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Making a run to the border, forget Taco Bell, go to Gringos

About ten minutes west of Price Smart is a new and excellent place to enjoy excellent food from the north, the north of Mexico. Gringos Mexican restaurant is open and if you are heading to Bugaba or doing a border run it is the best place to stop and eat a fresh, oversized real mexican meal.

The sign on the Interamerican

Gary, the owner and chef chopped his first lettuce in Hussongs Cantina in Ensenada Mexico and his love of cooking Northern Mexican cuisine has taken a path from Mexico,  Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Isla Colon Panama and now the road to Bugaba. I now know I can find a good fix of fresh Sonoran Cuisine without flying to Arizona.

We were warmly greeted, given some chips and custom salsa, picante for me and without any taste for Mayra. I asked what was looking good for the day and Mayra selected a Chili Relleno, I choose a Carnitas Burrito, Gary also brought out something unique from Hussongs to Gringos. I always called a Chimichanga a big Mexican Eggroll, well in Hussongs they have a chicken chili egg roll, innvovation and fusion and it was exceptional and unexpected to have on put in front of us in Bugaba.

Hussongs Style Egg Roll Mexicano

Hussongs Style Egg Roll Mexicano

Above is a Hussong inspired Eggroll Mexicano, I recommend it without reservations or with them if you wish.

Burrito con Carnitas Gringos Bugaba Chiriqui

Burrito con Carnitas Gringos Bugaba Chiriqui

I love Carnitas, and this smothered burrito was excellent, more food than I could eat.

Baked Chili Relleno

Baked Chili Relleno

The Chili Rellenos I know are all breaded and fried, this one was baked, it was better. A nice vegetarian solution to my favorite meat laden dishes.

Gringos is more than just another roadside attraction, it is about 10 minutes west of Price Smart in David just before Concepcion Bugaba.

Gringos is  open 11:30am – 7pm, Monday – Saturday. No credit cards, cash only and yes they will do the jubilado discount. The location despite being on the highway is lovely, the food even better.

Habla Ya Bocas del Toro, Learning Spanish from sea to shining sea

Our primary reason for this visit to Isla Colon was to visit the Habla Ya Spanish language school on Isla Colon. It was a short walk from Tropical Suites to the Habla Ya building. Habla Ya has been in Boquete eight years helping people learn Spanish and brings probably thousands of students into Boquete’s economy. They opened in Bocas de Toro two years ago, leased a big two story building and renovated it in to a learning center.

Habla Ya Bocas del Toro

Habla Ya Bocas del Toro

Habla Ya School

Habla Ya School

The first floor has eight classrooms, the second offices and housing for the instructors. They had a hard time finding qualified teachers on the island so Julio and Carlos, the owners, recruited trained teachers on the mainland and provide housing for them in the school.

Habla Ya Bocas del Toro Classroom

Habla Ya Bocas del Toro Classroom

We observed some classes and learned that many students take advantage of the contrasting environments of Bocas and Boquete. They take part of their classes in each location enjoying the change and the different post class activities that are part of the curriculum.

After class activities

After class activities

We met Gilberto Hooker a new teacher, he graduated from the Normal School in Santiago Veraguas, Panama’s teachers college and came to live and teach on Isla Colon for Habla Ya. Gilberto is Ngöbe, he speaks Spanish,  Guaymí and a smattering of English. He wants to learn with his students, something I admire in teachers.

Gilberto Hooker, a new teacher

Gilberto Hooker, a new teacher

I was impressed by what I saw, what I heard and the entire concept of how Habla Ya is running their schools. A far more important certification for Habla Ya comes from the Cervantes Institute in Spain. The Cervantes Institute, a Spanish government agency, is the largest organization in the world responsible for promoting the study and the teaching of Spanish language and culture. It was created by the government of Spain in 1991 and certifies schools. Habla Ya is the only Cervantes accredited language school in Panama, the only other school in Panama with accreditation is the University of Panama.  Cervantes.es

Couple quality locations, caring teachers, a world class educational program and you have Habla Ya both here in Boquete and several hours away in the Caribbean world of Isla Colon, Bocas del Toto Panama. You can become a bicoastal student.

For more check the Habla Ya web site at this link.  Support a Boquete based business that helps support Boquete and all that happens here in our community.

Isla Carenero: Restaurant Bibi Caribbean Food

The Bocas del Toro archipelago is part of Panama, but it is culturally unique. In addition to a unique language of Guari Guari, the cuisine is far more Caribbean than most of Panama. A day after our dinner at the non caribbean restaurant called Guari Guari, we were invited to dine on another island, Carenero. It was late, about 8pm, and the water taxi had no lights but the taxi driver knew his way to Bibi and we went for a fast ride across the channel and to the pier.

Bibi on Isla Bastimentos

Bibi on Isla Bastimentos

Bibi is a nice, clean restaurant built as many are, over the sea. The menu was mostly seafood, exactly what we wanted. There were three of use for dinner and we had more interest in relaxing and conversation than heavy eating.

We ordered drinks, several times and simple food. Our dinner consisted of fried Calamari served with a simple sauce and a pound of boiled, shelled shrimp served with three different sauces, nothing fancy, just really good. Sometimes simple is the absolute best.

Shrimp and Calamari fresh, simple and very good

Shrimp and Calamari fresh, simple and very good

When we were done I passed the waitress my credit card and she came back with a bill giving all of us the jubilado discount, I never had to ask, this despite one of our party has not yet passed his thirtieth birthday. After dinner she arrived again at the table with some cake covered in ice cream, gratis, we never asked for that either.

No reservations, no hassles and when she called a taxi the boat came and met us at the dock. I will return to Bibi on my next trip, hopefully with a better appetite.

Guari Guari and a touch of the Keystone Cops

Guari Guari is Bocas del Toro Creole, a linguistic variety of Jamaican Creole spoken in Bocas del Toro Province of Panama.  The native speakers of this dialect call it Guari-guari  It is a hybrid tongue of English and Spanish with elements of the local Guaymí language of the Ngöbe Buglé people.

Wikipedia

On Isla Colon it is also the name of a very interesting and different type of restaurant. Guari Guari, the restaurant is a hidden treasure, one you are unlikely to find without a taxi driver or local guide. It is open 6:30pm until 9pm, Thursday through Monday and you need a reservation, no walk ins.

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guari guari a1

Impossible to know what lies behind this living fence

My friend Ursula suggested we try it and we did. The meal was very good, 4/5 stars, the service almost obscenely good, european 5/5 service. One owner, from Spain is in the kitchen, the other a multilingual German is waiting tables and both the food and service are european with local ingredients.

Our waiter at thee bar

Our waiter at the bar

Guari Guari has a Price Fix menu, $23 plus beverages, no options, you eat or don’t eat what is put in front of you. They have a nice drink and wine list, we drank water, a minor frustration to the waiter, but he did not express his dismay, yet.

Here was dinner, one, course at a time:

Gaspacho

Gaspacho

One more here, I lost the photo, but think of a cheese and spinach burrito, very good

Carpaccio of Tuna

Carpaccio of Tuna

Honey, Ginger, Sesame Chicken

Honey, Ginger, Sesame Chicken

Pork Chop in Dijon Sauce

Pork Chop in Dijon Sauce

Coffee Ice Cream

Coffee Ice Cream

We  each enjoyed dinner. Taste in food is subjective and what I like may not be your favorite but there was sufficient variety for anyone who will eat meat. I did not ask but I assume the menu changes regularly.

It was clear to the waiter as I took notes and photos that I was writing about the experience. I asked hours, about reservations and  I asked about the jublilado discount. Regarding the discount he said yes and pointed to the sign from ACDECO displayed at the bar.

When we were finished with dinner I asked for a check with the jubilado discount, the waiter asked if he could call us a taxi, I said yes, then the fun began. The check arrived without the discount. The taxi arrived as I asked why no discount, the waiter first said you never asked for it, then the taxi honked it’s horn. I explained, yes, I asked for it. Then he started reprimanding me, the horn again, he then ran out of the restaurant to the taxi, the taxi left and he ran back and explained that tourists do not get the discount. I gave him my cedula, he huffed and dashed away again. He did not wait for Mayra’s cedula, she fished it out and offered it, he refused it with a shrug.

Finally I went to the counter, our waiter returned pounding on his calculator to recompute the bill. I paid the bill, left a better than average tip and asked him to call a taxi. We waited at the street,  if he called a taxi it never came. Eventually,  I called the taxi that delivered us, the driver had given me his card.

I realize the discount is a sore point with restaurant owners in Panama. In a place like Boquete with a large concentration of retired people it can really hurt. Isla Colon however is mostly tourists so the impact is far less, still it is the law of the land and the entire event brought back cinematographic memories.

An excellent meal ended with a vision of the Keystone Cops. I was so entertained that I will definitely return for dinner and a show again.

For reservations call 6627-1825 English or German, 6575-5513 Spanish, a Taxi from Bocas Town will cost $1 per person. Cash only, I think?

The Bocas Trip, some visuals along the road and advice to travelers

We drove to Almirante on Sunday and back again today, Tuesday. I prefer flying but alas there are no flights from David to Isla Colon anymore. What was 20 minutes in the air directly to the island is now three to four hours in a car and twenty minutes in a water taxi. There are in fact, only two daily flights from Panama City to Isla Colon and a few a week from Costa Rica. Isla Colon is still considered Panama’s number two tourist destination and I understand why, but it is also the forgotten Panama.

The road from Boquete is a 28pretty good paved road whether you go through Caldera or David. It is a little faster if you avoid David, we took the Caldera route going and the David route returning.

The ride takes you over the Fortuna Dam and we had a good luck at the still very low water levels, it will take a lot more rain to make any impact on on the reservoir.

La Fortuna level  May 2013

La Fortuna level May 28,  2013

Almirante is as always a tragedy, a deep water port with so much potential and piles of garbage littering the streets and fetid waters near the taxi terminal.

If you are going to visit there are two secure parking lots, we picked the first lot across from the BMT (Bocas Marine Transport) terminal. I have used it for years and they charge $3 for 24 hours of secure parking.

Secure Parking Almirante

Secure Parking Almirante

BMT Terminal Almirante Panama

BMT Terminal Almirante Panama

The water taxi is now running off season rates, $4 for tourists, $3 for residents with identification, we asked and they refused the Jubilado discount at these lower than normal rates. For me it is not worth the effort to complain.

Isla Colon is a picture postcard as long as you can avoid the arial rats and the terrestrial rats feeding on piles of uncollected garbage.

Arial rats, aka Vultures in town

Arial rats, aka Vultures in town

Garbage Trucks Isla Colon

Garbage Trucks Isla Colon

Garbage piled in front of the Municipal Building

Garbage piled in front of the Municipal Building

According to locals their is no place to put the garbage, no usable dump. As you can see from the photos the bags adorn both the streets and the trucks used to pick up trash, the trucks are loaded waiting for a destination. The tourists just walk around the piles and I am sure wonder as I did how this gem in the Caribbean can be so neglected.

Apparently the government provided the Municipo with funds to resolve the problem, however nothing has disappeared except the money.

Tomorrow the some good reasons to visit Isla Colon, yes is a worth while destination from anyplace.

The sun is shining on Isla Colón

Bocas del Toro despite all ideas is not an island or even a series of islands in Panama. It is an entire Provence. Today we made the four hour drive from Jaramillo through Caldera to the truly ugly port of Almirante and took the BMT, Bocas Marine Transport to Isla Colon.

It is hot and sunny but the island commonly called Bocas del Toro is quiet and really pleasant on a Sunday afternoon.
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We had a lovely genuine Italian Lunch at a small new restaurant owned, operated and chefed by an Italian immigrant who has been cooking in Panama for twenty years. he just opened a simple small place of his on on the Main Street. It is called La Casetta and is worth the stop for lunch or dinner. Reasonable prices, good food, a bilingual waitress and yes they do give the jubilation discount. I was embarrassed asking for a discount on a $8.00 filet of sole buried in sautéed fresh vegetables but I needed to know for this blog.

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I apologize for the fries, a Greek salad was an option but Mayra is from Bugaba.

Tomorrow I am going to a class at the Bocas del Toro branch of Habla Ya. More tomorrow if this IPad and I can work as a team.

Reflections upon a return to Boquete

Most expats occasionally return to their point of origin, at minimum to visit friends and family. I have done it twice in seven years, once in 2010 and once again last week. The visits were wonderful, separation makes the fleeting moments more enjoyable and condenses warmth and joviality. This however is not a post about that experience, it is a post about returning to fortress America and my joy at leaving.

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From the moment I encountered the TSA full body scanner in Houston on my flight to Tucson I realized I was not in a place I wanted to be. Everyone was courteous, polite and business like, as I had to empty my pockets and remove my shoes..  All things on the rest of the trip were efficient and almost antiseptically clean, compared to my life in Panama.

My  friends were cordial and fascinated with my seven year adventure in Panama. Many of my friends are caught in the work to survive mode, some could retire, if they could afford to retire. Others can afford to retire but have not found the switch on the treadmill; it does have an off switch. I fear many will keep walking or running until they fall and inertia tosses them into their grave. I chose a different end, an adventure, not a contest of earning and spending until death do us part.

While I was gone someone posted this comment to something I wrote and re-write annually, it is called, Don’t move to Panama, certainly not Boquete..

“We read lots of good stuff on Boquete, but there is a lot of seemingly bad stuff going on also. Lots of rain and flooding; lots of bugs; a lot of water problems, lots of theft and security issues; lots of government issues; only good hospitals are in Panama City; very expensive to live; lots of wind during the “dry season,” poisonous snakes and I’m sure it goes on and on. However… a very tight community and great people are what makes a great place to live and this is what one gets, if you reside in Boquete. What is pretty interesting are the homes that have been listed for sale for years. With all the hype, you would think homes would sell quickly, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. For the population of the area, there are lots of homes for sale and they are very, very expensive for a fairly remote region in a 3rd World country. I’m guessing that many people bought homes at high prices in ’05 – ’08 and are not willing to take a huge loss. If you need bars on your windows, it’s probably not for me. Is Boquete worth visiting for a bit? Why not? So… that’s what folks do; they go on vacation to Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, etc., and find out that all the hype is just that… hype. They have a great vacation or visit and determine that the poverty is way too bad to stay long-term. I’m thinking maybe we will take a trip to the hills of Southern Missouri or Arkansas, spend way less money, need no bars on our windows and high walls with glass on the top, and not need to learn a new language.”

I responded directly to them suggesting Missouri or Arkansas would be a better option for them.

Expatriation, emigration, is not for everyone, in fact it is not for most people. I am thriving here but I think most Americans who come here come for the wrong reasons, they are running from something they do not like, not going to something they want. I came for a combination of reasons, I did not like the direction of the USA,  but I also came to Panama because I love the culture of Latin America and was willing to learn the language and immerse in the culture. Those who come for positive reasons do well here or in other latin countries. Those who are steeped in the American way usually return to their comfort zone.

My recent return was nostalgic, it was easy, if I wanted something I found it, I brought back suitcases loaded with purchases from Amazon, Ikea and some great components for Mexican food. Here I can get all I need, but sometimes not all I want, that makes life more interesting. Here I am a twenty first century pioneer in some ways and all those minor disadvantages are out weighed by my sense of freedom and comfort.

Americans are programmed from childhood on to believe the USA is the best at everything, if they never live out of the USA they rarely understand that it is just not true. If they base their life on Fox news or CNN they have no idea what is really happening in their country or the world. If they argue about gay marriage, abortion, gun ownership, religion or red vs. blue States they are missing the point. They are all cogs in the treadmill with the purpose of doing work until they are worthless and then being discarded by a system that no longer needs them.

The American way is contagious and millions do want the opportunities it has historically presented but billions more live in other societies and cultures that have different perspectives on life. I love the culture here where timeliness is not important, where work is to survive, not that survival is work. It fascinates me that in Panama workers can have a month off from work each year, that Social Security in a third world country can cover medical care and medicines. Agreed the system is flawed, it is imperfect, but I have friends working solely so they can get medical insurance in the US. I have friends for whom a holiday is an abstract concept. They are on their treadmill for life.

I am happy to be back in Boquete, back on the mountain, out of the concrete jungle that has become Tucson and even more dramatically Phoenix Arizona. I am glad to be out of the traffic, out of the pressure, away from the food like substances that have replaced fresh foods with dehydrated or frozen boxes of pseudo food. Here I have no need for anti depressants, no need for counseling, no need to toil only to pay taxes to the Feds, the State, the county and the city. I prefer life as I know it today to life as I knew it seven years ago.

 

 

 

 

Still desiccating in Arizona

I have been touring around Arizona visiting friends and family. I thought I would just post a few photos to say I am still breathing and return to Panama this week.

Tucson

Tucson

Flagstaff Az

Flagstaff Az

Cameron Navaho reservation

Cameron Navaho reservation

Return to Tucson Arizona, the only constant is change

It has been more than three years since my last trip to Tucson, Arizona from Boquete Panama. It has been great to see friends, see my son Sebastian and his lovely wife Carol. Sebastian and Carol are back in the University, he in a doctoral program in Biology her in graduate school in Nutrition, I am proud of both of them.My son Sebastian and his sanity, wife, Carol.

My son Sebastian and his sanity, wife, Carol.

I was in Tucson in Jan 2010 and witnessed what appeared to be a dying city. Credit what ever you wish, government or sun spots, the city is recovering. There is a lot of new infrastructure built with Federal pump the economy funding, a turn around in the housing market and apparently fewer empty commercial properties. It seems that Tucson is bouncing back.

I have had one day with boots on the ground, or I should say a with a 2013 Mustang on the ground. I rented a Ford Focus, AVIS gave me a Bright Blue Mustang, something so totally out of character for me that I am enjoying the surprised faces of friends an family when I arrive.
tucson221

The trip was uneventful except for one question at immigration in Houston. The immigration officer started with welcome home, then looked at my form which said I was a resident of Panama. After asking the apparently obligatory, why are you here, he asked about the cost of living in Panama. It was fast and I answered that it was lower than in Houston unless you picked Panama City.

I was wrong, what a change, the government seems to think there has been no inflation for years, my guess is the statisticians have a disconnect between their numbers and their reality. Some thing are less expensive here than in Panama, housing being the biggest bargain. Diesel is about the same price, gasoline lower, cars are less expensive and depending on your choice of restaurants either lower or higher.

It is said that confession is good for the soul, so I confess to eating a Sausage McMuffin with egg, my favorite on the run breakfast. I cannot remember the cost in David, but here it was $3.70 when they gave it to me it lacked the potatoes and coffee, they said that was extra, it did however include 620 calories, no extra charge.

From what I can see overall eating the way I eat, is more expensive here than Panama. Most of my eating habits have evolved in Panama, (hypocrisy of Egg McMuffins noted) to lots of seafood, grass feed beef, free range pork and chicken served with fresh locally grown vegetables and tropical fruits. Even some of the trash food I like is expensive here. When I return I will post a short super market survey for comparison of food costs. I have been working on my list of food related items as I take care of the business that lured me back.

My neighbor and friend Phyllis  has tried to inform me that taking picture of food is related to some mental disorder, perhaps, but if that is my major infirmity I will accept the diagnosis and move on.  I do travel on my stomach and each trip is a struggle with not being able to enjoy all the smells, tastes and textures I want to try. Yesterday it was McDonalds, Rosas on Campbell and Ft Lowell for a Chimichanga and Lil Abners on Silverbell for beef. I realized that I have been eating steak at lil Abners for more than forty years, it used to be miles out of town on a rural road. Now it is the still the same funky building surrounded by “progress” and environmental destruction.

 

Phyllis these photos are for you!

Little Abners Tucson Arizona

Little Abners Tucson Arizona

Mexican food on the grill

Mexican food on the grill in parking lot

Carne Seca Chimichanga at Rosas in Tucson AZ.

Carne Seca Chimichanga at Rosas in Tucson AZ.

 

Water, Water everywhere

Today I flew out of David’s spiffy new airport to the morass known as Panama City. I have grown to dislike the urban jungle. If I want a city there are many I would prefer and tomorrow I will be taking a bigger bird to one of those.

On my way out of David I managed to snap a photo of the Port of Pedregal.
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There is lots of water flowing into the sea but it is not in the right place for generating electricity and Panama has a real problem. Notice the brown areas near the top of the photo that once were green, before deforestation. the trees hold the water and removing them does not help a watershed.

These photos posted on Facebook by Dr. Regulo Valdes show Fortuna Reservoir today, 8 May, not looking good.
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Tonight I am in hotel in Panama City. I visited the Multicentro Mall and they did indeed shut of their air conditioning, the mall was warming up. I also visited a Casino and their AC was refrigerator cold.

At seven PM I took this photo.
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According to the new emergency order all those commercial lights and the casino across from me are supposed shut down at 10pm.

You know the situation is evolving when the government starts with closing their offices early, something few would notice, moves to closing schools that use almost no electricity, Mayra does not even have a light bulb in her class room,  to the now desperate measures of cutting revenues to the Casinos. We now know the cause is just and problem is real.

Panama needs rain, lots of rain, but not all at once or the flooding will be horrific.

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