Tag Archives: Retirement in Panama

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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At Last!

My regular blog readers know that my recent attempts at bread making have run the gamut from exceptionally horrible to simply, “Well THAT, didn’t work…”

One bread that I’ve always been successful with in the past has been a family recipe Shredded Wheat Bread.


And, if you’ve been reading this blog you’ll know that they don’t stock or sell shredded wheat here. SO, I searched on line for something else. I wanted a no-knead recipe. Counter space here at this house is VERY limited and I’ve even tried following instructions on how to knead bread in the bowl which wasn’t very successful.

I thought, perhaps, I could substitute oatmeal for the shredded wheat and there are actually a ton of recipes online for no-knead oatmeal bread. Don’t ask me why, but I decided to try THIS one out. Perhaps because is was one of the first ones that came up when I did a Google search.


1 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar 1 tbsp. salt
1 3/4 c. old fashioned rolled oats
3 c. boiling water

2 tbsp. butter
1 pkg. dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water
6 c. all purpose flour

In a large bowl, stir together sugar, salt and oats. Add boiling water and butter, let stand until lukewarm.

Sprinkle yeast into 1/4 cup warm water and stir until dissolved. Add yeast mixture to oat mixture. Stir in flour 1 cup at a time. Dough will be sticky.

Transfer to a greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in bulk. Lift and drop dough 3 to 4 times.

Grease 2 (9 x 5 x 3) loaf pans and divide dough into 2 equal portions. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in bulk. Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Lower oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped with your finger. Remove bread immediately from pans and cool on wire racks.

So I decided to give it a whirl. It wasn’t easy getting all six cups of flour into the dough, but eventually it made it, and this is what I got:


I put the lid on it and let it sit for an hour and a bit until it looked like this:


I divided the dough, as per instructions into two loaf pans:


Now, I’m all by myself and two loaves of bread are more than I’m going to be able to get through before one of them goes stale so I put one in the freezer. When I was living in Florida we used to buy several bags of pre-made pizza dough at the Publix supermarket and put them in the freezer for later. When they were thawed out, and it usually took close to a full day to thaw out and then to rise, so I figured I’d try it with this. If it came out to be another failure I’d just be able to chuck the stuff in the freezer, and if it worked out well then I’d have something to look forward to.

I followed the baking instructions and got this:



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Baking Bread

Store-bought bread here in Panama leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, it pretty much sucks! So, I’ve been online the last couple of weeks digging up bread recipes. So far my efforts are about on a par with the quality of store-bought bread. It sucks.

I’ve tried regular recipes and kneaded the dough but that’s no fun as far as I’m concerned. And it’s messy as hell, too. Flour everywhere that has to be cleaned up. I even went into David last week and bought a HUGE bowl and tried kneading the bread in it. Not much better.

Years ago I used to make a great, no-knead bread from a recipe passed down to my mom by her great aunt, Laura. It called for shredded wheat and molasses. Delicious, easy to make and it came out perfect every time. Problem here is 1) I’ve only found ONE store that stocks molasses and 2) NOBODY stocks shredded wheat!

There are a ton of “no knead” bread recipes online. They’re almost universally the same. Three (or six) cups of flour, some salt, some yeast and a cup and a half of water. So I’ve tried it. Followed the recipe to the LETTER. Let it rise and at the end of that time the dough was like soup!

So, I slowly added the water a little at a time until the dough looked “shaggy” as per the recipe instructions. At the end of the required rising time (anywhere from 4 to 20 hours) the dough was STILL like soup!

On Saturday I saw THIS recipe on line. http://cookbetweenclass.blogspot.com/2012/10/baguette-variations-of-no-knead-loaf.html

WOW, looked good. I LOVE baguettes! Especially the ones I used to buy in France. It’s a well-known fact that in France no baguette makes it home with the ends intact. Don’t those look delish? The promise is…

The promise

So last night I mixed up the ingredients. This morning, after rising for nearly 10 hours, I took off the cover and found that the dough had more than doubled into a nice SOUP!!!

I followed the rest of the instructions except the dough didn’t form into the promised. It was impossible to “delicately shape each half into a long rod. I do this by gently squeezing, not pulling. Plop them on a cookie sheet (don’t worry, doesn’t need to be nonstick). The loaves will look kinda flat, but they’ll rise in the oven.”


Look “kinda flat?”


“They’ll rise in the oven”


This is the reality:


Bottoms scorched. Maybe a quarter of an inch thick in the center. A complete waste of time, flour, and stove gas!


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Some People Are Catching On…

I have written several times about how many people in Panama treat their country as a trash can.

Thankfully it looks as if some Panamanians are getting fed up with it and trying to do something about it. The areas around bus stops (although a bus will stop ANYWHERE if you wave at it) are the worse. Usually there’s a tienda nearby selling drinks and snacks and the containers generally end up on the ground.

This morning when I went to catch the bus into David, this was sitting in the caseta, a small structure with a tin roof to shelter people from the sun and rain while they wait for a bus. The handwriting says Basurero=Dump. Some people had actually used it. Now, who will be keeping their eye on it remains to be seen. I’m proud of at least ONE of my neighbors…




By the way, this happens to be my 800th blog post! Hooray ME!!!!


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Over the last couple of days there’s been a little bird, about the size of a small finch, who has been diligently working away at building a nest in the lime tree out back. It flits in and out and never hangs around long enough to get a picture of it. It’s a member of the Oropendola family. They build hanging nests. This is what’s being constructed in my back yard…


The closest I can come to identifying the bird through an internet search is this one…


But there’s a very good chance I’m wrong about which bird it actually is.

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When I was in the eighth grade I won a drawing for which the prize was a pair of tickets to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. I invited my pal Harold Bennet to share the day with me. My mother drove us over to Hyannis to get the train up to Boston and gave me written instructions on how to get to Fenway from South Station. As we were getting on the train, which had a dining car, she told me, “Don’t order the Salisbury Steak. It’s nothing more than fancied-up hamburger.”

I don’t remember what we ordered, but I do remember that our seats were right behind home plate and that the Sox dropped a double-header to the Orioles. But later on in life I DID have the Salisbury Steak somewhere, and it WAS fancied-up hamburger, and I actually LIKED IT.

It never became one of my regular menu items. In fact, I can’t remember ever making it until last night. Down here in Panama beef is grass-raised and the meat, while tastier, I think, than feed lot beef, is  tougher than what we’re used to in the States. A LOT tougher. So, I use ground beef  most of the time in lieu of the tougher cuts here that require lots and lots of braising time to make it soft enough to chew. I make a mean spaghetti sauce and a pretty good meat loaf, hamburger stroganoff and, of course, just plain hamburger patties. Yesterday, for some unknown reason, I thought of Salisbury Steaks so I went online and there were hundreds of recipes to choose from. Most required mushrooms in the gravy and while I often have mushrooms either in the fridge or several cans of them, I had none last night. Then there was a recipe with an onion gravy. I had onions. So I made that recipe and it was DELICIOUS. I will definitely be cooking this again. The recipe says “four servings” but it’s SO GOOD that while there are four patties you’re only going to feed two people with it (or one person and a great left-over meal the next day).


Actually I won TWO drawings when I was in the eight grade, and I’ll let you in on this one because the statute of limitations have long expired:

In the winter when I plodded along on my paper route, cursing my ancestors who thought living in New England was a great place to be rather than in some sunny clime where coconut palms prevailed, I had a couple of places I’d stop in along the way to warm up. The first was Fuller’s Package Store, about a third of the way through the route. Of course I couldn’t partake of most of their stock, but they understood the need for me to thaw out.

The second place I used to stop to warm up was on the homeward leg of my route, Snow’s Hardware store in the center of town (Orleans, Mass., out on the elbow of Cape Cod and in the winter time no matter which the direction the wind is blowing from it’s coming off the water making it raw and bone-penetratingly cold). That year every single one of the Christmas presents I gave had been lovingly shop lifted from my thawing out visits to Snows. More than that, every time I’d go into Snow’s, that is daily since the Cape Cod Standard-Times (as it was then called) was a daily afternoon paper, I’d fill out an entry form for their Christmas drawing and drop it in the slotted box on my way out the door.

On the day before Christmas Eve I got a call from Snow’s saying I’d WON third prize in the drawing…a Handy Hannah electric knife sharpener! Oh, the irony.

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Learning Curve

I’ve decided that I should build a pontoon-type boat, doing it in four-foot segments (possibly eight-foot if I can be sure to divide that in half with a leak-proof bulkhead. These segments would be built here at the house in Boquerón and then trucked down to the marina in Pedregal where they’d be bolted and epoxied together. I have a LOT of experience with thickened epoxy as a bonding agent and I KNOW that the wood around the epoxied joint will give way before the joint will.

The pontoons will be 2-feet wide by 2-feet high, and between 24 and 28 feet long. Probably the latter. The beam of the boat will be 10-feet, with the house being 8-feet wide allowing for a nice roof overhang, or whatever that’s called in carpentry terms.

I decided on the pontoons because of the amount of flotation they offer. Here are the numbers I’ve come up with…

Each pontoon segment will be 2’X2’X4’ = 16 cubic feet

One cubic foot = 7.5 gallons (7.48)

One gallon of water weighs = 8.3453 pounds. One cubic foot = 7.48052 gallons. The weight of one cubic foot of water is 7.48052 gallons times 8.3453 pounds, which equals 62.42 pounds of water per cubic foot. OR, it would take 62.42 lbs. to completely sink a cubic foot container.

SO, 62.42 lbs X 16 cubic feet = 998.72 lbs. displacement for each 4’ pontoon. Minus the weight of the materials each pontoon will support, roughly, 900 lbs.

The sections in the bow would be made like the bow of a barge or scow, sloped up from the bottom to move through the water with less resistance. Figure that each one of those will be roughly half the volume of the regular one for a 28’ long structure overall, or roughly 11,700 lbs. flotation. Whatever kind of house structure I build on top of the pontoon segments plus all the junk that I’d bring aboard certainly isn’t going to amount to five and a half TONS!

If you look as building a raft-type structure using 55-gallon drums the figures look like this:

Now, a 55 gallon drum measures 35” X 24”. A 55 gallon drum will displace 459 lbs.

Because of the odd measurement of 35” you’d need 10 drums to make up each pontoon of a similar size to the plywood pontoons. Now you’re mucking around with non-standard size lumber or going for 10 barrels a side. The cheapest 55-gallon plastic barrels I’ve found around here cost $30/each (can’t find a source for used barrels like in the States because if they are available they’re snapped up instantly by people who use them for water storage.). That’s $600 for flotation. And how much flotation? Potentially 9,180 lbs., before deducting the weight of the materials needed to contain them. So more than a ton less flotation than the plywood pontoons.

I tried drawing these pontoon segments out on paper, but it wasn’t very successful, everything in 2-D. So I downloaded the free SketchUp design program and found out there’s a HUGE, STEEP learning curve and the frustration level was almost more than I could bear.

So, one Sunday morning last month I went into David (Dah VEED) to the store where I knew I could get 2′ X 2′ X 4′ styrofoam drop ceiling tiles, 1/2″ thick which is EXACTLY what like a pontoon segment would be like. (I’ve since decided that the bottoms of each segment should be 3/4″ thick instead of 1/2″. Using a hot-glue gun to assemble the pieces (Elmer’s School Glue took too long to dry and needed constant pressure to stick together, and contact cement INSTANTLY melts styrofoam) this is what I came up with.




Not only did this help me to visualize the building process, I found out that certain things had to be inset from an edge to accommodate other pieces.

If there’s one character trait I possess it’s that I’m STUBBORN! I became bound and determined that I was going to learn how to use the SketchUp program at least well enough so that I could document here, and possibly later in e-book form, how to build this boat. So I watched, over and over again, various YouTube tutorials on how the program works. I had to constantly trying something, discarding it, repeat, repeat, repeat. But I persevered and, while the measurements are a bit off at least I was finally able to get something resembling a 3-D rendition of a pontoon segment…

Segment 1Segment 3

Those end pieces that stick up above the pontoons are where the 2 X 6 cross beams will attach the pontoons to form a catamaran structure. End to end each 4′ section will have a one-inch-thick attachment point. Bolted and epoxied they should be strong enough to be able to move the boat without a problem. So, diddling around some more with SketchUp, and getting better at it all the time though still having to try something, discard it and do it over again, I came up with these ideas.

28-foot pontoon 2

This is what a pontoon would look like. That square thing in the bow would be a hatch so I could use those segments to store anchor line and fenders.

Here they are with the cross braces and decking…

28-foot pontoon with cross braces28-foot pontoon with decking

So that’s what I’ve come up with so far…

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