Tag Archives: Boqueron

Thinking Outside The Box

A common complaint here, especially among the expat population that huddles, incestuously, in the mountain peaks and valleys around Boquete above the city of David, is about horrible, or nearly non-existent, customer service. In the almost five years I’ve lived here I haven’t found that to be true at all, and today was an example of the good customer service. Comparable to good customer service anywhere. (Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I try my best to speak Spanish with the Panamanians I have to deal with.) Here’s what happened:

Last month I went into David to pay my cable and internet service bill. I wanted to delete the television portion of the service since my t.v. died and I decided I didn’t want to buy a replacement. The girl I dealt with at the Cable Onda office played around on the computer keyboard for a while and said the service had been discontinued and that I needed to bring in the t.v. modem. I asked if it would be okay to wait until the next billing cycle to do that instead of having to make a special trip back to their downtown office. She said it would be fine. But that the internet portion of the bill would be $42.36 since I had signed up for a “package deal” that combined t.v., internet for a monthly total of $50.36. That was all right with me since before I signed on to Cable Onda’s five meg cable internet I had been paying $45 and change for Claro’s USB modem internet which, on a good day, provided me with half a meg speed. What  I’d save not having to pay for the t.v. meant that I’d be getting almost two months of free internet service. I figured I was ahead of the game.

Friday I received my monthly bill and saw that they were still billing me the full $50.36. This morning I put the modem in my knapsack and went to the Cable Onda office. I asked to speak to one of the customer service reps. This time I ended up with a young gentleman who insisted on speaking English even after I’d explained my situation to him in Spanish. He said I’d done it well, but he liked the opportunity to use his English whenever possible. He explained that with the package I had I paid $21.12/month for the television access and $29.24 for the internet. But internet alone was, as I said before, $42.36. HOWEVER, even though I wasn’t going to buy a new t.v. and use the service, he could sign me into another package in which I’d be subscribed to just Panama access to local television shows and that only costs $6.88/month but would leave the internet payment at $29.24 for a grand total of $36.12. A savings of $14.24 a month from what I had been paying and saving $170.88 over a year. Another way of looking at it is, I’d also be paying $6.24 a month LESS than subscribing to internet alone OR saving $74.88 over the year. That’s like getting two months FREE internet service.

He spent some time clicking around on his computer and said I’d only have to pay the $36.10 today and not the $50.36.

Now THAT’S customer service. Do I think the girl last month was trying to rip off the gringo? No, not at all. She was thinking linearly. The book says if someone comes in off the street and wants to subscribe to internet service by itself it costs THIS MUCH. I’m sure customer service reps in a similar situation in the States would have done exactly what she did. I probably would have done the same thing had I been sitting on her side of the desk last month. I was lucky today to get someone who thinks outside the box and who knows that giving the customer a little lagniappe, as it were, results in a satisfied customer. And another thing to consider…the pay here in Panama sucks. The girl and the guy will be lucky if they GROSS $125.00 or $150.00 a week! At those prices you can’t expect them to be doing a lot of thinking at all. But sometimes you just get lucky.

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Moved To The Dark Side

I haven’t posted in the last week partially because I didn’t have anything I wanted to say, though I do have a couple of drafts that aren’t completed. (That’s kind of a silly statement when you consider that almost all of my posts are, essentially, first drafts quickly scanned for spelling errors. ) Ad another reason I didn’t post was because my computer died. Kaput. Shit the bed. Won’t start! Finished. Washed up. I could go on, but I won’t.

Except for my very first computer, every one I’ve owned has been a Hewlitt -Packard (anyone remember the old Packard cars?) whether a desk top or a notebook. And, by and large, I’ve been happy with them. When using them I would often remember a phone conversation I had back in 1974 when I was working as a head hunter in Chicago. We recruited high-end systems analysts and heads of IT departments. This was back in the days when computers were so huge they took up entire floors of big buildings and were attended by white-coated acolytes.

I really didn’t know squat about computers or what the jobs of the people I was talking to actually entailed. But I knew certain buzz words that we were supposed to ask and that was actually enough.

One day I blind-called a systems analyst at Hewlitt-Packard, and during our conversation I asked what projects he was currently working on. He got real excited and said, “We’re working on building ‘mini computers.'”

“What the hell are those?” I asked.

“They’re computers people will have on their desks.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. “Call me in a couple of years and let me know how that worked out for ya.”

I came down here to Panama with two HP notebooks. One was on its last legs but I figured it could be a backup if my main one went belly up. About a year later they were both toast and I went into David and bought a third notebook. It, too, was an HP, mainly because it was the only one in three stores that was reasonably priced and also had an English keyboard. Remember, this is a Spanish speaking country so naturally Spanish keyboards predominate. They’re slightly different. For example, on the English keyboard the key with the colon and semi-colon is now the Ñ key. The semi-colon sits to the right of the letter M and the colon key is just to the right of that. There are also three-key acrobatics needed to get the @ symbol up and running instead of simply the Shift and #2 keys.

Everything worked fine until last Saturday. Then it was impossible to get the thing to start. Parts of files somewhere were missing, etc., etc. I’m not going to get into what I tried to do to repair things using the defunct spares.

So, on Sunday morning I went into David looking for a replacement for the replacement that replaced…well you get the picture. However, this time there wasn’t an English keyboard to be found around Plaza Terronal where there are three stores selling computers. Now, I know that if I went to the Pricesmart (Panama’s answer to Wally World) I could probably get one, but the last time I was computer shopping the exact same model I eventually bought at Panafoto was priced over $200 more than the one I bought.

When I made a sad face about the lack of an English keyboard model the computer geek sales robot said that going into a computer’s it was possible to select what language you wanted the Spanish keyboard to resemble. For instance, I could turn the Spanish keyboard into an English one with a couple of clicks.

Cool!

Then there was the problem that all the Windows-based computers were loaded with the universally panned and hated Windows 8 operating system. Funny, the week before I’d read a story about how the world was anxiously awaiting Window 10 (no one said anything about why there was no Windows 9, though).

There were three long shelves full of Toshiba, HP, Sony and other PC notebooks and I played around with the Windows 8 displays and could see why people didn’t like it, and not knowing, and not being able to be computerless for who knows how long before Windows 10 comes out, I started to eye the meager collection of  Apple products. I very much liked the 13″ screen Airbook, especially because it was fairly reasonably priced and I liked that instead of a mechanical hard drive it has a solid state memory. The problem with regular hard drives is that they move and things that move wear out. They also generate a lot of heat because of the whirling discs.

So, I bit the bullet, pulled out my debit card and bought one. I took it home, plugged it in and NOTHING!!! Damned thing wouldn’t start. I figured, okay, the battery needs to be charged before it will start. I left it plugged in for four hours and still nothing.

I was the first civilian through Panafoto’s doors Monday morning. I went around and around with the manager about getting them to swap out the non-working unit with one they had out back. All in Spanish, I might add. No, they had to send the one in my possession to the Apple Store in Panamá as they call the Capitol. They would send it express and I’d have a replacement Wednesday afternoon. Needless to say I was pissed, but had to capitulate after 45 minutes of fruitless arguing.

Wednesday afternoon arrived. Nobody with a computer showed up at my door. I called Panafoto and they apologized, but the torrential downpours currently underway meant it wasn’t going to happen but I was assured that I’d have the replacement “before 12″ the next day. Well, almost. I was just ready to call when two guys from Panafoto showed up at 12:15. We opened the box, pushed the button and Voilà, it worked!

So, here I am with four notebook computers:

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There is definitely a learning curve moving from the PC platform to the Mac way of doing things. It will take a while, but the Airbook is praised as absolutely the best notebook in existence. We’ll see.

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As Close To Free As It Gets

There’s no doubt about it, Panama is filled with a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables. My friend Omar, in Panama City, or simply Panamá as it’s called here, has been running a series of posts on his blog about a roadside stand near his house where he and his wife buy a lot of their produce: http://epiac1216.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/a-humble-farmers-stand-in-tumba-muerto/

I urge you to go see the wonderful series about this man’s stand and then browse around in Omar’s blog. Remember, when you’re reading it, that Omar is Panamanian born and English is his second language and one he is passionate about.

Anyway, I’ve written about how people in my neighborhood collect the goodies around our barrio: http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2014/06/10/not-free-but-cheap-food/

Now, these stands are all over the place. They’re along the Inter American Hwy, they’re on the city streets of downtown David, and in several kiosks around the bus terminal. I went to the supermarket El Rey, yesterday, and one of the things I wanted was some tomatoes. The ones there were horrible and I didn’t buy any. Today, at the bus station I bought a bag of pibá still hot from being cooked, and a bag of wonderfully ripe plum tomatoes. They were a buck a bag.

Today's bargains

A word about the fan, which I also bought today. Most, but not all, of the buses running from Boquerón into the city are air conditioned. And it gets hot in David, believe me. More so than here where I live, and definitely scorching compared to places like Boquete and Potrerillos Arriba up in the mountains. And even the air conditioned buses often don’t keep the a/c on when they’re waiting for passengers in the terminal. The non a/c buses (actually they have it but the drivers don’t use it to save on fuel costs) are okay while on the move because the windows are opened and you get the breeze. But sitting in the terminal without a/c you need some way to create your own breeze. Many people use a newspaper or something else.

The other day I saw a girl waiting for the bus to come in and she was using a fan. I asked where she’d bought it and she told me about an Indian (India indian) shop not too far from the terminal. I had to go pay my internet bill this morning so I stopped by the Indian shop and bought 3 fans. This one ($1.99) I’ll keep in my knapsack for when it’s needed.

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Not Free, But Cheap Food

I recently wrote a post about how much free food was available here in Panama. Yesterday I went to a supermarket for groceries. Naturally that wasn’t free, but when I went to the bus stop to get back home there was a gentleman about my age who had set up a box on one of the two available seats. It was filled with avocados and pibas.

Now, you all know what avocados are, and there are several large avocado trees along my street. People come with long bamboo poles to knock them down.

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The old man was selling them for 50¢ each. Half of what they go for in the supermarkets. They were all rather soft and ready to eat so I bought one. It was scrumptious, too. Creamy and just right. You know how avocados are judged? You buy them in the market and wait for them to soften up. Each day you give them a little squeeze and goes like this: too hard, too hard, too hard, too hard, too late it’s rotten.

He also had a dozen bags of pibá (known in English as Peach Palm fruit.).

pibas

They are seasonal and people throughout Central and South America love these. In Costa Rica they’re called pejibaye. They’re chontaduro in Colombia and Ecuador, pijuayo in Peru, pijiguao in Venezuela, tembé in Bolivia. The Brazilians know them as pupunha and in Trinidad and Tobago they’re called peewah.

Whatever they’re called they’re about the size of a golf ball and just about as hard when they’re raw. They have to be boiled for hours in order to soften them up enough so you can eat them. Most often they are cooked in salted water over an open fire in a large pot known as a fogón. Cooked this way the fire imparts a smokey flavor to the nuts. Personally I like them. The flesh, even when cooked right, is rather tough but it reminds me a bit of the flavor of artichoke hearts.

What really surprised me was what a bag of them cost. Only 25¢ for a dozen. (Don’t count them in the picture. I ate two before taking the shot.) They were so cheap I wasn’t sure I understood what he’d said the first time and had him repeat it. Twenty five cents a dozen. And they’d already been cooked. As you roam around downtown David (Dah VEED) there are dozens of street venders selling produce and now they all seem to have little plastic bags of pibá .

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Boquerón Is Booming

I came to Boquerón back in November 2010. It was a sleepy little village of about 1,500 people. http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2010/10/18/a-quick-peek-at-boqueron/

Things have changed quite a bit since then and the place is booming with a lot of new construction. Within the last year the Banco Nacional has opened a branch up near the Town Hall, across from the park.

BANK 2

A whole new housing development has been created called Brisas de Boquerón (Boquerón Breezes). And going up the hill towards home I see new construction sites every week.

brisas de boqueron

And right here in my little neighborhood there’s building going on next door. One house has been built already, and last week another one was started.

Construction

There are no new bars or restaurants, though. But yesterday walking down from the Post Office I noticed one house’s patio was filled with clothing and a hand made sign that said, Ropa Americana (American Clothes). Now, I often see comments on stories that say ALL of the western hemisphere is “America,” not just the United States. Technically that’s true, but you know that Ropa Americana refers to the USA, and NOT Honduras or Paraguay. And while I didn’t stop and check, I’d be willing to be that those “American Clothes” have labels saying they were made in China, Bangladesh or Viet Nam.

There’s no stopping progress. There was a sign across from the bank spelling out some of the public works projects that will be taking place here in the near future, one of which is repaving the road from El Cruce to the Town Hall. Boquerón is booming.

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Food For The Taking

Half of the entire population of the Republic of Panama live in the capitol. The rest of the country is pretty much rural. Even here in Chiriquí with the country’s third largest city (David) things are different than they are in most of the U.S. There’s free food for the taking almost everywhere.

As I’ve said before, while the official National Bird is the harpy eagle, the defacto national bird is the common chicken. They roam free all over the place. I even see them within the city limits of David. Unlike Mexico, Italy, France and other countries there really isn’t anything like a national cuisine here. The closest you could come to a national dish it would be sancocho. Basically that’s chicken soup with ñame and yucca, two root veggies, and seasoned with cilantro.

Sitting on my front porch I can see several different food sources and while some of them are on people’s property, others are kind of free for the taking. Like avocados. It seems that many people here have long, long poles, usually made of bamboo, that they use to knock down the fruits they couldn’t normally reach.

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He’s after avocados.

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Next door the neighbors have a lot of plantains…

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And papaya…

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There are also two HUGE mango trees and they’re LOADED and should be ripe and ready to go in a couple of weeks. There is an extremely bountiful lime tree in my back yard and orange and grapefruit trees are all over the place.

One thing’s for sure. The people around here will never starve.

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La Ley Seca

Tomorrow, Sunday, May 4th, is Panama’s election day. They only do it every five years. And it’s for every office from President down to Mayor. All over the country. Voting isn’t supposed to be optional. In theory it’s mandatory that everyone of legal age goes to the polls. Of course there will always be scofflaws who won’t go.

In Panama there are three major parties. The newest is the Cambio Democrático, with 36 members in the National Assembly. The current president, Ricardo Martinelli, owner of the huge supermarket chain, Super 99, is the leader of that party. He can not run for a second term for 10 years.

The second largest party, though its membership has fallen off in the past five years is the Partido Revolucionario Democrático with 17 members in the Assembly. This is followed by the Partido Panameñista with 13 members.

The Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista has 4 in the Assembly but they support the CD candidate for President. And then there’s the Partido Popular which isn’t all that popular since it only has a single member in the Assembly.

Like in the States it’s sort of a circus, but a little livelier. People fly the flags of their favorite party at their houses, they adorn their cars, and even their motorcycles, with the same flags as well as plaster them with huge ads like you’d see on buses back in the States.

Pickup trucks with loudspeakers mounted on their roofs roam the streets blaring out the virtues of their candidates. It seems that there’s a campaign poster on nearly every telephone pole, often with the competing parties on the same one. It doesn’t seem like they tear down each other’s posters, and each party has to put up money in order to post this stuff so that workers will be paid to take it all down after the election. On the InterAmerican Hwy., on the way into David (Dah VEED) there is a long structure for 11 billboard-sized posters in one place. Right now, 9 of them are political posters. One spot is empty and the other is an advertisement for a hardware company.

Groups from each party wander through the neighborhoods, stopping at each house, to talk up their candidates. I became pretty adept at saying, “Soy extranjero. No puedo participar en su proceso electoral, pero, buena suerte.” (I’m a foreigner. I can’t participate in your electoral process, but, good luck.)

There are outdoor rallies where stuff is given away, the most frequent and most visible are baseball caps and tee shirts. I saw one of my neighbors who I know is a big Cambio supporter by the huge party flag flying at his house wearing a new baseball cap touting Juan Carlos Navarro, the PRD candidate for president, and a Juan Carlos Varela, the Panameñista choice, tee shirt. When I commented on the mixed message he smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said the Spanish equivalent of, “Hey, free stuff.”

In a comment on a local forum one member said that his Ngobe worker was given 6 chicks as an incentive to vote for someone running for office in Chiriqui.  And a promise of 6 more this week. That’s better than the empty promise of a “chicken in every pot.

Needless to say, but I will anyway, the airways are flooded with campaign ads.

I recently read some stories in a newspaper at a restaurant where I was having lunch, that the Panameñista candidate, Varela, has accepted over $1.5 million dollars over several years from an international Internet gambling ring laundering money in the States, and he also was given a Bertram yacht valued at another two million.  The story, originally run by Miami-based Diario Las Americas was accompanied with photo copies of checks made out to Varela and documents from Bertram.

When I mentioned the story to a Panamanian friend the other day she said, “Oh, Varela was on television last night and explained it all.” I missed that.

They take their politics seriously here in Panama, and one thing they do is invoke La Ley Seca. The Dry Law. Voting day is tomorrow, Sunday, and starting at noon today, there will be no alcohol sales anywhere in the country until noon on Monday. There are signs wherever alcohol is sold advertising that fact. The only exception is sales to foreigners at the hotels where they are staying if they have proof that they aren’t  Panamanian citizens.

 

 

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