Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Notes From Panama


Well we are here! After a week of time-share presentations in Florida punctuated by a visit to Blue Springs State Park – winter home of the manatees- we flew from Miami to Panama City last Tuesday. Since this tome is being written on Saturday night, that means we have been here for four days. Tonight we will be spending our first night in our new winter home.

And what a home it is! We couldn’t be happier with this humble abode if it were the Taj Mahal. The yellow bungalow sits on a short street which connects two sections of our subdivision. It is shiny and new and far from completion, but we are having a good time directing the finishing touches with our impeccable Spanish. Today for example when Mavis asked a clerk for assistance in locating solar lighting for the garden, he led her to the most attractive red clothes line chord that will be the hit of our neighbourhood. 

We were seeking out the solar lights in the hope that they might have helped illuminate our paths until we get electricity. Now we’ll be lucky if we don’t hang ourselves on the new clothesline as we stumble around in the dark. That said we have decided to keep celebrating our good fortune and the novelty of the house by treating our first few days in residence as a camping trip. As I type this on our rustic Coleman camping laptop (wild with pleasure at the light beaming from the screen) Mavis is sitting on the terrace singing Kumbaya.

We are starting to get used to the heat. If sweat leads to weight loss, Gus will come home in Spring looking like Karen Carpenter. As compensation for the heat already in our short time here, and despite the valuable assistance we have been providing to our Panamanian construction crew, we have managed to twice point our 96 Cutlass towards the beach. The water is lovely and warm and the vast beach virtually deserted – and we frolic in the surf like teenagers. Actually that beach life is one of the things about being in Panama that is making Gus feel 30-years younger. At present there are two others. On day two here Gus’ hearing aids quit working. Today his glasses are resting somewhere on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. On the one hand he is not happy with Eddie Bauer’s Velcro bathing suit pockets, but on the bright (if somewhat blurred) side, it has been three decades since he has had to function without those spare parts. He has been functioning in that more natural state for three days now as this continuation is being written on Tuesday morning,

The Panamanians are not a quiet people. A cacophony of salsa music pours forth from every shop or business centre with an endless descant of car alarm tones providing harmony. We were so proud to locate adjacent to a golf course, but on that aforementioned first night camping in our new home, we discovered that the clubhouse is rented out for parties. We were entertained by Latin rhythmns at mega-decibals well into the early morning. Not a Julio Ignlasea tune in the bunch, let alone Vancouver’s own Michael Bubla. There we lay on a mattress splayed on the floor in front of our open French Doors listening to the thunka thunka thunka of the relentless bass. Gus was happy with the malfunctioning hearing aids while Mavis had to suffer through in her charming natural state.

Noisy they may be, but we have experienced significant acts of spontaneous kindness already in the few short days we have been here. We were struggling with a bank official last week – he spoke no English and our incredible Spanish does not yet encompass the nuances of the financial world- when a young woman said “May I help you?” Lillian Perez, who just recently returned from a year learning English in the USA,  stayed with us for an hour sorting out the complexities of our transactions. Yesterday when the BBQ that we had just purchased would not fit in the Olds, a stranger who did speak a little English put it in his truck and followed us home. He helped Gus unload the heavy item, and refused to take any money for his gracious assistance. True there have been B&E’s in this neighbourhood, and given that this house will be empty for at least seven months every year, we are going to have to make some decisions around security. Nevertheless we find ourselves in a country where smiles seem to outnumber frowns 10 to 1, and where we feel absolutely safe. Time will speak to the wisdom of our decision to build here, but for the moment – save for the fact that we miss friends and family, we are very content.  More later, cause we have to run out and buy one of those Nova Scotia Christmas trees on sale at our local super market.

Mavis & Gus

Notes from Panama -2


December 14, 2008:

Today was the day! Even though it’s Sunday a truck pulled up outside our casa at about noon and our fridge, stove, washing machine, micro wave and air conditioners had come to stay. We rejoiced at the thought of no more camping in our new house. Most of all Gus was relieved to be freed from those endless choruses of Kumbaya!

Because it was Sunday, no one was around to hook up these wonderful implements of modern technology, so we pointed the Olds towards the beach. Although the weather was fine and the water warm, we did experience a sense of some disappointment at Playa Rompio. That beach closest to our house is about 15 miles long and on each weekday visit there have been no more than two or three other people on the sand or in the water. Since Sunday is a day of rest in Panama, there must have been around 30 other sun worshippers occupying space. We hate crowds and resented that the locals had chosen to frequent their beach when residents of the Canadian Ghetto wanted to frolic. We all have our crosses to bear.

At night we went out to a dinner in honour of a couple of neighbours who were celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. The local restaurant, which is adjacent to a garage where the Olds is scheduled for a tune up, put on a feast of garlic langoustines served on a bed of rice that was both delicious and reasonably priced. The owner of the garage was our server and he kept reminding Gus not to forget about the tune up. Gus wondered about the oil in the salad.

December 15, 2008:

Up early this morning and powered the Olds down for that aforementioned tune up. Walked back home along a highway and noted the litter. It would appear that one of the differences between Canadian and American ways of life revolves around the disposal of litter. Highways in Canada and the US are kept clean of wrappings, bags and bottles by public services and/or volunteer groups. These activities are backed by an ethos that has, for the past 50 years, encouraged individuals not to litter. That recognition of the joint and co operative need for everyone to work towards a litter-free environment has met with much success. Not so in other countries. Our travels have taught us that in other lands people exercise such responsibility to the edge of their respective abodes. There is less concern for public areas. Noting that, Gus crumpled the wrapping from his breakfast sandwich and threw it in the ditch. When in Rome……

We are now proud owners of a new television set, and we must figure out how to connect it to the rest of the world. Our area doesn’t have cable yet and frankly we don’t want to subscribe to a 12-month service when we only plan to be here in winters. The same is true for the Internet, to which we only manage to connect sporadically when we can steal someone else’s signal. All of these major technological challenges will be faced in the coming days, but along with our intrepid fellow Canadian expats, we are determined to overcome whatever hardships we must face in this land of brilliant sunshine, warm breezes and gentle people. We shall face each new challenge on each new day and in the words of Winston Churchill (or was it Swinwood?) “… We shall never surrender.”


Mavis and Gus

Thanks Mavis and Gus



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