave”, guest house, and a second bathroom. We launched on June 15th, 2013 and are continuing to get to know her better, but thus far we are very happy! The small size has been a large part of the fun!


Plans and Study Plans are available, inquire at Check my web site (work in progress) for other interesting projects and see You Tube for recent videos (type-  royschreyer).

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