Yay Water!

There is nothing like doing without to make you appreciate something.

People in Panama don’t always have water. The government is addressing the problem and has allocated money to build and upgrade systems. But right now, it is summer when it doesn’t rain. There is building going on everywhere in the David area, but I don’t think they have thought about the increasing demands on the infrastructure.

No water has been a common problem even before I moved here, especially in the dry summer. My first day in the house, I went to refill my water bottle and nothing came out of the tap. The neighbors were totally unconcerned. I quickly learned to have water supplies on hand.

It hasn’t been too bad, really. I think only once, maybe twice in our 5+ years here has the water been off for more than 24 hours, and then they sent water trucks around to refill any container you gave them. Yesterday it slowed to a trickle and then went off. It was on last night but really late, past midnight and I didn’t feel like washing dishes, hoping there would be water in the morning. There wasn’t.

We have plenty of water on hand for these times but it’s inconvient to wash dishes and bathe with gallon jugs. It can be done though, and it makes me think of all the people in the world who never have running water, who have to carry it in from somewhere, and who may not have access to any clean water at all.

Tonight we were out playing music and didn’t get home until almost midnight and there was water! Yay! Not much, but enough to shower. It must have just come on and was refilling the lines and neighborhood water tanks because the pressure has improved since then.  I showered, washed my hair, cleaned the bathroom and kitchen, refilled all containers, and now there is a load of laundry in progress.  Yes, I know it’s 1:15 AM, but I’m not going to count on having water tomorrow.

If anything goes out, I would rather it be water. We rarely have trouble with electricity and internet for which I’m thankful. And, I’m glad to be in David. I hear talk from Boquete people about water being out for days, electricity also going out, and a lot of frustration.

Panama is a lesson in not taking things for granted. Thank you for the water. Thank you for the clean water right in the house… most of the time. And if we have no water, there are three big supermarkets just minutes away and a river behind the house.

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Pricesmart Run Today

It’s Carnavales time in Panama now, a four day holiday involving loud music and water hoses in various towns, families hanging out together, maybe swimming in the nearest river, and people generally enjoying time off. The idea is to let off steam before the beginning of lent when you are supposed to be thoughtful and subdued.

The band played at the Boquete Brewing Company last night and it was a blast. The roads were fine in spite of festivities in Dolega and extra check points on Via Boquete. We started early, 5 pm, and the crowd kept growing every hour. Management asked us to play and extra hour, and it was close to 10 when we stopped and the place was still full and overflowing. It’s so fun to play to a crowd who is so enthusiastic!

But, a word about the weather. We left David – hot, dry, sunny, breezy, probably in the low 90’s. We spent the evening in Boquete – wet, rain, barareque (wet mist), cloudy, windy, and very chilly. I wore my sweater and sweatshirt for most of the evening. How can a place just a short drive away feel like a different world?

Today it’s the David world again for us – hot, clear, sunny, and lots of wind. We headed out to Pricesmart (a membership store like Costco) and it was very quiet around town, and also in Pricesmart which made shopping fast and easy.

Apparently they were very ready for Carnavales festivities and the necessary beer. That’s at least twice the amount of beer we usually see there.

Sushi?! I don’t think I’ve seen sushi in Panamanian before. It’s probably here somewhere, but not common. I couldn’t resist. It’s as good as any other grocery store sushi, if my distant memory serves. They also have a new spot for soft ice cream and frozen yogurt.

There always seems to be something new going on and it makes David feel very alive and thriving. Along the way an older building was gone, I imagine to make room for something new. There is a huge new supermarket that we haven’t checked out yet. There is obvious activity at the site of the new metropolitan park. In just the short drive across town it seems like half the businesses have been built in the 5 years since we arrived.

Speaking of the new metropolitan park, check out this 12 1/2 minute video showing what it’s going to be. It’s incredible! A lake, a model of the canal locks, planetarium, botanical garden, amphitheater, dog park, place for old people, a therapy area for people with disabilities, children’s playground, bike path, restaurant, more things than I can remember.

Yeah, we’ve got it going on around here!

Change subject – I found another picture in my collection. I love to putter around in the yard and grow things, and why not grow things that also produce food? I had yucca by the front door that was getting scraggly and tall, so I dug it up. And, the bunch of bananas out back were looking quite plump so Joel cut it down.

I gave away half the yucca but we still have three big bags in the freezer. In the yard I also have fruit trees (limón, oranges, guanábana, thanks to the neighbor who planted them for the owner when she lived here). I have planted plantains, pineapples, cashew trees, passion fruit, a tree that grows those huge yellow lemons, avacadoes, moringa, ginger, not sure what all else along with flowering plants. I’ve dug a million weeds to allow the grass to grow back in the front, and planted perennial peanut in back, an excellent and attractive ground cover.

Life in Panama. How are we so fortunate?

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Great Birthday!

Yesterday was Joel’s birthday and we both had a great time. In the afternoon we headed to Boquete for practice with Chris, the drummer in our band. We have an unusual Monday booking because of the Carnavales holiday in progress, so Saturday was a good time to prepare, and then we could go out and hear other music which is a real treat for us.

There is such a wonderful community of excellent musicians in the Boquete area. Everyone gets along, is super supportive and friendly with each other, and it’s a great feeling. We have also been here long enough to watch many of them grow and evolve as musicians and performers.

We started at Mike’s Global Grill. Saturday is Asian food night and Mike makes some great meals. Their regular menu is always good too but I especially enjoy their Asian food.

Power Trius was the band. I first heard them so long ago I don’t remember when it was. They are three Panamanian guys, Eduardo on bass who I know from when he and Joel were in Yella Fever, a drummer I don’t know, and Julian on guitar and vocals, a flamboyant and creative performer. They have improved a lot and also changed their music selection to please dancing gringos, and the dance floor was busy most of the time. What fun for Joel and I to be able to dance together! There were a couple other Panamanian guys who sat in. I talked with one who lives in Mexico City but was back visiting his family. Lee, a Boquete guy, also sat in on saxophone.

We had a lot of fun and could have stayed there all evening but we were curious to see what was going on at the Boquete Brewing Company, so after a couple sets we moved on. Hashtag was at the Brewery. I first heard them at Mike’s quite some time ago and they sounded promising but now, my goodness! They are on fire! We heard them a few weeks ago at the Brewery when there was a wedding party in addition to the regular crowd and the place was nuts, people dancing on tables, jumping up and down and having a wonderful time. Last night also had a large and enthusiastic audience which is very fun.

And, as I said about the supportive music community, we were invited to sit in with the band. I didn’t feel comfortable picking up an unfamiliar instrument to play music I wasn’t 100% confident about, but Joel and Chris participated.

From the left, Lucho on guitar, a quiet, shy guy and excellent musician. Then, Joel, behind him Chris our drummer, then Lee on Sax (he’d come over from Mike’s), the guy in the gray t-shirt is their lead singer, Arya on bass (super amazing musician on both bass and guitar, beyond amazing!) and in the black shirt Mike, Hashtag’s drummer. Joel had sang Breaking the Law with very enthusiastic audience reaction, and now they were getting ready to play the Thrill is Gone.

From the left again, Lucho, Joel, Chris hidden behind on drums, then Hashtag’s lead singer, Arya, and Lee. The song went on, morphed into a total jam session that went other places, and everyone was really excited playing together.

After the jam session Hashtag took to the stage again to play some more. On the right is another excellent singer who had sat in earlier.

I wish I also had pictures from Mike’s but the lighting was low, except for a bright light outside so they didn’t come out well.

As I participate more in the making of the music, I am appreciating the whole process more and more. You have this instrument and if you are fortunate, a good voice, and these boxes with knobs and connections and speakers, and then as if out of thin air, you use them to create this magic. It’s not like photography or painting which can hang on the wall for decades. It’s so fleeting. It happens and then it’s gone. But it can be such an experience on some emotional level I can’t explain. But, when you are still filled with happiness and gratitude for the experience the next day, maybe it isn’t exactly gone after all.

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Windy Times

Come to Boquete, land of eternal spring. Umm… sometimes. It is easy for some businesses to mislead people. Come live in paradise! When you see that word paradise, immediately treat the whole thing with a large dose of skepticism. There are great places to live but nothing is paradise all the time.

We had rain in January which is very unusual, but now we are in full blown summer when the trade winds blow. We have had three days of strong winds down here in David. A banana tree and some of my sugar cane was blown over and the yard is full of leaves. When leaves and twigs hit the metal roof it makes a lot of noise. The sun is hot and strong. Daytime temperatures are in the 90’s (but without the green season humidity) but nights are cooler. Last night it dipped below 70 which for us is cool.

Up in the mountains like in Boquete, the winds tend to be quite a bit stronger. I have heard people say the winds are howling around their houses when there is only a light breeze down here. It’s also colder and wetter a lot of the time. The bajareque (foggy misty air) rolls in frequently and makes beautiful rainbows but also leaves everything wet.

I took this photo on our way to Boquete Saturday in the late afternoon. By the time we got to town we were IN those clouds you see in the distance. We have learned to  always bring extra clothes even if it’s hot at home. I have a sweater, sweatshirt, and rain jacket in the car and they get used almost every time. One day I sent a photo to a friend in Boquete. “Joel has no shirt on ?! It’s freezing up here!” It’s amazing how different it is just a short drive away.

We have to drive to Boquete a lot for band gigs but we get to enjoy the gorgeous scenery every time. Volcan Baru is on one side, always impressive, and the beautiful green mountains are on the other side. Every time it makes me think how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful country.

But, if you are thinking of living in this beautiful country, be sure you know what you are getting in to. For me, Boquete is too cold, wet, and windy much of the time and I would not be happy there. Others love it and find David impossibly hot. Some choose a middle ground part way up the mountain. Others move to the beach which has its own challenges with the heat and salt air. It’s really good though that there are so many options even just here in Chiriqui Province.

Hmmm, I hear the wind picking up again…


Posted in Panama | 14 Comments

What will you DO all day??

I think we’ve all been asked this. Before retirement, most of your days were filled with work but what now? What will you do with all this free time? I suppose this is a question for any retiree whether in Panama, half way around the world, or the house you lived in for 50 years.

This hasn’t been a problem for us. In fact, this came to mind because the last week has been super busy. But, I know others who have had problems adjusting to retired life. Maybe when work was a huge part of your identity you feel lost without it? Maybe if you don’t have interests and activities outside of work, it’s hard to see where to go next?

Add a move outside the country and it can get even more complicated. You probably left friends and family behind. Many things are unfamiliar and confusing which is an adventure for some, and a challenge for others. A language barrier can make you feel alone and isolated.

Also consider if you are in a relationship, will you enjoy all this time together or will you drive each other crazy? How will you find a balance of shared and separate time and activities that work for you both?

For me, the last months have been full of music. It has taken an enormous amount of time to get up to speed on the bass, but it is working wonderfully now. We played a private party on Wednesday. We were outdoors on a spacious terrace, warm breezy evening, lots of happy dancing gringos, while watching the full moon rise behind us and light up the clouds and distant mountains. It was magical!

Thursday we played at the Boquete Brewing Company to a mostly Panamanian crowd. They tend to stay out later than the gringos so the crowd grew as the evening went on and by 11, quitting time, people were having so much fun we played on until almost 11:30. We have learned that Panamanians don’t dance. It’s just not their thing but that night there was some Dutch tourists who instigated things and in the last set, a whole lot of Panamanians were also dancing!! It was SO much fun!

Then Saturday, last night, we played at Mike’s Global Grill to a gringo crowd. They tend to fade by 9:30 but there was a small group who stayed. I spent most of the last set playing bass on the dance floor with my friends which was totally fun! And we sounded so good! After playing so much we were tight and really had our act together. I don’t think we have ever played so well.

That’s probably more than you all want to know about band business. 😁 But as you also know, that’s hardly all I do. Painting and photography have gone by the wayside for now but I’m still on the bike sometimes, and working in the yard, and hanging out with friends, and blogging, and listening to books. Of course there are always the usual chores and errands but we seem to spend less and less time on them. This house is super easy to maintain and thanks to a freezer, shopping is much less frequent.

I’ve also been working on band promotions, as I think I mentioned before. I don’t want to hear again “I never know when you guys are playing”. Now we have business cards, a mailing list, and

Follow us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/monkeynerveband/
Follow us on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/monkeynerve/
Follow us on Twitter https://twitter.com/monkey_nerve

Retirement can be a total blast! It’s definitely worth giving a good amount of thought to what you will do. This time is an opportunity to do the things you never had time for before, or to go in new directions, pursue new interests, or spend more time on things you already enjoy. When the need to make money is taken off the table it changes everything. You can do things for only the enjoyment and satisfaction which is a beautiful thing.

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Renewing Passports

There is a process for renewing your passport if you are outside the US. Here in Panama you can either go to the US embassy in Panama City or DHL your documents there. Since we are on the other side of the country we chose the latter.

As with most things here, it’s a process with steps, some forward, some backward, but it all gets done eventually.

First there is a form to fill out on the embassy website which you then print, attach your picture, sign, and date. Of course to print something you need a printer with ink. One day we were at Pricesmart and voila! The printer cartridges we needed. Sometimes this simple quest involves multiple stores so finding them quickly and unexpectedly was a good start.

Next, pictures. We went to Arrocha, got the pictures taken, went downstairs to the cashier to pay for them, and back up to pick them up. This is typical in Panama. All the money is handled in one spot so you pay there and then go back to pick up your item (which is often unboxed, inspected, and tested before it’s handed to you. No returns wanted.)

We go home to attach the 2”x2” pictures to find they are 1/2 inch too narrow. *sigh*. I don’t want to risk our applications being rejected so we go back the next day for more pictures, carefully explaining the requirements and leave with the right size pictures. Thank goodness I carefully reread the requirements because Joel needed to remove his glasses, which he hadn’t done in the first picture because his current passport has a photo of him with glasses.

Ok, pictures done, stapled to the form as instructed. Next step, cashiers checks for $110. The website says you need a “cheque certificado”. Our bank (Scotiabank) offers “cheque de gerencia”. Is this the same? Who knows and I didn’t want to risk sending the wrong thing. It’s about 12:15 Friday when I call the embassy to learn they close at noon on Fridays *sigh*.

Monday I call the embassy again to learn they only talk to people Mon-Thurs, 3-4:30, and Fridays 10:30-12. I call after 3, use the menu to get to citizen services, use that menu to get to what I think is the right thing but it takes me back to the menu and ends the call after going through it again. There are detailed instructions for various things throughout the call, recommendations to go to the website for info, etc so this whole process took about 10 minutes. I try again ignoring the second menu and at the end is a ringing phone! The guy who answered connected me with passport services, and that lady told me the cheque de gerencia is the same thing and will do just fine.

This morning we went back to the bank, waited in line, made it to the teller who spoke English. When you are trying to do something you don’t do every day and don’t have all the necessary vocabulary, this is so nice. I have much empathy for people in the US struggling to learn English, and know the pleasure you feel when someone speaks your language. I will never ever resent “push 2 for Spanish”.

Anyway, I digress. I had already found the necessary forms and filled them out, and approached the teller with forms and cash in hand. Cash will not do. I had to deposit the cash in my account and then he wrote the checks on the account. He said you can’t get these checks without having an account. I wonder what people do who don’t have a Panamanian bank account.

Anyway, there was a fair amount of standing around, him typing and checking things on his screen, and finally unlocking a drawer that had the locked box that contained the blank checks ready for the printer. He printed the checks, had me look at them to be sure all was correct, and then sent me to sit and wait until a supervisor was available to sign them. Then I was called back to the teller where I had to sign, date and put my cédula number (Panamanian ID) on copies of the checks. Then finally I was given the checks and all was finished.

All right! Making progress! Now it’s time to find DHL. Thank goodness for google maps which navigated us through downtown traffic and to the office. The gal there had obviously done this many times and was super professional. Ahh, embassy, and they need to be sent back, right? Ok, $24.40, $12.20 to send, $12.20 to return. She must have had the address on file all ready to print, and processed all the forms and labels and packaging like she had done it a hundred times. We left with instructions and tracking numbers in hand.

Yay! Done! We came home, I visit my neighbor… tell her we did the passport thing, the forms, the pictures, the checks, sent them.., OMG OMG we didn’t SIGN the forms!!! We need to go back RIGHT NOW! What was I thinking, or not thinking. I called DHL, no problems,  nothing had been sent, she will wait for us. We go back, she open the package, we get our documents out, SIGN them, and NOW it is done! Whew

If all goes according to plan we should have our new passports in 2-3 weeks. This should be plenty of time for my planned late March trip to the US. I’ll be glad when they get here though. You have to send your old passport in with your application and it feels strange not to have a passport.

Meanwhile the printer has ink so I can make business cards for the band and for myself. Yay 😁 I have also been busy setting up a band mailing list and presence on twitter and Instagram. No more “I didn’t know you were playing”!

No excuses now. Come out and we will wake up that monkey nerve that makes you get up and dance!

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Plastic Bags

They use plastic bags in Panama, lots of plastic bags. If you go to the supermarket, chances are many of your purchases will be double bagged, and the bags won’t be full. It’s the same at the produce market. The tomatoes will be in a small bag, and other small items will have their own small bags and then the little bags will be put into bigger bags. If you don’t bring your own bags it won’t be long before you have an extensive bag collection!

But, no more. News came out recently that President Varela signed a law saying supermarkets and retailers have 18 months to make the change to reusable bags. How cool is that! Google Panama plastic bags and you will find quite a few articles like this one.

I have seen reusable bags for sale for quite a while in the supermarkets. El Rey even has a checkout line just for people with reusable bags, and they have some for sale like these.

This makes me think they have been thinking about decreasing the plastic, but this new law is still going to be a dramatic step. It’s normal here for purchases to be put in a plastic bag, and then the bag is stapled closed with the receipt stapled to the outside. I wonder how they are going to handle this security measure. The supermarkets don’t do this because the only thing past the checkouts are the doors. But, most other shops have the cashiers in the back of the store and you have to walk through most of the store to get outside. I’m sure they don’t want you adding anything to your bag along the way.

I’ve been using reusable bags for a long time, and my favorites are Chico Bags. They tuck into a little bundle that you can easily toss in your purse, but unfolded many of them are large enough to hold a lot and are easily slung over your shoulder. I’ve been using mine since before Panama (5+ years) and they are still doing fine. But, they don’t sell them here in Panama. I suppose you could order on line and have them sent here or, as I plan to do, I’ll order them on line and bring them back with me on my next trip to the US. Now, especially with this new law, I think my friends will find them especially useful.

Change is usually a hassle and I’m sure this will be too, but I think it’s a great step in the right direction. People here aren’t always good about trash, and it seems the majority of the trash and litter is plastic bags. If we can decrease the plastic in the landfills and the chances of it getting into our waterways and oceans, this is a really good thing too.

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Craziness in Boquete

The Boquete Flower and Coffee Festival just ended. There is a bit of info HERE and I’m sure google would bring up much more. I didn’t go this year but I have in the past.

We were in Boquete the weekend before for band practice and the town was crowded. We came up in the early afternoon without problems but in the evening we had to park and walk a ways to get to downtown to enjoy a couple other bands. When we left there was traffic but no major delays, but we didn’t have to go through town to get on our way.

This last weekend however, my goodness! Word was the last weekend is the height of the festival and more people came this year than ever before.

We set out on Saturday for Boquete about 4:45 for our evening gig at Mike’s Global Grill. We were fine until Alto Boquete when traffic piled up and was soon stop and go only. After traffic funneled down to one lane entering Boquete Bajo, things went better so we decided not to take the unfamiliar back road, which we regretted later. Even after allowing extra time we arrived late (though this is Panama and late is more normal than on time for entertainment). Some of our supporters spent well over an hour in traffic! That is real dedication to the band. Others had a more sensible plan, in my opinion, and stayed home while all this was going on.

It seems the night time festivities at the fair are the really big draw. When we finished at Mike’s (after 11 pm) we could hear the music booming from the fairgrounds probably a kilometer away, and word is this goes on into the wee hours of the morning. Traffic was still heavy, there were many pedestrians on the roads, and cars were parked in every available space for quite a ways even farther than Mike’s. There were also many buses, large and small, coming and going and they were all full.

Sunday was more of the same. We left about 3pm and the traffic again was stop and go when we reached Alto Boquete, but this time we opted for the back road which worked out great. We were at the Boquete Brewing Company which is on the far side of downtown, and we found back roads that took us to the corner just above the Brewery which was perfect. We bypassed all the traffic and arrived in plenty of time. We saw a lot of buses parked everywhere though. It seems they come from everywhere to help get people in and out of town.

It was a great evening! We played out on the terrace so we also got to play to the people in the street who were stuck in traffic. We were very happy with our performance and got a lot of great compliments from the audience which grew in size throughout the evening. This was the first weekend out with the new bass amplifier Joel bought me, and the bass sounded great. It has a lot of setting and controls I need to learn more about, but it’s definitely going to work out wonderfully.

But, if you plan to come to Boquete during the festival, you have been warned. Unless you want to party to the booming music at night, come in the daytime during the week. Boquete is a small town surrounded by mountains so there isn’t much space. When something big is going on it can get pretty crazy.

Or, if you want music – rock, blues and other fun stuff, I know this band……  😁


Posted in Panama | 12 Comments

Panama Relocation Tours

There are different opinions on relocation tours. Some think it’s better to visit the country on your own, targeting places that match your preferences. Others prefer a planned tour where all arrangements are taken care of.

We did not take a tour but we were very clear that we wanted city life. We visited Panama City (too much city!). Then we visited the next biggest city, David, and thought it was just right. Over five years later we are still here and very happy with our choice.

But, that is just us. I have talked with others who took the relocation tour and were very happy they did so. The main reasons sited –

  • seeing various areas and options for living in Panama
  • meeting other expats
  • meeting the other potential expats who were sharing the tour
  • tons of information about all aspects of moving to and living in Panama

Panama Relocation Tours is the only reputable company I know who provides this service. You want someone knowledgeable about Panama, and what moving to another country entails. You want someone who isn’t trying to sell you something! Those people may pose as sources of information but are more interested in selling you something than helping you find what’s best for you. You want someone who will give you a realistic picture of daily life in Panama without rainbows and unicorns and rose colored glasses so you can make informed decisions.

The friends I talked with were very happy with their decision to take this tour so I wanted to present this option here on my blog. If you think this is something that would work for you, visit the website HERE. You will find it full of information and answers to your questions about these tours.

(The header photo above is the banner photo from their website. This post was written with permission from the business. I have become an affiliate so it’s helpful to me if you use the link above. Happy Travels!)

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No Hay Nada

There is nothing. What do you say when you are just living your daily life and nothing special is going on?

We went to a different supermarket and found the teriyaki sauce we wanted. The mini super still didn’t have gas cans though. (We use gas in the kitchen, similar to what we used for a BBQ in the USA, $5.12, lasts about a month). We cleaned the house yesterday and did a bit of laundry this morning. Oh, and some friends visited us yesterday, I chatted with others on line, and FaceTimed with both of my daughters and all the grandkids.

The weather is still strange with sprinkles of rain, and a downpour a few days ago. This is supposed to be dry season when it doesn’t rain at all so I’m very happy for any rain the clouds want to give us. Yesterday it was 84, sunny and breezy in the afternoon, but a friend in Boquete said it was cold, windy and rainy up there. This is why we live down here in David. Today, early afternoon, it’s 85, more clouds than sun, light breeze, just perfect in my opinion.

The band had the weekend off for the first time since I started playing with them, and I really enjoyed that. We went up to Boquete for practice Saturday afternoon and also met a new bass player. He’s a professional and more than up to the job, and a really nice guy. He doesn’t want the commitment of a band but would like to play some. Now I can go back to the US to see family, he can take my place while I’m away, and it will work out perfectly for everyone.

In the evening Joel, Chris (our drummer) and I went out for the evening. We first had dinner at  Baru (a restaurant) where Adam’s band was playing, an excellent group of musicians and really nice guys. Then we went to the Boquete Brewing Company where musicians from Panama City were playing. It’s a real treat to get out and hear other musicians! It was about 1AM when we finally made it back home.

One great thing about retirement, if you want to sleep until noon? No problem! With too many late nights I’ve been doing that more lately. It doesn’t help that we have been watching Designated Survivor on Netflix, and we have to watch just one more episode  because they left you hanging on a cliff.

This is what goes  on when there is nothing going on. Some fun, some chores and errands, some relaxing, some talking with friends and family, music practice, biking a little, watching the sky. It’s getting darker and darker so I’d probably better rescue the laundry from the clothesline.

Yep, here comes the rain. No, now that the laundry is inside, the sun is coming out again. Mi vida difícil aquí (hand to forehead).

Posted in Panama | 15 Comments