Fish, Cows, Paint, and Scorpions

What do these have in common? Nothing, except they happened to be in my camera today. Since you all seem to enjoy following me around town, I’ll share my latest collection of photos with you.

Sunday my friend Steffi and I set out on a bike ride. Our objective was to visit the fish sellers above the airport. But first, we decided to bike the loop in front of the airport and then, since we were so close to Pedregal, a ride through town and a visit to the marina seemed like a good idea.

Pedregal may not be the most scenic area, but sometimes there are some really big, expensive boats parked down there. I suppose it is one of the few places with a marina where you can get to town for supplies fairly quickly. I have been warned that Pedregal is dangerous and I should never go there, but I have only found people to be friendly and nice.

By now it was getting close to noon and I thought the fish guys above the airport might be closing for the day, so we decided to go to my favorite Pedregal fish market. I didn’t know what we would find on a Sunday but we were lucky and the coolers were full of many choices.

I bought a 4 1/2 pound pargo (red snapper) for $11.25. He cleaned it and cut fillets, which will be enough for four dinners for the two of us. I also have the head and bones for soup. We had fish for dinner Sunday night and it was excellent. Corvina is sea bass, and sierra is mackerel. The most expensive thing on the sign is camarón, which is shrimp. It’s out of season right now though and they didn’t have any.

With fish on board and being 10 miles from home, we figured we should head straight back.

We biked over 21 miles that day and the return trip was sunny and hot. Both of us had tired legs but Steffi is young, slim, and fit so I felt better knowing I wasn’t the only tired one.

The next few days were taken up with the saga of the microwave, which I will write about when the end of the story plays out.

Today, Joel and I set out on our bikes.

The street above is just outside our neighborhood, and the way we go to town. The cows get loose now and then and don’t seem to get in any mischief, but I was surprised to see how upset they were at Joel on his bike!

On our way home we took a scenic detour through the residential areas below us.

When not running around town, I continue to work on painting. I am slow and I don’t find time for it every day, sometimes not for days at a time but I feel like little by little I am getting better. Painting is not photography, and what works in a photo won’t necessarily work well in a painting. I continue to work on knowing what order to work (best to do the background first), and I continue to work on light and dark. Things always need a lot more contrast than I realize, and the vast majority of time the suggestions from my teacher are about this.

I’m lucky that I get some requests so I can paint but not have my house overflowing with paintings. The one in progress now is an underwater coral scene for my biking friend Steffi, and another friend might like something for her kitchen.

A day would not be complete without a critter! Joel has some plywood stacked out behind the house, and the scorpions seem to think it’s a great place to hang out.

The upper one seemed to be sleeping, but the long slim one below was running all over the place.

The upper one seemed to be sleeping, but the long slim one below was running all over the place.

We have had a scorpion in the house a few times, but thankfully have never been stung. It is said they feel like a bee sting and aren’t dangerous other than the unpleasant experience.

Another day in Panama. Now I’m on my terrace watching the breeze pick up and the clouds move in. It’s getting to be about that time when the rains could start.

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This and That

Life goes on, I keep my camera handy, and after a while I have a collection of miscellaneous things that caught my eye.

There is a ball stadium not far from us, and it has been undergoing a big overhaul and upgrade. They were building a sports complex south of town on the road out to La Barqueta but nothing has been going on there for quite a while. I heard that the powers that be decided there wasn’t the money for that right now, and it would be better to upgrade the existing stadium. That’s fine but it’s in a fairly congested part of town just south of the Pan-American highway and I’m not sure where all those people are going to park their cars.

Since we are on the topic of construction, we also stopped by a spot where you can see the progress on the new bus terminal. Nothing is being built yet but they continue to move around tons of dirt to prepare the site. The bus terminal is now downtown in the most crowded part of town, and all those buses increase the traffic and have a hard time getting in and out. Out here at the new site there will be lots of room, easy access to main roads, and also parking for the public. But, it will be harder for people who currently like landing within walking distance of everything they need downtown. Word is also that there will be a huge shopping mall at the new terminal site, built by the same people and on the same scope as Albrook Mall in Panama City.

There is an incredible amount of building everywhere in the area! I don’t know who is going to occupy all the commercial buildings and new homes, and how this rate of growth can continue. But it seems to go on every year and businesses and people move into the new spaces. What is this area going to be like in 10 years, or 20 years?

Anyway, a few other interesting things I’ve seen in quieter parts of town as I ride my bike.

Last but certainly not least, the mountains. I’ve probably seen them a thousand times by now but I love them just as much as I did the first time.

Just another day in Panama

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Spiders and Critters

There are pictures of spiders coming. You have been warned😀

Panama is not the place to be if you don’t like bugs and critters. I have never seen such an interesting variety of bugs as we have here. There are some big ones, and some so tiny you can’t see how beautiful they are until you take a photo and enlarge it. I never knew there were so many kinds of bees, or ants. All of them are pretty mellow though and I don’t get bitten or stung unless I disturb an ant nest when I’m out gardening.

But, I will start with some critters.

The iguana in the last picture decided it was time to go, so it jumped off the roof to the ground, ran across the yard and through the chain link fence, and disappeared into the woods.

The caterpillars were relocated to a large citrus tree in the back yard where there are more leaves than they could ever eat.

Time for spiders!

This one has become a friend of sorts, and has visited my outside table quite a few times.

Just when I think I’ve seen the coolest spider, another even more interesting one comes along! I love having an outside office where I never know what is going to visit me next.

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Dogs at the Swimming Hole

Our friends invited us to go to a swimming hole, along with their dogs and some other friends and their dogs, so I think altogether we ended up with eight people and probably as many dogs. It was a very fun afternoon in a great place!

We were told that this spot is known as the Caldera beach. We drove through the town of Caldera and beyond, until we found the turn off down a very rocky and bumpy road that lead to the spot. Of course you can’t drive anywhere without seeing beautiful scenery all along the way, and of course I couldn’t resist some photos.

The swimming home is such a pleasant place. Rivers tend to be rocky but there were sandy areas near the shore. The water was high and bit muddy because of recent heavy rains, but we were told there is usually more beach, and the water is usually clear enough to see the submerged rocks which make great places to stand while you relax. We still managed to find quite a few though.

The dogs had a great time swimming and playing. The people also spent a most enjoyable time swimming and then relaxing under the tree. But like all good things, the time comes to head back home. Some gorgeous thunderheads were forming and I should have reached for my camera sooner.

On the drive home we could see the rain in the distance, then the wet roads, and I can’t remember if it was raining when we got home or if it started later. It’s been raining off an on for the rest of the afternoon though and it’s gotten quite cool (well cool for us, 74 now as the sun is setting). It’s really pleasant sitting out here on the terrace watching it rain after such a nice day. Thank you John and Susan for inviting us, for driving, and for showing us such a nice place!

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Your Panama Home, Rent or Buy?

This question come up quite a bit. I’m am no expert on anything but I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

The advice that you will hear from everyone who isn’t trying to sell you something – live in your intended location for at least six months, preferably over a year before you even think of buying something. You need a test run of living here beyond the honeymoon phase. You need to be sure you like the country, the culture, the people, and the pace of life. You need to be sure you like the climate in both the rainy and dry season. Most important, you can make friends and connections. Through them you can learn more about the area, learn what is a fair price for a property, and probably find likely places to rent or buy. There is no MLS here. This country runs on relationships. Your local friends can help you a lot.

OK, you have been here a while and it’s time for some decisions. Renting vs buying is an individual decision based on many factors.

We are happy renters.

  • At this stage of our lives we don’t want the responsibility of caring for and maintaining a house. We are happy to address little things but if the septic overflows or the fuse box blows up, the landlord is responsible.
  • Our money is in the bank, not in a house. We don’t have a hefty bank account or income, so we feel better having quick access to our money if something unexpected would happen.
  • If we change our minds or circumstances, it’s very easy to leave. We have no mortgage or equity to lose.
  • If something happens to both of us, our kids would be responsible for wrapping up loose ends. In our case the neighbors could have the contents of the house and the keys would be returned to our rental agent. There would be nothing more significant than a used car left behind.

We also know some happy home owners

  • A house can be a good investment and you can built up equity. You lock in your price and no one can raise the rent or ask you to leave.
  • I have heard some people say they prefer investing in a Panama property rather than than leaving that money in the US.
  • You can do whatever you wish to the house –  remodel, build, make changes however you like and they are yours to enjoy, and they hopefully add to the value to the house.
  • You have real roots in the community and the locals will see that you have made the commitment to live here.

But, there are some downsides to both options.

As a renter, the landlord can ask you to leave or raise the rent. You don’t know what you will be paying next year or in 10 years. I have heard about landlords who can be difficult to work with, who don’t want to fulfill their responsibilities, or who cause other problems. Even if allowed, you don’t want to make many improvements to someone else’s property.

As a home owner you will need to sell the house at some point (or your heirs will). Sometimes houses take a long time to sell. Certain styles, locations, ages, and price ranges can really limit your pool of potential buyers. If circumstances cause you to leave Panama, it is difficult to manage, sell, or rent a property from a distance. Renting doesn’t always work out either if you can’t get a tenant, or you get a bad tenant who damages your home or leaves unpaid bills.

I have been talking with quite a few people lately who are thinking about moving to Panama. Hopefully these thoughts will be helpful. A mistake can be financially and emotionally costly.  I’d much rather see everyone happy with the decisions they have made, and happy with their new lives in Panama.

 

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The Birdbath

I keep a container of water in the back yard for the birds, and it gets used quite a bit. Some come just to drink, and other come to also bathe. I have also seen iguanas and possums enjoying the chance for a drink.

One of the most frequent visitors is this clay colored thrush. I think it’s the same bird but of course I can’t tell for sure. It always comes alone though and bathes with great enthusiasm, often multiple times a day.

Often it splashes and flaps, and then goes up to the tree to continue flapping. A short time later it will return and repeat the process.

Sometimes, however, it will just stand in the water for minutes at a time.

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This is not a glamorous or colorful bird, but it feels like an old friend after so many visits.

A very small baby iguana also visited the other day

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You don’t need to leave your backyard to be entertained by all the wildlife that visits every day. Life is good in Panama!

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Hiking to the Waterfalls

My friend Andrea invited me to go on a hike to some waterfalls in the Los Angeles area. I had seen pictures from her previous hike there and it looked amazing. So, I agreed to get up in the middle of the night (5AM fits that definition for me), carpool with my friends John and Susan, and go hiking.

I woke up and it was dry. I headed up to our meeting point on the Caldera intersection, ran into quite a bit of fog, and then rain. It rained to Gualaca where the group was to gather, dried a bit, and then rained again all the way to the beginning of the hike. When we arrived the rain was just starting to let up.

I am not a good hiker. I am inexperienced, slow, and you do not want to hike with me. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone on that hike! I had my good sandals. It sounded like a great idea, comfortable, secure, and good for wearing in water (I know rivers here are rocky). But, I had never worn them in mud before. As soon as the mud got in them I was sliding around in my shoes and it was very hard to walk. I pushed on though, tightening them as much as possible and carefully picking my way along. By the time I got to an uneven field though it was clear that I could not walk at all. By now half of the attachments on the right sandal had broken and the sole was pulling away from the shoe.

I decided that I had to go back to the car where thankfully, I had stashed my hiking boots. My friend John said he could make much better time than I could in my inappropriate footwear. So, the hike stopped, everyone hung out in a field for what seemed like forever while he went back to the car. Apparently I had come farther than I thought. If I had had any sense I would have changed my mind about the footwear shortly after the muddy road but I didn’t want to be a problem. This turned out to be a much bigger problem in the long run for everyone waiting and for John who had to hike a lot more than he planned.

When the cows approached in the field I wasn’t totally comfortable. They looked like they were all female and calm but still, they are quite large and could be a threat if they wanted to be. I headed back on the path hoping to catch up with John a bit sooner. Eventually he returned with the shoes and it was amazing! I could walk again! What a difference good footwear makes. We head back to the field where everyone was waiting so we could finally be on our way.

Now the fun really began. The grass was high enough that it was hard to see rocks and holes under foot, and soon it was a fairly steep downhill. That was nothing compared to what lay ahead though. We had to make our way down a very steep, muddy, slippery embankment that led down to the river. There wasn’t always something to hang on to and though it wasn’t dignified, I did a fair amount of it sliding on my butt. I figured getting there in one piece was the main objective.

I didn’t go to the upper level. The rocks were wet and very slippery and I am not good at that sort of thing. It was so beautiful where I was I didn’t feel like I was missing anything, and it just wasn’t worth the risk. Besides, my friend Andrea had photos from her earlier trip which I will share below, so none of us have to miss anything.

After a while everyone came back and we made our way up the muddy, slippery embankment which I found very difficult. Thankfully our guide gave me a strong hand up on the more difficult places, and I did the steeper parts on my knees, not my feet, so I eventually made it up. Again, not dignified, but I made it.

Then, the next objective was to go to another spot on the river and see a couple more waterfalls.

We got to the next site and I immediately knew it wasn’t for me. The embankment down was much steeper than the first one. Another hiker who was recovering from a past ankle injury and I both decided to sit this one out, so we went back up a ways to a shady spot with a fallen log to sit on. We chatted, ate our snacks, she cleaned and treated my scratches (thank you Jackie), and we enjoyed the interesting bugs, spiders, and butterflies that came by.

This was a very wise choice. The others said the climb down and back was indeed more difficult. The rocks below were also very slippery, the current was strong, and if one lost their footing crossing the river one could easily be swept down river where a 30 meter drop to the rocks below awaited. If someone got hurt down there I don’t know how anyone would ever get them out.

A couple other hikers decided not to cross the river, so they made their way back up after telling the guide that they would pick us up and we would all go back to the cars.

We have done some hiking down by the river below us, and I went on the Pipeline Trail hike in Boquete which was a smooth path all the way. I was told by others that yesterday I went from beginner level to the big leagues in one jump. That’s for sure! I’m so glad I didn’t try to get down to the river at the second site. As it was I was tired, really sweaty, and covered with mud. Today many parts of my body are sore. My knees, my biggest weakness, are really unhappy with me.

Something to keep in mind for outdoor activities in Panama is the season. I think this hike would have been easier in the dry season. The people who had done this last May said the grass wasn’t so high, there was less water in the river so more rocks were exposed and more importantly, they were dry and not slippery. The way up and down embankments would have been much better also when they weren’t muddy and slippery.

Last, but hardly least, here are the pictures from that hike in May that my friend Andrea said I was welcome to share (thank you Andrea!) They include a little poison dart frog. We saw one on our way up the embankment but my photos weren’t in focus, so I’m glad you can see one here.

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A Gorgeous Morning Bike Ride

Some friends and I have had so much fun biking that we’ve decided to go out every other weekend. Today we met at the intersection of Via Boquete and the road to Caldera and drove east a few miles. We found a place to park and continued southeast on our bikes for a couple miles, and then turned south towards Gualaca.

I could tell you how beautiful it was but the photos can speak for themselves.

My friends like to set out early before it gets too hot. I grumble about getting up before my usual time but when I get out there, especially in the beauty we saw today, I forget all about grumbling.

As we headed back the clouds were changing the views every time I looked up, and I couldn’t resist stopping for photo after photo.

Sometimes I still can’t believe that I get to live here. This is an amazingly beautiful country! Thank you John and Susan for biking with me this morning and for choosing such a fantastic route.

 

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Valle Escondido in Boquete

Valle Escondido (Hidden Valley) is a very upscale, gated community in Boquete. It is indeed escondido though. I’ve been to Boquete quite a few times but had never seen it. Joel’s friend and drummer lives there at his parents’ house, so Joel has been there and knows how to find it. Yesterday we decided a field trip was in order so went out exploring.

The drive there, actually driving anywhere in the area is a pleasure since it is such a beautiful area.

Valle Escondido has a resort and their website is here. According to the website there are rooms, suites, and bungalows, and the resort looks very health oriented with yoga, swimming, a spa, golf, tennis, and a restaurant serving locally grown organic food. Check the website for details.

Beyond the resort and condos, and past another gate is a very upscale housing area.

I was really interesting to see this area since I’d heard about it for quite a while. I know there is more to see also. There is an amphitheater somewhere also that had a lot of the performances for the Blues and Jazz Festival that took place last year.

I almost felt like I was in a upscale part of Naples, Florida. In a way it seemed odd to me. If someone wants to be surrounded with beautiful, huge homes and perfectly tended and manicured landscaping, Panama is not the place. How do these people feel when they leave the neighborhood and land in town? Does it make them crazy? Streets have pot holes, sidewalks are often broken or nonexistent, people park anywhere on crowded streets, weeds grow, and trash isn’t always picked up. Panama is a lot of wonderful things but perfectly clean and manicured isn’t one of them.

I’m glad I got to see the area though and an added, unexpected bonus – when we drove by the home of Joel’s friend and drummer his wife was outside. Of course we had to stop and say hi, so we were invited in and we had a great time hanging out and talking with them. And, she had been outside talking with the couple who own the Cacoa Cafe that I just posted about, and that is how we learned about the restaurant.

We left as the sun was getting lower in the sky, and the mist was moving in.

Sometimes when you set out on an adventure, you have no idea what a great day is ahead of you. We definitely have to get out more and have more adventures.

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Visiting the River

We have a beautiful river behind our house. I’ve posted a lot of photos in the past but it’s been a while, so I figured I could post some more. We also have a new way of getting to the river. There is a road behind our house but it has been so overgrown that it was useless until the teak guys came to the neighborhood (I posted a bit about harvesting teak in this post) They had to bring the logs up from down by the river so they cleared the road, and now we get to use it to visit the river.

Instead of going back the way we came, we decided to make our way along the river to the stairs that lead back up to our neighborhood. It’s more of a scramble over rocks and fallen trees than a walk, but it’s fun and there are always interesting things to see as well as beautiful views.

We eventually made our way to the path that leads to the stairs. It’s hot and humid down there so by now we were really…. ahem….  glistening and I was a bit muddy from climbing over and under things, but we were rewarded by my favorite sight of the day.

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Here the water is deep and quiet. I love the reflections and the calmness of this spot. It is rare that we see anyone else at the river, so usually the quiet is only broken by the birds that fly over the water or sing from the trees above.

Before long, we are back in the neighborhood.

We are so lucky to live where we do! Not only do we have a house that’s just perfect for us, in a nice quiet neighborhood with really nice neighbors, we are surrounded by woods with this beautiful river just beyond.

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