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Earthquake – 4/2/14

Posted 4/3/2014

This morning I felt the Earth move under my feet. I was standing in the bedroom talking with Melinda when the ground started to rumble and shake. It felt and sounded like the washer was it a seriously unbalanced spin cycle.  I said “Oh cool, an earthquake.”

Then Laurel starts calling out in a panic “Oh My! Oh My! Jim! It’s an earthquake!”

Jim was outside putting together a shelf for his bathroom. Almost at the same time I heard him calling out, basically in the same panic, “Laurel! Laurel! Get out of the house! It’s an earthquake!”

This apparently had an infectious effect on Melinda. She ran to her dog and yelled “Sophie! GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! It’s an earthquake!”

Sophie was lying very comfortably on her doggy bed and didn’t even cock an ear. Melinda forgot that Sophie is a Panamanian dog used to earthquakes and is not rattled by a little trembler that lasts only three seconds and Melinda also forgot that Sophie does not understand English.

I said to Melinda to calm down because it was all over but Jim was outside warning us to get out of the house before it collapsed which only served to agitate Melinda even more so she yelled again for Sophie to get out of the house. Sophie opened an eye, gave her a baleful look and closed it again. I told Melinda to just go outside and she might follow her which she did at a trot. Not the dog, Melinda. Dog followed much later.

When I got out side Jim and Laurel were standing out in the yard holding on to each other in anticipation of watching the house crumble into dust. Jim kept repeating the same warning “Get out! Get out! The porch is going to collapse!”

I said “Jim. The quake is over. Relax.”

After a while we were all sure that there were no aftershocks to expect and things got back to normal. As it turned out the quake was 50 miles south of us 14 miles deep and registered 5.8. So went my first earthquake experience.

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Treasure Hunt of Sorts - 3/30/14

Posted 3/31/2014

There are a few projects and pseudo hobbies that I’m looking to get into down here in Panama, all of which, require specific tools or supplies. It used to be that I could truck on down to Home Depot and pick up anything I needed. If that failed there was always a Google search that would locate a specialty supplier nearby. Failing that, I could find a link to a supplier’s online catalog, order what I need and get it in a few days delivered right to my door. This is not how it works in Panama. For some reason there are no stores that have an online presence in David. There may be one or two in Panama City but there is no catalog of what they carry. The other problem is that the streets are not named so most of the time the address is not shown. If you want to visit the store call them up and get directions using various landmarks. Of course all of that must be accomplished in Spanish. One trick is to park your car near some big well known store and hail a taxi and tell him where you need to go. A taxi might cost $2 or $3 at the most to get from one side of town to the other and if he can’t find it he will ask someone on the street for directions and he will do it all in perfectly fluent Spanish.

For instance I needed powdered lime. Lime is a kind of cement that is far more carbon friendly as well as a nice base for plaster or whitewash like in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer novel. After a few coats of whitewash the surface gets smooth and hardens into a nice coating. What happens is that the lime absorbs CO2 and chemically turns back into limestone. In Panama lime is a fruit. Fruit is not suitable for painting on walls.

Another thing that I’m looking for is a few masonry tools for cutting and splitting stone such as shims and feathers and some carbide tipped chisels. Here in Boquete the volcano belched out huge boulders of granite like stone that covers everything. Every farm has a pile of these massive rocks piled in some corner of their fields and the rivers and streams have them piled high along the banks. I reckon it would be fun to shape them into blocks and move them around the yard using a few tricks based on leverage.

So begins my search for some toys. The translation tools online was helpful to a point. I needed to find cal, not fertilizer cal, but the other cal. Boquete is all farming or ranching so everyone has fertilizer. I also needed to find carbide cincels. Cincel is Spanish for chisel and carburo is carbide. Problem is that anything made of carbide is rarely in stock as it is very expensive. Most store persons I spoke to did not know what carburo or carbide was. Several of them showed me that they understood and pulled out a drill bit that was made of cobalt. The search went on.

So a few days ago I grabbed Jim, we jumped in the car and headed for David. The plan was to stop in every industrial looking store we drove past and take a look at what they have. A surprising number of them sold all the same things that any Ace Hardware would have and they were everywhere. I finally found a store that had carbide tipped radial saw blades. The guy at the counter knew what carburo was and he shook his head no when I asked, Cincel? So much for that but at least I knew at that point that if they carried carburo they knew what it was. I also learned that he did not carry lime but he had white paint.

After that we head off the main road and head straight into town. I stop at another likely looking place and still no carburo. But they had lime! He also knew the name of a store that might carry carburo cincels. He even wrote it down for me which was a good thing because what I heard and what he wrote had no relationship to each other. So now I had a lead on the chisels but that still only brought me slightly closer to my goal. This because there are not addresses in David and no GPS will find a location without an address. So the hunt goes on.

Yesterday I was speaking with someone about fishing and he mentioned that there was a fish market in David. I asked him where I could find it. It happens to be down one of the main road heading south. When you get to the big jail turn left und drive till you come to the river. It is just off the marina where the boats come in with their catch. Another is hunt being planned but at least I am sure that the Jail can be GPS’d. I also discovered that a friend knows where there is an Asian market where I could get me some good old fashioned Thai curry paste. They were going to take a bus into town but I offered to drive them if only I could see how to get there myself. This is how things are done in Panama.

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Boquete Rainbows

Posted 3/2/2014

One of the things Boquete is known for are the rainbows. The valley in which this little town is nestled runs north/south and the hill frequently are shrouded is heavy cloud the mists everything including the air itself. This mist even has a name and it is called bajareque (bah ha' reh kay).

So when the sun shines on east side of the hills in the morning and treks across to shine on the west side in the afternoon there is always a good chance for seeing a rainbow, even in the dry season.

One afternoon I was building a platform for the memory foam mattress and BEHOLD! A complete rainbow arching across the valley. There was even a hint of an other rainbow above the main one. It is sights like this that help make Boquete a magical place to live.

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Feb 17, 2014 No Water

Posted 2/17/2014

This morning we ran out of water. How does that happen? In Panama it just does. We got up early to go meet with the group to teach the bible to the local residents. Melinda filled the coffee pot with bottled water and we ambled around fixing breakfast and getting things together when all of a sudden, while washing up the dishes, before anyone had even washed their face much less hop in the shower, the water stopped running

I went out to check the pump caged in the driveway.  The pump pressurizes the water from our storage tank out in the front yard. Let me explain how this works before I get into the story. The water system in Boquete is a amalgamation of different administrations that supply the water to all the residents. The water is pumped thru 4” PVC tubing to an area where it steps down into a 1” PVC tube. I know this because most of it runs along the ground or hung across the deep gullies that run along every road that gets rain. Meaning every road. Then at the houses the water is piped, I mean tubed inside. Because of all the houses get their water from a 1” tube the pressure is very low. To fix this many homes have a large 500 to 1500 gallon tank that slowly fills up, when there is water, then the water is pumped into a small pressure tank supplying the home with a steady stream of water.

Our tank is a 500 gallon black behemoth in the front yard. When we are using the water and the level in this tank drops there is float switch inside that allows water from the street to trickle in which can be heard splashing inside. It works like your toilet tank but not as sanitary as it does not seem to be airtight and can collect bugs, debris, and road dust.

So sometime before the 17th the water stopped being supplied to the street and as we merrily did laundry, dishes and watered the plants the water in our tank slowly descended until sometime on the morning of Feb. 17 there was no more water.

After the shock wore off I decided I was going to the river and collect as much water as I could. I planned bringing with me empty jugs of drinking water and several large plastic bins we had laying around and some 5 gallon pails. On the way we ran into the problem. There was a water tube break in the middle of the road with a sinkhole, and everything, surround by a battalion of excavators, backhoes, supply trucks, pickups and men. Further up from there was a fire hydrant full open to keep the gushing sinkhole from blasting away any more of the street than it already had. I pulled over at the hydrant.

The water from this hydrant was firing out the side in a huge spray for a full 20 feet. I sent Jim over with a five gallon pail and a few jugs while I got things organized. After a minute I walked over with a fresh supply of containers and there was Jim hanging on to a jug with two hands nearly soaked to the skin. He was sending up a huge spray of water as it battered the jug he was holding onto. He was far too close to the hydrant and the water pressure, even at the edge of the jetting stream, could have knocked me over. I wondered how he was doing.

I send him back to the car with what he had collected and tried my hand at the water cannon. I took a five gallon pail, walked down stream for another five feet and set the pail on the ground digging in the forward edge into the dirt. Then I tipped the pail into the outside edge of the spray and caught the water on the inside lip of the pail sending water into it at 60 miles an hour. After a bit I put my cupped hand into the spray while holding the pail with considerable force and redirected more water into the pail. When Jim returned I had him take the pail back to the car and fill the rest of the jugs by sinking them in the full pail of water replenishing it as I collected more water at the source. Eventually we had about 60 gallons of water and returned home. The entire way I could hear the water sloshing around in the back of the SUV and imagined the soaking it was getting.

When we got home there was water pouring out the back of the car but there was still enough saved that I was sure would last for the duration of the water outage or so I thought. Everyone but me took a sponge bath. I was not having it. I grabbed two jugs, about six liters, threw a large bin in my shower and stood in it while I poured the water over my head to soap and rinse. It was very cold. The collected water I used to flush the toilets.

On the 18th we still had no water. Same plan for showers as the day before but this time I took a glass of water from each jug and heated it in the microwave, poured it back into the jug and carried them into the shower. It was still cold.

On the 19th we had to go get more water. This time they were working at a sinkhole on another part of the road and the hydrant was closed. So we drove thru Boquete past the climbing wall following the river until we got to a 60 foot waterfall where people like to stop to have their picture taken. I didn’t bring my camera but I had five gallon pails, plastic bins and many water jugs. Same system for filling jugs as before. I filled and Jim carried. The water was cold.

 I welcomed the people who stopped by to take pictures as it gave me a reason to get out from under the falls while they posed and giggled about the crazy gringos stealing water from the falls. I don’t really know if that was what they giggled about but it is what I would giggle about if I saw what they saw.

The way back home still soaked the car but not as badly because Jim brought along plastic garbage bags and electrical tape to keep the water from sloshing out of the pails and bins. By this time we were all very good at water conservation and I even manage to shower with only 4 liters of water. The water lasted for three more days.

On the morning of the 22nd we had water back, end of crises. I have another story to tell but It is time to eat. See you later.

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Feb. 11, 2014 the Gringo Flea Market

Posted 2/11/2014

I went to the Gringo Flea Market today. Perused 30 or so tables and the only thing i bought a apple cake thing for $3 that was pretty tasty. All things considered, wandering around there was a way to kill 45 minutes. There was nothing there and what was there was very expensive by Panama standards.

So what was it like? Well as you walk in there where seven or eight tables manned by a local or eco-hippy selling handmade jewelry. There was a table selling jewelry for your dog, cat or pet monkey. Someone was trying to offload two large tables of books, in English, and not a soul around them. I figure that they’ll still be there this time next year. In the back was a gringo making pizza on a tortilla for a buck a slice, not on my life was I going to try it. Someone else was selling off his coin collection by the piece. There was an herbal extract table selling oils and such for whatever ails you. Another table was selling natural perfumed soap that was cooked up in the woman’s kitchen. I got a kick out of one table that was selling a super secret rain forest concoction that treated scorpion bites, snake bites and bug bites of any kind, how cool is that? Then there was the organic garden table with Kale selling for about $6 a pound. If you think that was expensive you should see what they were selling the other veggies for. It made me wonder if the local produce was so full of poisons that people gladly paid those prices for “Organic”. So those were the highlights of the market. The next time I go there I might interview some of them and see what their story is.

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Feb.5, 2014 Dentist Visit

Posted 2/5/2014

Today Jim (brother in law) started complaining about a toothache on a tooth he had some work done on several weeks back before we left for Panama. So we headed to town to find a dentist. Before we did go, I thought it wise to ask our host at the B&B for a recommendation.

“Monica” she said, while rummaging through stacks of business cards looking for the Dentista’s card.

She finally gave up and tried to explain where it was.

“Arriba” and “Romero’s” were the only two words I was understanding so after about five minutes I figured my Spanish lesson was done for the day and we set out for exploration. We drove into town and after driving way too far came back down and saw a tiny building with three tiny storefronts with a tiny sign tucked behind a tiny driveway with a huge SUV parked in it. The sign said “Dentista Dr. Monica something”. So I let Jim out and went looking for a parking spot.

After I parked the car and walked over to the Dentist and there was Jim standing out front. Just as I got there a young woman opened the door for us and we entered a, dare I use this word yet again, tiny waiting room. She understood English so Jim told her about the tooth and she told us about the Doctor.

“Out for three weeks on vacation” she declares. “Can I make you an appointment?”

“Well, No I want the tooth fixed it hurts” Jim responds.

I jump in with my own question. “Is there another Dentist in town?”

Fortune smile on us and we walk to the other clinic. On the next corner there is a big nice looking house on a hill overlooking the main road. There was no sign announcing what was going on inside but there was a really small sign on the corner across the side street. There was a Church on that corner but we assumed that the dentist was not operating out of the Church so we tried the house. We were correct and in we walk. What we saw was a big comfortable waiting room/office area, nicely decorated in a fisherman’s sense of style. In the far end of the room we saw the dentist sitting at the head of a ten year old lying prone in the dentist chair having her teeth cleaned. Mom was sitting anxiously nearby and greeted us with a nod. The dentist was not distracted by our entering and remained fixed on his task.

Okay, timeout. Jim is probably going to have his tooth pulled in a room that will potentially be filled with visitors, delivery people and curious children wondering what all the yelling is about. I’m thinking of charging admission to the spectacle once I justify the ethical part in my mind.

So Jim gets into the chair, the doctor explains the problem as he sees it and takes an X-Ray. He sets up an appointment for the next day and gives us today’s damages for the consultation and X-Ray which turned out to be a whopping $15. We also found out that to have a root canal is $125 and a gold crown is $450 or cut to the chase and have it pulled for $40 including the office visit.

Back in New Jersey I had dental insurance that covered most of my dental expenses and the out of pocket cost for a crown was over $800.

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Jan 17, 2014 So Far So Good

Posted 1/17/2014

The last I wrote things were moving at a snail’s pace. As it turns out that is normal for Panama. Immigration took all morning since there are so many lines to stand on to get something stamped and signed in triplicate.

For instance

When you get to Immigration you stand in a line to get a number. Then you stand in line for your number to get called. Then onto another line to pay the filing fees and get a receipt stamped and signed in triplicate. Then back to the previous line to submit your trice stamped receipt. Then back to the “get a Number” line for a photograph. Then stand on another line for a photo of yourself when your number is called.

When I bought the car both the owner and I had to go to the “Ministry of Cars and Lines” to transfer ownership. The normal way to handle things there is to get a number wait on lines, run to the bank across town, get another number, go to another “Ministry of Cars and or Lines” (never did figure out the difference) get another number and so forth. The process literally will take the entire day with chance of returning mañana. But this owner was more savvy than your average bear. He knew there were guys there that had connections inside that would, for a price, cut thru the lines. I’m not saying his friends on the inside were in on the take but this guy did not seem that charismatic to be otherwise. This strategy took only 2.5 hours and I owned a car for a mere $40 in “Official” fees and $40 to the guy who cuts to the head of the line.

By the way… Getting insurance took less than an hour to sign up for but it took a day for the paperwork to be done so we had to go back the next morning to get the finished paperwork. The good news is that to insure the Nissan Pathfinder 2003, with the max plan, cost $172 for the year. It did not include collision because in Panama it isn’t offered on 2003’s, yep they just won’t do it.

So now we have a car suitable for the boondocks of Panama and we are headed for Boquete to join up with Melinda’s sister and hubby. The next few days were nice and semi relaxed except for the nagging problem of the car we sold to a friend back in NJ. Seems we gave her the wrong Registration and title and the mistake was not caught until we were in Panama. Do not let this happen to you! It seems it is an impossible situation to handle remotely, so I had to send Melinda and her sister, Laurel, back on a plane to take care of it. At least she can pick up some good peanut butter to bring it back with them. Hey, trust me on this one, it’s a big deal this peanut butter run.

Just before they flew out we found a small three bed, three bathroom home to rent. Nice big carport and covered patio, decent size kitchen and covered back alley for the utility sink and washer/dryer. Yes, in Panama the laundry room is out back. The dryer runs on propane as does the stove and the on-demand hot water heater. Two of the baths have hot/cold running water and the other has an on-demand hot showerhead. Around here they are called “suicide showers” because it is wired directly to the electric system. I’m not worried because ours is wired to a ground fault circuit… Yeah, I’m still worried.

So this leaves my brother-in-law, Jim, and I alone to fend for ourselves. We found a little Hostel across the street.

 I just want to take a moment here to explain what passes as a “street” around here. Picture a rocky streambed full of dust and boulder wanabees. With lots of foxholes, ruts and a three foot deep trench on either side.

So anyway, the hostel gives us coffee, orange juice and toast/butter/jelly in the morning. We sit outside in the garden surrounded by flowers and plants and a view of on of the mountain peaks that surround the town. Afterward we meet at the Kingdom Hall to go into the surrounding areas and bring the good news to all the pagan gringos. Then home to head to the rental home to get it ready of human habitation.

So far we caulked the windows and doors, killed a giant spider, purchased a stove, fridge, microwave and washer/dryer stacked combo that will be delivered sometime on Thursday, which, in Panama, means between 8am Thursday and 6pm Friday. We are hoping that our container will be cleared from Customs by then. This container is another debacle that I may blog about in the future but not before the resultant PTSD it caused subsides. It is also planned that all this will be finished before Melinda and Laurel are finished in NJ and come home. This is, in Panama, like saying “I am planning that this and that will be done before I die of old age”.

Oh by the way

So now I sit and type out this rendition of events as I remember them hoping that things do not go too awry yet expecting the perfect expression of Murphy’s Law to rear itself. But even with all that Panama throws at you it is still typically Panama. This is how things are and taken in context is not that bad at all. The people are friendly and helpful and do the best they can with the tools at hand. They are patient with you when language keeps you from being able to communicate precisely. The weather is breezy and temperate and the 360 degree vista of high hills and an 11,000 foot dormant volcano capped by a permanent tropical cloud forest is unmatched by anything Google has been able to map themselves.

When things get settled and there is nothing that needs to be done on a deadline I am sure this blog may begin to be a bit boring. That’s why I plan to go the “Gringo Flea Market” and try ”something completely different” in Monty Python vernacular. I hope that piques your interest.

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Jan 14, 2014 At The bank

Posted 1/14/2014

So I’m at the bank at 2:45, 15 minutes early. There is a customer at my manager’s desk. Considering how long I was there myself yesterday, this might be a while. I told the crew to meet me at the mall coffee shop at 3:30 it is now 3:45 and still the manager is busy with the customer. I still have no phone to tell Melinda what’s going on. I wonder how they will improvise. I think that I will have to get used to this, it is Panama.

OK it's now passed 4pm, wonder if it's time to start becoming impatient. Hope that Melinda decides to walk over to see what's taking so long it looks like I still might be here awhile.

Things are getting scary, some guy came in a while ago and some other manager told him to wait for my gal to take care of him. So who knows what will happen.

Well the customer left and I went straight for the cubicle and yes I’m in. So far there is a lot of typing but the close of this adventure draws near, as the clock ticks passed 4:30. The guys are probably flipping out. Don't know why someone just doesn’t walk over. They must be drinking a lot of coffee and liking it. I just was asked if I wanted a checking account also. I say sure why not. I instantly regret it. A whole new round of typing ensues.

 Things are starting to move fast; in an hour I might be getting out of here, the time is 4:40. If I would have known how much time I would be spending waiting I would have brought along a better tool for typing on than the little cell phone.  The good news is that I will be doing a lot of writing here in PANAMA.

Well she is done typing and got up and walked away. Can't say what that means or if I'm almost done here. When she gets back she has all the paperwork she had been typing up from the copier and it’s my turn to sign. We go to the teller to deposit my funds. I have 177 bills that are closely examined by the teller for authenticity. The bank is closed and I stand while she counts the money, I’m so glad they all passed scrutiny. Finally done, the guard unlocks the door and I’m free. I head across the road to the mall and head for the coffee shop. Everyone is there waiting for me. Melinda was scared something happened to me, it is 5:15. I asked them why someone just didn’t come over to the bank and check things out. Well it seems no one was paying attention to where they enter the mall and could not find it again. It’s a big mall.

So we grab some groceries and a bottle of wine and head home.

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Posted 1/13/2014

So now we are at immigration. Got here 30 earlier than asked and there is a long line already at 7am Sun is coming up and sending beam right into us, I hide in the shadow of the building’s column. Good news is that this close to the equator the shadow never swings off me.

Mostly Latino on line we may be the only gringos. At 7:30 we start filing in, inside it is cool so great. Things move very slowly as we queue up for our ticket number.

We find a seat near window 23. About an hour goes by before somebody shows up and calls the first number. Not our number so we wait. Finally it is our turn the Tickles went first. Took about twenty minutes at the window.

Then it's our turn. We go thru the same thing, offer our fingers, one at a time, to be scanned, then a picture of our bedraggled mugs topped with thumb on the official document. We go to another window and pay then come back with the receipt and we’re done.

By this time there was standing room only in the room and maybe 5 other gringos.

We go out and hail a taxi for laurel and Jim and they head back home. We need to go with the lawyer to open a bank account and form a corporation so we get a taxi back to the lawyer at 11. She has an appointment so we go next door for a coffee and cappuccino. Melinda is cold so we sit outside. I sweat, it’s hot and there is no breeze. Panama!

Forty five minutes later she has time to see us but there is a problem. The guys are locked out, I have the key. So we walk back to the condo and take a taxi back to the lawyer because I’m dripping all over in this heat.
So we signed the corporation letters and I forgot the Panama way of signing and we had to print another one. Then off to the bank to start the process of opening a bank account. I need to come back tomorrow to finish the paperwork and deposit money. In at 12 out by 3

Time to go home and drink a bottle of wine.

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Jan. 8,2014 First Days

Posted 1/8/2014

As far as it is all going let me tell you.

The four of us got in and went to our place and crashed. After drinking a bottle of wine.

Thursday we went out for something to eat get a phone,and shop for groceries. The town was closed because of a Holiday. We found out that the big mall was open so we went there. They had a food store so we bought food for a couple of days. Took a taxi home. Drank a bottle of wine.

Friday we went to the US Embassy to get our license notarized at 7:30am got out at 11am. Two of our credit cards got locked so we had to pay cash for the fees. Made it to the lawyer by 12 spent 4 hours there. Found out we had to get 2 copies because immigration will keep one and we need another to get a license. So back to the Embassy. So we got home after 4. Spent all that night on the phone with the credit card banks to no avail. Will try again later. Then we drank a bottle of wine.

Yesterday we went to a meeting at 2pm by taxi. Got a ride home from a brother. Made dinner. Drank a bottle of wine

today we got up at 5am took a taxi to immigration. got on line at 7am. At 7:30 we went in and got out at 11. then we went to the lawyer to open a bank account at 12. we got out of the bank at 3pm and took a taxi home. Bad news is Laurel and Jim will have their papers by Wednesday we will have to stay until the next Wednesday for our papers. Good news is that this will be a new record. On our first meeting with the lawyer we were told that it would take two weeks and we would have to drive back from Boquete, 7 hours away.

Now we are going to make dinner and drink a bottle of wine.

So you can share with the friends. Tell them Jehovah is cutting through all the obstacles but making us keep going back to Him and asking for guidance and wisdom and confirming our confidence. If this whole thing isn't teaching us full reliance and confidence then nothing ever will.

I just heard the cork come out of the bottle. So talk to later.

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