Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Today, after six months of planning, I got my Panamanian Drivers License.  Here is a very brief description of the process:
  1. In Panama City last March, got an official affidavit/copy of my US drivers license at the US Embassy. Cost:  $51.
  2. Then went to the Panamanian Office of Foreign Affairs to turn in the affidavit for verification (even though it was already verified at the Embassy).
  3. While waiting for the Office of Foreign Affairs to process the affidavit (which may take a few days), bought two postage-stamp-like $1 "timbres" from a man who hangs out on the steps of the office center where the Office of Foreign Affairs is.  He charges a $.10 mark-up but hey, it supports his family.
  4. Went to the Banco Nacional in the same office center to turn in a deposit slip filled out at the Office of Foreign Affairs and deposited $2 into their account.
  5. Took the validated deposit slip and the two timbres back to the Office of Foreign Affairs when my verified affidavit was processed later that afternoon.
  6. Licked the two timbres and applied them to the back of the verified and processed affidavit/copy of my U.S. drivers license, then took the verified and processed affidavit/copy of my U.S. drivers license to another desk at the Office of Foreign Affairs, where they stamped the stamps with a rubber stamp.
This month, after my permanent Pensionada was processed, I was ready to apply for my 4-year Panamanian drivers license.  This has to be done within 90 days of my last entry into the country on April 6, so I had until July 5 to finish everything.

  1. Realized I had lost the papers above, so I returned to Panama City last week (the only place where it can be done) and repeated Steps 1-6.  At least I got my permanent Pensionada card in the same trip.  Cost of round-trip airfare:  $255 (but I will get $40 Pensionada discount back after only 4-6 weeks processing time).  Cost of new affidavit/copy/timbres/Office of Foreign Affairs fee:  $55. Cost to pay my lawyer's husband to take me around the city again: $50.  At least the Office of Foreign Affairs processed the affidavit/copy in a few hours when I showed them I had to be on the 4:00 pm return flight the same day.  Otherwise it would have taken at least overnight.
  2. Additional photocopies of my passport main page plus any other pages with immigration stamps and the date of my last entry into the county.  Photocopy of my permanent Pensionada card.  Done locally in Boquete.  Cost:  $.25  No need for affidavits.  Made sure the cards were positioned at the top center of all the copies.
  3. Went to the medical laboratory in the same Chiriqui Mall as the drivers license office to get my blood typed.  Cost: $4 (after a generous $6 Pensionada discount).  Waiting time for results:  45 minutes.  Made good use of that time by going to Hospital Chiriqui laboratory for more blood work in connection with getting health insurance - filled out health insurance application and saw a doctor in the hospital for my insurance exam.
  4. Returned to medical laboratory after lunch and picked up the lab report with my blood type.  Why didn't I get this done ahead of time in Boquete, you ask?  Because there are no "approved" clinical laboratories in Boquete, and I went to the trouble to look up the list of approved labs ahead of time. Everyone goes to the lab in the Chiriqui Mall anyway.  (By the way, if your U.S. drivers license shows your blood type, you don't need to go through this step.)
  5. With all paperwork in hand, finally went to the Sertracen office in the Chiriqui Mall.  This is a company with the official contract from the Panamanian government to process the drivers licenses.
  6. Showed the paperwork to the receptionist.  All was in order.  YES!
  7. Waited along with about 100 other people to get my photo made and paperwork double-checked by another person and fill out the application. Fortunately Pensionadas go to the front of any line n any public office, so that was a plus.
  8. Then the power went out at the office.  Everyone acted normally, as if nothing were wrong.  
  9. After all this paperwork, I vowed not to leave the office without my drivers license unless they had to carry me out feet first.
  10.  A man came out from an inner office carrying a penlight (which was really unnecessary because the whole front wall was windows and one could see perfectly well without power.  I noticed the lady at the station where my application had been placed on the top of the pile was still working on her computer.  I could see the reflection of the light from the monitor on her face. A good sign.
  11. The power came back on after about ten minutes.  The lady called me up to her station, processed my application into her computer and took my picture (without glasses). 
  12. Went back to wait with the 100+ people (more people were there by now) to wait for my eye test, which I had been stressing about. After a few minutes they called me to the eye test station, which was right next to the other lady who had processed my application into the system. No problema - passed with flying colors.
  13. Went back to wait with the 100++ people to get a hearing test behind a door in a soundproof room.  After a few minutes they called my name and I went into the inner sanctum for the hearing test, which was a nifty computer program with a touch screen and earphones. High technology. No problema.
  14. Was sent to the cashier at another window. Stood in a short line. Paid my $40 and got a receipt. Was told to go back and sit with the 100+++ people.
  15. After a few minutes, someone at another window called my name, but I didn't hear it. All could have been lost at this point.  But by then all the other 100++++ people knew who I was because I was one of the few who had actually been processed during that time -Pensionada and all that. So some friendly people in the waiting room told me to go on up and showed me where the other window was - in a back corner of the room, not visible from where I'd been sitting.
  16. The lady in that window handed me my drivers license.  I said "Gracias a Dios" with true sincerity and kissed it, then walked out to make the drive back home.
  17. I forgot to time it, but I think it took about two hours once I was at the drivers license office,  I am very proud of the fact that I did it all in one trip - after the Panama City fiasco, that is.  Some gringos need up to seven trips because they don't do their homework.  Of course, I did have to make two trips to Panama City, so I shouldn't gloat too much.
And here is what I have to show for all this effort.  I think the picture says it all - what it feels like to work with the system:

In the end, it really wasn't that bad. It would have been much easier and cheaper if I hadn't lost the original paperwork. But now you know what I did, and what you will need to do to get your Panamanian Drivers License. 

Of course, by the time you do it, the procedure may have changed. So you will need to learn it for yourself anyway.

Now just in case you missed something, here is a quick recap.

Got it?  Good.  And good luck.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011


This weekend, July 2-3, I have the pleasure of selling some of my note cards at Carla Black's world-famous heliconia garden in Volcan. Thanks to Carla for inviting me to share my work with such a discerning audience.  Here are some of the images.  The first group is from her garden. Note that these were taken under field conditions where lighting and composition cannot be controlled.  However, I think they turned out very well. I like them, and hope you do too:

Carla's Heliconia rostrata Jungle
(These are the giant ones,
with bracts several feet long.  Must be seen
to be believed.)
H irrasa in Background with Maranta sp
H lingulata 'Red Tip Fan'
Heliconia lingulata 'Fan'
Heliconia bihai Lobster Claw One
H stricta # 2
Heliconia carmelae
Heliconia nutans
Heliconia pendula
H lingulata 'Red Tip Fan' by Pond
And here are some of Carla's other flowers:
Bird of Paradise Strelitzia reginae
Water Lilly
Nymphaea hybrid 'morado claro'
Nymphaea hybrid 'morado oscuro'
Nymphae Victoria reginae
And finally, some old stand-bys from my and my friend Cora Kent's gardens:
H rostrata from My Night Garden
Cora's Amaryllis
Cora's Hellebore
Cora's Stachytarpheta jamaicensis
Cora's Heliconia psittacorum ‘Andromeda’
and Ti Plant Cordyline terminalis 
Hope to see you at the sale!


Monday, June 20, 2011


It's interesting how this physical and mental move to a simpler lifestyle have affected me.  Material things I used to take for granted now seem all out of whack.

Take an electric mixer, for example.  I left my little hand-held electric mixer behind when I moved to Boquete with only two suitcases and three dogs.  Vowing to cut way back on baking unhealthy, high-fat, sugary things full of white processed flour, I haven't made having a mixer a high priority here.

But it's been bugging me - why should I suffer so much angst over a mixer?  Back in the USA I would not have hesitated to buy one, but here it has seemed somehow out of place.  At least for me.

Yesterday I spent an ENTIRE DAY shopping in David with a friend. This is the first time in my life I can recall shopping for a whole day.  It is SO out of character - even more so because I actually enjoyed it.

We both worked from our lists.  I needed practical stuff like a place to set up paper files for the burgeoning ephemera in my life.  Also dog food, toilet paper - things like that.

She needed kitchen things, so in every store we visited - and there were many - we went to the kitchen/small electrical appliances department.  And in every store there were electric mixers staring back at me from the shelves.  (Yes, I know that is semantically incorrect, giving human characteristics to inanimate objects.  Just bear with me for a little while here.)

So once again I went through all the reasons for and against buying a new electric mixer.

  • Easier on my chronically sore wrist made so from using the computer all day;
  • Makes it easier to fix a greater variety of foods;
  • Yada, yada, yada.
  • I don't need any encouragement to cook more and eat more;
  • I don't want to use electricity unnecessarily;
  • I don't want to clutter up my life with unnecessary things.
But there, in one store, a little gem beckoned to me, and I succumbed to the temptation:
My new acquisitions
Along with stainless steel mixing bowls (which were on my list), I am now the proud owner of a hand-cranked mixer.  Somehow it just seemed right.  It conjured up memories of making muffins at my mother's side when I was a little girl.  And don't you love the red?

Too bad about the plastic gear wheel that won't last.  I think I'll start looking for a better one that is all metal.

Who know what may be next - a push lawnmower?



I pride myself about being a coffee snob. When I had a little coffee shop in East Texas - my only venture outside of science other than photography - I worked with a local roaster to develop a house blend that was exquisite. Customers raved about my coffee. One lady said my latte was the best she had ever had, and that included all the high-end coffee shops in Beverly Hills.

Indeed, my deep love of coffee was one of the reasons that brought me to Boquete, where the finest coffee in the world is grown.

So it was with more than a little humility that I discovered only day before yesterday that there are four - count them, FOUR - coffee plants growing in my yard here in Boquete! And three of the plants have fruit! I have followed them through their flowering, noting that the blooms resembled gardenias. I had admired their shiny, crenelated foliage. I was somewhat perplexed at the berries growing right against the branches, and had wondered what kind of a plant would grow that way.

And then it hit me after a visit to a friend's coffee finca:  I have my own coffee!

This is a cause for celebration.

I figure if everything turns out as it should, my crop may tip a quarter of a pound this year - that's wet weight of the cherries. I'll dry them in the sun by the traditional method and ask my finca friend to let me roast them in his roaster.

Café Dabney - the rarest coffee of them all!

We will be following the development of my "crop". Right now the cherries are about half an inch long and medium green.

For the record, here's what the plants look like now. I'm adding a label "Coffee" to this and subsequent posts on this topic, in the hope that this will allow you to search on the sporadic postings through the maturation, harvest, and tasting of Café Dabney.

This plant is just beyond the back porch.

Unripe cherries growing on the branches of
the plant shown above.
Another more luxuriant plant closer to the back fence.
If you look closely you can see the cherries on the branches.

God, I love this place!

[And God answered, "What's not to like?']


Thursday, June 16, 2011


It's 3:00 pm, pouring rain, and after taking a morning walk with a friend - which we agreed to do several times a week - I'm eating a late lunch consisting of salmon pan-fried in butter, with a side salad of the locally-grown hydroponic lettuce topped with a fresh beet given to me by a friend which I diced and cooked in peach nectar, fresh orange juice with a bit of orange zest, and with crumbled chopped pistachios on top. Also having fresh green beans - the first I've had in Panama - which I bought at the local market this morning and which were probably picked today, steamed al dente and flavored with a bit of leftover bacon grease.

Wow - life is good.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


 Along with new bugs come new birds.  It's been a while since I've sat out back with no other preoccupation than watching the birds.  Now that a new crop of bananas is coming in, there are birds galore.  Some are old friends, some are new.

Here is the elusive Blue-Crowned Motmot.  It was such a thrill to see it for the first time.  Unfortunately the banana leaves were obscuring part of its tail, so I don't know how long it is, or whether or not it has "rackets" formed from preening its tail feathers:
Blue-Crowned Motmot -
a magnificent specimen
This is what it looks like in its entirety:
Source:  Wikipedia

Today also brought another new bird, similar to a blue-gray tanager but with green wings.  It's probably a blue-gray, perhaps a local variant:

This was taken with my 105-mm lens.  I definitely need a bigger one!

Finally, this lovely red-legged honeycreeper made an appearance:

Seconds later he was beseiged by a green masked marauder yet to be identified:

Here's a view of another one of the green birds, who was just a foot or so away on the same bunch of bananas:

There were many other birds here today that did not stay still long enough to be recorded.  But on the whole this was a most satisfying day.  It reminded me how much I've missed seeing my feathered friends during those long rainy days.

And now the darkness is descending, the birds have settled in for the night, and all I hear is the constant drone of crickets interrupted by an occasional distant mooing of a cow and rumble of thunder.

All is peaceful here in the green mountains of Boquete.  I hope it's peaceful where you are too.



One of the facts of life in Panama is living with bugs. Prior to moving here, I never thought much about bugs except in unusual cases like invasions of lady bugs, Miller's moths, cicadas, or, more recently in Baltimore, stink bugs.

But here in Boquete bugs are constant companions.  And there is a mind-boggling variety of them. Shortly after moving here, I began to inventory the bugs in my garden, but quickly realized this is a never-ending task doomed to be incomplete. Nevertheless, I am still inspired to discuss unusual bug-related events, of which there have been three in the past day:
  • Maggots in my rice. This was the manifestation of a long-standing fear, which I thought was unfounded. Yes, white rice and maggots do have a strong resemblance, and my creative imagination run amok has occasionally thought how horrid it would be to find them together. On Monday, while cooking lunch for me and the gardener, this neurotic obsession became reality. I noticed two unusual-looking "grains" of rice in the folds at the top of the clear plastic bag, which had been opened for a week or so. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were maggots. After cutting off the top of the bag in disgust, I decided to go ahead and cook the rice, for a Panamanian meal without rice would be considered incomplete. I carefully inspected the rice as I put it into the pot and felt reasonably sure that it was maggot-free and ate lunch with more than a little hesitation while re-inspecting every spoonful from my plate. So far so good. Then, while transferring the leftover cooked rice to a storage bowl for leftovers, I found one very well-done maggot in what was left. I picked it out and ate the rest for supper.
Yes, I know this is disgusting. But remember - there are many people all over the world who are forced to cope with such things every day in order to eat.  This story is best viewed as an exercise in cultural sensitivity - or, more precisely, cultural desensitization.

Lesson learned from this experience:  store rice in the freezer if you can, and rinse well before cooking.  Cold storage is also recommended for spaghetti, flour, and any other dried food once opened.
    • Giant walking stick on my favorite bromeliad. Last night I noticed a huge walking stick insect in the bromeliad on the front porch. It was tucked under one of the leaves next to the corner of the house.  This presented a dilemma:  should I try to kill it, or let it be? I checked on it every hour or so, and by bedtime it had moved enough so I could get a good picture of it:

    With its front legs extended, it was eight or ten inches long. (This is a rough estimate because I was afraid to get close enough to measure it.) After consulting the internet and learning that these insects eat plants, I was determined not to let it devour my beloved bromeliad.

    What to do?

    After much thought, I decided to leave it alone and check the next morning.

    By this morning it was gone. I did the right thing to leave it alone.

    There is a larger message in this story:  nature is often better off when we don't mess with it.

    • Green moth on the back porch.  This lovely green moth was on my back porch this morning.  I had never seen one like it:

    It is about an inch long.  I decided to buy a ruler to document such findings better.  Someone said that only about ten percent of all species have been discovered.  With no ruler handy today, this is the best I could do:

    There is a whole new world waiting at my doorstep.  And yours too.


    Sunday, June 12, 2011


    Ever since NOAA declared that La Niña was dead on June 9 and we are now back in ENSO-neutral conditions, we have had no rain to speak of. (ENSO stands for El Niño/La Niña Southern Oscillation.) It's as if someone turned off the faucet. Remarkable. Not sure if there is a connection, but this prolonged lack of rain seems too strong to be merely circumstantial. This is the longest dry spell we've had in a couple of months.

    As a result, I've been taking advantage of the dry weather to have the windows open and the dehumidifier off, and to spend more time just being outdoors. Lately I've been spending nearly all my time indoors except for the occasional walkabout in the garden to see what's growing. How ironic - that in living next to the rain forest as I have for the past few months, I was slowly losing touch with nature.

    It was time to get back in touch.

    So for the past couple of days I've been renewing my acquaintance with the outdoors. Here are some observations from that time:

    • The two loose calves which appear from time to time on our road have been camping out continuously in the empty space next door to my house and in front of my gate with no owner in sight.  I worry that they may be getting thirsty, but they are certainly not lacking for food by grazing on the lush grass all day.
    • Today I saw a flock of  raucous birds zooming in one direction and then another just overhead. Suddenly they re-appeared - parrots! The first parrots I've seen in the neighborhood. They didn't stop long enough for me to take a picture of them.
    • I got to have a nice conversation with the little boy who lives next door and his family as they walked up the road past my gate. I bragged to his parents that he was helping me to learn Spanish. He is about six years old, I figure, and stops by to chat regularly when I'm outside.
    • I finally made some chocolate-chip cookies for Señor Lara. This involved great effort on my part, including shopping for the hard-to-find ingredients over a period of a couple of weeks, then making them completely by hand because there is no electric mixer in the house, and watching them like a hawk as they baked because the oven has no temperature markings. I have to say they turned out great. The biggest challenge was finding brown sugar; I used the local panela sugar loaf found in every food store and grated it. It and the real New Zealand butter imparted an usually rich taste to the cookies. I had bought a special plastic storage container to hold the cookies, and printed out a little speech in Google Translate to say to Señor Lara when I present the cookies to him. Unfortunately, he and his family took advantage of the nice weather to be away from home for a few days. So the cookies and my little printed speech stayed safely in the car so I wouldn't eat the cookies or lose the speech in the meantime.
    • Yesterday I saw Señor Lara sitting in an unaccustomed place - up in his yard instead of outside his gate. I stopped the car and carried the cookies to him while giving him the speech. He seemed thrilled. I don't know if he can even eat the cookies; it's possible his blindness may be from diabetes. Even so, I felt good about doing this small kindness.  I had promised him the cookies and wanted to be true to my word.
    • This evening I sat out on the back porch to watch the birds settle in for the night. They have finally begun to eat the bananas we set out for them. In the meantime, many more bananas are ripening on the trees, more than the birds or I can possibly eat.
    It is just now dark. A distant rumble of thunder suggests that this respite from the rain may be coming to an end. And I shall welcome the rain, just as I relished these few days without it. 

    For each and every day here is precious in its own way.


    Wednesday, June 8, 2011


    Tonight, as I eat a dinner that looks a lot like the new USDA nutritional guidelines, I'm reflecting on how much my life has changed in these five short months since moving to Panamá.

    My breakfast was one of the amazing bananas from my yard.  The coffee for my morning cup was grown here in Boquete.  Nearly all the ingredients of my dinner came from within twenty miles of here as the crow flies:
    • Pesticide-free hydroponic lettuce from Boquete, bought at the local supermarket; I know who grows it.
    • Cucumber, bell pepper and sweet Chilean peppers bought directly from the farmer's stand in Cerra Punta.
    • Lean ground beef for stuffing the peppers, bought at the local market, may have come from my neighborhood.
    • Farmer's cheese for the top of the chile rellenos came from Chiriquí.  I think I know the exact farm it came from; I could have stopped and bought it at the source on the way to Volcán last week, but I was running short of time.
    • A cocktail consisting of aged Verela Carta Vieja Añelo rum mixed with the juice of a fresh lemon from my yard (green skin, orange flesh, tasting like a cross between a lime and an orange) and a bit of sugar to take the edge off.
    Lunch yesterday was rice grown in Chiriquí and dried beans from somewhere in Panamá cooked with Gebhardt's Chili Powder from San Antonio (one of the few things brought on the plane).  Salad from the same ingredients used tonight.  Dessert was a fresh orange grown on the road to Volcán with fresh strawberries from Cerra Punta.  Soon the sweet oranges will be ripe in the tree in my yard, and there will be no need to buy them.

    Still no visits to McDonald's.  I've lost all desire to go there.

    This is life as it was meant to be lived, and I am so grateful for it.



    Today, on one of those rare occasions to be washing the dishes, I looked up from the sink to see this little fellow:

    He's been there for some time.  I think he is one of the brood from the nest under the eave of the roof overhang.

    I hope he finds his way back home safely.

    12:30 pm:  Happy ending - at least for today:


    Tuesday, June 7, 2011


    Yesterday on a walkabout in the back yard, I noticed something odd. A tree stump at the front corner of the house looked all white. Distracted by something else, I forgot to investigate...until this afternoon.

    There is an amazing growth of white fungus all over it - sticking out one-half to one inch - on the stump.  Satellite colonies have also appeared on the ground nearby.

    I've never seen anything like it.

    Fortunately, I just met a retired botanist. Perhaps between the two of us we can identify it. I hope it's not poisonous, with the dogs milling about the yard.

    In any case, I'll have to figure out how to control it before it takes over everything.

    Tree stump from a distance - beautiful but strange

    Closer view

    Closer yet  - the leaf is about an inch in width.
    Another close-up
    Satellite colonies on the ground several feet from the stump
    Come back tomorrow to see how the story unfolds. Hopefully I can get control of this amazing organism before it gets control of us!

    June 8:

    My gardener said it's a good fungus and to leave it.  I trust his judgement.  Also got support for that decision from another gardener whom I respect a lot.  So, for the time being, we'll just let the fungus do its work and see what happens.


    Monday, June 6, 2011


    Today, for the first time in my life, I ate a perfectly ripe banana straight off the tree. My gardener harvested a bunch of bananas and also some plantains from the trees growing just outside the back fence.

    This was not the usual banana seen in grocery stores in the States. Instead, the skin had a reddish pattern, and the fruit tasted like smooth strawberry-banana custard. We left half the bunch on the pedestal in the back yard for the birds, and I gave half of mine to the gardener. I may have to go out tomorrow and coax the birds into letting me have the rest.

    Mmm - like nothing you've ever experienced.

    The most delicious bananas I've ever tasted - and from my own yard.

    There are about ten huge banana trees with fruit in different stages of development. Can't wait to see how they turn out.


    Sunday, June 5, 2011


    The lush rainy season continues to surprise me with new plant growth. Regular walkabouts are necessary to keep up with what's happening. Some plants can change drastically within twenty-four hours.

    Here are surprises from some of the legacy plants in my garden. Much tropical foliage still looks the same to me; it's only by the flowers that I can tell the different plants apart.


    I think this is a kind of ginger.  Bloom has just started.

    And to think I was going to pull this one out
    because it was boring!
    It's not finished either.
    Prickly purple buds of the plant below
    Have no idea what this is.

    Here's how it turned out -
    looking a lot like the canna,
    but with different colored foliage and
    different flower structure.
    A bit of research confirmed that it is indeed
    a canna, possibly Canna 'Iridiflora Rubra'
    or 'Auguste Ferrier'. 

    There are quite a few specimens of these.
    Another magnificent shell ginger at the front -
    taken at night after an all-day rain yesterday.

    Finally, here is a view of the side path that had been mostly bare when I moved in. The banana tree had been cut down to build the fence.  It's higher than the house now. Impatiens on the right were all transplanted from the woods growing wild. The new bromeliads are on the left. Note the heavy covering of Irish moss on the
    rocks to the right of the walk, a testament to the amount of moisture.

    May our days continue to be filled with the joy of such small surprises.