Now that I got my motorcycle endorsement added to my Panamanian driver’s license on Thursday some might wonder if I’ve been out riding yet. The answer is no. I had a motorcycle thirty years ago, and although I know HOW to ride it’s been such a long time since I HAVE ridden that I’m back to classifying myself as a novice rider. All day Friday it looked like it was going to rain any minute and I don’t think that’s a cool thing to do even for an experienced rider. How about Saturday? Actually I think the weekends would be the WORST time for a beginner to try and get out and ride. Much more traffic. Everybody that’s been working during the week is now out and about with their cars if they have one trying to get their shopping and other chores done. I’ll wait until the middle of the week before I venture out.
Tag Archives: Retirement
Okay, folks…it’s OVER! I got up early this morning and made it down to the driver’s license bureau and arrived at a quarter to eight: 15 minutes early. One lesson the United States, and I suppose a lot of other countries around the world, could learn from Panama is how to treat their senior citizens. After the doors were opened, and a guard ran a wand over everyone and checked their handbags and backpacks the dozen or so people ahead of me started to jockey for position in the line. Another gentleman, who turned out to be a retired Methodist minister who had lived for 20 years in Omaha, Nebraska, and I were singled out as “Jubilados” and given head-of-the-line privileges. Actually in Panama it’s the LAW that Jubilados go to the head of the line at all government offices (except at Immigration from my experience) and businesses such as the electric, and water companies and banks.
I had all my paperwork in order. My driving school diploma, photo copy of my passport (though I had to show the very attractive young lady who was processing me the real thing) and the letter I’d gotten from my HMO doctor as required by law for those of us 70 years old and up saying that I was in decent enough physical condition to be let loose upon the thoroughfares of the Republic with a motor vehicle.
With my paperwork logged into the system I was passed down the line to a cubicle where my mug shot was taken and I had to use one of those foolish electronic pens to sign my name. I was later called back to have my photo retaken. I assume that’s because the first one made me actually look like a human being and was far too good to be placed on an official document.
Next I went to another cubicle where I was given an eye exam which I apparently passed with flying colors. Then I went to an actual room that had three computer screens. First I took the hearing test which consisted of identifying which ear you heard a tone of varying intensities broadcast. Then, at the same computer, came one of the two biggies of the day…the “written” test. Another attractive young lady (I think that’s one of the requirements for them to be hired) patiently explained, in Spanish, that the test was composed of 10 questions. That’s right, only TEN QUESTIONS. And they’re in SPANISH, too. You are allowed one minute in which to read the question and mark the correct multiple-guess answer. I assume you’re automatically marked as incorrect if you don’t do it fast enough. It took me about four minutes to go through the test. I don’t know how many I actually got correct but I know it was enough to pass me on to the inspector who was going to do the “practical” part, or the “road test.”
The driving school had one of their employees bring the motor scooter to the site for my test. There was also another student taking his test this morning, too. I had to wait in line for four people testing for driving a car. They are required to park between a set of cones face in, back in and then parallel park. Three of them had a horrible time with the parallel parking test, but they all passed. Then it was my turn. You can see, in the “Wait That’s It!” link below the route I had to take. The only difference between that guy’s test and mine was that I was told to weave through three cones. As I approached the cones the inspector had his back to me talking to the next applicant in a car. He turned toward me just as I was finishing the weave, gave me a “thumbs up” and I was done.
I went back inside the office where I received another surprise when I went to pay. Because I’m over 70 I got a 50% discount on the fee and only had to pay $20! A few minutes after making my payment I was called up to a small window where I received this:
Down there, next to my picture is the code for vehicles I’m permitted to drive. “A” is for bicycle (don’t ask, I don’t know and didn’t ask myself why that’s there.) “C” is for automobiles and was on my original license. The “B” means I can now drive a motorcycle.
Another thing the States could take a lesson from the Panamanians is how to run a driver’s license office. From start to finish this morning it took me just under two hours to complete everything. One time at the DMV in Plantation, Florida, it took me TWO DAYS to get my license renewed!!!
So, it’s over and done with. I took the Panama challenge of having to do the whole thing in Spanish and I PASSED!
Below are links to the stories I’ve posted leading up to today’s adventure for anyone interested in the timeline.
A couple of people have asked me what’s happening with getting my motorcycle endorsement added to my Panamanian driver’s license. Well, me, too.
After going through the school it’s supposed to take 15 working days to get one’s diploma okie dokied by the agency in Panama City. It’s been nearly twice that long and I’ve heard nothing so I went to the school to check on what’s going on.
The owner of the school greeted me with his usual shiny smile and his “Buenos dias, Señor Richard.” I asked him how come I haven’t gotten my diploma yet and he said the school had made an “error” on the diploma. A Panamanian driver’s license has an alphabet soup of letters at the left side bottom of the license that tells what type of vehicle you are authorized to drive. Mine says “A” and “C.” The “A” is for a bicycle (don’t ask, I don’t know why this is one it) and “C” is for an automobile or certain kinds of trucks. One can also have the following letters on their license: B (motorcycles), D (light trucks up to 8 tons and small buses for up to 16 passengers), E1,E2,E3, (all for carrying passengers) F (trucks over 8 tons), G (articulated vehicles-trailer trucks) H (dangerous cargo vehicles) and I (heavy equipment). It seems that the school had marked my diploma application for the “D” classification instead of for the “B.’ Naturally the drivers bureau didn’t approve it so a new app had to be submitted. I was promised that they would have the correct diploma back by this Saturday and I’ll be taking the test next week some time. Well see.
Unlike the States or Europe, there are only two seasons in Panama. “Winter” and “Summer.” The “wet” and “dry.” Being that Panama sits nearly on the Equator, my house is 8°30’84″ N, our seasons more closely correspond to those in the Southern Hemisphere than they do in the Northern. Summer, the “dry” season, is roughly from November to the middle of April. It’s when the kids have their longest school recess.
And it gets HOT here in the summer. A dry, searing, heat that turns lawns the color of Cheerios and it crunches like Rice Krispies under foot when you walk across it.
The river next to my house has been nearly bone dry.
A few months ago I wrote about my electric bill only being eight dollars and change. Monday I paid the most recent and it was just a few cents shy of $60. That’s because in the middle of the afternoon it has been like living in an oven and I’d run the air conditioning every day until well after dark when the cool air from the mountains sinks down onto the flat.
For the last couple of weeks nature has been toying with us. There have been a few sprinkles here and there. Not much, but enough to stimulate what passes for grass, here, to sprout. While the lawn looks forlorn, all of this stuff is indigenous to the area and adapted to the yearly cycles of wet and dry. Just add water. Some days, of late, thunder could be heard up in the hills in the afternoons and at night the southern sky would light up as lightning flashed out over the Pacific Ocean. But it was just a tease. There was no rain accompaniment.
On Monday, April Fool’s Day, I had an afternoon doctor’s appointment for a physical which is required for me to get a motorcycle endorsement added to my driver’s license since I’m over 70. While in the office the skies opened up and it rained so hard and so loud for about 15 minutes that it nearly masked the doctor’s questions. But it only lasted a few minutes and then it was hot all over again.
But this afternoon (April 4th) it changed. Around three o’clock, as is usual in the “rainy” season it started to pour. It was like the entire barrio was sitting under a water fall. Puddles formed in the low areas of the yard and thunder and lightning assaulted the area. It lasted for nearly two hours. That’s how it is, here, in the “winter.” The mornings are glorious. Blue skies. Cotton ball clouds. In the early afternoon it starts to cloud up and we get a couple of hours of rain. So, in the “winter” you get up, get what needs to be done, done. Get your laundry up on the line to dry before noon, do your grocery shopping and then settle back for the inevitable rain.
For the most part, people here like the rain. It moderates the temperature and makes living comfortable. I don’t need to turn on the a/c. A fan will do. And for the first time in months, when I step out onto the front porch, I can once hear the river running over the stones again.
This was the final day of classroom instruction at the driving school, and am I glad. It means I don’t have to set the alarm to wake up any more. I usually wake up around the time the classes started: 8:30 a.m.
I didn’t do too bad today. Enough of the first and second day’s Spanish must have leaked out during the night because I was able to follow most of what was going on today. We talked about road conditions, signs, road markings, stopping distances and speed limits. That sort of thing. I’ve always said my big problem with Spanish comes in “hearing” it, and today was no exception. Aldo, the instructor, kept saying a word that sounded like “casada” which means “married” in Spanish. It made no sense in the context of the subject we were talking about at the time. What could married possibly have to do with road conditions? Perhaps the Spanish language uses “married” as something to do with where the rubber meets the road? Then he wrote down the word, “La calzada” which means, “the road.” Calzada, not calle or avenida, or routa. And perhaps it’s a Chiricano (those who live in Chiriqui province) accent thing where the “L” is glossed over so it pretty much sounds like Casada.
With the calzada/casada mystery cleared up it felt pretty good to actually be able to contribute to the class for the first time. Aldo, knowing of my language deficiency avoided asking me direct questions yesterday, which I appreciated. At the end of class we were given two short tests which were sort of “open book.” The second one which was about first aid was read to us by Aldo and he told us what the correct multiple guess answers were. These tests, along with the diplomas the school made up for us with our pictures on them, will be sent to the ATTT (Autoridad de Transito y Transporte Terrestre) office in Panama City to be duly okie-dokied. It takes 15 working days to do this. So that gives me three weeks to study for the test. You have to present the diploma in order to be able to take the test.
I have one more day of school left, though. It’s the practical part where I get to ride around on a scooter for 5 hours. I have to be at the school at 2 p.m. They also will provide a scooter, for a fee, for me to take my test on.
I do want to say this about Aldo whose school it is. He is grossly overweight. Sweats through the class while the students shiver because of the air conditioning. My guess is he’s in his mid to late 30s. And he’s a good teacher, too. His lectures are four hours long, non-stop without notes. Of course he told me he’s been doing this for 13 years so that has given him plenty of time to get it together. He keeps constant eye-contact with each of the students throughout the four hours and addresses parts of his lecture as though he’s talking to just that student and no one else if you’re on the receiving end. He has good skills.
I’ll keep you informed of the progress.
Slept much better last night and woke up refreshed and ready to go. The Boquerón bus was packed like a sardine can this morning and even after the crowd headed west to Bugaba, La Concepcion and the border got off there were still no empty seats. I wasn’t about to stand up all the way in to David, especially considering that the driver of this bus is one of the well known kamikaze breed you often find here. So I paid my 35 cents and crossed the Interamericana to the bus shelter there. After six or seven buses stopped, all containing standees, this being, after all, commuting time for workers, a Frontera bus stopped with empty seats and I headed on my way. Now, the buses here aren’t silent buses. There is always something blaring over their loud speakers. It’s whatever the driver wants to listen to. Most of the time it’s music but occasionally you get one filled with religious fervor and he had someone preaching:
So I plugged into the iPod and continued the story Dissolution.
I mentioned that I’d filled my head to the saturation point with Spanish during yesterday’s four-hour class. It seems that enough didn’t leak out over night because today, with Aldo teaching the class I was lost. He’s a typical Panamanian who speaks with machine gun rapidity. By the time I’d figure out what he was talking about he’d have finished with that topic and moved on to the next. I pretty much zoned out for most of today’s class though I know we covered the various categories of Panamanian driver licenses, penalties for various driving infractions, causes of accidents, both from substance abuse and physical forces such as gravity, centrifugal forces, etc.
Tomorrow is supposed to be the final day of the classes to be followed Saturday and Sunday by hands-on practice on a motor scooter. I’ll update the progress.
Actually, I like the Irish a lot. The ones from the auld sod, I mean, and I’ve known a lot of them. They get a bad rap, especially about fighting. I lived in Antibes, France, for nearly three years. There are a lot of Irish, Brits and Scots there. In all that time I NEVER saw an Irishman in a fight. On the other hand, for the Brits and the Scots it was nearly an every day occurrence. The best boat delivery I ever made in a 20 year career as a Coast Guard-licensed captain was one from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, to Hyannis, Mass., with Jerry from Kerry and Anne from Limerick. We hit every happy hour between those two ports and met many wonderful people who became intrigued when they heard the girls accents and invited us into their homes and took us out to hear local bands and party. And when I sailed across the pond in ’91, Martin, from Dublin, kept us in stitches with his stories every night at dinner. God bless ‘em all.
However, it’s mainly the Irish in the States who practice this…
I recently posted about my shockingly low electric bill. Last week I got another bill from Union Fenosa. This one was slightly higher. They said I owed them $10.94 for the period between November 7 to December 7. I went to the Plaza Teronal shopping center to buy my monthly medications and stopped at the Union Fenosa payment center at the El Rey supermarket and received another shock. The girl said I only owed $8.46, not the $10.94. I figure the way things are going Union Fenosa will start paying ME for being hooked up to their service sometime around the end of April.
This is the third Christmas I’ve spent in Boquerón, Panama. Christmas Eve was a little different than the previous two in that no carolers appeared to sing for anyone in the neighborhood.
In the early evening my next door neighbor brought me a delicious plate of arroz con pollo and the most delicious platanos maduros I’ve ever put in my mouth. Another neighbor invited me up to her house for hot chocolate and some moña bread (click here to find out what moña bread is ) which is a tradition here in Panama. This was the same family that invited me to the wife’s birthday party back in July, and like then, I was the only person outside the family that was invited. When one of Llalla’s daughters and her husband and their two kids arrived. Their little six-year old girl, who I’ve only met a couple of times, came up to me and gave me a warm hug and a hearty “Feliz Navidad.” Really sweet for this old Gringo.
After a couple of hours of trying to follow the rapid-fire Spanish conversation the party broke up and I made my way back to my house having to say, “Feliz Navidad” about a dozen time between Llalla’s gate and my own.
As is the tradition here, people have been setting off fireworks for the past few days. Primarily bottle rockets and Roman candles. But at the stroke of midnight, turning Christmas Eve into Christmas Day, the whole area erupted. An incredible din of fireworks being set off reverberated all over the area. A racket you just have to actually be here for to believe how much money is going up in smoke. The other day I passed by one of the almost endless number of Fuego Artificiales stands and noted that boxes the size of a case of canned Budweiser was selling for about $175. (It’s easy to know what it costs in terms of U.S. Dollars since there’s no need to do any currency conversion since Panama uses the dollar as it’s paper currency. (Officially the currency here is the “Balboa” and the coins, one, five, 10 and 25 coins are the same size, weight and metal content as their gringo equivalents, plus the B/1 coin as well.)
About five minutes after midnight mi barrio’s display began. Judging from the angle from my house I think I know who set off the display. There’s a large house just down the road with a couple of expensive SUVs in the drive most days. I’m sure it was them. The following videos took several HOURS to upload to YouTube this morning. I’m sure their servers were working overtime with people uploading vids of their kids opening presents. The first display was more than six minutes long. Then there was about a 15 or 20 minute delay, though the hills were still echoing with distant detonations, and a nearly three-minute encore ensued. Unfortunately the camera didn’t capture the brilliant colors but you’ll get the idea. Enjoy. I did.