Shopping at Paso Canoas

Paso Canoas is the town on the border between Panama and Costa Rica on the PanAmerican highway. I’d been there a number of times to cross the border but hadn’t spent much time exploring the shops there. Many people go there to shop because of the lower prices and good deals.

I’m from the US where you go to the mall and walk down the spacious corridors. If you can’t find something you look for the map – Penny’s is down that hall, the shoe store is up there on the upper level. The bathrooms are by the food court and there are benches in attractive areas if you want to rest.

Now, picture the exact opposite of that and you might be imagining something like Paso Canoas. I would have to visit a number of times more to even begin to make sense of it! There are some larger stores, and tons of little shops in every possible space. If you walk out the back door of some you are in Panama, but the front door is in Costa Rica. There are passageways behind stores crammed with little shops, sometimes with music blaring, and watch your step because there are steps and uneven floors.

I took some photos, though they don’t begin to convey the experience of Paso Canoas

This is only a tiny taste of Paso Canoas. I would have to spend quite a bit more time there to make any sense of it. I wasn’t sure where I was some of the time, and I’m glad I wasn’t there to buy something I really needed to find. I did find a set of sheets for our spare bed though, full size. I passed over the $6 sets for something I liked a bit better for $8.

If you want an interesting experience, go wander around Paso Canoas.

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Another Great Christmas in Panama

It was a great holiday weekend here! It started Friday night. Joel’s band had a gig in Boquete. I went along and saw some good friends, enjoyed the music, and had a really nice evening. Even the drive up was beautiful.

Saturday was Christmas Eve. Some friends came to visit in the afternoon and we enjoyed some nice time sitting under our trees and chatting. Later in the evening we were invited to the home of a good friend in the next town up the road. This is a neighborhood of young families. Kids were playing in the street, setting off firecrackers, riding bikes, and showing off the LED lighted shoes that have become the latest “must have” thing. Dinner was rice and guandu (pigeon peas), potato salad, pork, and tamales, a very traditional holiday dinner. It’s all piled on a plate in the kitchen and handed out to the guests, and it was really delicious. They moved the living room furniture to the front yard which was comfortable and fun, and we enjoyed a few hours of relaxation and conversation.

Later we came back to our neighborhood to enjoy the fireworks with our neighbors. Christmas eve is the biggest celebration here. People set off fireworks climaxing around midnight. Then, after midnight, everyone wishes everyone Feliz Navidad, they open gifts, and then have dinner with the family.

When we returned the kids across the street were setting off fountains and roman candles. The gal on the corner shared delicious carrot cakes that she had made for everyone. Other people in the neighborhood set off some really beautiful fireworks and we saw a few floating balloons. Those are so pretty! They are little hot air balloons with a fire underneath so they glow in the sky as they float overhead. When midnight passed we returned to our house, but I could still hear fireworks going off for more than an hour. I’ve heard that in some places that goes on for most of the night!

Sunday was Christmas day, usually a fairly quiet day especially for those who partied late into the night. We were invited to another family dinner by another friend, so we set off in the early afternoon. This was a large Panamanian family of siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews, and cousins that I never got entirely straight. It was really interesting to see the photos of all the parents and grandparents on the wall and learn a bit about the history of the family. It was a great house and property with lots of sitting areas perfect for relaxing and chatting.

Dinner was excellent,  partly potluck but still quite traditional – rice and guandu, potato salad, green salad, turkey and stuffing (with green olives and raisins), broccoli and cauliflower, and tamales again all piled on a plate and served to the guests. No one goes hungry around here at Christmas!

Panamanian families for the most part seem to get along peacefully. Of course there are relationship breakups and other problems that happen everywhere, but both of the families we spent time with felt happy, people were affectionate with each other, and seemed very happy and relaxed in each others company. We were also welcomed with such friendly smiles and genuine hospitality by both the people we knew and those we were meeting for the first time. I so appreciate that we were invited to these dinners. It was a really special time for us.

Next up, welcoming in the New Year!

Of course I can’t leave without sharing a bug and some wildlife 😀

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Article on David

Joel found a good article about David. You can read it at http://vivatropical.com/panama/david/

It looks like the article is about three years old, judging by the comments. The airport expansion is now finished but there are still no direct flights to the USA. If there were it would be convenient for those of us who travel to the USA, but it would also bring in more people and probably raise prices which might not be a good thing. The article was right that David is a booming area, and is probably is even more so now. There is a new bus terminal under construction, and a mall that is supposed to rival Albrook in Panama City. There are houses and commercial buildings under construction everywhere you look.

I believe tourism is encouraged even more now under President Varela’s administration. Tocumen airport in Panama City has a large new wing and yet another is under construction. There are more flights to more destinations every year. There are also more flights from Panama City to David from Albrook, and also from Tocumen now that Copa is offering that service. The article is right in saying David is not a tourist destination. It is a busy, working city in an agricultural area but there are so many wonderful places in Chiriqui that it’s a great home base.

Under fast facts at the bottom, the temperatures only reach upper 90’s at the height of summer, around March. Most of the time the highs are in the mid-80’s which though too warm for some, aren’t bad as long as you stay out of the hot afternoon sun. At this moment it is 4PM and the temperature on my terrace is a balmy 82 with a light breeze. If you prefer something cooler you can go up the mountain until you find the elevation and climate that is just right for you.

Anyway, good article. Check it out if you want to learn more about David.

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Just a Day

I was going to say it was just an ordinary day, but days never seem ordinary here. There is always something new and interesting. This morning we went to the supermarket and saw a police truck in the parking lot, and two policemen with dogs getting out. Except for the drug sniffing dogs at the airport I don’t think I have ever seen a policeman with a dog. Many Panamanians are extremely afraid of dogs so I don’t know if that is a factor. These policeman were just strolling around though, and no one seemed to be paying them any mind.

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It was surprisingly quiet at the shopping mall. Since it’s only three days before Christmas we were expecting it to be nuts. There was parking available and as you can see in the photo above, not a lot of people out and about. The supermarket was quiet for even an ordinary day.

I don’t think we are supposed to take photos in the store but I couldn’t resist a few things.

As we headed home I saw one of the many fireworks stands that have popped up all over town. Christmas Eve is the big celebration with social gatherings and fireworks building up to a big, noisy climax at midnight. Then, everyone goes indoors to have Christmas dinner, call absent family and friends, and open gifts. Christmas day is generally quieter and a social day for family and friends. New Years Eve has even more fireworks building up to midnight, so I’m sure a lot of fireworks are sold for these holidays. We sort of miss the large extended Colombian family that went totally nuts with the fireworks on our corner, but there will be a lot of beautiful ones all over the neighborhood.

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Scorpions and other Things

We usually don’t see many scorpions but this week we have seen four. There was a mother with babies in the corner of the terrace. Joel was surprised in the kitchen by a baby who ran across the counter top. He found this nice one today between sheets of plywood behind the house, no surprise since they are frequently seen there. And then there was one in the laundry room when he went to move the gas can. That one got squished by the gas can.

My Panamanian friends say that the best treatment for a scorpion sting is to kill the scorpion and put the material inside the scorpion’s body on the sting. If you can’t catch and kill the scorpion, the next best thing is scorpion juice made of alcohol with a dead scorpion in it. So, if we ever get stung by a scorpion we are ready now.

Panamanians have also told me that the baby scorpions eat their mother! I have looked for information and none of it says this, but what do I know? I did read that some scorpion mothers eat their mate though, or their young.

Avoiding problems with wildlife here isn’t much different than Florida and other places. Shake out your clothes and shoes before you put them on. Don’t put your hand in places you can’t see. Wear shoes outdoors. Be aware that you share your environment with various forms of wildlife who have ways of defending themselves.

I’m sure that is more than enough about scorpions for one day. I was house and dog sitting last week, and the iguanas were driving the dogs crazy. The iguanas seemed very interested in the seeds of a tall palm tree, but their activity caused noise in the tree which sent the dogs running every time. One time I went out and managed to catch the iguana with my camera.

Do you see the head of the iguana right in the middle of the photo?

Do you see the head of the iguana right in the middle of the photo?

Another fun thing today was Enrique, our fruit and vegetable man who comes every week. He gets up at 4AM to go to Cerro Punta and other places for his produce, and then drives around town the rest of the day selling it. His stuff is always really fresh and now that he knows what we like, he picks out the best broccoli and green beans and stashes them under the seat just for us. This is what I bought today – $15. I see people on line complaining about high costs and bad customer service, but this certainly hasn’t been our experience. I enjoy having a really nice guy show up at our door every week with yummy produce.

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Lots of nice things today. The band is practicing here today too. And, I had better gardening karma. I went to do some work and it didn’t rain a drop! Another good day in Panama.

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It’s Rainy Season, It’s Dry Season

We are going through the transition from rainy to dry season here on the Pacific side of Panama. The Caribbean side, just a few hours away, has an entirely different weather pattern. It rains whenever it wants to and there aren’t the distinct seasons we have here.

But, here on the Pacific side we have fairly predictable weather patterns. People worry about the rainy season (April – December) thinking we might be soaking wet all the time, but that isn’t the case at all. Mornings are beautiful, clear and sunny. That is when you hang out laundry, do errands, and anything else that is better when it’s sunny. In the afternoon the clouds will start to gather. Maybe it will rain in the middle of the afternoon, or maybe closer to dark. Maybe it will pour like crazy for a little while followed by a gentle rain, or maybe it will just rain a little bit. It should be finished no later than bedtime though and you can enjoy the cooler, fresher air when you sleep.

The dry season (December – April)  is, well, dry! Rain is unusual. Plants and grass get increasingly brown and crispy and brush fires are common. The trade winds blow and some days can get very windy. This is Panamanian summer. School is out for summer vacation until mid February and people tend to do more outdoor things like home maintenance, swimming trips to the rivers, and family vacations.

At the moment though, we are somewhat confused. Sunday was clear and felt more like summer and yesterday was clear, windy, and very much like summer. Today though, mid afternoon, the clouds gathered and it started to rain. I was foolish enough to think I could do some gardening which is almost guaranteed to bring rain. 😀 But, as soon as I sat down at my computer it stopped and now the sun is coming out again. Shall I pick up my gardening tools again and see if the rain comes back?

I certainly won’t complain though. In a few weeks we will be praying for rain!

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Boquete Clouds Video

It seems the Boquete folks have been having a video festival, and my friend Phil Bennett has entered his work. This video has a lot of beautiful time lapse video of clouds rolling over the mountains (and I love clouds so I had to watch this a number of times!). And, that is Phil playing the music in the background that goes perfectly with the video. I didn’t know he was so multi talented!

Check it out, and don’t forget to click on the thumbs up “like” button so he’ll know you enjoyed it too. You will find it on the YouTube page.

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Your Relationship in Retirement

Many of us retire with a spouse or significant other. This is not only about Panama or retiring overseas. There are things to consider wherever you end up. I have met couples who, when retired with new quantities of free time, were driving each other nuts. One wanted more space or more attention than the other. One wanted to continue the usual activities and the other wanted to go off into new directions, taking the reluctant partner along.

Add the changes that come with retirement to the challenges of moving to an entirely new country, and there could be some bumps along the way. What if one of you is unhappy and frustrated by the challenges, and wants to drag the reluctant other back to the home country? What if your relationship has problems, and now that you don’t have the former distractions of work and a busy life, your problems feel bigger and bigger?

I recently read a good article, 1,500 PEOPLE GIVE ALL THE RELATIONSHIP ADVICE YOU’LL EVER NEED that prompted this post so I could share it with you all. It’s not just about retirement, but about healthy relationships in general. I won’t cover it here but you can easily read the headings, or read it entirely if you find it interesting.

The main points in the article that stood out to me were #5, “A Healthy Relationship means Two Healthy Individuals” and #6 “Give Each Other Space”. Maybe with the opportunity for so much time together it’s easier to lose your own individual space and interests, and that’s probably not the best thing for long term happiness in a relationship.

I have heard about a few relationships here that have failed. I hope they are the exception and as many of us as possible will be even happier in our retirement years.

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A Visit to Boquete

We decided to go visit the Tuesday Market today and connect with some friends. There is a market every Tuesday morning where they sell food, jewelry, coffee, soap, plants, chocolate, and all kinds of things and it’s one of the events recommended for expats who want to meet other expats. I was surprised at how big the market has become! Part of it is this time right before Christmas but still, there were people everywhere, vendors in every possible space and shoppers elbow to elbow throughout the market.

I was only on a mission to get some hydroponic greens, and then I left with my friend for lunch and some time for chatting and catching up.

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Boquete can be just gorgeous and today did not disappoint. This is the view of Volcan Baru from my friends’ front yard. Baru is the highest point in Panama and an active volcano, though thankfully it has been dormant for 400+ years. It’s a beautiful mountain covered with lush forest and I never get tired of seeing it.

As we left our friends house we saw a very common sight, water pipes lying on the ground. Since it never freezes this works though sometimes one gets a hole and then there is a fountain. Boquete has many different water systems and a lot of water problems, but right now they are digging up the town everywhere to put in new and better water lines. People aren’t happy about the disruption in an already congested town but hopefully they will be happy with the results when it is finished.

As we drove down the mountain I couldn’t resist snapping a few more photos. There is a line of clouds that always seems to moving south off the mountain. Sometimes there are lots of clouds and sometimes only a few but I can’t remember seeing it totally without clouds. There must be areas over there that are constantly fogged in but from where we were, it’s always beautiful.

On the way down, just a bit above Las Molinas we passed this interesting construction in progress. It is going to be a lighthouse with great views and the largest children’s play area in Central America. There is an article here.

Then it was a matter of enjoying the rest of the ride home on the great new road, and looking at the clouds and scenery. Now I’m back at my house sitting gig. I was complaining that this neighborhood is too quiet for me, and today the neighbors are having a party complete with a mariachi band. How fun is that!

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Dogs and Iguanas

Usually not a recommended pairing! My last post mentioned my current house sitting and dog tending gig, and the iguana that was chased into the pool, and now I have requests for photos of both.

Don’t get excited. They are not great photos but it is what I have.

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This was taken just before I released the iguana. I had to get her (I think it’s a her) over two fences in the net attached to a very long pole, while dodging two very excited dogs, while trying not to lose the phone I had grabbed for a photo, and this is what I got. I am happy to say that when I finally tipped her out of the net she ran for the nearby bushes and when I looked a few minutes later, she was nowhere to be seen.

Here are the iguana chasing dogs.

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Ria was very happy to look at me and wag her tail for the photos. Cleo, not so much. I called her into the kitchen where there was light, but she only made a quick circuit of the room and dashed back to the hallway where there wasn’t light. There are  outdoor lights! Let’s try that.

I had about as much success getting Cleo to pose for photos has I had getting her in the house so I could rescue the iguana in peace. But, the iguana survived, the dogs are both ok, the house is still intact, and I have achieved my house sitting goals for today.

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