Panama is in the “Ring of Fire“,  a series of volcanoes and plate movements where the majority of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. We have felt a number of earthquakes since we have been in Panama.

By Gringer (talk) 23:52, 10 February 2009 (UTC) – vector data from [1], Public Domain,

There are a number of tectonic plates under us in including the Caribbean Plate, and when they shift around we are likely to feel the ground shifting underneath us.

Look, we even have our own Panama Plate!

We were in Boquete Sunday evening. The band was packing up after their afternoon gig, and I was seated and talking when everything started to bump, shake, and roll. I heard glass breaking as something fell off the shelf in the bar. It’s a very strange sensation, like a sudden loss of equilibrium. You expect the ground to be a solid thing under you and when it isn’t, it takes a moment to figure out what’s going on. I can see how it would be frightening because there is no where to go, nothing to do except maybe get out of the way of anything that could fall on you. Thankfully here, in our experience, the quakes cause minimal damage beyond things falling off shelves, like in this David supermarket.

This quake was a 5.3 in Cerro Punta. If you look at Volcan Baru from above, our nearby volcano, Boquete is at about at 3 o’clock, and Cerro Punta is about 12 o’clock so the epicenter wasn’t far. The quake was strong enough that it was felt all the way through central Panama. People said there were two aftershocks following the main quake, but we were probably driving home then and didn’t feel them.

Then Monday, yesterday, we were in Boquete again enjoying an afternoon pot luck. I was again seated and talking with someone when we felt the ground shake. This felt short and mild, but it still registered 4.1 and was again located in Cerro Punta.

Here’s the link to an earthquake tracking site, and as you can see we have quite a few in this area.  We don’t always feel them depending on how strong they are and what we are doing, but if we miss one we definitely hear about it because it’s the talk of the town for a day or two. El tremblor! Lo sentiste? Si si, muy fuerte! Wao. (thankfully not much goes on around here, so an event like this is a big deal)

Since we were in Boquete, I’ll close with a few photos taken yesterday.

It did rain in Boquete but not until after we arrived, and it stopped by the time we left so we got lucky. They got a good soaking but there wasn’t a drop of rain in David. We had quite a bit on Sunday though so we are very happy.

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Thank Goodness for Internet and Social Media

A big concern of people moving to another country is staying in touch with family and friends. Internet was on my own “absolutely must have ” list. I actually see more of my family now than I did before because we use Skype and Facetime instead of just the phone. I can see my daughters while we talk and watch the grandkids run around which is totally cool!

Facebook has also added so much to our communication. We have a family group where we share messages, photos, and videos, and I’m notified when new photos and updates are posted on their pages. I communicate much more often with my sister, and have connected with friends who I haven’t seen or talked with in years.

Today though, I woke up to something that had the tears running down my face. My sister was also adopted. She searched for her biological mother a while back (unfortunately deceased), and eventually found an obituary of her mother’s brother that listed 5 children. My sister checked Facebook and sure enough, there were some of these cousins. She sent one a message and as they say, the rest was history.

Word spread among the cousins and the rest of the family, and they were thrilled to welcome her into the family. They all connected on Facebook, and she met one cousin who happened to live close to her. This weekend though she went to Boston to meet a whole lot more cousins and family members. This morning I saw photo after photo of my happy sister with all these new smiling family members! It’s a beautiful thing.

I wrote a post in the past about being adopted, about growing up not related to anyone, not connected with anyone else. Now to see my sister with all this family, all these new wonderful people who are being so welcoming to her, oh yes I needed a tissue.

An aside, in case you wonder, I found my birth mother when I was in my late 20’s and we have shared a very warm and happy relationship over the years. She and I communicate mainly by email but we are also connected on… of course… Facebook!

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More Summer Flowers

It’s a hot afternoon so I’m sitting on the terrace with a fan, sipping passionade (like lemonade but with passion fruit juice) and listening to a multitude of bird songs in every direction while I sort photos. Mi vida dificil (my difficult life)

I have just started a series of watercolor classes in Boquete which I think are going to be very interesting and helpful. The first class was held in a beautiful spot with this view of the mountains.

There are a few blooms here at my house. Thankfully I am upwind of the carrion flower while I sit on the terrace, but I still get a whiff of it now and then. I’m facing my neighbor’s orchids so I think I get to enjoy them more than they do. Everyone is enjoying guanabanas (soursop) though! My tree has gone nuts this year, producing so many fruits I can hardly give them all away. Most of them are too high up so we don’t get them until they splat to the ground, but I have managed to pick a few of the lower ones before they fall. We have been getting 4-8 fruits a day for a couple weeks now! The Panamanians think guanabana is an expensive wonderful treat so with fruit either whole or squashed,  they are all happy to see me coming.

Who wanted to see chickens? I saw this hen and her chicks when I stopped for a water break. What is exciting about street signs? This is Panama. There are no street signs and there are no addresses. Thankfully this is starting to change and more street signs are showing up. These are in a residential neighborhood where I wouldn’t think signs are a priority but hey, we’ll take them and appreciate them. The ALTO is a stop sign, often treated as only a suggestion, and the other sign is for the neighborhood watch. Be careful! We are observing you. Thanks to the signs, I now know that we live above Urbanizacion (neighborhood) Anayansi.

Just a few more flowers –

We went to Boquete on Thursday. Joel’s band had a gig in a new place and it was a very fun evening. On the way though we ran into rain, and then as we got further up it was an interesting sight with wisps of clouds on the ground and tucked between hills.

Last but not least, we had rain last night! It wasn’t a huge rain, but enough to drip off the roof and get everything wet. When I came out to relax before bed, the air was heavy and damp with humidity. I hadn’t felt that in a while. There is hope. Things will be cooler and greener soon.

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Why US Expats are Obsessed with Health Care

I saw this excellent article here.

Availability and cost of health care and health insurance are topics that come up frequently in the expat forums and discussion groups. In the US we worry so much about health care that we can’t imagine not worrying about it when we live somewhere else.

Everyone has to figure out what will work best in their situation. Ourselves, we don’t have any health problems (knock on wood) so we don’t have insurance in Panama. We do have money set aside for emergencies though, and coverage in the US (thank you Obamacare and VA!) Others I know have international insurance policies. Heath care is inexpensive in Panama in the private system, and even cheaper in the public system which isn’t fancy, but you will get the care you need.

Read the article for more thoughts and actual experiences with the health care in Panama vs the USA.

The last line sums it up – “And that, my friends, is why US expats seem obsessed with health care. We are one illness or medical emergency away from bankruptcy even with insurance

This is just one more reason I am very thankful to be in Panama.

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Summer Flowers

It is the last week of March, the height of summer. By this time every year I am very tired of summer. It’s hot, windy, and very dry. It rained a month ago while we were away but otherwise, since late December, we have only seen a couple sprinkles. It seems like most days we are without water for part of the day which isn’t a huge deal, but it’s inconvenient. Thankfully though, they still haven’t fixed our electric meter so the extra AC isn’t costing us more.  And, thankfully, it seems like there have been few problems with brush fires this summer, and least in this area.

But, for all my complaining there are good things, like new flowers and fruits that you don’t see at other times of the year. I have some random photos of these and other things I found in my camera.

This one isn’t a Panama flower, but I did get it here are La Feria. It’s a carrion plant flower, or Stapelia Gigantea, a native of Southeast Africa. The flower has a mild (thank goodness) smell of rotting meat, but it did a good job of attracting flies and ants. The third photo is of heliconia roots. We had some heliconias just appear in the yard and though they are pretty, they sprouted in places we would rather use for something else. I sure was surprised at the extent of the root systems though! This is only one of many we dug out.

One evening we had a gorgeous sunset. We are in a lower part of the neighborhood, not high enough to see the setting sun but sometimes we see some beautiful colors in the sky anyway.

OK, some flowers, as promised!

We went to Pricesmart yesterday. We got there earlier than usual, and I had forgotten about the rules that say you can’t buy alcohol before 11AM,so I had some time to kill. I wandered over to Chiriqui Mall to see how the construction was coming along. I noticed sertracen was packed and people were waiting outside to get in. This is where you get your drivers licenses. To the right is a bank, and to the right of that the immigration office. Both of these were fairly quiet. If you are looking for these offices, stand in front of the movie theater and they are right across the parking lot.

Since we are checking construction sites, here are a couple more.

I’ve been trying to get back to biking more. I do enjoy seeing what is going on around town and exchanging greetings with everyone. It’s just getting started… it’s hot, it’s too windy, I’m not feeling energetic today… I can make lots of excuses. But once I get out there I always enjoy myself.

In our neighborhood there are a couple mariñon (cashew) trees starting to fruit. I never thought about how cashews grow until I discovered them here. Each nut grows individually at the bottom of a fruit. The fruit very delicate so it doesn’t transport well at all. People here use it to make a fruit drink, and sometimes chop it up and cook it with some cinnamon and sweetener. For me it has an odd almost musky taste and smell, but it’s not unpleasant. The nuts have a toxic substance so they must be heated to neutralize it. Traditionally people roast them over a wood fire until they are pretty black and burned looking, and then crack the shell to get the nut inside. Roasted this way they have a wonderful smoked flavor and I like them better than cashews from the supermarket. It’s no wonder they are expensive though. One tree doesn’t produce that many nuts and they are a lot of work.

The last photo is one of those yellow flowering trees. I’ve seen others with many more flowers that look much more spectacular, but this is our neighborhood tree and we love it just the same.

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Observations – Regarding Moving To Panama

There is an excellent article today on Chiriqui Chatter.

Here’s just a little of it:

“I know I haven’t posted much lately, but I have several items consuming my time. However, I have had some time to observe several Yahoo groups and the Internet conversations about the frustration of the new immigration laws that Panama is enforcing.

For those considering retiring in Panama, this should have no major ill effect. I still maintain you should live here, as you would if you were a permanent resident, for a minimum of 6 months, prior to deciding to move here.

You should use that time for a test run to allow experiencing both the rainy and the dry seasons. That is not hard to do, but it does require effort. You should keep in mind that some locations have extra risks during the rainy season , such as bridge outages or land slides.

During that time you need to do a real due diligence to see if Panama is right for you.

I suggest several items for your due diligence.”

Read the rest of the article at the link here. If you are considering moving to Panama, (or anywhere for that matter,)  it is well worth your time.  Also read the comments.

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Mosquito Patrol

The Ministerio de Salud (Health Department) paid us a visit yesterday. They were going house to house to check for standing water and to educate people on mosquito control.

The first time they did this was last October which made sense. It was the height of rainy season and the Zika virus was a big topic of conversation and worry. A very nice man walked around the yard, educated me about the dangers of standing water, and explained how he was doing all he could to teach people about controlling mosquitoes which helps prevent the diseases they carry.

My house was numbered #115 (nothing to do with #110 on the post in front, or #90 that has been scratched out. 115 is only for the health department records) He stuck a paper high on our laundry room door. (It’s looking a bit worse for wear after being out in the humidity for months.)

The paper says you are prohibited from destroying or damaging the paper, under threat of a fine.

Yesterday we had another visit from the health department. The lady marched right into the yard, turned over my gardening bucket, dumped out a glass of water we had next to the potted plants, signed the paper, and left. She said she had been out all day working in this hot sun though, and was trying to earn enough money to go to university so I can’t blame her for not wanting to hang around and chat.

It is the height of dry season now and I think I have seen one mosquito in the last two months. My “office” is outside on the terrace so I’m quite aware of what is flying around. Even in the rainiest part of the rainy season, I would see maybe 3-4 in an evening, usually around dusk, and rarely the aedes aegypti, the type that carries zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya.  They are easy to spot because they are larger and have the white bands on their legs (photo below from Wikipedia)

By Muhammad Mahdi Karim – Own work, GFDL 1.2,

I am very surprised at how few mosquitoes there are here. Everywhere I have lived in the US has had enough mosquitoes that staying outside as dusk approaches is about impossible. I remember visiting the Florida Keys where a truck came around twice a week to spray, but swarms of mosquitoes started attacking as soon as dusk approached. Here, I have never seen mosquito spraying. It is possible that they spray and I have missed it, but I don’t think it has happened in my neighborhood because I spend a lot of time outside and notice who comes and goes.

We do have mosquito born diseases here though. The death rate of people building the canal was very high, and mostly from yellow fever. Today however, it is not a problem unless you go to the Darien and jungles of eastern Panama, where you are not supposed to be anyway.  (according to this CDC page here)  Malaria is also not considered a problem, except again in the Darien (it is carried by a different mosquito though, the Anopheles mosquito)

But, it is possible to get other diseases. There have been a few cases of Zika in Chiriqui according to the reports, though I don’t know anyone personally who has been affected or who knows of someone affected. Zika is usually a mild illness but it has been reported to cause birth defects, so pregnant women are advised to take all possible precautions.

Dengue is also possible, but again I don’t know anyone affected in this area. A friend in Pedasi got it a couple years ago though, and said there were quite a few cases there at that time. Dengue can make you very sick for quite a while. From what I understand, there are different varieties of dengue and you will be immune to the one you got, but if you get one of the others you maybe be sicker than you were the first time, and even develop dengue hemorrhagic fever which can be deadly.

There is also chikungunya, a very nasty illness. I haven’t heard of anyone in Panama getting it, though I know it is possible. Friends in Nicaragua and Ecuador have had it though, and suffered terribly with joint pain to the point that they needed help taking care of themselves at times, and the pain lasted for many months. Of course no one wants any of these illnesses, but chikungunya seems to have caused the most havoc to those I know who have gotten it.

So, that’s all I know about mosquitoes and mosquito born illnesses in this area. This is the rainy tropics for most of the year so I never expected so few mosquitoes. Maybe a thank you is in order to our lizards, birds, and bats for keeping the population down.

Posted in Panama | 24 Comments

New Bus Terminal, and a Few Other Things

The day started with a motmot eating his breakfast as we ate ours. I couldn’t see exactly what he had, but I think it was a butterfly.

After breakfast I set out for a ride. As I left the neighborhood, I came across the neighborhood cows loose in the street. They are quite shy so I got off my bike and stood by the side of the road as they walked by. We found out in the past that they will stampede away in fear if they see a cyclist riding towards them!. They didn’t seem happy to see me today but at least they managed to stay calm.

I decided to check the site where they are building the new bus terminal and the Federal Mall. They were moving dirt around for the longest time and it didn’t look like much was happening, but now things are definitely happening, and happening fast!

Of course with anything new, there are different opinions. Right now all buses go to the terminal downtown so it won’t be as convenient for many when that changes. But, downtown is crowded and congested and there is minimal parking. The new site will have a lot of space, parking, and easy access to main roads.  Below is a promotional video showing what the terminal will be like when it is finished.

I couldn’t find much to share about the mall, but word is that it is being built by the same people who built Albrook Mall in Panama City, and it may be as big.

I also checked on the huge palm tree that has been doing interesting things.

I don’t know what is going to happen to the tree eventually. Since all this flowering and seeding is going on at the top where new leaves usually emerge, it could be the final stage of its life.

A couple days ago we saw a plane flying overhead. I know to most people this isn’t remarkable but here, we almost never see that. We can hear some of the flights as they land and take off at the airport, but we usually don’t see them. We don’t see contrails in the sky either. That was strange at first. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere without contrails.

Last, but not least, I was sweeping and accidentally tossed this bug on its back. I rescued it on a leaf where it was kind enough to stay for a while so I could take some photos.

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Feria Internacional de David

The Feria Internacional de David (the International Fair of David) is a big event held every March. It is attended by around 350,000 people, and attracts 500 vendors and exhibitors from Panama and many neighboring countries. New ideas and technologies are on display, and there are many local business promoting their products and services. At night, it is party central with both live music and recorded music for dancing and enjoyment of everyone (except maybe not nearby residents because it goes on all night and it’s LOUD!)

I went with my friend and neighbor, and a couple new expats who live nearby. I didn’t expect to see anything different so I didn’t plan to take photos but of course, I found a few things after all.

There was ice skating. I don’t remember seeing ice skating before. The kids seemed to be doing very well! They either learn fast or they had skated somewhere before.

Of course there was shopping. There are a number of buildings totally full of vendors with clothes, jewelry, shoes, bags, toys, and other things too numerous to list. I don’t think I have ever seen so many shoes! This time I did well to resist all the cute little girl clothes (I already bought some unique hand made dresses for my granddaughters in Cuba, so I won’t arrive empty handed).

There was a stage with children performing traditional dances. The little girl in white was beyond adorable!

There were a few other things I didn’t remember. I’m sure the train has been there in the past, but the zip line? I don’t remember that. It wasn’t in use at the time though. Since this is an agricultural area there was a lot of farm equipment on display, and “furniture row” with the huge selection of furniture is always interesting. It must be a hard life for the workers though. In the back they were busily working on more furniture, and I can’t even imagine the logistics of loading all that up and taking it from place to place. As far as I could tell, they were all from Nicaragua.

There are fun things for the kids, a little amusement park, and I was going to say pony rides but as you can see, there are more than ponies. The tiny kid on the huge bull was so cute! The kids on the mechanical bull were also fun to watch. It was slow so they didn’t have trouble staying on it.

Of course there were animals. We didn’t spend a lot of time there but I caught a few on camera as we strolled though.

We wandered on and completed our circuit of the fair grounds.

By now it was getting dark, and my friend who gets up at 4:30 for work was fading fast.

It was a fun time at the fair wandering around and seeing everything, and I enjoyed spending time with the people in our little group. And, with my old retired people discount it only cost $1 to get in, so why not go!

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No More Immigration News

It seems like the recent immigration changes are the biggest topic of conversation lately. Nothing new has happened in the last couple days so I’m happy to turn my attention to just some mundane bits of life that have been my recent experience.

We had an interesting thing in the neighborhood a few days ago. They were filming a reenactment of a crime for a TV show. Apparently there was a home invasion in a nearby town a year or so ago. The neighbors heard the woman screaming, called the police, and they came in time to rescue the family and arrest the criminal.

I stopped by a vacant lot with some huge mango trees the other day, one of the places I go to look for fruit. If mangoes are on the ground and no one is picking them up, I figure they are fair game. I picked up so many last year that I still have some in the freezer.

I’m back to painting class. I’m feeling in a bit of a rut, but I discovered a collection of books at the school and brought one home. I need to learn about techniques, composition, etc. lots of things I haven’t covered yet. I know there is more to it than finding something I like and trying to paint that. But, I did finally finish my latest, a request from a good friend.

Last night we drove up to Boquete. Me3 (Joel’s band) had a gig at Mike’s Global and it was fantastic. With various travel plans they hadn’t played together for a while, and it was like they were on fire with energy. The place was standing room only and the dance floor was packed for every song. It was SO much fun! (If you missed it come back on March 1st. They will be back)

It’s always a beautiful drive into the mountains in the late afternoon. It’s hot and dry down here but in the mountains, even in summer, sometimes there is rain and often there is a wet mist. This can make for fantastic rainbows and last night we were treated to an especially beautiful and vivid one.

Of course if there is an interesting bug I will be reaching for my camera. Joel spotted this one on our potted plants.

It continues to be summer down here. It’s dry, the winds are blowing hard, dust clouds are blowing down the street and my neighbor is very frustrated that it’s impossible to keep her house clean. The cucarones are whistling up a storm, even at times in the daytime.  The water was on long enough to water plants, do some laundry, and clean up the kitchen but now there isn’t a drop coming out of the faucet. We have water on hand so it isn’t a big deal, but it seems to be happening almost every day lately.

Today is the Calbalgata, the horse parade in town. Thousands of horses and riders from everywhere come to participate. I don’t think we are going since we have been before. The Feria is also going on, and we do plan to go with some friends tomorrow afternoon after the sun is lower in the sky, but before the night time crowds arrive. I don’t plan to buy anything because I don’t need anything (my neighbors think this is very strange). It’s always interesting to look at everything though.

Retirement, when you wonder how you ever had time to work.

Posted in Panama | 18 Comments