Tag Archives: Boqueron

Moving Again

NEW HOUSEThere’s actual news today.
I’ll be moving into a new place in February! I know, I just moved in here in October, but there are a lot of reasons to leave.
If you remember, I had 30 days to move out of the house I’d been living in for four years. They really did me wrong. Actually, I don’t think it was HIM. It was HER. The time I was with them at the old house she sat on one of the chairs like Jaba the Hutt, a pale, colorless reincarnation of Madame Defarge but texting away on her iPhone instead of knitting.
When I was given the eviction notice I went to my neighbors and people I knew in the area asking if they knew of any places I might rent at a reasonable price. I looked at two within days. The first one I wouldn’t let my dog vomit in. It was, to me, THAT BAD. So I moved in here to La Barriada.
It was a move made of necessity. The houses are very close together. My neighbor’s house is no more than 12 feet away. They have a colicky infant that cries constantly. They also have a boy who is in the “terrible twos” and his fat, ugly, vapid, bovine mother screams at him constantly and his crying adds to the infant.
There are times when they’ve played their music at full blast, and when I complained she said it was “in my house.” I screamed above the thumping base that when it was being played that loud it was in MY HOUSE, TOO, and I didn’t appreciate it. There have been a few times when the only response I could come up with was infantile, I admit, and to combat them I turned MY radio up full blast and blared Jerry Lee Lewis and Bob Marley at them until the toned it down.
Other times people a couple of blocks away are playing THEIR music so loud that the bass just rattles my gourd. Like last night. A Wednesday. And yet there will be times on Friday and Saturday nights when it’s as silent as a crypt. I can’t understand it.
Some people are about to move in across the street. They were bringing some stuff in the other day and had the back of their SUV open and you could see the 18″ speakers. That doesn’t bode well.
But the worst thing has been NO FUCKING WATER. We go, sometimes DAYS without any water here. We’re not hooked up to IDAAN the regular water company. There is a single large tank that is supposed to serve over 100 houses. IT DOESN’T. There hasn’t been a drop of water here at this house in TWO DAYS now. In the past week there has been a weak dribble for as much as an hour but it comes on at around 5 a.m. I leave the tap on and can hear it when it starts. Of course then I have to get up and do the dishes as fast as I can. A couple of weeks ago it took me TWO FUCKING DAYS to do a small load of laundry. The water started trickling. I threw my dirty underwear and a couple of shirts in the machine and set the water level to LOW. Well, it washed the load, but by the time it drained the water wasn’t running any more and I had to wait for the next day for the rinse cycle to go. I have two 5 gallon buckets in the bathroom so I can flush the toilet and I fill them from the shower. IF the pressure is enough to come through the shower head. Half of the time it’s not.
AND, it’s the DRY season now. We haven’t had rain here in a week. When it rains I usually put those buckets outside and let the rain run off from the roof fill them. Getting low now, though it is clouding up right now and we may get some rain and I can top off.
I can’t live like this any longer.
One of my friends, an old journalist, Jorge Rios, the man who put together the magazine here with the story about me….
Oh, here’s another thing I didn’t mention. DOGS. The next door neighbors have a pair that they kept chained. They used to bark and moan and cry sometimes all night long. Once I recorded them for an hour and then played it for my landlord. They’ve since unchained the dog who roam around the neighborhood. But they’re nice dogs. One’s a pitty mix and the sweetest thing. The other has a lot of doberman. They’re both really just puppies. They spend a lot of time lying on my front doorstep which is cool. I feed them since the vapid bitch next door hardly ever does. I’m cool with them being around my house. BUT, when it gets dark, anyone walking around sets them off into a barking frenzy. It’s probably good at keeping baddies away, but it’s FUCKING ANNOYING AT 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. There are also several houses nearby, three of which I can see, that have dogs on short chains and one of them, three houses away yips and moans at LEAST five or six hours a day.
I can’t live like this any longer.
So, back to Señor Rios. He’s told me about a couple of places to look at when we’ve seen each other on the bus heading down the hill. I didn’t care for either one. But today we happened to be on the same bus and he told me about another place, and he’d arrange for me to see it around 3 in the afternoon. The place is actually a duplex that used to be used as government offices and I knew where they were. They are right up in what passes as the “center of town” such as it is. One house away from the town park, and a block away from el Palacio Municipal and the Info Plaza. It’s right on the main road so all I have to do to catch the bus is walk outside my front door. It’s a block away from the big “Chino” which is Panama’s answer to 7-11 and Circle K. The ONLY disadvantage to the location is that several times a year they hold events there at the covered basketball court by el Palacio and I used to be able to hear the music all at the old house a kilometer away.
The fucking dog three houses away hasn’t stopped yipping for the last hour since I started writing this.
I met Señor Rios at the duplex. His brother lives in the next house. I don’t know the man, but I’ve said hello to him many times over the last four years whenever I was walking past his house and he happened to be sitting on the porch. Well, Jorge and I went to meet the landlord who lives about 100 yards away and I got a look inside. IT’S HUGE!! As you enter what will be the living room it’s at LEAST 15’X15′. The kitchen actually has a counter. Not real big, but the biggest I’ll have had since living in the gringo-style house in Potrerillos Arriba. TWICE as large as at the old house and there’s NO COUNTER here. In fact, I had to put the stove and refrigerator in one of the bedrooms and turn it into the kitchen. The sink (that has no water) is in what is supposed to be the kitchen here.
Then there is a long corridor leading to two large bedrooms which have CLOSETS, another thing I haven’t had since Potrerillos, and that was over FOUR YEARS AGO. Between the two bedrooms  is the bathroom. There is RUNNING WATER in both the kitchen and the bathroom. I know because I turned the tap and water came. The bedrooms are probably 12’X12′. There’s also water out back so I can put the washing machine there and do laundry.
Rent is $150/month. Thirty more than here in La Barriada but twenty five less than the old house, and there’s NO YARD to be mowed. The person renting the other side of the building is retired but has been up in the States for the last couple of months. The neighbors beside me are a couple of ladies at least in their 60s. I’ve walked around there for years and so I know, by sight at least, everyone. It will be nicer there than here.
I have to go see Sr. Moreno Monday to pay for February though I won’t be moving in right away. I’ll give him a couple of weeks for painting. He says it will all be done over the weekend. Next I’ll have to write a letter to my current landlord and give him the required 30-day notice that I’m leaving. He’s a real nice guy and I hate to bug out on him (there’s no lease), but I can’t live like this any longer.

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Chiriquí Flu Update

Las autoridades municipales, en consenso con representantes del distrito de Barú, en la provincia de Chiriquí, acordaron suspender cualquier tipo de actividad relacionada con las fiestas del dios Momo ante la alerta por el brote del virus A (H1N1) en la región.

My rough translation of this story from Critica newspaper is:

“Municipal authorities, together with representatives of the Barú district in Chiriquí province have decided to suspend any type of party activities related to Carnival because of the outbreak of the A (H1N1) virus in the region.”  Barú district is home of Puerto Armuelles and La Frontera where most of the cases have come from.

baru

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Seriously Bad Stuff In Chiriquí

With the last few weeks there has been some seriously bad stuff going in in Chiriquí Province where I live. There has been an outbreak of AH1N1 virus also known as “Swine Flu.” Influenza A (H1N1) virus is the subtype of influenza A virus that was the most common cause of human influenze   (flu) in 2009, and is associated with the 1918 outbreak known as the Spanish Flu that killed some 50 to 100 million people worldwide over about a year in 1918 and 1919.

So far it’s known that 26 people have confirmed cases of the disease and three people have died of it here in the last couple of weeks. There have even been rumors that the city of David (dah VEED) has considered canceling Carnival celebrations, but in today’s Critica newspaper Yansy Rodríguez, of the Ministerio de Salud denied the rumors.

Back in 2009 when we were having the bid swine flu scare I came down to explore possible places to live here in Panama and people everywhere were wearing gauze masks. Of course that didn’t help them from catching the bug, but it DID prevent them from spreading it to others should they have it and sneeze of cough at least it was trapped between themselves and the mask and not spread to others in the vicinity.

It hasn’t come to that stage of panic yet, but what do you do to protect oneself? You could go to a clinic and get a flu shot. I’m not going to do that. But I do take some precautions. Most of the cases here in Chiriquí come from around Puerto Armuelles and Frontera. To go over to Bugaba to do some shopping you take the bus (35¢) or a cab (50¢) down to El Cruce at the Interamericana and catch a bus there. Bugaba, by the way, is to the west of Boquerón while David is to the east. Among the choices of west-bound buses are those marked for Armuelles and Frontera, the hot beds of flu activity right now. I won’t get on one of those to get to Bugaba or to return to El Cruce.

I have carried a small bottle of anti-bacterial hand cleaner in my back pack for a couple of years. I use it before taking a shopping cart at Romero supermarket. You never know whose used it before you. I use it again when I’m leaving the store. On the buses I try not to touch anything if I can help it, and after putting the stuff I’ve bought in the refrigerator or on the shelves I wash my hands. Now, that may sound like I’m a bit paranoid or becoming a bit Howard Hughes obsessive. I don’t think I am but these are just a few precautions a person can easily practice to cut down the chances of infection.

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Dealing With Crime In Panama

Okay, I need to say a few words about crime here in Panama. Naturally one of the big questions people have is what the crime situation is like here. Yes, we have it, and yes, it’s growing, just like it is in the States.

Naturally crime is worse in the Capitol, but it’s a big city with the same problems all big cities have worldwide, so I’m not even going to get into what’s happening there other than to say that most of the violent crime there is associated with drugs and drug dealers since Panama is a trans-shipping site.

We have a growing crime problem here in Chiriquí Province, and that’s directly the result, I believe of two things…David (dahVEED) is the country’s SECOND LARGEST city and big city problems come along with it. Another contributing factor is Chiriquí Province has seen a huge influx of foreigners (mostly from the States and Canada) and while there doesn’t seem to be any animus towards us, the gringos (and I’m going to use that term for EVERYONE who isn’t a Panamanian) are generally richer than the natives and that naturally makes gringos TARGETS.

Crime is a major concern for the gringos here in the Republic. (When referring to “gringos” I mean anyone who comes here whose native tongue is not Spanish.)

Many people assume that because the doors and windows have bars on them crime must be running wild. Not really. While those barred doors and windows ARE crime prevention features it is also very much a “Latin” thing, too.

We in the expat community really only pay attention to crime when it strikes us or one of our own, but the majority of the victims of crime are the natives. We just don’t pay attention to it because we don’t read the Spanish-language newspapers or watch Spanish-language television broadcasts. We live in our own little bubble.

Recently there has been an increase in home invasion crimes and two expats have been shot as a result. One, a British woman, I happen to know slightly from Potrerillos Arriba. She very nearly died, spent several weeks in the hospital and isn’t completely out of the woods yet. The other recent shooting involved a a man who was shot twice but not nearly as seriously as the lady. As if getting shot ANYWHERE isn’t serious enough, right?

One thing I know is that the lady made herself a target for such a thing to happen.  She had a lovely house on probably an acre or more of lovingly maintained lawns and shrubbery. The home would be the envy of many people in the States. Now, everybody should be able to build a nice house on well-kept grounds and live happily ever after. . .in a perfect world. In the last decade gringos have poured into this country that, despite a rapidly growing first-world infrastructure  is essentially just getting out of being third-world. To some of the people here a wheelbarrow is as big a technological leap as a lunar rover was to the States. There are PLENTY of people living hand-to-mouth here though we don’t see them too often. Most are indigenous people who live up in the mountains in shanties made of split bamboo with rusting tin roofs, and you’d generally have to trek an hour or more to get to where they live. Out of sight, out of mind.

But there is also a growing sub-culture of thuggery here though, thankfully, they don’t walk around with their pants sagging down. The law here does NOT incarcerate minors under fourteen, releasing them to their parents even after committing the most horrendous crimes including murder. Enterprising Fagins are exploiting this fact and recruiting youngsters to actually commit the crimes. These gangs often roam around neighborhoods in taxis casing homes to break into and it doesn’t matter if anyone’s home, either.

So, how do I cope with all this? First of all, I DON’T live like so many of the gringos who expatriate here. I DON’T live up in what is often disparagingly referred to as “Gringolandia.” That is the Boquete region, Potrerillos which has a growing expatriate population or Volcan. For most of the time I’ve lived here it has been in Panamanian neighborhoods where I’m the only gringo and I live in a house similar to all my neighbors. Except for the fact that when locals see me I’m instantly recognizable as an expat I blend in.

And one takes precautions. During daylight hours my doors are open to allow the breezes to blow through the house. That’s where the bars come in handy. THOSE doors are ALWAYS locked.  No one is going to sneak in. While it is possible to own a gun here in Panama it is VERY HARD to get permission to own one. In fact, within the last month, a former chief of police in another provincial town was found guilty of having unauthorized weapons and sentenced to TEN YEARS IN PRISON. They take stuff like that very seriously here. That doesn’t mean I’m unprotected, though. I have a VERY LARGE, VERY SHARP machete close at hand and honestly I wouldn’t be afraid to use it on someone trying to get into my house uninvited.

So what would happen if someone broke in while I wasn’t home? Well, there really isn’t much for anyone to steal. I don’t own a television or a stereo system. My most valuable possession is my MacBook Air computer which I’m using to write this. I have a Sony camcorder and a nice Canon still camera and a bicycle. I’ve written down the serial numbers to all these things and sent them to myself via an email so no matter where I am, if I have access to a computer I can give the proper authorities the information they’d need should they find someone with my stuff.  Those are the GOOD things. I also have three dead H-P notebook computers that I didn’t throw away and also have the serial numbers for. Why do I still have them? They’re DECOYS.

When I was house sitting in Potrerillos Arriba, which DIDN’T have bars, I’d put my computer and cameras in the clothes dryer and cover them with a couple of towels. I figured any self-respecting robber isn’t going to check there for valuables. Here in Boquerón what I do when I know I’ll be away from the house for a couple of hours is to put the computer, the power cord and this cordless keyboard into a kitchen trash bag and put THAT into a bag of actual trash. If some crook finds it, more power to him. But I figure he’s going to find the dead notebooks, say, “Aha! Good score!” and be gone.

And that’s how I deal with things here.

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Trapped

One of the problems with living in a rural are like Boquerón, well, any rural area for that matter, is that if something goes wrong on the main road you travel on there are very few alternative routes open to you.

They’ve been working for several months, now, to resurface the main Boquerón road from El Cruce to the town center. And believe me, it needed to be done. They started tearing out the old surface back at the end of August leaving a rutted dirt road in its stead. Then, at the end of September they started laying down the macadam. I was still living at the other house then and they came on down to a couple of blocks below the caseta (bus shelter) where I’d pick up the bus. As you can see from this Google Earth pic, from the town center there are several alternative route that the buses and taxis can take that parallel the main road. Up to a point, that is.

Detours

From that last yellow push pin down to El Cruce is a little more than 2 kilometers. A mile. The entrance to the barriada lies in the middle. Last Wednesday I needed to go over to Bugaba, the next town west of here, to buy some spices I needed for a recipe I wanted to try. I got a cab at the entrance to the barriada which took me down to the crossroads and immediately picked up one of the many buses that pass by all day long. I was at the Romero supermarket about 15 minutes later.

It only took me a couple of minutes to get what I needed with no impulse shopping since I’d done my weekly grocery shopping a couple of days earlier. I was back at the crossroads in less than an hour from when I started. One of the Boquerón buses was there, but I couldn’t get on. The road had been closed for grading. They weren’t letting anything but official traffic through, so the only way to get back home was to WALK! And it was HOT! Took me over a half hour because of my emphysema and stopping every couple of hundred yards to rest in a bit of shade.

Today I needed to make a trip to the grocery store again and stock up for the week. Saturday was the big Independence Day here, and as in the States when a holiday falls on the weekend Monday is usually a day off from work except for places like supermarkets and restaurants. I figured they wouldn’t be working on the road until Tuesday. I was wrong. They were grading and a steam roller was following the grader. It wasn’t looking good though traffic didn’t seem to be affected. Cars, trucks and taxis were passing in both directions past the caseta where I was lolling in the shade.

A young indigenous lad came up and sat down in the caseta with me and he struck up a conversation which was quite unusual. It was the first time in over five years that this has happened to me. He was curious about Florida when I told him that’s where I was from and he actually knew that Miami has a huge Spanish-speaking population. He said he has a friend who lives in Toronto and hardly anyone speaks Spanish there, of course. The first Cruce-bound taxi came around the bend and I was able to flag it down. I needed to get over to Bugaba as fast as possible on the chance that they might close the road to traffic again.

Well, I made it over there, did my shopping and got back in a little more than an hour this time. The road was still open and a north-bound Boquerón showed up less than five minutes after I arrived. I now have groceries enough to take me into next week, but I know that in a couple of days they’re going to start laying the black top and then we’ll all be trapped here since there are no alternative vehicular routes down to El Cruce, or most of the way up toe the center, either. The folks in above us here in the barriada will be able to get a bus which will take an alternative route from the town center down to a place called La Guinea on the Interamericana and from there into David.

Alternative Route

But I don’t care. I’ll just hunker down here.

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Well — THIS SUCKS!!!

I live online. It’s my connection with the world outside mi barrio de español. Since I’m moving I had to make sure I would  be able to get online. Last week I went down to the Cable (Cah Blay) Onda offices in downtown David to check whether or not I could get their service at my new house.

“Oh, yes,” the girl said, “we have service at Brisas de Boquerón.” Great, but I didn’t want them to cut the service off immediately and leave me in the cold since I haven’t quite moved into the new place yet. Poco a poco it’s getting done. Well, today I went down to Cable Onda to set up installation at the new house. Guess what? Well, here, this map will show you what I mean…

Service ends

You’ll probably have to click on the pic to enlarge it, so I’ll explain what it shows. See those yellow stick pins in the upper portion of the photo? That’s where my house is. The two yellow stick pins are where THE FUCKING SERVICE ENDS RIGHT NOW!!! That’s right, there’s no cable yet on the street where I live, and they have no idea when it might be strung. That really, REALLY SUCKS!

When I moved into the house here in Boquerón the barrio wasn’t wired for cable t.v. or internet. So what I used was a USB modem from the cellular company, Claro. It plugged into a USB port on the computer and, while slow, it was good enough to get most of the sites I use, like this one. It looked like this and it cost me $40/month for unlimited access.

claro-usb-wireless-internet-access-modem-in-dominican-republic

It was okay, but when Cable Onda came around and offered faster internet speeds for the same price, I took them up on the offer, and by and large have been happy with the service. I say by and large because in the last month there have been several times when there was ZERO access, generally after a major thunderstorm moved through the area, and the outages were up to 20-hours long.

Well, after finding out I couldn’t be hooked up at the new house I immediately went to Claro and got their WiFi router service. Same price as I’ve been paying, but slower speeds but it’s better than nothing. And the reason I got the router was so I could download my free Kindle books to my tablet. Originally if I wanted to download books I’d ordered I either had to go up to the InfoPlaza at the town hall or use the country’s free WiFi system at the bus terminal. Not critical, but kind of a pain in the ass having to go to those places. The Claro router looks like this:

ROUTER

The router costs $80 if you go pre-paid which is what I used to do with the USB modem. HOWEVER, if you get a contract then the router is FREE with the plan I’ve chosen. And I was able to get on a contract. The agent, a young man named Kevin who spoke excellent English (our whole transaction which took well over an hour was conducted in a melangé of English and Spanish simply because I feel uncomfortable talking to Panamanians in English) asked me if I had credit here in Panama, a requisite to getting a contract. I said I’d never bought anything on credit here so I doubted I’d qualify. “Wait a minute,” he said, “how long have you had Cable Onda?” I told him about two years or so and he went to his computer and, sure enough, because I’ve been such a good customer with them I qualified to get a contract with Claro!  The contract is 18 months, but I can quit at any time with 30 days notice but there is a penalty and that’s that I’d have to pay the full price of the router.

The thing’s working fine. I’m giving it a test run right now writing this post. Well. that’s it. I’ll still be able to get online even if it isn’t the way I’d hoped it would be, but, as we used to say in Antibes, “c’est la vie.”

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If I Can’t Have A Shantyboat

Then I want to live HERE …

island

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