I have been living full-time in Panama for exactly four years, today.
Monthly Archives: April 2014
I am one of those people who always roots for the ‘home team’ wherever I happen to be living.
Growing up on Cape Cod it was, naturally, the Red Sox in baseball. When I was in the eighth grade I won a pair of tickets to a Sox game. My buddy Harry Bennett and I were put on the train in Hyannis for the ride up to Boston’s South Station by my mom with written instructions on how to get to Fenway Park and the oral admonition that when ordering lunch that Salisbury Steak was really just hamburger. The Red Sox ended up losing both games of a double header to the Orioles.
Through high school our DeMolay group would take the, then, three hour car ride up to Boston and visit the ‘Garden’ to see the Bruins play.
I never got into basketball very much, but I kinda followed the Celtics. After all, they were sort of the Yankees of their sport winning championship after championship and, at that time they had players like Bob Cousy and Bill Russell.
When Boston got an NFL team and I started cheering for the ‘BOSTON Patriots.’ Actually it was the old AFL then. When I moved to Miami I was torn. Of course the Dolphins were now the ‘home team’ and I pulled for them to win but was conflicted when they had to play the Patriots twice each year since they were in the same division. Eventually I sided with the Dolphins through it all, and when the two teams met I could live with whichever team came out on top.
I absolutely HATE IT when those sick bastards who moved down to south Florida from New York go to Joe Robbie Stadium and cheer for the stinking Jets. They shouldn’t even be allowed out of their homes during Dolphins/Jets games if they aren’t going to root for the Fins.
I lived, off and on, for five years in Chicago. Two years full-time and then just in the summers for three. I always rooted for the Bears, of course, but I never could work up any enthusiasm for the Bulls. Basketball, no matter where I am just doesn’t do it for me.
All the time that I lived in Chicago I wasn’t too far from Wrigley Field so, by default, the Cubs were my home team over the White Sox on the south side of the city. Though baseball is not ‘my sport’ I did go to several Cubs games during the summers of ‘75 and ‘76. Back then Wrigley was the lone hold out for installing lights and their games were played in the afternoons the way God intended it to be played. I’d usually twist up a couple of ‘fatties,’ and puff one before setting out. You could get a seat in the grandstands then for $2.00 and sit in the shade, watch the game, the pretty girls, and as the munchies set in people would bring you food and beer. My ‘seventh inning stretch’ was usually finding a spot away from everyone else and firing off the other doobie.
While I’m not what you’d call a ‘rabid’ fan I do like watching American football. Not soccer. That’s the sort of akin to watching paint dry. Wait a minute! Watching paint dry is MUCH MORE EXCITING than soccer. Anyway, I know the highs and lows of watching and cheering for a favorite team. I happened to be living in Fort Lauderdale when the Dolphins had their miraculous undefeated (17-0) season in 1972, led by Earl Morrell after Bob Greise broke his ankle in the third game against San Diego. (Earl died Friday, May 25th, at age 79.)
And I know the downside, too. I was living in New Orleans in 1980. The year the Saints became the ‘Aint’s’ losing 14 straight and fans sat in the Super Dome with paper bags over their heads. They only won a single game that year. Then the team acquired Kenny Stabler to replace the long-suffering Archie Manning. You’d have thought the heavens had opened up and that Jesus Christ, himself, had descended to lead the team to fame and glory. But Kenny was long past his prime and played on shaky knees so the humiliation continued.
I saw a lot of games in the Dome in the early ‘80s. Back then I was captain of the ‘Lady Ann,’ a yacht owned by New Orleans Tours.
We used to do cocktail and dinner charters on Lake Pontchartrain. New Orleans Tours also had the contract to meet all the visiting NFL teams at the airport, take them to their hotel and then to the Dome for the games. The bus drivers were allowed into the games for free and were allowed to watch from the ‘wheelchair’ section which was actually on the 40-yard line and nestled among the $40 seats.
Well, it didn’t take long to figure out how to scam the system. I’d put on my work shirt that had ‘New Orleans Tours’ embroidered on it, take off the captain’s epaulettes and buy the cheapest ticket there was, $15, up in the ‘nosebleed’ area of the Dome. Then, once inside, I’d go to the wheelchair section, tell the guy with the clipboard guarding the entrance that I was with New Orleans Tours and point to my chest and be admitted. Then I’d find someone who was actually IN a wheelchair, introduce myself and tell them that if he wanted anything during the game I’d get it for him. Now, if asked what I was doing there, I’d just say ‘I’m helping him.’ Those were the good old days. Like everyone else who ever rooted for the Saints, their Super Bowl victory was sweet indeed.
I need to back up, here, and get back into baseball. Back in ‘96 or ‘97 my buddy, Soby, the dock master where I lived on my boat at Marina Bay, asked if I’d like to go see a Marlins game. His girlfriend had season tickets. I said, ‘sure, I’ve always wanted to see what Joe Robbie Stadium was like on the inside.’ (Sidebar: Joe Robbie owned the Dolphins and he built that stadium with his OWN MONEY. No scamming taxpayers to pay for it as everyone is doing these days. When Wayne Huizenga bought the team, and the stadium, he sold ‘naming rights’ to the place and it has carried half a dozen different names since then. But to thousands of us, no matter what the sportscasters call it, the place will ALWAYS BE Joe Robbie stadium, and when it’s finally torn down we’ll point and say ‘that’s where Joe Robbie Stadium used to be.’)
I hadn’t been to a baseball game in over 20 years before Soby, his girlfriend and I went and sat through, no lie, the longest game ever played in the history of the National League without going in to extra innings. Five plus hours of batters racking up 3-2 counts to where you wanted to scream ‘Swing at it, you jerk.’ Both teams went through their entire pitching rotations and the Marlins ended up blowing a three run lead to eventually lose by three or four runs. I tell you, if I’d had my own car with me I would have left after the third inning. But the stadium WAS real nice.
Baseball is a big deal down here in Panama. They show major league games from the States several times a week on the T.V. and all the team scores and standings are in the newspapers. Carlos Ruiz, the starting catcher for the Phillies is from right here in David (pronounced Dah VEED) and his mother lives on my street on the other side of the Boqueron road and one of his cousins is my next door neighbor. I met Carlos over there a couple of years ago.
Panama has sent a bunch of players to fame and glory in the States. There’s Carlos Ruiz, as I mentioned. He has a World Series ring and was in the All Star game two years ago (injured last year). Mariano Rivera just retired from the Yankees and is destined for Cooperstown. He was a reliever. Thirteen All Star appearances, five World Series rings. He is MLB’s career leader in saves (652) and games finished (952). There was Rod Carew, a former Major League Baseball (MLB) first baseman, second baseman and coach. He played from 1967 to 1985 for the Minnesota Twins and the California Angels and was elected to the All-Star game every season except his last. While Carew was never a home run threat (only 92 of his 3,053 hits were home runs), he made a career out of being a consistent contact hitter. He threw right-handed and batted left-handed. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame. Carew served as an MLB coach for several years after retiring as a player. The Panama Metro field is named for him.
Each of the provinces here has their own baseball team. Probably equivalent to minor league teams in the States as far as skill is concerned. The games are broadcast on T.V., in Spanish, of course, but you soon learn that the outfield is ‘el jardin’, the ‘garden. The infield is the ‘cuadro interior’ the ‘inside quarter.’ The pitcher is ‘el lancedor’ and you can think of it this way…a lance is thrown. My favorite, though, is the catcher. In Spanish he is the ‘receptor.’ The basemen are known as ‘defenders of the respective ‘sacos.’ Primero, segundo, trecero. The lancedor throws ‘stikes’ and ‘bolas.’ Three ‘outs’ constitute an ‘episodio.’ Other tough terms to understand are ‘foul bol,’ ‘home plate,’ ‘home run,’ and sometimes a batter hits into a ‘doble play,’ or a sacrificio.’
Baseball season here is held during the ‘dry season’ where there’s less chance that games will get rained out. Right now they are playing the Republic’s version of the World Series. Defending champs, Chiriquí, my home team since I live in Chiriquí Province, are battling the 2012 champs, Bocas del Toro. Instead of playing at each teams home field the games are being played at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City since it’s the largest in the country.
Last night Chiriquí won a squeaker with a walk-off double in the ninth to win the game 2-0 and now leads the best-of-seven series two games to one.
This post has nothing to do with Panama other than the fact that I saw what is to follow while living here.
About 40 years ago, when I was living in Fort Lauderdale, I had a friend who lost one of his legs, below the knee, in a motorcycle accident when a woman ran a red light and crashed into him. He had a prosthesis and, unless you knew he had it, you’d never have guessed it. He didn’t walk with a limp at all and he danced with all the girls at the bars.
We won quite a bit of money, together, at bars with his leg. I’d be talking with some of the people at the bar and set the up by telling them that my friend could do something that would amaze them. What? I’d pick out some object on the ceiling, one that most people couldn’t even touch with their hands and tell them my buddy could touch it with his foot while the other foot remained rooted to the ground. Of course no one ever believed it and so the money would be put up. My friend would go through a bunch of histrionics and exercises; judging the distance between the floor and the object in question and the he’d reach down, take off his leg and touch whatever we’d selected while standing on his good leg firmly attached to the floor. There’s be a stunned silence from the suckers as they were processing the fact that they’d been had. But no one ever got angry losing their bets.
Aside from total paralysis or death, probably the most traumatic thing that can happen to a person is the loss of a limb, or two, three or four. There are certain species in the animal world that can regenerate a lost limb. Lobsters and salamanders come to mind, but God was too busy making sure that his favorite sports teams were victorious than making sure that human beings could do the same thing as a salamander.
So, science had to do what God wouldn’t. And science has done an amazing job. Years ago there was the television show, ‘The Bionic Man.’ Science fiction, of course, but what man (yeah, yeah, and women, too, but you know what I meant) can think, man can do.
Now, go get yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or your favorite beverage and sit back for the next 19 minutes and be prepared to be amazed…
I always thought of myself as a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of guy. Growing up my mom always made a dessert for our suppers, but I preferred to have a second, or sometimes, third helping of the main course, foregoing the sweets.
That’s not to say that I don’t like sweets. I do. My maternal grandmother’s lemon meringue pie was fantastic, and my maternal grandfather made the most wonderful chocolate caramels a person was ever lucky enough to put in their mouths. For my birthday I always wanted to have a cherry pie, and I absolutely adored my mom’s Boston cream pie. She also made great fudge. My ex wife also was a master with Key Lime Pie and even ‘Conchs,’ natives of the Florida Keys said her’s was great!
When you go to the supermarket or a ‘pharmacy’ in the States you’re always assaulted with an enormous assortment of candies. Not so, here in Panama. There’s a very limited selection and what there is, is almost extortionately priced.
So, a while back I got to thinking about making some of my own candy and I naturally thought of my mom’s fudge. But making some seemed to be a bit of an ordeal. I remember my mom had a candy thermometer which seemed to be as important in the making of fudge as the chocolate itself. I looked for a candy thermometer in a couple of places but to no avail. But through the wonders of the internet I stumbled across a fudge recipe that seemed simple to make, required no thermometer and used the microwave. Why not try it?
Well, I did, and it was GREAT! I’ve made a couple of batches over the past few weeks and I’m going to tell you how it’s done and maybe if you get a fudge hankering you’ll try it yourself.
1 package of Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips. (The tiny chips work best because they melt faster.)
1 14oz can of SWEETENED condensed milk
¼ cup butter (Come on! Use the REAL stuff. I’ve found that this works best if you melt it in the microwave first.)
Nuts! (This is optional, but not for me. I splurge and buy a small can of Diamond Brand walnuts and run them through the food processor to make smaller pieces.)
In a large, microwaveable bowl put in the chocolate bits, milk and butter. Stir it all together to mix and put in the microwave and nuke the mess for a minute or two but no more. Stir to mix and nuke it again for a minute at a time until the chocolate chips are completely melted. Add nuts and stir.
While the chocolate has been melting, grease an 8X8-inch pan with butter. (A 9X9 pan does just as well. I spray the pan with PAM instead of using butter and it works fine.)
When the chocolate is completely melted pour into the pan and stick it in the fridge for a couple of hours before enjoying.
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.