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The Die Is Cast…

Went into David (dah VEED) this morning and bought my ticket to the States. Leaving Monday, April 24th from Tocumen Airport (PTY) in Panamá City. Departure at 11:45 a.m. Arriving at Ft. Lauderdale at 3:48 p.m. EDT.


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Two Panama Bus Stories

Why Panama Is Saner Than The U.S.

This morning I boarded the bus to go pay my February electric bill ($15.73 by the way). These aren’t “chicken buses,” either. They’re nice, air-conditioned 32-seat Toyota Coaster, like this:

I happened to get the last empty seat.

Across the aisle from me was a very attractive 20-something yacking away with her seat mate while unselfconsciously breast feeding her young infant. NO ONE was upset by this or paying the least attention.  Unlike in the States where you get headlines like: “Video of Man Harassing Breast-feeding Mother at Target Goes Viral…”  or: “Breastfeeding Mom Claims An Officer Threatened To Arrest Her…”

How to deal with uptight America…

breast feed

There Are Assholes In Every Country

After going over to Bugaba to pay my light bill and pick up a couple of things I’d forgotten in yesterday’s marketing foray, I hoped on a bus from Frontera to get home. As we were getting close to El Cruce, where I get off to take another bus three kilometers up the hill to my house I gave the guy at the door a one Balboa coin… (These were originally called “Martinellis” after President Ricardo Martinelli who introduced the coins. He is now on the run and living in Miami due to corruption charges against him. Several of his cabinet members are sitting in prison as I write this, awaiting trial. Most people no longer call the coins “Martinellis” but instead refer to them as “Fugitivos.” You don’t even need to speak Spanish to figure out what THAT means.)

The “Pavo” it literally means “turkey” but that’s what the guys manning the door and taking care of the fares are called, gave me 35¢ in change. I said, “The fare is 50¢.”

“¿Que?” (What?)

English translation: “The fare from Bugaba to El Cruce with the jubilado discount is 50¢, not 65¢”

“Mumble, mumble, ¡Americano!” as he swapped out the dime with a quarter.

By now people around me were looking at us and I said, “Yes, I’m a gringo, but I’m also a resident in Panama. Would you like to see my cédula?” (A cédula is the national identification card all Panamanians an permanent resident aliens are issued.)

He declined, but as I was passing him as I got off the bus he muttered the word “Gringo.”

I said, “Hasta luego, pendejo.” (Pendejo literally means pubic hair but it’s the Spanish equivalent of “asshole.”

I’ve been in the country for over seven years and he’s only the fourth Panamanian in all that time I don’t like.


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Expensive Trip to David (dahVEED) but with some good news

Over the last month, month and a half I’ve been having some serious breathing problems. I’ve been THIS CLOSE (-) to trying to get a cab to take me into the emergency room at Hospital Chiriqui, but that’s questionable at 3 a.m. But I’d do my deep breathing exercises and take a couple of hits off my inhaler and thing would eventually settle down.
But it made me wonder if there was anything else that could be done to alleviate the problem. Supplemental oxygen perhaps?
After a rough start to Monday morning I went into the hospital and set up an appointment to see Dr. Rodriguez who I’d seen before. I could have seen him yesterday if I hung around for four hours or so but decided to wait until this morning (Tuesday).
The appointment was for 10 a.m. The doctor showed up at !!:15. I was second on the list. I went through their routine quickie physical. My blood pressure was normal. ( I take lisinopril and Atenolol and it works fine.) One good note was that the last time I was there I weighted in at a hefty 173 lbs. A lot for me. Today I logged in at 155!
I was shocked when to doctor said it had been three years since I’d seen him. I would have guessed a year and a half, TOPS. I asked him about supplemental oxygen and he said that the little gizmo they put on your finger to read your heartbeat also registers blood/oxygen levels and mine supposedly is normal. He had the girl bring in another one and it read the same.
Okay, so supplemental oxygen isn’t needed.
Next I went in to breathe into a doo dad that measures lung capacity and some other stuff. Went through that and then was given three shots from some kind inhaler. After 20 minutes I went back and did the whole thing again.
Here’s where the good news comes in. The first time I did the tests three years ago the results were that my lung capacity was only 34% of normal. The doc said, today, that people with lungs like mine are usually dead by now.
The new results show a lung capacity of 48.69%. Certainly not great, but a 15% improvement over three years and shows response to treatment. I have to admit I’ve been slacking off on the meds a bit over the last few months. Since COPD, the initial diagnosis, is irreversible the diagnosis has been changed to “Chronic Bronchitis.” That’s nice even if it doesn’t make the breathing any easier. He wrote me a couple of new prescriptions. I’m continuing the Spiriva and adding addint Simbicort.
There was no reason given for the increase in phlegm, but it could possibly be the result of slacking off on the meds recently.
The visit, including the breathing tests clocked in at $110. Through my Hospital Chiriqui health plan I’ll get reimbursed 75% but, of course like all healthcare here it’s pay up front.
So I hied myself down to the pharmacy at the Romero supermarket. The Spririva costs $90.22 and the Simbicort is $83.15. However, with Panama’s generous discounts for seniors they knocked $34.67 off the $173.37 tab and I ended up paying $138.70.
So, I shelled out $248.70 today.
Oh, well!


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Exciting Week in Boquerón

It’s been an exciting week in what is normally a sleepy little town in western Chiriquí.

It started off on Monday with a visit to town by the President of the Republic, Juan Carlos Varela. It was to acknowledge a program that provides decent housing to the poor throughout the country. It’s called Techos de Esperanza (Roofs of Hope). It’s sort of Panama’s version of  Habitat for Humanity. As I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, there are a lot of people living in what we in the States would consider to be “shacks.” Dirt-floor structures, split bamboo sides and rusty tin roofing.




It has been raining here in Panama for days on end which is extremely unusual, but it’s because of Tropical Storm Oscar off a tiny bit north of us in the western Caribbean. Interestingly, the rain stopped while Varela was in the covered basketball courts in the town park less than a 100 yards from my front door.


I heard a lot of noise next door. A ton of people milling around. I went out on the front porch to see what it was all about, and there was Varela sitting at my neighbor’s table enjoying a bite to eat before heading into David (dah VEED).


As soon as he finished and shook hands all around he got in his car and headed down the hill and it started to rain. I tried to get him to come back so I could bring the clothes that have been hanging out on the back porch for nearly a week trying could finally be brought inside. They’re still out there.

There was a short break in the weather Tuesday morning so I made a mad dash into the city to do some grocery shopping and pay a couple of bills. I didn’t pay the electric bill last month since it was never delivered, but I got an e-bill this month. Had to go pay arrears. Two month’s electric bill came to $31.39. Eat your hearts out gringos of the Great White North.

When I got home, around 3:00 in the afternoon I saw this sign that had just been put up while I was absent…


For those of you who are monoglots (great word, eh?) It’s announcing the sixth stage of Panama’s equivalent of theTour de France coming up on Wednesday.  (Doesn’t everyone spell Wednesday out in their heads as they write it down?) Oh, yeah, and I was only in the house for about ten minutes before it started pouring again.

Around 8 a.m. the teams started arriving and getting ready for the race…


The finish line set up near the town hall…


Policeman directing traffic away from the finish area and doing it in the rain….


The leaders sprint to the finish about three and a half hours after the start…And it’s ALL uphill from El Cruce three kilometers away at the InterAmericana Highway…


About five minutes later the pelotón showed up to finish…


As far as I know nothing else is happening of any note this week. Next Monday, though, celebrates Panama’s SECOND Independence Day but I believe all the parades and hoopla are taking place elsewhere.

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I LOVE Panama, and, in general, I love the Panamanian people. BUT sometimes it’s REALLY hard to do. In fact, sometimes it’s IMPOSSIBLE.

Take this past week, for instance. This was the 249th anniversary of the founding of the little town of Boquerón, and they were making a huge deal out of it.

The festivities started off on Wednesday. Around noon the first of the parade started by my house. Several of my neighbors from the old house came by with stools to sit on my porch and watch. It was the best parade they’ve had here in Boquerón in the five plus years I’ve lived here. This time there were a lot of floats and this time a lot of thought, care and originality was evidenced in them.

The first actual band that came by and even stopped in front of my house was from Colegio Daniel Octavio Crespo in nearby Concepcion. Most of what passes for marching music here in Panama are simply drums and once in a great while there will be a glockenspiel. It seems that Panamanians love pounding on things with sticks. But here we had an actual BAND complete with clarinets, saxophones and one lonely flute.

I used to play flute when I was in high school. Me and my four brothers were REQUIRED to take music lessons. About 6 years ago I bought a flute down here in David (dah VEED) but as my COPD developed I lost interest in trying to use an instrument I had to blow into and it has remained unused for the last three or four years. I put it up for sale at about half the price I paid for it on a local buy/sell Facebook site and got absolutely ZERO responses even after it had been posted and bumped up several times.

Looking at that lone flute in the Crespo band gave me an idea. I went inside and grabbed the flute and then went to the band’s director and gave it to him and told him to make sure some kid who couldn’t afford to buy an instrument for themselves got it. His thanks were profuse and he had his assistant take a photo of us and the flute together. Who knows, I might have changed some kids whole life by giving that flute away.

That night at the covered basketball court about 100 yards from my house the very popular Manuel “Nenito” Vargas and Las Plumas Negros (The Black Feathers) was playing. I went up and watched for about an hour and then returned home, stuck some plugs in my ears and went to sleep.

Thursday was sort of a rest-up day to prepare for the weekend. Now here’s where it gets bad. After a night time parade filled with drum and bugle bands some asshole with a van full of speakers opened the van’s back doors and started playing music with such volume and with such wide open bass that everything in my house shook and vibrated. The ear plugs helped only a tiny bit but there’s nothing you can do about the bass. This FUCKING LASTED UNTIL 3:30 IN THE MORNING!!! And it isn’t even really music. There’s NO MELODY involved. No one can dance to this shit! It is, pure and simple, JUST NOISE and it seems that the majority of Panamanians LOVE IT!

If you want to be a mindless, uncaring, self-centered piece of shit, I say, go park you van in front of YOUR HOUSE and play like that.

Then comes Saturday night. Some idiotic twatwaffle with a car full of speakers parked on the same corner and started the same shit again. But then it got EVEN WORSE. Directly across the street came THREE CARS AND A VAN loaded with speakers and each one seemed to be in competition as to who could be the most obnoxious asshole in the bunch. Literally everything in my house was vibrating.

I couldn’t stand it and so I threw my iPad and my telephone that holds my audio books into my knapsack and locked the house. A cab passed by in less than a minute and took me down to El Cruce where I caught a bus into the city less than five minutes later and went to my harbor of refuge over the years, Bambu Hostel where I was able to get a bed for $11 for the night. This is where I slept.

jungle house

I woke up at 6:30, which is actually about an hour and a half later than I normally get up. Walked the couple of blocks to the bus stop and hopped on the bus that dropped me off, literally, at my doorstep.

A nearby neighbor stopped by on his way to the little tienda and told me the stupid assholes didn’t stop the noise until FIVE FUCKING THIRTY this morning!!! It was worth the 50 cents for the ride to El Cruce, the $11 for the bed, the buck for the frosty bottle of Balboa and the $1.20 round trip bus ride. Plus instead of being blasted by the morons with their car loads of speakers, I spent a couple of hours talking to a couple from France and an American who has lived in Sweden for the last 15 years and who, with his girlfriend has been riding their bicycles from Mexico City and are on their way to Panama as I’m writing this.

Some Panamanians will ask if the loud music like these assholes play and everyone else endures doesn’t happen in the United States. The answer is, NO IT DOESN’T! And there are reasons for it. There are noise laws everywhere in the States and the police will come and shut things down if there are complaints. Nothing like that happens here. All of this went on within ONE BLOCK of the police station.

Another reason it doesn’t happen is because if it’s NOT shut down some pissed of person with a FUCKING GUN will come out and shoot up the speakers and then will shoot the assholes who are responsible. That’s the ONLY TIME I condone gun violence.

Anyway, the festival is over. The food stalls that surrounded the town park are being dismantled and tonight should be back to normal…At least I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will…


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Reason For Repatriation

There are some people who don’t quite understand why I’m getting ready to leave Panama, a country and its people what I truly love, and repatriate to the United States. I’ve stated that I have developed health issues, severe COPD, and Medicare doesn’t cover you once you step foot outside the borders of the U.S.

Health care here is, generally, excellent. IF you can pay for it up front. But just try getting health insurance if you’re a 74-year-old man with COPD and three arterial stents. Ain’t happening. I have been enrolled in Hospital Chiriqui’s “Insurance” program which really isn’t insurance at all. It is, rather, a program that will reimburse you for up to 75% of covered costs up to something like $30K. The alternative, if you can’t cough up $3 or $4K to get into Hospital Chiriqui or Mae Lewis, is to go to Regional.

Don Ray Williams, who writes a blog called “Chiriqui Chatter” which I have followed for years, is the U.S. Embassy Warden for this area. He acts as a liaison and first contact between U.S. expats and the Embassy. Today he had a great post that goes a long way to explain what I’d be facing if something horrible happened to me requiring hospitalization here…

“I had one person that was in the hospital because he was hit by a car crossing a street in David. The social worker called me one morning asking if I could come to the hospital and tell the patient that he needed to leave because the hospital needed the bed.

“I went to the hospital and the patient could barely talk. He was still in pain. I had the Embassy talk to the social worker and she was asked what their plan was. The social worker told the Embassy that if he didn’t leave, they might be forced to put him by the side of the road. The Embassy staff person asked if that was the same thing that would happen to a Panamanian. I didn’t hear the answer.

“I left thinking he was going to be transferred to Mae Lewis, a private hospital. He had the funds to pay for private care, but was taken to the Regional, because most accidents are taken there. I got a call at 6PM by his landlord saying he had been brought home and he couldn’t talk. Lilliam and I went to his house and called 911. He died while the 911 attendants were trying to stabilize him to return to the hospital.

“In my mind, he died because of the doctor that instructed the social worker to have him released and the social worker following her instructions. I am confident he would not have died in Mae Lewis.

“There were two more patients I met in the Regional Hospital who had been transferred from Hospital Chiriquí after they had run up bills of $40,000 and had run out of funds. Both died after a couple weeks stay in the Regional Hospital.

Another person I met had been transferred from the Interior of Panama to the Regional Hospital after falling. He didn’t have insurance and this was the only trauma hospital that could take him, even though it would have been closer to Panama City’s Santo Tomás. He also didn’t leave the hospital alive.

“I believe the Regional Hospital does the best they can with what they have and there is a tremendous amount of construction going on at the Regional Hospital to serve more people. There are a lot of good people working there, but the staff is stretched to its limit, from what I have seen. I will still say that I would want to go to a private hospital as my first choice.

“I feel fairly confident that Marion, my friend that was shot and left for dead in Potrerillos, would not have survived had she not been fortunate enough to be admitted into Mae Lewis.

“On another occasion, there was a U.S. citizen that was in need of surgery and his son came to Panama to see him. The Embassy asked if I could assist, as the son did not speak Spanish. After being here a few days the son needed to return to the U.S. and I took him to the hospital to say goodbye.

“When we got to the hospital, I was told he could not be seen. I said it was important for the son to talk to him because he was returning to the U.S. and it might be his last time t see him.
“The nurses started making calls, because they are usually helpful when I hand the, my Embassy introduction letter. They finally came out and gave the son and me masks, gowns and gloves to put on.

“We visited the father and after I left, I learned that the ward had a bacterial resistant virus and it was not safe to be there. Sometimes my not willing to take “no” for an answer puts me in places I shouldn’t be. It was good that he got to see his father because he only lived a few days after having surgery.

“Because of volunteering for the Embassy, I have had the occasion to meet a doctor in one of the local clinics that always complains about freeloading and indigent U.S. Citizens that expect free healthcare from Panama. He always says he can’t understand why the Panama government allows these type of people to come here. He always says this in Spanish assuming I don’t understand.

“Now this is not a criticism of the healthcare system, but it is a criticism of this particular doctor. In both cases he implied that he would treat the patient if they made an appointment at Hospital Chiriquí (I assume this is preferable because he wanted more pay).

“Still, I agree with him in that no U.S. citizen should plan on coming here and taking advantage of a public healthcare that is intended for caring for the people of Panama. None the less, his attitude was not one of a doctor I would want in control of my life.”

So there it is. The possibility scares me, especially when I realize that I felt fine right up to the instant I started having my heart attack several years ago. Or when I was walking down the sidewalk outside of Bethesda Naval Hospital and a car got forced off the road and hit me while it was doing almost 30 mph. SHIT HAPPENS. I JUST HATE IT WHEN IT HAPPENS TO ME!!!


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Overcoming Inertia

One of the things I brought with me from Fort Lauderdale when I moved to Panama was myYucatan hammock. Hammocks are everywhere here in Panama. There’s hardly a house or a yard that doesn’t have at least one. Nearly every store down at the bus terminal in David (dah VEED) has hammocks for sale. They are not the net style like the hammocks of the Yucatan but are a solid piece of heavy fabric instead. While I see hammocks everywhere here I don’t know if people actually use them to sleep in instead of on a mattress. When I was walking around Isla Mujeres years ago and peeking into people’s houses through their open front doors I saw quite a few hammocks strung between walls and it was obvious that people, mainly Mayans, used them as their beds. I’m pretty sure the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé, Panama’s largest indigenous tribe and who live primarily here in Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro provinces, don’t sleep in them. I constantly see them loading really cheap foam mattresses onto buses at the terminal.

The wonderful house I house-sat in Potrerillos Arriba when I first came to Panama had widely spaced columns supporting the overhanging roof and they were perfectly spaced for hammocks. In fact, they had three or four of them; the fabric kind that are sold around here. They were okay but not nearly as comfortable as my Yucatan so I swapped out one of theirs for mine for the two six-month stints I lived there.

Since then I haven’t lived anywhere where I could sling my hammock, and I didn’t want to go drilling holes into somebody else’s concrete walls to install hooks to hang it. I had seen some free-standing hammock stands at a couple of stores in David,  but, as is normally the case here, when I went to buy one they were all gone and nobody knew if they were ever going to get any more. So I went online to see if there were any plans for building a stand of my own. Silly me, of course there were.

I could buy some 2X4s and build something like this:


Or get a little fancier and build one like this:


If I wanted to get really fancy I could try to make something like this:


Uhmmmmm….probably a little bit beyond my capabilities…I’ll pass, but it WOULD be cool to have one like it, don’t ya think?

I saw a couple of plans for stands made out of galvanized pipe that wouldn’t be too hard to put together:


MEH! Lacks some kind of esthetic appeal.

And then I stumbled across what is called a Turtle Dog Stand. Again, not so esthetically pleasing, but certainly something well within my capabilities to make.

It’s fairly light weight since it’s made with 2X2s, easily portable, and can be used outdoors:

outdoor dog

Or set up indoors. No holes in the walls:

indoor dog

So, about a year ago, I went out and bought everything I needed to build one except for the connecting pole.

Then inertia set in and in the last year I’ve moved twice.

I’ve been sleeping on the air mattress I bought when the old landlords thought their sister was going to come down with them from Texas. She never did, and they never offered to pay me for it, so I figured it was mine! It’s been comfortable, but last week I heard a “POP“. when I was putting a little more air in it. It didn’t instantly deflate but while I put air in it before retiring for the night, by the time morning rolls around it’s probably lost half of the air.

Yesterday I went to the Panamanian equivalent of Lowe’s over in nearby Bugaba and bought a 10′ length of metal conduit. I wanted twelve feet, but they only sell it in 10 and 20 foot lengths. We’ll see if I can get away with the 10 footer. I didn’t want to have to throw away 8 feet of conduit if I didn’t have to.

Today I put it together. Took me a couple of hours because my COPD bothered me being bent over so much. But anyway, here it is.


I had to shorten it up a bit tying the ends to make it fit the 10 foot length but it’s fine. I’ll let you know how well I slept in it tomorrow.

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