Friday, December 24, 2010

Feliz Navidad and Mele Kalikimaka

On the eve of Christmas, 2010, Feliz Navidad from Panama (where I am now) and Mele Kalikimaka from Hawaii (where I'll be next year). It is the beginning of the dry season (December through April), and I've been very busy with activities. Nina and Richard have returned from Alaska (that's Nina & I bicycling in the Alaska shirts). My friends Sandy Itzkowitz and Merill Creaghz (pictured hiking the Pipeline trail near Boquete) just arrived from Oregon for 10 days. Sandy is a total inspiration as she was in a bicycle accident 4 years ago and suffered a spinal cord surgery that made her quadriplegic. With some major tenacity on her part, she is nearly totally recovered (& you wouldn't know it looking at these pictures). If you Google Sandy, you can read her great story of recovery.

We are keeping very busy watching the Solstice Lunar Eclipse (Sandy recorded it with her camera for 2 hours the first night she was here!), kayaking in the mangrove (8 miles) bicycling on the beach at low tide (8 miles), moonlight hiking on the beach (3 miles), shopping at the Frontera (border of Panama & Costa Rica), driving to Volcan and Cerra Punta, and hiking with Chester-dog (today he was driven crazy by an iguana hiding in a log). We have seen loads of wildlife including a Northern Tamandua Anteater, 3 Crab-eating Raccoons, 2 Spectacled Caimans, Howler Monkeys (heard only) and Agouti. This is a lovely location for celebrating Solstice, Christmas and New Year's. Stay tuned! I'll soon be adding a blog about my adventures in Hawaii.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A New Lake At The Playa

We weren't really that close to Hurricane Tomas, but we definitely got our fill of rain for the past 3 plus days. The glorious sun made an appearance today. At the Playa, we are left with a 3 to 12 inch lake that covers the road and nearby pastures. That's Ken enjoying the lake in front of John's house. Care to go on a kayak adventure, anyone?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Three Hours in No Man's Land

It seemed like a good idea at the time. My neighbor Frank invited me to join him and his two surfer friends (Scott & Paul) on a day trip to Playa Pavones, Costa Rica. Playa Pavones is billed as one of the most scenic beaches in Costa Rica and famous for having one of the longest waves in the world. We were to drive Frank's car to the border and pick up a rental car for the rest of the drive. We didn't want to drive Frank's car into Costa Rica because of the paperwork, fees and time involved. We left Playa Barqueta at 6:15 a.m. and arrived at 7:15 a.m. Panama time (6:15 a.m. Costa Rica time). Frank thought it was 8:15 a.m. Costa Rica time and worried that we wouldn't be through the long immigration line in time to pick up the rental car at the agreed upon time of 8:30 a.m. Costa Rica time. We made it through the line in 45 minutes (by 7:00 a.m. Costa Rica time). Then we waited... and waited... and waited. Thinking that we missed the pickup (the car was paid for and being driven from Golfito), we called the rental car company. We couldn't get through via phone or email (even with the latest phone gadgetry). During this process, I noticed a man I recognized named Gil (who I hadn't seen in over a year). What a chance encounter! Gil was the caretaker of my Playa Barqueta house when I moved there July 2009. He had recently contacted me via email asking me for a reference to be a caretaker in Costa Rica near Santa Cruz. Because of my glowing recommendation he got the 1 year caretaker job. He had just flown down from the US and was passing through the border today (of all days).

Finally we realized that it was really 7:30 a.m. in Costa Rica, not 9:30 a.m. So we settled down in a restaurant to have breakfast and wait until 8:30 a.m. You guessed it. When 9:00 a.m. rolled around, there was still no rental car. We waited in the immigration area until an expeditor (someone who helps you get through the border) asked why we were stuck in "No Man's Land". Lucky for us, we found the car rental office that we should have found hours earlier. As it turns out, the credit card number used to charge the car was not valid (at least, that was the excuse). We could have another car brought from Golfito, but it would not be to Paso Canoas until noon. After a 2 hour drive to Playa Pavones, we would be left with only 1 hour to enjoy the beach. Needless to day, we turned around and reversed the process for getting through the border. First we went in the Salida (exit) Costa Rica line, then we went into the Entrar (enter) Panama line. Frank & I made it through OK, but Scott and Paul (from Austin, TX) were nearly thrown in Migration Jail because anyone who is not a resident of Panama (with a Visa) has to stay out of Panama for 72 hours once they cross the border (drug trafficking, you know). After mucho talking, Scott and Paul were set free and we returned to Playa Barqueta... Home Sweet Home!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The 100th Blog

Welcome to the 100th blog! I've just spent the last 4 days in total bird-bliss... 3 days with 11 other Boquete Birders exploring the wilds of Santa Fe National Park and Las Macanas Refuge, and today on a lovely mangrove system near the town of Santo Tomas. I've been looking for the access point to this particular mangrove system for the past year. Jim (with the fishing pole) stumbled upon the "dock" and boat owner (Oscar pictured with Jim) quite by accident when he was wondering back roads near Alanje. One picture shows the ocean breakers from the mangrove system. The surfing is suppose to be pretty good here. Another picture shows a large male howler monkey, his harem hidden in the leaves.
While hiking the jungle in Santa Fe National Park, we didn't find the elusive Bare-necked Umbrellabird, but we were most definitely in his territory. I'm glad I didn't crash into any large Golden Orb Spiders.... or their webs. The night before our hike (as we socialized in our $8/per person hotel), our guide (his hand in a picture holding a glass-winged butterfly) showed slides on his computer of a Jaguar Study currently underway in the park. Several cameras mounded in strategic locations flash/take a picture when an animal trips the camera. Besides pictures of many beautiful jaguars, there were pictures of margay, ocelot, cougar, jaguarundi, Baird's tapirs, paca, agouti, nine-banded armadillo, anteaters, river otter, and raccoons. Even though they had pictures as evidence, none of the guides/scientists have ever seen any of the cats that use the park.
In Las Macanas Refuge, we saw at least 15 Snail Kites. Ridgely's 1989 Birds of Panama book states that the Snail Kite is "Apparently rare, uncertain and perhaps erratic". One can only wonder if the Snail Kites have always been here (undiscovered until recently) or did someone introduce some snails (from a French restaurant) to the area? We also witnessed a Savanna Hawk capture a mouse and swallow it in under 30 seconds. The view from the observation tower was enchanting as I watched one of my favorite birds, the anhinga.
Long Live Panama Wildlife!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Panama Generosity!

I think I’ve said it before, but living in Panama is much like living in a small, rural town in the US in the 1950’s. Last week, I hired some workers to build a wall to hide the huge, rusting air conditioner fans in the front of the house. Those workers brought me 4 beautiful coconuts as a gift. Today, the gardener dropped by with 10 lovely plants (including Mother-in-law’s of my favorites) that fit beautifully in front of the new stone wall. The gardener travels with a machete (as do all Panamanian workers), so he offered to cut into my 4 (soon to be tasty) coconuts. The juice (and it’s unbelievably sweet) filled a 2 quart pitcher. I offered my funky, plastic table/chairs set (basically an eyesore on the back porch) to the gardener. He gladly accepted, so I put them in my pickup and drove them to his house. At his house, his family warmly greeted me and gave me 2 luscious hass-type avocados (you know… the rich, fatty ones that happen to be very rare in Panama).
And then there’s the story of my truck being serviced (60,000 KM) last Saturday. Normally, I drive my Nissan truck to David where I leave it in my lawyer’s driveway (all arranged by my wonderful lawyer, Cesar), and the mechanic Jorje (who has Saturday’s off from Nissan) drives over to service it. Mind you, if I took the truck to the Nissan dealer, it would cost twice as much and I’d have to leave the truck there for 8 hours (it takes Jorje 1 hour in Cesar’s driveway). When I called Cesar last week, he said that Jorje was now working Saturdays at Nissan. Oh no…what to do?? Saturday morning Cesar called to say that he would pick Jorje up in Alanje (a 15 minute drive from David) and drive him to my house (another 15 minute drive) so he could service my truck. And that is exactly what happened. I fetched ice water for everyone, and the service was completed in the shade of my house. It was like a big party with Cesar, Jorje, Chin (owner of the concrete business erecting my rock wall). The only damper to the party was the colony of killer bees who decided to land in the almond tree next to my driveway. I noticed them when I hit a few of them with my body as I entered the driveway on my bicycle. Luckily, I didn’t smell bad or make too much noise (that sets them off) so I didn’t get stung. Killer bees are fairly common here, so I called my very generous, experienced (with killer bees) neighbor, John for his advice. He came to my house after 8:00 p.m. when the bees were huddled together, surrounding their queen. He sprayed a simple solution of detergent and water onto the huge colony, and they dropped off in clumps without a fight. I’ve included a picture of their dead bodies. The ants are having a feast.
The two butterfly pictures were taken by me on the August 13 Boquete Birders walk at Volcan Lakes (the only natural lakes in Panama). The black and blue butterfly is a Grandis Eyemark and the one you can see through is (appropriately named) a glasswing called Pink-tipped Satyr. We saw several Blue Morphos as well, but they rarely land for a photo. Stay tuned! Tomorrow I'll travel with several of the Boquete Birders for a 3-day adventure birding around Santa Fe and Santiago in hopes of seeing a Crimson-collared Tanager (not to be outdone by the Bay Headed Tanager we saw near Volcan Lakes).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Adventures At Pauline's Caribbean Beach House

I just returned from a lovely week at Pauline's (you may remember her from my previous blogs) beach house near Nombre de Dios, a small town with a very interesting history. In 1502 on his final journey to the Americas, Columbus traveled with four ships. The crew was tired by the time they reached Nombre de Dios. Columbus was reported to say to his crew, “in the name of God we will go no further”. Hence the name of the town is Name of God (in English). In 1510 Diego de Nicuesa founded a permanent settlement at Nombre de Dios (the oldest, continually populated town in Panama). In 1519 a road was built to connect Panama City and Nombre de Dios. The road was called the Camino Real. The Spaniards used this road to carry Peruvian silver and gold across the Isthmus. In Nombre de Dios the treasure was loaded on ships for the voyage to Spain. In 1572 the Englishman Francis Drake entered the harbor in Nombre de Dios and attacked the town. After Drake’s raids the Spanish moved to the Caribbean end of the Camino Real from Nombre de Dios to Portobelo --a more secure port against the pirates. Nombre de Dios disappeared under the shadow of Portobelo. Today, Nombre de Dios is not a town that is visited by most Panamanians or foreigners.

As we pulled into Nombre de Dios, we were stopped by 8 Policia with 8 machine guns. Lucky for us, Chester (my famous anti-military English Shephard) was in the back seat and picked up on the bad energy of the Policia. When they surrounded Pauline's truck and got ready to search the contents under the tarp in the bed, Chester went ballistic and they waved us on.

Even though I'm retired and most every day feels like a holiday, a week a Pauline's Beach Resort felt like a true vacation. We snorkeled several times in the crystal blue water (notice the pictures to prove it); walked the beach several times a day (collecting priceless sea glass and beautiful shells); delighted in seeing new birds for me like flame rumped tanagers, buff-throated woodcreepers, golden-hooded tanagers (I confess...I stole this picture from the Internet), crimson-backed tanagers; and swam in warm ocean water with exotic tropical fish like fairy basslets, queen angelfish, striped parrotfish (I still feel badly about eating one in Mexico), and juvenile yellowtail damselfish (the bright blue dotted fish picture I downloaded from the Internet). We even did several art projects including the pictured broken tile table top.

In closing, if you can identify the fish in the second video, please let me know (Pauline & I can't figure it out). The fish in the first video are Sergeant Majors. Doesn't it feel like you are swimming in a huge aquarium?