Saturday, November 28, 2009

It Is Too Cold

When you read this morning's rant, just remember I am not one of the bloggers who whined about the heat this summer.  It is 7:20 am and 57°F.  The coldest hour was in the middle of the night.  That means it dipped way below 14°C, as it reads now.   We usually swim at 8am.  The swimming pool is holding tough during these cold nights, even with the ground cooling, it's maintaining 79°F. 

It was too cold even for Mikey, who swam in the 75°F pool  last year, when we were just learning the solar energy system. Today he is waiting until the sun is shining and we can warm up the pool before jumping in.  For me it is just impossible when it is 20 degrees colder outside than inside the pool.  When I weighed in at 162 I could have done it, but at 115 I don't have enough body fat to keep me warm.  Nor do I have a wetsuit.

What you folks up in the REAL cold weather need to consider when we whine about the cold, is to ask yourself this question:  Do you keep your house at 50°F all winter? 

No.  The heaters go on and the houses remain around 78°F, a temperature which seems to suit everyone.  So imagine you are sleeping in your light nightie, with a summer comforter and a sheet, and your heat goes off.  The temperature is dropping outside and inside.  You put on your "warmies", socks, sweats, etc., to stay warm.  The floor is cold, the toilet seat....forget about it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Creativity Spurt

Crafting and creativity come in spurts for me.  I have tons of beads and shells and things I have collected to use to "make things".  With Pablo painting, me trying to discipline myself certain hours to write as well as relax, and now the holiday season upon us, I decided to break out all my stuff and see what I could come up with. 

On our trip to Honduras last year we found this little clay maker in La Calma, Honduras.  Last year during a creative spurt a couple friends and I painted most of the beads and I made bracelets and keychains using macrame.  This week I sat down to try to replicate one of the wind chimes that Mercedes, the clay kilner, had hanging in her little hut.  This is the result.

The other project I took on was making a mobile.  I used to love to make these mobiles but it has now been years since I have attempted it.  This one below is made from black coral pieces holding sea urchin skeletons and decorated with some painted clay beads from Honduras.  It has a good movement and is hard to show in a photo.  I was hoping to make more of these, but not very many urchin skeletons made it home from Panamá.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Don't Call Him Picasso

When Pablo and I go to the ruins together, I always take my notebook. He takes pad, paper and his congo drum (and his whistles sometimes). We sit on top of a ruin and look out in wonderment, trying to imagine the every day life of the people who once inhabited the site. As I sit there writing for hours, Pablo will draw or play music. He drew some fantastic sketches at Tikal in Guatemala. Those works of art are in pencil. He also designed and painted the full-sized palm tree on the wall of 'the office'. He's got talent! He's got rythym! Who could ask for anything more? Where'd that come from? It could be that an ancient musical era was awakened in the depths of my brain today as I sit here writing and waiting and waiting for photos to upload. Today Carmen is cleaning, Pablo is painting, I am writing, and we have the radio tuned in to what seems to be hits of the 50's (in Mexico!). I digress.

We take lots of photos when we go to the ruins. Pablo printed a copy of this temple at Kabah. His vision of it is with the Ceiba tree coming up through the clouds and leading to EL FIRMAMENTO.

Here's the artist at work, who's decided to use his middle name Francisco on his paintings, so that people don't jokingly call him Pablo Picasso. It is the first thing we all want to say. But he doesn't want that for two reasons. One is he doesn't want to insult Pablo Picasso, and the other is, he might think you are making fun of him. So Francisco Chavez it is!

This is Francisco Chavez' first painting. He sold it within a week.

I remember the first month Pablo and I were together he talked about painting Pakal, one of the most famous kings of Palenque. When he finished his Path to the Firmamento...he started working on Pakal.

And here is the finished Pakal in front of a temple at Palenque.

There are a few weak spots that need honing. He is using old canvas. Frame making is the big issue. (This big band music is getting to me. I am waiting for Benji and Heidi to jitterbug on in here.) We don't have the right wood, tools, or the patience to make the frames quite right. It's a live and learn experience. Aren't they all?

This is a massive painting he is working on, taken from a mural at the ruins of Bonampak.

This is the painting in its ALMOST completed form. Perhaps you note the canvas stretching issue I was talking about. We can fix it! It is a great work of art.

He already has a start on his next project, Chac Mool. I hope I can remember to post a picture of it when it is completed.

I respect a person who can draw. My drawing abilities are very limited. I am a creative person, and I am drawn to other creative people. I think Pablo has a lot of talent here and I encourage him to keep on painting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Two Cocktails and a Camera

I wonder... how long ago you could get keys made here 24 hours a day? Looks like it's been a while.

This is a typical night time street scene in Mérida. I am not sure why there are sparkles on the hood, and I didn't notice it at the time I took the picture. Just reflection, I imagine. On my walk tonight I decided to take some photos. As you can see, it started out ok.

Tonight I went to my friend's house for cocktails. I first met her over the phone when I was looking for Buster in August 2007. She called me a year later to cat sit for her for a few days. Since then, we have gotten together once every few months for "cocktails" at her place.

I can say she is British, somewhere in my generation, a writer, a reporter actually, a very interesting and eccentric person. We always have two scotch and sodas. No more, no less. One time we went out on her upstairs patio and I got emotional in some rant; my glass flew out of my hands! Straight up it went, and when it came down, the pieces managed to land on the upstairs and downstairs patios, and probably each step in between. Well, that was it for me. I was cut off and I figured I'd never be invited for cocktails again, having flung her last cocktail glass around her house.

But no, we've gotten together since then. I now have to take my own glass, just in case, but we still have just the two cocktails. Today's were hefty ones, not surprising after we both admitted it wasn't the best of days in each of our worlds.

This was the night of the Revolution Day Parade. Pablo took his art to the zócalo. He dropped me off at my girlfriend's house and parked close to el mero-centro. (the heart of the monster) I volunteered to walk to the zocalo, as my friend's house is only 8 blocks away. It would have been impossible for me to park at the hour I would be arriving. So on my way, I saw things I wanted to photograph. I thought I would try another feature on my camera, however, my glasses broke as I was walking and I didn't quite master what I had in mind. And maybe the results will only be funny to me, at this moment, because I am a bit lit on that scotch, but when I saw these pictures I had to laugh, and I had to share them. It's just been one of those days.
So I admit that I was trying a new function on my camera, but I didn't stop to check the photos, I just kept shooting.

Considering I was a little loopy from scotch, I found it funny the way the beer store came out.

But the next thing you know, aliens entered into the pictures.

Luckily I found Pablo.
I actually DO have a few photos from tonight's festivities, which I will post tomorrow. I don't find this all so funny any more. I'm going to go lay down.

The Last Report about Panamá

The Panama Canoe.
I guess after having been to so many tropical places, I am just spoiled. I was a bit underwhelmed with Panamá. After a week on its northern Caribbean coast, we were ready to move along to a new adventure. I traded in my Central America Lonely Planet Guide for a Panama Guide, and started looking for a new destination. There are several beautiful provinces in the country with plenty of unique scenery and cultural influences. It seemed that the more interesting options were over our budget, would take a lot of bus travel to get there, and would have been preferable to arrive with fresh immunization shots. I have no doubt that there are some fantastic getaways in Panamá, but they are mostly upscale resorts. Prices for tourists are very high in the entire country.

Prices for locals are also too high. Perhaps this has something to do with the high incidence of crime and random violence all over the country. The two worst places for violence are Colón, where Annie had her purse sliced off her in the middle of the day heading to market, and parts of Panamá City that are dangerously close to highly visited tourist areas. The gang presence is overwhelming. Even the little kids are trained to mug and rob strangers. On the road to Colón they loiter near dumpsters and wait for expats to bring their trash from the smaller ports up the coast, just for the purpose of robbing them. The day we went into Colón and took the trash with us, we had to pass several dumpsters before we found one with no street urchins.

The buses are entertaining works of art. Evidently they are all privately owned; the drivers inherit or buy into a bus and a route. Other than owning your own taxi, it may be the most lucrative of Panamanian jobs. This photo gives you an idea of the size of the AlBrook Bus Terminal. There were several giant parking areas full of buses. Each uniquely painted, air brushed, decked out and decaled. I am pretty certain that the drivers are all on suicide missions. Some of the bus rides are white knuckle experiences. E ticket rides.

This is the bus that flies up and down the north coast every day. Every time it passed we'd notice a new section of the art on its side. The bus often stopped in front of our guesthouse to pick up backpackers from the hostile hostel next door to Annie's.

Flashing lights, feathers, crystals, pom poms - this driver probably has a little religious shrine built in there too. He should, to repent for what he has painted in the back of the bus.

This was in the back of the bus inches from my face. The only seats for 'the likes of us' were always in the back of the bus, by the way. Strange art work for a public bus.

In a place where there is nothing going on day or night, we lucked out and happened to be there for the celebration Campesino Day. The school in the village of Puerto Lindo put on a show, the women prepared local food dishes and the men built palm frond stands for them before they set out to play a softball tournament. Annie is waiting for an order of octopus in achiote and coconut milk, accompanied by coconut rice, which was one of the better food options in Puerto Lindo. The food was surprisingly bland, and they don't use hot chiles there. Where do they get their vitamin C? I didn't see any fruits available or being consumed anywhere, other than bananas or coconuts. The bananas were the best I'd ever had, without doubt. Coconuts seem to be staples for all fish and rice dishes.

Beautiful little girls.

The Campesino Queen for 2009.

The Queen's Court enters while most of the village looks on.

While waiting forever for these photos to upload, it occurred to one is smiling in any of these pictures. Even the adorable little queen had to force a smile, and she had agreed to let me photograph her. There was a heaviness in the air in the little village of Puerto Lindo, an oppressiveness that surrounded us. Well, that and the obvious abject poverty.....Some of the people talked with us while we drank a couple Panama beers. But there was something missing, maybe the feeling of welcomeness. I haven't pinpointed it yet. I always have to consider that people don't approve of us; so Pablo and I may have been sort of a freak show to the Puerto Lindeños. Another consideration is that Annie and her friend Sara are the only two expats who make any attempt to socialize with the local folks, so maybe all of us Caucasians are a bit of an intrusion. There are others around but they are locked up on their gorgeous yachts, or behind tall walls, down long driveways, with big signs advising everyone to stay away.

Annie is very helpful and friendly to the locals; as a nurse she even volunteers at the local medical clinic. Her friend Sara on the other hand is wasting away in Margaritaville. I found it difficult to deal with her beligerent drunken interrogations right in my face, her many large dogs scaring the shit out of me as they fought below my feet. Once I had to jump onto a church bench to avert disaster. In the early part of the day, I liked Sara. We played dominoes with her and her mom. We enjoyed her pet toucan and parrot who talked and sang all afternoon. I liked the Kuna Indian dog she was dog sitting, but the pit bulls or whatever the mean ones were, well they were just out of control. But it is hard to control a pack of wild dogs if you yourself are a wild drunk. I didn't want to badmouth anyone from this trip, but when we considered staying at Annie's house once she had to leave to meet up with a friend, the thought of dealing with a beligerent drunk every day, who made it clear from the beginning that she didn't like me or approve of us, helped to convinced me to pack my bags.

Pablo had his own set of reasons for wanting to leave. He overheard some conversation in Spanish and confirmed our unwelcome status. He's Mayan and Yucatecan, and he catches vibes pretty easily; sometimes they are just his imagination, and other times he is spot on. He also went there with an unreal vision, thinking there might be work there as a teacher or perhaps interest in seeking property around the area. He too was underwhelmed with the place. We have seen and heard howler monkeys and spider monkeys in Mexico. We can go to a real white sandy beach in an hour's drive from home. We can take boat rides throught the mangroves here; the coastline there was also comprised mostly of mangrove. So you see, someone who had never been to the tropics might find the experience magical. But for us it was more of what we are used to, but in a less amiable setting.

Althought I try not to, I find myself comparing it with other places, even my own house and comfort levels. Basically what I learned there was that I have no interest in owning property or living in Panamá. Mexico's laws might be crazy, but try a combination of US influence and the lacsidaisical Latino influence, and you get one mixed up crazy country. Everyone in search of the elusive but ever present Almighty Dollar.

Back to Puerto Lindo, the guys had fun at the softball tournament on Campesino Day.

This is Sammy, Sara's toucan. It was the first time I'd made friends with one, and the interactions were amazing.

Annie's guest house is a work in progress. She works for a few months in the States, and then spends three months in Panamá. On each trip she makes improvements to the house and property. In the third world it has sort of a three steps forward, two steps backward effect. She had the house and guest rooms all fixed up and ready to open for good on this trip. While she was gone Panamá was jolted by an earthquake and it broke the water pipe, possibly under the cement slab of the house. It isn't easy to find a plumber in the area, and of course by now Annie is planning her return trip to the US to earn the money to pay for the projects from this three month period. Panamá has strict rules about residency, you can't get it unless you are either retired with a pension or have a monthly income of an amount acceptable to the government. If I wanted to stay in Panama for a year I would have to prove I earned $10,000 US a month or something outrageous.
So, my conclusion, not necessarily of what is written above, is this: I believe Panama is beautiful country with a lot of well preserved and undeveloped areas. And I think there are some great resorts dotted around the country, but they are upscale and high priced. You have to pay a pretty penny to feel SAFE in Panama. I found Panama City to be surprisingly fun and interesting, and the north coast to be unfriendly and frankly, a little boring. The bottom line is that we all have a dream to fulfill. Annie's is to live in a tropical rainforest, near the Caribbean, where she can snorkel, fish, and kayak during her free time. And share her experiences with her guests. I imagine that she will eventually be able to outift her place with kayaks, a boat and realize her dreams, but I also think it will take the entire two years that remain before she can comfortably sit back on her porch, retired with pension, and wait for guests to flow through.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Week in the Patio

Time for a fun blog with some color and flowers. We had a lot of rain the past week or two, as if our rainy season finally blessed us with its presence. I've been wracking my brain with the blogs I am working on, so this is a welcome respite.

I discovered the macro button on my camera this past week. This is a shot of the inside of a flower opening up in the garden today. More on the flower below.

I finally got a good photo of Moka's eyes. This is the first time I captured the bright blue coloration.

Lately we have experienced rainy season-like weather. It is also typical of the northerlies that swing south across the Gulf of Mexico in the winter, but we never had our rainy season this summer, so it was refreshing to have a few days of interspersed sun and rain. They were the coooler raindrops of a cold front instead of the delightful warm tropical rains.
Hurricane Ida slid through the Yucatán Channel last Sunday, amazingly leaving the entire peninsula unscathed. The unstable conditions the entire week before the storm are what brought us several tropical (tropical in this case means HEAVY DUTY)downpours. The passing showers lingered days after the disturbance moved out of our area. It's been extremely humid but also cool. That combination brings out sweatshirts and blankets. When our temperature suddenly dips from 90°F to 70°F, I think about folks living up north. They have harsh cold fronts, and all I can think of is being in a comfortably heated house, at 76°F-80°F. Then gearing up to head outside where it is possibly 50°F or 50°F COLDER, only to reenter a heated car or building again, and of course repeat the cycle all day long. Freeze your ass off, warm up, freeze, warm, etc. Those temperature changes are harsh on the body. No wonder those folks have major flu outbreaks. The body must go into a mild shock several times a day. Maybe I just remember how I felt about going outside when I was little in Ohio. I hated it. (It was ok for playing in the snow all bundled up, but school, family visitations, church, forget about it.) By the time I was in college, in a town called Oberlin located just the right distance from Lake Erie to sweep in the coldest, strongest, "lake effect" winds all winter, I decided one of my goals in life was to forever escape that brutal cold of winter. Looking back, an odd goal, but it steered me out west to the California sunshine, which was where I truly began to learn about the world.

Back to the patio. After all the rain, flowers bloomed, plants shot up in a spurt of rapid growth, including the weeds, of course. We also found new and interesting creatures this past week.
I don't know much about caterpillars, but this white fuzzy one is beautiful. It looks like a huge version of some of the mealy-like bugs eating some of my plants. It reminds me of a nudibranch, a species of underwater animalitos.

This looks just like a stink bug, but it has a bright orange underbelly. Since a regular green stink bug bit me the other day, I decided to leave this guy alone.

White petunias. While we were away two weeks in late September, my housekeeper planted some seeds. These petunias are now flowering prolifically.

This is a chia sprout. I was showing Mike the seeds in the pool and spilled a few. Because the mats were saturated, the seeds sprouted in the cracks. In fact, a variation of sprouts sprung up around the pool was the first time I saw that.

The macro shot toward the top of this post was taken on this plant. This sprouted from seeds the housekeeper brought months ago, at the same time as the giant (ugly and unappreciated) weedlike marigolds,,,or whatever they were. Now that this plant is fully grown, I feel it was worth the wait. It looks like a cross between comfrey and a Christmas tree.

Finally this week, the buds on the tall stem at the top started to bloom, one or two at a time. Below is day one.

Day two. Hmm. Plant blossoms in mid November....looks like a Christmas tree, and is full of bright red flowers. I like it. If the flowers last long enough this is mostly likely going to be the Christmas tree, by the way. Unles we dress up a ficus tree or something.

Today I got this shot. A couple days have passed and buds keep opening. It is getting prettier every day.

I liked something about this picture. Confession: Love flower photos!

So there is it, this week in the patio.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Puerto Lindo is on the Caribbean Sea between Portobelo and El Porvenir (on this map).

We left Mérida the morning of September 22nd. After a layover in México City we flew nonstop to Panamá City, landing into an awesome view of the city's skyline at sunset, offering a unique view of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at once. We'd booked a hotel in the city in advance online, The Hotel Aramo. It is comforting to arrive with a specific destination, especially a strange city at night. (I've also been known to travel on the fly...without a room or a clue.)

We opted to take the bus into town. We caught an express bus that cost $2.50US. There was another bus we found out about later that cost $.25US. The most popular option is a $30US cab ride. The taxi drivers called out to us that we needed a cab because it wasn't safe to take the bus, but we made it to our hotel on a miraculously direct route in 45 minutes without incident. The hotel was clean, the staff extremely friendly and helpful, there was internet service, and a little restaurant where we were given a continental breakfast the following morning as part of our $37US deal.

If you are heading anywhere considered "outback" in Panamá, which in my opinion would include every province outside Panamá City...the bus schedules often require that you spend a night in town and head out early the next day to make all your connections. The bus routes are plentiful, but complicated, and often services do not run after dark.

In the morning, Pablo schlepped our bags two blocks down a busy avenue to the nearest bus stop, where we boarded a city bus to AlBrook, the main bus terminal. All buses operating in Panamá depart from there. We were northbound to the Caribbean Coast vía the road to Colón. We easily found the Colón Express and within half an hour we were on our way. We had been warned to NOT take the bus all the way into Colón, but "to get off at an intersection with a grocery store called Sabanitas." I had maps, sat by the window, and I tried to see where we were going but the driver was hauling ass and there were no signs. Now and then a sign zoomed by on the other side of the highway, but I couldn't turn around fast enough to catch it. When I saw the first evidence of human habitation; it was a big town. We asked if it was called Sabanitas, our connection stop. It was. From this crucero we had to catch a different bus headed northeast up the coast. The ride hadn't taken as long as I'd anticipated and our ride didn't match the road on the map at all. Anyhow, before the driver flew off toward the danger zone of Colón, we managed to get off the bus with all our belongings. We immediately saw another colorful bus heading to Portobelo and Pablo hailed it. I didn't have time to tell him we were actually looking for a different bus, the Costa Norteña bus, but we were headed off in the right direction. We negotiated a taxi from Portobelo, which was actually a relaxing relief from the hustle of the buses. By noon we pulled into the driveway of Panama Adventures Guest House, met by Annie's smiling face, a hot cup of coffee, and her neighbor/friend.

That afternoon we walked around the fishing village of Puerto Lindo.

We visited the tiendas, the old church, and met some of the local folks.

Then we swam out across the bay for a long snorkel.

That evening we were all contentedly exhausted and just enjoyed sitting on the front porch. We finally made it to Panamá.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why Panamá?

Sunrise in Puerto Lindo, Panamá

I am always on the lookout for ways to sustain my wanderlust. A few months back, I received an email from a lodge owner who found my ad on the ecotropical resort site, and we began to communicate. She owns a house with two guest rooms in Panamá, on the Caribbean Coast. Click for Panama Adventures. Annie bought her tropical getaway five years ago.

Her property is located in the Portobelo National EcoParque, where both rainforest and marine life are protected. Annie lives on the banks of a river and a short walk from the fishing village of Puerto Lindo, population 300. It is truly tropical rainforest with five species of monkeys, over 900 species of birds, including toucans, parrots, and quetzals. There is an interesting array of animal species due to Panamá´s unique location between North and South America. Its rich history is evidenced by the remains of forts and cannons, churches and cultural traditions. The coast from Portobelo to beyond Puerto Lindo is famous for its protected bays and inlets, used by boaters since pirate times. Some of the visible history dates to the early 1500's. Today the bays are dotted with pricey yachts flying flags of many countries. The area is a jumping off point for hitchhiking sailors bound for South America. Panamá's north coast is a beautiful and interesting little corner of the world, and although it has a long wet rainy season, it is not in hurricane alley.

Annie has been alternately working in the States and on her property every few months to reach her goal of opening a guest house and setting up snorkeling, kayaking and fishing excursions. She thought she was ready to open this year, on her autumn visit. We talked about me going to "resort sit", once she opened for business and then had to go back to her US job to earn more money for continued improvements. She would like to build palapas and acquire more water sports equipment. One of the tricks of operating a guest lodge in the tropics is that once you open those doors and take the first reservation, set up online services with tour operators, etc., those doors need to remain open. It's smart for Annie to line someone up to stay there, continue to check the bookings, and receive the guests who have made reservations for periods during her absence.

Pablo and I had an attack of wanderlust and had Panamá on the brain, since we didn't make it that far on our previous Central American excursion. It seemed like serendipity that Annie would contact me out of the blue. I wanted to go there on a scouting mission and meet Annie, see the area, and see if it would be feasible to plan for three month stays. She invited us to come as her guests and check it out. And so we did.