Monday, January 12, 2009

The stunning Caribbean and San Blas islands

San Blas was one of the better trips we have taken in Panama. Well, none of them have been bad, but we especially enjoyed the unspoiled paradise of these islands. We flew into a tiny airport called Playon Chico and were met on the runway by two Kuna Indian me. They took us and 10 other passengers on the ocean in a wide canoe, on a graceful trip through the waves to our private island named Yandup. (And don’t even try to pronounce it in English, you’ll be wrong. She still can’t get it.)

You will notice here some photos of the airport and the runway, etc. The airport consisted of a two-room cinder block building with a small fence around it. All of our unloading and checking in with our hosts was done right on the runways, which was actually kind of fun. The short runway ends at the ocean, so it is a good thing the pilots of these 15-passenger planes know what they are doing! An adventure, for sure!

First off, the Kuna people are tiny, tiny people. As in, small and short. He towered over them (see photos) and most of them measured just over half of his 6 feet four inches. Most of them are much smaller than her too. By at least a head. It made both of us feel like we were very big people, even though she is considered average height by US standards.

This tiny little island (Yandup) was the cutest little thing you have ever seen. About 200 feet across, 350 feet long. Palm trees, 10 cabanas over water, one big cabana for the dining room for the community meals, a boat dock and a small beach. Okay, a tiny beach. But I guess everything fits for the time all of us were staying. It all felt just right. The island was covered with a spongy feeling grass, something like Bermuda, but even softer, so you could walk barefoot if you really wanted to.

The cabanas were made of wood and actually each, pretty big, for just two people. Ours could have slept four if there had been enough beds. Count the two hammocks on the porch and two more would have been very comfortable. Now, the beds themselves left something to be desired, but everything else was absolutely perfect for a place that is pretty hard to get to. There was running water with an operational toilet, sink and shower (when the water was actually running, that is. It was under repair about half the time we were there).

The flight from Panama City left at 6 AM and so, we got to the airport at 5 AM, just to be sure. Each passenger is only allowed a piece of luggage that weighs up to 25 lbs. But, frankly, how much do you need for just two nights of hanging out in the tropics, snorkeling, drinking beer and relaxing? Exactly. The snorkel equipment and tequila were the heaviest things we brought. And, worth every pound, of course. There are no stores or extra supplies for sale, except for the fact that the little kitchen in the dining room sells some national beer and Coca-cola.

Happily, guests are very well-fed. Three solid meals of great-tasting Kuna cooking, including fresh fish for lunch and dinner, great fruit, and fresh salads. We enjoyed it all immensely. The little Kuna ladies that served us were dressed in tribal custom attire – colorful and conservative – and very friendly, but did not speak English. I did get a hankering for Oreos or a snack with our afternoon beer after several hours of snorkeling but I will have to remember to pack that next time, as there were none to be found on the island.

The resort is locally owned, by a foundation and appears to be self-sustaining to the area. Several Kuna men work as guides, and in operations, and the Kuna women clean and cook. Nothing is grown on the island so provisions are either purchased from other islands or brought in from Panama City.

The water is clear blue, looking identical to something you would see in a magazine, and think ‘no way’. But this is the Caribbean and a piece of it that is very rarely trodden through, and it is absolutely, stunningly beautiful.

We snorkeled off of our island and around two others and viewed some of the healthiest coral we have ever seen. Abundant, colorful fish of all sizes and shapes. Even some piranha. Tom ran into a jellyfish, and gave him plenty of room to maneuver, with no problem. We really enjoyed the ocean here. The constant sound of the waves crashing on one side of the island and lapping the other was the ultimate in relaxation.

The ocean waves breaking under our cabana wooed us into naps and to sleep at night. Except for the lights on our own little island, there was no ambient light, so the stars in the sky were unbelievable. Clear. Beautiful. We could not get enough.

She ventured out with the rest of the island tourists on an afternoon visit to the native village of Playon Chico. He felt weird about it, so stayed behind. (It turns out he had the entire island to himself for two whole hours!) It was a very respectful tour of the village, viewing some of the native structures, school, community gathering center (a village Elders meeting was in progress) and the village bazaar. She found two very pretty molas, which look like hand-sewn quilt squares with colorful patterns and scenes. Someday, perhaps we will have them made into a quilt.

Our meals were lively and fun, getting to know our 12 other fellow islanders. They were mostly American (Texas, New York, Oregon, Tennessee), with one gal from Australia and a group from Italy. Fortunately, anytime you get human beings together, drama follows, and we were not disappointed when the group from Italy was accompanied off the island by Panamanian police on the second morning we were there. There was an obvious language barrier so the show went on while the rest of us had breakfast and was accompanied by loud voices and hand waving. Of course, none of us really know what happened, but several great stories were concocted, to keep things interesting. The dining area kept several board games, and playing cards handy for residents that had the urge, and these were often in use.

All in all, we were so relaxed, and had so much fun. Our only regret was that we had not made arrangements to stay one full day longer. That is our recommendation to anyone visiting San Blas. And, oh yes, bring snacks. Other than that, it was one of our more enjoyed trips we have taken to date in Panama. But, we do not recommend it to anyone else, as we really hope it will not get busy and touristy and turn into a popular place. Perhaps the fact that foreigners (not living in Panama already) would have to fly into Panama, then fly the local airlines from the regional airport, then take a boat, is enough to keep the bulk of people away. Really, we would like to keep it all for ourselves, or at least for the next time we go.

So, enjoy the photos, but it's okay if you do not visit San Blas, as we love it so much, we want to keep it just for us! :)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from a warm tropical 94 degrees in Panama City, Panama. He and She just returned from a nice Christmas brunch at the Intercontinental Hotel. Naturally, dogs were not allowed, so I slept. (On their bed, but don’t tell them that.) Today is hot, so we all slept in this morning. Then, enjoyed a nice long walk in the park next door, though because it was so late, we kept to the shade as much as possible on the way back. Took all of us a long time to cool down upon our return. When we got back, they kept saying how hot the apartment is during the day, and I just looked at them, because yes, it is this hot everyday which is why all we pets do is…… lay around all day until the sun goes down! So, we were treated to the AC in the living room which is a rare treat for the four-legged members of the family.

Now that the summer season has started, the days have really started getting hot. 90 degrees F is the norm now, and though a breeze blows most of the days from the South and the West, it is still really hot. Happily, the humidity has fallen a bit, more around 50-60 percent instead of 80-90 percent during the rainy/green season. So, we are all feeling good about the change in the weather.

In preparation for today, though it did not make much sense to me, I was sent to the vet twice this week to be bathed and have my nails trimmed. On Monday, happily, I was the 47th dog to arrive (though we got there by 9 AM) and they were only taking 45 that day, so I was saved. On Tuesday, however, no such luck, I was #41 and spent several hours there undergoing the usual humiliation. I came home smelling and looking really nice, and our houseman Joel even called me a lady. The things I have to do to keep the peace around here! I am not sure why I was the one that had to get cleaned up, when I never really go out. She said it was because they were going to be home more, and wanted me to smell good for them.

It does not feel like Christmas to us, in this heat and without family, though we cranked the satellite music on Sky TV last night to some classical holiday tunes. He said it does not feel like Christmas to him at all, as he is really missing the boys. This is the first time we have all been fully separated from them by such a distance (lasting greater than a week), and we have all had our moments of nostalgia and missing their presence.

We did not get a Christmas tree this year, as the firs and pines have to be shipped in to Panama, and do not last long, once you take them home (or so we have been told). So, we opted instead for a festive Christmas Palm and decorated it with lights. Unfortunately, because this decision was not made until the weekend before Christmas, the only lights to be found at the closest hardware store were orange. Well, the box said red, but they turned out to be orange. (No such thing as truth in advertising here.) So, in some ways, our festivity feels like an odd mix of Halloween and Christmas but without any scary masks.

They also bought some other plants during the Palm run last weekend, so now, our patio feels homey and comfortable, with multi-colored leaves, big pots and the orange lights even add a nice glow at night. She enjoyed getting into all the repotting of the plants last Sunday, though I did not get what was so fun about it with a bunch of dirt and water and a lot of clean-up.
They roped Elphaba and I into posing with them for a Christmas card photo last night on Christmas eve. We were, of course, minding our own business and suddenly, I found myself with a goofy green bow (borrowed from a gift of wine they received) around my neck and Her holding Elphaba on the hammock, which is never a smart idea. This went on for several takes and finally, they appeared to get what they were looking for, and then, it became a big production to get the photos on the computer and sent out to all of our friends via email. Meanwhile, so that you can appreciate the moments we shared in this holiday experience, we’ve attached some for your viewing pleasure with this posting. You may notice that Blossom, our older sister (and white feline) is not present in these photos. She escaped from the apartment on the Wednesday before last, and failed to notify the rest of us she had planned a vacation. No one has seen her since, and so we hope she is enjoying her time away, and that she will return soon. He and She have been a little worried since she took off, as there are a number of large owls that live in the park next door, and they certainly might enjoy some well-fed American feline for dinner. (We know that Blossom was not kidnapped, as Panamanians seem very confused by the idea of having a cat for a pet. Most cats in Panama run wild and hunt for a living.) So, we miss her and, of course, will open the door with open arms when she decides to rejoin us, if she does. Elphaba has had a very hard time adjusting, and has been sharing her anguish with us all night long the past few nights, which has been annoying but understandable.

Well, we are off to watch some movies in the cool AC, so hope that you and yours have shared some parvo (turkey), sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes and enjoyed it. They mentioned when they came home that their spread at the hotel that their dinner did not include any vegetables, except for tomatoes (which is really a fruit), so these are the things we are missing. And, of course, none of the usual pies or cakes either. So, enjoy those savory bites of tradition for all of us here in Panama, and Merry, merry, merry Christmas! We miss all of you and are thinking of you fondly on this tropical day in Panama.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

We are thankful this holiday season

It seems really funny to be home already. Granted, we traveled all day and it took a good 11 hours to get back to Panama. But something around the fact that we were in Breckenridge, CO and four degrees Farenheit on Thursday night and back in 80 degrees less than 48 hours later! We actually enjoyed seeing, tasting, smelling and feeling the snow. It felt clean. Nice. And, yes, very cold to our thin skins too.

But in a strangely familiar way, this time as we came back to Panama, it feels more like home than Colorado does. Now, it is still really nice when the immigration officials tell us ‘Welcome Home’ when we re-enter the U.S. each time. I love that. And while we were back in Denver over the last week, a good friend greeted us with ‘Welcome home!’ and that felt really nice too. But he told me over the last two days in Denver that he was really ready to come home. To Panama. Where Lily and the cats were waiting for us. Where our new lives have taken shape. It has now been nine months. Enough time to grow a baby from start to finish and perhaps that is a good analogy. We have formed and shaped and hacked out even through some very uncomfortable days here, a new life together. With our mutt and the kitties and each other. And, it feels pretty good. So, we are thankful for that and especially thankful this warm December night – to be home.

Thanksgiving Abroad
We were invited by one of our American friends to join their family and some other expat ‘orphans’ for a potluck Thanksgiving. So, she cooked her grandmother’s famous yellow squash casserole. Except that there was no yellow squash to be found in Panama, so the substitute of zucchini did just great! And, also, some creative sweet potato casserole. Again, a family recipe from down South Arkansas. Both were great hits, mind you and complimented by many guests.
Meanwhile, we partook in real Butterball turkey ( no organic turkeys to be found here; we have become oh-so-spoiled with our Colorado natural pastimes like this in previous holidays). But, no matter, the Butterball tasted great to our carne-starved tongues, as well as the tons of other great food – stuffing, Italian casserole, great tasting green salads with cranberries and oranges, cranberry jello salad, and pumpkin pie and cheesecake. Oh, yes, and lots of wine. Lots and lots of wine.

The best part was the company. New friends and colleagues. All with something in common. Our first shared Thanksgiving in Panama with each other. We heard stories from other expats about other holidays abroad and what had made them special and difficult too. We laughed and ate and were thankful. And, it was very, very good. We are thankful for new friends in a new country and the time to share an old tradition in a new way.

Naturally, we miss our friends and family. Very much. This year here has taught us so much. Patience. Letting go. How to enjoy and have fun, even when it is frustrating. New experiences to be tasted and savored. The challenges of new cultures, a new language, a new environment. The beauty of friendships and relationships from afar. The specialness of clinging to each other for comfort and friendship in all the new experiences. Learning. Laughing.

All this to say, we are grateful for the chance to share some words now and then with you. And, for your interest in sharing these tidbits with us, along the way. This is a special time in our lives. We cherish it (at least on most days) and we cherish your friendships and your love that we feel very much this holiday season.

Our thoughts, prayers and love are with each of you. Our very best.
He, She, Lily, Blossom and Elphaba

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rainy, rainy October and it is Election Day in the US

Well, I missed getting something up in October, but it was such a whirlwind, that I figure today is close enough! We are right smack in the middle of rainy season and actually really liking it. Yes,it rains a lot, but the weather is cooler and much more bearable, so we hang out on the patio at night and read and breathe the freshness. Plus, all the rainfall and the lovely sounds of it means we sleep like rocks. Nice.

In October, there was a lot going on. He officially formed his Panamanian corporation – really important – and started working pretty much full time for this three clients. We are all thankful for that, but especially him, as he really loves his work and we’re lucky that he is so busy, already! Of course, we had also gotten really spoiled having him around the house full-time. You might think that running a household in Panama is easy, but it’s not. Grocery shopping takes a minimum of four to five hours a week – including stops to multiple stores to find all the things we take for granted in a 30-minute trip to SuperTarget in the States. One such recent shopping trip took four stops just to find milk that was not expired. No kidding. We are so spoiled in the US.

She had one trade show in country, and then two trade shows on the road in the US the last week of October. And, oh yeah, she launched a new website on October 31st. Is she nuts? Yes! Thankfully, it was back home to Panama for three national holidays the 3rd-5th of Nov, which we are right smack in the middle of, so that has been nice. A lot of sleeping, reading and getting mentally and emotionally caught up from 8 days of travel. He was in Denver for five days too, and got back on Sunday as well, so they are both getting over the grumpiness and exhaustion of international travel. I know, wah, but it can be hard on the body.

It was fun to see the continued fervor for the political landscape while they were back in the US - we miss it sometimes. Today is the election and they will be walking down to the yacht club down the hill in an hour or so, to watch the returns. (Again, something we all take for granted – cable TV or satellite access. We have not had it since we moved into the new place at the end of July, due to a merger at which time DirecTV froze all new accounts, so that the existing accounts could be verified – hmmmm, one might think they would not want to limit GROWTH because that might lead to the bottom line and thus make the seller and buyer more happy. But that would be thinking like an American, not like a Panamanian, and thus, we have all taken to reading a lot more books.) At any rate, it will be fun to see the final votes coming in and watch the media coverage and miss all the watch parties happening tonight in our old ‘hoods.
The photos on this edition are ones from our rooftop on a particularly sunny day in October. You can see the Bridge of the Americas, plus the Amador Causeway, back to the City and the giant park where she and I walk almost every morning. Lately, with an umbrella in hand, most all the time.

He reminded her yesterday that she had ‘always wanted to live by the water’ to which she thoughtfully agreed. They then both agreed that it is wise to be careful what you ask for, as you just might get it. Really. Happily, as time progresses, this little family is becoming more and more accustomed to life in Latin America , what it is and what it is not, and not languishing over the latter, but instead, just going with the flow, letting life be what it is and actually enjoying it. It is a much nicer place to be, this mental state, then worrying about what we miss, and pining for things that simply do not exist here, like Starbucks and SuperTarget and doggy daycare. Call her shallow but even she is adjusting, pretty darn well, even without those things. Instead, enjoying 4 dollar manicures, 13 dollar haircuts, and pretty inexpensive dining out.

She surprised me with a bath today, unexpectedly to me, after I rolled in some iguana guano on our morning walk. I guess she did not fully appreciate the green and yellow colors added to my coat and what it might have meant for the upholstery of the couch and guest bed (which of course I do not lay on, they sometimes just take on my smell!).

We also saw a Harpie eagle today and yesterday on our morning walks – he is golden and brown and really really cool. He evidently lives in our big park and nests somewhere around here. Wingspan of at least four feel, really really cool.
Lizard tails and guano to all of my dedicated readers (which coming from me is a compliment!). ‘Til next time or sometime maybe around Thanksgiving. We here in Panama are very thankful tonight, on voting day, for free speech, votes that make a real difference, choice to live abroad, and all of our family and friends who support us with their love and friendship from afar. Blessings to all of you. God bless America and God bless Panama.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Bogota Adventure

She had a trade show in Bogota at the end of August and he want to meet up with her there for a fun weekend for their first anniversary. Of course, you know who stayed home and watched the apartment and had lots of down time with my favorite friend Joel.

They loved Bogota – pop. 7 million people. Lots of culture, amazing food – they told me every restaurant they ate at was very good- and the people were SO welcoming, which was really nice.
Zona Rosa and the Zona T were their favorite areas. A lot like Lower Downtown in Denver, with lots of walkable streetscapes, small parks everywhere and good shopping.
She discovered a new designer named Bettina Spitz, who is now at the top of her list for clothes and very reasonably priced.

The people of Bogota were so friendly and open to Americans. They both mentioned to me that they were the only Americans they saw the entire four days there – except for one other guy in their hotel, and three guys in ugly American clothes outside one of the pubs they discovered. Her light-colored hair really stood out in a sea of Latin people.

Bogota is very urban with a new bussing system, and lots of museums and things to do. They went to the Museo Nacional, which was very busy so they did not get to see the exhibits, but it is beautiful, and then also the Museo Botero who is an artist that is still alive but from Columbia and has donated his own collections as well as his own art to the museum for the public to enjoy. All, amazing stuff. The Museo de Oro was being renovated but one of the exhibits had been moved to the Museo del Banco Columbia, so they did see a bunch of gold from the Aztec periods, which was interesting. The old city is beautiful, and has had some renovation and there are still a lot of areas that have not started renovation yet.

Bogota sits up against a mountain. The entire city is at 9,000 feet above sea level, so the weather is a lot like Colorado – cooler and very fresh. It reminded her lot of being in the Rocky mountains. On Sunday before they returned to Panama, they went up a tram on one of the mountain facia to a small church, market and park area on top of the mountain. You will see some photos of that here, but the views back down into the city were stunning.

The Sofitel, their hotel, was extremely nice and they recommend it to any travelers travelling there.

The only drawback to Bogota is the security. And, of course, that is necessary given that it has suffered so much at the hands of insurgents like FARC for years. There were dogs everywhere- for sniffing out bombs and drugs and whatever else. Every time you enter or exit a parking garage, you must stop and have your car checked out by a dog and a police man. When you enter busy night clubs or restaurants, it is normal to go through metal detectors, dogs and pat-downs. It can be a bit disconcerting at first to be sure, but after a while, you do get a bit used to it.

They had such a nice weekend there together, exploring the city and enjoying their anniversary, that she cried on Sunday when they had to leave. That says a lot for the beauty there. They agreed that as time goes on, if Columbia stabilizes, that they would strongly consider retiring here.

Meanwhile, I was happy to have them back in Panama. I always sleep better myself when I have them back in our own place, all together.

Joel and I had a party while they were gone – chasing bugs and lizards on the patio, but there’s no need to go into that here, as we cleaned up the remnants of it before they arrived back.

Until next time, fond regards and lizard tails.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Our first guests in Panama!

His son Jack-o came back to Panama with us after we were in Denver for about a week in late July, early August. It was really great to have him. We have moved to our second place – another apartment – in Panama City, on the Amador Causeway. Thankfully, there is a lot less noise – while the original place in Punta pacifica was beautiful and right on the ocean, it was loud – with Corredor Sur and 12 other high-rise buildings next to it, all under construction. With the concrete and steel shortages here, when concrete arrives, no matter what time it is, they start pouring. And,when steel arrives, they drill caissons, even when it is 2 AM and so forth. Aw, well, this is Panama.

No matter, we did decide that it was too much for us – that, and the fact that our international landlord had not had anything fixed in the time period we had agreed to in our lease. So, we gave our notice and got out early and found the new place that we really like in Amador.
The new apartment on an isthmus (not sure if it really is, but it sounds cool) – surrounded on three sides by water, essentially – overlooking the Panama Canal, the Pacific Ocean and back to Panama City. Some photos show the views, which we think really must be the best views in all of Panama.

We like to sit up on our 7th floor social area and watch the huge ships come through the canal. It truly is spectacular to see.

Anyway, Jack came and he and his dad did a bunch of exploring the city together while I had to go back to work for a couple of days right after we returned from Denver. They had a great time, even getting over to the Caribe side to have lunch one week day. Then, they had a 4.5 hour ride back (only 60 miles) because the construction on the one highway between the city and Colon shut the highway down to one lane. And, then of course all the Panamanians got impatient and there was no one moderating the traffic, so everyone started pushing through trying to get through and it turned into a crazy standstill for literally hours. They were so stressed by the time they arrived home, he said, ‘I will NEVER go that direction again,until that highway is finished.” So, we may never see the Caribe again while we are here unless we fly. It was interesting for Jack, no doubt, to see the stupidity that exists around no traffic planning for a major construction project. Bottom line, we take all that type of thing way too much for granted stateside.

My sis Hannah came in from NYC which was really special. She arrived Thursday night, and I took off Friday so the four of us could go the beach. We drove up to a tiny beach called El Palmar – about 60 miles west of Panama City – a great tiny hotel there with 30 rooms, very rustic but clean. The beach is good for learning to surf, which originally we thot Jack might enjoy. But, instead, we all did a lot of hanging, which was lovely. We ended up drinking a lot of beer, eating a lot of fish and lazily wandering up and down the beach. It was a really nice day and a half.
The next morning and afternoon, more of the same. Again, lovely.

Then mid afternoon, we packed up and drove further west – 15 miles or so, maybe – to Playa Blanca. This is an all-inclusive resort, probably the second nicest in all of Panama. The grounds are really nice, the rooms are pretty nice, and the food is the expected middle of the road, all inclusive crap you get at most all-inclusive places. We tried to get into the nice restaurant there, but it was a busy weekend of holiday-ers (kids were out of school, we had no idea, so the place was booked), and we could not get it. Drat. Anyway, we enjoyed the two pools and the beach too and all got some more R & R in, and some sunbathing. After dinner, Playa Blanca has its own theater for entertainment and they do a kids show first, and then a pretty erotic adult show. It was a bit of a shock for us, when we walked back through around 930 PM and the adult show – mostly mimicking videos by Beyonce and stuff like that – but with the ladies on stage in thong swimsuits and such – going on and dancing like strippers…..and all the kids were still there! I guess maybe in North America we are pretty tame, according to Latin American standards, no one else really seemed to mind it. And, no, I did not take any pictures.
Jack and Hannah left early the next week. We both were sad for a few days because we had enjoyed their visit so much. It really was special to have both of them.
Now, we are getting adjusted to the new place in Amador. We love it because there are a mating pair of Toucans right outside our apartment. We probably see them about once a week, flitting around and sounding like frogs. They are beautiful birds, such pretty beaks. For those of you that do not remember what a Toucan looks like, think of the bird on the Fruit Loops box. That is them. Pretty frigging cool!

I am back to work. He has started his company and already has two clients, which is really exciting for him.

Now, back to hanging our new hammock on our porch……and we are having some new friends from Columbia over for dinner….should be fun. It is nice to be making some social contacts and getting a little more acclimated to life here. The first few months were really lonely, and we missed our friends.

Til the next time. We love you all and are thinking of you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

From our balcony

I decided today to take some photos from our 16th story balcony, so that you can share with us what we see every morning and every night.

When we might have a moment of 'why did we leave our organic dog food behind?', it is good to go out, grab a seat and breathe.....
This is a fabulous opportunity, and a beautiful place. We are incredibly blessed.