Wednesday, January 26, 2011

THINGS I DON'T MISS ABOUT BALTIMORE

Things I Don't Miss about Baltimore:

  • Cold
  • Snow
  • Dirty Air
  • Allergies and Asthma
  • Shootings
  • Crime
  • Violence
  • Feeling Unsafe
  • My Dishwasher (thought I'd never say that)
  • My Favorite Wine, Concha y Toro Merlot (because I can buy it here for $3 a bottle)
  • Working
www.baltimoresun.com

Things I Do Miss about Baltimore:
  • Window screens
  • My Washer and Dryer (terribly)
  • My Friends (who are all welcome to visit once BWI airport re-opens - but not all at once please)
-bjd

Monday, January 24, 2011

HOW I FOUND MY GARDENER

A few days ago I decided I'd rather have a gardener than a cleaning lady.  (Yes, I know this is sexist, but that's how it goes here.)  As it turns out, the process of getting a gardener here in Boquete is quite different from that in the States.

In the U.S.:
  • Look up Landscapers in Yellow Pages.
  • Select several possible candidates.
  • Call them, make appointments for them to come over.
  • Select one, negotiate price and sign written contract.

In Boquete:
  • Tell my landlord I'd like to have a gardener.
  • He finds one who is the cousin of my next door neighbor.
  • The cousin, Alfredo (not his real name), shows up at my door unannounced after a few days.
  • We walk around the yard, I ask him to take out the poisonous Angel's Trumpets and trim the dead branches off the banana trees behind the back fence.  (No, I didn't know how to do this in Spanish, but consulted Google Translate for every sentence.)
  • I tell him I'd like him to come once a week and ask him how much he charges.
  • He answers $10.
  • I give him a cold Coke in mid-morning and feed him lunch.
  • He works most of the day and does a beautiful job.
  • Then we start talking about possible plants for the new flower beds next to the fence.
  • He says he has a lot of plants at his house.
  • We go in my car to his house, which turns out to be the next one up the road, about a hundred yards away.
  • He lives in a large family compound consisting of two or three actual houses and numerous shacks of corrugated zinc sheets arranged in a seemingly random pattern up and down the hill.  
  • He proudly shows me his house from the outside. It is one of the newer corrugated ones.
  • I ask him if he has television. He replies "Una chiquita."  (And I thought Chiquita was bananas.)
  • I pick out about a dozen plants, including a fabulous red amaryllis.
  • We shake hands and he agrees to come next Monday.
I'm glad my next-door neighbor has a cousin.

And I wonder how many children were able to have dinner on that $10.

-bjd

Thursday, January 13, 2011

MARKET CUISINE COOKING CLASS

Tonight I went to a cooking class hosted by my friend Cora Kent, who does Boquete Gourmet.  She often presents different kinds of food-oriented events.  This one was in her beautiful demonstration kitchen and was taught by Chef Juan Linares:  LatinAmericanCook.blogspot.com.  It was focused on using locally grown ingredients.

I arrived a few minutes late.  They had already started the preparation of ceviche, a lime-marinated raw fish appetizer common in Latin cooking.  I took the last available chair next to a woman about my same age.

"Hi, I'm Nancy," she said.

I felt a jolt of recognition:  "Are you Nancy HALBERT?" I asked.

Her eyes got wide and she said, "Why yes, how did you know?"

"Because I'm Betty Dabney."

Nancy and I had been communicating through the extensive Boquete social network groups for about a month.  I knew that she and her husband would be visiting Boquete to check it out, just as I had done last January.  We shared a laugh.

What a small world, that these two internet friends met at a cooking class!  If I hadn't sat next to her, we probably would not have made the connection.

Here are some pictures from the class.  As you can see, a good time was had by all.  I'm not in any of them because I was behind the camera!

Menu and Tree Tomato Fruit,
the Basis for the Boquete Cosmopolitan Cocktail

A Participant Cutting Fish for Ceviche
(Tree Tomatoes in Foreground)

Chef Juan and Cora Kent, the Boquete Gourmet

Rounds Salad:  Potatoes, Carrots and Plantains
(Fresh Tomato Dressing Added to Each Plate)

Chopping Sweet Peppers for the Rice
and Fish Main Course

Chef Juan Breaking a Fresh Coconut

Everyone got into the act and had a great time.

Time to Enjoy the Fruits of Our Labors

Juan Linares:  Chef Extraordinaire

If you are ever in Boquete, I highly recommend that you take one of the Boquete Gourmet's cooking classes.  I can't wait for the Underground Dinner on January 29. That's where we don't know the chef, the menu, or the location beforehand.

You can check out Cora's blog, www.boquetegourmet.com, for more information and articles on her exciting classes.

-bjd

SETTLING IN

My landlord is having a chain-link fence built to secure the yard for the dogs and to keep the chickens out. I am impressed at the speed that Ivan (the main fence guy) is working.  He has spent two full days hand-digging a deep trench for the fence.  Never accuse the Panamanians of not working hard.

Here are some of my frequent visitors:

A Few of My Neighbors
My human neighbors are an extended Panamanian family in two houses.  I hold them in high esteem because they love their chickens and don't kill them.

Meanwhile, the dogs are settling in nicely:

Molly and Chauncey Doing Their Thing
Li'l Bit o' Sugar (Now officialy called Azucarita)
and Chauncey
Note that Chauncey is the common denominator.

And I have set up a Branch Office:

My Branch Office - Hours by Appointment

So far I've signed up for Spanish lessons, a Panamanian cooking class and an Underground Dinner (where you don't know the location, chef or menu beforehand).  One of my friends has invited me to be her guest at the monthly Boquete Chicas birthday party.

Not bad.

-bjd

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A TOUR OF MY FRONT YARD

Here are just some of the plants in my garden.  These are in my front yard - the next entry will be the back yard. If any of you know the names of the Unknowns, please let me know.

Areca Palm and Huge Croton
in Front of House

Polka Dot Plants Growing Wild Underfoot

Bouganvilla - A Favorite
Have both pink and red.

Ferns Everywhere

Mother-in-Law's Tongue

Red Banana - Transplanted from the Fence Project
We'll see if it makes it.

Walking Iris - Small and Delicate
(Thanks to Kate Blom of Baltimore's Rawlings
Conservatory for identifying it.)

Yucca.  They eat the roots here.

NEWS FLASH:  The torch ginger is in my garden!  I'm in heaven!  This one is red, so there has to be another pink one somewhere:

My Very Own Torch Ginger!


Torch Ginger with car to give
perspective on how tall it is - at least two stories


Another Torch Ginger (left)
Variegated Lariope (center)
And Red Unknown (right)
Little Yellow Ground Flower - Life Size
(Grows wild in the cloud forest)
Variegated Spathyphyllum??
Philodendron giganteum?
Looks Like Ageratum - But Grows Tall

Red Variegated Dracena Marginata
and Gold Dust Plant
Red Hibiscus - Rarely open, not sure why
Another Specimen of the Red Unknown

Interesting Green Unknown -
A Calathea Perhaps??
Variegated Dracena Marginata
Orange Angel's Trumpet - Grows Wild Here
Beautiful but deadly with scopalamine (hallucinogen
used by shamans)

That's about it for the front yard.  Tomorrow we'll tour the back and side yards.

-bjd

Monday, January 10, 2011

THE ADVENTURE OF GROCERY SHOPPING

Today I went grocery shopping.  This may seem like a mundane chore, but when you don't know which stores carry which merchandise, it's an adventure.

First I went to a combination grocery/variety store where my friend had taken me to buy my cell phone.  They have a remarkable variety of items, and here is part of my first haul:

First Groceries - Note the Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter
There are several things of note here.  I was able to find multi-grain bread (but the Tuesday Gringo Market would have many more bread options, and all home-made).  There are some familiar U.S. items, such as my beloved Jif Extra Crunchy.  One brand of jam comes in squeezable plastic bags (far right of picture).  Sugar comes in beautiful one-pound paper-wrapped bags, similar to ours at home.  You can also buy panela, the brown raw sugar from sugar cane.  (Note that ground cinnamon is called canela, which is way too confusing.)

It was a thrill to find McVitie's Ginger Nuts, one of my favorite cookies from living in the U.K.  There are a lot of Brits here, so British groceries make their appearance on the grocers' shelves.

And of course there's the coffee, one of the reasons I moved here.  I've heard it said the coffee producers reserve the best for export, but it's hard to beat the taste of Balboa:

Cafe Balboa - Pure Heaven for $2.35/Pound
There are also some unusual products that I've never seen in the States, such as this lovely White-Blueberry Tea from China:

All the Tea in China
I'm drinking a cup of it now even as I write this, and it's delicious.

I tried to buy a bottle of my favorite wine, Concha y Toro (Shell and Bull) from Chile, which sells for about $4 a bottle here, only to be told at the cash register that I couldn't buy it.  I didn't understand the explanation but made a mental note to buy some at the other supermarket in town.

Next I went to Romero's, but they wouldn't sell wine either.  Turns out it was a national holiday to remember the martyrs who had been killed by American troups during the Noriega invasion.  I felt a twinge of guilt when I later learned this, that Panamanians had been killed by Americans.

The only disappointment in the shopping foray was the poor choice of dog food.  I bought Pedigree, a fairly good American brand, but the dogs turned up their noses at it.  Later I found some Purina Pro Plan, and the dogs are happy with it.  Now I just have to remember where I bought it.

Fresh organic veggies and organic free-range chicken are waiting for me at the Gringo Tuesday Market tomorrow.

-bjd



BEING TOO ADVENTUROUS

Yesterday I moved into "my" house.  It is wonderful - larger than I expected.  And the yard is glorious, with hundreds of plants both native and cultivated.  I have done a photographic inventory and will post it soon.

In the meantime, look at this fabulous pink torch ginger that the owner had left for me on the breakfast bar. He had no way of knowing that torch ginger is my absolute favorite flower.  And this is the most magnificent specimen I've ever seen.  This, I thought, is a very positive sign that I belong in this place:

Pink Torch Ginger Greeting My Arrival
(This is the actual one.)

The house is on an unpaved, very bumpy road.  I was already having fun driving the rented Suzuki Jimny a little fast over the bumps:

Not my picture, but this is pretty much how it looks here.

Today we needed to get groceries.  I was told there is a shortcut to town, by continuing up the hill past the  house and turning left.  I packed the dogs into the car and decided to try it.  We took what looked like a left turn going downhill after crossing the crest of the hill.  The road was very steep and rocky, but looked like it was headed to town.  Instead, it turned out to be a dead end down by the river with a circle for making a U-turn.  

I headed back up the hill, only to find that the underpowered Subaru Jimny wouldn't make it.  I stopped and put it into 4-wheel drive, then gunned the motor.  The car slid backward, with a rear wheel on the edge of a precipice.

Shit.

I managed to go forward a couple of feet and over-corrected the steering, only to slip back with the other rear wheel in a ditch.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Holy Jesus, Son of the Living God, if you help me get out of this pinch, I promise not to be so adventurous and be a good girl and take roads only after being sure of where they go.

I gently backed down the hill while straightening up, then gunned the motor for all it was worth.

By some stroke of good fortune the gods were smiling on us, and we managed to make it back up the hill to the "main" road.

I took the long way into town, and drove very slowly.

-bjd


DAWN OF A NEW DAY

I’m sitting on the rostra (back porch), drinking the first cup of coffee made in “my” house.  It is about 8 a.m. and the temperature is somewhere in the 60s:  crisp but not chilly.  Birds are singing everywhere in unknown songs.  I think I just heard a hummingbird. The air is suffused with a subtle scent of orange.

The little house is lovelier than I had imagined.  The back yard is built up on a terrace made by a weathered stone wall with rocks rounded from tumbling down the river.  Here is a panorama:

Panorama of Back Yard Stone Terrace

Two roosters constantly call and answer each other.  Yes, that was a hummingbird – I just saw it.

The property has hundreds of plants, some wild and some planted. I will do a photographic inventory when the sun gets a little higher.  But for now I'll just savor the moment.

It is very peaceful here - a wonderful place to begin a new life.

-bjd

Sunday, January 9, 2011

MORE LATER

Safe and sound in Boquete with my three dogs.  Lots of adventures along the way, but too tired to talk about them now.

More later...

-bjd

Saturday, January 8, 2011

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

On Saturday morning January 8th Jose picked us up from the inn and deposited us at the Albrook regional airport.  I had made a reservation on-line for Air Panama's 9:00 am flight to David.  David is the closest airport to Boquete, about a half-hour drive away.

The terminal was packed - not a good sign.  A huge tour group was just unloading from a bus.  I managed to barge up to a desk agent ahead of the tour director, because I had the dogs with me in their kennels and didn't want to wait a long time.

Air Panama didn't have any record of my reservation!  They said it was because I hadn't paid for it, and I tried to explain that I couldn't figure out how to pay for it on their website.  The flight was full because of the tour group.

"When's the next flight to David?" I asked, getting very worried.,

"There is only one more flight today, at 4:00," said the desk agent.  I quickly paid for a ticket on that flight. It was now 8:00.  An 8-hour wait with the dogs loomed ahead.

Damn.

Jose had already left, the battery on my cell phone was dead, and in any case I had forgotten to activate the global networking.  For a few minutes I was purely panicked.

I noticed an electrical outlet and plugged in my cell phone and laptop, hoping to get them charged enough to be able to contact someone.  I was able to send e-mails to my friend who was planning to meet me in David, telling her I was not on the 9:00 flight as planned, and later confirming that I was on the 4:00 pm flight.

Eight hours of waiting in the Air Panama terminal with the dogs.  I decided to make the best of it by observing the people and their conversations.

There were many Kuna women and children waiting with me.  The Kuna are one of the indigenous tribes in Panama, who live north of Panama City on a comargue (reservation).  Many tour groups visit them, as they are the closest to the capital.  I was fascinated by the women's beautiful costumes:
http://www.sanblaspanamahotels.com
They make elaborate embroidered and cutwork squares called Molas, which form the bottom of their blouses:
A Typical Mola
http://www.theawarenetwork.com.au
Tourists buy these Molas for artwork and purses. Then they add coordinating fabric for the top and sleeves.They wear patterned red and yellow cotton scarves, either tied or loose over their heads.  Their skirts are patterned fabric tied around their wastes.

They have complex beaded leggings, which evidently are sewn directly onto their legs because I can't fathom how they could be removed:
Kuna Leggings
corbisimages.com
Some of the Kuna women are very small, about four feet tall.  I later learned that they are among the smallest people in the world, along with the African Pygmies.

It was incongruent to see some of the women and especially their daughters talking on cell phones.  More importantly, all of the children I saw wore modern dress and were indistinuishable from their Panamanian counterparts.  I felt a twinge of sadness that this colorful lifeway is rapidly disappearing now that travel and communications are so easy.

Such is progress.

-bjd

Friday, January 7, 2011

FLYING TO PANAMA

January 7th - the long-awaited day we move to Panama.

My son drove us to Washington Reagan, so we could take advantage of a flight that arrives in Miami two hours prior to the Miami-Panama City departure.  This adjustment of itinerary proved to be critical and allowed me to make all the flight arrangements myself without having to use the pet transport agent and their $3,000 fee.

Even though I knew all the documents for flying the dogs were in order, I had a few nervous moments at check-in when the agent at Washington Reagan spent over an hour verifying every bit of minutia.  I knew we would be OK when she got the green "Live Animals" stickers to put on their kennels.  I would advise anyone traveling with pets abroad to have all the documentation on IATA rules etc with you.  It turns out the rules had been changed in October, and I had a copy of the most recent regulation saying that two adult dogs could travel together in the same kennel if they were under 14 kg apiece.  Even the agent, who used to work in cargo, was not aware of this and was eventually able to document it in their system.

When leaving your former life behind, you don't want to have any more surprises than necesssary.  Do your homework.

The same Skycap who had brought the kennels and baggage into the terminal took the dogs down for loading and invited me to ride with him in the elevator to the passenger boarding level.

Once seated on the plane, I had a wonderful view of the Jefferson and Washington Monuments:
Jefferson and Washington Monuments from the Tarmac

After a few minutes I had a birds-eye view of the dogs being loaded onto the plane:

Dogs Waiting to Be Loaded

Pups on the Ramp
 The ticket agent had changed my seat at the last minute; she must have known I would want to make sure the dogs were on the plane.  Thanks for that small unnecessary kindness she gave to this stranger.

During take-off the view of Washington was spectacular:

Good-Bye to Washington
The two-hour layover in Miami gave me enough time to have a Cuban sandwich for dinner.  Then we were off into the twilight.  Here are some interesting cloud patterns en route:

Rippling Clouds

Marshmallow Clouds
And then we landed at Tocumen Airport.  Unfortunately the darkness prevented any views of the mountains.  Jose, my Man on the Ground, was there to meet me at baggage claim.  The dogs came out with the baggage, and Jose's colleague took the kennels to the agriculture office next to baggage claim, then told the customs officer to wave me on through.  It's nice to have friends in strange places.
..
Four hundred and fifty dollars later, I had the official stamps of approval.  Jose took us to the Balboa Inn, where the dogs finally got a little walk through the lovely Balboa neighborhood.

We had a fairly good night's rest, but little did I know of the adventure that awaited us tomorrow.

-bjd