Tag Archives: panama

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.



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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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The Power Of Tag Words

Recently a friend of mine asked for some insight into publicizing his business which is the manufacturing of really beautiful paddles for Stand Up Paddle boards. https://www.facebook.com/bakerworkz/ And he asked if WordPress was a good place to post. We’d talked about this four years ago before he moved from Potrerillos Arriba, Panama, to some God forsaken shit hole in Costa Rica noted only for its good surfing, wonderful scenery and beautiful women. Other than that the place has nothing going for it.

I told him I thought it was a worthwhile site and stressed that the use of “Tags” was extremely important for drawing people to his blog. This week I have a good example of just how true that is. Like most bloggers I started off like a house on fire back in 2009. I posted every day. When I was new here to Panama I had a lot of interesting stuff to post about. I had hundreds of visitors a day who found the blog through search engines when they were looking for information such as: Retirement Abroad, Retirement in Panama, A Stroll Around Dolega has been a BIG draw over the years. But as so often happens to bloggers life intruded. I mean the mundane aspects of life. I get up, check my emails, read news stories, go grocery shopping a couple of times a week, take naps in the afternoon, go to bed at night and do it all over again the next day. Not the stuff to write about.

Recently, though, one of the things I think of as routine, hiding my computer when I’m out of the house, led me to write a post about crime here in Panama.  Since I’m not posting much lately my readership has dropped off considerably. For example, this Monday (I’m writing this on Thursday) there were 54 visitors to the blog. Tuesday there were only 45. When I wrote the crime story I added a couple of tags to it that I don’t normally use. They were Boquete and Volcan, two very popular expat locations nearby. Naturally people interested in possibly expatriating here have heard of at LEAST Boquete and search engines would have picked up my tags which people would then see and possibly click on. Well, they DID! On Wednesday there were 182 visitors to the blog. Certainly not overwhelming, but nearly a four-fold increase.

It shows the power of using the right tags that will be picked up by search engines and draw people to your site.


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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.


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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The Ultimate In Cool

I’ve got a big post coming up about hammocks in the works. My hiking brother, Jeff, calls them “Bear Piñatas.” But if you’re a boat nut like me they don’t get much cooler than this…boat

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Transiting the Panama Canal

From the time I was about eight years old the only thing I wanted to do on my life was to be on a boat. Perhaps it might seem a bit odd that I never wanted to sail around the world single-handed in a small boat or to simply sail around the world at all. But while I did read all the books I could find about the subject it was never something I wanted to do myself. Too damned much water, if you ask me…

I looked to do things that were probably a bit more readily achievable. For instance, I wanted to cruise the Intracoastal Waterway along the east coast of the United States.  In fact, I’ve now done that half a dozen times. The very first time I did it I ran the entire 1,090 trip from Mile Marker  Zero to Fort Lauderdale, SINGLE-HANDED in a 43-foot Hatteras tri-cabin motor yacht in 1974. But to get to what is also called the ICW, I had to leave Burnham Harbor in Chicago and travel the lengths of lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie and then the Erie Canal from Tonawanda to Albany, and down the Hudson River. I dropped the owners of the boat off in Stamford, Connecticut where their daughter lived so I went up the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge and past the UN building. When shed of those two I proceeded, with my deck hand, back down the East River, past the Statue of Liberty and then offshore until reaching the Chesapeake Bay and Portsmouth, Virginia for the start of the ICW. My deckhand had to leave there and return to Mackinaw City, Michigan.

In the United States the Mississippi River is mythical. Who has read Huckleberry Finn and not wanted to raft on that river? Well, I did for a short ways one drunken night my first year in college in Canton, Missouri, some 35 miles north of Twain’s birthplace in  Hannibal, but that’s a story for another time. In 1975 I helped a young couple bring their 51-foot sailboat from the same harbor in Chicago that I’d departed from a year earlier. We went down the Illinois River, entering the Mississippi at the Cairo locks and went all the way down to New Orleans where we re-stepped the mast (can’t pass under the bridges and a lot of overhead power lines on the Illinois). From there we sailed to Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale thus completing what is known as “The Great Loop,” a circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States.

Here’s a picture of me at the helm of the sailboat in the Illinois River and my old girlfriend and the true love of my life, reading as we cruise along. (You can read my story about her here in the post “The $16.25 Divorce”)

On the River copy

I often thought sailing across the Atlantic Ocean was doable  and I did it in 1991 on this boat after spending three years in Europe (France and Spain).

Jolie Aire-Golfe Juan

Of course I’d always thought cruising Australia’s Great Barrier Reef would be fantastic, but barring that I settled for sailing the world’s second-longest barrier reef, in Belize, SINGLE-HANDED on MY OWN sailboat in ’92…

Nancy Dawson


The one thing on my nautical bucket list that I hadn’t done was a transit of the Panama Canal. What lead me down the path to expatriating to Panama came about in a discussion with my good friend Stefan. I suggested to him that he should go over to Sicily and meet his family members. His dad was directly from Sicily and his mom is first-generation in the U.S. I said that, for my part, I’d like to come down to Panama, have a tee shirt printed up that said, “I can handle lines,” and hang around the Balboa Yacht Club and see if I could hook a ride through the Canal. All yachts that make the transit are required to have four people to handle lines at each “corner” of the boat. Well, that never happened though I did visit Panama several times before making the move here. I visited the Miraflores locks twice and have had drinks at the Balboa Yacht club with friends, but never did get that tee shirt made up.

Last month my Facebook friends Julie and Steve King emailed me and said the new boat they were running was coming to Panama from the island of Saint Martin heading to Quepos on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Well, it took me about a millisecond to respond that if they were going through the Canal they’d need four line handlers and that I would love to be one of them if at all possible.

Last Saturday/Sunday I took the midnight bus from David to Panamá (That’s how Panamanians refer to Panama City, $12.70 after receiving the Jubilado discount) and got in there at about 6:30 a.m. I then took the bus to Colón ($3 and something and an interesting ride across the isthmus.) THEN it was a $25.00 taxi ride out to Shelter Bay Marina, a location that gives new meaning to the term “Middle of Nowhere.”  Then Julie, Steven and I had out first face-to-face meeting though we’d been writing back and forth for a couple of years. I also met Danny, the Tasmanian Devil and Mike a lost Swede.


This is NOT the boat I was on, but is a sister ship. Colombo Breeze is an Oyster 61 Hull #11.

In the afternoon the “admeasurer” came aboard to actually measure the length of the boat and get other information so the Canal could levy the appropriate charges ($1,400 and a tad more). Four sets of 100-foot long lines were delivered to the boat. These are required in case the yacht is going through the lock by itself in which case it will be centered in the lock by itself (extremely rare) or “nested with other yachts on either side in which case the outside boats run their lines to the lock walls as the boats are lifted up to Gatun Lake through three locks or back down to sea level on the Pacific side via the Pedro Miquel Lock and the two Mirflores locks. He told us to monitor the radio and be ready to start the transit the next day, Monday.

In the morning we received word that we needed to be out “on the flat” at 1600 hours to pick up our pilot, Geraldo, to go through the Gatun Locks. We made it out to the flats on time and shortly afterwards our pilot, a rather young man, came aboard and we headed to the first lock and got our first glimpse of who we’d be sharing the locks with…

Big ship entering Gatun lock

The big ships enter the locks first on the upward lifts followed by the smaller ones. These positions are reversed on the other side of Gatun Lake and as our second pilot explained it is so that if, for some reason, the large ship has problems the gates can be opened and the smaller vessels can leave. The working barge is the Port Louis (and YES, it does have a pronounced list to port) is from the Netherlands and is working on the Canal enlargement project. After the white, Sierra Queen entered the lock and was secured mid lock, the Port Louis entered and tied up astern of the big ship with their port side against the lock wall. We came along and secured ourselves to her starboard side and went with them through the three Gatun Locks up into the lake casting off the lines and re-tying them at each stage. When we exited the final lock the Sierra Queen disappeared into the dark and we were directed out of the shipping lanes to a large mooring buoy where we spent the night. The Port Louis anchored nearby. We were to go down with them in the Pedro Miquel and Miraflores locks, which was great because we’d gotten to the the Dutch skippers and everyone knew just what to do.

Julie, from Virginia,  without the slightest exaggeration, worked harder than the other four of us combined keeping us fed with such gourmet meals as crab cakes and a shrimp dish you wouldn’t believe in between getting up on deck handling lines.

Julie King

Julie, Steve and I sat around and drank some wine for a bit and then they went below to bed. It was such a beautiful night with a light breeze blowing that I slept up in the cockpit listening to the light slap of the chop against the side of a boat again. I slept well. Better than the night before in the chill of the boat’s air-conditioning. I drifted off to sleep hearing the distant sounds of work being carried out on the Canal’s new locks a couple of miles away, but it wasn’t enough to disturb me.

At a little after 7 the next morning the pilot boat came along side and we met Jorge, our pilot for the day…

Pilot jorge

What a great guy (Geraldo was, too, but we spent nearly the next 12 hours with Jorge.) His father was Finnish and his mother Panamanian. He graduated from the Argentinian Merchant Marine Academy. And worked in Traffic Control for several years on the Canal and ran Canal tug boats for nearly 16 years before becoming a pilot. His wife, who we didn’t meet, graduated from Kings Point, the United States Merchant Marine Academy and is a licensed Marine Engineer who also does work for the Canal.

Jorge is a highly educated, very well-read gentleman who speaks perfect English. I asked him how he learned his English and it was through his father who always spoke to him in English while his mother, and of course everyone else around him, spoke Spanish as he was growing up. It was delightful getting to know both of our pilots. The admeasurer said that pilots could often be jerks when they are assigned to guide a yacht through instead of a prestigious ship, but both Geraldo and Jorge were perfectly wonderful people and certainly made our transit something special…

Now to get to some photos…

 Capt. Stephen KingOur Captain, Steven King

Gatun Lake SceneryGatun Lake islandA couple of the islands in Lake Gatun. When the Chagres River was dammed to provide water to run the Canal locking system it became, at that time, the largest man-made lake in the world.

SmithsonianThe Smithsonian Institution runs the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lake. To learn more about what it is and what they do here, check this out…http://www.stri.si.edu

Lighthouse 1One of the many unique Canal navigation aids used to guide ships on their transit. Besides the usual red and green buoys there also a large number of “range markers” through Galliard Cut that the pilots use to keep the large ships in the center of the channel.

Our buddyPassing our locking buddy Tuesday morning. We weren’t speed demons but we left this guy in our wake. So much so, as well as the big ship that was going to go through Pedro Miguel and Miraflores with us that when we got down near the Pedro Miguel locks we had to anchor for about an hour an a half until everyone caught up with us. Not to worry, Julie prepared an absolutely fantastic shrimp and pasta lunch. (Should have taken a photo of that, but you’d probably drool all over your keyboards and short out your computer circuits)

Noriega home

El Renacer prison – home of former Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega.

Canal TugsCanal Tugs

Maintenance DepotThe Canal maintenance depot

Titan CraneThe crane, TITAN. It was built in Germany for WWII and was taken by the U.S, in reparations. Among other jobs it is used to remove lock gates for repair.

Moneky Hill and Centenario BridgeGold Hill, the highest part of the continental divide the Canal had to cut through. It was named “Gold Hill” to entice workers to come to Panama thinking they could get rich picking gold up off the ground here. That’s the Centenario Bridge, ahead. It was built by a French company and was the second bridge built over the Canal. A bridge, similar in design is being built in Colón, but this time by a German firm. Currently traffic traveling from one side of the Canal to the other up at Colón can only do so when the gates to the first of the Gatun locks are closed. They form a bridge for land traffic.

Sightseeing boat approaching Pedro MiguelWe were to lock down through Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks with one of the sightseeing boats that take people for excursions on the Canal. I had thought of doing this to make a transit. This boat was making a partial transit, just going through the Pacific side locks and a bit of a ways up the Galliard Cut, also known as the Culebra (Snake) Cut. I wouldn’t have been satisfied with just going part way up and returning. I’d have had to make the entire trip or nothing, and let me tell you, watching the people on that boat it would have been more exciting to die than to hang around on that thing as it locked through. The arrangement on the down locks is that the sight seeing boat would enter first and tie up on the right hand wall. Then our buddy would come in and tie up behind this one and we’d tie up alongside the Port Louis. After that a large ship would come in behind us and when they’d entered the gates would close and we’d drop.

Last to enterThis is the ship that came in behind us at the three down locks. I didn’t get any other pictures of it but I can tell you this: it filled the entire width of the lock which is 110 feet wide with, literally only inches to spare. It looked like you couldn’t slip a playing card down between the lock sides and the side of the ship. And when it finally came to rest its bow was no more than 50 feet from our dinghy.

Watching us in MirafloresSightseers watched us as we passed through the Miraflores locks.

Container Port in Pacific sideThe container port in the Pacific side after we had completed our transit.

Danny the Tasmanian DevilDanny, the Tasmanian Devil using a chamois to dry things off after a little bit of rain.

Mike JohannessonThis is Mike, our Swedish crew member. Most of the time when, we weren’t actually handling lines and when everyone was busy and there was no time to be taking pictures, he was down below, so I never did take his picture. This comes from his Facebook page.

We finally tied up at Flamenco Marina at the end of the Amador causeway. Julie got a break. We all went to dinner at the marina’s restaurant and had a wonderful, relaxing meal and pleasant conversation content in having accomplished our transit.

Wednesday I bid farewell to my friends who would be continuing their voyage up to Costa Rica come Friday morning. I caught a cab to the bus terminal at Albrook Mall and departed Panamá at 11:05. It was a bright, shiny Volvo double-decker. I was on the second deck by a window. They showed four movies during the trip. Three of them were totally in Spanish but the third one they showed was in English and Spanish with Spanish subtitles during the English parts It took a little longer than usual to get back to David because for about half of the distance, some 150 miles, the road west of Santiago is being four-laned. We got into David at about 6:40. The last bus for Boquerón leaves the terminal at 7. My duffel bag was one of the last to be dug out of the luggage compartment. I hightailed it (as fast as an old fart with COPD can hightail anything) and got up to the Boquerón slip just as the bus was pulling out. One of the nice things about living in a such a small town as I do, is that when I waved at the bus the driver recognized me and stopped to let me on. Believe it or not, I got the last seat available. ¿Que suerte, no?

So, what did I think of it?  To be perfectly honest it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped it would be, but it WAS great to meet the wonderful crew of Colombo Breeze and our Canal pilots. I’m extremely happy to have actually done it, but it’s not something I’d care to do again, if you know what I mean. I also learned a few things about myself. This was my swan song from spending time on the water. My COPD left me gasping for breath after the simplest of chores, though certainly not in any danger of keeling over in a dead faint or dying. But it makes me glad that I lived my life on the water and on boats while I was young and had the physical ability to do so. I have told young people for years: if you have a dream you’d better go out and do it while you’re able. Thank heavens I took to heart the advice Richard MacCullough spoke of in his book Viking’s Wake when I read it  forty-three years ago: “…And the bright horizon calls! Many a thing will keep till the world’s work is done and youth is only a memory. When the old enchanter came to my door laden with dreams, I reached out with both hands. For I knew that he would not be lured with the gold that I might later offer, when age had come upon me.”

To Julie and Steve King, I know I told you when I left the boat, but I need to say it over and over again: Thanks for your wonderful hospitality and the chance to close out my nautical bucket list. You have no idea how much the four days from July 13 to July 15th have meant to me.





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Permission Granted to Terrorize Panamanian Highways for Another Two Years

All things considered, Panamá gained a great deal from its long, contentious association with the United States. It has, undeniably, the best infrastructure in Central America and probably most of South America as well. Unfortunately for the U.S. the Republiscum recently buried programs to fix the country’s ailing infrastructure so that it’s not inconceivable that Panamá will surge ahead of the States in having a better infrastructure. But you know, repairing all those broken bridges, highways and water systems costs money, smacks of Socialism and doesn’t allow for further tax cuts for the very wealthy.

There’s a lot, though, that the United States could learn from Panamá. For instance, Panamanians have the highest sense of well–being in the entire world. The U.S. only comes in at #23 out of 145 countries. http://www.gallup.com/poll/175694/country-varies-greatly-worldwide.aspx

Here’s another couple of things the U.S. should get clued in on from Panama. Once you hit 70 you have to get a doctor’s okie dokie that says you’re fit physically and mentally to drive a motor vehicle. In the U.S. I recently saw a video of a woman over 100 years old (no lie) who is still on the road, and I bet she hadn’t seen a doctor in order to renew her license, either.

I went down to see my doctor at Hospital Chiriquí on Monday, had a brief physical exam and got my letter. Today is the first of July, the month I need to renew my license and decided to do it early. The license bureau is located at the Chiriquí Mall as is a nice sandwich shop that makes delicious Philly cheese steak subs, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone (writing tip: avoid using clichés at all costs). I got on the bus here in Boquerón a few minutes before 11. Got off at the mall and into the bureau at 11:15. There were two people ahead of me at the counter and they were handled rapidly.

I gave the lovely girl at the counter my papers, she made a copy of my passport and told me to have a seat. Before I could get my e-reader out of my back pack and settle in for a wait since there were well over a dozen people in the waiting area I was called up to a desk where I had my picture taken and give an eye test. That over, I was immediately directed to another room where I took a computer-generated hearing test.

That over I was directed to the caja to pay my fees. The total was $40, but being over 70 years old I received a 50% discount. After receiving my receipt I went to sit down outside the window where one receives their license. I was reaching into my backpack again but before my e-reader even cleared the pack I was called to the window. I signed two pieces of paper, was handed my license to terrorize the population on the highways and byways of  Panamá for another two years and was out the door.

The sandwich shop doesn’t open until noon and now I had to wait outside for another 20 minutes!!! Total time needed to renew my Panamanian driver’s license at the license bureau? About 20 minutes!!! Take THAT U.S.A.!! You guys should come down here and take some lessons and learn something!!

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