Monthly Archives: May 2013

Ahhhh – The Pleasures of Retirement

doing nothing


May 30, 2013 · 12:12 pm

Weekly Photo Challenge: In The Background

Frank HilsonPanama City, Panama

IMG_0651Lunch in Bocas del Toro, Panama

IMG_0671Writing a letter in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Regard, la tour effielEiffel Tower, Paris, France

Leaving Gibralter for USA November 1991Leaving Gibralter Behind – Headed West

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First Legal Ride

I bought my motorcycle to explore the back roads around where I live in Chiriqui Province, Panama. When I bought it I didn’t know that the driver’s license I had didn’t allow me to ride a motorcycle. Anyone who’s followed this blog knows what I went through (in SPANISH) in order to get legal. I received the endorsement on Thursday. Friday it looked as though it was going to start raining at any moment. It didn’t rain at all as it turned out. The weekends are busy times on the road because people that work during the week are out getting things done they can’t do Monday through Friday, and since I am, at BEST, a novice rider, I figured it would be better to wait for a time there would be less traffic on the roads.

Why do I classify myself as a novice rider? Well, when I was around 40 years old I had an old beater of a car that died. I didn’t have enough money to buy another car, but I saw an ad for a Honda 125 motorcycle that was for sale real cheap and I COULD afford to buy it. I rode it for most of a year to and from work on the back roads of New Orleans. But I never got an endorsement there and I never took any lessons. It’s been 30 years since I’ve ridden a motorcycle and though I passed the Panamanian test for a motorcycle endorsement looking at YouTube videos of what people in several different states in the States have to do to pass I can honestly say I’d never qualify.

Be that as it may, with the weekend over I was determined to go for a ride. The sky’s were heavily overcast, but nothing like Friday, so I got my gear on and went out on a 27 kilometer ride from my house to a place up in the hills above Boquerón to a nothing little place called Bocalatún. I have no idea what that means in English if it means anything.


I took it slow and easy stopping a couple of times to take pictures.



With all the mountains around here, when it rains Chiriqui becomes an immense watershed and there are small rivers all over the place and, of course, bridges.



This is one of only a half dozen vehicles I encountered in the hour I was riding.


Now this was a complete mystery. Just before the road turned from pavement to dirt up around 1,700 feet above sea level I came across this:


Left over from Noah’s Flood?


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Not Yet

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.

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Appalachian Trail Update

On the 5th of this month I did a post about my brother, Jeff, starting off on fulfilling his childhood dream of through-hiking the Appalachian Trail following the fine weather from south in Georgia to Mt. Kathadin, Maine. Right now he’s in North Carolina and sent me the following:

“Thursday I hiked 12.7 miles to Fontana Dam to stay at the Fontana Dam shelter. It’s called the “Fontana Hilton” because it’s one of the largest and cleanest shelters on the Trail which holds about 28 hikers and is maintained by the TVA. Here are some picture of where I stayed for the night.”

On the way to Fontana Dam

I’m assuming this is the lake formed by the dam. (Almost added an end at the end of that word.) It’s hard to tell since he’s sending these via his phone and the photos and text come separately so sometimes there’s a bit of a guessing game one has to do to make sense of it. Sometimes it’s obvious.

Fontana Dam lake

Unlike most of the shelter areas, which are packed dirt and muddy after a rain, the area has packed gravel so mud isn’t tracked into the shelter. Down past the shelter is a picnic area with a fire ring where we set up a camp fire last night and roasted hot dogs for dinner. I’d been thinking about getting a hot dog in town for the last 2 days hiking to Fontana but I managed to get 3 last night for free!!! Yesterday, I spent a “zero day” to rest my left knee which has been causing me some problems and also took a shuttle from the shelter into town to pick up a 5 day food drop at the post office. At the post office I met a kid who had just did a southbound section hike of the Park and encountered 4 bears in the last 12 miles hiking out of the Park.

“The hike into the park from here involves a 2,700′ elevation gain in 11 miles. The weather report calls for rain for the next wee which means no scenic views of some of the best parts of the Trail.

“I called a shuttle service in Cherokee, NC for a shuttle around the Smokies to Davenport Gap. The price quoted was $109. There’s another guy here at the shelter with a bad ankle who’s been taking some zero days trying to heal. His trail buddies have already gone ahead into the park and he’s anxious to catch up with them. I’ve been trying to talk him into sharing the shuttle with me so he can move ahead and meet his buddies in Hot Springs, but he can’t make up his mind.

Well. I’ll be calling the shuttle service in the early afternoon to confirm the ride. Get back to you later.


Fontana ShelterFontana shelter exteriorFontana Shelter inside



The hike north into the Park from here involves a 2700' elevation gain in 11 miles. The weather report says rain for the next week which means no views in one of the best sections of the Trail.


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WAAAY Cool Real-Time World Statistics

Watch some of the numbers speed by so fast you can’t read them.

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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.


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Life Is Like Coffee

I’m off to take my licensing exam for my motorcycle endorsement this morning so I give you this to ponder: 

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Fish Story

Someone named Ray did a post at Duckworks magazine about his restoration of a 1946 Sears and Roebuck outboard motor that brought back memories:

When I was in grade school we used to spend the entire summer at the edge of Flax Pond:

DSCN0009Here, in Brewster, Mass, on Cape Cod at:

DSCN0019One of my big delights was spending most days with my friends tooling around the pond in the eight-foot pram my dad had built. Most of the time we rowed. But we did have an outboard motor, too. It was just like this one:


I think it was about 1.5 h.p. and it was very heavy for a skinny kid of eight or nine years old to put on and off the boat which was one of the reasons I didn’t use it very often. Another reason was that you had to wrap a starter line around the spool at the top and pull as hard as you could to start the thing. It took three or four pulls on a good day for anyone to get it running.

While the other ponds in the park, Higgins and Cliff in particular, had been stocked with trout, Flax had a collection of pan fish, mostly yellow perch and a catfish everyone referred to as “horn pout.” There were also the occasional small-mouth bass to be had, but they were rare.

My mom loved to fish. It was one of her great passions, and she and I would often venture off in the night to go across the pond to where there was an excellent fishing hole about a mile away from our camp site. It was an excellent hole for horn pout which we loved to have for breakfast along with a stack of pancakes filled with blueberries picked from bushes just steps away from the tent my younger brothers and I shared.

One night my mom and I went out on a trip to our “secret” hole. Naturally we used the outboard to get there. We’d been doing quite well and had about gotten our limit when my mom got a hard strike on her line. “Oooo,” she said, “I think I’ve got a bass.” In the moon light I could see her rod had a big arc in it and the tip nearly touched the water. My mom patiently played her line back onto the reel and finally got the fish up to the surface. And then its head broke water and kept coming and coming and coming. It was a large eel and way too much like a snake for my mom. There was absolutely no way she was going to bring it into the boat with her. Instead, she wrapped the starter cord around the engine spool and with one single, never to be repeated pull of the cord, brought that stubborn engine to life and dragged that poor eel across Flax Pond, drowning it in the process.

My dad cleaned it in the morning, along with the horn pout, but except for him, nobody else would try it. Of course he also liked tripe which he would cook just for himself a couple of times a year, too.

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Bucket List

We all have dreams. Things we’d like to do in our lives out of the ordinary. Sometimes it’s called a “bucket list.” I consider myself quite lucky because I got to check off several items on my bucket list. When I discovered you could circumnavigate the eastern half of the United States by water it’s something I wanted to do. In 1974 and ’75 I did starting in Chicago and ending up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Since I’d been very young I wanted to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. I did that in 1991. I’d also wanted to make a fairly long single-handed boat voyage, though I never yearned to sail around the world. Too damned much water. But in 1992 I bought a small, 26’ sailboat and took off for nine months and went from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and back.
Ever since he was in Boy Scouts and stood atop Mt. Kathadin in Maine and found out it was the northern terminus of the great Appalachian Trail, my brother Jeff, has wanted to hike its roughly 2,200 miles. Jeff’s son, Ken, hiked it a couple of years ago after finishing his Army enlistment which included two tours in Iraq. Right now, Jeff’s about two weeks into his trek from Georgia to Maine. He sent me some photos today and I want to share a couple with you.
Jeff and Start of hikeJeff at the marker of the southern most point of the Appalachian Trail.
Pointing out the view from Blood Mtn highest point on the AT in GAPointing out the view from Blood Mountain, the highest point on the Trail in Georgia.

I look forward to the picture of him atop Mt. Kathadin in a month or so.

(Check out the comment my brother made about this post in the comments section. His journey, if he is able to complete it, will take a lot longer than I thought.)


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