Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue  for this week’s challenge, bring together two of your photos into dialogue. What do they say to each other?

These were found within a few feet of each other on the same wall.

814dialog2 814dialog1


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray Share a photo of what “fray” means to you — it could be a tear in a favorite pair of jeans, a street rumble just about to begin, or a friend diving into an oncoming wave at the beach.

This particular palm looks quite frayed.

This particular palm looks quite frayed.

The center of the palm looks even more frayed.

The center of the palm looks even more frayed.

These dead palm fronds are all in various stages of fraying.

These dead palm fronds are all in various stages of fraying.

Most interesting of all are the banana leaves. They can get badly frayed in the wind but they keep on living and doing what leaved need to do, frayed or not.

Most interesting of all are the banana leaves. They can get badly frayed in the wind but they keep on living and doing what leaved need to do, frayed or not.

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Boca Chica – Bocas del Mar Hotel

Next to the Seagullcove Lodge in Boca Chica is another hotel, Bocas del Mar. We noticed steps going up from our hotel’s beach so we decided to wander over and take a look. It’s a very new looking hotel with gleaming white bungalows and carefully landscaped grounds. There is an attractive pool and restaurant area, and the views are very beautiful. I also noticed that unlike our hotel, there were no steps except for the very long flight of stairs down to the beach.

I really love the Seagullcove Lodge and we will continue to stay there when we come to the area, but it doesn’t hurt to know what else is available. I asked in the office about price and was told that a room here is $139 plus tax, so about $153 in total (if I remember correctly). There are some larger rooms with hot tubs that cost a bit more, and this is “green season” (aka rainy season which is off season here), so the prices may be higher at other times of the year. Check the website for more accurate info. You can hardly go wrong anywhere in this beautiful area though. It just depends on your budget and what you enjoy.

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Boca Brava and the Monkeys

Boca Brava is the closest island to our hotel on Boca Chica, and we were told that not only is there a hotel with a good restaurant, there is a hiking trail where howler monkeys are frequently seen. The hotel staff called us a boat that picked us up at the dock, and it was only a short ride over to the island.

The Hotel Boca Brava is at the end of the island overlooking the bay. It costs $5 a person for access to the island, and after paying we were directed through the hotel grounds to the trail behind. The trail is fairly high up and not only was it beautiful, the views were fantastic. We also saw monkeys!

Of course, we were hoping to spot some monkeys and soon movement in the trees gave them away. There must be quite a few monkeys on the island. We spotted two families and heard quite a few more in the distance. This is the first time I’ve seen howler monkeys in the wild so I was really happy.

We had a great time hiking and looking around. We could have hiked down to a small beach but it would have been quite a climb down and up, so we decided to relax and get a bite of lunch in the restaurant. We heard their seafood soup is good, and indeed it is. It’s also a relaxing place to hang out and enjoy the view.

We had a really good time exploring the island, but between the hiking and trips up and down the stairs at our hotel, we had a fair amount of activity. We spent the rest of the day relaxing, and had some dinner at the tiki bar below which was fun. I’m glad we spent two nights so we had the whole of Saturday to enjoy our time away. it was too bad Haydeé’s husband couldn’t get away from work, so I guess we will just have to book another weekend so he can make it next time.

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Boca Chica Getaway

We have been to the Seagullcove Lodge in Boca Chica before, so when an Oferta Simple came up we bought a couple more nights there. It’s a great little hotel with only six cabanas so it feels very personal, and the excellent staff does everything possible to take good care of their guests.

The setting is also wonderful. The grounds have beautifully tended flowers and trees, and the view of the water and islands is lovely. It feels so tranquil and relaxing.

If you want a very relaxing and beautiful getaway, I would highly recommend this place. We thought of going whale watching but we learned the whales were a fair distance away, and others said the whales were staying mostly below the water and were hard to see. So, we opted for an excursion to a nearby island instead which was very fun. More about that in the next post…

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Bugs and Critters of the Day

We have bugs. I have a camera. You know what that means. Bug pictures! There is always something interesting crawling or flying around here.

I love being outdoors here, and have been spending many late evenings outdoors on the terrace as well. I enjoy hearing the birds both in the daytime and at night, and I love all the things that crawl and fly. Even the smallest bugs are usually really beautiful when you can catch them with your macro lens.

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Making Tortillas

Tortillas are considerably easier than tamales! I had made them before out of dried corn, but this time my friend Cedo and I made them out of fresh corn.

It’s pretty simple, really. Again, buy some corn on the cob, cut it off the cob, and run it through the grinder. Then add egg and salt to taste, and fry them up like pancakes. You can also add queso blanco, the mild white cheese that comes in rounds. With these also, I like the dried corn but I think the fresh corn is even better!


She makes great empanadas, so next she is going to teach me how to make them. It’s so great to have a Panamanian friend who knows how to make all the Panamanian food.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette  Photography is all about experimenting with light, and then positioning yourself (or your subject) in the right spot to achieve a certain effect. One such effect is a silhouette, in which an outline of someone or something appears dark against a lighter background. Silhouettes can be very dramatic and resemble black shapes without any details, but the effect varies from picture to picture.

bird on a wire

bird on a wire

two friends walk down the beach

two friends walk down the beach

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Making Tamales

Making Panamanian tamales is quite a production, but they are SO good. Cedo agreed to teach me how to do it as she had been taught by her grandmother. How cool is that! First we made just a few so I could see how it was done, and then we made a lot of them for my party.

First, get two women in the kitchen, one of whom knows how to make tamales. If you have room for more hands in the kitchen, so much the better.

First, get two women in the kitchen, at least one of whom knows how to make tamales. If you have room for more hands in the kitchen, so much the better.

You can made tamales from dried corn, but we made these from fresh corn which I like even better. There are guys in town here who sell it from the backs of their trucks, 15 ears for $2. Corn here is starchy, not the sweet corn I was familiar with in the US because there aren’t the long days needed for sweet corn (the length of the days varies very little throughout the year this close to the equator).
15 ears makes about 10-15 tamales, depending on how big you make them.

So, in the interest of being organized, this is what you will need for tamales:
* corn – 15 ears (the following is based on this amount, multiply as needed)
* chicken or whatever meat you wish to use. 2 chicken breasts should do it
* 2-3 onions, few cloves of garlic, 1-2 green peppers or a handful of the little peppers (not hot ones), a tomato or two, pouch or small can of tomato sauce (she uses the type flavored with onion, garlic, and pepper), chicken (or beef) bullion, 2-3 leaves of culantro, and salt.
*vegetable oil
*enough leaves to wrap the tamales – plantain leaves (not banana) for the inside, and another plant that they call bijao for the outside. We didn’t have plantains the first time so we used bijao for everything.
* string to tie up the tamales

Gather the supplies and get to work

1. Cook the chicken with bullion, sliced onion, smashed garlic (use your handy kitchen rock which every Panamanian believes is require kitchen gear), half the sliced pepper, half the tomato sauce, and salt to taste.

2. Slice the corn off the cobs and put it through the grinder, making sure it is thoroughly ground.

grinding the corn into a yellow mush

grinding the corn into a yellow mush

3. Put the culantro, more onion, the rest of the tomato sauce, any solids that are cooking with the chicken (onion, pepper, etc) and enough water to blend in the blender and liquefy.

4. By now, the chicken should be cooked so take it out. Put the liquid from the blender in with the cooking water and put it on low heat. Slice some chicken which will be used for garnish later, and shred the rest.

The liquids are simmering, the corn is ready, the chicken and garnish is standing by so lets start assembling tamales.

The liquids are simmering, the corn is ready, the chicken and garnish is standing by so lets start assembling tamales.

5. Put some oil in a pan, add the sliced chicken, sliced onion and pepper, and sliced tomato and saute until soft. This will be used for garnish.

6. Put a big pot of water on the stove to boil.

Cedo washed leaves while I grind corn

Cedo washed leaves while I grind corn

7. Wash the leaves. Bundle up the plantain leaves and tie with string and put in the boiling water, turning them upside down when the bottom half is soft to soften the other end of the bundle. Put the bijao leaves over the boiling water or over the gas flame briefly to also soften them.

8. Add the shredded chicken to the corn. Then add the warm liquid to the corn a little at a time, while stirring (Cedo told me that the liquid has to be warm because this makes the corn a better, fluffier consistency). Then, add vegetable oil until it is “brilliante” (shiny). This keeps the tamale from sticking to the leaves. I’m guessing she added maybe 1/4 cup, or more? Taste and add salt as needed.

9. Assemble the tamales!

A veehow leaf, a rectangle of plantain leaf, and the tamale filling

A bijao leaf, a rectangle of plantain leaf, and the tamale filling

Garnish on top, and ready for folding (this is from the first batch with only bijao leaves)

Garnish on top, and ready for folding (this is from the first batch with only bijao leaves)

The tamale is folded, inside wrap folded up from the bottom and down from the top. Then everything is folded together by first folding in the sides,  and then the top is folded down and the bottom (stem end) up. Trim off any extra stem, tie it with string like a little gift package, and it is ready to boil.

Folding a tamale

Folding a tamale

Cedo has made a million tamales in her life, having been a restaurant owner as well as a home cook, so she could fold them faster than I could tie them!

10. Boil the tamales – she says boil about 35-40 minutes, but some took longer. She wasn’t satisfied with them until the leaves looked “chocolate” with no more bright green, only dark brownish green. She says you really can’t overcook them so it is better to err on the side of cooking them a bit longer.

LOTS of tamales!

LOTS of tamales!

After they are done, of course you need to eat one. Product testing, ya know :D


So yummy!

Tamales can be made ahead of time and frozen, or put in the fridge. Cedo recommends reheating them in boiling water, or maybe a little water in a frying pan with a lid if you are only heating one or two. The microwave may make them gummy (I haven’t had a problem with the microwave but I’ve been careful not to overheat them). She said you can make them up to 8 days ahead of time and put them in the fridge, but another friend told me only 1-2 days ahead of time. We still have tamales from the party on Sunday (which now was 5 days ago) and they still taste great.

I did cook the chicken ahead of time, saving the cooking liquid with the vegetable solids, and slicing / shredding the chicken before storing it in the fridge. I also cooked the veggies for garnish. I was told not to do anything with the corn ahead of time though. It must be cut off the cobs and ground on the day you plan to cook it. But, even what I did do ahead of time made it easier on the day we made the tamales.

Also, that large, wide bowl was a great help! (a loan from Cedo) If you need to mix a large quantity of anything, tamales, potato salad, etc. it works great.

If you don’t have leaves, tamales can be made in aluminum foil packets. The leaves, especially the plantain leaves, add a distinctive flavor though which is really nice. I am lucky that a couple bijao plants just came up on their own in my yard, and I let them grow thinking they might have interesting flowers (they don’t). And, my neighbor has a huge bijao plant and plantains as well, so if I need leaves all I need to do is go across the street. I was told that you can buy leaves also but they are hard to find and $.10 a leaf, a price my friends consider outrageous.

So, that is my experience with tamales. There are other methods and recipes but this is what I was taught. I think they are great and I feel honored to be included in a family tradition.

Now, after writing all this, I feel the tamales calling me so I need to go eat one!

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Guardian Angels, Good Luck, or Who Knows?

The party on Sunday was a great success, but after the party we had a near miss of a dangerous, scary disaster!

We live on a dead end street, so Joel parked our cars down at the end of the street where the street ends in the woods. After the party we cleaned up and put things away, and Joel went to bring the cars back into the carport. First our daily car was moved up so my little old Mazda could be pulled into the carport first. Then, Joel went to get the Mazda and I heard a yell, and then “Come and bring the camera! There is a big snake out here!”

I grabbed the camera and this is what I saw coiled up in the middle of the road under the street lamp.


The street lamps are yellow and not very bright so the light wasn’t good, but it didn’t take me a second to recognize this as a Fer de Lance or Bothrops Asper, a type of pit viper and one the most dangerous snake found in this area. This was a big one, as big around as my forearm and probably about 6 feet long. We kept a safe distance and I managed to get two photos before it quickly took off and disappeared into the woods.

Then, Joel tells me that he first yelled because he STEPPED ON IT on his way to the car, and was disconcerted because he almost lost his balance. These snakes are more aggressive than most and why it didn’t strike at him is beyond me! Deaths from these snakes are rare now because anti-venom is readily available, but this certainly would have been an emergency run to the hospital and who knows what kind of damage from the venom.

I still cannot believe that he didn’t get bitten! My friend Cedo thought maybe the snake had just eaten, and at that time they are lethargic because they are digesting. It was a cool night and since snakes are cold blooded, maybe it was too chilly to move fast? I don’t think so because when it decided to leave it moved very quickly. Whatever the reason, we both feel unbelievably fortunate that Joel wasn’t bitten. I think he has learned that one must always watch the path in front of you, take a light if it is dark out, and proceed anywhere with caution. You never know what you might encounter. Most things aren’t dangerous but there are a few that are, and this could have been a much more painful lesson than anyone would ever want.


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