A Farm Report

I hadn’t been to my friend Cedo’s farm for quite a while, so I was very interested to see how everything was going up there. She told me there are 11 new calves, and there are more on the way. Sure enough, there were cows everywhere!

Of course, while we were there I had to visit the pigs. This visit felt slightly different though. One of them recently ended up in various freezers and on various dinner tables, including ours. I don’t think I have ever eaten an animal that I had met previously. I know they are raised for meat so it didn’t feel too weird, but I also didn’t witness or take part in the process of converting it from one of these to packages of meat.

It was strange to see the chicken area empty. Apparently, a while back, there was a problem with coyotes or something killing chickens, so the remaining chickens were brought down to Cedo’s back yard where they are happily running around and laying eggs, well except for the rooster who is happily running around, crowing, and keeping an eye on all the ladies.

It seemed like there were calves everywhere, and I’m sure I missed a few of them.

So this is a little bit of what things are looking like at the farm these days. (sshhh, don’t say this too loud, knock on wood, cross fingers, etc etc) Things have been going smoothly. No one has been seriously sick (though Cedo has brought up medicine on a regular basis for one thing or another), no one has died, and nothing has broken. We are much luckier here than in other parts of Panama because although we aren’t getting a normal amount of rainfall this season, at least we are getting enough to keep things going. In the Azeuro Peninsula many animals are dying because of lack of rain and not enough water or grass to eat.

We also had an unexpected treat on this visit, a pavo de campo (a wild turkey, Panama style).  There were two of them running around in the grass beside the driveway up to the farm. Cedo says people like to find their eggs and give them to the chickens who will raise them with their own chicks. People eat them but the meat is harder and has a different flavor. I think they are just very pretty birds!

It was a good day, and we came home with lots of things – chayotes (a nice squash veggie, one of my favorites), bananas, firewood, plantain leaves, bijao leaves (yes, tamales are planned!), and a few starts of otoe for me ( also knows as taro. It’s a root vegetable that I like a lot, and the plants are also very beautiful).

Speaking of rain, we are having a downpour so I should publish this and log off just in case! Thank you clouds for the rain.

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Pan-American Highway Construction

The highway between David and Santiago in Panama has been under construction for quite a while. It is a huge job. They have been working hard and getting a lot done. We could see quite a difference from the last time we went through there.  But there is still a lot more to do so this job won’t be finished for some time yet. One of my big concerns is the cyclists that come through this area. I worry about their safety in heavy traffic, often with no shoulder or space to get out of the way.

The biggest concern is the part between David and Santiago because there is no alternate route. We took the bus to Panama City last week so I took the opportunity to take photographs. On the way out we were in the second row looking through a windshield with cracks, and on the way back we were in the very front seat of the upper level so until it started to get dark, it was a great place to take photos.

Just east of Guabala and the checkpoint, there is an option to take route 5 through Sona and on to Santiago. It is a bit longer and there are more hills according to cyclists who have taken this route, but it is very scenic, has much less traffic, and is safer than continuing on the highway.

But, for those who want to see what it looks like on the highway between Guabala and Santiago, here are some photos.

We are going to be so happy when the highway is finished! It’s going to be such an improvement, and such a pleasure. I suppose spending two days in a bus isn’t the greatest pleasure but it will be better when the road is smooth and the driver can make good time.

Why did we spend two days in the bus? We had a very good reason. We applied for cedulas (a permanent identification card similar to a social security card in the US) with the help of Luis, our guy in Panama City. He notified us that everything was done and they were ready for us to come in. We had to go to Panama City in person to check that all the information was correct, pay $65 each, and  get our pictures taken. We were told to wait one week and then check at the Tribunal Electoral here in David. We went in on Wednesday and as promised, our cards had been sent here and were waiting for us to pick them up.

We now both have cedulas! This is a step beyond residency and really makes us look and feel a part of this country. It also has a number that won’t change every time our passport number changes (which was our ID number before this). We didn’t have to get cedulas but I wanted to, just because it feels good and I love being a part of this country.

 

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Another Chicken Report

The chickens are now four weeks old, and they certainly have changed a lot in that time! They have gone from this at one day old

Cedo gives them one last inspection before we go out to do other errands.

to this, at two weeks old.

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This is the chickens on the 13th, three weeks and three days old. They are pretty funny looking at the moment. The white ones have been eating a lot and putting on weight, where the dark ones are not as big but are growing more feathers.

 

I stopped by on Friday the 14th, and the chickens were out in the yard. Harry, Cedo’s son was here for the weekend and was helping to chase them back in their house. It is easier to clean their house with them out, and they enjoy running around but when no one is home to keep an eye on them they have to go back in their house.

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The older, egg laying chickens are now in the side yard. Cedo was tired of them digging up all her plants and they can get in less trouble there. I saw some bits of feathers on the ground and asked what happened. They girls are able to fly over the fence so Cedo clipped their wings a bit so they will stay where they are supposed to stay.

But, the good news from the older girls is that more of them are starting to produce eggs. They are pretty small at this point but they are just getting started, and the eggs are expected to get bigger in time.

home grown eggs!

home grown eggs!

Today, the 18th, the chicks are four weeks and one day old. They have grown more feathers and look considerably better, and they continue to grow rapidly. Cedo says they also continue to eat a lot and raise a fuss if their feed container ever runs low.

The older girls, fine looking girls that they are, they are all laying eggs now!

The hens hang out in the shade of the plants.

The hens hang out in the shade of the plants.

Look what I got last night! This is my first box of home grown eggs. I almost don’t want to eat them, but I’m also anxious to see what they are like. So, tomorrow, it’s home grown eggs for breakfast. Thank you chickens, and thank you Cedo for all the work taking care of them.

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Learning Spanish

Life is so much easier and more fun if you can communicate! Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know how I feel about learning the local language. You don’t have to speak perfectly or even close to it, but if you can make yourself understood and understand most of what is said to you, it’s a wonderful thing. There are people who speak English in various businesses around town but you can’t count on that when you need someone, so it’s much easier to get things done when you know some Spanish. And, best of all, you can be friends with the locals. My Panamanian friends are like sunshine in my life.

I took classes on line with Habla Ya for six months before I arrived and this helped me enormously. I thank the school and my teacher Yaira every day for my ability to communicate. Their teachers are very kind and patient, but also very professional and capable. They are running a special for expats in Panama right now, so check THIS LINK for details.  Even if you aren’t in Panama or close to one of their schools (Boquete, Bocas del Toro, and Panama City) you can take classes on line. This is what I did. I had class for an hour a day plus homework. That’s enough to pound a fair amount of Spanish into even my thick head.

Then, you need to find friends who don’t speak English. You are forced to use your Spanish, and listening helps so much with understanding. Local people can tell you about life here, the culture, food, where to shop, life stories, and explanations of things that are confusing. You can also hand them the phone on those days when your Spanish has just flown out of your head and a phone conversation is an exercise in frustration.

So, this is my rant for the day. Go learn the language in whatever way works for you. If you are like me though, and you know your teacher will be waiting to check your homework, you are much more likely to study every day.

P.S. I generally don’t promote businesses on my blog, but these folks made a big difference in my life here and have more than earned my support.

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Miscellaneous Pictures

I’ve been sorting through recent photos and found a few I would like to share.

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The flowers on this hedge were attracting a lot of butterflies.

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This was on July 19th. I think this was the hardest I'd ever seen it rain! It was incredible, and everyone's yard quickly flooded.

This was on July 19th. I think this was the hardest I’d ever seen it rain! It was incredible, and everyone’s yard quickly flooded.

Unfortunately we’ve had very little rain since then. We’ve had a few short rains and some sprinkles, but nothing like what is expected in the rainy season. It’s of so much concern that the canal is putting limitations on the boats that can go through, specifically on their draft or depth of water that they need. Each boat that goes through the locks uses water from Gatun Lake, and they are worried about the water levels in the lake. If we don’t get more rain they may increase the restrictions next month. The news says this is the driest rainy season in 100 years, and the El Niño weather system is causing a lot of this problem.

On another day we were in the car in the rain, and saw this interesting way of keeping dry on a bicycle.

On another day we were in the car in the rain, and saw this interesting way of keeping dry on a bicycle.

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Mariñon Corizon fruit on the ground.

Mariñon Corizon fruit on the ground.

One thing I like about Panama is all the fruit that grows here, and often you can find it on the ground or free for the picking. These fruits are a bit bland when raw, but cooked they are a lot like apples and really good. They had a short season of fruiting recently but I picked up a few bags full, and now have some cooked fruit in my freezer.

This woodpecker spent quite a bit of time pecking on this little twig hanging from the neighbor's tree.

This woodpecker spent quite a bit of time pecking on this little twig hanging from the neighbor’s tree.

Another fun thing around here is hunting for plants. There are various empty lots in the area and these are often used for trash from people’s yards. We have found a lot of pretty plants and cuttings from vacant lots. One had a lot of these heliconias growing and I couldn’t resist taking a couple sprouts. When the rains started this year they really started taking off, and now they are making these beautiful flowers.

The lobster claw heliconias started blooming recently.

The lobster claw heliconias started blooming recently.

One day I needed to see someone in either David or La Barqueta. Not being one to turn down a trip to the beach, I chose La Barqueta. It was a pretty afternoon and the waves were rolling in.

I am looking forward to home grown chicken. I bought a big chicken at the Saturday market, and I have bought the big chickens at the supermarket as well. You have to cook them more, especially the supermarket ones, but they have a great flavor. I have learned that I can cut them up and cook them in the pressure cooker. Then this chicken can be used in any other recipe, and you also get a great broth that can be used for soups and other recipes. I hardly want to buy the ordinary supermarket chickens any more.

I visited the chickens one morning and they were all huddled in the corner to escape the water while their chicken house was being cleaned.

I visited the chickens one morning and they were all huddled in the corner to escape the water while their chicken house was being cleaned. I am trying hard to look at them as dinner, and not as long term residents. Cedo says all but one are roosters so they wouldn’t make good long term residents anyway. Can you imagine? 30 roosters?! 

We live on the north side of town above El Torronal, one of the most upscale parts of town. The lots and houses are large and there are many beautiful spots. We were biking down one of our favorite streets and there was a for sale sign on one of our favorite lots! Even if we could afford it, I don’t think I would want to live there. There are many trees and a pond so it’s hotter, less breezy, and more humid than other areas but to visit, it’s great. There are lots of fruit trees and other plants, and one of the giant ceibo trees that I love so much.

I went biking back in the hills today where I hadn’t been in quite a while. It was a beautiful day, a bit cooler with some cloud cover, and I had a very good time. I like this little spot by the river.

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Volcan Baru was looking especially beautiful.

Volcan Baru peeks out from behind the hills and the clouds.

Volcan Baru peeks out from behind the hills and the clouds.

This is a bit of what I have been seeing in my daily life around here. It’s quite nice.

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Happiness

I wake up every morning and I am happy. I’ve been very fortunate to have a good life filled with a lot of happy things but even so, this is different. I don’t think I have ever been this happy on a daily basis for this long a time. What makes a person happy? Why do I feel like this? Is it possible for everyone to feel happy? Why is it that often people who have so little are so happy, where others who have so much find happiness elusive? What is up with this business of happiness?

For one thing, for me here, Panama has happy people. There are various polls ranking happiness and Latin American in general, and Panama in particular always rank very high, sometimes at the top. (See this article titled “Money Isn’t Everything”, and these poll results from Healthways).  I think it is easier to be happy when you are surrounded by happy people. It rubs off on you.

Recently, I happened across this TED talk on happiness by Shawn Achor, a Harvard psychologist. He says “We’re finding it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.”  and later “90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success,we can change the way that we can then affect reality.” Listen to the TED talk to hear the rest. It’s very interesting. 

Mr Achor ends with some recommendations – 1. Write down three things you are grateful for. 2. Journal about a positive experience you have had in the last 24 hours. 3. Meditate, which helps your brain focus. 4. When you first bring up your email every day, write someone thanking them or praising them. If you take just a couple minutes every day to do one of these things, you can train your brain to be more positive which in turn makes you happier, more successful, and a more positive influence in the world around you.

This works for me. As a Buddhist, we are taught these very things. Buddhism is all about being happy, and we are taught that happiness doesn’t come from the external things we are told to strive for, but from our internal world, from our own mind.

An attitude of gratitude is a big part of happiness. I think this NY Time article by David Brooks explains this very well. He also talks about expectation, which may factor in to why some expats are not happy in their new country. If you expect things to be a certain way, if you hold things to very high standards you will probably be disappointed fairly often. But, if you take your world as it is and be thankful for everything it provides you, you are much more likely to be happy.

If you have trouble feeling gratitude, watch The Human Planet, a wonderful BBC production about people coping with the climates and challenges of nature where they live. I am so grateful that I don’t have to walk through the desert with my camels hoping to find that well, because if I don’t I will die of thirst. I don’t have to carry kilos of sulfur on my back while breathing toxic gases, or risk my life to find the fish in the rushing river to feed my family. It is amazing what many people have to do just to survive.

OK, enough deep thinking for one day. I just think it is shame that most of us aren’t given a proper understanding of happiness so we can have more of it in our lives. Not only is it good for us, it is good for those around us, and as expats it’s good for our adopted country and new neighbors.

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Chicken Update

My friend Cedo has chickens in her yard for both eggs and meat. The meat chickens are the newest arrivals. They were hatched on July 20th, 16 days ago, and came to her house the next day (see the blog post about it here). Since then they have been growing very fast!

Just to refresh your memory, this is what they looked like at one day old.

Cedo gives them one last inspection before we go out to do other errands.

Cedo gives them one last inspection before we go out to do other errands.

Here they are just one week later. They are bigger and beginning to grow some feathers. They have been moved to one of the chicken houses, though they still sleep in the crate and have a small space in front of the crate to run around and get food and water. (Cedo got the food and water out of the crate as soon as possible to keep the crate cleaner). At this point they are still too small to be given the run of the whole chicken house because they are small enough to escape through small spaces.

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On July 30th, 10 days old, they have been given the run of the chicken house and don’t seem to be escaping or getting into any sort of mischief. Escaping is not good because there are birds of prey and cats in the neighborhood, and a few dogs who will chase chicks.

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Saturday, August 1st, 12 days old, and you can see that in even the last two days their feathers and wings are noticeably bigger.

Today is August 5th, and they are 16 days old. They are so much bigger than they were on arrival. Cedo says they are eating a lot, no surprise since they are growing so fast. She says they would grow even faster if they had light at night and could also eat all night. But, she thinks they are healthier and happier of they sleep at night like normal chickens.

The older chickens are fine too, and Cedo hopes to see eggs very soon.

 

So, here is the update on the chickens, as promised. I know I haven’t posted anything else lately, I’m not sure why. I guess nothing is going on at the moment that feels newsworthy. I have been doing the usual things around the house, taking a painting class (a post will be coming later on this), working in the yard, riding the bike a little, spending time with friends, nothing unusual.

We are having some unusual weather lately though. It feels like summer – hot, sunny, breezy, and dry. We haven’t had rain in days. Some say it has something to do with the El Niño weather pattern developing this year. I see some clouds moving in now though, so hopefully we will get a bit today. The plants need water and we could use some cooling off!

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Raising Chickens

Being a city gal, I don’t know anything about raising chickens but I am learning. My friend Cedo has chickens in her yard for eggs, and she recently bought some chicks that she will raise for meat.

There was a particular kind she wanted, and it seems the best place to get them is in Concepcion on Tuesday mornings. So, this last Tuesday we piled in the car and headed over. (They are not allowed on the bus so it’s either a car or taxi when you are carrying chicks. I’m not sure why since it seems pretty much anything else is allowed on buses. But, no chicks, and no fish)

Cedo bought 30 of the white (currently yellow) day old chickens, and four of another brown variety just to try them and see how they do.

When we got back to the house, she had a house ready for them (actually a recycled dog crate). It was in the back yard under a tarp to keep the sun and rain off of them.

The other chickens didn’t seem to interested in the new arrivals, and kept busy inspecting every inch of the yard for a bug or interesting leaf to devour. These chickens also arrived as little one day old chicks and they have grown fast and thrived. They are supposed to start laying eggs when they are six months old which shouldn’t be long now, maybe another month.

Today I stopped by Cedo’s house and the chicks are now in the pen at the back of the yard. They were making a mess with their water, and the newspaper under them was getting all wet which made the chicks a bit damp, not a healthy situation for little chicks. Now they can go in and out at will, and the water is outside where it won’t get their box wet.

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When the chicks are bigger, they will have the run of the entire pen. Now they are too little and can squeeze under the door or find other ways to escape. They are too little to be safe running around the yard, and are too little to be even running around their pen after dark so they go back in their box.

It will be interesting to watch this process. Cedo is very careful to keep her chickens healthy and free of hormones and chemicals, so there should be some really good eggs and meat. My next big question though is, who is going to kill the chickens? I suppose if I eat chicken it’s only right that I learn about how they get from the yard to the plate.

If any of you are local and want eggs or chicken, you know who to ask! She will also be taking orders for tamales a couple times a month, and she can make some really good tamales. At this rate I may never need to leave the neighborhood :D

 

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Saturday Market

Every Saturday there is a market where the government sells staples like rice, sugar, salt, cooking oil, beans, lentils, and some canned goods. I have been to the one in Concepcion a few times, but I recently learned that there is one here in David as well.

I went last week about 10:30 planning to get some rice but they were sold out. Last Saturday I went closer to 9:00 and there was rice, and plenty of people in line to buy it. I had seen 20 pound sacks of rice before, but this day they were selling 4 – 5 pound bags together in larger plastic bags.

People here eat a lot of rice. When they can get it here for $6 for 20 pounds, rather than $10-12 in the supermarket they think it is well worth coming out and standing in line. A few dollars may not be worth the bother to some of us, but it can be significant for many of the local people. My assignment today was mainly to get rice for Cedo who watches every penny. She eats rice herself and she also makes her own dog food. Commercial dog food is very expensive here, and her dog is also much healthier on her diet of rice, lentils, veggie and meat scraps.

Besides the government sales, there are many other vendors along the side of the open space.

I’ll try anything once, including conch. I was expecting something rather large that could have come out of the big conch shells I have seen, but instead the bag was full of small things about the size of a half dollar. The lady carefully explained that I should saute onion and garlic in butter, and then add the conch and cook it quickly. They should be eaten with patacones (a very popular dish of friend plantain patties, something like round french fries). I went to Cedo, my cooking guru and we put onion, garlic, aji (those small but sweet peppers) and some tomato in the food processor, sauteed that in butter, and then added the conch. I didn’t think we cooked them long but it is hard to tell when they are done. They had a very good flavor but were a bit tough, which could have been from cooking or because that is just how they are. I remember eating conch at a restaurant in the Florida Keys and it was about the same. So, I’m glad I tried it but I probably wouldn’t buy it again.

If anyone local is curious and wants to check out this market, here is a map and the red X marks the spot.

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There is a traffic light on the Pan-American highway where you turn onto calle F Sur.

No, we didn’t stand in the rice line after all. We were going to the supermarket next and decided that spending a few dollars more was well worth saving the time. I’m glad we went though for the opportunity to try the conch, and I would definitely buy more of those big chickens!

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Thoughts on Bicycle Travel

I had thought about, planned for, and trained for my bicycle tour for at least a year. Last January I went back to the US and returned with the equipment I couldn’t get here, so I was serious about it even back then. Now that my trip is behind me, what do I think?

Am I glad I did it? Yes!

Would I do it again? Yes!

My bike made it to a Costa Rica beach!

My bike made it to a Costa Rica beach!

As I expected, bike travel is very different. You go slower than a vehicle so you see more, experience more of your surroundings, and interact with people along the way more. You can stop where you want, enjoy a view, cool off in a river, break for lunch, and do whatever you wish.

But, it was also challenging. I don’t usually bike 50 miles, so doing that distance every day was hard especially in the heat, and worse if there were a lot of hills. Aside from being tired I felt well except for my sore seat. Thankfully though I didn’t have any sore muscles or joints. I usually woke up at first light and was anxious to take advantage of the cooler morning, but by mid day it was hot enough to drain your energy. In the evening I was usually tired enough to only want to shower and fall in bed. I heard as the trip goes on you get more used to covering longer distances and this was indeed true for me. I think if I was going to do it again though, I might save more energy to enjoy the places along the way and take more time. Of course, this time, I was also motivated to get there because I had left Joel at home and didn’t want to be away any longer than necessary.

After a while, the trip felt surprisingly normal. I biked with Elza only for three days and then I set off on my own, something that I am very used to from biking around David. The scenery was different, and the experience was different but ultimately, it was just riding your bike down the road which, for me, is not new at all.

Pretty as a postcard

Jaco, Costa Rica, pretty as a postcard

I think I packed well. I took as little as possible to keep weight down. There was a beach towel that I never used, and I should have taken another t-shirt for evenings so I could wear one and wash another. I should have taken more inner tubes. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to buy another, but thankfully I finally found some and never needed them, nor did I need some of the other tools and spare parts I brought along. In general though I felt I had everything I needed and nothing (except the towel) I should have left behind.

Why do we take bicycle trips? Why do we look for new and interesting things? Why do we seek adventure? I think this guy summed it up very well. Check out this National Geographic Video.

Life Lessons from a 7-Thousand-Mile Bike Ride

I don’t plan to bike for 7 thousand miles! But, I can certainly relate to what he says. Maybe that is why I love living in a different country, and why I want to travel more. It’s exciting, challenging, and makes you feel so alive and out of any routines.

would like to travel more and I would consider doing it on the bike. I came back on the bus and it was very frustrating. You have to wait for the next scheduled bus, and you sit there and go where they take you, and stop where they make a stop. I so wanted to just get back on the bike and go now, and go where I wanted to go! I had to keep reminding myself that it would take me five days to do the distance the bus could do in one.

The bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to David, Panama was very interesting though. They came down from the city to the beach road, and drove along the very same road I had traveled on my bike. I saw so many familiar places where I had ridden, taken photos, taken breaks, and wandered off the main road. It was really fun to relive it all over again.

So what now? I have spent the first week back home just resting, settling back in, goofing off, and catching up on things. I don’t have the same training motivation to spend a lot of time on the bike. I sure feel strong now though. I went downtown for some errands and coming home felt like nothing, and I remember in the past how the long gentle uphill could be a challenge. And, I was coming home loaded with art supplies and four pineapples.

I still haven’t biked up the mountain to Boquete. This is my main unmet goal right now. That should keep me busy for a while and help me keep my conditioning. It’s only a 1166 meter (3825 feet) climb in 37 kilometers (23 miles) per http://www.cycleroute.org. Wish me luck :D

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