Friday, May 30, 2008

Just Me And The Oystercatchers

Today made up for all the rain I experienced the last few days. The sun woke me up at 5:45 a.m. & I was off for my morning walk. All of the critters were extremely happy. Vultures were cleaning up vertebrae just off the trail; social flycatchers were socializing; pelicans were fishing in formation; I was walking without an umbrella in my pocket. After breakfast, I went into David to retrieve the 40 inch flat-screen TV that did not fit in my car when it was loaded with computer furniture 2 days ago. I've been without a TV for almost 2 months & haven't really missed it (except for episodes of So You Think You Can Dance & Dancing with the Stars). I brought the BBC Planet Earth DVD's with me, so that will be nice to see. Mainly I got the TV for guests (if I choose to rent this place out while I'm gone). When I returned from David, I noticed a whole series of lakes (that 2 days ago were fields). What a golden opportunity for pictures! I grabbed my camera & shot pictures of Wood Storks (pictured above). The local farmers are working hard to recover from the heavy rains. I wonder what effect the rains will have on crops (& my vegan diet). Parts of Costa Rica were hit with 25" of rain! I talked with Eliacer (who runs the front desk at Las Olas) & he said he's never seen a storm like this one (global warming?) It was still clear in the afternoon, so I went for an extra long walk (6 miles). What a feeling.... just me and the Oystercatchers sharing the expansive, sunny beach! I don't think I'll ever grow tired of the changing scene where I'm happily retired and the grand beauty of Panama!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cyclones in Panama?? La Nina is Visiting Me!

I'm learning more about weather patterns in Panama each new day of the "Green" season. If memory serves me right, I was told by Susan (realtor-friend who sold me this condo) that it rarely rains here. Her exact words were something like, "The worst month is October, and then it only rains at night". And the huge billboards advertising Las Olas Resort throughout Panama say "Want Sunshine? Come to Las Olas Resort at Playa La Barqueta!" So what's with the continual rain that threatens to send me back to Alaska (at least for the green season)? The rain and more time indoors with my computer have given me some weather enlightenment. The average yearly precipation for Panama is just over 3 meters (that's 118 inches!!). I just moved here from Fairbanks where it was a desert with only 12" of precipitation/year (yes, a cold desert). In Boquete, it's more like 163". And of course in Bocas del Toro, we're talking over 200". It normally is very dry on the Pacific side (where I am), but like Juan said yesterday, "It's La Nina!" When I returned from my expedition to David yesterday (to buy a 40" Sony TV so I can watch Animal Planet and my Planet Earth DVD's), I found Cyclone warnings on my computer! Of course the tropical cyclone is suppose to hit further north & west than my little condo, but still!

In spite of the threatening weather, I am still having a lovely time here. I enjoyed a 1.5 hour morning bird walk this morning & only had to open my umbrella once (for a very short period). I saw Yellow-headed caracaras, Wood storks, Parrots, Social flycatchers, some kind of a brown hawk (Savanna Hawk?). The water in the mangrove system behind my condo is VERY HIGH. I wonder if the Spectacled caiman (which I normally see) have gone elsewhere?

The good news with all this rain is that I have ordered Rosetta Stone's 3 levels of Spanish lessons. They were expensive, but came highly recommended. I learn intuitively, so this should be the ticket. With any luck, I'll be pretty fluent by Christmas!

Stay tuned! I'll let you know if I blow away! In case you've read this far & wonder about the photo.. it's a male howler monkey in a nearby tree calling for his harem.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Paradise Gardens, Weddings & Fireworks

New Rules..! Only hike on the beach when the tide is low! I've been hammered twice by brutal sand flea bites (that cause incredible itching & red bumps on my lower legs) because I love to walk the beach. Well, no more! I'll hike the road system during high tides & walk the beach at low tides. Female sand fleas are just doing their jobs (of course) harvesting a rich protein source for their babies. They can also leave you with a malaria-like disease (which I hope I don't get).

I had another great day in Paradise... Paradise Gardens that is. Louise (who volunteers there) took me on a great tour. Paul & Jenny Saban (who retired in Boquete from England in 2005), created Paradise Gardens to house their own pets and exotic birds. People started bringing them birds and animals that were hurt or abandoned. One thing lead to another, and now they run the only bird/animal rescue center in Panama. Here are some pretty cool pictures of birds that live there. The blue macaw is a Hyacinth Macaw (only 500 remain in the wild in South America). These keel-billed toucans were rescued from bird pet trade. It's really sad, but some kids will capture parrots (that are green in Panama), dip them in bleach, then dye them yellow. Why yellow? Because then they are exotic parrots & fetch more money. Several parrots at Paradise Gardens are recovering from a bad dye job.

When I returned home, I noticed wedding music coming from Las Olas Hotel. Sure enough, there was a wedding being conducted in the sand by the ocean. There was lots of "Here Comes the Bride" music. Just as I sat down to dinner (trying to drown out that music with some of my own), there was a loud "Pop" as if someone was throwing rocks at my window. It was a HUGE fireworks display. Very cool! That's probably the tradition here in Panama... Get married, set off fireworks. It lasted about 10 minutes & some of the fireworks were bigger than what I saw in Fairbanks.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brown Boobies and Flying Round Stingrays

I was pretty startled this morning... just walking along the beach, minding my own business when I looked up and saw a brown booby less than 5 feet away. I'm use to seeing frigate birds, brown pelicans and American oyster-catchers... but brown boobies! Sure enough, consulting my Panama bird book, brown boobies are the most common booby in Panama. Most boobies hang out around islands. This particular booby must have been taking a breather.

I took off for the day to take an art class that was offered in Caldera at a beautiful setting (Rancho de Caldera). There I met a woman who moved from Kodiak 2 years ago. Diane (who gave the class) moved here from England with her husband Michael fairly recently. I didn't win any gold metals for my artwork, but I had fun and met some new people. I returned by way of David where I went to the Chiriqui Hospital. Yesterday, when I walked the beach at high tide, I stepped hard onto a thorny tree branch that was hidden in the brown sand. Ouch! I punctured the skin & realized I hadn't had a tetanus shot in the past 15 years. Luckily, I spoke to a doctor who could habla some English. They had me go to the Farmecia down the hall, purchase the "Tetavax Vacuna Amp Cx1" for $8.45, return to the nurse who "shot" me for $6.00. I figured none of you would be able to come visit if I died silently in my condo of Lock Jaw!

Returning to the beach in time for a short walk, I got talking to Scott & Deb (Canadian surfers/yoga instructors) as they were evaluating the surf. What was that? A flying stingray!! We must have seen 20 stingrays (smaller than the one who killed the woman in Florida) flying out of the water. They must be looking for food? I looked up flying stingray on the Internet & found several YouTube videos of stingrays flying out of the water. Very Cool!

Tomorrow I'll head back up to Boquete where I'll spend the night with my new friend Louise. She will show me around Paradise Gardens (an animal rescue center) & we'll talk about upcoming trips with Panama Audubon Society (we both recently joined). On the way to Boquete, I'll stop in David where I'm picking up a hoard of Caribbean Organic Chocolate (very hard to come by, especially if you live outside of Panama) from its inventor (Nancy).

Have a good weekend & watch out for those flying stingrays!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Help! I'm Having Too Much Fun!

What can I say! I'm definitely keeping busy! Here I am at my first Chica event. We are eating at a very nice secret Italian restaurant in Boquete. Notice the open windows behind me that lead to a soothing river. After the dinner, several of us went to a cute "adult" play called Social Security. I spent the night at Penny's house (she formed the Chica group & is sitting to my right). Instead of the ocean, I listened to a babbling brook while I slept that night. The next day, Penny graciously gave me the VIP tour of Boquete, then she left for a 10-day vacation in Cuba (why? because American's aren't allowed in Cuba & she likes to go where she is not allowed). I drove back home to prepare for my midnight hike up Volcan Baru. I "thought" the midnight hike left at 12:00 a.m. on Saturday. I drove back up to Boquete & met with Gordon, the leader. I spent 4 hours sleeping at Penny's house, then drove to the meeting spot (near the turnoff to Volcancito). When my watch said 12:30 a.m., I called Gordon's cell phone (thank God for Panama cell phones). He answered after a couple of rings & said, "Elaine, you have the wrong night!" OK! Now I had to face one of my biggest fears - driving at night on a WEEKEND just after payday! Luckily, it was a beautiful moonlit night (perfect time to ascend he volcano) & I made it home without killing any drunk walkers. I drove up the next afternoon (after consulting the email that said the hike left at 12:00 a.m. on SUNDAY), stopping along the way to visit friends Don, Mirna & Wesley. They have a finca (farm) full of pigs, chickens, and cows. I had a nice visit and tried to drive back up to Boquete to sleep again before the hike. Hummm. The keys are locked in the car! The Kia automatically locks & I had left the keys in the car! Don used a slim-Jim & opened the car, but by this time, it was dark, raining & I was loosing my motivation. Mirna suggested that maybe God was trying to tell me something (like don't go up the Volcano, you idiot). So, I spent the night, putting off the climb to another day. I don't know if Gordon's group went up the mountain or not. I could see moonlight at 3:30 a.m., so maybe the trip was a success. I'm hoping for a more mellow weekend with a new Chica friend, Louise. Maybe we'll play some bocci ball, bird watch and eat some Caribbean Organic Chocolate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beach Walks/Migrations/People (the Rich & Famous)

My morning beach walks continue to be quite enjoyable (especially at low tide). I think about previous beach walks and what I have learned along the way. Lately I've been finding 20-30 sand dollars each morning. I bring them back to my lanai where they are bleaching in the sun. Soon I'll paint them with Elmer's Glue to preserve them from cracking. I joke with my neighbors that I'll be using the sand dollars to pay my mortgage. This sign was recently erected between the beach and Las Brisas Del Mar. Apparently locals were showering and washing clothes in the shower by the pool.

I continue to meet pretty interesting people (often in some pretty weird circumstances). On Monday, I drove into David to meet my lawyer's assistant Khadine (so we could go to the Migrations Office & get my Provisional Visa). It's always nerve-wracking driving in David (traffic, horn-honking, one-ways). I was feeling pretty confident until I missed my turn (to the Gran National Hotel where I always park). So picture me driving around the streets of David frantically looking for something familiar. Luckily I saw the lawyers office & parked before I had an accident (at one point I was driving in the left lane on what I thought was a one-way.... blaring horns & oncoming traffic got the point across). We waited in the Migrations office for nearly 2 hours (typical). They call it Migrations (instead of immigration)... maybe because of all the migrating jubilant Americans. While in Migrations, I got talking to a Cuban (with the help of Khadine's helpful translating) about salmon fishing in Alaska. Then I saw an interesting guy with solid tattoos on both arms. He heard me talking about Alaska and chimed in that his brother lives in Homer. I talked more with him & found out his name is Paul. He's from Hollywood (where he ran a tattoo shop and supplied marine animals to zoos)... kind of a combination tattoo artist/marine biologist. Now he lives in Volcan and runs a Thai restaurant. I had just heard about the Thai restaurant the previous day from Annette. It turns out that Annette & her husband Dan along with Mike & Susan (more friends from Playa La Barqueta) just ate at his restaurant the night before. When I saw Dan (after Migrations) he said that Paul's Thai food is definitely the best in Panama (& possibly the world). Paul even makes his own coconut milk because you can't buy that in Panama. Dan & Annette (on the 3rd floor of my building) will be leaving for Queens, NY next week & won't return here until December. Dan said that Paul's Thai restaurant is better than most Thai restaurants in NYC! Back to Migrations.... After all that talking and waiting, I didn't get my Provisional Visa (good until I get the Pensionado Visa in October) because my file was in a supervisor's hands & the supervisor was gone. Wish me luck... I head back tomorrow & hope for easier parking/less waiting.

The other picture is Leslie's house. It's a mansion on the "villa" side of the beach (east of my cheap-seat condos). I just met Leslie yesterday. She's from Pennsylvania and renting the condo next door while she checks on the progress of her villa. Even with such a nice house, Leslie will only live down here part time because she is raising 3 kids in PA. I also met her friend Karen (from Canada by way of PA) who was amazed I was from Alaska. I probably "got in" at just the right time. Yesterday, an Italian was here shopping for a villa (& of course, money is no object). He wants to move his family from Italy, build a big villa and open a fabulous Italian restaurant in the commercial section of Playa La Barqueta. I can see it all now... golf courses/fancy restaurants/loads of vacationers. I'm going to enjoy my little piece of heaven while I can. I checked last night (stands for vacation rentals by owners) & noticed that the next door condo is for rent. The banner said "Summer Sale -- only $995/week". Wow~~ in the high season (Nov-April) that condo rents for $1995/week!! I wonder how successful they will be asking for such high prices. Maybe I'll go live with Mom in Winlock & rent my place (which is a corner unit & should go for even more!!). Come visit before things get too crazy around here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How to Comment to My Blog

I figured out how to receive comments on this blog site. You need to set up a Google account (which is very easy & I think everyone should have a gmail account as it is so handy with loads of space for past emails). Anyway, I'd love to hear from you! Also, I have a phone in my condo that allows free calls to the US (excluding Alaska). Don't be surprised if I call you. If you want to call me (& have an International Phone card which you can purchase on-line for 3 cents/minute), my number is:
011-507-772-8028 ext. 2101 or my cell number is 011-507-6410-8060. You can leave a message on either phone if I'm not there.
Adios for now!

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there. As it turns out, Mother's Day is the most celebrated holiday in Panama (they all love and respect their mothers dearly). However, they celebrate Mother's Day on December 8. Another big holiday for Panamanians is All Souls Day (November 2) probably similar to All Saints Day (celebrated November 1 in the US). I am particularly fond of All Saints Day because it is my birthday.

I just returned from my morning beach walk where I filled my pockets with Sea Hearts, Sea Purses and Sea Hamburger Buns. I'm getting totally addicted to finding Sea Beans (see I'm filling many of my art-pottery with sea beans. Yesterday when I was walking on the beach (around 6:30 a.m. mind you), the local tri-athlete Panamanian ran up behind me. He was carrying a bag of mangoes (that he had just picked?) with him as he ran barefoot down the beach. He stopped, gave me 2 beautiful mangoes and continued on. I ate the mangoes this morning (along with some Hawaiian papayas)... Yummm! Now I am sipping on my daily smoothie (1T Flax seeds, 1 t green barley powder, 1 t beet powder, 1/2 C pineapple juice, handful of almonds, 1 frozen banana, some frozen papaya, ice cubes, 1 C fresh papaya & pineapple). Yummm again!

Today I received an e-mail from a close friend who had some penetrating questions about how it is to live in Panama. She suggested that I answer via my Blog, so here it goes. I"ll list her question followed by my answer (in italics): I am curious about how you are adapting to life in David and how it compares to the States. Actually, I live in Playa Barqueta, about 24 km south of David. I wouldn't want to live in David as it is very hot & muggy compared to living at the beach. What is shopping like? I shop roughly twice a week. There are 4 huge grocery stores I've shopped at so far. Rey's and Super Baru's were built for and cater specifically to the US & Canadian shopper. They have most everything (except for short grain brown rice), including many international brands I've never heard of (including fava beans from Egypt which I love). I get most of my produce from local fruit stands where people are very friendly & food is cheap, i.e. 75 cents for pineapple, 5 cents each for banana, 1 dollar for a huge papaya. Local chayote squash is 10 cents each, huge carrots from Cerro Punta are 25 cents/pound, beets are 50 cents/pound and baby seedless cucumber are 50 cents/pound. Can you get good toilet paper? Yes, I get my toilet paper in quantity from Price Mart (very much like Costco) & it's pretty similar to US toilet paper. A side note about toilet paper... Costa Rica has very poor plumbing systems so most toilet paper is deposited in the waste basket and not in the toilet... another good reason to retire in Panama as most plumbing can handle toilet paper. How about laundry soap. Do you go to a little tienda or do they have bigger stores? Laundry soap is easy to find & much like US laundry. However, if you have a front loading (high efficiency) washing machine (I have a stackable set) it's harder to find Tide HE soap. I've heard there is a very high-end store in Panama City where they will order whatever you want from the US... for a price of course). If you wore make-up would you find it there? I happen to use Cor mineral makeup ( which is based in Anchorage, Alaska. When I need more, I'll just order online. What about hair and nails? I'm about to get my hair trimmed by Gladys (my friend Karen goes to her salon located just out of David on the way to Boquete). Gladys charges $2.00 & I"ll probably give her a $1.00 tip! I haven't had my nails done, but I imagine prices are very reasonable for that service as well. I'll ask my Chica girlfriends for a recommendation on nails when I decide to have them done. Is there consumer culture shock? I know the local business is probably very interesting but do you miss some of the conveniences that we have here? Not at all. Everything is so much cheaper & very easy to get. If you have any prescriptions from the US, you just go to the local farmicia, show them your prescription & they replace it for pennies on the US dollar. How about gas? How much do you pay? We are right with you on gas. Your gas goes up & so does ours. Right now we are paying $4.00/gallon. I'm just glad my Kia gets 35 mpg.

That's all for now. I have a big week coming up. Monday I'll see my lawyer (Lea) & go to the migrations office to get my Provisional Visa (that will allow me to stay in Panama until I get my Pensionado Visa -- probably in November). On Tuesday, my entertainment center will be delivered (since the first one had a defect). Wednesday, I'll meet Don & his family (I danced with his brother Dave in Anchorage Dancing Bears). Thursday I'll meet Penny (member of the Boquete Chicas) and go to dinner & the play "Social Security" with a group of the Chicas. On May 22, I'm going to an art class in the town of Caldera in the mountains near Boquete. Never a dull moment! P.S. If you are considering a trip down here (& I encourage you to do just that), check out Spirit Airlines. They have flights that go from Florida to Panama City for as low as $9 each way (although the more typical price is $69 each way from FL to Panama).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Condo Furnishings

To continue with the last blog... I wanted to add this picture of some of my new furniture along with the rainbow land crab photo I took this morning. In case you are wondering what books I am reading (luckily there's a nearby used book store run by an expat from Maine)... it's Sue Henry mysteries (right now I'm reading "Dead North"). While I was living in Alaska I couldn't bring myself to read Alaskan authors. Now that I'm here, it's fun to read about mysteries in the frozen north (knowing I never have to feel that type of cold again)! Saludos, Elena

It's a Tough Job But Somebody Has to Do It!

Buenos Noches Amigos! I am about to spend my 3rd night in the condo.... sheer bliss! I don't think I've ever slept so well. I barely use the AC. At night I crack the screened window (to better hear the ocean) & turn on the overhead fan. I admit to being in a total jubilant routine. I rise at 6:00 a.m. and go for an hour-long beach walk. If I see sand dollars, I pick them up for my "lanai outside collection". I'm more likely to see these seeds (pictured) called "Hamburger Beans" (scientific name Mucuna Albertisii). This is a true sea-bean. I've also picked up a few sea-heart beans, but hamburger beans are my favorite. The computer wizard (Lewis) spent part of his day in my condo helping to connect my computer to the local network. I asked him what the seeds were called & he said "Deer Eyes". I think hamburger buns is more fitting. Lewis showed me the shrub (near my condo) that the bean turns into when it sprouts... quite lovely! After my morning walk, I return home for Yoga-type exercises (unless I did them on the beach) followed by a 1/2 hour of meditation. Then I take a shower & fix breakfast (usually a huge smoothie or fresh fruit plate). From there, any number of things can happen... from reading on the lanai to driving to David for food. Lunch is usually a huge salad made from fresh greens grown in Cerro Punta (on the fertile slopes of Volcan Baru). I usually sun myself after lunch for about 30 minutes (gotta keep those vitamin D levels up). At low tide, I boogie board for entertainment (of me and the people why may watch me). I take a longer beach walk in the afternoon (usually around 5 miles) where I look for more sea-beans. Yesterday I saw a local selling hamburger bun necklaces. I figure if my pension checks aren't enough, I'll sell the sea-beans I collect to the local jewelers! Maybe I'll sell them myself to cut out the middle man! I hope you feel for me. It's a tough job (retiring in Panama) but someone has to do it. Adios! Elena

Monday, May 5, 2008

Jubilado = Jubilent Me

Hola from Paradise! During my evening beach walk yesterday, I walked up to check out friend's nearly completed house and pool. Susan (the friend & realtor here at Playa La Barqueta) happened to be standing there with her husband Mike. She showed me around the absolutely gorgeous house (to be complete in July) and beautiful/huge swimming pool with indigo blue tiles. They were headed over to the neighbor's house (a beautiful 2 story number) owned by John & Beth. I met Beth a few days ago, so they invited me to join them as well. There we were, sitting on the tiled deck, sipping cocktails (I had tonic water being the lightweight I am), talking about all the reasons we came to Panama. Beth told the best story. She was hiking over a small New Zealand island with a girlfriend (to meet their fishing husbands) & on the way she stumbled, badly breaking her leg. She somehow hobbled out & ended up in a Seattle hospital (Susan, Mike, Beth & John are all retired from Seattle - though they didn't know each other till they moved here). While recovering in the hospital, she got a staph infection that was resistant to antibiotics. She nearly died. While laying in her hospital bed, she realized that life is too short. She quit her psychotherapy business and moved here. She's the one who told me that Jubilado (which means retired in Spanish) has its roots in the word jubilant. Hence, to be retired is to be jubilant and full of joy (which pretty much describes me at this point). When you come to Panama, you'll be able to find me because of the license plates.
Adios Amigos,

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Excuse Me While I Pinch Myself

Yeah! I do look pretty happy, don't I? I took this self portrait during my 6:00 a.m. walk this morning. The tide was low, hence the lack of huge breakers. Right now (3:00 p.m. Panama time) the tide is high and the waves look to be around 8 feet tall. Today as I was making lunch (a huge salad with organic greens, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peas, broad green beans and walnuts topped with homemade dressing), I looked out my window and noticed 3 surfers. What a treat to stand in my kitchen and watch surfers! This is better than I imagined retirement could be. I've always wanted to live by the beach, but figured I could NEVER afford it. Last night I had dinner with the developer (Bruce) and two of his top sales force (Walker & Ron). Their group has been very successful developing Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, and they are hitting the ground running here at Playa La Barqueta. I thoroughly enjoy the solitude of the place now but realize it won't last. They will break ground for the golf course early next year and start selling lots along the golf course very soon. Playa La Barqueta will have the only ocean-front golf course in western (if not all of) Panama. Come visit before it's too late!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Green Season

The Green Season (otherwise known as the wet season) hit Playa La Barqueta today. My morning started out with a lovely walk on the beach (at 6:15 a.m.) where I encountered a very beautiful crab called a Rainbow Land Crab. I did not have my camera with me, so I stole this from the Internet. These crabs are black, red and purple. Playa La Barqueta (which means the beach of little boats) is a magical oasis of good weather, according to locals. All around us during the Green Season we'll have rain, thunder and lightening, but little of it touches us. At least, that's what I thought this afternoon when I took off for my second beach walk. It was raining lightly and I thought, no big deal, it will keep me cool. Clouds were quite dark east and west of my condo building (the beach runs east/west). I chose the western direction simply because I had gone east in the morning. After 15 minutes, it starting raining harder, and I actually had goose pimples (something I haven't experienced since I left the US). Then came a big flash of lightening followed shortly thereafter by big thunder. Thinking it would look bad if I died so soon after arriving in Panama, I turned around and ran back to the safety of my condo. It was comforting to sit on my lanai reading a book and listening to the rain drops.
Buenos Noches,