Does it get any better than lying in the dirt at the foot of your favorite tree on a hot afternoon?
Tag Archives: Retirement
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.
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.
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…
I’ve been having some disturbing dreams recently. No, not THOSE kinds of dreams where people or monsters are chasing me, stuff like that. No, I’ve been dreaming a lot in SPANISH lately.
Dreaming in another language isn’t new to me. I remember the first time I had a dream in French. It woke me up! You know when you start dreaming in another language that it has become a part of you. It’s in your subconscious.
Those dreams in French were always appropriate, though. What I mean is that when I was speaking French it was always to French people who only spoke French. Naturally, even in my dreams, I’d have to talk to them in French or they wouldn’t be able to understand me, right?
Well, the thing with the Spanish dreams is that while they started in the same way, talking to my neighbors when they showed up in the dreams it had to be in Spanish so we’d understand each other. But the last few nights I’ve had dreams in Spanish where Spanish-speaking people I knew weren’t a part of the somniferous movie. Now THAT’S disturbing! I guess that’s what happens when you’ve been totally immersed for nearly four years in another language.
Back in 1991 when we moved Jolie Aire, the boat I was running, from France to Spain we moved from one culture to another. It’s a fact that the French are different from a lot of other countries, but I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of that here. But in Spain we ran into a lot of people who would go out of their way to help each other, and strangers, too. One of my French girlfriend’s favorite expressions when someone would help us with a problems was, “This wouldn’t happen in France.” My stock response was, “You’re right. This is the real world out here. People do things like this.”
One of the big complaints one hears from the expat community here is that customer service is non-existent in Panama. There’s a little bit of truth in that, though it’s not as pervasive as many would like you to think it is. Take this morning, for example. . .
I needed to go into David to pay my insurance bill at Hospital Chiriguí. I was 75 yards of so away from the bus stop when a bus passed my street. No big deal. I always leave the house with my iPod and rather enjoy sitting at the bus shelter listening to a book and watching the passing scene. There’d be another bus along in 20 minutes or so.
But then, at the edge of the tree line, the back of the bus appeared. The driver had spotted me as he passed. (They all know me now after two and a half years living here.) Not only did he back up the main road he then proceeded to turn, backwards, into my little street and back to where I was so I could catch a ride into town. I could hear Florence say, “This wouldn’t happen in France.” I replied, “I know, Florence, it wouldn’t happen in the States, either.” And the amazing thing is, folks, the driver did this for a 60 cent fare. No, it wouldn’t happen anywhere else I’ve ever lived but its happened to me several times here and I’ve seen it done for others, too, over the time I’ve been here. It’s what customer service is all about. It’s what Panama’s about.