Does it get any better than lying in the dirt at the foot of your favorite tree on a hot afternoon?
Tag Archives: Expatriate
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.
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!
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.
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.
What a strange day. It’s like something happened overnight that I wasn’t aware of. Moved into some kind of parallel universe, sort of. I mean Where IS everybody? I needed to go into David to do my pre-weekend shopping. Usually I have to stop a couple of times in the 150 yard hike out to the bus stop, but not this morning. Nobody home.
It was a short wait at the bus stop. One came by at 9:15. Now lots of times the nine o’clock buses are lleno (full) packed and will just pass by because there isn’t even standing room. I’ve had to pass up as many as three buses because they were ‘como latas de sardinas’ (like cans of sardines. Isn’t my Spanish getting better?). But this time there were only four people on a 36-passenger bus and only one young Indian girl and her baby got on before we got to the InterAmericana, three kilometers down the hill.
There was a net gain of two riders between ‘El Cruce’ (where the Boquerón road crosses the InterAmericana) and the 20 kilometers of so to President Martinelli’s Supper 99 supermarket which is the outer edge of what one would consider downtown David. From there to the terminal I was the ONLY passenger and the driver took side roads the buses never travel on which was cool because I got to see new things.
At the terminal I always hop on the Dolega bus since they depart every 10 minutes and pass by Plaza Terronal where the El Rey supermarket that I wanted to shop at is located. This is a very popular bus because people who work at Conway (Panama’s Target) Panafoto (think Best Buy) and other stores at Terronal use this bus and it’s general standing room only. Today it wasn’t even half full when it left the terminal.
The REAL Twilight Zone, however, was El Rey. Those of you familiar with Florida, El Rey is a Panamanian version of Publix. My footsteps nearly echoed off the walls. I’ve never seen it so empty. I asked the cashier if it was a holiday or something since it seemed as if the entire province hadn’t checked in at dawn. She just shrugged. ‘Es temprano,’ (it’s early) she said.
The normal hustle and bustle of the terminal at 11;30 a.m. was subdued. The Boquerón bus was in its slot and I was on my way home after a 15 minute wait with the bus less than half full. I haven’t the slightest idea what’s going on. I think I’ll take a nap and hope everything returns to normal when I wake up.
I’m back on line, and had the best night’s sleep in nearly three months. What’s happening? Well, I moved again, that’s what. As regular readers of this increasingly irregular blog know, the lease on the house here in Boquerón ended at the end of November, and the house actively went up for sale. I was assured by the owners that I would have at least 30 days notice if the house was sold in which to find new accommodations.
I have enjoyed the security of the last two-year lease and have come to love this little neighborhood and the people that live here. I certainly don’t care to move. So, when a lady three doors away said she wanted to rent her house and would I be interested I decided, after a week’s contemplation, to move there. We had a lease drawn up for a year with a continuing option, went to the notary’s office in Bugaba and I spent several days dragging my junk up the little hill to the new house a hundred yards away. You never really know how much crap you have in your life until it becomes necessary to move it. That’s what I really liked about living on my boat. I spent nine months in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala and yet I was home every night.
I was almost instantly sorry that I’d decided to move on day one. First of all, the new house was stiflingly hot. The construction is typically Panamanian. That is, the walls are cement block. Not the thick block we’re used to in the States, but block that is half as thick. Probably a cost-saving design for countries where people don’t have as much money as they do in the States. Anyway, when the walls are up steel girders are installed, a galvanized tin roof goes on and a suspended ceiling with drop-in panels finishes it off. There’s no insulation between the ceiling and the roof and now, at the height of the dry season the temperature in the space between the ceiling tiles and the roof rises to nearly unbearable levels.
Of the two air conditioning units in the house I only had use of one. It was in the back bedroom and was an old window-banger type installed through a hole in the wall. Gaps of a quarter of an inch were visible all around, and with five panes of glass missing from the jalousie windows cooling the room was nearly impossible.
And the place was noisy. At the old house I could hear roosters crowing all day long, but they were about 50 yards away. At the new house there were dozens of roosters 25 feet away and they crowed, like clockwork at midnight, 2:10 a.m., 3:40, 4:15 and 5:55. Plus the next door neighbor’s two dogs barked at everything that moved between dusk and dawn.
I caught a break on the second of March, though. I got a call from the landlady’s daughter. She said her mom was very sick and that the doctor wanted her to move back into the house here in Boquerón since the house she was living in in Bugaba was still under construction and the dirt and noise wasn’t conducive to a good recovery. Her mother, she said, would return my deposit to me so I’d end up living in the house for three months but only paying for two.
A quick email to the landlord of the old house was all that was needed to be reinstated there. So, over the last week I packed all my stuff and moved once again. You never realize how much crap you have in your life until you have to move it somewhere.
When I mentioned to my neighbors that Gladis was going to be moving back in to her house there was a lot of eye rolling. She is NOT popular here. Everyone asked if I had a lease, and when I said I did they all said, “Then tell her you won’t move.” I didn’t get into how I didn’t like Gladis’s house, so I settled for, “To what purpose? If she’s sick and I say I won’t move then I’m a bad guy. What do I get out of being a bad guy? Nothing.”
So, here I am, right back where I started. Who knows how long I’ll be here since the house is for sale. I’m not looking forward to having to move again.
Oh, the only bad thing about the move is that there’s a tree just on the other side of the fence here that’s in bloom and the pollen is absolutely kicking my butt.
This is my 26th smokeless day. It hasn’t been easy. At LEAST a dozen times a day I’m ready to break down, hike up to the Chinos (sort of a Panamanian 7/11 and called a ‘Chino’ because they’re mostly owned and operated by Chinese families) and buy a pack of cigarettes. But I haven’t.
Today I had to go pay the water bill for the old house. Normally I pay it at a ‘Multipagos’ at either Romero or El Rey supermarkets, but for some reason I couldn’t actually follow, the girl at the Multipagos at Romero said I had to go to IDAAN (the water company) to pay this bill.
The easiest IDAAN office to get to is in Bugaba. That’s also where they make the cigars I enjoyed up until a month ago. Now, I quit smoking cigarettes over two years ago when I switched to cigars. The only advantage of cigars over cigarettes, at least as I see it, is you don’t inhale a cigar and I’ve already done extensive damage to my lungs. But I’m a nicotine addict. Have been since I was 12. And I have to say that I DID enjoy smoking my cigars. Really enjoyed it whereas smoking cigarettes was just shutting off the withdrawal symptoms.
Well, I checked my cash stash and had enough on hnand to buy a month’s supply and still have enough left over to finish off the month without having to go to the bank to get more. So, I went down to El Cruce, where the Boquerón road crosses the InterAmerican Highway to pick up a bus for Bugaba. (It’s in the opposite direction from the buses I ride into David)
There’s a big caseta there. A caseta is a bus waiting station. The one at El Cruce is about 70 feet long. It’s basically a large bench with a roof to keep things dry when it rains. Plopped right down in the middle of the floor of the caseta was a used condom. That gives one pause to think about what must have been going on there last night or early this morning.
There are easily eight or nine different bus routes that stop at El Cruce. Two of those, the Cerro Punta bus and the Serrano bus, pass by the cigar factory. The others don’t. I decided I’d take the first bus that stopped at the caseta and that would determine whether what I would do.
After contemplating the discarded condom for a moment I looked up to see a Cerro Punta bus whiz right on past without even slowing down. Okay. Perhaps the Serrano bus will be next. But it wasn’t it was a Puerto Armuelles bus, it had empty seats and I took it. Now I could have taken that bus into Bugaba and waited around for a CP or Serrano bus and gotten to the cigar factory for an extra 35 cents. But, instead, I got off at the town’s center, walked down to the IDAAN office, paid the bill and put another $10 down against future payments (water’s $2 and change per month), walked the two blocks up to a bus stop and got on a bus and came home.
Right now, I’d REALLY like to have a smoke, but I don’t have anything to light up.
Yesterday was one of those special afternoons that come along every so often. I got to meet a couple of Statesiders who read my blog. John and Susan are fellow cruisers from Oregon who, several years ago, sailed from their home in the States down through Central America, passed through the Canal and ended up in Florida for a time. They liked what they saw of Panama and are now down here doing their ‘due diligence’ and exploring the country with an eye on retiring here. They have rented a house up near Boquete and are out meeting bloggers who live in the area. They came to visit me yesterday afternoon.
I showed them around my neighborhood and then we piled in their car and we went up into the hills to take the Ruta Sur over to the Branding Iron, a watering hole down in Dolega where the road branches out to either Potrerillos or Boquete. It was a chance for them to see some of the pretty sights that Chiriqui has to offer. One of them was way up in the hills probably close to a thousand feet above sea level where sits a 30 foot power catamaran up on blocks. The owner, also a gringo was standing in the shade of a palm tree and we stopped and talked to him for a bit. Then we proceeded to the Branding Iron where we could sit a place for for a couple of drinks and swap sea stories. It would leave them on the route back to where they’re staying and give me easy bus access to get back home.
It was kind of depressing to walk into the Branding Iron to find that the two t.v.s hanging on the wall were tuned to Fox Gnus. Yuck! They felt the same way. I told them that we shouldn’t be too harsh about Fox. It actually saved my life. I told them I’d been in a horrible car accident a couple of years ago that left me in a coma. I’d been in the hospital for several months, attached to tons of tubes and monitors when someone came into my room and turned on Fox News on my t.v. Naturally I had to get up and shut it off!
All too soon it was time to go our separate ways. They took me down to the bus stop in Dolega a couple of clicks away and in less than five minutes I was on my way down to the depot in David.
As I got close to my street I saw a about a dozen people standing around on the corner. What had drawn the crowd was that two of my neighbor ladies, Maíde and Francia, had set up a table in the caseta (the bus shelter) with a two burner gas range where they were cooking up almohábanos and smoked pork slices. Neighborhood residents were lined up to buy the almohábanos by the dozens which the two ladies loaded into paper bags which were quickly taken to houses in the area for cena (supper).
This was my first experience with almohábanos. Doing a Google search I see that it’s a popular Latin food. It’s made of corn flour and fried up in hot oil. Almohábanos is more of a kind of food product that takes various shapes and permutations. The ones being prepared by my neighbors looked like those large fritter-like things at the top of the plate:
I bought a plate with one almohábano and a slice of smoked pork for $1.25 and took it home where I downed it with a frosty bottle of Panamá. The almohábano was actually pretty bland and nearly tasteless but it was better with the addition of a bit of Pace salsa. Maíde and Francia were doing a land-office business, but at $1.25 a plate I can’t imagine they were making a whole lot of money. I almost suspect that it was as much a social event for them as it was a business enterprise. But so it is, here in Panama.
I wrote in my 699th post to this blog (this makes it an even 700) that I recently got wired up for internet and television through a company, here, called Cable Onda. It’s too soon to give them a complete okie dokie on their service, but so far I’m pretty impressed.
I signed up last Monday. They said, at the office, someone would be out Thursday morning to wire up the services. Remembering that things operate on Panamanian time (that’s like ‘island time’ except it’s on the isthmus) I wasn’t ready to hold my breath waiting. Saturday morning I got an email saying someone would be around between 7:30 and 12:30. Okay. We’ll see. at 8:45 two guys showed up at my front door, and an hour later I had two spots in the house where I could watch my new television should I want to and one modem for the internet which, with the router I bought along with the t.v. I was ready to rock and roll.
It’s been two years since I’ve had a television set and for the past two years I’ve accessed the net via a USB modem with the blindingly fast speed of one-half meg. You couldn’t do a whole lot with it. Certainly it was WAY too slow to stream movies. Cable Onda promised 5 meg speed. I don’t know. Haven’t tested it. But I CAN stream movies.
So what about the t.v. in the first four days? Well, I watched two episodes of the Simpsons (in English), a few minutes of the winter Olympics (in Spanish) and I watched Panama Metra wallop the Chiriqui team in baseball on Thursday and Saturday nights (in Spanish, of course). That’s it for t.v.
The internet is a different story. Now that I’m able to stream video, I signed up with Netflix. I had a two day marathon of watching the first season of ‘Orange is the New Black.” Watched 13 hours, so there’s no need to say whether or not I liked the show. I also watched ‘The Dark Knight.’ I’d seen it years ago in the States. Heath Ledger was FANTASTIC as the Joker. What a shame he’s gone. What a talent.
So, that’s it. In between episodes of ‘Orange’ I finished one novel and started reading another. So goes life in the slow lane in Panama.
For the past two years I’ve been getting my internet connection via an USB connection (it’s that white thing sticking out of the computer on the right side) from a wireless phone company here called Claro.
It’s been okay and was a suitable solution while I was living in the old house. Two years ago when I moved in there weren’t any companies around that would hard wire the house at a reasonable price so I went with Claro. It costs $40.80/month for sucky connection speed (300-500kps). The downside of that is trying to watch any video streams. Almost impossible. Shortly after I moved here to Boquerón I tried to download a rental movie. It took 14 hours! Needless to say, I didn’t try doing it a second time.
Last week the company Cable Onda swept through the neighborhood offering to hook everyone up with a special two-month deal. You could get cable t.v., 5mbs internet service and home phone service for just $29.24/month after which the price would go up to $41.95/month. Pretty much all of my neighbors signed up, but I hesitated, wanting to check the company out. Through my research it seems they provide good service in the area, so I called their rep up and signed on.
Now, it’s been two years since I’ve had television access. Can’t say I’ve missed it much, but since I could get the t.v. and the internet all in a small bundle for what I’ve been paying Claro for their slow service, I signed up for the t.v., too. Tuesday I went into town and bought a 24″ LED t.v. set. I figure if most of the programming is in Spanish, perhaps I’ll learn more by osmosis. Who knows? They just finished up installing my service a few minutes ago. This is my t.v.
But it’s the internet connection I really wanted. Going to some YouTube vids they streamed seamlessly, so I’ll probably be renting a lot of movies in the future. I bought a router so now I can download books to my tablet without having to go to the InfoPlaza or the bus terminal to access their wifi.
In the last couple of years two of my neighbors have made trips up to the States.
The first to go were Amelia and her brother Eduardo. Amelia was married to a gringo, lived in the States for many years and has three kids that live there still. Amelia and Eduardo went up to attend the graduation, at Penn State, of her oldest son. They intended to visit Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., New York City and Connecticut. When they went they flew into the worst snow storm the northeast had had in half a century. Eduardo’s telling of their adventure was hilarious, though I could only understand a little more than half of it, since it was in Spanish, of course, but his pantomiming of sitting in his hotel room with a blanket around him didn’t need much translation.
The one thing that amazed him even more than his first encounter with the white stuff falling from the sky, was how early it got dark up there. Down here eight degrees above the equator the difference of when the sun rises and sets over the course of a year varies like about 45 minutes or so. Sun rises around 6 a.m. and sets about 12 hours later. Panamanians can’t believe that the sun sets before 5 p.m. up there.
My next door neighbor, Oscar, his wife and son, recently visited the States. They went to Orlando and Tampa just in time to be engulfed by the dreaded ‘Polar Vortex.’ When I talked to him a few days ago and asked him what his first impressions of the U.S. were, he didn’t talk about Disney, Universal or Busch Gardens. What impressed Oscar was the quality of the Interstate roads. One of his friends was there while we were talking and Oscar stressed at how well-maintained the roads were, how CLEAN AND TIDY the roadsides were, and how (you’re not going to believe this, gringos) polite the drivers were. If you haven’t driven in Panama then you have no idea what his perspective is on all that. Here’s an example, from Panama City, that’s typical…