Because of the Tamales

COVID has been a total pain all over the world and it seems like it’s never going to end. But, there have also been some good things. Here in Panama I’ve seen friends and neighbors band together to help each other through, and people were creative and resourceful to get by. Everyone needs to eat so there was an explosion of produce stands and people making food at home to sell.

Many people suffered loss of income and I was especially worried about our musician friends. We are friends with a family of excellent musicians, Adhi (singer), Lucho (guitar) and Arya (bass). I’ve always been amazed by Arya’s talent and skills, but he’s quiet and introverted so we only said a few words to each other on a few occasions. But, along came COVID and there went all his gigs and work, so to get by he started making tamales.

I bought lots of food from many people. Tamales? Oh yes! They are a lot of work to make and I love them. I had Arya’s delicious tamales for lunch for weeks and weeks, and then his equally delicious empanadas. He delivered them with his friend Mabel, and he and I talked a little more every time. When he didn’t deliver, Adhi’s husband Juan came by so we also became friends (he’s a drummer, chef, and tour guide).

Fast forward a year or more, to when life started to return to something resembling normal, and musicians were able to play again. Our first times out to hear live music were Adhi and her musical partner Dario, and then the Hashtag band with Lucho, Arya, Adhi, and other friends. It was heaven! It was wonderful to be out, to hear live music, to see our friends, to feel like we were coming back to life. Soon our band started playing again too and they would come to hear us when they could, and we continued to come out for other musicians when we could.

Picture stolen from Facebook. Lucho is in the shadows on the left. Adhi is in the center. Arya is on the right in front of another guitar player. That’s his Fender bass before it got the fretless neck.

Our friendships have deepened in the months since we’ve all been playing again. Arya has learned English and he’s getting better and better. And, come to find out that Lucho also speaks a lot of English so he and Joel have been able to talk about guitar things. Arya also spent his time at home working on singing, and now he’s really really good. Lucho has started singing backup so with Adhi, who always has been amazing, so now they have three singers in the band. And the band in general keeps getting better and better, so it’s all really cool to see.

Then, through a series of crazy coincidences and being in the right place at the right time, I was able to buy and refurbish a fretless Fender bass. The previous owner also gave me the fretless neck that was on it when he bought it, so I gave that to Arya. Since Arya also has a Fender, it worked out for him. With his skills and artistry, he’s definitely one who should have a fretless! They are more challenging to play but they have a unique tone and feel, more like a voice or an upright bass and if you are really skilled you can do things you can’t do on a fretted bass.

This really nice friendship with a family of great musicians got off the ground with the weekly tamale deliveries. Who would have thought?

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A Bit of Health Care

Joel had a lump on his neck that we thought should be looked at to be sure it wasn’t anything to worry about. I started by calling Mae Lewis Hospital to find a doctor we knew from when she gave Joel’s mother outstanding care. The receptionist routed me to her secretary who gave me a phone number to call. Who’s phone number is this? The doctor’s number.

I call, and the doctor herself answers! Sure, she would be happy to help but she is on vacation until January 20th. I could hardly believe it. The doctor answers her own calls even when she is on vacation?! Never, ever in the US did I have a doctor’s cell phone number, and I was a nurse for decades. We had to call the office, give a message to the secretary who would pass it off to the office nurse, and eventually we’d get a call back with the answer. After hours we called the answering service and hope to get the doctor, not someone covering who didn’t know the patient. But here, some unknown person asks for an appointment and gets sent directly to the doctor herself. I was totally amazed!

But, we didn’t want to wait a month, so we went to Hospital Chiriqui to find the doctor they originally sent us to when Joel needed the document for his drivers license. His secretary wrote his cell phone number for us so we could contact him for an appointment. But wait, the other doctor could come in right now if we prefer. Before I could say anything the secretary was dialing his number with her cell phone, which she handed to me. His wife/secretary says they have a repairman at the house but if I don’t mind waiting, they will come in as soon as he is finished. I ask if tomorrow would be easier, and we decide on 10am. This is the same doctor who did the drivers license document Errands and Renewing the Driver’s License I wasn’t impressed but I figured we’d see him again and see how it went.

We arrive at the appointed time and wait while he attends to a person before us, and then we are ushered into his office. He looks at Joel’s neck and carefully feels everything, and then says he doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about but he wants to do an ultrasound to be sure. We were instructed to go to the public hospital at 7:15 am Thursday morning. He writes his name, office number and some other basic info on a piece of paper and carefully explains to me where to go and who to ask for help in finding the right building. We give him $50 (which includes the upcoming ultrasound) and he adds it to the other cash on his desk.

This is our first experience with the public hospital system and the huge medical complex on the west side of town. We show the paper to a security guard who directs us to the first of the three tall and identical new buildings and tells us the entrance is in the front. We go in and are met by a lady in a blue vest who looks at our paper and directs us to the first floor (which for us who count the ground floor as first, would be the second floor). When we arrive we are greeted by another lady in a blue vest who directs us to sit in a waiting area full of chairs.

It was interesting to see how things work here. A nurse would come to the waiting area from one of the hallways and ask for anyone who is waiting to see Dr. (whoever). A handful of people would approach her and she would write down their names. We also saw nurses going to the reception/office area in the front to pick up folders of what must have been medical records. Then, the nurses started calling patients one by one and taking them back down the hallways. Our doctor came out himself and told us he was seeing one man and then he would be back for us.

Everything was white and new looking, no pictures on the walls, no colors, but totally comfortable and functional. There were huge windows behind us looking on to the parking area and the sun was streaming in. The doctor’s office was the same, all white, a small desk and one chair inside, and then behind that a slightly bigger room with a large window, an exam table and the ultrasound machine. He carefully scanned Joel’s whole neck and snapped some pictures so he could show Joel was he was seeing on the scans. There was a large, dark thing that looked like a round bubble. He explained that it was a fluid filled cyst. There are no 100% guarantees in medicine but he was quite sure it was nothing dangerous. He could surgically remove it (though it might come back), drain the fluid with a needle (hard to do with the thick fluid and it would likely refill itself) and or just leave it alone. Joel opted to just leave it alone.

Throughout our time the doctor was extremely gentle and careful with Joel, especially getting him up off the table and making sure he wasn’t dizzy. He carefully explained everything to me in detail and made sure I understood what he was saying (he speaks very little English, and Joel very little Spanish so I was the go between). Both of us were very happy with the care and the health system in general.

The biggest differences I see between here and the US is the relaxed and caring attitude. I’m not saying US doctors aren’t caring, but they are stressed and very busy and have to keep the line moving and the money coming in to cover their multitude of expenses. Here you feel like you have the doctor’s time and attention for however long it takes to be sure you have everything you need. The other big difference I see is the lack of CYA paperwork and questions. The doctor focuses on the problem you bring to him, and it’s your responsibility to tell him anything else he needs to know. He only asked Joel his age, nothing about medications or other health problems (thankfully there are none). I imagine he saved Joel’s basic info and scan pictures in his laptop, but there was no paperwork.

People pay into the public health care system here and I have no experience with that, but I imagine it’s uncomplicated. And, judging by the folders being picked up, I imagine people with ongoing care have records with their information and history. I do know first hand that doctors in the US have piles of paperwork and staff who’s whole job is submitting claims to insurance and Medicare and jumping through hoops trying to get paid. Ugh. Myself, by the time I retired from home health, I was spending 50% of my time at my desk, not with patients, and we had a whole office staff who did nothing but paperwork and office work. If everything wasn’t exactly perfect they would deny the whole case, and appeals took many months. If we didn’t get paid we couldn’t keep the doors open and provide care for anyone. It felt like a smaller and smaller amount of care and time was going to the patients because we were so focused on paperwork. I worked for one company that was totally computerized and another that was totally paper, and they both took the same amount of desk time so computerization didn’t seem to help. I am very thankful to be away from all that both as a nurse and a consumer. It’s such peace of mind to know that care here is so accessible and affordable, and given with such heart as if you were a family member. Thank you Panama.

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Is It Summer?

Summer, or the dry season, usually arrives in December and leaves in mid April. The rest of the year is the rainy season. However, this December, we seem a bit confused.

I like the rain so I’m not complaining. It keeps everything lush and green and cools us off in the afternoon. In the rainy season you usually wake up to sunny skies and lovely weather. In the afternoon the clouds gather and it rains for a while, and clears up again in the evening. There are days when it rains a lot, sometimes with very impressive downpours, and other days when it doesn’t rain at all. But if you plan outdoor activities in the morning you’ll usually be fine.

Dry season is just what the name implies. There’s usually no rain at all. The plants suffer from the lack of rain, things turn brown and crispy, and brush fires are possible. Many days are also windy because the trade winds blow at this time of year. If people clear their land by burning it’s very possible for the fires to get out of hand. Thankfully though, this happens enough that there isn’t enough growth to fuel a huge fire, and concrete block houses won’t burn. It also gets hot in the dry season. December and January are ok, February is heating up, and by March and April we are really really looking forward to the return of the cooling rains.

This is just a general description of the weather on the Pacific side of Panama. It’s different on the Caribbean side and rain can come at any time. There is also a greater chance of rain in the mountains near us in the dry season. If you want an interesting but very detailed explanation of why the weather here does what it does, check this link. It’s about Costa Rica but they are right next door so it applies here as well.

Click to access Climate%20&%20Ecological%20Zones%20of%20Costa%20Rica.pdf

Our weather this December has been quite a mixture. There are days of bright sun, blue skies, and wind. There have been other days that are overcast and rainy. There have even been days of clear, windy summer weather in the morning and rain in the afternoon. Today, 22nd of December, it was clear and breezy this morning but now, at 2pm, some very dark gray clouds are moving in so we’ll see what the rest of today holds.

On a totally different subject, I ran across this article about volcanos and tectonic plates in this area. Central America has many volcanoes that spit out gasses, lava, and ash. We are below a large volcano here but thankfully it’s been sleeping for 400+ years and never spits out anything.

After living most of my life where Christmas means snow and cold weather, it was an adjustment to live in Florida, and especially here in Panama. Here it’s warm and sunny, and the beginning of summer vacation for the school kids. Panamanians definitely celebrate the holidays though with lights, decorations, parties, gifts, and lots of fireworks. Summer also tends to be a time of home improvement since you don’t have to worry about the afternoon rains and muddy work sites. When I talk with friends up north though, I am reminded that you all are dealing with the start of the winter season and all that involves. I hope you all are ok, and I’ll be happy to experience it from afar.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!

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Errands and Renewing the Driver’s License

It’s December, just a few days before Christmas. They take Christmas very seriously around here so the city, and especially the shopping areas, tend to be super busy. But, we had things to do. And somehow, we were super lucky with everything!

We needed to renew the car insurance. The office is downtown at Cervantes Park, and there is never any parking down there. So, Joel waited in the car while I went upstairs to the office. The very sweet ladies had my papers waiting for me and I was ready to go in no time. Chatting and catching up on how everyone has been doing took most of the time!

Then, I came home and took my Fender bass apart. I bought new pickups (the electronic parts that send the signal to the amplifier), new strings, and a new pickguard (the plastic part of the front of the guitar). I was really pleased with the ease of installation, and also happy that Joel was with me. It didn’t work – maybe try switching those two wires – that did it! until I put everything back together… but Joel realized that the metal shielding on the back of the pickguard was transmitting a signal from one knob to another. We scraped off the shielding behind one of the knobs so it wasn’t touching, and I was back in business. It looks and sounds wonderful and I’m very happy! I found out that the grounding wire is necessary to prevent a constant low buzz, so Joel soldered that in today. Tomorrow if all is well, I’ll put everything in place and put all the screws back in.

Then we had a zoom meeting with an estate planning lawyer. We’re not getting any younger and I’m relieved to be getting organized. I didn’t know you can hire people to manage your finances, your health care decisions, and serve as executor of your estate as these needs arise. Hopefully our kids won’t have to worry about a thing down the road. My neighbor and good friend was not happy to hear we are doing this because like her, we are going to live forever, but when your family has parents living in another country I think it’s even more important to be realistic.

That was yesterday. Today, we decided to tackle Pricesmart. We’ve been gone for a while and the shopping list was growing. We were prepared to deal with holiday crowds, but there was nothing! Maybe it’s because it’s the day before payday for most people. and they are waiting for their money? Traffic was very reasonable, there were police helping with traffic at busy intersections, and Pricesmart was pretty calm. Yay!

So, next project, get Joel’s driver’s license renewed. He’s over 70 so it needs to be done every 2 years, and he needs a document from a doctor stating he is in good enough health to drive. We headed to Chiriqui Hospital where you can usually get a doctor on the spot. The first guy they recommended was out for the day, but his secretary took us down the hall to another office. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the doctor and his secretary to come back from lunch, and then we were seen…. well I don’t know if we could even go as far as to say Joel was seen. ha! The doctor asked for ID, printed the document, had Joel check that the info was correct, and done. Pay the secretary $40 on your way out. He didn’t ask Joel as much as an “how are you”. But we had what was needed, so were happy.

Then, off to the Sertracen office where they issued licenses. Traffic again was very reasonable, and there was a policeman directing traffic in front of Chiriqui Mall (thank you, because it’s usually a mess there!). We found a parking spot quickly and went into the office, and there was nobody! No line, no wait, no crowd, wonderful! They took Joel’s info, sent him to talk with a gal who verified all his info, took his picture, and gave him the vision test. The test was so funny! Here is a circle missing a bit, kind of like the letter C. Now tell us where the missing spot is pointing, to this side, to that corner, etc. Thank goodness there was a guy who could explain it in English because I had no idea what she was trying to tell us. Is that circle a car? and it wants to go that way? Or is it me wanting to go there? I had NO idea! And, she was explaining it with a card and the actual test was on the computer.

Next was the hearing test. Joel wears hearing aids, and the higher frequencies are especially troublesome. He said he guessed at a lot. If the last sound was in my right ear, maybe I’ll say I heard something in my left ear next. But whatever he did worked, and they passed him on to the cashier. It usually costs $40 but with all his discounts for his age, it was $16. Then, go over there and get your new license. Again, he was asked to verify that everything was correct, and we were done. Whew!

You really shouldn’t drive without a license, ID, and paperwork in the car (title, insurance, and the paper that says you paid for your license place if you weren’t able to get one). There are police checkpoints here and there and if they ask and you don’t have, you could get your car towed which is an expensive hassle. Legally you are also supposed to carry a driver’s manual, accident form, fire extinguisher, and a reflector in case you are stopped on the side of the road.

After all that, we realized we didn’t get any milk at Pricesmart, which was at the top of the list. *sigh*. So, we stopped at El Rey supermarkets on our way home. It wasn’t crowded either and we had no problems.

That was a lot of stuff in a couple days! We do have many relaxed days but it’s also regular life, and there are things you have to get done. We still have to go down the street and pay the electric bill, and the veggie guy comes tomorrow. But nothing else major is planned for this week, not until Sunday when the band resumes our Sunday evening gigs.

I hope all your errands and activities are also going smoothly. Best wishes for a happy and fun holiday season! And as always, take care of yourselves and each other. Too many of us are dealing with too many challenges so check on your friends and neighbors, and help where you can.

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Back from the USA

We had a wonderful time! The hardest thing for me with Covid was not being able to see my family, and especially the grandchildren. Video chats are OK but definitely not the same, especially with young children. Travel is more of a hassle with the covid concerns but I’m so thankful that it is possible.

We started in California. My grandson and I played lots of Minecraft, and my granddaughter (with the rainbow cast on her broken leg) amazed me with her ability to hop everywhere on one leg when she didn’t feel like using her walker. She doesn’t read and write much yet, but that didn’t stop her from finding lots of videos of other kids with broken legs. She had tips on how to manage mobility, how to dress, and what to expect at the doctor when the cast comes off. Nobody told her to look for videos. She did that all on her own!

And, good news, the cast was removed while I was there and she was given a walking boot. She was hesitant to walk on the leg at first but every day she did a bit more, and today I got a video of her running down the sidewalk on both legs, and without the boot!

Next, we went to Seattle to see my other daughter and her family. Again, we had so much fun reading books, making arts and crafts things, working in the kitchen, and I can hardly remember everything but we were busy and having fun all the time. It was cold though. Seattle is cloudy and damp in the winter and the days are short. We are such delicate hothouse flowers after decades of living in warm climates. But I was with the people most important to me so I was super happy.

Travel is more of a hassle with covid. Every country has different requirements so the poor airlines have to keep up with it all and make sure everyone has what they need to enter their destination country. I flew on United and they did their best. They encouraged social distancing (impossible IN the plane though), handed out disinfecting wipes as you got on the plane, and made announcements that masks were to be ON and only removed for sips and bites, not the whole time you had a drink or snack in front of you. But still, there are no testing requirements to travel within the US, and none to enter Panama if you are fully vaccinated so you have no idea of the status of your fellow passengers. But on the positive side, I had some really fun and interesting seat neighbors which made the hours on the plane much nicer.

It always strikes me as strange. You wake up in one world, spend some hours on planes, and are landed in a very different world all in the same day. After Panama has become my “normal”, the US looks so neat and orderly. There are road signs everywhere and no potholes in the streets, and no weeds and overgrown areas anywhere. There is SO much stuff!! There are stores and more stores and more stores, all full of things to buy. There aren’t just carrots, but sliced carrots, baby carrots, orange or white or purple carrots, organic or not, carrots with tops or without…. same with onions, multiple varieties, and yogurt, and 94 different kinds of beer, and so on. There are restaurants everywhere you look, and delivery is available for everything, and quickly.

Yet, there are still people living in the street, or in cars and vans. There are still people suffering from lack of basic health care and basic necessities. Living in the US is super expensive!! Anytime I think something is expensive here in Panama I am given a reality slap in the face when I go shopping in the US. And housing? Crazy expensive. I know California and Seattle are expensive areas but sheesh. Nice but fairly ordinary single-family houses in my Seattle daughter’s neighborhood were selling for over $1 million, and hundreds of thousands over asking price. How do the people working in the supermarket or serving coffee afford to live? And, there are a lot of them serving coffee. There seems to be a Starbucks on everything other corner. I’m very thankful that both of my daughters have good jobs and good partners so they are doing very well. Unfortunately this is not so for too many other people.

We wake up every day and give thanks for our lives here. We have enough to cover all our expenses. We have a comfortable house, everything we need, good friends and neighbors, and health care if we need it. I’m blessed with four amazing grandkids, and I can visit whenever I want but I can’t see ever wanting to live in the US again. It just works so much better for us here, for a long list of reasons. But, I’m also thankful for the time I can spend with my family.

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Where in the World….

Where in the world is the blogger on this site?

I don’t know what happens. I keep busy every day and the days fly by. We may be retired in a beautiful place but we aren’t tourists. It’s regular life with chores and errands and routine stuff that needs to get done.

The car is misbehaving. The temperature gage randomly says it’s hot when it’s not. The mechanic nearby fixed everything on the list but this was still malfunctioning. So we took it to our regular guy in the next town which means time to take it in, and time to pick it up, and it’s still misbehaving *sigh*.

The dog needed her nails cut. She has black nails and I can’t see the quick so I’m afraid to cut them, so I get the vet to do it.

I got a new bass. It was a great find brought about by a series of lucky coincidences, but it involved a few days of repairs, cleanup, refinishing, and adjustments. And our Sunday gigs need preparation, practice, load up and set up, an evening of playing, tear down, loading …. you get the idea. And we also managed to have a band practice during the week for the first time in a while.

We had 2 1/2 weeks between our Belize trip and our USA trip for all this. No wonder I haven’t had much free time! We also fit in a supermarket run, some socializing, and some exercise. Hopefully things will be a little calmer when we get back.

Now I am in the USA with family, and we’re having a wonderful time! But we are also plenty busy with two active, energetic grandkids in the family. I have a moment here while the little one is at the doctor about her broken leg. She’s amazing though. She can hop all over on one foot, run around with the walker like nobody’s business, and she has looked up YouTube videos on her own by other kids with broken bones, so she has lots of information and tips on how to cope. It’s interesting to see how both kids use the internet extensively to look up information and learn new things.

The family has returned now with good news. my granddaughter has a walking boot and can start resuming normal activity as tolerated! yay! It’s been a tough few weeks.

I think I’ll close now and go back to playing with the kids. Maybe next week I’ll have some time to check in again. I hope all is well with you all out there! Take good care of yourselves and each other.

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Belize, the Party Boat

Yes, more boating, more time on the water! The main purpose of this trip, along with all the other fun stuff, was to celebrate Jane’s birthday. Tuesday was the day and Jane known how to organize a day in style. There’s a TV show called Below Decks about a luxury yacht. Of course there are various dramas and problems that make the show, but the guests who pay to be pampered hopefully know nothing about that and only have a great time. I felt like one of those guests!

It’s a house boat so there’s room to move around easily and it’s stable and smooth in the water. There’s a kitchen, front room area, a space for sitting on the front, and bathrooms and more space in the back. There’s also an upper deck with a covering for just hanging out and relaxing.

There was fresh fruit and juices waiting for us when we arrived. That’s the birthday girl in the second picture, and the upper deck in the third picture. We also had rum fruit punch, or rum pineapple ginger punch (my favorite) to sip on as we cruised along on the water. Gus was our tour guide and captain again, assisted by Leon and two lovely girls who spent most of the day in the kitchen.

We were taken to a swimming spot where they put out floating toys for us to relax on. There were also paddle boards and kayaks for anyone who wanted to use them. Leon, the assistant would walk out with a glass of whatever you wanted to drink, and chips and salsa was served on the water. Talk about feeling spoiled. Your every wish was attended to just for the asking.

Meanwhile, the girls were inside making a delicious lunch for us – tacos, chicken, beans, rice (with lime and cilantro – SO good), coleslaw, and a large assortment of salsas and condiments. I need to research Belizean food. There’s a lot of things I would love to have at home.

They guys were late for lunch because they went off fishing. But, they came back with a number of good sized fish which they cleaned and cooked on the spot. That’s a fresh as fish can possibly be! And of course, it was also delicious.

OH! I forgot! Yesterday on that boat trip when we went snorkeling, after we left the marine park Gene, the assistant, went diving for conch. He found quite a few, and they were cleaned and chopped and made into ceviche on the spot. They had a jar of chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion. They added the conch and lots of lime juice, and served it with corn chips. It was SO good. Our new comment which was used often is “this does not suck!”

So, back to the birthday party, we swam, ate lunch, ate fish, sipped punch, and hung out as the boat made it’s way through the water on a beautiful day. Meanwhile the girls made really yummy banana fritters for all of us. I’m glad I only ate a couple because then it was time for singing, well wishing, and birthday cake! Happy Birthday Jane, and thank you for including us in this wonderful celebration.

As we headed home, we passed quite a few of these fish traps. Gene explained that the fish swim along the shore, then along the fence which leads them into the enclosure through a funnel, and then they can’t find their way out. If there are pelicans on the fence there are fish, since any sensible pelican will appreciate the ease of catching fish in an enclosure. In the other picture you can see a distant island, Blackadore Caye. It belongs to Leonardo de Caprio. He wanted to make an eco friendly resort but they have been working on it for years and it’s still not ready. We also passed quite a few other resorts. They look beautiful but isolated, and some haven’t been finished or realized their investor’s dreams for whatever reason.

So, after a most enjoyable day with all our new friends, we made it back to the hotel for another nice dinner. We’re very happy with the Sunbreeze Hotel, and with the Blue Water Grill that is on site. It’s really nice to have such a comfortable place to land, and such an excellent restaurant. We’ve gotten to know most of the staff too and we’ve had a great time chatting with them and getting to know them.

It’s Thursday afternoon now, and we will head home tomorrow morning. As always, even after a really fun trip, it’s good to get home again. And for more good news, my granddaughter is doing well with her broken leg and probably won’t need any further treatment. Now her biggest problem seems to be boredom, and they are trying to get her back to school and back to whatever other normal activities she can manage.

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More Boating in Belize

It seems like all we have done is go out on boats, but when you’re in a beautiful place known for the clear water, a huge coral reef, and a marine park, why not.

We had an all day trip planned but we weren’t sure when, until I got a message on Monday to be ready to go at 10:30. The boat picked us up at the dock of the hotel where we are all staying, and headed out to the coral reef for some snorkeling while we snacked on fresh fruit. Many thanks to Sharon and her GoPro camera for these photos, and to Gus, our awesome tour guide, who also took some of these photos. There’s a young nurse shark, a barracuda that we found hanging out under the boat, a turtle, a ray, and other various fish we saw along the way.

The water was relatively calm but you still got rolled around a bit, and eventually it made me queasy. The guys on the boat made me coca cola with lime, and I was surprised at how much it helped, and very quickly.

It was interesting that on our way out we were met by an official who handed us arm bands. That said that our tour had paid the fees for going into the marine park. Our tour guide said they are a different color every day and you never know which color is coming next, which makes it hard to cheat the system.

Next stop – Shark Ray Alley where we could swim with sharks. I know it sounds creepy but they are harmless nurse sharks. They are still pretty big though. They have learned to come when they hear the boat because Gus had fish to toss to them. I was still a little queasy so getting back in the water wasn’t appealing, and I probably had a better view from the boat anyway.

Next, we headed off to Caye Caulker, a nearby island, for lunch. Joel drove the boat, I drove the boat, everyone got a chance to drive the boat! It wasn’t exactly hard – just keep it pointed in that general direction. ha! Gene was blowing on a conche shell, and Gus was conferring with Joel at the helm.

Lunch on the island was a traditional meal passed through a window at a little hole in the wall place by a nice lady, and we ate at a picnic table on the beach. Beans and rice, potato salad, chicken, a piece of fried plantain, and it was really really good. Sometimes you just can’t beat street food.

After lunch we set off to explore a few things on the island. The first stop was to feed the tarpon. They are protected so people don’t eat them, but they hang around in an area where people clean their fish and feed them scraps. We were taught to hold the tail of a fish between your thumb and knuckle of your first finger, and hold it over the water. The fish jump out of the water and smack your hand pretty hard when they grab the fish, but with your hand held flat they can’t bite you. (I don’t know why this one won’t embed, but the link works)

Here’s a few pictures of the tarpon area. Then, we walked to another area where they had nets in the water to help the vegetation and coral grow. That kind of striped thing in the middle of the 4th picture is a sea horse. I walked to the end of that dock and saw a ray swimming away.

Then it was back on the boat for the ride home, while sipping delicious rum fruit punch.

This was a very good day! There’s still more to come, but I’ll leave that for another post.

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Boating and More in Belize

We’ve been in Belize for a few days now and had quite a few adventures. Most of them have involved boats and water. We have been very lucky with the weather. They had days of heavy downpours and it looked like a swamp in many areas when we arrived in the Belize City area. But, since we have been here the weather has been gorgeous with sunny blue skies. We were caught in a shower on Saturday but it didn’t last long and the weather cleared up soon after.

We arrived Friday evening. Saturday we had breakfast at the hotel, a traditional Belizean breakfast of scrambled eggs, beans, sausage, and fry jack. Fry jack is made of a flour dough that is rolled thin and fried in very hot oil. It puffs up like a pillow and it’s very light and yummy. They served jelly to put on it but my favorite was stuffing it with the eggs and beans, which were also delicious. The other pictures are views from the hotel restaurant, and some Belizean money we were given in change. One Belize dollar is $.50 US money, but US money is readily accepted everywhere.

After breakfast we walked around town a bit to get a feel for the area and the town. Everyone here drives golf carts. The only vehicles are taxis. You have to watch your step because the golf carts come whizzing down the street, sometimes a lot of them. The streets are cobblestone, and there are sidewalks but not many. But, it was interesting walking around town and checking out some of the shops.

We had fun visiting shops and looking around. Everyone was really nice, but it’s obvious that this is a tourist area and they depend a lot on tourists for their livelihood. It’s off season and they are just coming out of the pandemic so I’m sure a lot of them are really hurting, and they really really encouraged us to buy what they were offering.

When we got back to the hotel, it was about time for the sunset cruise. I don’t know why I don’t have pictures of the boat, but I had a couple pictures of the sunset which was very beautiful. There is a huge coral reef out there which keeps the water calm. We were told it can get windy but the reef prevents waves of any size from forming on this side of the reef.

I’d better get busy and post about whatever else we have been doing because it’s starting to become a blur! Maybe that’s what happens when you spend a lot more time having fun than talking about it.

It is now Wednesday, and we’re taking day to chill and catch up with things. News from home is good. My granddaughter is feeling better and having much less pain. I hope they are happy enough with the alignment of the bones that they don’t have to do anything more to her. We shall see. Monday they put on this cast, the prettiest I think I’ve ever seen. She is up in a wheelchair now and is starting to learn how to manage with crutches. And, last night she had a bath, and real bath in the bathtub! Word is that she doesn’t smell like the hamster any more. 😁

So, that’s a bit more of what has been going on around here. More to come….

Posted in Panama | 4 Comments

Vacation in Belize

We are in Belize, specifically in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, an island off the east coast of Belize on the Caribbean side. We arrived Friday evening and it’s now Monday so we have been here for a couple fun days.

San Pedro is the blue dot. Right above us is the border of Mexico, between Bacalar Chico and Xcalak.

We were supposed to meet my California daughter and her mother in law here for a birthday bash of a friend of my daughter, but my granddaughter broke her leg and my daughter didn’t want to leave under those circumstances. But, since the trip was mostly paid for and for us, very close by, we decided to come anyway. We took a one hour flight from David to Panama City, then a 2 hour flight from Panama City to Belize City, and 1 1/2 hour ferry ride from there to San Pedro, and then a golf cart for a few blocks to our hotel.

It was a beautiful evening for a ferry ride.

The first thing we noticed is that Belize is very serious about their COVID safety measures. You need a negative test to come in even if you are fully vaccinated. Your info is carefully checked on arrival and social distancing is strictly enforced while waiting to clear customs and other activities at the airport. Masks are required everywhere at all times, unless you are seated at your table in a restaurant. There are sinks with soap and water, or disinfecting spray outside of every place which you need to use before you enter. You can be asked to prove your vaccination status at any restaurant before you will be allowed in. There is a curfew in place from 9pm – 4am.

The first picture is waiting to clear immigration at the airport. The second is outside the airport with a few of the many Mennonite people who we learned live in Belize. The others are a couple of the hand washing sinks around town.

We made it to the hotel and found it’s a very nice one! They even scattered flowers on the bed and in the bathroom. There is a restaurant on site that looks out on to the water. I had shrimp ceviche and a fancy rum drink (hey, when in Belize…) The last photo doesn’t do the scene any justice at all, but the full moon shining through the coconut palms and on to the water was gorgeous. The evening was warm and balmy with a light breeze, and you really felt like you were in a paradise resort.

So, not a bad first glimpse of Belize. There will be more to come!

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