Monthly Archives: September 2013

Little Town’s Big Weekend

To say that Boquerón is a small town is almost an understatement.

boqueron satellite

Some 1,200 people live here. About the same as lived in Orleans, Mass., where I grew up on Cape Cod, but Orleans was much “bigger” in some respects than Boquerón. Orleans was the shopping center for what is known as the “Lower Cape.”  People bought their groceries at the First National or the A&P, did their drinking at the Land Ho, the Orleans Inn or the Packet Landing Inn. If you got sick you went to Dr. Burk (his entire phone number was the numeral 6, though all you had to do was tell the operator you wanted to talk to him and you’d be connected) and you took his prescription to Livingston’s Pharmacy. There was Snow’s and the Smith Brothers for your hardware needs and Nickerson Lumber for the things you needed to build with. There was a bank and a savings and loan, three churches, several real restaurants, the Catholic grammar school, the public grade school and the high school for kids from Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. We even had a movie theater and “summer stock” theater in town.

Boquerón’s not like that. At ALL. There aren’t any grocery stores. There are two “Chinos” that are like Seven Elevens in the States where you can pick up a limited supply of food staples, a few hardware odds and ends to tide you over until your next visit to David or Bugaba. There are also several “Tiendas” which offer an even smaller selection of goods. They’re building a Banco National office which will be the first in town. You can get something to eat at a couple of “fondas” which are unregulated eateries where you can get a lunch plate meal for three dollars or less including a soft drink. If you want a beer with your meal and go to Las dos Katherines you can buy one at the Chinos next door. There’s one grammar school, and one bar that you really don’t want to go into for a drink. There’s a Catholic Church, a Kingdom Hall and two other evangelical churches in Boquerón.

Downtown Boquerón is the Palacio Municipal, a covered basketball court and the town park with benches to sit on and a bandstand. Almost exactly three years ago I wrote this post about the town.

This past weekend the little town of Boquerón held a BIG celebration. It’s called a Festival Patronales. My good friend Omar in Panama City who writes the wonderful blog,  tells me, ”

“Fiestas patronales or festival patronal are celebration held in towns, cities and hamlets celebrating the day of different saints or figures of the Roman Catholic Church.  For example, Bugaba celebrates “La Feria de la Candelaria”, and David celebrates la “Feria de San José”.  Both are celebrations of the church’s saints.
“Almost every town in Panama celebrates a day in the name of a saint, also called “el patrón” of the town.  I don’t recall what is the name of the patron of Boquerón.  I’m sure there must be one.”
I believe the one here in Boquerón is named for San Miguel. It was a three-day event starting on Friday with the coronation of the “Queen” or “La Reina” of the festival. I didn’t know what the Friday schedule was since it’s a work day, and it started raining in the early afternoon and continued on into the evening, so I didn’t go. I know from a banner about the festival down at El Cruce that there was going to be “Discoteca” music up at the town center. And there WAS. So loud that I could easily hear it at home nearly three quarters of a mile away, and it lasted until almost 1 a.m. Saturday morning.
Saturday started off gloomy and stayed that way with light rain showers throughout the morning and early afternoon. No big surprise since it IS the rainy season. In mid afternoon I caught a cab and went up to the town park. There were horses everywhere.
For my geographically-challenged readers, Panama is a long, narrow country that runs EAST AND WEST, not north and south as many people think. Chiriquí Province where I live is the western-most province, and like the wild west of the States, this is cattle country so there are real cowboys (and girls) here. Not only that, horses are STILL a form of transportation in rural Panama. What was going on was what is known as a “Cabalgata.” Officially it’s a horse parade. Actually it’s a chance for horsemen/women to get together and drink beer as they ride their horses.
IMG_0379The young man in the gray shirt behind the couple is a neighbor of mine.
Several women in a pickup truck passed out small plastic bags filled with “dulces” to people along the route. Try THAT in the States.
And if you ran out of beer, a quick stop at the Chinos would solve that problem.
A couple standing near me with their children offered me one of the bags of sweets they’d gotten from the ladies in the truck. I declined, not that I was afraid there was anything wrong with it, but their kids had ravaged their packages almost instantly and I said to give it to them. They told me that Sunday’s events would feature a big parade with bands from around the area. They said it would start at 9 a.m. I said, “is that regular time or Panamanian time? If it’s Panamanian time that means probably 10 or 11, but most likely noon.” They laughed and said it would definitely be Panamanian time.
Sunday morning broke to sunshine and blue skies. I headed out for town about 9:30. I waited at the bus stop for an hour and a half trying to get a ride up the hill. Every taxi coming up from El Cruce was jam packed. Buses from all over headed up towards town filled with kids and their drums and instruments. The one Boquerón bus headed that way was packed like a can of sardines and didn’t even try to stop. In my time at the bus stop it started clouding up and there was one, brief, shower. I could hear drumming going on in the distance.
If there was any way I was going to see this thing I’d have to walk. Now, that’s not so easy for me. I have emphysema and from the bus stop to the town park is the equivalent of walking up the stairs of a ten story building. Hell, I didn’t even do THAT when I was younger and in good shape! So, I plugged into my iPod and started the slog upwards. About a third of the way up it started to rain again so I sought shelter beneath a large mango tree and rested, dry, for the fifteen minutes the rain lasted. Two thirds of the way up, just short of the Chinos it started raining again. A bit harder this time and lasting for almost a half hour before letting up. All along the way people had parked their cars and pickup trucks along the side of the road, set up chairs and tables and dipped into their coolers for soft drinks, beer and snacks. Just like along St. Charles Avenue on  Mardi Gras Day.
I got up to the park, eventually, and it was crowded. I found a bench near the street, wiped off the rain water that had collected there and then pulled out a plastic garbage bag from my back pack (never leave home without it) and sat to watch the passing scene.
At noon the beginning of the parade approached the park, led off by the Queen of the Festival.
Then came the marchers.
IMG_0386The Bomberos (Fire Department) Band from Bugaba
IMG_0391The first of the many schools participating
IMG_0392There’s always a tribute to Panamanian culture, the Pollera
IMG_0393The fight against breast cancer knows no national boundaries
IMG_0402Panamanian kids like pounding on things. For the boys it’s drums
IMG_0399-1For the girls it’s glockenspiels
IMG_0407-1Posing so mom can snap a photo during a pause in the action
Of course no celebration would be complete without someone overdoing it and passing out in public.
What would a festival be without plenty of food?
In the Palacio Municipal parking lot a small collection of children’s rides were set up though I didn’t take any pictures of them. Most looked as though they’d been purchased fourth- or fifth-hand from carnivals in the States.
Then the parade was over I headed back down the hill as it was seriously clouding up. It started raining, hard, about a half hour after I got home and it continued well into darkness though I could hear the disco music and drumming until close to midnight.



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Cost of Living in Panama

One of the most often asked questions on forums about living in Panama is “How much does it cost to live there?” It’s sort of like asking, “How much does a car cost?” My answer to the cost of living question is always, “How much you got?”

But it IS less expensive for me to live here. Compared to what I was paying to share a duplex in Fort Lauderdale each month allows me to live here in Boquerón for more than THREE months.

Another savings is in electrical costs. Now, granted, the stove there in the States was electric (which I hated) and here I cook with gas ($5.50 for a 20 lb. bottle that lasts me three months or so). My electric bill in Fort Lauderdale always ran about $125/month. Yesterday (Sept. 24th) I got my electric bill for the month of August. It was for $8.91!

I LOVE it here.


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Could Be…

What if soy milk is just regular milk introducing itself in Spanish?

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One of the reasons my rent is so reasonable here at my house in Boguerón is that I have been maintaining the yard for the past two years. Doing it myself rather than paying someone else to do it.

Now, that might not sound like a big deal, but you have to understand how things grow down here. People have joked that you could stick a two by four in the ground and it would sprout roots and grow. Well that’s really not that much of a joke. Just take a look at this:


Recently it’s been harder for me to keep things up the way I’d like. It’s not that things are wild and overgrown so much as it just isn’t what I’d like it to be and as I’ve said, it’s a two hour lawn and I’ve got a one hour back so I’ve been less than enthusiastic about strapping on the weed whacker and going out to do battle with the grass. The last time I did it it took three days altogether. Half of the front lawn one day, half a couple of days later and the back yard a couple of days after that. I just couldn’t, or wouldn’t work through the pain, and there was still some that I just didn’t get to. My lease is up at the end of October and the house is on the market. I’ll probably stay here until it sells, and who knows how long that will be? And I want the house and grounds to look as best as possible.

Yesterday at my neighbor’s they had a man with a weed whacker doing their lawn. I went up there and asked the man, who is a Charles Bronson look-alike, to come see me when he was through up there. A half an hour later he and my neighbor came down to see me. I asked him how much he would charge to come cut the grass twice a month. The odd thing was, that everything I said to Charles Bronson in Spanish, was repeated to him by my neighbor as if he was translating somehow. Anyway, we agreed to a price of $25 ($12.50 a visit) and shook hands on the deal.

I asked him to come next week. He said he’d be here on Wednesday. We’ll see. It’s Panama, after all.


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Sharing is Careing

The day’s rain started late in the afternoon with vivid flashes of lightning and thunder claps you could feel. They drowned out the laughter and chatter coming from the children and adults gathered at my neighbor Maide’s back porch. The two street dogs that have adopted me because I feed them lay huddled together for comfort against the storm. The rain pounded down so hard and fierce that it drowned out the sound of the rising river a few yards away from the house.

Night fell and I dined on a couple of bowls of freshly-made chili. After putting the remains of the chili into Ziplock bags and storing them in the freezer for another day, I lay out on the sofa to read the latest detective novel I’d downloaded earlier. The fierce storm had abated and the rain had slacked off when I heard “Reechar. Reechar” outside.

I went to the door, turned on the overhead porch light to find my neighbor, Maide standing outside with a towel over her head to ward off the rain. She flashed her award-winning, brilliant smile and handed me a plastic bag containing two, still hot, home made tamales wrapped in banana leaves. That’s what the group had been doing through the storm. Making tamales and she wanted me to have some despite the rain.




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Complimented On My Spanish

Yesterday I had to go to Hospital Chiriquí to pay my insurance premium for the next quarter. There are three people that work in the office, a receptionist, some guy whose job I’m not sure of and the administrator who is a woman who speaks excellent English.

The receptionist speaks some English though we always speak to each other in Spanish. She’s the one who takes the payments and prints out the receipts. She asked me, “¿Qué está pagando hoy?” (What are you paying, today?)

“Más que quiero.” (More than I want to) I said.

There was a chuckle from the administrator’s office. “Your Spanish is getting quite good,” she said in English.

“Gracias,” I replied, “y su Inglés es también.” (Thank you, and your English is, too.”

Big laugh from everyone. Those who don’t learn the language of their adopted country miss out on so much, and I think that, because I’m getting better at talking to my adopted countrymen in their language, I’m leaving a better impression of the gringos who have come here to live.

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