What’s Going On in Panama

Things continue to feel better here. For us personally, the band played Friday evening for the first time since March of last year. It was great. We also went out last night to hear the other band who plays at the Brewery on Saturdays and again, live music, people, friends, and good times. There is traffic in town and restaurants are open and well attended. People continue to wear masks (everyone, everywhere) and do their best with social distancing, and reservations are required for restaurants to keep people from crowding and piling up, but life is definitely happening.

As far as I can tell from news reports, the delta variant has not come into Panama, thank goodness. COVID continues to be a problem, of course, but the numbers have been starting to gradually decrease in the last week or two. And, even better news, a large amount of Pfizer vaccine has been arriving in the country, and they have had the personnel and means to ramp up the pace of vaccinations accordingly. In July, 1.1 million doses of vaccine were given! (this is a country of about 4.4 million people) (Plateau of cases and 1.1 million vaccinated in July | The Panama Press (prensa.com) It wasn’t that long ago that we were lucky to get 40,000 doses a week in the country. Now they have opened vaccines to everyone over 16, and those 12-16 with chronic conditions.

We passed two drive up (or walk in) vaccination clinics on our way to Boquete yesterday. The sign says “Vaccinate yourself. We are together in this”

On non-Covid subjects, life continues to be pretty chill in general. It’s rainy season, and we’ve had a number of days of heavier than expected rains and flooding in some areas. But I still prefer the rain to the summer months when the sun beats down, it gets hotter and hotter, and everything gets dry and crispy.

The birds are still singing, the bugs continue to do their thing in the yard (and sometimes in the house). My friends and neighbors continue to be well, and are very happy that the younger ones among us can now be vaccinated. There really isn’t much more to say which is a very good thing.

I hate to see the news from the US though, with more and more people sick and dying, in addition to draughts, fires, and other bad things. You all be careful out there and take care of yourselves and each other!

Posted in Panama | 4 Comments

Back in the USA

It’s been 1 1/2 years since I was in the USA. It didn’t feel as strange as I expected but it has felt strange in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Of course, first, it’s been beyond fantastic to be with my family again after all this time. I thought my adult children and I were fine with video chats, not wanting to admit to myself how much I missed them. The grandchildren are almost different people now. They have grown and learned new things and I’ve been getting to know them all over again.

So, what is it like in the US in general? I’ve been in Seattle and northern California. As expected, everything is clean, manicured, and orderly. Roads are well paved with road signs and lanes clearly marked. The weather was sunny and warm with beautiful blue skies. There is tons of merchandise to buy in the stores everywhere, all beautifully displayed and easy to find. Some things are cheaper, but food is not and don’t even ask about eating in restaurants. English is the language everywhere, so easy. Social greetings are less common, but I’ve noticed more smiles than usual. Maybe it’s because I have been out in neighborhood parks more than on the streets. But, none of this was unexpected.

But, COVID is a thing! I’ve been in my little bubble at home, knowing in my head that the whole world is dealing with it, but that’s not the same as actually seeing it. The majority of people wear masks where I’ve been, even if it’s not always required of vaccinated people. I’ve gone out without a mask and felt strangely naked, and I prefer a mask especially with kids, since they are unvaccinated and have to wear their masks. I see social distancing marks on floors in stores, and hand sanitizer available in entrances. Even in the house, you can’t ignore the basket of masks by the front door. My little grandkids put on their masks along with their shoes and think nothing of it. I wonder if they even remember when we didn’t wear masks.

It will be interesting to see what changes stick. On line ordering, curbside pickups, and deliveries are so common now and maybe we want to keep those options? Maybe working from home will continue, at least some of the time. I think my kids miss seeing coworkers in person though so they don’t want to work at home all the time. Restaurants have outside dining arrangements which have been popular, and may be here to stay? International travel is a big hassle though, I will be very happy when this isn’t a thing any more!

There isn’t much more to say about the US. I spent the majority of my time playing with the kids and reconnecting with the adults, and I cared much less about what was going on outside the house.

Traveling back wasn’t as nerve racking as going, but COVID still added another layer of stress and complications. I flew United and their travel info said you could fly without a COVID test, but you would need one on arrival in Panama. OK, no problem. But, when I checked in at San Francisco she read and read and read her computer screen before she felt OK with letting me fly. I could have been tested at the airport but it’s crazy expensive, so I was glad I didn’t have to do that.

I had a layover in Houston, and thought everything was just fine until they announced that boarding would begin soon. All passengers need their passport, health affidavit, COVID test, and boarding pass in hand. What?? oh sheesh. Thankfully I had done the health affidavit on line and had the QR code in my phone (I saw other travelers filling out papers for that). I did not have a COVID test though. Another official thought it was ok, but it wasn’t until the announcement came on 15 minutes later than I could breathe. Yes, passengers were allowed to test upon landing in Panama.

Testing in Panama was great. I went to the testing center, no waiting (yes it was the nose probe but not too bad), and waited 30 minutes. As I was going back to check he was coming towards me with my negative test in hand. The first stop at customs was the table with the people in medical protective garb who wanted to see my COVID test. Then, it was customs as usual, and my suitcase was waiting for me at baggage claim. I waited about 5 minutes and the hotel van showed up. Yay, time to collapse in the hotel.

Flying from Panama City to David was a mess at check in. The airport was super crowded and all us David people were confused and anxious that we wouldn’t make our flight. But, an agent helped us by making a special line for us so we could go directly to a check in agent. I don’t think he even looked at my COVID test, and then it was downstairs for the flight. And, then I was HOME!

Whew! That was Thursday (after overnight flights on Tuesday night), 2 days of travel. I’m not getting any younger. Ha! Thursday I went from the sofa to the bed, and Friday I actually did a few productive things. It wasn’t until Saturday that I felt like myself again. I will be really glad when they bring back the San Francisco – Panama direct flights. It’s still an overnight but at least only one day of travel. The agent in San Francisco told me that they are still running very reduced schedules and it may be quite a while before that changes. But, my flights were totally full going and coming, so who knows.

So, that’s my story of the moment. Now I’m getting reoriented at home, and preparing for our first band gig (finally!!) on Friday. With any luck, we won’t be sidelined this time, and we’ll rock the house down! 😁

You all take care! The recent news isn’t good, so keep on being careful and taking care of yourselves and each other.

Posted in Panama | 14 Comments

A Panama – USA Plane Trip

I’m in the USA and beyond happy to finally see my family! But, traveling in COVID times adds another big layer of hassle to travel plans. So, I thought I’d share my experience, and what I’ve heard from a few fellow travelers.

The biggest problem for me was finding correct information. What is correct to one official may not be for another, and one person’s experience may be different from someone else’s in the same situation.

We all know that you need a negative COVID test to board a plane. I planned to fly out of David on Monday morning. I went to the airport the week before and the security people there told me that you can get a free test, but it’s only for people traveling. You need to check in and go through security, and testing is located beyond security. So, if I was going to do that, I would need to show up plenty early for my flight and hope I didn’t get a false positive (I’m healthy and vaccinated but still, you never know). I also saw something from people who were traveling David-Panama City-Miami, and were denied because the David tests are only for domestic travel. They had to go to a lab for testing and travel the next day.

I decided I wanted the peace of mind of having a test already in hand. But, the day before I was to travel was a Sunday. Everything was closed. Even the hospital was only doing tests until Saturday noon. Entry into the USA requires a test less than 72 hours old so this would be cutting it close (flight Tuesday morning, 8:30 am) but I decided to take a Saturday morning test. If I had a problem I had all Monday afternoon to get retested at Tocumen airport.

An aside – If you go to the Mae Lewis Hospital website you immediately get a popup about COVID tests which links you to a page where you can sign up for an appointment. I filled out the form, and then got an email directing me to go to Banco General and pay for the test ($42). I did that, and sent a copy of the receipt and my cedula (ID card) as directed. When I got home from the bank I found another email from the lab asking me when I wanted the appointment, and telling me it was about $30. I requested a Sunday appointment, and was told they were only doing tests until Saturday noon. By now I had already paid, so I decided to take my chances rather than looking for another lab. Don’t expect anything to go as expected! But, they did refund me the $12 difference after the gal in the business office made a number of phone calls and filled out a number of papers.

OK, back to the travels. I arrived at the David airport Monday morning, and as soon as I went in the door I was asked for my test results and passport. I was told to look over at a temperature sensor 6-8 feet away. How does that work?? But it did and I passed that checkpoint. I checked in for my flight and was also asked for my test results there. I was told that my test was fine for onward travel on Tuesday. Then, I went through security where I was again asked for my test results, and then I was in the waiting room ready to board the plane.

Another aside – the waiting room is at one end of the airport, and the plane was parked at the very other end of the airport, waaaaay down there! If you have trouble walking you might want to request a wheelchair (which I did for a fellow traveler who was obviously struggling).

The flight was fine, a nice new plane, maybe 2/3 full. We landed in Panama City, picked up our luggage, and I was going to double check with United that I could fly on with my test results, but I was helping the fellow traveler wrestle a lot of luggage over to the center island where you wait for the busito to the hotel (we were both staying at the Riande). As we crossed, the driver approached us so I figured I’d just get on the bus rather than wait 30+ minutes for his return trip.

I met someone I know from Boquete on the plane, and another friend from Boquete on the bus so along with the fellow traveler I kind of adopted there were four of us. We all got together for lunch after we were settled at the hotel which was really fun. One of the ladies had gone to the David airport on Sunday for her COVID test! She said they were done upstairs, no problem, free, so she had hers in hand for the Monday morning flight. I also found out later that she had no problems with onward travel to Orlando, using the test she had gotten in David. If only I had known this!! It would have saved me a lot of stress, worry, and a bit of money (it was about $30 at the hospital)! Grrrr. But, there’s still the possibility I’d be denied onward travel like the folks who went to Miami. As I said, you can never be sure you are getting correct information and this makes things difficult.

My next possible problem was check in on Tuesday morning. My adopted fellow traveler was taking the same 8:30 am flight to Houston so we headed to the airport at 6am. She had a lot of questions, so by the time the check in agent got to me she didn’t even look at my COVID test! I had a paper sticking out of my passport with a Mae Lewis Hospital Laboratory heading, so she probably figured all was in order and she didn’t have to look any closer. WHEW!!

(The COVID testing center at Tocumen airport, just past gate 115)

After that, I was pretty much worry free, well except for my adopted friend who didn’t want a wheelchair. Of course United check in is at one end of the airport, and our flight left from the other end, down to the end of the hall, and then into the new wing, and then waaaay down to the very far end of that. I finally nabbed a guy with a wheelchair and we made it without a whole lot of time to spare. If you have trouble walking, request a wheelchair! That’s why they have them. There is no shame in asking for help to save wear and tear on your body, and time so you can get to your gate when you need to.

The next thing was a layover in Houston where I had to clear customs and again, go waaay to the opposite end of the airport. What is it with my luck in airports?? But I definitely got some exercise to offset all the hours sitting in planes.

Everyone on the planes wore masks, and we were reminded that it was required and failure to cooperate would result in being tossed of the plane and possible other penalties (what is up what all the insanity we see in the news about passengers causing problems on planes?!) Thankfully I saw no problems with anyone but social distancing, not so much. Both Tuesday flights were full and it’s impossible to keep distance when boarding and putting luggage overhead, or doing the reverse on arrival. And you are seated jammed in with your fellow passengers like it always has been. Customs was no better. People were in lines close together with no distancing, but here again everyone was cooperative about wearing masks. We discussed getting me back to the US to be vaccinated, and then decided it was wiser to wait until I was vaccinated in Panama before I traveled. After experiencing travel I’m glad we did. They did everything they could to keep people safe, but it’s still a lot of people in a small space and my mind is much more peaceful knowing I have the protection of the vaccines.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say later about how it feels to be back in the USA, but for now I’ve just been enjoying family time. I’m so thankful for video chatting. The grandkids, including the one who is turning three (today!), connected with me in person right away, almost seamlessly after all the frequent video chats.

Later, I’ll worry about more COVID testing and how I plan to manage getting back to Panama. Today, we play!

Posted in Panama | 12 Comments

Something

Yesterday there was nothing, nothing going on, nothing changing. Today there is something, and more than one something. It’s interesting how things can change in a short time.

First the curfew on Sunday has been lifted in our province. Apparently things are doing better in Chiriqui so they feel they can relax the restrictions a bit. Businesses still need to be closed by 9 so people can be home by 10, but it’s a step forward and a bit of encouragement.

Then, I went to the David airport today to ask about testing. I was told that there is a testing place inside the airport, after check in and past security so it’s only for departing passengers. They will be there at 7am, so there will be plenty of time to make my 9:50 flight. It takes about 10 minutes and it’s free.

And, last but certainly not least, today is 14 days after our second Pfizer vaccine, so we are officially totally vaccinated.

Thank you Panama for trying to keep us safe in this pandemic. Thank you Panama for the free testing. Thank you Panama for the free vaccines.

Posted in Panama | 8 Comments

Nothing

Nothing going on, nothing new happening, nothing changing. I feel like I’m in an endless holding pattern at the moment with no direction. The virus situation doesn’t seem to be improving and curfews are still in effect. I’m mostly just counting down the days until I go to the US. But where and when should I get a COVID test? What should I pack? What am I going to forget to do, or take? I’m out of practice, not having traveled for 1 1/2 years. I know I’ll feel a lot better once I land in Seattle.

But, tomorrow is 14 days after our second vaccination, and I am so thankful to have that protection! I see in the news, both here and elsewhere, that vaccinated people are rarely getting sick or being hospitalized.

We’ve been getting a lot of rain and it’s been really chilly (low 70’s). Don’t laugh! For us, being accustomed to temperatures in the 80’s and more, it feels pretty chilly. Apparently I slept through an earthquake the other morning, and didn’t realize it until I saw all the chatter on the Facebook forums.

So, when there’s not much to do, and when it’s not raining, I play in the yard and look at bugs! Even after years of looking at Panamanian bugs, there are still so may new ones.

And, there’s a few other miscellaneous photos… One evening the dog ignored her dinner for too long, and one of those huge Brazilian giant cockroaches decided to help himself to a bit.

This photo was shared in a group for vaccine clinic volunteers. Apparently a calf wandered into the clinic one day and had to be escorted out. It’s common to see calves in people’s yards, where they can be cared for and watched closely until they are big enough to be sent to the farm or sold.

We have this cool beehive in a tree, but a while back we noticed that the bees seemed to be abandoning it and taking apart the front side (recycling for a new hive?) Here is is, before, and now.

I’m even bored with biking, so we’ve been walking. We have leaf cutter ants, and sometimes they can build pretty impressive villages of ant hills. We saw this in a nearby yard.

That’s all for now. But, on an up note, I had a fantastic birthday last weekend full of video chats, messages, visitors, family, friends, champagne, and chocolate ice cream. So, all in all, things are pretty darn good! And, life is moving forward even if it feels slow at times.

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Second Vaccine

Thank you Panama! We have felt really well cared for here. A few days ago there was information in our neighborhood group and social media that the second round of vaccines was this week (Pfizer again), a week earlier than I expected it. Then, I got an email with my appointment date, time, and location. I could also find my appointment on the website where people register.

The process was very much like the first time. ( Vaccinations ) We got to the school fairly early on the first day so there were a lot of people waiting, but it was very organized. There were rows of socially distanced chairs, and we moved up row by row until we got to the vaccination room.

We were taken 6 at a time to the vaccination room. Vaccines were give with after care instructions, and our info was entered in their log both outside the room and inside by the staff giving vaccines.

Then a volunteer gave us more instructions as she took us to the room to wait 15 minutes to be sure we were ok, and then we were free to go.

There was about an hour wait to get started, and about half hour to go through the process, so we were done in 1 1/2 hours. As we left we heard people being asked if they needed a ride home, and there were yellow school bus vans waiting outside for anyone who needed them. (you could also request a ride to the vaccination site if you needed one) I also noticed that anyone who arrived in a wheelchair or needed help to walk was immediately taken to the front of the line outside a vaccination room where they could be attended to quickly.

When I got home there was an email waiting for me with info on where and when I got my shot, what was given, what symptoms to expect afterward, how to treat them, and where to find help or answers to questions. I also have my vaccination card that was updated on site.

I am very very thankful to Panama for providing us with vaccines! I know they haven’t gotten the supply they needed to protect everyone, but they are starting with the more vulnerable people in the areas with more COVID deaths. Word is that they have negotiated with Pfizer to get a lot more vaccine, and in July the process will ramp up considerably. If thing go according to plan the whole population should be protected by September. More and more AstraZenica has also been coming in and it’s being given to the younger people, men over 30, and women over 50 but that has just now been changed to women also over 30.

This is happening none too soon as Panama continues to fight another wave of COVID. But now, it’s the 30-50 year old people who seems to be getting it the most. Illness and deaths of the older people has fallen dramatically, a great sign that the vaccines are doing what they are supposed to do. Still though, it’s a struggle as they try to keep people from getting sick and/or spreading the virus.

We’re doing ok, sore shoulders at the injection site and tired, but I think we’ll be ourselves again tomorrow. And, I am SO excited to have the protection I need to visit my family at greatly reduced risk to me and them. I can hardly believe I’ll be with my grandkids in just a little more time. We are going to have SO much fun!

So, that’s the word of the day from here. It’s another of those calmer cooler days so maybe I should go work in the yard and see if I can spot more interesting bugs. As always, take care of yourselves and each other.

Posted in Panama | 10 Comments

Bugs and Odds and Ends

The weather has been beautiful. Sometimes it’s sunny, and sometimes it rains and makes everything grow like crazy, but best of all is when it’s cloudy and pleasantly cool. I’ve been spending time in the yard lately and you know what that means. Bugs!! You all have been spared the bug pictures for a long time, so you are overdue 😁

I find the wildlife, and especially the insect wildlife fascinating. There are so many, and such variety!

Thankfully most of the bugs here are harmless. I don’t touch or bother anything, and the bugs aren’t inclined to bother me either so it’s easy to coexist. Except for the scorpion incident and a couple mild bee stings that were my fault, I’ve only been bothered by ants when I get in their way in the yard, which is also my fault. You would think living next to a woods and a river that we would have problems, but we don’t. We even see very few mosquitoes so I can spend evenings outside. This was impossible anywhere we lived in the US.

In other news, I saw this cool video on Facebook about Chiriqui and everything that is grown and produced here. Facebook makes it pretty much impossible to imbed a video in a post, but maybe this link will work. https://fb.watch/5SfSLFrrcr/

I agree that Chiriqui is a great place. There is so much natural beauty from the beaches to the mountains. And as the video explains, there is a wide variety of produce grown here. We appreciate the availability of locally grown fruits and vegetables every day, fresh, delicious, and inexpensive.

Everything else here is pretty much the same. We continue to have curfews at night and on Sundays, and these have been extended to most of the country as they struggle to keep the numbers from creeping up. The number of people in ICU seems to be holding steady though. Maybe protecting the over 60 and more vulnerable people is helping? I hope so. It’s wonderful to hear the good news from the US, and I hope we aren’t far behind. Quite a bit of AstraZeneca vaccine is coming into the country along with regular shipments of Pfizer, not as much as we all would hope but it’s all definitely welcome.

That’s all for now. As always, take care of yourselves and each other!

Posted in Panama | 7 Comments

Locked Down, Again

Chiriqui (the province where we live) has been having problems with the virus, so we have curfews again at night and all day Sunday. So, since I’m sitting on the terrace watching it rain, I figured I’d take a moment to write a word or two.

I don’t mind so much. We weren’t planning to go anywhere anyway, but it’s frustrating to see control of the virus going well, and then have things go backwards again. We’re blaming some of it on Costa Rica which is right next door to us. They have required insurance (to cover all your expenses in case you get COVID) but they haven’t required any testing to enter. Opinion is that this hasn’t been good for their virus situation. And the border is a big shopping area where Costa Ricans and Panamanians mingle, so this can’t be helping either.

The recent news has said that the the hospital beds for COVID here in David are full and they are having to rearrange and juggle resources to make space for new cases. Testing is now required to go in or out of Chiriqui, and there are various testing locations within the province as well. The statistics aren’t terrible, nothing like they were at the height months ago, but there is a definite upward trend and before this was hardly noticeable the authorities got right on it, hoping it wouldn’t get any worse.

Curfew was at 8 pm, but the businesses protested so much that they changed it to 10 pm. This whole pandemic has been so hard on the businesses so I can understand why they hated this new curfew. Restaurants and bars are just starting to recover and get busy again, so the last thing they want it to be closed during their busiest times. But, more virus cases mean more deaths. Very recently there were two days with no deaths, the first death free days since the pandemic started. Yesterday there were 7 (in the nation). You can see the May numbers for Chiriqui below. New cases (purple) are outpacing recovered people (blue) and the number of active cases (red) has been steadily rising all month.

No photo description available.

In a province of 450,000 people those aren’t huge numbers, thank goodness, but the upward trend and the stress on the hospitals aren’t good. We generally feel safe doing what we need to do, but we are still super happy to have our first vaccine on board. And, the numbers may not be huge but as we all know, if a death is your family member or good friend, that’s a huge loss.

So, enough COVID! Some day we will look back on this and say – remember when all we could talk about was COVID?

It’s a rainy day here today. I think it started about 12:30 which is pretty early for afternoon rain but we’re happy. There was no rain the last few days and the sun was heating up everything. Right now the rain has stopped but it’s very cloudy and 82 degrees on the terrace at about 3pm. That probably sounds hot to many of you, but for me that’s perfect. I don’t know if the birds are celebrating but they seem to have a lot to sing about this afternoon, and some sound like they are having conversations with others in the neighboring yards.

Now that our vaccination process is under way, I’ve been in touch with our travel agent to book tickets back to the US to see my family! It’s going to be awesome. I wonder how I will feel in the US though. It’s been 1 1/2 years so I’m expecting a bit more culture shock. And, most of all, the kids are 1 1/2 years older and have changed so much, especially the youngest who was only 1 when I saw her last. But thankfully we have kept in close touch with video chats so it should be fine. The other grandmother is with the Seattle family right now, her first visit since the pandemic and my daughter said the kids were fine, as if they just saw her last week.

Well the breeze is picking up and sky is getting darker, so there must be more rain moving in. The paisanos (gray-headed chachalacas, I believe) visited my yard and usually they quietly cheep like baby chicks, but when they get wound up they can get very loud. I don’t know what wound them up today but they seem over it now. The brown birds (thrushes?) continue to have conversations between yards, and other birds, maybe wrens, are chattering next door. There is a bird with a beautiful song that I love, but I’ve only heard it from a distance in the woods so I don’t know what it is. Ooh, now I hear thunder in the distance. Maybe it’s time for kitchen chores and I’ll enjoy the rain out here later.

Well the lights just went out in half the house, and the same has happened to the neighbors. I don’t understand how things are wired and how this can be, but it has happened before. It’s better than losing the whole house, and I’m glad for the neighborhood chat group because I know it’s not just me and it’s being reported. It’s also started to rain again. OK, now, about those kitchen chores… and then I talked with the neighbors, and since I was up I tackled the kitchen chores, and my daughter called, and I had a great chat with the other grandmother too. What do you DO all day?? Sometimes I don’t know but I’m never without things to do.

What I’m going to do next is close this post. You all take good care of yourselves and each other! Hasta la promixa (until next time)

Posted in Panama | 5 Comments

Vaccination Day

The day finally got here! It’s been a process and a waiting game, and I can hardly believe we got our shots.

Panama has done the vaccination process in a very systematic way starting with the people most in need, and going from province to province depending on where the most cases have been.

We are in phase 2, people over 60 and people with chronic health problems. They have also added teachers (they want to get the kids back to school soon), and pregnant women (with doctor’s OK).

They started vaccinations in Panama and Panama West (Panama City area). This started in early March, which made us very excited, but it’s taken all this time to get to Chiriqui. We are in district 4-1 (David) and they are also vaccinating in district 4-2 (Puerta Armuelles area). Unfortunately Panama hasn’t gotten the supplies they expected. It’s frustrating because they have certainly done their part to be ready to vaccinate large numbers of people, but without the vaccine the virus continues to spread, sicken, and kill. In the graphic above, desfunciones means deaths. This is the number they have used to prioritize provinces and districts.

(an aside – Panama has been giving Pfizer vaccines. Recently, they got some AstraZeneca but that’s a different thing, different sign up and different clinics, and it’s available for men over 30 and women over 50. But otherwise, the main vaccination efforts are all Pfizer. There has been talk that they are negotiating for a couple other brands but nothing has happened yet)

But, our time finally came! Months ago we were told to go to the government website and sign up for vaccines. And then… we waited…. and waited…. Then, a few weeks ago we heard about a David website so we signed up there too, and waited some more until news came around that May 10th was the day to check for appointments. I was anxious and up early, logged on to the website, and there it was, my appointment! Mine was on Sunday afternoon, and Joel had one too on Saturday afternoon in a different location.

That was Monday, and the appointments were in the system as promised. Then, Tuesday the vaccines arrived in Chriqui. Wednesday was preparation day for all the locations and staff (I saw news that 1000+ people came from Panama City area who had worked in the clinics there. They came to work in our clinics). Thursday my neighbors started getting their vaccines. Friday I got a phone call, I think from the local David offices because we’d signed up on that other website. A very nice women had to repeat things (she just couldn’t slow down!) but I finally understood that she was calling to be sure we had appointments if we wanted them, and she told me I could just go with Joel on Saturday.

Then, Saturday morning I stopped by to see a friend and was told there that we should probably go much earlier than our 4pm appointment because there were rumors they closed down the lines at 4pm. So, we went about 1:30, figuring the worst that could happen would be we would have to wait for our appointed time. I gathered up our rental agreement to prove that we do indeed live in this district, and an electric bill (another method of verifying our location), and our cedulas (ID cards), and passports just in case, and I had a print out of my appointment, and Joel’s appointment was saved in both of our phones, and the location was saved in my google maps. I did NOT want any problems! Little did we know how easy it was going to be…

Somehow I ended up in a WhatsApp group of people working at the clinics, maybe because I considered volunteering? They were up and getting ready at 5:30 am! By 7am everything was in order (photo below), and by 8 am people were waiting for their vaccines. (these are photos that were shared in the group)

I think we arrived at the designated school about 1:45. There were quite a few cars out front, and more around the back where we were told to go to start the process.

We had our temperatures taken, alcohol squirted on our hands, and we were directed to the outdoor gym area to sit in chairs. I think there were only two other people there waiting. Joel is smiling under his mask in the first picture, and it was only a few minutes before we were called to the table in the next picture. There they asked for our cedulas (ID’s) and phone numbers so they could fill out our vaccination cards.

From there, we were sent to sit in the next line of chairs that you can see in the distance of the second picture above. We found out that we were waiting to be sent to one of a number of vaccinations stations. So, below in the first picture is the line of chairs, and the chairs in front of one of the vaccination rooms are in the second picture. That’s where I ended up next.

Again, it was barely a couple minutes before we (in a group of 6) were moved to the chairs in front of the vaccination room. The nurses there asked for our cedulas and vaccination cards to make entries in their logs, which we were asked to sign. Below are a couple photos I took while we were waiting in this area. The first is another vaccination room with staff at the table, and chairs for clients to wait. The second picture is towards the entrance. I saw that anyone who looked like they had trouble walking or waiting was immediately taken to a chair in front of the closest vaccination room.

Our longest wait was in front of the vaccination room, maybe 5 minutes. Then we were ushered into the vaccination room. We were asked if we were all over 60, our cedulas and vaccination cards were gathered again and info was written on another log. And then, one of the two staff members gave us our shots! We were instructed that our next shot would be in 30 days, and after that we need to wait 15 days before we get a flu shot.

Oh happy day!! It was true. It really happened. We got our shots. They gave us back our cards and cedulas and waited a few minutes, and then we were ushered into another room where we had to wait for 15 minutes to be sure we didn’t have any bad reaction. We were also instructed about possible side effects and how to treat them, when to seek medical help, and who to contact for any questions or concerns.

And then we were finished! I think we got lucky and came in at a slow time, and the whole process took less than an hour. I was impressed by how organized they were. Social distancing was maintained at all times and masks were worn by everyone (including the medical staff who were vaccinated a couple months ago in phase 1). There were people at every step to direct you to your next place. Nobody seemed rushed or stressed, and everything just flowed along smoothly. I felt like we were cared for very well, and we were given all the information we needed to know.

I know that we will be getting the second shot in one month, and two weeks after that we will have the highest level of immunity. But even one dose provides a significant amount of immunity, and it sure puts my head in a better place. As I said in my last post, we are having problems in Chirqui and curfews are back. Even with all the biosecurity measures that are second nature to us by now, the virus is still infecting people. I’m very happy that we, and all the more vulnerable people in our city will have a higher level of protection. There was a time when I considered going back to the US, but until recently it was very difficult to get an appointment. And, there were the dangers of travel, and then what? Quarantine somewhere away from my family? This took a bit longer but we felt safe and comfortable while we waited, and it all worked out very well.

THANK YOU Panama for taking such good care of us! Add this to the very long list of reasons for why we are thankful to be here.

I hope you all are safe too, and taking good care of yourselves and each other.

Posted in Panama | 7 Comments

Steps Forward, Steps Backwards

There’s been quite a lot going on here lately! We were starting to feel alive and it was great. Numbers were stable, not dropping as much as one would hope, but stable is good.

Starting May 3rd, live music was permitted for a performing group of 6 or less as long as biosecurity measures were followed. We went to the Boquete Brewery to celebrate the first live music in 14 months, not quieter acoustic music but real rock music, real drums, real volume and it was fantastic. Hashtag was playing, friends of ours and one of our favorite bands. We saw friends that we hadn’t seen since before the Pandemic. The Brewery was being very careful, reservations only, spaces between tables, masks required when not in your seat, etc. and the terrace is outdoors with a good breeze, so we felt safe.

And, we know our vaccines were coming this week, so we made a start date for our band – June 4th. That would give us 2-3 weeks after our first dose of vaccine, not full protection but considering the safety measures at the Brewery, we felt good about this plan. So, we came home very happy and excited, and we started putting set lists together for our first couple gigs and planning practices.

Then… there were steps backwards. Within a few days numbers were going up, and the worst of it was in Chiriqui. https://www.prensa.com/sociedad/mayoria-de-casos-activos-de-la-covid-19-se-registran-en-la-provincia-de-chiriqui/ The article says 42% of the cases are in Chiriqui, a province of 450K+ in a country of about 4 million, or a province with maybe +/- 12% of the population. A friend said our proximity to Costa Rica isn’t helping because they have a lot of cases and there is so much travel back and forth. The border is a very strange one with no barrier between the two countries, and there is a very popular shopping area there. One can very easily wander from one country to another as you wander from store to store, so the two populations mix a lot. No one would even know you crossed a border without going through customs and immigration until you were caught at the checkpoints well down the road. So there’s that, and people are just plain tired of all the hassles, and not seeing their friends and family as they wish, and with everything opening up it feels almost like old times.

So, when statistics and numbers change, the authorities make changes.

This says that starting tomorrow, we have a curfew from 8PM – 4AM every day, and all day Sunday. So much for live music. But when we went to Boquete we saw that every restaurant had business, parking spots were full, and the town was very active with people out enjoying themselves. And most Panamanians work Mon-Sat so Sunday is for getting together with family and friends, and generally having fun in ways that may not be advisable right now. So, as difficult as it is, especially for bars, restaurants, and businesses with a lot of evening activities, I understand the reasoning. Word is that the situation will be reevaluated in 2 weeks but moving the numbers is not a fast process, so I’m not counting on anything changing right away.

But, it’s not all bad news. Vaccinations started today in Chiriqui for people over 60, pregnant women and teachers! I’m not too excited… ha! ~~hopping up and down~~ The system worked as expected. We registered weeks and weeks ago, and were told that we could look for our appointments on Monday. Sure enough, I was up early, logged on to the website, and there it was! Tuesday, I also got an email with my appointment time and place, and instructions.

On Tuesday, our vaccines arrived. I also read that 1000+ people came here from the Panama City area, people who were working in the vaccination clinics over there who will be now working in the clinics here.

There doesn’t seem to be rhyme and reason for why you get sent to one site instead of another, but who cares. We are happy! Joel is at one place on Saturday, I’m going to another on Sunday (allowed even during curfew). My neighbors are also scattered in different places and days, but we’re all going to get our shots! Word is the clinics all started today and will run through Sunday, and they expect to give around 3oK shots in that time. Of course I will report on how it goes.

We are really happy, especially now with the more worrisome situation in our province. But, the biggest thing of all is that my family and I will feel ok with me traveling, and by late June I expect to be in the USA with my family.

So, that’s the main news around here. Otherwise life is going on. The city is active. We’re getting lots of rain. We’re thankful to be here, and very sorry to hear about the terrible problems in other parts of the world. We feel very fortunate!

As always, take care of yourselves and each other.

Posted in Panama | 6 Comments