Monthly Archives: February 2014

Some Kind Of A Test?

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.

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A Great Week of Music

As I wrote earlier, I now have a moderately high speed connection to the internet. I don’t really know how fast it is. The cable company says 5 mbs, but it’s probably not. It IS fast enough to stream movies, though, so I signed up for Netflix. This past week I’ve neglected my reading a bit and have been watching, and listening to, some great musicals. There are going to be a few clips here, so put on your headphones, crank up the volume and enjoy…

When I’d signed up for Netflix and was browsing their menu I saw The Blues Brothers. Wow, haven’t seen THAT in a long time, so I clicked on it. It’s pretty hard to beat a musical lineup including Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Fats Domino…the list goes on. How can you top great music and the total destruction of automobiles?

With the Blues Brothers taking place in Chicago, a city I lived in, off and on for five years, brought me to another movie I loved. Chicago. I especially liked Queen Latifa…

Then I had to fill up on Jamie Foxx’s Ray.

As much as I admired Jamie’s work in the film, there’s only one person who can carry this song…

Then there was the incredible Cadillac Records. The story of Chess Records and performers I liked from the first time I heard them back in the late ’50s and early 60s. Artists like Muddy Waters, Little Walter…

Howlin’ Wolf…

And Beyoncé absolutely nailed the fantastic Etta James…

And this is here because, well, it’s MY BLOG and I love Playing for Change and this clip…

 

 

 

 

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A Special Afternoon

Yesterday was one of those special afternoons that come along every so often. I got to meet a couple of Statesiders who read my blog. John and Susan are fellow cruisers from Oregon who, several years ago, sailed from their home in the States down through Central America, passed through the Canal and ended up in Florida for a time. They liked what they saw of Panama and are now down here doing their ‘due diligence’ and exploring the country with an eye on retiring here. They have rented a house up near Boquete and are out meeting bloggers who live in the area. They came to visit me yesterday afternoon.

I showed them around my neighborhood and then we piled in their car and we went up into the hills to take the Ruta Sur over to the Branding Iron, a watering hole down in Dolega where the road branches out to either Potrerillos or Boquete. It was a chance for them to see some of the pretty sights that Chiriqui has to offer. One of them was way up in the hills probably close to a thousand feet above sea level where sits a 30 foot power catamaran up on blocks. The owner, also a gringo was standing in the shade of a palm tree and we stopped and talked to him for a bit. Then we proceeded to the Branding Iron where we could sit a place for  for a couple of drinks and swap sea stories. It would leave them on the route back to where they’re staying and give me easy bus access to get back home.

It was kind of depressing to walk into the Branding Iron to find that the two t.v.s hanging on the wall were tuned to Fox Gnus. Yuck! They felt the same way. I told them that we shouldn’t be too harsh about Fox. It actually saved my life. I told them I’d been in a horrible car accident a couple of years ago that left me in a coma. I’d been in the hospital for several months, attached to tons of tubes and monitors when someone came into my room and turned on Fox News on my t.v. Naturally I had to get up and shut it off!

All too soon it was time to go our separate ways. They took me down to the bus stop in Dolega a couple of clicks away and in less than five minutes I was on my way down to the depot in David.

As I got close to my street I saw a  about a dozen people standing around on the corner. What had drawn the crowd was that two of my neighbor ladies, Maíde and Francia, had set up a table in the caseta (the bus shelter) with a two burner gas range where they were cooking up almohábanos and smoked pork slices. Neighborhood residents were lined up to buy the almohábanos by the dozens which the two ladies loaded into paper bags which were quickly taken to houses in the area for cena (supper).

This was my first experience with almohábanos. Doing a Google search I see that it’s a popular Latin food. It’s made of corn flour and fried up in hot oil. Almohábanos is more of a kind of food product that takes various shapes and permutations. The ones being prepared by my neighbors looked like those large fritter-like things at the top of the plate:

almohabanos

I bought a plate with one almohábano and a slice of smoked pork for $1.25 and took it home where I downed it with a frosty bottle of Panamá. The almohábano was actually pretty bland and nearly tasteless but it was better with the addition of a bit of Pace salsa. Maíde and Francia were doing a land-office business, but at $1.25 a plate I can’t imagine they were making a whole lot of money. I almost suspect that it was as much a social event for them as it was a business enterprise. But so it is, here in Panama.

 

 

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Newly Wired

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.

 

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Succumbed

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.

IMG_0478It’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.

IMG_0479Thumbed through the channels and was surprised a lot of the programming was in English.

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.

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A Matter of Perspective

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…

 

 

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Been A Month

It’s been just over a month since my last post. A combination of things have contributed to the delay. One was moving from the old house to the new one, of course, and I really didn’t feel like writing about that. Boring. And speaking of boring, I kinda got bored with blogging, to tell you the truth, so I just didn’t do it. So shoot me!

It’s a bit noisier in the new house. The old digs were a little bit removed from everyone else, but here I’m surrounded by my neighbors. The young kids play right outside my gate. The neighbors are constantly dropping in on each other so their conversations drift my way. I drop in on them, too and get to mangle the Spanish language.

My lady neighbors are constantly asking me if I cook. I ask them if they think I eat everything out of a can. Certainly don’t order pizza delivered. Closest place that does that is about 15 miles away. Of COURSE I cook. And they’re always surprised when I tell them things like I had chicken a la king for la cena (supper) or chicken curry, stuffed peppers, home made spaghetti sauce, etc. But that still doesn’t seem to sink in all the way. Just as I was getting ready to fix lunch, Llella, from across the street brought me this…

IMG_0477

A nice salad with fresh veggies, a dab of tuna and rice with guandú. Guandú, also known as ‘pigeon peas,’ are extremely popular here in Panama. The things grown on trees, not vines as we think of peas:

÷guandu

and when they’re stripped from the pods they look like this:

ElValleGuandu

As you walk around in David or Bugaba you see people with plastic bags full of guandú for sale. This lunch was the first time I’d eaten guandú and I thought it rather bland and not something I’d go out of my way to buy on my own, but I enjoyed my Panamanian lunch.

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