Now that I got my motorcycle endorsement added to my Panamanian driver’s license on Thursday some might wonder if I’ve been out riding yet. The answer is no. I had a motorcycle thirty years ago, and although I know HOW to ride it’s been such a long time since I HAVE ridden that I’m back to classifying myself as a novice rider. All day Friday it looked like it was going to rain any minute and I don’t think that’s a cool thing to do even for an experienced rider. How about Saturday? Actually I think the weekends would be the WORST time for a beginner to try and get out and ride. Much more traffic. Everybody that’s been working during the week is now out and about with their cars if they have one trying to get their shopping and other chores done. I’ll wait until the middle of the week before I venture out.
Tag Archives: Boqueron
Ants navigate in their world by following scent trails as they forage away from their underground homes. It’s the only way they can find their way back.
I wonder what happens to the ones that are thrown far away from their scent trails whenever I sweep the front porch. Do they ever find their way home again? Do they get adopted by another colony of nearby ants or are they killed for being an enemy intruder? Or do they simply starve to death far away from home?
I have always been a reader. It’s one of life’s greatest gifts, for if you enjoy reading you can never be bored. You can transport yourself to other worlds while sitting at a laundromat waiting for your clothes to dry. There are certain genres of writing that I tend to gravitate to, of course. Naturally I love stories about the sea as well as trashy mysteries and detective stories.
I also tend to read authors. What I mean is, if I come across someone who has written a book I enjoy, I will often spend the next few weeks or months devouring everything of theirs I can get my hands on. I read everything John Steinbeck wrote before I graduated from high school after reading Cannery Row (I’ve read it at least three times). The same with Joseph Conrad who I believe is one of the greatest masters of the English language and astonishingly so since English was his third language after Polish and French. I have no favorite author but Paul Theroux ranks high on my list of people I like to read. I’ve read his novels (The Mosquito Coast, Hotel Honolulu, and My Secret History) but it’s his travel writing I really love.
Theroux spends a lot of time riding on trains. His first such adventure was detailed in The Old Patagonian Express which came about when, while living in Boston, Mass., he discovered that he could get on the streetcar near his house and travel all the way to the southern tip of the western hemisphere by rail. It was on this adventure this line (A French traveler with a sore throat is a wonderful thing to behold, but it takes more than tonsillitis to prevent a Frenchman from boasting.) hooked me into reading everyone of his travel books.
Not too long ago I downloaded his The Great Railway Bazaar recounting his four-month rail journey through Asia in 1975, from Audible.com to listen to while riding the buses into David or to La Concepcion to do my shopping. Last month I downloaded Ghost Train to the Eastern Star in which he retraces some of the trip described in The Great Railway Bazaar and I started listening to it this past Thursday. It has a different narrator than the first book. That one was read by a young-sounding voice while the latest is by someone obviously older. But then, Theroux, on this journey, is 33 years older than when he made the first trip.
What grabbed me in the opening chapter brings me to the theme of this post. Riding out of London Theroux reflects on Ford Madox Ford’s thoughts about riding on trains.
“Ford Madox Ford wrote in his book The Soul of London that riding on a train speaks of how the relative silence of sitting on a train and looking into the busy muted world outside invites melancholy. ‘One is behind glass as if one were gazing into the hush of a museum; one hears no street cries, hears no children’s calls…one sees, too, so many little bits of uncompleted lives.’
“He noted a bus near a church, a ragged child, a blue policeman. A man on a bike, a woman alighting from a bus, school children kicking a ball, a young mother pushing a pram. And, as this was a panorama of London back gardens, a man digging, a woman hanging laundry, a workman-or was he a burglar?-setting a ladder against a window. And the constant succession of much smaller happenings that one sees, and that one never sees completed give to looking out of train windows a touch of pathos and dissatisfaction. It is akin to the sentiment ingrained in humanity of liking a story to have an end.’”
Short, quick glimpses of the passing scene. I see them through the windows of the buses here in Panama: A volleyball net set up in a field of knee-high weeds, Christmas lights still on a house in May, a man leading a horse in a field followed by five other horses, a woman doing laundry on the rocks of a river, uniformed school children huddled against the rain in a bus shelter. You see these little vignettes of uncompleted lives, too, every time you leave your house. Do they register? Are they tucked away to be remembered at some later date?
Theroux also writes of his own thought that: “Luxury is the enemy of observation, a costly indulgence that induces such a good feeling that you notice nothing. Luxury spoils and infantilizes you and prevents you from knowing the world. That is its purpose, the reason why luxury hotels and great hotels are full of fatheads who, when expressing an opinion, seem as though they are from another planet. It was also my experience that one of the worst aspects of traveling with wealthy people, apart from the fact that the rich never listen, is that they constantly groused about the high cost of living-indeed the rich usually complained of being poor.”
It’s not just these glimpses into people’s lives that we observe. Sometimes it’s just the things around us. Things that don’t register immediately and then wham! They’re there.
This year in Panama the rainy season has been a long time coming. Rivers are so low that hydro-electric generating stations are in desperate shape. President Martinelli has ordered drastic measures to conserve electricity. Thursday when I went shopping at Plaza Terronal in David the air conditioning was off at El Rey supermarket, at Panafoto where I went to buy a new set of ear buds for my iPod, at the Subway Sandwich shop to get my “gringo fix” for the week. All by presidential decree.
The last couple of days, though, it seems that we might be getting back into our usual weather pattern. Glorious sunny morning. Blue sky and cotton ball clouds followed by intense rain in the afternoon. Gully washers. Frog choking rain. I can hear the nearby river tumbling across the rocks for the first time in months. A few days ago people who live on the other side of the river could cross it without getting their feet wet. Now they take off their shoes and roll up their pant legs. The grass in my yard has gone from Cheerio brown to jungle green and I have to get out the weed whacker and attack it in the next day or two.
And then I noticed this tree in the field next door. A week ago it didn’t have a leaf on it. It seemed dead. But yesterday I noticed that its suddenly turned green.
You can observe a lot just by looking.
Anyone reading this who lives in the States or most of Europe would most likely say, “So what?” Well, actually it’s a fairly big deal here in Panama where a lot of the time water doesn’t just come out of the tap when you turn the knob.
For the last couple of weeks the availability of water has been very sporadic. Recently there was none. Zero. Zip. Nada. And it was like that for almost 48 hours. It’s been so bad that IDAAN, the water agency, brought a tanker truck of potable water to the neighborhood twice and people came out with five gallon buckets to load up. Think about it. There’s no warning that you’re not going to have any water. You turn the tap and you get nothing. You can’t wash your dishes. You can’t prepare your meals without water. You can’t take a bath or a shower. And really important, you can’t flush your toilet. At least you can’t do those things in your house. But there’s a small river by my house I’ve written about before. All day long people come down with their laundry and dinner dishes in buckets. Kids getting ready for school come down to the river just as the sun is coming up to take a bath and their parents follow a little later to get ready for work.
Now, I’m a bit luckier than most. My house is the last one on the road and down a slight hill. I’m able to get water from what’s in the pipeline, but there’s no pressure behind it so it’s impossible to use the washer, but I can get enough to do the dishes and with my solar shower (a plastic bag with a nozzle on it) I’m able to take care of basic hygiene. But with no water pressure once you push the lever on the toilet the tank won’t refill. So what’s one to do? Well, I have three five gallon buckets and when it rains I put them out under the roof overhang and fill them up. Sometimes when it’s really pouring they’ll fill up in just a matter of minutes. I use that water to flush the john.
Even on good days the water pressure is generally only available in the early morning and it’s off by nine o’clock or so and it will stay like that sometimes for the next 10 or 12 hours. This morning I happened to be up and about just before six and there was decent water pressure in the mains. Before I brewed my coffee, checked my email, read my favorite blogs and took my morning meds I had a load in the washer. I was able to get two loads completely done but during the third the pressure had dropped so much that the water flowing into the machine wasn’t any larger than a pencil lead. It had gone through the wash cycle and was half way through the rinse when that happened. I took enough of the rain water to cover the sheets and pillow cases and finished the load that way. Drying, of course is done on the line. Is there anything better than the smell of a pillow case that’s dried out in the sunshine?
Sure it’s a hassle, but hey, it’s how it is here. It’s all about how you deal with it. You can bitch and moan, or you can just get on with your life.
In less than two weeks I’ll have lived here in Boquerón for two years. Six months in between six month stints house-sitting in Potrerillos Arriba and a year and a half straight through after that. I’ve written before about how my neighbors seem to have accepted having a gringo in their midst. As an outsider we sometimes wonder if it’s really acceptance or simply tolerance. One of my neighbors, Llella, half way up the block was the first to make me seem to be accepted when I was invited to her birthday party and turned out to be the only person there, with one exception who was a life-long friend of her’s, who wasn’t a family member. She and her husband have also invited me to Sunday lunch at their house which is another honor since it’s not often that Panamanians invite someone inside their homes, especially a foreigner.
I’ve also written that there was a time when everyone greeted me with the word, “hello.” That doesn’t happen anymore, now that I speak fairly passable Spanish. Now it’s “Hola, Richard. ¿Como estas?” or “¿Como la va?” (How’s it going?” That’s very similar to the French “Comment ça va?”) Neighbors the equivalent of nearly a city block away who see me sitting on the front porch will wave at me until I wave back. Neighbors and even strangers going down to the river to swim or bathe always say “Buenos dias” when I’m outside, even an old Indian gentleman who lives on the other side of the river has a big smile and a “Buenos” every time he passes. Sometimes these people will stop and chat with me for a few minutes about the weather, the state of the river (“Casi seco” Almost dry) until a few days ago when we’ve started getting rain and the river runs a bit stronger now, but not as strong as it will in a couple of weeks.
What’s prompted this post is what’s happened in the last few days. The other day, Maite, the lady who lives in the first house on the left up the road, was starting a fire in her outdoor kitchen. Most of the houses around here have a cooking spot outside. Keeps the house cooler, don’t you know. When the fire was going strong she put the “fogon” over the coals and filled it with water. A “fogon” is an iron cooking pot. I thought she might be cooking up some tamales, but late in the afternoon she came into my yard calling “Richard, Richard.” She had a plantain leaf package for me.
Inside wasn’t a usual tamale with a maize base and pieces of free-range chicken inside. Instead it was a combination of platanos maduros (sweet plantain) and rice. It was, of course, very, very rich and something I’d never had before.
And in the past two days when her husband has been out cutting fresh plantains for themselves he stopped by the fence and gave me a few. And this morning, coming back from David where I bought an espresso maker (another post), he was at the small tienda (store) on the corner and came over to tell me he’d left some yucca that he’d dug up, by my door. I’ve eaten yucca before but now I’m going to have to try cooking it for myself for the first time.
My lease here at this house expires in November. I don’t know what’s going to happen then. I don’t know if the owners, who live in Texas, are actually going to retire then and move down here. That is why they bought the house, after all. But some of their recent postings on their Facebook page make me wonder if, perhaps, they’ve changed their mind. They had mentioned once last year that they might end up selling the place. I haven’t asked what their plans are since I’ve still got six months to go on the lease.
But I suspect my neighbors don’t want to see me leave. Last night one of the young men in the neighborhood was passing by and stopped to chat. He asked how long I’d been living here and I mentioned that I had six months more to go on my lease but come November, if I have to move, I’d still like to stay here in Boquerón. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I have a friend who owns a couple of houses up by the Chino’s (one of the Panamanian equivalents of a 7/11) that he rents. I’ll talk to him if you want.” I told him it was a bit early to start talks but I’d let him know. One time talking to Llella I’d said the same thing about not wanting to leave Boquerón and she said the same thing the young man did. “Don’t worry about it. I know plenty of people that have houses around here that they rent. We’ll take care of you.”
Of course I’d be more than content to just stay put. This house isn’t just a place I stay anymore. It’s become “home” and I’ve become an accepted part of this community and it’s nice to know that a 63 year old woman and a 25 year old young man have both said “don’t worry, we’ll take care of you” when the time comes. It’s people like them, and I’m pretty sure my other neighbors feel the same way, that make me love this place.
Unlike the States or Europe, there are only two seasons in Panama. “Winter” and “Summer.” The “wet” and “dry.” Being that Panama sits nearly on the Equator, my house is 8°30’84″ N, our seasons more closely correspond to those in the Southern Hemisphere than they do in the Northern. Summer, the “dry” season, is roughly from November to the middle of April. It’s when the kids have their longest school recess.
And it gets HOT here in the summer. A dry, searing, heat that turns lawns the color of Cheerios and it crunches like Rice Krispies under foot when you walk across it.
The river next to my house has been nearly bone dry.
A few months ago I wrote about my electric bill only being eight dollars and change. Monday I paid the most recent and it was just a few cents shy of $60. That’s because in the middle of the afternoon it has been like living in an oven and I’d run the air conditioning every day until well after dark when the cool air from the mountains sinks down onto the flat.
For the last couple of weeks nature has been toying with us. There have been a few sprinkles here and there. Not much, but enough to stimulate what passes for grass, here, to sprout. While the lawn looks forlorn, all of this stuff is indigenous to the area and adapted to the yearly cycles of wet and dry. Just add water. Some days, of late, thunder could be heard up in the hills in the afternoons and at night the southern sky would light up as lightning flashed out over the Pacific Ocean. But it was just a tease. There was no rain accompaniment.
On Monday, April Fool’s Day, I had an afternoon doctor’s appointment for a physical which is required for me to get a motorcycle endorsement added to my driver’s license since I’m over 70. While in the office the skies opened up and it rained so hard and so loud for about 15 minutes that it nearly masked the doctor’s questions. But it only lasted a few minutes and then it was hot all over again.
But this afternoon (April 4th) it changed. Around three o’clock, as is usual in the “rainy” season it started to pour. It was like the entire barrio was sitting under a water fall. Puddles formed in the low areas of the yard and thunder and lightning assaulted the area. It lasted for nearly two hours. That’s how it is, here, in the “winter.” The mornings are glorious. Blue skies. Cotton ball clouds. In the early afternoon it starts to cloud up and we get a couple of hours of rain. So, in the “winter” you get up, get what needs to be done, done. Get your laundry up on the line to dry before noon, do your grocery shopping and then settle back for the inevitable rain.
For the most part, people here like the rain. It moderates the temperature and makes living comfortable. I don’t need to turn on the a/c. A fan will do. And for the first time in months, when I step out onto the front porch, I can once hear the river running over the stones again.
Actually, I like the Irish a lot. The ones from the auld sod, I mean, and I’ve known a lot of them. They get a bad rap, especially about fighting. I lived in Antibes, France, for nearly three years. There are a lot of Irish, Brits and Scots there. In all that time I NEVER saw an Irishman in a fight. On the other hand, for the Brits and the Scots it was nearly an every day occurrence. The best boat delivery I ever made in a 20 year career as a Coast Guard-licensed captain was one from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, to Hyannis, Mass., with Jerry from Kerry and Anne from Limerick. We hit every happy hour between those two ports and met many wonderful people who became intrigued when they heard the girls accents and invited us into their homes and took us out to hear local bands and party. And when I sailed across the pond in ’91, Martin, from Dublin, kept us in stitches with his stories every night at dinner. God bless ‘em all.
However, it’s mainly the Irish in the States who practice this…
Last year I bought a motorcycle for my 70th birthday.
In retrospect it seemed to be a huge mistake. Why? Well, I discovered that I needed to get an endorsement on my license in order to legally ride the thing. Why not just ride anyway? Down here the “Transitos,” special police dedicated entirely to transportation, set up road blocks all over the place, daily ,and check people’s licenses. An acquaintance who rides his motorcycle daily said that while he had always been waved through the road blocks for a couple of years the Transitos had demanded his license several times in the last few months. But the places I wanted to ride are mostly far off the beaten track and the chances of being stopped are few. However, there are a few places where I could still get nabbed.
When I got my Panamanian driver’s license I made a mistake by being honest. The girl taking my information asked me if I had a motorcycle in Florida and I said “no.” If I’d said I did then I would have gotten the endorsement and there really wouldn’t have been any way for her to verify or refute it. And I would have walked out with a license allowing me to drive a car and a motorcycle.
In order to get the endorsement there are quite a few hoops I have to jump through. First, I’d have to go to a driving school. Naturally it would be in Spanish. Then I’d have to take a driving test, again, in Spanish. At the time, while I was able to do a bit better than “okay” in Spanish I didn’t have the confidence that I’d be able to pass a test.
Next is a “practical” test of actually demonstrating the fact that I can ride a motorcycle. Finally, since I hit the magic number, 70, I’m also required to have a doctor, either a gerontologist or an internist, give me a physical to attest to my physical and mental acuity to drive a motorcycle. That makes one wonder if, in fact, a 70 year old is mentally sound simply because they want to ride a motorcycle in the first place.
It just seemed like so much of a hassle that I didn’t want to deal with I put the bike up for sale. It wasn’t a big success. Only one person actually came to look at it. Several others expressed an interest but never showed up to see the motorcycle. So there it sat, unused but not unloved.
As I’d sit at the bus stop people on motorcycles would pass by and I was envious and think about the orange rocket sitting idle at home. Last week I made a trip into David to do some shopping at Pricesmart, our local equivalent of Costco. It sits next to the Chirqui Mall and I knew there was a driving school there, so I stopped in to talk to them. Of course I did this in Spanish which, while a long, long, way from being fluent, is a lot better than it was last year. The cost of the school is $125 and new classes start every Monday. I told the lady that I was a bit worried about having to take the examination in Spanish. She showed me a page of their multiple-guess test and scanning a couple of the questions it didn’t seem all that difficult. And having talked with her for nearly a half hour in Spanish when I said I thought it might be possible to pass, she said, IN ENGLISH, “You’ll do all right.”
I have a copy of the “Manual del Conductor y Reglamento de Tránsito.” I’ve been going through it recently and have added quite a few new Spanish words to my vocabulary. For example in now know that a ruedo is a wheel; a carril is a lane; I know the difference between an autopista and an avenida, and that a remolque is a trailer.
And as far as getting the letter from a doctor, it’s probably a good idea since it’s nearly three years since I’ve had a physical.
Last week I saddled up for the first time in about seven months and went around the neighborhood practicing my starts and stops and turning from a stop at an intersection, a cruce. Sure, it’s illegal but it’s going to be necessary in order to pass the “practical” exam and to be one step up on practicing at the school. They rent motorcycles to practice on a closed course and to take the exam, but I want to have a leg up before I do that.
I’m going to spend the coming week going over the manual and will probably start the school next Monday or the week after that. I’ll keep you up to date.
I just learned from a neighbor that the person responsible for the wonderful fireworks displays in our barrio came from the generosity of Boquerón resident Carlos Ruiz, the Philadelphia Phillies all-star catcher.
Despite his fame and fortune, Carlos is just a local boy who made good and gives back to his community.
Thank you, Carlos, everybody here appreciates your efforts.
p.s. This is my 600th post to the blog.
In answer to my cyber friend, Linda, who commented on my Christmas Eve fireworks here in Boquerón, yes, they DO shoot off fireworks on New Years Eve. About a quarter to midnight you could hear explosions all over the area. Up and down the hill. One neighbor down the street has some high-powered bottle rockets and then at the stroke of midnight the real show began. The people who shot off the display I recorded Christmas went all out for New Years Eve. Some of them were as good as anything you’d see at a municipal fireworks display in a modest city in the States. Some of them actually had me applauding they were so good and at the end I had to yell, “Bravo” at the top of my lungs. What those people shot off would probably have bought me a fairly decent car. Sitting on my porch I could see big displays being fired off up near the town center, right in front of my house and down by El Cruce (where the Boquerón road and the Interamerican Hwy. meet). To say I was impressed would be an understatement.