Bike Racing in Chiriqui

We got so lucky today!! There have been bike races going on all week in the area, but I didn’t know exactly when and where so it was total luck today that we got to see the last stage of the race.

We were biking south and about to cross the Pan-American highway when we noticed a vehicle coming down the highway with lights and sirens, followed by a couple other vehicles and then, a whole group of bicycle racers!!

We continued on our way, happy to have seen them, and headed to the south part of town to visit a friend. When we arrived at the main road in south David, we again heard the vehicle with lights and sirens. Could it be the racers again? Yes indeed, and we were waiting to cross the very street they were coming down!

We were so excited to be right there on the race route! I’m so used to my dirt bike with its noisy tires, but when these bikes passed us they were silent – no tire noise, no sounds of metal, no heavy breathing, nothing, just silence as they flew by us.

Little did I know we weren’t finished yet. As we headed home I saw a crowd at the Parque de Madres (Park of Mothers) so we went to check it out. They were holding the final ceremonies for the winners!

The race is called La Vuelta International a Chiriqui 2014, and it has been happening every year for 34 years. When I learned the name from the stage backdrop I was able to look up some information. This is no small or easy race!! I saw cyclists mentioned from Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Another article said that at least six countries would be represented.

The event lasts 10 days with a different stage on each day for a total of 1069.8 kilometers.

  1. The first day was time trials from David to Boquerón, another town up the road. If I am reading the results correctly the winner came in with a time of 36.31 for 31.1 km.
  2. Day 2 – 132.8 km- David, Dolega, Porterillos, Dolega, Concepcion, David. One time I made it to Dolega and thought I was something because it is almost all uphill and there are a couple killer hills between here and there. Porterillos is probably twice as far and high as Dolega. It looks like the winning time was 3:14:24
  3. 80 kilometers – a circut through Concepcion and Bugaba, so this would have been fairly flat, at least compared to the day before. Winning time 2:02:17
  4. 127 km – David to Boquete which is again up in the mountains. I have a dream of biking this route! It is about twice as far as my big ride to the beach, and it’s almost all uphill. The winning time was 2:56:32  This is about 50 minutes less than it took me to go half that distance on mostly flat roads. Joel happened to be driving to Boquete that day and saw them going uphill, and said they were powering up at very impressive speeds. I can only imagine how fast they were coming back down!
  5. 134 km, David – Cerro Punta – David. Winning time 3:38:13. I have driven this route and our little Hyundai struggles to make it up there. Never in my wildest dreams and if I was 40 years younger would I imagine biking this route! This is serious uphill climbing to one of the highest towns in the province.
  6. 138 km from David to the Costa Rica border and back, fairly flat, must have felt like a day off after yesterday. Winning time 3:00:41. So, this is about the same distance as yesterday, and they were able to climb serious mountains taking only 38 minutes longer than traveling on fairly flat roads? How fast do they power up those mountains??
  7. 154 km – David, Conception, Los Planes, David.  According to my map this route goes west, and then east of David and uphill, but not like the mountain routes of a few days ago. Time 3:55:38
  8. 132 km from David to the Costa Rica border and back again. Apparently the route was modified because of some road construction, so it is slightly shorter than day #6. 2:59:14
  9. 25.1 km up and down the highway, individual time trials, fastest time 39.7
  10. 84 km – 12 laps of a circuit around David (so this is what we saw today).  At this point there are no times posted on the websites.

I am so excited to have seen these men, and to think how strong they must be to have done all these races! I am excited and inspired. I didn’t see any women participating though, which I think is unfortunate.

Now that I know what to google, I am going to mark my calendar so I can watch more of this next year.

I got my information from Mundo_Panama, La Estrella, and the Claro Blog. Claro is one of the big cell phone providers in Panama and apparently a big sponsor of the race.

 

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An Honor

Kris Cunningham:

My friend and fellow blogger has an article in the local magazine from his area. I think this is very cool.

Originally posted on One More Good Adventure:

Back the last week in September our little community of Boquerón celebrated the feast day of its patron saint San Miguel. A little old man, Jorge Luis Ríos, who lives just up the main road from me said he was putting together a small magazine and he wanted me to write an article for it. He and I talk a couple of times a week and he knows that I was a newspaper reporter way, way, way back, and I lent him the Spanish version of my book which he said he enjoyed. He must have because every time we are on the bus together going in to David (DahVEED) he tells everyone around that I’ve written a book.. Sr. Ríos is a radio journalist reporting on farm news for Radio Chiriquí. So, I gave him about a thousand words in a little article titled “Mi Boquerón” (My Boquerón). He produced a 14-page…

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Empanadas

Cooking instruction and fun in the kitchen continues. Cedo makes great empanadas! Last week she came over and taught me how she does it.

It starts with chicken and corn. Cook two chicken breasts and grind about 20 ears of corn.

Next step is to prepare the filling

Now, it is time to prepare the shells and fill them. For me, this was the hardest part. I was always tearing something and repairing holes.

Now, they are ready for frying! Keep them covered with a towel so they don’t dry out while they are waiting to go in the oil.

Ingredients:

  • two chicken breasts (can be made with other meat if you prefer), cooked with the following, and then de-bone and shred the meat.
  • couple leaves of culantro
  • half an onion, sliced
  • couple cloves of garlic, sliced or smashed
  • couple cubes of Maggi bullion
  • half a green pepper, sliced
  • packet of tomato sauce
  • 20 ears of corn, cut off cobs and finely ground
  • For the filling – one cooked potato
  • 1/4 diced onion
  • 1/2 diced green pepper
  • handful of raisins (optional)
  • vegetable oil for frying

As with any recipe, you can change things to suit your own tastes. These are a fair amount of work and I tend to avoid fried foods, but for an occasional treat these are really good!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Angular

Weekly Photo Challenge: Angular  To me, angular brings to mind many man made things, but sometimes it is found in nature too.

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A Farm Report

I visit my friend Cedo’s farm now and then, and since her family are far from here it is helpful if I post some photos for them. I also learn more every time I go so it’s very interesting for me. I will probably be posting farm reports now and then so feel free to click on by if you are on farm overload.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day last Saturday. If I hadn’t been driving I would have been snapping photos all the way. It was sunny, everything was green, and the mountains looked spectacular. It was one of those days of postcard and tourist magazine photos so we really enjoyed the drive.

Cedo has six cows being boarded at another farm so they have access to lots of grass. She wanted to see them so she called the guy from that farm. While we waited for him to arrive she started checking things on her farm.

Soon, the guy from the other farm arrived in his truck/taxi, and off we went. It is interesting that in Spanish there are three words for cows – one for a calf (tenero/a), one for a cow (vaca or toro), and another for a mid size cow (novillo/a). The cows we went to see were mid size, and will be considered adults once they have had calves.

After the visit to the other farm, we returned to Cedo’s farm to continue making the rounds.

These young cows are growing up and need more grass, so Cedo made some calls to find them a farm with enough grass and a source of water where they could be boarded. She was successful and they should have been picked up on Monday. She is also concerned about the cow who is due to deliver soon. Another went into labor a couple weeks ago with an especially large calf she was unable to deliver. The vet went out to help, but they were unable to save either the mother or the calf. Not only is this very sad, it is also a big financial loss. We are all hoping the next delivery goes much better!

Next, it is off to check the grass.

The other side of the farm is checked and we make our way back to the milking area where the cows are eating lunch. Thankfully the bull is also eating lunch tied to a railing so we didn’t have to worry about him on our outing. When we returned he was surprisingly mellow and didn’t object to our presence.

So, farm visit results – one calf with diarrhea, pigs with parasites, two calves with eye infections, and one cow who doesn’t want to eat. The recommended medicines are on hand at the farm except for one of the recommended meds for the cow who doesn’t want to eat. We stopped by the dairy coop on the way back to get it, and Cedo took the bus back up yesterday to deliver it. She said at that time the cow was eating better and looked like she would be OK.

Farming is a tough job with a narrow profit margin. Food, vitamins, minerals, medications, boarding at other farms, illness and loss of animals, weather, and other factors all affect the bottom line and some farms in the area don’t make it. I asked why she doesn’t just rent the farm to someone. She said she did that in the past and it didn’t go well. Renters just don’t take care of things like an owner, and it took a considerable amount of cleaning up and repairing to put the farm right again after that. So, my friend isn’t exactly kicking back in her retirement years, but that also has its good points. She definitely keeps active and involved with life.

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Building a Bridge

There is a bridge over the Pan-American Highway here, and we have enjoyed watching the process from breaking ground to the traffic now driving over the new bridge. It has been fascinating!

July 2013, big equipment showed up on either side of the highway.

Supports were built on the pillars on either side of the highway, and then came the part I found most exciting! There is a large space up the road where they built huge beams of rebar and cement. Then, these had to be trucked down to the construction site and put into place.

One by one the beams were put into place, and then large, flat pieces of cement were placed on top to span the spaces between the beams. These became the foundation for the surface of the road.

The pictures make it look like one stage quickly followed another but this work actually took months. It took a long time to put all the cement pieces in place for the road surface, build the walls along the sides, then finish and smooth everything. And, we were only looking from below and we didn’t see all of the details.

We enjoyed watching so much that this location was always a destination on our bike routes. The workers came to recognize us and always waved and greeted us, and I had some interesting conversations with some of them about the project. I usually asked when they would be finished and got an answer at least a month further out than the last time I asked. :D Work stopped for a while when there was a nation wide strike by construction workers but otherwise, there was always a lot of activity at the site and things steadily moved along.

The weeks go by, the work moves forward…  We drive over bridges every day without a thought to all the engineering, materials, and many many man hours that go into constructing them! We really came to admire the skill and dedication of these many workers.

The weeks roll by, the work continues, and things continue to take shape. After the dramatic part of putting the beams in place the rest of it seems to take so long, but it all has to be done and done right.

We went to Nicaragua in September. It looked so ready when we left that we were sure we would miss the opening. When we returned at the end of the month though, the taxi driver told us that it had just opened that day! We had such a great time driving over the bridge for the first time. How exciting after watching the construction for so many months.

The next day I am on my bike, I ride down there and sure enough, the traffic is driving OVER the bridge!!

The next day I am on my bike, I ride down there and sure enough, the traffic is driving OVER the bridge!!

I think the bridge has really helped the traffic flow on the Pan-American highway which has always been extremely congested in this area. Now, people can come and go from the road down from Boquete towards downtown without ever having to go on the highway. The on and off ramps remain unchanged and I haven’t seen anyone working there for some time, but I’m sure they will get finished eventually. The important part is done though, and the bridge is in use.

It has been so exciting for me to watch this whole project from the start to the present. I can only imagine the satisfaction of the workers and they look at the bridge and remember the part they played in making it happen. We sure appreciate all their good work!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement

Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement This week, show us a photo that says “achievement” to you: people meeting a long-worked-for goal. Something tangible you’ve created. A view from a journey you’ve completed, or the stating point of a journey not yet made or a project you hope to finish. We look forward to being inspired!

1114achievement

This is not an outstanding photo by any means, but I think it fits the photo challenge for a few reasons.

First, it was taken in Panama. We spent years thinking, planning, and then finally moving here. It is an achievement to successfully move to a different country.

Second, this bridge was under construction for many months. This photo was taken the first time my husband went up on it. The construction of the bridge has been a big achievement, and it has been very interesting to watch the progress from the start (and there is a post with lots more photos in the works).

Third, the bridge is steep enough that it takes some effort to get up there, and it reminds me how well we have done riding our bikes. It is an achievement to improve your fitness and health at any age, but now that we are in our 60’s I am even more proud of our achievements.

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Making Tamales

I love Panamanian tamales! My friend Cedo thought it was time to make some, brought home a bunch of leaves from her farm, and we picked a day to cook together. I have tried to document the process here, hopefully well enough that you all could make them using these directions.

1. – chicken. I have developed a fondness for the gallinas duras (hard chickens) which are much larger chickens. They are tough and take more cooking but have a wonderful flavor. Any chicken can be used though (or any meat that you prefer).  To save time on tamale day, I cooked the chicken ahead of time.

This is half a chicken and is over 6 pounds.

This is half a chicken and it’s over 6 pounds.

A pressure cooker is a very useful thing. I put the chicken in the pressure cooker with about 4 cups of water, a chopped onion, a few sliced cloves of garlic, a couple Maggi bouillon cubes, a few culantro leaves, a handful of chopped peppers (the small ones – sweet, not hot), and a pouch of tomato sauce.

When the chicken was cool enough to handle I took the meat off the bones and put it in the fridge. Then I put the juice or broth in another container and put it in the fridge as well.

2. – corn. Tamales are usually made with maiz seco (dry corn – looks like chicken food. Boil in water until softened and proceed as with fresh corn). I really like maiz nuevo (new corn or fresh corn). It’s a bit more work but I think it is worth it.

Maiz nuevo - it can be found in most of the little produce markets, but I have found the best deal is to buy it from someone selling it out of their truck. There always seem to be a few trucks by the side of the road the goes north just west of the old McDonalds.

Maiz nuevo – it can be found in most of the little produce markets, but I have found the best deal is to buy it from someone selling it out of their truck ($0.15/ear). There always seem to be a few trucks by the side of the road that goes north just west of the old McDonalds. This looks like the sweet corn in the US but it is not. We don’t have those long days here that it needs to get sweet, but when used in Panamanian cooking I think it is really good.

The sellers will give you corn without the husk, but it is your job to clean off the silk, cut the corn off the cobs, and run it through the grinder. Last time we made tamales, Cedo cooked peppers, onion, and culantro in some oil and then broth, and put that all in the blender. This time though she showed me how to proceed without a blender. Just put the peppers, onion and culantro in the grinder along with the corn. This seemed easier and faster and had great results, so I think I will use this method in the future.

3. Prepare the leaves – The inner wrapping is plantain leaves. They need to be cut to manageable size and boiled to soften them. This is where it is nice to have two people. One can be washing, cutting, and boiling leaves while the other grinds the corn. The plantain leaves are rolled into a bundle and boiled in a pot of water. When one end is soft, turn the bundle other end up to soften the other end. The outer leaves are bijao. They only need to be washed, the stems trimmed, and heated quickly to soften. After the plantain leaves are boiled, that hot water is good for dipping the bijao leaves.

(If leaves are unavailable, tamales can be made in tinfoil packets. The plantain leaves add an interesting flavor though, so use them if you have them. )

4. Put the broth in the ground corn – the broth was retrieved from the fridge and heated on the stove. Cedo is quite efficient in the kitchen and while I was busy grinding, she had the broth ready before I had a chance to watch exactly what she did. I know she flavored it up more with the red sauce and the adobo seasoning and when it passed the taste test, she also added oil (I’m guessing about 1/2 cup). When we made tamales before she added oil until the corn was “brillante” (shiny), and told me this is important to keep it from sticking to the leaves when it is cooked.

5. Prepare the meat and garnish – tamales also contain chicken meat and an attractive garnish of onions, peppers, and tomatoes. The veggies are chopped and sauteed in oil until soft. Before, slices of meat were added separately when the tamales were assembled, but this time shredded chicken was added to the veggies when they were cooked, and all was sauteed together for a minute or two. When we finished this part we realized we had forgotten the tomatoes. We decided at this point we didn’t want to backtrack and the tamales would be fine without them.

6. Assemble and cook tamales – At this point you have your leaves (and some string), your corn filling, and your meat/vegetable garnish. Put a pot or two of water on the stove to boil (depending on how many tamales you are making) and start putting them together.

Put the tamales in the boiling water. After 20-30 minutes when the lower part is no longer green, turn them over so the green part is down in the water. Continue cooking another 10-20 minutes until the wrapping is “chocolate” and there is no more green. Don’t worry about over cooking because that does no harm.

Then, take them out, open one, and eat a tamale!

Yeah! The corn that was a bit soupy is now fairly solid and covers the chicken and garnish. But, it is there in the middle.

Yeah! The corn that was a bit soupy is now fairly solid and covers the chicken and garnish. But, it is there in the middle.

Tamales keep well in the fridge for probably up to a week. They can also be frozen. I was told that they come out as good as new when thawed, but none have lasted long enough to get frozen here. Cedo says they should be warmed in hot water, or a covered frying pan with some hot water. The microwave will make them gummy. I warm them in the microwave and they seem to do fine, but I am careful to only heat them as much as necessary and not overheat.

Thank you for bearing with me through this long post. Some people have suggested that a book of Panamanian recipes would be an interesting thing to put together. This is a bit of an attempt in that direction. I see I need measured amounts, an ingredient list, better photos, and I must watch Cedo more closely so I don’t miss any steps. But, Cedo has recipes handed down in her family for generations, she is an experienced cook (had her own restaurant for many years), and in this digital age it can’t be that hard to put together an e-book. So, we shall see.

I am open to suggestions so leave me a comment if you see something that can be improved. If any of you can use these directions to make your own tamales, I will be very excited! (and, of course, happy to “test” your results if possible :D )

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Los Ramos Says Many Thanks!

Kris Cunningham:

An update on what is happening in Los Ramos, Nicaragua, the town worst affected by the mudslides. The people want to say thank you for all the help, and I want to personally thank my friends and blog followers who helped.

Originally posted on Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua:

The Help Los Ramos Rebuild donation website has been extremely successful. Thanks to YOUR support for this lovely indigenous community, you have given them hope and encouragement to rebuild their community of 125 families who were affected by the October 8th landslides on Ometepe Island.

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The Month of Holidays

People joke that nothing gets done in Panama in November because there are so many holidays! Maybe, but things get done like celebrations, parades, fun, and days off to enjoy.

The month began with Día de Difuntos on Sunday the 2nd. This is a quiet day when people honor the dead, reflect on the loved ones who are no longer with us, and visit cemeteries to leave flowers.

Monday the 3rd is the celebration of independence from Colombia. We have been hearing the marching bands and drums practicing for weeks, and this is the first of the holidays with big parades. I went last year in David and and watched the whole thing, four hours worth! It was great fun to see all the bands, all the young people dressed in their finest, and the very professional marching band performances.

Tuesday the 4th is Flag Day celebrating the flag that first flew in November 1903 after the separation from Columbia. Here is an article with a bit more about the holiday and the flag. On my way back from my morning ride I stopped by the Parque de las Madres which I knew was the starting point of the parade. Young people were lining up, and then bands started playing and baton twirlers twirled and people in traditional dress swirled their skirts and everything started happening as each group rounded the corner to the parade route. What fun!

Wednesday the 5th is is the final day of celebration of the separation from Colombia. It is especially significant in Colón because in 1903, the Panamanian officials there prevented Colombian troops from getting on a train bound for Panama City where they planned to thwart the Panamanian independence.

Monday the 10th is el Grito de La Villa de Los Santos, or the shout in the Villa of Los Santos. The history says that in 1821, a peasant woman in Los Santos was the first to raise her voice for independence from Spain. There are celebrations of this event in Los Santos as well as in other areas of the country. I stopped by the Parque de las Madres in David again to watch the beginnings of this parade. I like it especially because there are oxcarts, traditional dress, and traditional bands and music.

 

And, there is more! November 28th is independence day from Spain with more parades and celebrations. And, then comes December with Mother’s Day, and then the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Summer also begins in December with time off from school, various fairs and events around the country, and time for people to relax and enjoy the dry weather. There is no shortage of things to celebrate in Panama!

 

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