Some Critters, Some Birds

I have been sorting through some photos that have been accumulating over the last few weeks and thought these were fun. I always have a camera nearby because you just never know what you are going to see. (warning, bug pictures coming)


This black and green spotted bug looked even more striking in person but it was a challenge to catch with my camera. If I came close it would go to the back side of whatever it was sitting on. I don’t think I’ve seen another like it before or since.


This tiny praying mantis was on the rainwater bucket one day.


A few of these wild heliconias have taken root in our yard, and now they are making beautiful flowers.


I pass this field anytime I leave our neighborhood. I thought the light gray horse was looking quite pregnant and one day, surprise, a little colt! Usually they retreat to the cool shade of the trees at the back of the field but once in a while you can see them out and about. The little one has been growing fast!

We have at least three of these little yellow headed geckos hanging around our terrace and laundry room. Occasionally we also see one of those speckled geckos. It’s fun to share our space with these little critters.

I planted some squash seeds and ended up with a monster plant that threatened to take over the entire backyard. There wasn’t enough sun for it to make fruit though, so we removed a lot of it and trained a couple runners up on the fence. This part always has its leaves chewed off and one day I spotted the culprits. Here’s a baby iguana in the middle of first picture. Look closely at the second picture though. There’s the baby iguana in the upper left, and another hiding in the leaves towards the lower right! No wonder my squash has no leaves but I do enjoy seeing these green babies.

We see these beautiful crimson backed tanagers fairly often. One day this male (first picture) landed in a tree where he was easily seen, and soon his lady joined him nearby (second picture)

It’s very fun living here. There are birds and bugs and lizards and so many things I’ve never seen before, and it makes every day interesting.

Posted in bird watching, insects, photography, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Just Some Scenery

I went to Volcan and Cero Punta a while back with some friends. It was a pretty, but rainy and hazy day. I was sorting through photos and found a few worth sharing.


This is at Macho de Monte. There is the spectacular river canyon below, but above there is this pretty river flowing over the rocks.


Up in Volcan the mountains were barely visible behind the clouds.

Driving on north of Volcan there were very pretty view of the mountains through the clouds and mist.


Farther up we started to see the vegetable farms on the sides of the mountains.

There is a horse farm on the way to Cero Punta. I’d seen it before but hadn’t seen this many horses out and about. What beautiful animals! They raise racing horses here and word is they are very expensive and get sent to many other countries.

Panama is a really beautiful country!

Posted in Exploring the Area, Panama, photography | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Pavo de Campo

There are some new birds at Cedo’s house – three turkeys. They are pavo de campo, or wild field/countryside turkeys, not the type we think of for Thanksgiving dinner. There are very few of the left and Cedo wants to take care of them to protect them. These three were on her farm where the caretaker had tamed them enough to get close to them, so they could be caught and brought to her house.


As you can see, they are beautiful birds with speckled chests, long tails, and a striking red patch on the throat. They make a very delicate peeping sound, but in the morning and evening sometimes they sing with a pretty short call.


Cedo doesn’t know if these are male or female. I’m no bird expert but they seem to get along very peacefully so I’m guessing there is only one male or maybe they are all females. I hope there is a mix so there is a possibility of eggs and chicks. Cedo told me once that people like to find their eggs and give them to the chickens to raise. But, in this case, since we are eating the chicken eggs it’s probably better to let them raise their own chicks.


So now, at Cedo’s house, we have the egg laying chickens, the meat chickens, and the wild turkeys, and the dog, and a large collection of plants and flowers, and of course there’s also farm with the pigs and dairy cows. My Panamanian friend is a bundle of activity and energy!


Posted in bird watching, wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Afternoon Rain

I was standing on the terrace yesterday afternoon watching it rain.


We seem to be getting a bit more rain lately, though it still doesn’t rain every day. I like the rain. It keeps everything green and beautiful and usually cools off the air. We are coming into the rainiest part of the year so hopefully we will continue to get some good rain so we catch up a bit before going in to the dry season.


Posted in Panama, photography | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Some Interesting Thoughts About Health Care from another blog

This is from Future Expats Forum 

I tried to share by reblogging it here but it didn’t work. Please excuse the previous blank post. Here is the cut and paste version from the Future Expats Forum website. Yes, those of us from the USA are obsessed with health care. Many of us, myself included, would have been financially devastated by a serious illness or injury.

Why US Expats are Obsessed with Health Care

Or, A Tale of Two Cysts

health care

US expats — in fact all who live in the US — are obsessed with health care. At least, that’s the impression the rest of the world has of us.

And they’re right. Totally right, but we have good reason to be.

Let me explain…

My husband and I have just passed our one-year anniversary of living back in the United States. In a lot of ways, I wish we hadn’t returned, but having an expat mindset is all about expanding options. Last year we had an opportunity we decided to grab, so here we are.

Shortly after arriving back in the States, I arranged for health insurance. It’s the first time I’ve had coverage since 2009. Shopping for coverage, and comparing plans, was not for the faint of heart! However, I was able to buy a plan for what I consider to be a reasonable price.

I intentionally chose a plan that, although it carries a higher deductible, covers lab, hospital and specialist fees completely (or almost completely) once the deductible is met.

I did that because I knew I had some deferred maintenance on this older body, and I figured this sort of coverage would give me the biggest bang for the buck.

And indeed it has. Let me explain…

Bumps on my Head

No, not the kind of bumps you get from bashing into something. Quite some time ago, I started feeling these two little bumps on my scalp. Over time, they grew. Very slowly, but they got bigger.

Now, Bump #1 had always been sort of soft and gooshy. (Yes, that’s a medical term.)

Bump #2 had always been hard.

This spring, with my newly acquired health coverage, I decided to have them looked at.

The Office Visit

I went to the doctor, a general surgeon I’d been referred to. He took one look at Bump #1 and said, “Wow! That one’s about to blow!”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

He explained that the skin was very thin, and the cyst was likely to break the skin at any time and erupt. This would be oily, messy, and “extremely malodorous.”

I was scheduled to fly to Denver the following week for the Authority Rainmaker Conference, and I had visions of this thing blowing up like Mt. Vesuvias at 30,000 feet. Not a pleasant prospect for me or my fellow passengers.

I explained this to him, and he kindly cleared some room in his schedule that afternoon, took me across the hall to where he had the proper lights and equipment, and removed it then and there. It took about an hour altogether. My scalp was sore afterwards, and I had a big scab, but other than that I was fine.

The bill, when it arrived, showed that without insurance, I’d have paid about $360 for this procedure. With the insurance, it was only $160.

The Outpatient Hospital Adventure

After it had healed, I went back to have Bump #2 removed.

However, after looking it over carefully, the doc decided he wasn’t comfortable removing it in the office. He wanted better lighting, better tools, and better sterility. In other words, the hospital.

So we scheduled an out-patient appointment.

I had to go in a few days in advance for pre-screening, then return on the day of surgery.

They took me into a pre-operative area first, where they took my vital statistics and set up an IV. From the time they wheeled me into the operating room until the time the doc came out — dressed in street clothes, not scrubs — to talk to my husband was about 40 minutes. We figure the surgery itself took about 20.

The bill, when it came, showed charges in excess of $18,000. Yes, you read that right. Eighteen Thousand Dollars.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to actually pay that much. However, I did have to pony up my entire annual deductible out of pocket.

As a consumer, what was the difference in value to me between the $160 to have the cyst removed in the doctor’s office, compared to $18,000 to have it removed in the hospital? None. None at all. In fact, I would have preferred to have it done in the doctor’s office. It took less time, it was far less stressful, and the outcome was exactly the same.

Oh — in case you’re wondering — although Bump #1 was soft and Bump #2 was hard, they were both benign pilar cysts, caused by an infected hair follicle. So no medical difference there.

How is this Useful to Expats?

Well, if you’re an expat living in the US from somewhere else, you’d better get health insurance. No ifs, ands, or buts. Otherwise, one illness can send you to the poorhouse.

If you’re from the US and you move overseas to almost anywhere, medical costs are much more manageable. In many countries, unless you have a serious, chronic condition, there’s not a lot of point to buying insurance and you’re better off paying out of pocket.

That’s not hard to do when costs are reasonable.

For example…

A friend in Las Tablas, Panama, had a scooter accident one night. He’s retired, in his 70’s. He’s also diabetic. He spent three days in Intensive Care in the local hospital, then another week on the diabetic ward. He had no broken bones, but he was badly bruised, scraped, and banged up.

When he checked out, he received two bills. The first, for $85, covered the cost of his x-rays. The second, for $35, covered the cost of his 10-day stay.

That’s right, $120 total for 10 days in the hospital.

Now, this is a “no frills” facility, and they expect your family and friends to provide your meals and bring you clean sheets. But compared to my $18,000 for a couple of hours?

Just do an online search for “medical tourism.” You’ll find Panama listed as a destination, along with Thailand and a bunch of other countries. You can literally fly to Asia, get a knee or hip replacement or some other non-emergency procedure, spend a month (or two, or three), and fly back to the US with a companion for less than you would spend for the same procedure in the US.

In fact, the US spends more — far more — per capita on medical care than any other nation. So you’d think we would also have the best outcomes, right? But you’d be wrong. In 2012, average cost of health care was $8,915 per person.

A 2011 study by the Center for American Progress found that health care costs had grown 818% since 1960, while wages had only grown 16%.

A report by The Commonwealth Fund showed that, despite costing the most, outcomes flagged behind 11 other countries in terms of access, efficiency, equity and quality. The one exception is in preventive care, where Americans fare better.

By most standard measurements, including mortality, infant mortality and healthy life expectancy at age 60, the US lagged behind:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • the Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

World Health Organization data from 2011 puts US life expectancy behind the above countries, as well as Finland, Japan, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Japan.

Living in the US, I have a hard time imagining a life where medical care isn’t a huge stress point. When we were in Panama, I never gave it a thought.

And that, my friends, is why US expats seem obsessed with health care. We are one illness or medical emergecy away from bankruptcy even with insurance.

Posted in health care | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

The New David Bus Terminal

There seems to be an endless amount of construction everywhere in Panama. A bigger project that started recently in David is the new bus terminal. It looks like it will also include a major shopping center, so it will be interesting to watch this develop.

I biked up Via Boquete yesterday and the construction site is on that road, on the north edge of David.

There was also quite a bit of extra traffic on Via Boquete, mainly heavy dump trucks. There was a security guard at the entrance to the construction site, a policeman at the entrance to Santa Cruz, and flag men on the northbound side of the highway at a side street north of the site, and also at another intersection south of the site. Judging by the mud tracks on the road there have been many trucks traveling to and from the construction site.

Below is a promotional video that shows what is planned for this site. It looks like it is going to be quite something when it is finished!

I have heard mixed reactions to the new terminal. It’s going to be nice up here where there is more space for buses to get in and out, more parking space for cars, and it looks like it is also going to be a major shopping center. Others like the terminal downtown where it is close to everything, and people who bus in can get to whatever they need on foot. It was also said that there is a clinic close to the downtown terminal, but the clinic proposed near the new terminal will be private and unaffordable for many who take buses. I’m glad they have built a nice new Via Boquete, and they are working on access to and from the Pan-American Highway because there is definitely going to be a big increase in traffic.

I still amazes me to see all the construction going on. There is a huge expansion project underway on the Pan-American highway between David and Santiago. In David south of town there is a big new Romero’s, a large Cochez that is going up rapidly, and a number of other commercial spaces. Just a bit south is the beginnings of a new sports center. There is a commercial center under construction just south of us, one of many I have seen around town. There is also a lot of new housing being built, much of it is entirely new neighborhoods. It seems like anywhere you go, you will run into some construction project within a few blocks. That’s a lot of material, machines, and man power!

It will be interesting to watch the new terminal develop. It will give me more motivation to bike up the mountain and work on my climbing muscles!

Posted in Miscellaneous, Panama | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Processing Rice

There is a lot of rice grown in Panama. Today I had the opportunity to visit a rice processing place which I found very interesting. Cedo was looking for hulls to use as bedding for her chickens. They give away the hulls if they have them so you only need to show up with some empty sacks and ask.


We headed off towards San Pablo, and pulled up here at the front of this place. I’m not sure what was going on on the left. There were a couple guys talking to someone at a window, and another guy washing cars our front. He told us that we needed to go ask behind where the white trucks were parked. The white trucks were in front of a large warehouse space  where men were loading pallets of bags of rice on to the trucks. There were also large sacks of rice on other pallets inside.


This is another warehouse space just to the right of the white trucks in the earlier photo.

The guy near the trucks directed us upstairs to an office above the trucks. This man came downstairs with us and found another guy who hopped in the car to direct us to where the hulls could be found. We drove around to the back of the big elevators. There were piles of something on the ground that I thought might be hulls but he said no, it’s only basura (trash) But it is sold for fertilizer, or perhaps as something used to make fertilizer (he was talking fast so I didn’t catch everything he said). On the other side of the road were other piles covered with black plastic, which I believe he said were piles of rice drying.

It was a beautiful day and the huge elevators looked impressive against the blue sky.

We stopped just past the elevators in a spot that looked like the inner workings of the elevators.

The worker there filled our sacks with hulls and helped us load them in the car. Then we headed back towards the front, completing our circle around the elevators.

This all was a surprise for me. I thought we were only going to pull up to somewhere and get hulls, not get to see the whole grain processing plant! I’m glad I had my camera with me so I could share this much. If the chicken raising business continues at Cedo’s there will be a need for more hulls, and if I play my cards right I will probably have an opportunity to see this place again. Next time I will go better prepared to ask more questions and have my camera in hand so I can have a better understanding of how they process the rice.

Posted in Exploring the Area, food, Panama | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Volcán Barú

Volcán Barú is our active volcano and at over 11,000 feet, the highest spot in Panama. When it isn’t hidden by clouds it can be seen from many places in the area. One good spot is a field just down the road from our neighborhood. I thought it was looking especially beautiful when I passed by there yesterday.


I never get tired of seeing this impressive mountain! We’re so lucky to live in such a beautiful area.

Posted in Exploring the Area, Panama, photography | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Cleaning Chickens, and Respecting Food

My friend Cedo has chickens. I wrote about them HERE when they came to her house. Remember these little chicks? The process of raising them from this to dinner has given me a whole new level of respect for where our food comes from and the work that goes into producing it.

Cedo keeping an eye on her new babies in the back of the car. Yes, there was a lot of cheeping going on!

Cedo keeping an eye on her new babies in the back of the car. Yes, there was a lot of cheeping going on!

As soon as they got home they starting eating and growing! At four weeks (August 18th) they looked like this.

They look much better with more feathers!

They look much better with more feathers!

Time went on, they continued to grow

This seems to be the life of a chicken, especially a meat chicken – eating, looking forward to more food, eating again, looking for more food, messing up the chicken house, begging for more food etc. By now Cedo is pretty much over it! Their house has to be cleaned morning and night, and they have gone through a 50 pound sack of food in 8 days and still complain they are hungry. They have to be put in their house if she goes anywhere so they don’t get caught in the rain, because if they get wet they will get sick (unlike the egg laying chickens who don’t seem to mind). This is just the maintenance. More work comes at the end.

Today was chicken cleaning day. If you don’t want to go there, this would be a good time to click on out of here. (no yucky pictures, I promise, just the story)

The chickens were out and about this morning

The chickens were out and about this morning

This morning, a neighbor was going to come and dispatch some of the chickens but he said his arm hurt and he couldn’t. Thankfully Cedo knows what to do, and after a grab to the head and a hard fast spin, two of them were hanging head down on the fence so the blood could drain. Next they were taken to the outside sink and washed, and then dipped in boiling water. Then, we took off all the feathers which was fairly easy, except a chicken has a million feathers! Next, they were held over the gas stove flame to burn off any remaining feather bits, and were put in the kitchen sink for another washing with a careful checking for any remaining feathers and a scraping off of the outer layer of skin. (I soon learned that these are young tender chickens and it is very easy to break the skin. I even managed to break it with a sponge!  There is a reason I was only allowed to clean my own).

Next, we opened the chickens which means cutting around the neck on one end, cleaning out any blood and whatever innards you can reach from there. Then, there is cutting around the vent and the rest of the innards are carefully removed, being very careful not to break the gall bladder which has liquid you don’t want in your meat. The feet are cut off, the chicken is washed and inspected again, and it is put in a plastic bag. Then the neck, heart, liver, and gizzard are carefully cleaned an put inside the chicken. Cedo also includes a small sweet pepper, a garlic clove, and a culantro leaf for a special touch. The chicken is weighed and labeled, and put in the fridge. We also cleaned the feet by slipping off the outer skin, cutting off the calloused parts where they walk, and trimming off the claws. (We had a request for the feet by someone who wants to make soup. )

So, that’s all there is to it! ha. We started around 9AM and by 2PM we had cleaned eight chickens. It’s probably a good thing the neighbor didn’t kill 16 as we had initially planned. With only us working we were able to work on two at a time and when they were finished, we went out and got two more.  Cedo’s assistant (me!) didn’t know what she was doing and needed instruction on every step but still, it was both of us working all that time. After all that work, and all the chicken food, at $2.25/lb cleaned it will be interesting to see if she makes any money. She is saying now that this is not a business she is interested in doing any more. She would be willing to raise chickens for our own use but not for sale. And also, they have eaten every bit of anything green they find so the back yard is nothing but dirt, or mud when it rains.

There are 25 more chickens and she is going to wait a while before cleaning any more. These weighed around 4 – 4.5 pounds and she would like them bigger. Next time the assistant should be a bit more efficient, but still there is no getting around the process.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this whole chicken business. I have never eaten anything I have actually met and watched grow up. I found it surprisingly easy though. We knew from the start they were going to be dinner, and it seems like there is something very basic but satisfying in some way I can’t explain, knowing where your food came from and preparing it with your own hands. I also know these chickens were raised with respect, and healthy, chemical free food which I appreciate.

This was dinner last night. It was excellent! I don’t think I have ever had better chicken.

I’m in favor of working with Cedo to lighten her work load so we can continue to raise our own chickens.

Posted in culture, food, Panama | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

the Pensionado Visa and Airline Discounts

Yes, it works! I just bought our first airline tickets using our pensionado visas. First, I went on line and chose the flights I wanted to buy. The good folks at the Copa office could help you with this, but I thought it was easier to walk in knowing what I wanted.

These are already very good prices compared to what I have paid in the past. And, Copa now has direct flights from Panama City to San Francisco, exactly what we need. There is a difference in price because of dates. Joel is staying only a week but I am staying longer (new grandbabies coming soon!).

I took my info and went to the Copa office in downtown David, and came back with tickets.


As you can see, the tickets were $422 and $414, a savings of $190! (only the ticket price is discounted, not the taxes and fees so it’s not -25% off the bottom line). This more than covered the additional tickets I will need to go Seattle during my US trip.

I am still researching which airlines honor the discount. Copa, a Panamanian company, will for sure and I have been told that their partner United will as well. I’m not sure about other airlines that fly into Panama or how one would go about arranging that. The good people at Copa told me though that they can’t help me with my flights on Alaska Airlines between California and Seattle, which made sense to me.

As retirees in Panama we also get discounts on hotels, restaurants, medicines, and a number of other things. There is an article HERE with details.  I recently got about $1 discount on some cough medicine at the pharmacy. We don’t eat out much and I wouldn’t ask for a discount at a little local eatery (the restaurant has to eat the cost) but at a chain restaurant or more expensive place, I would use it. The only hotel stay we have had, they declined the discount because we had booked at an already discounted rate. I know friends have saved money on hotels though.

How do you get this wonderful visa? It is a process involving various documents and a lawyer. I wrote some posts about it HERE (the application) and HERE (the success). I think if you like life in Panama and plan to stay it’s worth getting residency, and this type of residency has some definite benefits along with your legal status.

Posted in Getting Things Done, Panama | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments