Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Good Friend Died Today

This morning I took a walk up the hill to the Pueblo and was going to write about that, but when I got back to the house I got this email from my friend Stephen in Fort Lauderdale.

“Richard, about 10:30 AM Penny went outside, an hour and a half later Kevin went outside to call her in, upon her not responding he went over to her and realized she had died.

“I was at the house yesterday with Kevin and Paul, who said that Penny hadn’t eaten anything all week.  We were discussing that if she continued like that she would surely die.  Sadly, I guess we were right.  Kevin said, it appeared as though she didn’t suffer at all.

“Services will be held this afternoon at her home.  Kevin will save her tags and we will bring them to you when we visit.

She was one of a kind. I know all people say that about their dogs, but she really was. I rescued her from the puppy prison back in ’96. She was about a year or two old then.

People would ask me what kind of a dog she was. Well, she was too unique to just call her a mutt so I’d say she was a rooftop terrier. “What’s that?” they’d ask, and I’d tell them it was the kind of terrier that lived on the cabin roof of my boat.

When she was young she was absolutely fearless about so many things. Around the marina where we lived were huge blue land crabs and Penny delighted in killing them.

They’d bite her on the nose but she’d just shake them off and bother them until she was able to flip them on their backs. Then she’d proceed to bite their legs off. I used to find the poor things around the yard with only one or two legs left and have to dispatch them. If she found one in a corner of the shop one morning then every morning for a week afterward the first thing she’d do when we got to work was to check out the same corner expecting to find another one.

On the other hand there were some things that absolutely terrified her. Leather for instance. I think she had been abused by her previous owners and I’m sure they had kids who did things to her they shouldn’t have. For some reason there was a baseball glove at the shop. Stephen and I called it “The Big Hand.” All you’d have to do was pick it up and call her attention to you. She’d see that glove and flee. Once my ex girlfriend bought me a pair of black shoes and Penny wouldn’t come near me when I was wearing them for at least a month after I got them.

If you read some of my earlier stories about her you’ll know how she dealt with a couple of people who used to come to the yard often who didn’t like her.

In the last year or so she had trouble with her hind quarters and I’d often have to lift her up until she was able to get her legs situated under her. She was about 15 or 16 years old which is a pretty long life for a dog and she spent most of it with people who loved her. We and she were lucky to have known each other.

Mark Twain summed it up pretty good when he wrote:  “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.  The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s.”

Rest in peace my good friend.


Penny was the second pound puppy I’ve had. The other one, Puddles (because when she was young she used to leave them around), could have been a litter-mate because they looked so much alike. I think the similarity between the two was what attracted me to Penny even though she was much bigger and younger than what I was looking for considering that I was living on a 25′ sailboat at the time.

Puddles, too, was a great dog. Blind and 12 years old when I got her in New Orleans, she was a terrific watch dog. She never barked at people passing the house. They could stop on the sidewalk outside and party if they wanted and she just ignored them. But put a hand on the gate and the furies were unleashed. Outside was the world…inside the gate was HERS, and she owned it. Puddles was about 18 when I had to put her down and it was the roughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’m glad Penny just went quietly and peacefully on her own and didn’t put Kevin through that horrible experience of putting a good friend down.


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Lightning Strike

As the readers of this blog know we’ve had an unprecedented amount of rainfall here. Yesterday was the 29th consecutive day of it in July. The morning started off lovely as usual and I was able to get down the hill to David and do some grocery shopping and pick up my monthly allotment of Plavix, which makes me bleed and bruise like a hemophiliac, and get back to the house before the rain started.

Towards evening, just before sunset, as I was starting supper the off and on rain developed into a downpour complete with thunder and lightning. As I stood at the kitchen island looking out at the back veranda I saw a brilliant white spark on the concrete with a white streak of light zooming off into the back yard. There was a crack like a cap gun followed instantly by a resounding crash of thunder and the electricity was off.

This is the second time I’ve seen this happen in the same spot. I suspect there’s some rebar or metal grating under the concrete slab very close to the surface that’s acting sort of like a lightning rod.

There was nothing to do about it at the moment and there was just enough light left in the day to quickly cook my dinner before it went completely dark. Fortunately the stove is propane powered.

Down here less than nine degrees north of the equator there isn’t much lingering twilight time. Sun sets and you get perhaps 15 or 20 minutes and then it’s night. Bang. Just like that.

I don’t watch much television here. We have a satellite dish and I get movies in English along with such things as the History Channel, National Geographic, the Simpsons, Family Guy and the Discovery Channel. Unlike in the States where the t.v. was always on in the background it’s not like that here. The internet is where I spend most of my time. So, without television or the internet I resorted to that old standby; a real book. Not one of those Kindle things that run on batteries but an actual book with pages you turn by hand. There’s a nice battery-powered lantern in the house, sort of like the old Coleman lanterns we used to use when we spent the summers camping at Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Mass., when I was a kid, but without the hiss and the heat those lanterns produced.

This morning I was still able to have my morning cup of coffee. I buy my coffee as beans and grind each pot individually. But no electricity, no functioning grinder. Fortunately after a previous blackout I’d ground up several batches and there was still one left so I was able to de-grumpify myself before trying to attack the problem of no electricity.

A few nights earlier we experienced a blackout but it was area-wide. All the houses and even the street lights were out. But this time the street lights remained on though the houses below me were dark. The two houses above me showed light in their windows. I wasn’t sure if it was a partial area blackout or just me.

Unlike in the States where the main breaker for the house is actually IN the house it’s not like that here in Panama. At least not here in Chiriqui. The electric meter and the main breakers are located in structures like this.

This thing serves a dual purpose. It not only holds the electric meter and the main breaker switch for the house but the bottom is where the trash is deposited for pickup. If you examine the breaker box you’ll see it doesn’t have a cover to protect the breakers from the elements. None of them around here do. And how much protection from wind-blown rain do you think that little overhang offers? It’s certainly not conducive to trying to reset a blown breaker in the pouring rain.

And this thing isn’t even CLOSE to the house. You have to walk about two hundred yards down the main drive marked by the red X.

Then another 100 yards out to the dirt road

Being sufficiently caffeinated at this point I start the trek out to the main breaker structure hoping that nothing more serious had happened than that the breaker had tripped. Just a couple of days before the owners of the house left for the States we’d had a loss of electricity that involved Union Fenosa, the local electric company, and a private electrician in order to get service restored. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to go through all that again because it would mean I’d have to deal with people in Spanish over the phone.

I don’t have much of a problem getting Panamanians to understand what I’m trying to say even in my fractured butchering of their native tongue. The problem is ME understanding what they’re trying to say. At the risk of offending my Panamanian friends, Panamanians DON’T speak good Spanish. To my ear the average man-in-the-street Panamanian sounds like a shit salesmen with a mouth full of samples. They lop off the ends of their words with great abandon. Potrerillos ends up Potehrillo for example. Now, in their defense, I’m sure they’d be in the same situation if they were traveling around the U.S. where New Englanders drive cahs and hate those Castro fellers down in Cuber, and Texans drive around in pickemup trucks with gun racks in the rear windah padnah, or having someone in the Gentilly section of New Orleans telling them to wash up in the zinc.

Trying to talk to someone in a language other than your own on the phone is one of the hardest things there is to do. I found that out in France where even after three years I dreaded having to talk to someone in French on the phone. You get no visual clues as to what the other person is trying to convey.

Another problem with the Panamanian’s use of the language is that they zip through a sentence as though they were being charged by the minute. I swear I listen to them talking to each other and I just KNOW the other person can’t understand one word in ten the speaker is saying so they do what I do which is simply smile and nod their head as if they do, indeed, understand speaker.

Yesterday morning, I met a remarkable man whose name I promptly forgot. He supervises the corn field below us and he came up to chat with me for a few moments. He speaks some English but our conversation was almost completely in Spanish. I find it exceptionally rude to speak English to people whose language I can use no matter how limited my facility with it might be. I felt the same way living in France. It came to the point where I felt uncomfortable speaking with the French in English even if they spoke it well themselves. When I told this gentleman that I had a problem understanding the Panamanian version of Spanish and the rapidity with which they spoke it  he made a real effort to speak to me distinctly and slowly and I understood at least 95% of everything he said. One thing I’ve noticed in my journeys through foreign language encounters is after you ask someone to speak slowly they do so for a half dozen words or so before getting back up to speed and losing you again. But this gentleman had the ability to recognize the problem and to consciously moderate himself so we each had an enjoyable encounter. I hope to be able to spend more time with him in the future.

But I do digress, don’t I?

When I got to the breaker box I found that it had, in fact, been tripped. I reset it and coming back up the driveway I could see the lights in the kitchen sparkling through the windows. The first thing I did after turning on the computer was to grind up enough coffee so I’ll be able to brew up four cups without needing the grinder. Note to self: next trip to the grocery buy a small bag of ground coffee. Some day the electricity might be off longer than four cups-full.


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Red Sky In the Morning – Sailor Take Warning

For the past 26 consecutive mornings I’ve watched the red-tinged clouds to my left as I have my wake up cup of coffee on the front porch. Not today. We’ll see if the saying holds true but I’m not betting on it.

UPDATE 7/27/10 2:31 p.m.

Thunder, lightning and rain.

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Hummingbird Identification Confirmed

Back at the end of June I had a post about our resident hummingbird here in Potrerillos Arriba. At the time I wasn’t positive about the identification of the bird but guessed it was a rufous-tailed. Rufous meaning “red.”

Last night on Chiriqui Chatter Don Ray had a short post about a gentleman, Ralph B. Dessau, who is an avid humminbird fan and has been photographing the creatures throughout Panama, the Caribbean and Texas. I immediately emailed Ralph about our bird and he almost instantly confirmed its identity and sent me two of his pics.

If you find these miniature creatures as fascinating as I do you’ll enjoy Ralph’s pictures found at:

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It’s GOOD To Be The Captain

“Walk the plank,” says Pirate Jim.

“But Capt. Jim, I cannot swim.”

“Then you must steer us through the gale.”

“But Capt. Jim, I cannot sail.”

“Then down with the galley slaves you go.”

“But Capt. Jim, I cannot row.”

“Then you must be the pirate’s clerk.”

“But Capt. Jim I cannot work.”

“Then a pirate captain you must be.”

“Thank you, Jim,” says Capt. me.

Shel Silverstein

But it SUCKS to be the crew!

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Filed under boats, Classic Boats, Minimalist Cruising

Now, For Something Completely Different

July 24th and 24 consecutive days of rain. Tired of stories about rain? Me too.

So now for something completely different. Back in the summer of  1974 I was in Chicago and got my first captain’s job running a 42 foot Hatteras Tri-cabin motor yacht. I’d get off work in the afternoon and go to meet my girlfriend at the building where she worked in the Loop. I’d usually get there earlier than  most people got out of work so I’d hang out at the small bar next door to her office building. I’d often be the only one there. The bar tender was an old guy who had once been one of the best sleight of hand men in the business. Every now and then he’d do a couple of tricks for me as a way of passing some time. I know a little bit about magic and trying to keep your eye on the off hand and not to be diverted but I was never successful. He would amaze me time after time. But he’d never do the same trick twice in one sitting.

On the other hand, Rene Lavand, an Argentinian who lost his right hand in a car accident when he was nine, isn’t afraid at all of repeating a trick over and over, and you NEVER catch him. I don’t remember the first time I saw him on television but it was years ago.


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More Trouble For The Gulf

As if there isn’t enough for Gulf Coast residents to worry about with the massive oil and its aftermath now Tropical Storm Bonnie is about to enter sometime Saturday. Once it’s in the Gulf some area is going to get hit because these things don’t disappear. Though not predicted to turn into a hurricane you can never tell. As my dad used to say…”If you trust a weather man, you’ll trust a politician. And hurricane or not Tropical Storms push a surge ahead of them capable of pushing all that oil further inland compounding the horror already inflicted on the area.

There’s only one thing the residents can do besides pray and Marcia Ball sums it up…

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I’ve Been Tweeted

My previous post about how much rain we’ve gotten and how many Olympic-sized swimming pools it would have filled has been picked up on Tweets by Panama TV, Panama VIP and Travel Panama according to a comment sent to me by

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Another Perspective On The Rain In Potrerillos Arriba, Panama

When it’s said that an “inch” of rain has fallen it’s considered that an acre of land (.4 hectares) would be covered with one inch of water.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey that’s 27,154 GALLONS! (102,789 liters for you mathematically challenged people stuck in the metric system. Don’t get me started on THAT rant.)

Here it is the 22nd day of July and it’s raining right now. Twenty two consecutive days of it this month. In June we had 43 inches of rain OR, 3.58 FEET, OR 1,167,622 GALLONS. And that’s just over ONE acre of surface area. I can’t begin to calculate the entire area of Potrerillos Arriba.

So now, in July as of the 19th we’ve received 39.5 inches of rain…3.29 FEET…1,072,583 GALLONS.

There are about 600,000 gallons of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, so from the first of June the water that has fallen on each acre of land here on the mountain would have filled 3.73 Olympic pools!

No, I don’t think I’m getting a little stir-crazy shut in the house because of the rain, do you?

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Filed under Retirement Abroad, Uncategorized

Think It Rains Where YOU Live?

The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but here in Potrerillos Arriba, Panama, it pours like you wouldn’t believe.

The term “Rainy Season” doesn’t even begin to describe what’s been happening here. There is officially a “rainy season” in Florida, but it’s a joke compared to what we’ve been going through here. In south Florida it heats up during the day and then there are isolated thunderstorms scattered around the area. Sometimes with a deluge and localized flooding, but these storms are usually of a limited duration. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve literally been standing in the sunshine on one side of the street and watched it rain on the other.

Here, though, it rains over a wide area. June and July are supposed to be the driest months of the rainy season but this year has seen the shattering of 16 year records as recorded by Ricardo Espinosa.

In June it rained 27 days out of 30 and dumped 43 inches of the wet on us. Here it is the 22nd day of July and we haven’t missed a day of rain yet and another record was set. Back in July 2008 38″ of rain fell. As of the 20th we’ve had 39.5″. On the 19th we had a storm like I’ve never seen before. We got 4.4″ in two and a half hours.

The mornings generally start off in glorious splendor.

By noon the rain clouds start to form

And by two o’clock it starts to rain

And then it’s like someone turned on a fire hydrant

So, if you need to do anything outside the house you better get started early and finish up by one or two o’clock. And you NEVER leave home without your umbrella no matter how sunny it is when you close the door.


Filed under Living Abroad, panama, Retirement Abroad