Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bye Bye Boquete ... for now

Thursday, November 29, 2012 and it's raining again ... still !

As I had posted earlier, there's been a horrendous storm system over the Caribbean and Western parts of the country. We had a beautiful break on Tuesday but it was back on Wednesday and it's pouring again. My heart goes out to those who lost their lives while trying to save others and to all who have lost everything in this flooding and raging river area.

I'm still trying to come to grips with how bad Sandy was in the NE US while we were there. So much devastation!!

Yesterday afternoon we set off to Caldera with Jim, our host, to deliver his metal door that needed repairs by Kelvin Schartz, a Kansas expat.  We got to know Kelvin while he was doing some work on our casita the first week we were here.  He had invited us down to go to the Hot Springs and see his place.

Kelvin raves that he has died and gone to heaven here in the Boquete area. Caldera is not in the valley but is about 1,000' lower in elevation so it's drier and warmer, which means a bit more humidity.  His place is quite sweet and he gets to have his metal workshop right at his doorstep! A terrific commute to work!!

On the way to his place, Jim showed us a beautiful waterfall just off the side of the road. He told us that when the property next to the waterfall went up for sale, that they took down the sign telling everyone to watch out for snakes!! So our walk down the concrete steps to the river was with a bit of trepidation for me anyway.

The town of Caldera isn't much with only about 500 residents, at best! A sweet 1750's church, one road basically going right through town with a few small shops, a very small Mercado (convenience store), 2 bars, and about 4 restaurants. The four of us went to Melissa's for lunch and had chicken & rice or port & rice and, as they say here, our other choices were rice & chicken and rice & pork. LOL

The lunch also had a side dish of spaghetti and a bowl of bean soup. That along with a drink each - the guys had beer, I had ginger ale - was a whopping $12 with tip!!  We splurged and picked up the bill. LOL

Jim went back home while the 3 of us went off to the hot springs way back in the jungle. Taking a gravel road off the main road, I had visions of our roads at "home". Kelvin couldn't believe that we dealt with rough gravel roads like this in the states! Surprise, as much as things change, they stay the same.

We crossed a canal about 2/3 of the way in but we don't really know what it's for. It surprised us as to where it was. Our conjecture is that it's for irrigation or hydro power further down the canal. We might never find out!

Crossing the river on quite the single lane suspension bridge - it felt and looked more like a swinging pedestrian bridge - we parked.  We parked because the "road" we needed to go up from there wasn't passable by cars and I would say most trucks would have a tough time. Definitely jeep or Hummer territory.

So off we walked up and up, turned left through an opening in the fence indicating horses certainly could make it. Actually, that's a point I haven't really spoken much about. Horses are used for transportation here quite regularly, especially in small villages such as this.

Following the path through a beautiful Teak treed area we were then thrust into the jungle.  However, there was quite a well worn path, as there are visitors to this sweet spot and it's owned and operated on private property.  Making our way through the wetlands and tree trunks following a beautiful creek and crossing over smaller tributaries on wood or log foot bridges, we came to the opening meadow where there was a simple home and farm animals.

We were also on the lookout for what they call the "loco" monkey. The monkey had scared a young man to death a couple of days before when it jumped on his head and started pulling his hair. So Kelvin was carrying a rod just in case! Long story short - I never did see the monkey but Mike & Kelvin saw it on our return from the hot springs running after a goat! LOL

We were met by the owner of the property and he was such a nice, friendly guy. He was curious about where we were all from, how long we'd been here, etc. etc.  Mike had a grand old time conversing with him. And I must say that Mike's Spanish has become quite fluent again after three short weeks! In fact, the owner complimented Mike on how well he spoke.  I can now understand quite a bit but just can't talk back. I'm going to resolve that situation while in Pedasi.

We were offered two choices: the upper larger pool that was a shared public pool for $2/ea or we could go down a bit toward the river and have EXCLUSIVE use of a small pool and quick access and views of the beautiful river to dip in and cool off.  As long as we were there, no one else would be allowed down. Guess which one we chose??  Yup, the exclusive for $5/ea !

It was so worth it!!  We were down right in the jungle along the river with creatures calling all around us. The water was perfect temperature and we were able to relax till our hearts content!  We did see an animal that we're still not sure of what it was. It was much larger than a squirrel and black but not like anything we've seen.

At about 4:30pm we decided it was time to head back.  Passing the pubic pool, there were quite a few people there from tour groups. So we were very glad we did what we did!

Kelvin took us up to the junction of the main highway so we could catch a bus back to Boquete and we bid our adieus. Our best to him and to his future. Might see you sometime next year or he says he might come see us in Ecuador. Until then, our friend!!

After waiting about a half hour and it now being dark, the bus came and we boarded. Instead of getting off closer to our place because I didn't want to walk up the roads without sidewalks especially the way they drive here, we took the bus all the way back to town. My ulterior motive was to have a nice glass of wine and Mike a beer at Baru before taking a taxi back home. It was a good plan and we got to kick back and observe the comings and goings in the bar/restaurant.  Since there is a hostel right next door, many travelers from all over the world patronize Baru. 

Today we're trying get our act together - wash, pack, I colored my hair, and we're having Rick up for dinner so we can use up some remaining food before we leave tomorrow. As I had commented in an earlier blog, I had to choose a color that wasn't quite the same as what I usually use and the product was a bit different even though the same - Loreal - that I used in the states.

I was able to read the directions enough to comfortably know what I was doing even though packaging was a bit different.  After drying my hair, it was definitely a different color! But, I like it!! It's not as golden blonde but what they call a "pearl blonde" and it is pearly and soft. So success! That's a biggy hurdle for me! At least it didn't turn orange or pink or purple!! LOL

So tomorrow we head out mid morning with Rick and head south and east along the Pacific Coast to Las Lajas Beach Resort. We'll enjoy the beach, hopefully, and make our way to Pedasi by Saturday afternoon.  Rick is staying for 4 days and we're going to explore the area together.

Stay tuned!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The End is Near

It's Wednesday morning, November 28, 2013. That means it's Panama Independence Day!!

That's why the huge parade last Sunday held in the torrential rain ALL day and high, high winds. Those fabulous children and parade participants who played in their bands and walked the route.

Our understanding is that the parade had every school band in the whole Chiriquí Province play, which is why it last sooooo long!



As it was the nastiest day here yet, I didn't venture down out of our casita. Mike went with Rick, our neighbor, and watched a bit and then hit Mike's Global Grill for an afternoon beer.  I worked on our accommodations in Costa Rica.

Monday was an official holiday and most everything was closed and the weather wasn't great again, so we just puttsed around here. I was finally able to solidify our first accommodations in Lake Arenal - a 1br/1ba apartment attached to a house with a magnificent view of the lake!!  We also confirmed that our friends, Craig Hinman and Lesley Chapman, will be joining us for a night in San Luis while they're on vacation in CR!! Fun!!

That evening Rick, Lesia, Jim and us went out for dinner to The Rock.  The Rock is a higher end restaurant on the river and Lesia and Jim had never been there before. Monday nights are the live Jazz music and we enjoyed the same trio (only is was a duo that night) that we'd heard at Escondido.  The mean was scrumptious and quite reasonable considering the venue. Only $38 for both of us with drinks!

Yesterday we learned that the huge storm was not just a "local" storm! It was a massive storm that tore through the whole country causing mudslides, flooding, 650 homes destroyed and a few deaths. I now feel awful that we were complaining about our bad luck with the weather. Seems the storm has now headed toward Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and then will go into Mexico. Be safe everyone!! This is a really nasty storm!

We awoke to SUN and warmth yesterday and it felt soooo good!! We were excited about spending the day in town and soaking it all up! Off to market we went and met up with many fellow expats that we've met during our stay here.

We had some actual errands that we had to run around and do. Felt like we were settled and blending in AND we actually knew where we needed to go! Mike's Nextbook tablet had stopped accepting the power cord so he couldn't charge it. On recommendation, we went to the little cubby shop with the cobbler and a mechanical technician. He took one look at it, got out his tweezers, poked a prodded in the hole and voila it worked!! A very great event!! Cost? He wanted to know if Mike had anything to eat in his backpack. No...but here's $5!! Enough for lunch !!

I needed to buy hair coloring. Yes, I'm giving away my secret! Not much gray but enough to want it to go away until I can go all gray. Anyway, I'd been searching for my product since I got here to compare prices, as well as to know if they even carried it locally. After realizing that a blond color is very difficult to find but the actual product wasn't, I found a color that was close enough in the local department store at a very reasonable cost, so it got purchased.

On our way to the phone store, Claro, we stopped and had a late breakfast at Olga's, where they only serve breakfast. Rick joined us and we all had terrific omelets! It was pretty pricey for here at $8/each but a really good meal!

Our visit with Claro proved pretty fruitless. We wanted to learn how to record a voice message on our voice mail but didn't get anywhere with the young lady except how to contact support. Haven't had time to do that.

We then walked the back neighborhood roads enjoying all the beautiful flora everywhere, chased a horse down the road who had gotten out of his yard, and found the cemetery up on a hill overlooking town. It was actually very beautiful with all the bright colored flowers placed on all of the graves, which are above ground New Orleans style.

At 1:30pm I had a neck, shoulder, back massage again performed by Mark Perren-Jones. Ahhhhh!! I so needed it! While Mike waited for me out in the garden, he enjoyed a nice glass of wine provided by Mark. Such service in Paradise!!

From there we walked up the road - not an easy thing to do with no shoulder or sidewalk!! Sometimes having to be in the ditch to avoid being hit, we plodded along. Our mission was to go back to Valle Escondido, the golf and country club resort with homes in a beautiful valley, to see it in the daylight and enjoy Happy Hour! We had eaten dinner here our first week and enjoyed the Jazz trio.

We certainly enjoyed the walk in, which enabled us to meander through the beautiful grounds! Stunning landscaping!!  Rick joined us for a drink and gave us a ride back home in time to get our food and drinks together for our dinner date at Bill Parke's place.

Again, everyone's hospitality has been incredible! We sat out on Bill's balcony overlooking the main road and talked and talked. Bill cooked up our steaks and he had prepared bean soup and mash potatoes. Along with the salad that we brought, it was a complete meal!! Yumm! So sorry Bill's wife, Priscilla, wasn't there to share it with us but she's down in South Africa enjoying her new grandbaby!

So, while I've been writing this the sun has gone away and the clouds, mist and winds have reappeared. And, there's another parade going on down in town. As we sit up the hill overlooking town, we can hear everything!  We should be leaving in an hour or so. Maybe it'll clear up a bit by then. We'll see....

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hump Week In Boquete, Panama!

When I last posted, we were headed back to David to explore the big city.

First we went to PriceSmart (Costco), where it felt like walking into...well, Costco!! LOL  We bought a few essentials that weren't packaged for 2 yrs worth - a bag of Lindor chocolates, a bag of veggie chips, wine (of course), and juice.

We were then dropped off about 5 blocks from the town square and Mike and I began to explore.  I must say, David is NOT a pretty colonial city! It looks old and tired. But, boy, is it bustling!! People everywhere and they were just as friendly as could be. Smiles all around! Everyone here says Buenas Dias to everyone and mean it!

After roaming in and out of stores that all had the same goods and comparing prices, we bought a bottle of water and sat in the square to do some people watching. Yes, we stood out like a sore thumb again - always, here. The best part of David was that it wasn't raining and it was very warm and, of course, humid. That was OK with us!!

All up and down the streets they were lined with little and I mean little stands where they sold lots of "stuff" and the thing we found most interesting was how many were nail or toe nail "salons". More like little huts where they painted your nails or toes really cheap. Didn't quite appeal to me so I didn't give in to the urge.

Walking back to where we were going to meet our hosts, we stumbled upon a beautiful Bohemian art/furniture/decorating gallery. The manager was just delightful and we loved EVERYTHING in the shop!! Funny thing was that the woman is from Boquete and owns a shop there, which we had already been in and LOVED everything there too!! Amazing that we found the same shop in the BIG city.

Walking a little further down the street, we decided to take a load off and stop for a drink at the El Fogon restaurant. Quite nice with a patio and open air restaurant. A beer and a glass of wine cooled us right off and we were ready to walk the last few blocks to the dentist office where our hosts were seeing the dentist again. It's a weekly thing for them right now as they're having some major work done that's extremely reasonable compared to their home country of Canada. And, I must say compared to the US as well.

Instead of staying in David for dinner, we drove back to Boquete and had dinner at Posada, quite a nice place! Great food again for a very reasonable price.

Then came THANKSGIVING!! We had been invited by Rick to join him at Susan & Kerry Frank's home along with many other expats from all over. So at 1:30pm off we went! Their home is not far from town but off a beautiful little gravel road with beautiful views from every direction off their huge veranda.

We met Rosie & Jeff Crofutt, Bill Parke, Arlene & George Erfle and with Susan & Kerry Frank, Rick Bird, and us, it made for 10 happy expats celebrating together!  The food was exquisite!  Since Susan & Kerry's home that they rent from a Panamanian family doesn't have a true oven, another new expat in town, Maria, cooked the dinner and Kerry picked it up at her small rental home.  Maria has started a catering business and will also come to your home and cook. I would recommend her any time!!

We laughed, we drank, we talked and talked and talked and laughed and laughed and laughed!! Well, maybe all the laughing was because we drank. LOL  Susan & Kerry are from Appleton, Wisconsin; Rosie & Jeff are from Trumbull, CT and grew up and lived around the corner from where I lived in Trumbull, CT at the same time in 1974!!  A very, very small world!!  Rick is from North Carolina/Florida; Arlene & George from Alberta, Canada, and Bill's from Michigan. A GREAT group of folks to spend the holiday with if we had to be away from family!!

Have I mentioned the Bahareque??!! That's the phenomenon known here that causes the mist to come over the mountains when the sun is still shining causing the most exquisite rainbows!! They are everywhere and seem to last forever! Stunning!


Yesterday, Friday, we found ourselves back in town for the Expat's Christmas Market via ride in from our hosts. As we're not in the buying mode, we looked and ooo'd and aaaa'd but didn't buy anything except frozen homemade lasagna to bring back for dinner some night. We were successful in mailing my daughter, Denise's, birthday gift at the reasonable rate of $5.25 from MailBoxes Etc. and the letter that Denise had mailed to us through MailBoxes arrived safe and sound. I picked up the dress I had hemmed at the local tailor for only $3, which was done in 2 days!

We were meeting our hosts, Lesia & Jim, at 3pm to go to the Grand Opening of a new restaurant down the road but had time for refreshing drinks at Baru while we waited.  It turned out that Rick was going to join us as well.

Off we went to Fusion, which is run by a couple from Boquete but who had lived in Canada.  The reason they named it Fusion was to show the blending of American/Canadian/Panamanian cultures.  We were the first ones to arrive for the 3pm opening but that turned out to be fortuitous, as it began to get very crowded with a great mix of expats and locals!

The venue and food were very good, the drinks excellent, and the DJ and Live band were GREAT!!! A fabulous time had by all with some Latin dancing thrown in. 

We had to leave early because we were meeting friends and neighbors of Lesia & Jim's to talk about Uruguay.  Brian & Terry Miller had been to Uruguay and had considered moving there.  They are terrific people and were very informative!

Mike and I had been waffling about keeping Uruguay on our Journey List. Listening to their story validated our decision to finally exclude it from our list. So, nope we're not going there. 

Today, Saturday, November 24, 2012, Rick, Mike & I drove over to Volcan, a small community on the other side of the Volcano Baru.  It was a beautiful drive!  The topography is more gentle, rolling, and an open valley below the mountains even though the elevation is about the same as Boquete. It was also a bit warmer and not as rainy.

Rick had heard about a place that was known for its tremendous Humming Bird population so that was the first destination we sought. It was a bit outside of town but in the most glorious location!! Lush landscaping with a couple of creeks running through, the property was actually a beautiful B&B. The owner was gracious in letting us roam the grounds where we encountered many species of humming birds and enjoyed the lush landscaping!

Off back into town for lunch at a great local place where we again devoured a great lunch!

Back in Boquete, we've decided to hunker in here at home for the evening and take it easy. Tomorrow is the 16 hour parade!!!  The drummers have been practicing until all hours of the night since we've been here. Can't wait to see them!