Boquete2Saturday, December 30, 2007

Headed to the Panama House for my usual banana pancakes. Met Dexter, the owner, who hails from Southern California. He started coming to Panama twenty years ago for the surfing, and moved here five years ago. He also confirmed that it’s not tough to get to stay here, but, of course, he bought a restaurant, so that made it easy. He agreed that Panama has languished in the shadow of Costa Rica for many years, and now it’s Panama’s turn to grow.

No surprise – still no water heater. Now it is supposed to be Sunday – a clear example of Panamanian time. No rush to do anything. I hadn’t showered since Mexico City, so I needed one badly. I went to the hotel I had stayed at, where they had a great shower, to see if I could make some deal to just have a shower. I brought my own towel and said I wouldn’t make any mess, but they wouldn’t agree and charged me for the room. $27.50 for a lousy shower! Mucho loco!IMG_0265

Not worth that kind of money, but I did feel better for sure. I wandered around the main street, buying a few small items that I needed for the house. Sonia had offered to buy them for me when she went to David, but Karinthya has been in a car accident and was in the hospital in David, so buying my pots and pans would obviously have to wait until Monday. Somehow in translation I had understood from Sonia that Karinthya had had an allergic reaction to eggs, but this turned out to be so wrong. I finally talked to Karinthya in hospital today and she said her head had hit the windshield. She sounded pretty groggy and was desperate to get out and come home. She said she was lonely. I was only too willing to comfort her if I only had a damned car. I would have done pretty well anything to ease her pain.

I still have no gas, so I headed over to the Rendezvous for dinner, for the third night in a row. When I got there the owner’s wife said, “oh, your wife was just here.” I told her that came as quite as surprise, seeing as how I didn’t have one of those. Turns out Paolo and Samuel had just left and for some reason she thought Paolo was my wife. She’s cute and 30, so I should be so lucky.

My lovely server came out with a big smile and greeted me like a long lost friend again. The restaurant was quiet so we started talking. Her name is Graetna and she is 42, and has three children, and she’s separated. It was Saturday night, so I asked what people do in Boquete. She said she and her “partner” were going dancing at La Huaca, a nightclub, and asked if I wanted to join them. Although I was certainly disappointed about the “partner” bit, I jumped at the chance to get out dancing for a night. We agreed to meet there.

My new friends from the previous night, Paolo and Samuel, came by the restaurant and I asked if they wanted to join us, which they did. We made plans to share a taxi later.

I had some time to kill, and I needed the pharmacy to buy contact solution, so I headed towards Romeros. I had to go through the main square of the town to get there and I was just amazed at the sights and the sounds and the gazillion people that were in the square. I guess this is what the whole town does on a Saturday night. It was quite the feast for the eyes and ears – little food stand vendors, selling things I had no clue about; musica blasting; street vendors all around the square; senioritas in gorgeous traditional dresses and plenty of chatter. There were so many people it took forever just to walk down the sidewalk. One thing I did notice was that the pool hall was just jammed, with guys standing outside waiting to play. They sure love their pool here.

We got to the bar around ten or so and I offered to buy the first round. We all had a bottled beer and I gave the guy $20. He gave me back $16! Four dollars for three beers? Amazing! This I could get used to. We had great conversation, then Graetna came up to the table. I cannot do her justice by describing what she had on, except to say she certainly didn’t look like a waitress anymore. We were sitting in an area outside the dance floor, so she said she and her “partner” would see us in the dance area.

When I explained to Paolo about the conversation Graetna and I had about her family, and her “partner” she looked a bit confused. She went in to speak with Graetna and came back to tell me that “partner” meant her “colleague” at work and not any relationship thing. We had a good laugh.

Both Paolo and I wanted to dance. I was telling her about two-step and she was showing me Salsa and Meringue. She wanted to show me a step, so we started dancing where we were, instantly hitting the table and knocking the beer bottles onto the floor, smashing them. I don’t stand out enough; I had to blow up some beer bottles to draw more attention to myself.

The beer gave me some confidence, so I asked Paolo to dance. Samuel didn’t look too thrilled when I asked him if it was okay, I think because he had seen us dance already and was a little intimidated by the moves Paolo and I did. She was awesome and loved learning country dance steps. It was still pretty early and quiet in the bar, so we were the only couple on the floor. I felt very awkward being the centre of attention, but, it was dancing, after all. Who cared? Being accustomed to hardwood flooring, dancing on the uneven stone floor was a challenge for sure. After the beer bottle incident I figured dropping Paolo on the floor would be just what I needed, but we managed it okay. The site of that cute little body swaying to the beat of the Meringue made me wish Samuel would leave.

Graetna was sitting at a table with her “partner”, so we joined them. The music was so loud I could not hear a word she was saying. I was trying to explain that because of hearing damage from playing in the band I could not make out what she was saying. I suggested if it was “importante” that we go outside to talk. What she got from this explanation was that I didn’t want to dance with her, so I got Paolo to translate. Instantly Graetna grabbed me and took me out on the floor. Again, I cannot adequately describe what she looked like and how she danced, but it was hot. She did lead a bit, which normally I don’t like, but if you saw the top she was wearing you would quickly understand how little I cared.

We ended up going outside, more for the fresh cool air, because here you can actually smoke in the bar! What a concept! We talked for about two hours, mostly about language and how hard she was trying to improve her English. She asked if she could teach me Spanish and I would teach her English. Yeah, like I would say no. We had a great time, although she turned down my offer to share a cab back to “mi casa” and have a drink. Probably just as well, as she might have killed me. She is gorgeous and very friendly and told me straight that she liked me, so we’ll see where this goes. Although there was no shortage of hot Latin women in the bar, most of them were quite young.

Her friend owned a taxi, so she called him for me. She said he would be twenty minutes. Over the next hour or so I kept asking if I should go out front to meet him, and she said “no”. Again, Panama time. Twenty minutes means nothing. Finally she said he would call her when I needed to go out, which he did about 2:30. I went outside, but he never showed up. I started calling other taxis, but got no answer, so I asked the guy at the door. He told me it would be very difficult to get a taxi at this hour. So there I am, a long way from home, facing the prospect of walking through town at this ungodly hour. I felt like I had a sign on me, “Stupid Gringo. Please rob”, but I didn’t see any options. I had gone back into the bar to find Graetna, but she was nowhere to be found, so off I went, literally shaking in my boots. I wondered how long it would take for me to lose my leather coat and my money.

There were still some people milling around, but no unsavory looking characters, thank God. I did manage to hail a taxi finally, but, in the dark, had no idea where my house was. We eventually found it and, although the driver had agreed to $2, I gave him $3 for getting him lost.

My first “night out” in Boquete. Had a ball. Paolo and Samuel were planning to stay in Bocas del Toros, but discovered it is completely booked up. Of course with Karinthya being in the hospital their plans to also go to Bocas are off. I asked one of the locals what people do for New Years in Boquete, but he said nothing special. I suggested to Paolo and Samuel that we have a nice dinner, with Karinthya, and Hossman, and Sonia and Garcia, then head to the town square, where I’m sure there will be the same gazillion people and fireworks and partying. Hopefully I can do something special for my first New Years in Panama.

Today, Sunday, is gorgeous again. It rained on and off all day yesterday, but it’s a whole lot different here. It’s more of a warm mist, the kind that just cools you off beautifully, and not something you need to get out of. Dexter at the Panama House did say that, in October, the start of the rainy season, the rain was, in his words, “biblical”.

Still no gas until tomorrow now (we’ll see) so I am off to the Rendezvous again for dinner. Graetna must have asked me five times last night if I was coming for dinner again, but I think this has more to do with tipping than anything else. I did offer to cook for her when I finally get my stove working, so we’ll see if that happens.

January 3, 2008

Maybe it’s because of my still poor Spanish, although I make an effort everywhere I go, but I’m not finding the natives to be quite as friendly as all the tourist sites claimed. I don’t sense any resentment towards us gringos, it’s more of a begrudgingly acceptance of us by the locals. This may be a result of the fact that Americans, Canadians and Europeans have driven up the cost of living for native Panamanians. Inflation here was something like ten percent alone in December, affecting mostly housing, food and fuel – all pretty basic needs for the locals. Ten percent in one month is pretty extreme in any country, but especially so when the average Panamanian earns about $1 an hour.

Wherever you go, be it the grocery store, the video store or the bank, you rarely get a “hola senior.” They’ll let you fumble away with your awkward Spanish, trying desperately to make some sense to them as to what you want, but then they’ll more often answer you, either in perfect English or broken English. For example, I was at Hastor Computer, the internet place, trying to ask the clerk where Java Juice was, because they apparently have a great hamburger (they don’t). I start with my usual “mi Espanol no esta bien” so they know up front I’m struggling, then I asked, donde es Java Juice, meaning where is Java Juice? Of course I know I probably won’t understand the answer, unless they do a lot of pointing in the right direction. There was a lovely seniorita standing at the counter, who let me fumble away, then answered me in perfect English. It’s almost like they’re testing you or forcing you to try to say it in Spanish first. It would be nice if they told you they speak English the minute you fessed up that your Spanish wasn’t so good. Then they could help you by telling you what it was in Spanish.

Even at Amigos, the bar owned by Canadians, who I have yet to meet, the staff doesn’t speak much English. There’s the great big Canadian flag on the wall, and the menu has items listed like honey garlic wings, onion rings, and home fries, but try to order them and you get the blank stares. I even tried the awkward “fries de casa”, for “home fries”, but that made no sense to them. Last night I did manage to actually get a cheeseburger and delicious fries, made with the skins still on, just like I like them. It may not be practical from a cost standpoint, but I think the owners would do well to add more Canadian items, like beer and milkshakes. I had a wonderful banana fruit smoothie at Java Juice, so I know they have the technology.

On the internet yesterday I discovered that Amigos is the only place you can get bacon here in Boquete, so I went there for breakfast today, eagerly anticipating bacon and home fries. They were out of bacon, apparently because Romeros had no bacon. I settled for “home fries” and they first brought me a plate of the best fruit I think I have ever tasted in my life – little pieces of banana, melon, slices of pineapple and some strawberries. A great start. My home fries were a little uncooked, but still very good, and I never did get the toast I ordered, but this was probably just my Spanish.

One thing I haven’t seen anywhere yet is ice cream. There are so many business opportunities here, especially with the influx of pensionados, and this isn’t the hottest area in Panama, by any means, but considering that the climate is year-round, I would think an ice cream shop would do very well here. Maybe there are issues with manufacturing it here, importing or transporting it in the heat – all of which might make it too expensive for the locals. I do remember seeing yogurt in one of the larger markets in David, where it is plenty hot.

Today I went into a bit of a panic when I used up the last of my insulin. I had no idea exactly how I go about getting more here; whether I needed to see a doctor or if I could just get it at a pharmacy, or if they even had insulin in Boquete. Incredibly stupid to wait until I ran out to start looking for it, I know. Karinthya set me up with a taxi to take me to her doctor to get my prescription filled. The reason she has to get the taxi for me is I still have no idea what my address is here in Boquete. Street numbers and names are still a foreign concept here, apparently. It sounds like the Dukes of Hazard, but you need to sort of describe where your house is, in terms of where it is from someone’s house they know. My neighbor across the street, Harland, got me a taxi the other night, and it took about three minutes of discussion to give the taxi directions.

The taxi first took me to the laundry (lavandería automática) because I’m down to my last pair of underwear, then to the doctor. The doctor’s office was immaculate, with what looked more like operating rooms than offices. The doctor wrote out my prescription, and then charged me a whole $2 for the visit. They do have a national public healthcare system in Panama, which I believe everyone pays into, but I haven’t checked this out yet. There was a story of a woman from the States who was staying in the Boquete Garden Inn. She suddenly felt her whole left side go numb and she went to the doctor. They quickly transferred her to the hospital in David, where they ran some tests and discovered she had a brain tumor. The hotel made all the arrangements for her luggage and flights home. Her bill for all the care, tests and medications she received and four days in the hospital was $1200. She said the exact same care in the US would have cost $129,000!! Her doctors in the US said she received excellent care and that the doctors here in David has done exactly what they should have, saving her life.

It so happened that there was a pharmacy across the road from the doctor’s office, but this was a long way from my place, so I suggested to the driver that we take the prescription to Romeros, which isn’t that far from my place. They didn’t have my insulin there, so off we headed to another pharmacy, and another, and another, finally ending up back at the one across the street from the doctors office, who turned out to be the only one who had my specific type of insulin. One shocker was that in Canada I pay $18.79 for the small bottle of insulin, and it was exactly the same cost here in Boquete! When you compare the cost of everything else here to Canada, the fact that my insulin was the same price sure came as an unwelcome surprise.

Last night I had my first unpleasant experience with the locals. I was wandering around down by the river, checking a new building to see what types of businesses were there. A guy came up and asked me for a light. He was obviously drunk. After I lit his cigarette he took my arm and motioned me to go over to where a group of people were, one of which was quite obviously a drunken young girl. I have no idea what they wanted me for, or if they were trying to get me interested in the girl, but I made a hasty retreat back to the well lit area. It may not have turned out to be as dangerous a situation as I felt, but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

Another unique thing here is the power system. Although they have recently put in a new power plant and have abundant power for their needs, the power just goes out for no particular reason, usually once a day or so. It’s only off for a few minutes at most, and no one seems to particularly care. You will be standing in a store at the cash register, about to pay, and the power goes out. They just stand there for a few minutes, waiting for it to come back on, which it usually does, and life goes on. We have had some unusually strong winds the last couple of days and the power was out for maybe half an hour today. According to my neighbor these winds are most unusual for January. This is supposed to be the “dry season”, until April or so, but he said the weather we have been having is not typical of the dry season at all.

Had a pound of incredibly fabulous honey garlic wings and a beer at Amigos ($5.75) and discovered they have free internet there. I have been paying .50 an hour for internet access at Hastor’s Computers, but lately it’s been really busy there and I have had to wait. They have about 20 work stations, so that shows how popular internet access is. I guess if I sat at Amigos though, they would expect me to eat or drink, so that could be more expensive, although you can drink a lot of beer at $1.25.

It was raining pretty hard so I phoned my taxi amigo, Danillo, to get me home, but lost in translation again was he thought I was at home and going to Amigos. I gave up waiting and headed off walking. The way I go takes me by the Rendezvous, which, if she isn’t busy, means talking to Gretha. She always gives me that huge smile and a big hug and away we go trying to understand each other with her English and my Spanish. By the time I got there I was a little cold and very wet, so I gave her a big cold, wet hug. She screamed, but I wouldn’t let go. She protested but didn’t pull away too hard.

Dangerous ground at any time, but particularly when there’s a language issue, but we started talking about relationships. Did I have a girlfriend in Canada and so on? What I was trying to say to her was that she was very beautiful and would no doubt have a lot of men after her. The lost in translation she got was that she had a lot of men – certainly not what I meant. She said she did NOT have a lot of men and that she was NOT easy. I laughed so much at her protest that she finally understood what I had meant. I said I liked her and considered her my friend. She nodded in agreement, then said, “I understand. No fu*ky, fu*ky.” Just about peed myself laughing. No lost in translation with that one. The rest of the humorous conversation dealt with how long it would take for that to change. I knew she was saying to fall in love and maybe four or five months, but I kept repeating “days” instead of months. All I got was “no no no!”

January 4th

KarinthyaMichelleToday started off early, at around 7:30, as Karinthya was coming over at 8:30 to discuss some of the “problems” with the house. My phone rang and I saw it was her, but my phone went “no network” on me, so I guess she assumed I was not up and didn’t come. Her Dad, Roberto, did come though and his English is very good and he has offered to help me. Garcia showed up within a few minutes to go to David for me to shop in the bigger stores, so Roberto and I didn’t get long to talk. He has offered to give me the tour of the area; hopefully some time tomorrow.

Garcia and I went for my daily trip to the Banco National. They will only cash $200 of my traveler’s cheques each day, which has been a real pain. I wrote to American Express to complain, but all I got was that each country has different rules. They failed to mention this at the bank when I bought them. I would have been much better off to have a US dollar account and use my debit card. Credit cards are king here and without them, you are nobody. The bank is willing to setup an account for me, provided I have reference letters from my bank and proof of my address here in Boquete, but even then they will hold any cheques I cash for 15 days, so that’s not much better.

We headed off to David and it was a gorgeous blue sky day so I got to see the far-off mountain ranges for the first time. Sure gives BC a run for its money. Everywhere you look is so green and lush. Not a bit of brown in site anywhere.

The traffic in David is just nuts. Narrow streets and no traffic lights. Absolutely no parking anywhere. It’s survival of the fittest when it comes to getting anywhere. I’m just too polite a driver to survive driving in David. It would take me hours to get anywhere.

We hit the mall and I got some pants and household stuff I needed. I’ve only had my jeans and dress pants, but the nights are cool enough here to need long pants and a light coat. It’s mucho breeza (windy) here a lot at this time of year. According to a couple of locals, the last couple of days have been windier than they’ve ever seen. Great, just when I come here.

We stopped for lunch at a Chinese food place. I wasn’t sure I was ready for Panamanian food, let alone Chinese food in Panama. I ordered from a picture of what we would refer to as chopped steak. What I got was the Chinese version, which was pieces of beef mixed with green pepper.


Karinthya and Sonia

At lunch Garcia told me he had finally managed to connect with Cable Ondo, and cable TV and internet was $29 a month, with no installation charges. I did need to sign a contract though, so we’ll see how this goes and if I qualify with no permanent status here. It has been a pain lugging my computer over to Hastor and waiting for access. I hadn’t realized what an internet junkie I had become, having 24/7 access. My routine was to get up first thing, make coffee and check my email. Without having a TV with English channels I also don’t know what has happened in the world since I left Canada. With only an antenna my TV gets one channel good enough to watch and three or four other snowy ones, but they are all in Spanish and it appears all the Panamanians watch is soap operas. You know your life sucks when you are sitting watching a Spanish soap opera trying to figure out what’s happening.

Our last two stops were the Do-It Centre and the Super Rey. The name “Do-It Centre” took on a new meaning for me when I met my angel. I was looking for a drapery rod and headed down this aisle. Coming towards me was an absolutely stunning, petite blonde, who broke out in a smile that melted my heart when she saw me. I only had seconds to think of something to say, so I blurted out asking if she spoke English. She smiled and asked why I would assume she spoke English. I answered that with that long blonde hair I really didn’t care much what language she spoke. She was from California, originally born in France. Could it get any better?

The last thing I cared about at the moment was the drapery rod I was looking for, but “will you marry me” seemed inappropriate, so I asked. She said as a matter of fact she was also looking for a drapery rod. Thank you, God. I knew Garcia was waiting impatiently for me, but he took one look at her and made himself scarce. Over the course of the next few minutes I learned her name was Elle (for el muy bonita seniorita). She was an artist; she had lived in David for about four years and she had obviously done a lot of exploring because she knew the whole area. I asked if she would be my tour guide and she took my phone number. Just when I was planning to find the priest and order the flowers, she mentioned the boyfriend. Damn! Of course why did I ever think this goddess would be single? No such luck.

The boyfriend sold Real Estate in the Caribbean and I got the feeling they were not exactly what you would call close. Maybe just my wishful thinking. He was also from California and all she said was that he was lost without her when it came to speaking Spanish. I did manage to get a few well-placed compliments in, I think, like when she said the Panamanians were fascinated with her looks. She said some workers at her place just stopped working and stared at her. Of course I said they didn’t need to be Panamanian for that. I would stop working too. She gave me the most engaging smile.

Hopefully I didn’t sound too desperate to her. I said I was just dying to get out and see the country and was a little lost without a car or knowing where I was. She did seem genuine about coming to Boquete and helping me. I did invite her boyfriend along, but I think she got that I wasn’t too sincere about that. He sounds like he is away a lot, so that works for me just fine. Now if I only had money, I’d sweep her off her feet. If I had my camera with me and thought of a good enough excuse as to why I wanted her picture, I would be able to show why the memory of her lingers in my mind.

Needed everything, so I spent a small fortune on groceries – $140, which isn’t really typical of regular spending. I had to buy things like spices, which will last for months. I was amazed at the number of things you can’t get here in Panama. My attempts to explain Shake ‘n Bake would have made for an amusing video for YouTube, and got me everything from aluminum roasting pans to garbage bags. I finally ended up with corn flake crumbs.

Meat is another challenge because it’s very difficult to tell what you’re looking at. I think it would help the gringos if they put a little graphic of the animal it came from so you had some clue. Chicken is fairly common and easily identified, but everything else doesn’t resemble anything I know. I long for a good old Canadian steak of any kind. They do have huge cattle farms here, and the restaurants do serve what they call steaks, so I need to do some investigating. Hopefully I’ll hook up with the Canadian owners of Amigos and find out where they get their steaks.

Plans were to meet Gretha at closing time at the Rendezvous and go dancing somewhere, but I only managed about four hours of sleep last night, so I was pretty beat when I got home. I tried in vain to catch a few winks, but gave up. I had just finished dinner, which was a precooked chicken ($3.99) which was delicious and Harland came over. He invited me over to see his casa and try his special rum.

His house is amazing. It’s about 3,000 square feet, with three full bathrooms, five bedrooms and three offices. He’s opened up the kitchen to a huge dining area and living room. He showed me outside where he is adding another suite to the main house. I asked if this was for the manager of the b&b and he smiled and asked if I knew that was his plan. They are going to turn it into a b&b when they build their dream home up on the hill. I said I knew a great manager and he said “we’ll talk.” I finally met Judy, his partner, who was very nice.

Over the next few hours Harland gave me a history lesson in the Panama Canal, the relationships between the US and Panama, the rise and fall of Noriega, and how the current government survives. He gave me some statistics on the retirement demographics in the US, and the huge attraction of Panama, in particular, the Boquete area to these retirees. He is very bullish on the growth potential for this area and feels the prices over the next year or two will skyrocket. The costs for everything from utilities to not needing heating or air conditioning here, together with the countless tax incentives and discounts for pensionados makes this area ideal. The recently announced expansion to the airport in David, which means international flights will now land here, makes getting here much easier than before. Previously international flights only landed at the main airport, Tocumen, in Panama City, then you had to go to another local airport and fly one of the local airlines. The flight schedules didn’t marry up at all. The only option was a six to seven hour bus ride from PC to David. New routes from places like Miami and LA will make it a lot easier to get here.

International Living, a large international company, has been promoting Panama lately as one of the best places on earth to live, for everything from the stable government to the lower cost of living. Projects like the expansion of the Panama Canal to accept super tankers, at $5.2 billion, and the new hydro-electric generating plant outside of David, not to mention the billions of dollars being invested in new hotels and condominium projects in Panama City, are all giving the country a much needed economic boost. When the US handed over control of the canal to Panama, Panama lost three million dollars a day in spending from all the American personnel stationed at the Canal. Mostly because Panama has no real export commodity that the world wants they are left with revenue from the Canal, tourism and primarily, investments by the banking community and people coming to retire here.

The system is somewhat unique and complex, but moving here usually requires establishing a corporation. It costs about $1500, most of which goes to local lawyers and the government. Last year I believe the statistic was 700,000 corporations formed in Panama, so that is a lot of money going into government coffers. Add all of the associated costs with developing land and building houses, which provides jobs for the locals, plus the ongoing spending by the new pensionados and you see why Panama is so aggressive in promoting living here.

An interesting sidebar to the development frenzy is a system unique to Panama, involving “permissios”. In Canada we would refer to this as the system for building permits and inspections. Here we would refer to what amounts to about three percent of the building costs as bribes, but in Panama it is just the way they do business. It starts with your lawyer, who, in addition to the fees you pay him, also receives various kickbacks from various levels of government on fees you pay. Your architect is also your general contractor and he receives commissions from every company he hires to build your house, and every material supplier. The people involved are more than likely relatives of the architect or they have a well established prior relationship of helping each other and paying for it.

Nowhere is this system more obvious than with municipal permits and inspections. If you want permission to build your house you start by paying the Mayor a fee. The larger the fee, the more quickly you will get your permit. As building progresses you will need certain approvals and inspections as you go along. If you want speedy approvals and you need to see inspectors sometime in your lifetime, you need to pay each and every one of them for their services. Need an electrical inspection tomorrow? It will cost you. If you don’t buy into the system you will quickly discover that the plans you submitted and had approved will suddenly be changed, or that electrical inspection you so desperately need will not happen for several weeks.

Where you get your building materials from is determined by the architect, who, of course, is acting as the general contractor. He will get bids from his known suppliers, who are paying him a commission, then mark them up substantially to you, often two or three times the actual cost. Part of the reason for this is that labour is so cheap and unqualified to build to any real specs, they will often just rip out whatever was done incorrectly and redo it. The architect builds this expectation into the bid so he is well covered when work has to be redone over and over.

And we are not talking about replacing the wrong set of taps here. The walls might not be built to a standard to support the roof, so out they go and new walls are built. The specifications might call for a certain gauge of re-bar, installed every one foot. The contractor will substitute a lower gauge re-bar and place it every three feet, to save money, or rather to make more money for himself. They figure once the block wall is built and surfaced no one will no any different anyways. At least not until a gale force wind comes along and the wall collapses. Regardless of the reputation of the builder, it is critical to be on site frequently and check everything as the house is being constructed. They will use lower grade cement blocks, with a higher sand content. They will forget to glue plumbing joints. They will not use grounded wire everywhere in the electrical system because they found some two-wire cheaper from their brother. They will substitute tile seconds because the client won’t notice. And don’t count on the inspector to catch any of these things, because he is probably getting a commission to look the other way.

Despite the pitfalls of building a house here the prices continue to escalate, not because of the cost of materials or labour or higher standards, but because the gringos are driving up prices only because they don’t know any better. They compare the costs to what they are familiar with back home and still think they are getting an amazing deal. What they don’t understand is that the asking prices are immediately inflated, particularly with raw land sales where the Panamanian vendor or agent may tack on a couple of zeros.

Real Estate agents here seem to be held in general contempt, if only because they are profiting immensely from all the side deals they are making with the land owners. The land owner may want $20,000 for a hectare, but the agent will sell it to a gringo for $80,000, splitting the exorbitant profit with the land owner, who now gets $50,000 and is very happy. The Realtor pockets his 5% commission plus the $30,000 split, which all serves to drive the price of other land up in the surrounding area. The gringo ends up thinking they got an amazing deal because it’s still much cheaper than at home, not realizing that if they dealt with just the land owner and avoided the Realtor, they would have got an even better deal.

The problem with the Boquete area is that even at the $80,000 cost the land will soon be worth $160,000 to the next gringo who comes along. Prices in the downtown area of Boquete were in the $2 per square metre as little as two years ago. There is a corner lot listed right now for $400 per square metre and the owner will probably get it.

Another major issue facing Panama is the pending free trade agreement. Right now virtually everything coming into the country is subject to a 15% import duty. Those people relocating here have a one time exemption of $10,000 in household furnishings, and they can buy a new car once every two years, duty free. Under free trade almost everything will now come into the country without import duties. This opens up the country to many products from other countries that until now have been too expensive to import. Just like NAFTA with the US, Canada and Mexico, this will have a major impact on the Panamanian economy. The locals are very concerned that they will not be able to compete with this new influx of products, if only because they have so far had a lock on the market and could charge whatever they wanted.

For me personally the fact that the price of new housing is escalating rapidly can only be a good thing because this also brings up the prices for renovated housing. From the few people I have spoken to it appears that the market may not be for people who want to move here full-time, but rather live here for a few months during the dry season. True, there is a huge market for dream homes for very wealthy people, but there is also a growing market for people who don’t need their massive dream homes. They are typically empty-nesters who want a smaller home in an established Panamanian neighborhood where they are surrounded by all the lush vegetation and they can walk to the downtown core for restaurants and services.

Unfortunately the typical Panamanian house is not up to the standards most gringos expect. Just like my experience, they find that something as basic as hot water is not available. They want a clean livable comfortable home that has all the basics, and don’t necessarily require the luxuries. Plumbing is atrocious in Panama. The lack of hot water often means there is only one tap on showers and kitchen and bathroom sinks. Many bathrooms appear to be built for midgets. For example, sitting on the toilet in one of my bathrooms means you bang your knees on the wall.

Because there is a critical shortage of dry wood in Panama most of the kitchen cabinets and closet and entry doors are cedar, but it has warped over time. Doorways are most unusual in that the guys who build the walls do not seem to be able to build to any standard opening size. All of the doors are different sizes and built to the custom opening. The same holds true for windows, with every window in a home being a custom size.

At least at this very preliminary stage of my research there would appear to be a huge market in renovating these older homes in established neighborhoods and using materials and standards more acceptable to North Americans. The trick, of course, is to find qualified labour to do the work and to source materials, probably from outside the country. With the pricing I have seen for substandard materials it would mean detailing a spec for a complete reno and building a container load with everything required, from doors to plumbing fixtures. Ideally this would also include items like fridges and stoves, big screen TV’s and basic appliances, and possibly even some basic furniture, so that people would get a turnkey package and not have to got through all the hassles of importing their own or buying locally at inflated prices.

There are also numerous firms in Panama who will assist people who want to relocate here, but they charge enormous fees for what people soon discover they could have done for themselves much cheaper. There might be an opportunity to create a complete package, from assisting with Visa requirements to setting up bank accounts and services and renovating their future homes. With a good system to spec materials maybe they could also select things like kitchen cabinets, fixtures and tiles and colours. If an honest architect or designer could be found it would be good to develop a Panamanian look and feel for the house, so that we are not just duplicating what they have at home.

January 5th

Today was spent trying to get organized, cleaning as best as I could, and wandering around town. I also met with a very nice young man, Ruy, to arrange for my TV and internet service. He was trying so hard to learn English for his business and it was an enjoyable meeting. I had been considering getting Direct TV for television and cable for my internet, but Ruy convinced me that there are problems with satellite reception during the wet season, and I saved money by combining my services with cable, so I went with the mid range package. Although movie rentals are only $2, and often on special for $1, it is a bit of a hike to the video store. I also have a tough time figuring out the Spanish descriptions, and have rented two I had already seen so far. The TV package I got gives me about a hundred channels, many of which are in English, like CNN. The internet is 500k – not what I am used to, but still better than needing to go to the cafes all the time.

Monday is a new national holiday here in Panama, and Ruy had said it would be seven days for installation, but I pressed and he said he would talk to his technician and see what they could do. He gave me the Spanish translation for “right now” and I said no one ever needed that because no one in Panama ever does anything “right now”. He laughed. I did tell him Harland was looking for a similar package, so this may encourage him to put a rush on it.

Although I can’t speak for the service yet, both TV and internet are around forty something a month, less than in Canada, but still high for Panama. The TV package includes several movie channels, all of which are free, so hopefully not renting movies every week will offset part of the cost. Not only that, but not having to watch another Spanish soap opera is downright priceless to me.

I went by The Rendezvous to see what Gretha’s reaction to me not showing up last night was. She seemed happy to see me and wasn’t annoyed, but our dancing was off for tonight, she said because she was moving early Sunday morning. I suggested a drink and an early night and offered to help her move and she said she would call when they closed for the night.

I ended up at Amigos to use the internet and met Brian, who was from Seattle. He had traveled extensively in BC and knew a lot about the Okanagan, so we had a good chat. Listening to him made me regret how little of BC I had seen over my almost fifteen years there. He couldn’t believe I had never once been to Victoria. Neither could I.

Headed home for a shave and a shower. Thought I would check out what Amigos was like on a Saturday night. Went by the Rendezvous to let Gretha know where I’d be, but the place was closed up tight and no call, so I guess I blew that one by not showing up Friday night. As awesome as Getha is, I wouldn’t have missed learning what I did from spending the night at Harland’s.

Amigos has a room with two pool tables, both of which are ancient, but, hey, they’re free. No ball return and lots of dips and lips to throw you off, and the cues are at least twenty years old. I ordered a beer and watched the local guys play so I could figure out what rules they played by. Turns out they play a Panamanian Vegas style, part bar rules and part what I know as Vegas. They play “ball in hand” but you still have to call the shot and the pocket, like bar rules. They don’t play that the object ball has to hit a rail either.

One of the locals asked me to play, so I gave it a shot. Despite the fact I had lugged my cue on the planes and paid excess freight for it, I didn’t want to show up with the cue in hand, giving them the impression I could play really well. The bar cue I used was atrocious and I played like it, but the locals enjoyed beating the gringo, so they were friendly.

Pretty soon the bar started filling up with nothing but gringos and very soon took on the atmosphere of any bar in Canada or the States. Lots of English being spoken and I finally met Sandra and Joe, the owners from Toronto. The first guy to introduce himself was Phillip, and his lovely wife, Pamela, who were from South Carolina. They had been here about eighteen months

Philip was a builder. He told me his mother owned a coffee plantation outside of Boquete. This was the point in the conversation where I was questioning just how dumb I’d sound if I asked if his mum was Elizabeth. When I was at Harland’s the previous day I had met Elizabeth, who owned a coffee plantation. Her son was a builder who rented an office in Harland’s house. I thought what are the chances these people are one and the same?

When I asked Phillip if he knew Harland of course he had this surprised look on his face. I asked if his Mum’s name was Elizabeth and, sure enough, it was. We both laughed at what a small world it is, even here in Boquete. The fact that I knew Harland seemed to be a stamp of approval on me for some reason, and Phillip proceeded to introduce me to the whole bar. I made too many connections to list here, like Tom, who was looking for someone to go in with him on buying a 16 pound USDA rib-eye roast to make steaks out of, and who took my number.

Although I love Boquete and the challenge of the language with the locals, it was very comforting to spend an evening with people just like me and it made the transition a little easier. Phillip said the same group spends most Friday and Saturday nights at Amigos, so my social life looks a little more promising. The only thing I was left wanting for was the seniorita searching for an older gringo, and not for his money, ‘cause that sure ain’t me.

Learned one valuable lesson Saturday night, well, two actually. I had been ordering a single beer and giving the bartender, Rodreges, $2 each time, if only because I am so unaccustomed to the price of beer here. Everyone else in the place had buckets of beer – $5 for six beers. I guess it’s partly the idea that when you first walk in it’s hard to believe you are going to drink that much, but it’s a whole lot cheaper, even if you offer someone a beer. I ended up having six beers at $2 per, so I paid $12 for what I would have paid $5 for if I had just ordered the bucket. Lesson two – Phillip also cringed when I said I was giving the bartender $2 each time. He said the rule here was 10-15% and told me not to “wreck it for them” by tipping so high. He totally understood how hard this is for a Canadian, who is used to paying so much more for a single beer.

Played a whole lot of pool. Drank a whole lot of beer. Met a whole lot of great people. Dragged my butt out of there around two and made my way home.

January 6th, 2008

Got a bit of a late start today as a result of my Saturday night escapades. Even though I had such a blast last night, I regretted getting up late because I awoke to one of the most gorgeous days I’ve had here so far. The breeza was light; the sun was shining and there was hardly a cloud in the sky.

Today was also countdown day for the handful of Canadian cigarettes I had left. My thoughts went back to Puerto Vallarta last year when the American ones I bought gave me an instant headache and a persistent cough, so I wasn’t looking forward to smoking them again. Great time to quit, I thought. Yeah, right. I bought Marlboro Lights to try, and, to my surprise, no headache and no cough, so guess quitting will have to wait for now.

As I’ve mentioned before, my one huge regret here is not having a car to explore the area. I’ve been limited by the distance I can walk, so, in ten days of being here, I’ve pretty much seen only the downtown area. I had been hoping that Karinthya would arrange something for me with a friend or her family, but the closest I had come to this was her father offering to take me if he could manage a truck, but he hadn’t called. Garcia has also trucked me off to David three times now, so I couldn’t ask him.

It was such an incredible picture taking day I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I called a friend of Phillip’s, who ran a tour guide company. He arranged to pick me up at 2:00 for an hour tour. I met Pete, a native Panamanian, who had also spent about fifteen years in Texas. His parents owned a large coffee plantation here and he had bought some of his father’s land to build a house on. He was renting a small apartment now and working on the house when he wasn’t guiding. He runs jungle hikes, volcano hikes and arranges side trips like to Bocas del Toros. He charges a basic $25 a day per person and usually has three or four on each trip, so that’s good money here. He goes out twelve months of the year and has been doing it for about five years now.

We headed towards David for a bit, and then took a side road towards the volcano. There was so much to see and it was all so fascinating. He took me past a mansion which belonged to the former lady President of Panama. It’s her fifth house and primarily for her race horses. We past hundreds of what we would call shanties, many of which Pete said had no electricity or hot water. A lot of them looked decades old and hadn’t been touched as far as maintenance or paint. Along the ever increasingly rough road we saw lots of coffee pickers and people carrying big bundles of firewood.

We stopped at one point for Pete to put the truck in four wheel drive, and I soon discovered why. I thought about all the rough logging roads that Dad and I had dirt-biked over the years, and thought how much he would have loved doing these roads. I pushed back the tears of regret that this would never happen. The road up made those logging roads look like paved highways by comparison. There were some points that were so steep I didn’t think even Pete’s Forerunner would make it up.

We came out on a ridge, where I took one of the pictures of one of the valleys. Unfortunately there was so much to see and Pete was such a virtual historian about the area I didn’t get nearly as many pictures as I had planned on. Just one example was the castle we came by in the mountains. Obviously it had sat unfinished for decades, but Pete said it was still worth a million dollars even in its present condition. Some wealthy Panamanian had started to build it for his fiance, but the wedding got called off and the house never got finished. He figured it would cost another million to finish it.

Pete had a million stories. My favorite was a guy who came along with his assistant on one of Pete’s tours. When they stopped at a restaurant to eat, the guy took his hat and sunglasses off and it turned out to be Sean Connery. Pete said they have maintained a friendship and he gets an email from him and he’s done more tours for him, one of which was to find land to buy, which he did. In addition to Sean Connery, Pete said he had toured several other stars around, but he couldn’t name names.

Pete’s girlfriend works at an exclusive resort out in the Pacific. He showed me on the map at Amigos where it was. It’s an enclave of about sixteen islands, quite a distance off the coast. It’s $1500 a night for a small room. He said Brad and Angelina had stayed there, and Mick Jagger had rented the whole resort for one weekend. Oh, how the other half lives.

The tour ended at Amigos, no surprise. We had the daily special, $2.50, which was beef soup, a beef patty smothered in onions, delicious rice, beans, potatoes with radishes and, of course, the staple – a slice of fried banana. This meal and talking to Pete made me wonder what the heck I was thinking with all my shopping and the house. Pete said all he had a small bar fridge, a two-burner hotplate and a coffee maker. He said he ate all of his meals, three meals a day, at Amigos, because you couldn’t cook cheaper than eating there, and the food was amazing. I had just spent $140 at the SuperRey in David, stocking up on all the things I needed to cook. Now I thought, how can I cook a meal like I just had for $2.50? Obviously eating all of your meals in a restaurant probably isn’t the best health plan, but it sure makes sense from a cost standpoint. When I was leaving I saw a table get their order of chicken and fries, which was a huge meal and $3. Hard to beat that.

Monday is a national holiday, so I thought some of the same people might be at Amigos again tonight. This time I risked taking my cue along as I just couldn’t stand using that horrible bar cue again. It was around 7:30 and Rodreges informed me the pool room was closed until after the live band played. I begged him to let me practice and he opened the room for me. Instantly a bunch of guys also headed into the room to play. One of the best players I had seen Saturday night, who introduced himself as Eronomo, showed an instant curiosity in my stick and case. We played a couple of games, both of which I won now that I had a decent stick, then the bar started getting busier. He asked if I wanted to play doubles with him, which was an honor, so I jumped at the chance.

Four hours later we were still holding the table and taking on anyone and everyone, including Pete, who had said earlier that he was a pretty good pool player, but who we also sat down quickly. Even Joe, the owner, watched a game, in which I just happen to make several really good shots, ending the game with a tough down table bank on the eight ball and then said he needed to improve his game if he was going to play me. Eronomo told me they had a league and invited me to play, which made me feel good. He said he would partner with me anytime.

Oh, and tonight, yes, I ordered a bucket of beer.

The last few days have been crazy, wonderful, busy ones. On Wednesday, after I had been on the internet at Hastor Computers for three hours catching up on things, Ruy, my CableOnda guy called and wanted to meet me at the house. After I paid for my internet time, there was a nice blonde in a very cute sun dress standing at the counter, and there wasn’t really enough room for me to squeeze between her and one of the internet station chairs, so I told her I didn’t know her well enough to even try to get through. She gave me a big smile and said that if I did try, at least we would know each other much better. Nice reply. Would loved to have chatted with her more, but Ruy was waiting for me.

After meeting with Ruy I headed back downtown to do the other things I had not got done. In the market checkout line, who should be behind me but the same woman. I asked if she was following me, but she said she thought I was following her. There was some confusion because the cashier was not letting her buy the beer she had, so I intervened, like I could somehow help. We left confused but starting talking outside. We discovered later that today was a religious holiday and you can’t buy beer until six o’clock. This next one you are not going to believe.

Her name was LizAnne. She asked where I was from and I said, “Kelowna”. She had this surprised look on her face and said, “You’re kidding. I’m from Kelowna.” I said, “well, actually I’m not from Kelowna, I’m from Westbank.” Even more surprised, she said, “well, I’m not really from Kelowna either. I’m from Westbank.” Just when we were marveling over both being from Westbank, she asked me what area. She lived up behind Friends Pub, only a few clicks from me, and of course knew exactly where I lived. We were truly amazed at what an incredibly small world it really is. That the two us from Westbank should meet in Boquete is proof.

Then she started telling me that she had bought a house in Westbank and completely renovated it herself, had just sold it and moved here three weeks ago. I told her that I had just renovated a place as well, and been here two weeks, but had not yet sold. I asked her about her plans in Boquete and she said she hope to find older places to renovate and sell. Needless to say we had a lot to talk about.

A few minutes later two young boys came up to her, and one of them called her “nanna”. Austin, 10 and Caya, 7 were her grandchildren. We had exchanged phone numbers, partly because she had mentioned she was taking Spanish Lessons at Spanish By The River, just outside town, which was something I was interested in doing. She asked if I wanted to see where she lived. After a short walk she showed me the very nice hostel she and the kids have been staying it. As nice as it was, right by the river and a gorgeous older home, obviously the former home of a wealthy Panamanian, it was costing her $30 a night, so she had been looking for other places to rent, while she was looking to find a place to renovate.

She invited me to come with them to check out the Spanish classes, and we agreed to meet at 8:30 and grab a cab to the school. After a quick shower I headed off to meet Verushka at Amigos to play some pool. Pretty soon all the regulars started coming in – Phillip, whose gorgeous wife Pamela, was away for two weeks so he was doing the bachelor thing; Phil, Dale, Eronomo, and, of course, the lovely Verushka. She is so damned cute and fun to be with and her English is very good. Why does she have to be only 21?

Joe, the owner and I partnered up and held table for several hours, and I finally left just after midnight after way too many beers. I am finally getting into ordering the bucket, but it’s also way too easy to offer people a beer when you are only paying $5 for six beers.

One thing I didn’t bring with me was an alarm clock. I thought I had set my phone alarm, pathetic as it is, but I had failed to hit one more key to activate it. Luckily I woke up at 7:30 anyway, grabbed some toast and coffee, showered and headed off to LizAnne’s. We walked out to the main street and caught a taxi to the school, which was something like $3 for the four of us.

The school is a lovely Panamanian house, which serves as a hostel, with an attached addition that serves as an office. I met the European owner, whose name I cannot remember, and Avelina, the teacher, who agreed to let me sit in on the class. We headed off to the classroom, which was an open air small hut with a thatched roof, a table, chairs and a blackboard. This was just the first time of the day when I regretted not having my camera along with me.

The three hour class dealt with singular and plural and possession and was more than my foggy brain could handle, but Avelina encouraged me on with a lot of “muy biens” and even told me I was most intelligent at one point when I actually grasped the concepts and made a whole sentence correctly. The kids were about as interested as you would expect any seven and ten year-olds to be, so they were a bit of a distraction.

LizAnne has mentioned there was an older house just a few minutes from the school that was renting for $250 a month, so she suggested we walk over. In any other setting it might have been the perfect little house, but it was on a corner lot with not a tree in sight and I knew it would be very hot. It needed a lot of work as well.

From there we headed up to the swimming pool, where there was also a duplex that she had been checking out. She had met the French tenants who were renting two units side by side for $300 each a month. These places came with everything, from cutlery to bedding. They were right on the cliff, with decks out the back that overlooked the valley down towards David. Again, damn, no camera.

We walked across the road to the water-slide, which had three great pools, two water-slides, one for the adults and one for the kids, a video arcade and a restaurant. Admission was a dollar. The kids went swimming and we had a large veggie pizza which was amazing. Total bill for drinks and pizza and ice cream and fries was $20. LizAnne calculated that the same day at the water-slide in Vernon would have easily been over a hundred dollars.

From there we walked down to a place called Paradise Gardens. This is a must see place for anyone visiting the area. I met Paul and Jenny, the owners from England. If you saw this place, with the unbelievable gardens, the rock work, the butterfly world cage and all the areas for the various animals they have rescued, you would insist that they had been here for at least ten years. I was blown away by the fact that Paul said this was a field eighteen months ago, when they bought it.

They are the only licensed facility for Toucans in the area, and they have four of them. There are simply no words to describe how beautiful these birds are. Their colors are so vivid and they are majestic. We did the tour through the facility and I so regretted not having my camera. I would have taken a picture every second; there was so much to see. We met Monty, the monkey and Paul let the kids go into the cage to play with him. He has this perfect little pink face and the most penetrating eyes and he is a delight to watch.

Although every single bird and animal was amazing, the parrot whose name I have forgotten was the most outstanding of them all. Outside his cage there are little plastic cups and you fill them with what I assume is juice. He takes the cup from you and downs it like a shooter, then he drops the cup, but they are teaching him to hand it back to you. The site of this bird doing shooters is worth the price of admission, which, by the way, is by donation.

My favorite experience of the visit, the day, and possibly the trip so far, was when I was standing off by the office. I heard what I can only describe as an “hola” from maybe a five year old girl that appeared to be coming from the trees in front of me. Then a heard a laugh. Then I heard someone asking me, in Spanish, how I was. I couldn’t see anyone so I was most confused. Then I realized, after yet other “hola” that it was the parrot sitting on the tree in front of me. In response to my “hola” he would say, “hola” and ask me how I was. Talking to this amazing bird made me feel like a five year old. I laughed and laughed every time this bird would blurt out this whole sentence in Spanish. I swear he laughed every time I tried to speak to him in Spanish. Very intimidating to have a bird mock you.

From there we walked down to a place that LizAnne knew about that she said had the best strawberries in all of Panama. We all had these desert dishes filled with strawberries, custard and whipped cream – heaven in a bowl. Apparently people come from everywhere in Panama to visit this place. It was very busy and the fair hadn’t even started yet.

From there we caught a cab back to my place and had a couple of drinks. Over the course of the day I learned that LizAnne had recently been awarded full custody of her grandchildren, a result of having a drug addict, drug dealing mother, and had had the kids for six years. The recent trial was two weeks long and had cost her a small fortune. Her daughter was now threatening to take it to the Supreme Court, so LizAnne’s lawyer had said it was time to go ahead with her planned move to Panama.

After two days together we are not by any stretch a “couple”, although one of the cab drivers had called us a nice family. LizAnne is English, not usually one of my favorite things and we have our differences in backgrounds and beliefs, but we do share a lot. Austin is ADD and can be challenging, but he and I went off a couple of times together today and we got along just great. I credit my experience with Tracy’s son, who has ADHD, for teaching me how to deal with Austin. He showed he can be difficult with LizAnne, part discipline, part disrespect; partly that she is his grandmother and partly his learning disability. I found him to be a fun and very intelligent boy, but one who did show a real need for a male influence. Over just the span of a few hours LizAnne could not believe how he responded with me and said he was a different kid.

The kids were exhausted from a very busy day and were nodding off, so LizAnne headed home. I had just enough time to grab a quick shower and head off to meet Verushka at Amigos, as she was taking me to the festival. As LizAnne and the kids were leaving my place we met Harland, and Harland said he would come to Amigos for a bit.

Had another amazing cheeseburger and fries at Amigos (yes, I will eat Panamanian soon) and played pool for a couple of hours with Harland, Verushka, and Phillip. Harland offered to drive us to the festival instead of us taking a taxi. As we neared the fairgrounds it was just nuts. There were cars parked everywhere and hundreds of people on the road, so even a single vehicle was a challenge, let alone if someone was coming the other way. He dropped us off right at the gate and it was a dollar to get in.

The first thing you see, which you’ve heard from your house in town, is what they call the X Zone, a disco with a sound system you can hear in David. Verushka offered to give me the tour of the festival grounds, which are huge and there is just about anything you can imagine. All sorts of places to eat and drink (50 cents a beer), various trade exhibits like new cars, real estate, incredible flowers everywhere and the usual assortment of flea market type vendors. If I had money I would have made for a good customer, as I saw everything from handmade leather cowboy boots to gold jewelry, all at unbelievable prices.

After the tour we decided to go into the Club, which cost $3. Inside was the most fantastic sound and light show I have every seen, with everything from fog machines to fire breathing stands on one of the stages. There were three separate DJ booths above the dance floor, and each alternated playing the music. There were also dancers from Costa Rica, one of whom, Catherine, I fell in love with instantly. She was stunning and had more dance moves than I’ve ever seen from one girl.

Drinks, rum and soda, were $1. After we had a couple of rounds, Verushka was screaming in my ear trying to explain something about the drinks. All I got was “$10”, so I gave up trying to hear her and gave her $10. She came back with a full bottle or rum, an ice bucket, cups and mix. That’s what the $10 got you. Unbelievable!

The next few hours were spent dancing to the most fantastic music I’ve ever heard. There wasn’t one song they played that I didn’t love. They mixed in a lot of English music as well, and the locals knew every word. I got a real kick when they played “Footloose”, one of my all time favorite songs. It was impossible to stand still for one second. Five Panamanian guys had joined us at our stand-up table and we quickly became friends. I’m sure the fact that I shared our bottle with them had some bearing on how quickly we bonded. They sang every word of every song and seemed to have some dance routine for each one. They laughed and high-fived me at trying to sing and follow their moves. On one song we got such a coordinated dance routine going that people around us applauded at the end of it.

I had run into a friend of Gretha’s at the gate and he told me she was in the Club. In the din of the music I had been text messaging her to find her. She text messaged that she was in the VIP area, which was sort of a second level above the dance floor. To my “dance?” message she replied “yes”, but we never did find each other. Oh well, I wasn’t suffering without her and there’s another nine days of this thing to dance with her.

It was now 3:00 am and the club showed no signs of closing, in fact, it was getting busier and louder and all the dancers were now on the main stage and the crowd was hooting and hollering at every word the DJ said. Verushka had to work at 6:30 am, and she was getting a little worried she may not make it, so we headed off on the long stumble home. Because the main bridge to the fairgrounds, which is right across from Amigos downtown, is gone and the new one hadn’t been built yet, naturally, it’s about a two click walk all the way to the other bridge, then back down the other side of the river to the downtown. I didn’t think my tired dancing legs would make it, and for some unknown reason I seemed to be having trouble walking a straight line.

I figured I was with two gorgeous girls, so I stuck my thumb out just after we left the main gate. I car stopped instantly and it turned out to be Dale, who took all of us right to our doors, which was just perfect.

My first night at festival and it was a great one! I can’t believe they are going to keep this pace up for another nine days, but I do know I’ll be back there again as many times as my brain and body can handle. Today, after non stop dancing for about five hours, I feel like I’ve run the marathon, so the old bod will surely limit my partying.

As I type this I’m waiting for Ruy to call me back to tell me when the technician is coming. He called me about forty-five minutes ago and told me he’d call back in ten minutes. He forgot to say “Panama Time”. LizAnne called and asked what I wanted to do today, but I’m stuck here until the cable comes, so I said I’d call her back. I also have washing that’s been sitting at the lavenderia for two days now, and I am out of clothes, so that’s certainly a priority.

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