Windy Season!

In mid to late December the rainy season ends and summer starts. This is the dry and sometimes windy season. The last three days have been very windy indeed! It seems the winds have been stronger and have lasted longer than what I remember from other summers. I can only imagine what it is like higher up in the mountains where it tends to be much windier than down here closer to sea level.

So, it is windy and there are leaves and debris everywhere, and biking home is especially challenging against the head wind. But, there have also been some more unusual occurrences in the last couple days.

I have written about the oropendolas in the past HERE. This post has some photos of the birds making nests in this very same spot. Fortunately these didn’t fall down until many months later (and unfortunately landed in the street and were destroyed by the cars). Here also is a video of one of them doing his interesting and unique display.

The guaba, also knows as the Inga or ice cream fruit, is an interesting tree. It is a nitrogen fixing tree and there are about 300 species of them, found mainly in the Amazon rain forest. Some have pods as much as a meter long!  Here is another article with some good pictures of the fruit that is familiar to us here.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: New

Weekly Photo Challenge: New

I have something new in the yard. I like to garden, and if you can have something pretty that also produces food, so much the better. Here in Panama many foods are new to me, as are the plants that produce them.

Little by little as time allows I have been cleaning up and arranging the yard. My friends have helped me with advice, suggestions, seeds, and plant starts. Now we have bananas, pineapples, coconuts, plantains, guandu (pigeon peas), baby coffee plants, as well as a number of fruit trees that were here when I arrived.

My latest addition is yuca (or cassava). I saw someone planting it in the neighborhood and asked what he was doing. All you need is a stick or cutting, put it in the ground with part below and part above ground, and wait for leaves to appear. There is yuca growing wild in the woods, so off I went with my cutters to bring some home and give it a try.  In about six months it should be ready for me to dig the tubers, with any luck about 15 pounds of them per plant.

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I also learn new things through blogging. I read the Wikipedia link for yuca and learned a lot! Apparently this plant has poisons, so it must be cooked or properly processed to remove the toxins. I’m glad I didn’t take a bite of the raw root just to try it. The leaves can also be eaten but they also must be cooked to get rid of the toxins.

This root is a major food source for over half a billion people in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and other tropical areas such as Panama. Of all the root vegetables available here, it is one of my favorites. I will be very happy if I can grow yuca in my yard and enjoy the harvest. At the rate I’m going my yard is going to look more like a farm every year. But, here in Panama, this is very normal. It seems like almost everyone is growing food of one sort or another in their yards.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth

Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth

We are going into summer here so warmth is not a problem. We have left the rainy season of warm and balmy days and afternoon rains, and have come into the dry season of warmer, dry, and breezier days and slightly cooler nights.

A couple days ago I biked to Boquerón which took me about 1 1/2 hr. It was a clear day, the sun was intense, and I was definitely more than warm when I arrived. I had a very enjoyable break with my friend and fellow blogger Richard, and I drank an entire pitcher of ice water while we chatted.

This adorable three year old also wanted to chat while her mom worked making food and serving the customers. She played with everything on my bike, asked us a hundred questions, drug chairs over to inspect the higher parts of the bike, and did her best to keep the conversation going non stop even when Richard and I took an aside for our own conversation. The Panamanians generally have wonderful warm smiles, but the children are especially beautiful in this regard.

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It was a warm day, we were greeted warmly and cared for with kindness at the fonda, and the little girl was like a bit of sunshine. I think that covers “warm” quite well!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow

Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow  With this week’s challenge, show us what yellow means to you.

Yellow?? This is a country of green. There isn’t much yellow that comes to mind, but after days of thought here are a few photos.

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Feliz Año Nuevo – Happy New Year

Celebrations in Panama are always fun and interesting, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. There are the expected midnight parties and lots of fireworks, of course, and something else I find especially interesting – the muñecos.

A muñeco is an effegy, often of a political figure, but it can be of absolutely anything the person wants. It can represent good things and wishes for the coming year, but it often represents frustrations and bad things from the past year which are set on fire at midnight and go up in smoke. I can think of a few bad years in my past that I would have loved to watch go up in smoke!

I think the interior provinces of Panama participate in this practice more, but I did see quite a few muñecos in our area, including one in our neighborhood that was great fun.

There is an interesting article HERE about the muñencos in Panama. I’m sure a Google search will bring up more if you are interesting in learning more.

Once again, it was a great neighborhood party. We were greeted, kissed on the cheek, and wishes Feliz Año Nuevo by so many people, and I had a great conversation with a new family down the street that I didn’t know before. If you want to have a good time here you only need to walk out your front door. That’s one of the many things I love about the Panamanian people.

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Crocodiles in Panama

This interesting photo has been making the rounds lately on the internet and Facebook.

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Word is that this crocodile was caught in the Panama Canal near Colon at the north end of the canal. I do not know if it is true or not, but it is known that there are large crocodiles in that area. The picture is a bit tricky because you don’t see it right away, but the crocodile is actually on a flat bed truck so the people behind it look deceptively small. Truck or no though, it definitely is a large crocodile and I would not want to encounter it.

This particular bit of news has been interesting to me and my blog because it caused a huge spike in my blog traffic and surprised the heck out of me. People have been searching for information about crocodiles in Panama on Google and other search engines, and an old blog post about crocodiles kept popping up.

We have not seen any crocodiles in this area. The closest is a small caiman in the river and the neighbors said even that is very unusual. But, after living around alligators in Florida we are very used to being careful in fresh water. It is said that the crocodiles here are most likely to be found at the mouths of rivers where the fresh water flows into the sea which happens not too far south of us in Pedrigal.

I saw headlines on the PanamaGuide.com that the crocodile has been released. Unfortunately you have to pay if you want to read more than the first couple lines of the article, and I cannot find any other information to substantiate this news. I do hope though that if this crocodile was indeed captured that it has been released. Of course I don’t want any loss of life from wildlife but hopefully with precautions and education, we can all manage to live peacefully with the diverse wildlife that is found in this part of the world. This is one of the things that makes Panama so fascinating.

Here’s another picture of the crocodile I found on line. Don’t go swimming in the Panama Canal!

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Christmas in Panama

Another holiday season is flying by! But, it has been another excellent Christmas. It is interesting to see how it is celebrated here, both the differences and similarities.

One big similarity which I’m not sure is a good thing, is the commercialism of the holiday. Decorations and promotions started to appear in stores two months beforehand since there isn’t that Thanksgiving date to mark (though Black Friday was observed for the first time, complete with crowds and overflowing parking lots). As it got closer to Christmas the crowds and traffic increased daily. The last week downtown was closed to traffic, stores were crowded, and it was almost impossible to drive around town except in the mornings. Yes, the Panamanians did some serious shopping!

But, Christmas is also a traditional family event and a time of celebration. Unlike the US though, Christmas Eve is the height of the celebration. Families and friends get together, often making the rounds to a number of homes of of family and friends, and many celebrate with fireworks. In every neighborhood the fireworks increased throughout the evening with the climax at midnight to usher in the day of Christmas. Then, at midnight, everyone is wished a Merry Christmas (in person or by phone or whatever means of communication is possible), dinner is served, and presents are opened

There continues to be celebrations on Christmas day as well. Families and friends who couldn’t get together on Christmas Eve see each other on Christmas day, and I saw many homes in our neighborhood had gatherings. I was also surprised to see how many people were working on Christmas Day. I talked to a car mechanic, a small engine repairman, and even the trash men were making their Thursday rounds. Supermarkets were open, and of course there were policemen on duty.

Here with us and our friends it was a relaxed and quiet holiday. Many kids were elsewhere celebrating with other family members, so we made the traditional holidays foods for dinner but enjoyed the evening at our own pace and appreciated the neighborhood fireworks that made the night so festive.

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Here is the majority of our Christmas food. At the top of the table are the tamales, next to the green beans. Below them is chicken with traditional Panamanian flavorings, and next to that is arroz con guandu (rice and pigeon peas). This and the tamales are pretty much requirements for festive dinners, and especially for Christmas. Guandu comes in green, spotted, or black. These are mine from last year preserved in the freezer, and they are black which is why the rice looks so dark. The dish sure tasted good though!

Moving on, next on the right is a fruit cocktail of apples, pears, grapes, and oranges. Sangria is in the cup made with cranberry juice and fresh squeezed orange juice. I never made it with orange juice before but it is really good. We also had iced tea for anyone who wanted something non-alcoholic. The pink dish is potato salad made with beets. It is made like most potato salads but with the addition of beats which give it this festive color. Because of that it is popular at many holiday dinners. Not pictured – the very illegal (diet wise) but wonderful cheesecake, thanks to Pricesmart. I wanted a tres leche cake but they didn’t have one, and I couldn’t come home empty handed after all.

Like the US, food is an important part of the holiday and every family has their favorite dishes and recipes. Food and treats are on hand for any guests, and it is especially nice if they are home made. And, also like the US, often there is the head woman of the kitchen who knows all the family favorites and how to make them.

Cedo, la jefe (the one in charge) of her kitchen.

Cedo, la jefe (the one in charge) of her kitchen.

Next comes New Years so we aren’t finished with celebrating yet. TIP = This Is Panama though, so we are never finished with celebrating! That’s OK though because it’s nice living in a country of endless celebrations.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle This week, share with us your photos of twinkling light. You will need to find a light source and a reflective surface in order to capture a twinkle, but those are the only limitations.

The obvious subject is Christmas lights, but I felt like doing something different. I passed this stream in the woods and loved the sunlight sparkling off the water.

And, this spider web shimmering in the sunlight caught my eye.

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, but not Forgotten

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, but not Forgotten  In today’s challenge, show us what “gone, but not forgotten” means to you.

I am woefully behind on photo challenges. I got really stuck on this one, then I got busy with holiday activities and the days flew by. That’s my excuse. I usually use current photos for photo challenges, and how do you photograph something that is gone? I finally realized that of course, I will have to dig back through old photos. I decided to choose my former Florida life which is gone, but not forgotten even though the memories of those years are fading in the face of my new and different life here.

xxx

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Residency!

Yesterday we made a huge step towards residency – our temporary residency cards. They will serve as the real thing while everything is getting processed, which should take 2-6 months.

I am so happy. I love this country so I am glad to be a resident and no longer a tourist. We also have a multitude of benefits and discounts because we now have jubalado (retired) status.

It has been a process but everything went smoothly. I am so thankful to have our lawyer, Marcos Kraemer. He has been really professional, thorough, and competent as well as being a nice guy to work with. If you need a lawyer here I would highly recommend him, and you can check out his website HERE. We have heard so many stories about people who weren’t given all the information they needed, or things weren’t done right, or a multitude of other problems that caused delays and anxiety and additional expense. I was apprehensive even though we seemed to be in good hands. Now I can say that yes indeed, it went very well.

So, what all did we have to do to get to this point?

The first thing was to wait quite a while. The income requirement for a couple is $1250/month guaranteed income for life (social security, retirement, annuity, etc) For us, we didn’t qualify until last August when my social security payments finally started.

Then it was time to gather all the necessary documents. We got statements from social security and had them apostilled (like an notary but for international business). This involved sending the documents to the state department in Washington, specifying which country they were going to (apparently apostile agreements between different countries can vary), paying the fees, and waiting for them to be processed and sent back.

Then, we needed our marriage certificate which also had to be apostilled, and this went to the Kansas Secretary of State because we were married in KS and it is a state document, not a federal thing. It is so easy to get tripped up on details like this. Also, keep in mind that these documents have expiration dates (usually 6 months) so once they are done things must move forward in a timely manner.

Since there isn’t convenient mail service in Panama they were all sent to my daughter’s CA house, our US address, and when they had all arrived she sent them on to our mailing service here in Panama.

The rest was all done in Panama.

Background check – we were very lucky on this one! Most people have this done in their country of origin. In the US this means you have to have fingerprints done (either there or here) and sent to the FBI. If they are clear enough to be processed (which doesn’t always happen) the FBI will check them against their database and return a report on your status. Then, this must be apostilled. Once this is done and gets to Panama you cannot leave the country or it is null and void (who knows what you were up to when you were traveling about). Since your drivers licence is only good for 90 days on a tourist visa in Panama, before it expires you have to leave the country and return to get a new stamp on your passport and reset it for another 90 days. You can see where people can run into problems with this.

But, since we had been in Panama for over two years, and we hadn’t left Panama for more than 30 days at a time, we qualified to have the background check done here. We went to the office for Report Policia (police report), handed them our passports and copies of our passports, signed our names, wrote the names of our parents, and were told to sit down. In about 10 minutes our reports were ready, free of charge. It couldn’t have been easier.

We also had to get a certificate of good health, so off to the doctor we went for a checkup and those documents.

Then we had some other things to gather – our rental agreement, a utility bill, 5 passport size photos, an application for residency to fill out with piles of questions, a form giving our lawyer authority to work on our behalf, and copies of every single page of our passports including the outside covers. whew!

Marcos looked everything over, got any documents in English translated by a certified translator, got anything notarized that needed it, double checked that we had everything in order, triple checked everything and told us to show up at the Department of Immigration at 8AM on Tuesday so we could be the first in line.

We actually arrived before many of the employees, and there was another couple from the US also going through the process. Marcos explained that there were four stages. The first was entering all the information into the computer. He talked with people, left to make copies, talked more, brought us some things to sign, answered some questions, copied more things, and told us things were moving into the second stage. That, if I remember, is when they check all the information to be sure there aren’t any problems with anything. He talked with the employees, left to make more copies, talked more, we hung out and  enjoying talking with the other couple. He left to make copies, brought us things to sign, and then it was time for pictures, the third stage (they also took our pictures even though we had also brought all the pictures with our applications). More copies were made, we signed multiple copies, more copies (it seemed like every time we turned around he was heading out to the copy place!)  And, at 11:30 he put our passports back into our hands along with our new cards!!

He said that was the fastest application he had done. We were prepared to spend the day, and he said it is often an hour or two more than this. But, if we had done it in Panama City it would have been three days because one must go to three different offices to get it all done.

Next, we wait. Our applications will be sent to Panama City and assigned to a case worker. When everything is ready Marcos will be notified. We could go to Panama City at that time, but he recommends that he takes our passports and goes by himself to be sure everything is actually ready, that nothing is lost, or they don’t have a problem with anything, or there aren’t any other snags that will cause us a wasted trip. Once he sees for himself that everything is in order we will go to the city, get more pictures taken and I’m sure sign more things, and we will be finished. He says this part is a very quick and easy process.

What next?

A drivers licence. Now we have 30 days to get a drivers licence, which involves going to one office in Panama City to verify our US drivers licence, and then another office to verify the verification. Once we have these documents we can return to David and request our Panamanian licenses. If you don’t get your licence in time, you had better keep your residency card in your pocket and show the police your passport and US licence like you are a tourist, in case you get stopped.

Also, another good thing to know – you have to have a multi entry visa in your passport while your application is pending. If you do not have this and you leave the country, you will be charged a $2000 fine! I have heard of people getting this nasty surprise. Thankfully Marcos says he does this for everyone because you just don’t know if there might be an emergency or something that causes you to leave.

Once we get our permanent residency cards, we will apply for a cedula which is a Panamanian permanent ID card. Right now our identity is tied to our passport numbers. When we have to renew our passports the number will change, and will then need to be updated everywhere. The cedula number is permanent so we won’t ever have to worry about it changing. That though, will be a discussion for another day.

Right now, I have a card! We have waited for this for a long time, so it’s almost hard to believe it is actually done. It is too close to Christmas for a party, but when the permanent one comes in we are definitely having a celebration!

Posted in Getting Things Done, Miscellaneous, Panama | Tagged , , , , | 36 Comments