Santa Catalina Panama

We took another “staycation” in the tiny little surf village of Santa Catalina.  It’s located on the west side of the Azuero Peninsula, about a four-hour drive from Las Tablas. Santa Catalina Map The village is very small, and we visited during the off season, so most of the restaurants and hotels in the area were closed for the season. We intended to visit Coiba Island, which is a national Marine Park and a World Heritage Site, known for it’s world class diving, and a prison (now closed) but the tour prices were absolutely outrageous, so we chose to relax around our hotel for the three days.  Perhaps if we were both still active scuba divers, the tour to Coiba would have been more attractive.

20181017_095603For this adventure, we chose Villa Coco, a wonderful resort – each of their 15 rooms are separate bugalows.  The restaurant was only open for breakfast and was completely open so the incredible scenery can be enjoyed without the “distraction” of walls.

Speaking of completely open, the shower in our bungalow was outside.Here are some photos – it was spectacular, particularly at night.

Dinner the first night was at an Italian restaurant right on the beach.  We’re not quite sure why or how, but several of the residents of Santa Catalina are from Italy.  My meal was delicious – fresh shrimp and spaghetti.  I also found the most amazing collection of seashells!

We headed back to the resort early.  Getting around the area was an adventure all by itself, and we didn’t want to challenge the roads at night.

The next day, we headed into the tiny village to explore a bit.  It took all of 15 minutes, including a stop at the only mercado to pick up some snacks.  We did manage to find a little restaurant, owned by an Italian woman, that served the most delicious coffee and pastries.  We saw that lasagna was on the menu for dinner, so we returned that evening for a great meal – we even took a pizza back to the bungalow. She took a liking to us (might have been my charming husband’s “chrome” hair) and agreed to open up for breakfast the next day, just for us.

The next morning, after breakfast, we ventured out looking for a restaurant/hotel called the Oasis Surf Camp, owned by – yep you guessed it – an Italian family.  The location was described as just “across the river”.  We were warned to not attempt a crossing at high tide, since the water got very deep.  Since it was late morning, just past low tide, we decided to go for it.  We parked the car at the end of the road and walked/waded into the water.

Jim crossed without much effort, but of course…I found what I’m sure must be the only “quicksand” in Panama. Within seconds I was down to my knees in the mud.  Trying to pull one foot out, I lost my balance and…SPLASH…. into the river I went, purse, phone and all!  After Jim stopped laughing and then took a picture, he waded across to my rescue, along with a surfer dude who was heading out into the waves.

It’s a good thing the margaritas at the Oasis restaurant were worth the effort it took to get to them 🙂 I had my revenge on the crossing back to the car…this time Jim took a mis-step and ended up wet.

We headed back home to Las Tablas the next morning.  On the way, we drove through a little village that was having a celebration so we stopped to enjoy the festivities.  We were fortunate to time it so that we could watch a traditional folklorico dance.  The people were incredibly friendly – one gentleman even made his was through the crowd to shake our hands and say “bienvenidos”.

All in all, this was a very relaxing, entertaining trip, but not one I would repeat.  Who knows where our next adventure will take us?  The next post will chronicle the remodeling of our heaven on earth.  Stay tuned!

Cambutal Getaway

Cambutal.8Our second “getaway from construction” was to the beach area of Cambutal, on the very tip of the Azuero Peninsula.  An incredibly beautiful two-hour drive over the mountains and down to the coast, we made it without any mishaps. The photos simply don’t do justice to the incredible beauty of this country.  (Note the herd of cattle we encountered 🙂 )

Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort:sansara sign

For this adventure, we chose Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort because they advertised “adults over 14 only”.

Being my first experience at a yoga retreat, I was a bit apprehensive that the restaurant wouldn’t serve meat, but that fear was allayed as soon as we arrived.  The food was exquisite!!

Our suite was right on the beach, with it’s own patio – separated from the rest of the hotel by a series of steps, both up and down.  In fact, it was quite a trek to the restaurant/bar…and Jimmy had a mishap on one of the stairs the first night.  All is well, but I was fairly certain at the time that he broke something.  Then I remembered he’s agile….I’m the one in the family who breaks bones when I fall.  The room had a fully stocked mini bar and fridge, and the beach access was unsurpassed.20180909_1339351758035515.jpg20180909_133928343340593.jpg20180909_133951524493789.jpg20180909_133612.jpg

I went on a series of “treasure hunts” looking for seashells to add to my collection from local beaches.  However, every time I reached for one of the beautiful seashells that were scattered about….it moved.  Seems all the shells I saw were occupied by hermit crabs, and there were a TON of them. I found several incredibly beautiful stones, polished by the waves, and a fully intact sand dollar. I saved some of the black sand and am working on displaying these “treasures”.

While Jim relaxed in the hammock,

I took my very first yoga class.  While my flexibility isn’t the greatest, I really enjoyed the class, and plan to keep up with the stretching exercises.  I also …had the very best massage ever, right on the beach, with a gentle rain falling and the sound of the ocean in the background.  I think I may have snored a little….

We thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the bar/lounge/pool area and spent considerable time there over the three days (when we weren’t relaxing in our suite).

We went on a tour of a nearby sea turtle sanctuary.  While this tour wasn’t nearly the adventure we experienced a few years ago when we went to Isla Canas, it was really educational and very enjoyable.  We met the tour leaders, a couple from Spain, at a nearby resort (with really great pizza!) about 7:30 p.m.

They drove us about 20 minutes, across a river (that I wouldn’t have crossed on foot), to a beach.  The night was incredibly dark with no moon and stars obscured by clouds.  We could barely see each other, much less where we were walking.  Thanks to the tour leaders, we met up with some locals who manage the nursery.  Our little group then split up – we headed up the beach with the tour leaders and the “community people” headed down the beach, all in search of turtles coming ashore.  After about an hour or so of walking, we called it a night.  The only thing we saw were several crabs scurrying sideways along the sand, probably in search of baby turtles, just like us. (The photo is in red light since we didn’t want to disturb any wildlife with bright white flashlights)Then the tour guides took us to the turtle nursery.  They have over 600 nests ready to hatch, with approximately 70-90 eggs per nest.  That’s a lot of baby turtles!! Unfortunately, only about 10% survive their first few months due to natural predators.

What a wonderful getaway!  Even when it rained, it was absolutely beautiful!

I can’t wait until our next adventure…

El Valle De Anton

Living amidst the re-modeling construction noise, schedules and deadline pressure, not to mention the language barrier, we decided to take a few short much-needed “stay-cations” in our beautiful adopted country of Panama.

los-mandarinos-sign

The first getaway was in August – a glorious two-night stay in El Valle, located inside the caldera of an extinct volcano, about an hour and a half from Panama City. Since we needed to conduct a bit of business in Coronado (regarding the rental car), and Coronado is at the base of the mountain, we were able to combine the two trips. Because of its elevation (600 m), it is much cooler than Las Tablas and is surrounded by rain forest and low level clouds.

We chose Los Mandarinos Boutique Hotel and Spa because of it’s beauty and alleged tranquillity (more about that below). It was indeed a great choice. The hotel and grounds are simply exquisite. Many of you have already seen some of these photos on Facebook, but there are some additional ones below.

The hotel is separated into about a half dozen or so different buildings with the main building in a square around the outdoor swimming pool. It has an Irish Pub (yes…even in Panama- Jimmy says the mojitos were great!) plus another restaurant that served breakfast and dinner. The only drawback was that a few very LOUD children were in the swimming pool most of the two days we were there. Because of the way the hotel is built, (open air, around the central courtyard and pool), the very LOUD children’s voices echoed throughout the hotel.

Nevertheless, we were determined to enjoy our trip. We set out to explore, only to discover the main road through town was under construction, so we were unable to go to the hot springs and waterfall. Instead, we chose to visit the local zoo – another really great choice. Full of exotic birds and other creatures, as well as a beautiful outdoor arboretum.

We were also lucky enough to hit the local market on a day when it was open. I bought a beautful hammock (to add to the collection) and Jimmy made a new friend.

All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful getaway. The drive back down the mountain was quite the adventure though. It was raining, and the clouds were so low, the visibility was about 5 feet. I was busy holding my breath, so neglected to take any photos. Needless to say, we made it back home safe and sound. Stay tuned for the next adventure.

Our Little Slice of Heaven on Earth

That describes our little house in Panama. It’s located in a housing development between the towns of Las Tablas and Guarare on the Azuero peninsula, about 15 minutes from the Pacific ocean. Las Tablas signWe had it built in 2007, and are now doing some pretty extensive remodeling, including upgrading nearly all of the fixtures, window coverings, refrigerator and building an “outdoor room”. I plan to wait until the exterior is done to include before and after photos of the entire thing, but Jim posts almost daily updates on his Facebook page.

Below are a few random photos of settling into life here. Things are definitely different (and our Spanish is improving daily). It’s a slower pace, and the ice cream man still rides a bicycle into your neighborhood. Street vendors sell HUGE bags of vegetables, freshly caught corvina, shrimp and lobsters, for a very reasonable price, all on street corners.  For those of you who know Larry Sinagoga, send him a messsage and ask him about the fresh chorizo available roadside here in Panama – it’s quite tasty, when eaten in moderation 🙂

They do have “bomberos” – firemen – who made a visit to our neighborhood the other night when the foliage on top of the power pole caught on fire.  Some of the flaming debris dropped on the ground and caught other foliage on fire, but was quickly put out when Jimmy tossed a bucket of water on it.   The fire department arrived and called the electric company who repaired the minor damage to the top of the pole.20180818_143818-1148734152.jpg

Below are photos of the town square.  The first one was taken in February of 2011, the other two were taken yesterday.

The town square is the site of all the area’s festivals – and Panamanians really love their festivals!  There are two main ones (near as I can figure out):  1.  Carnival in February and 2. the National Festival of the Pollera (traditional dress).

Here’s a few photos from the Carnival we attended in February of 2011, and a photo of Morgan McGowen (who many of you may know – she’s from Bullhead City), who was crowned Queen of the Pollera in 2015. During Carnival, floats circle the town square, again and again, with HUGE crowds of people dancing around them.  We had a great time at the Carnival festivities, but those of you who know Jim and his “lack of affection” for crowds…will understand why we don’t plan to attend another one.

20180804_105354There are two “main” supermarkets in Las Tablas – the Super Mercado is the largest and newer of the two.  Then there’s the “old” market -Super Rosa.  In fact, nearly every mini market (and there are a ton of them) are named Super-Something.  We can get almost everything we want or need right in Las Tablas, but sometimes we just need to find something uniquely American – like dry italian salad dressing for a special receipe Jim wanted to cook.  We drove the 20 minutes to Chitre – a much larger town – to visit Riba Smith’s – the “Super Market for Americans”.  Never found the salad dressing, but found a lot of other things we didn’t know we needed.

This time of year is the rainy season…it rains A LOT, but not every day.  In fact, there were five sunny days in a row just last week.  Here’s a couple of photos from yesterday, though:

Early mornings are the very best time to go shopping – the fishermen bring in their fresh catch of the day, will filet it for you on the bed of their pickup truck.  The farmers line the main street with their fresh fruits and vegetables.  After picking out your fresh food,  we can then pop into the Super Mercado to purchase anything needed to round out the day’s meals.dsc027482129927826.jpg

While our plans don’t include living here full time, we could certainly slip into this way of life very easily and permanently.  However, we still have a lot of the US to see, so will be coming back to our awesome other slice of heaven – the Tiffin Phaeton RV that’s waiting for us in Livingston, TX.

The next post will include more about our exploration of the surrounding area.

Dual Citizenship

Well….our dream of retiring and living part-time in Panama has finally come true.  The ” life plan” actually began in the early 2000’s with visits to several central American countries with the thought of eventually living there.

We fell in love with the country, and the people of Panama in 2006.  In 2007, we had a house built in a sub-division near the town of Las Tablas, on the Azuero peninsula, about 15 minutes from the ocean.  Here’s a photo of our house, and a happy Jimmy, when we took occupancy in 2008:

For a while, we nicknamed the area “Bullhead South” due to the number of former  residents of the Bullhead City/Laughlin area who planned to live here, at least part time, including our neighbor Lupe Abrego.  She and her family originally lived in the three houses across the street, and we all knew each other from working at Harrah’s and the the-then Flamingo.  Another former “Bullheadian” lives around the corner, another couple built and later sold a house two blocks away, and a few friends originally bought lots here.  Many of you may know Lupe’s daughters: Mayling (and Kevin) McGowen, and Lariza (and Scott) Bayliss.

We wanted to do things the right way when we finally retired and moved to Panama.  Therefore, we started the long, arduous, and expensive process of becoming dual citizens.  This included obtaining a “Pensionado” (or Jubilado) status (with formidable legal hoops), then obtaining our Cedula and finally a Panamanian driver’s license. We began the process in 2015 and finally picked up the last official id card on July 30, 2018.

We are now residents of both Panama and the US.  We retained our US passports, but now can breeze through  Panamanian Customs as citizens of that country too.

And finally, the last piece to fall into place was to obtain a permanent Panamanian phone number.  It’s a lot less expensive than in the US.  I simply bought a sim card and prepaid package with minutes, texting and data for $15/month, and voila!  I’m using my regular Samsung Note 5 and will be able to switch back to my AT &T number upon our return to the US.  We also activated Jim’s US phone number internationally through AT&T.  My only issue that is if we miss a Panamanian call, the caller leaves a message….in Spanish.  We are both concentrating on learning the language, but it’s an uphill climb.

After five nights in Panama City, we asked our friend and driver, Luis, to take us to Coronado, which is about an hour outside of Panama City.  We stayed at an apartment right on the beach for two nights.

Coronado has become quite an ex-pat community and we’d never spent any time there.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, but determined that it’s not someplace we’d like to live.  We chose Panama in part because of the charm of the people, and the Panamanian lifestyle.  Coronado is similar to San Diego, and in my opinion, has lost the charm.

We leased a Hyundai Tucson  in Coronado for a month, with the thought that maybe we’d buy it, or if we don’t like it, we can lease a different one next month.  We still haven’t finalized our decision yet (more on that later).  We left Coronado on a sunshiny Monday morning and drove the three hours to our paradise-on-earth.  Our wonderful neighbor, Lupe, had arranged for pest control, service on our air conditioner and cleaning, prior to our arrival.  We are very, very lucky to have such a great neighbor and friend.  The day we arrived, of course, we spend settling in, going to the grocery store, hanging the hammocks, etc.

Jim celebrated his birthday the second night we were in Las Tablas.  We celebrated the day by taking Lupe out to dinner with us at the Presidential Hotel downtown Las Tablas. No pie, but great margaritas!

Since the house was built in 2007/2008 and only occupied for a week or two every year, there are many things that needed to be fixed and/or replaced (like the refrigerator).  We also have been planning to build a block wall with decorative wrought iron around the backyard and eventually create an “outdoor” room and kitchen.  Stay tuned for the next blog posts about our re-model.