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Feliz Navidad

Shorty and Slim

Balboa Yacht Club
Last night we drove over to the Balboa Yacht Club for a concert by Shorty and Slim. Ordered up some munchies and settled in for a fun evening. They play "fun to listen to" music - most of which has something to do with growing up in the old Canal Zone with an occasional reference to present day life in Panama. Song titles like, Kakaroach, Life on Mango Street, Cyats and Rats, I Don't Like Snow, Ocean Breeze, Patio Sale, Chiva Bus, What You Dad Do?, The Higher the Monkey Climb - are done to calypso, rock, reggae, oldies and folk music rhythms, resulting in a toe-taping, hand clapping, dancin' good time. Read More...


Party Gifts
Jane and Maria (Frit Arte) hosted a little Christmas party at Maria's restaurant a couple of days ago for some of the neighborhood kids, kids of Frit Arte workers, and kids of some of the police who eat at Frit Arte. Santa greeted them at the door and welcomed all the kids because they are on Santa's "Good" list. The game, "Pin the Nose on Santa" was a big hit. There was all the gourmet food kids are interested in (chicken nuggets and pizza) and cupcakes for dessert. The bottle of bubbles in the gift bags were fun. There were bubbles all over the restaurant with everyone popping them. Kids of all ages danced. Six boys and girls from a choir entertained with Christmas songs. It was a great time and everyone left happy and in the Christmas spirit. Read More...

Bomberos Celebrate

New camión de bomberos     Old camión de bomberos
Panama City's Fire Department celebrated their 122nd birthday last week with a BIG parade that according to reports was a great parade that also created a massive traffic jam. We stayed home and last night were rewarded with our own mini Bomberos (firefighters) Torch Parade. Read More...

Getting our Panama Drivers License

Panama DL

One thing that needed to change when we bought the car - we couldn't continue to play loose with the law, we needed a Panama driver's license. I had been using my Virgin Islands driver's license when we rented a car and just played the dumb tourist if we got stopped at a police checkpoint, those days were over. So I needed a license and Jane decided that she might want to drive, so the two of us ventured forth into the bureaucratic web that one encounters when getting something official done in a foreign county.

First, lets put this adventure in context. A few months ago I decided to get a Michigan drivers license - with help from my sister, it took about an hour, I was impressed. Seven years ago when I got my Virgin Islands DL, it took a couple of weeks, half a dozen trips to DMV and a lot of aggravation. I was hoping that Panama would come a lot closer to my Michigan experience than the Virgin Island nightmare.

We've got wheels

Honda parked out front
Well, the number of exciting taxi related stories will take a major hit becuse we've purchased a used Honda CRV - I can already hear the moan out there in internet land. On the plus side, our local adventure and exploring tales should jump because of our increased mobility.

We've been in Panama nearly 1½ years now and have relied on taxis (plus an occasional car rental) to get around. In fact, we are fans of the Panama City taxis as they provide a cheap and easy (most of the time) way to get around and we've had a minimum number of bad experiences and lots of interesting stories to tell because of our frequent use. The Honda will let us take short day trips and explore on our own (which we like to do), take Wags along (which he thinks is great), and take some longer trips to explore this interesting country.

I will write about our first "auto related" adventure in a couple of days - getting our Panama drivers license. Stay tuned.

Take care

Parade Pictures

A few pictures from the big parades this week.

Don't forget - click to see a larger version.

Saint Mary's    Flags

Celebration Time!

Panama Flag
Panamanians like to celebrate. In November there are a series of important holidays. Just about everything shuts down on these days, with big parades, music, and plenty of fireworks. This year the major parades will be returning to Casco Viejo (their traditional home) so we expect a lot to be going on in our little section of the City. We will get out on foot to check things out, but no traveling as we expect "del tráfico en tiempo grandesl" (big time traffic) in and around Casco.

  • November 3, is "Separation Day" to celebrate Panama's separation from Colombia in 1903 with the writing of the “Acta de Independencia del Istmo,” declaring what was then a province of Colombia to be an independent and sovereign nation called The Republic of Panama.
  • November 4 is "Flag Day" - The flags designers had worked on the flag while plans to become a nation were still secret.
  • November 5 is "Colon Day" - Independence celebrations continue on this day because it was on November 5 that Panamanian officials persuaded (bribed) Colombian forces stationed in Colon not to fight Panama's separation from Colombia.
  • November 10 commemorates the “Primer Grito de Independencia de Panama de España” (The First Cry for Independence from Spain) from the Los Santos Province - the hotbed of Panama's independence movement.
  • November 28 is Independence Day to celebrate the country's independence from Spain in 1821.

In case the above is a little confusing, just remember, Panama gained its "independence" from Spain in 1821 and "separated" itself from Colombia in 1903.

Take care.

Get on your feet

Gloria Estefan Concert
Thursday night we went out for dinner and a concert - Jane, Maria and two of Maria's friends from Colombia and the lone guy - me. We started with dinner at Restaurante Casablanca, here in Casco Viejo at Plaza Bolivar. It's always nice eating outdoors (especially when the weather cooperates) and everyone's food was very good. Maria (owner of Frit Arte) seems to know everyone - so we had great service.

Around 7:30 we left Casco Viejo for the concert at the convention center on the Amador Causeway. I managed not to get lost (driving Maria's car), finding a parking spot was relatively easy and we were in our seats on time. Read More...

St. Croix Visitors

Jane, Joel and Rose

Rose and Joel (friends from our St. Croix days) left today after two busy weeks in Panama. They spent a couple of days with us, but most of the time they were on the road (nearly 2000 kilometers - 1250 miles) seeing the sights - it was wearing me out reading about their travels. Visiting Panama City, El Valle, Boquete, Bocas, Santa Clara, Colon and many small towns in between, they had mostly positive things to report - good food (especially the lasagna), beer, great scenery and friendly people. Read More...

Feast Around the World

The Fiesta Alrededor del Mundo (World Food Festival) was this past week at the ATLAPA Convention Center - looked like a good portion of the city turned out for this annual event. Hosted by Caravana, which is a women's coalition (Panamanian and Foreign Nationals) who represent the various countries who have their nationals living in Panama. Proceeds support the Caravana de Asistencia Social and their programs throughout the country. Read More...

Odds and Ends

taking it easy

Pretty quiet in Casco Viejo. Jane is in Kentucky until the end of the week. Wags and I are just hangin' out - last night we went out for tacos - I eat, Wags watches. We did have overnight visitors - Rose and Joel from St. Croix, they rented a car and are now out exploring and I'm sure they will have some stories to tell when they get back to the City.

Some miscellaneous stuff you might (might not) find interesting. Read More...

Embera Adventure

getting ready
Last Tuesday we did something unusual (for us) - we took a "tour", although a more accurate description would be "expedition". Our adventure started at eight in the morning and ended over ten hours later - it was a loooong day. We traveled, first by car - then dugout canoe, to a Embera village on the Chagres River in Panama's rainforest. Not all that far from the city - but we were transported to a whole different world.

Our guide was one of those interesting people that you tend to meet in unusual places, like Panama. Anne is a U.S. citizen, with a 20 year career as a animal trainer in film and TV. She meet her husband while working on a film in the jungles of Panama, and is now married to a member of the village we visited.

A little history. The Embera are one of the seven recognized tribes of indigenous people in Panama. They first migrated from Columbia to Panama’s Darien region. Then, over the last quarter-century, a few of these families pushed further west, establishing small villages on the Chagres River. Today, they live much as their ancestors did - except that they welcome tourists.

So, take a little trip with us as we visit Embera' Puru. Read More...

Panama Politics

Ricardo Martinelli, Panama's newly elected president, has been very busy during his first three weeks in office. Most people seem to like what he's doing and just hope he can keep it up. So far:
  • He's announced he will not accept his presidential salary, but will have it sent directly to several non-profits for their use in improving education and health care for the poor. Not a move you'd normally expect from a Central or South American president.
  • He gave the police a 25% raise. Now the base pay for a police officer in Panama is a whopping $6000 a YEAR! At least it's a start.
  • He's taken back a couple of government owned properties where developers had failed to pay the required government fees for use of the land. This was a very BIG DEAL because it gives some hope that the business as usual practice (either not paying concession fees or pay someone under the table) employed by the well connected in Panama may at least slow down.
  • The electrical rates have been reduced by 10%
  • Instituted a new program to pay a $100 monthly check to any Panamanian who is both over 70 years of age and who is not receiving any other kind of monthly pension or payment. Yep, that's $100 a MONTH - suddenly "fixed income" has a new reality.

A dog's life


Since we've been in Panama Jane has been very picky about the quality of veterinary care available to Wags. She even hired a taxi for a day for an "inspection tour" of the various options available in the city, after being less than thrilled with our original vet. Based on some recommendations and her "search" results she settled on Dr. Sandra at "Cats and Dogs" and she has been pleased. It even turned out that Dr. Sandra makes house calls!

at the vet   Cats and Dogs   House call

Twit 7/18/09

Very busy week

Don returned to Virginia yesterday after a good round of touring that kept us busy since his arrival last Monday. We enjoyed his visit and had a fun week doing the "tourist" thing. Earlier in the week we hit the canal, Panama Viejo, the causeway and the Smithsonian's Nature Center.

Miraflores Panama Canal     Causeway Restaurant
Don Punta Culebra     From Punta Culebra
Then . . . . . . . . Read More...

First House Guest

On Monday a good friend of many years flew in from Roanoke VA, for a week. Don and I had worked together in Charlotte and St. Croix and rode our motorcycles together - back in the old days. Yesterday we went out to the Panama Canal, specifically the Miraflores locks - toured the very interesting museum and watched a couple of ships pass through the locks. We've, of course, seen this before - but it's still an impressive operation. After a couple of hours at the visitors center we headed for a late lunch at the Gamboa Resort's waterside restaurant - very good meal, fine service and a great setting. Next stop, Albrook Mall for ice cream - then back to Casco. Don and I went out at 9 P.M. to a new ceviche bar on Plaza Bolivar for at late night snack and beer. Nice end to a very full day - this tourist stuff sure is hard work.

Miraflores   Panama Canal Miraflores   Ship at Miraflores


Bump in the night

Last night just before 2 A.M. we were awakened by a 6.0 magnitude earthquake - enough shaking to wake us up, but otherwise uneventful, as we went right back to sleep. It's center was about 60 miles Northeast of Panama City, off the coast in the Caribbean. Haven't heard of any damage - but it was interesting, for us, in that we experienced frequent earthquakes in the USVI but never anything this strong.

Much more exciting - the afternoon shower (downpour) and wind (thought we were back in St. Croix during a tropical storm) that had us scurrying around the apartment trying to keep the water out and cleaning up the mess.

Take care.

Walking the Cinta Costera

We took our first walk along the park portion of nearly completed Cinta Costera project this afternoon. Pretty nice, and lots of people were out enjoying this new green space. Hope they install more trash receptacles (could happen, it's not finished) and a fenced doggie park sure would be nice - just wishful thinking. Overall, it's a vast improvement over what was there and will make our walks to the city much more enjoyable.

Our first year

We arrive 6:26:08

One year ago today we arrived in Panama to begin our new adventure and for the most part it's lived up to our expectations. In broad terms it's been both exciting and a challenge, with new customs and the language leading the excitement and challenge categories.

Some highlights:
  • We've made new friends, missed old ones.
  • Are amazed at the similarities between St. Croix and Panama, and how much easier our new life is because of our "island life" experience.
  • We've made the transition to both being retired and so far have survived.
  • The wonderful diversity of this country.
  • Dinning out - at affordable prices.
  • Shopping - remember we moved from a small island.
  • Going to the National Theater.
  • Talking to visitors in Casco Viejo.
  • Watching (and slowly becoming a part of) everyday life in our new neighborhood.
  • Jane's book exchange is a big hit.
  • And lastly, taxi drivers, ice cream and walking at night in Casco.

Folk dancers National Theater Concert

On the practical side:

  • Received our permanent visa, took us nine months - way too long.
  • Opened a local bank account in one day - unheard of.
  • Found "our place" in Panama
  • Still trying to get our crate shipped from St. Croix.
  • Survived without a car.
  • Can (unfortunately) vouch for the quality of the local health care system.
  • Progress on learning Spanish has been painfully slow.

What's not to like:
  • Not much - but trash, liter and noise are areas that Panama definitely needs to work on.
  • Poverty - which, sadly, affects too many Panamanians.

We obviously don't know what the next year will bring, but . . . it's almost certain to be exciting, challenging and fun. Hope you continue to tag along - or, better yet, visit us in Panama for your next adventure. Take care.

TWITS 6/21/09

TWITS 6/13/09

Rainy Season

Rain Day

In Panama we have two seasons, dry and rainy, for some reason are also called winter and summer - which to confuse things further are the opposite of the seasons in North America. What this all really means is that it rains more during certain months of the year, less during others. Supposedly rainy season starts in May - it really starts about when it wants and ends about the same way - when it stops. So, one of the first things you realize after being here awhile is don't try and make plans around what Mother Nature might do. Read More...

TWITS are here

TWITS logo

Not to be confused with twitting on Twitter, I'm not into that, or the humorous children's book written by Roald Dahl - but rather a quick video about our past week in Panama. Read More...

"Fast" in Panama

September Cinta Costera
Although the Red Devil and taxi drivers (when not stuck in a traffic jam) do their best to imitate a NASCA or Indy driver with respect to speed, little else in this country can be associated with the word "fast". The "mañana mindset" (nothing is really worth rushing) is Panama personified, especially with anything government related. (Remember our eight month visa saga.) So it's a real shocker when you see a government project moving along at a brisk pace and almost on schedule. That's happening with the Cinta Costera - the expansion of Avenida Balboa in Panama City. This project is BIG (behind only the Panama Canal expansion), complicated and the current administration wanted it done before they leave on July 1 - they almost made it happen. Read More...

And they keep on coming

Concert Poster
Surprises that is. First surprise, Panama has a chapter of University of Pennsylvania Alumni Club - didn't think to ask anyone why, so it remains a mystery (to me). Next surprise, the entertainment that pops up in little ole Panama - this time a performance by the Penn Glee Club, sponsored by the alumni as a fund raiser. The Penn Glee Club was founded 147 years ago and has performed in 37 countries on 5 continents - pretty amazing. Sounded interesting so . . . Read More...

Memorial Day

U.S. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson
Except for my three plus year stint in the Army I can't recall ever having attended a Memorial Day Ceremony. But, for some reason (perhaps because we now live in foreign country) it seemed appropriate that we make the effort to attend and show our respect to those who have contributed so much to securie the freedoms we tend to take for granted. It was a short ceremony (45 min), at the Corozal American Cemetery, with several speakers, including the U.S. Ambassador to Panama and music by a small U.S. Air Force band, in a gorgeous setting. It was a nice ceremony and I'm glad we took the time to attend. Read More...

Orquesta Sinfónica de Panamá

Sinfonica Concert National Theater Boxes BDB Duo
We just returned from the National Theater where we enjoyed a concert by the Panama Symphony with guest performers the BDB Duo. This was the first time we had heard the full symphony - they were very good. The Spanish Embassy sponsored the evening and although you needed an invitation, it was free - just had to e-mail the Embassy and then stop by to pick up our invite. This was probably the sixth concert we have attended at the National Theater and they have all been free, amazing!

Lest you think we have joined the "high society" set in Panama with all these theater outings. Read More...

Panama's election

Time has another article on Panama - Panama's New President - if you are interested.

Exorcising the Red Devils

I've done a couple posts on Panama's famous (infamous) Red Devils but Time Magazine just published this article - Panama City Tries to Exorcise its Red Devils. You might find the article interesting, but I think they came up a little short with the accompanying picture so I've included this short video.

Take care.

Fun night for a good cause

American Society Auction

Last Thursday Jane and I attended a charitable auction sponsored by the American Society of Panama. The society is a non-profit that supports educational programs in Panama City - their primary project is a school in Casco Viejo. Membership is open to anyone, so in addition to those of us from the U.S.A. we meet Canadians, a couple from Australia, several Brits and Panamanians, the majority in attendance. Read More...

More visitors

Elaine and Ron visiting Casco
Another great day in Casco Viejo made even better by a visit from Panama Notes readers, Elaine and Ron. We had a nice lunch at Super Gourmet and did our little walking tour of Casco which ended, of course, with a stop at the ice cream shop.

The Bramson's plan on building in Altos Del Maria - trading in the big city life of Atlanta for the more laid back lifestyle in a mountain community. It's always interesting when we visit with others that plan on moving to Panama (or already have) to hear the why's and process used in selecting a particular place within the country. Everyone has their own criteria and the attractiveness of Panama is that it has something for everyone.
Elaine and Jane

Every visit we have from a "Notes" reader has turned a name into a friend. Thanks for stopping by guys - hope we see you again!

Take care.

Making progress

Kitchen cabinet installation

Busy week, we made some real progress. We've finally "turned the corner" and the apartment is looking less like a construction zone and more like our new home. End of the month move in looks like it might actually happen. During the week we had painters, carpenters, the guys working on the walls and most importantly the new kitchen cabinets arrived and are now installed. Still to come, countertops and appliances. Read More...

Health care experiences

Hospital Punta Pacifica

Sure didn't plan to have a "up close and personal" experience with Panama's health care system but over the last two weeks I've seen the inside of two hospitals, dealt with five doctors and loads of other health care professionals and, of course, our insurance company. My experience was mostly very positive and I'm confident that if we need health care services in the future, we can get quality care in Panama. Read More...

Panama Jazz Festival

6th Panama JazzThis week is a good week if you are a jazz fan living in or visiting Panama as the 6th Panama Jazz Festival takes place from the 12th through the 17th. The big, all day, free final concert will take place here in Casco Viejo. Read More...

Six months

We’re taking a break from the apartment remodel work so I thought I would take a quick look back at our first six months in Panama. This won’t be real exciting, because our stay so far has been relatively free of surprises and disappointments. I think our current satisfaction with how things have gone can be traced to three things: First, we did a LOT of research before we made this move. Second, before we committed to Panama we spent a month here, in 2006, looking for potential problems. Lastly, we benefited in that we were moving from a place (St. Croix) that had a surprising number of similarities with Panama and we had long ago shed ourselves of most North American expectations on how things should be. Read More...

Happy New Year

Casco Fireworks
Jane and I had a quiet celebration as is our custom - just not into big parties. We did venture out just before midnight to check the fireworks. It’s not like we’re accustomed to, the city doesn’t have an “official display”, but it seems like everybody else and his brother does. Stuff is flying into the air from all directions. It loud and the night is lit up for miles. Just no way to catch the scope of the pyrotechnics with a camera. but it sure is fun to watch.

Hope to post later today with a little look back at our first six months (already) in Panama. Take care.
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