Beaches Near our Slice of Heaven

We are about 5 miles (as the crow flies) or so from the Pacific Ocean and enjoy running over to the closest beach, Playa El Uverito, once or twice a week. The map below shows Casa De McCabe in relation to Playa El Uverito and our favorite restaurant there, Rincon Del Faro. Thanks to Mayling McGowen for introducing us to that particular establishment over a decade ago.

El Uverito is popular with the locals, particularly on Sunday afternoons. There are several shade shelters that are rented by the day, and they fill up rapidly. As you can see in the photo below, Panamanians are very resourceful people. This particular guy took advantage of driftwood to construct his own shade!

Seashells are plentiful on El Uverito, and my collection continues to grow (much to Jim’s dismay at the “clutter”). I’ve been displaying the shells in a variety of ways and even made a seashell windchime for the patio.

Our friend, William Jaen, owns property on El Uverito, although at the opposite end from Rincon Del Faro. While primitive, this “fishing camp” is an absolutely wonderful place to spend a day fishing, shelling and generally relaxing.

Other nearby areas include the fishing village of Pedasi and world-class surfing at Playa Venao. Jim, William and a friend visiting from Arizona recently went fishing in Pedasi. While the fishing wasn’t so good that day, they made some great memories. One of the stories that continues to be re-told was when our friend made a cast and declared the fishing rod and reel were malfunctioning. In reality, a bird had swooped down and caught the lure and flew away with it. They managed to catch the bird, remove the lure, then release the bird and watch while it flew away unharmed.

We continue to be satisfied with our choice of location for our Panamanian paradise. There are other areas of the country more popular with ex-pats and we really enjoy visiting them. However, nothing is better than coming home and sitting outside on our new back patio. Nearly every evening, we enjoy the ocean breezes, sometimes a cocktail, along with a good book. Life is good!

Living in our Slice of Heaven

The grocery shopping experience here in Panama has certainly required an adjustment. We are very fortunate to have two fairly large grocery stores that stock nearly everything we need within a 10-minute drive. When we come across a need for something for a special recipe, and the local markets don’t have it, we travel 25 minutes to the city of Chitre where there’s a grocery store that stocks a lot of familiar items and brands. While fairly expensive in comparison to standard Panamanian markets, we are usually able to find everything we’ve needed with one notable exception: Kosher Salt.

We buy almost all of our fruit and vegetables from one of the plentiful roadside stands. The items are fresh from the farmers’ fields (“everything is organic” as one roadside entrepreneur assured us) and are extremely affordable. The photo below is a “bolsa de legumbres” (bag of vegetables) I bought for just $5. The photo of the carrot demonstrates the size of it as compared to a penny. There were several carrots, three heads of lettuce, five cucumbers, five pounds of potatoes and much more in this one bag. We ate like rabbits for a week!

Speaking of Panamanian entrepreneurs, there are several who travel our neighborhood selling ice cream, shaved ice, and sometimes fresh shrimp. These guys have customized a bicycle to accommodate their wares. The shrimp vendor even had a scale hanging from the handlebars so he could weigh our purchase.

In addition to fruits and vegetables from roadside stands, we also buy fresh fish and shrimp from vendors located in parking lots of the local markets. They typically sit on the back of their pickup truck with large ice chests stocked with that morning’s catch. On one occasion, a shrimp vendor was chanting “Camarones….Camarones…Camarones”. When he saw me with my blonde hair walking by, he changed his chant from Spanish to English. As he chanted “Shrimp” he winked at me. Of course, I turned around and bought a pound from him.

Buying meat is completely different from the U.S. It is very difficult to find the beef, pork and poultry cut and wrapped in cellophane clearly marked as to what the package contains (although that option is becoming more and more available due to the large influx of ex-pats in the area). Usually, we buy meat from the butcher counter at the local store. That is an adventure all by itself, since we are both still struggling with the language, and are unfamiliar as to how things work. (Do we take a number or just wait? How do we ask for a specific cut if we don’t know the Spanish name for it?)

Things are becoming easier every day, though, as my Spanish vocabulary increases. The Panamanians are very friendly, and salespeople work with me, helping me learn the correct name and pronunciation for their wares.

Gas stations are still full service here, with gas sold by the liter. We bought a new Nissan Kicks and financed it in order to solidify our relationship with our Panamanian bank (all in Spanish). I’ve also been able to get mani/pedis; and have started planting a variety of citrus trees, decorative plants, and herbs. The mint is growing like crazy – which makes for a good mojito.

The local baseball team (Los Santos) is doing quite well. Therefore games are typically quite full, and everywhere you go people are wearing orange and black (the team’s colors). We really enjoyed our first game and hope to get a box seat for the “world series” in a month or so.

All in all, while it’s certainly an adjustment living day-to-day, it’s been fairly simple and easy to transition. However, we do plan to continue spending part of our time traveling the U.S. in our RV. There’s just so many places and things to do.

“Slice of Heaven”

Casa De McCabe – Mirador Del Bosque – Guarare Panama

Finally…the Panama house remodel is complete and turned out better than we hoped. We bought the lot and had the house built 11 years ago. Over those years, we were both still working and only able to visit one week per year, sometimes not even that. As with all things, neglect isn’t good…., particularly in this climate.

Therefore, once retired, we planned to invest in a remodel of our “Slice of Heaven”. The list of projects seemed endless at times, and we had anywhere from two to eight laborers on site every day, six days a week from 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. for three months! Whew!! However, the end result is well worth it.

Outside Project Number 1: Build A Concrete and Wrought Iron Wall 

 Jimmy designed a concrete wall that surrounds three sides of our property. The back wall is mainly wrought iron so that we can still enjoy the view. The sides are stepped down in front, with the same decorative wrought iron. There are two gates (one on each side of the house) and along the sides, there are columns spaced every four feet. This was our main project and took two laborers three months to complete. Everything was done by hand – the only machine was a concrete mixer. The footer was dug with a pickax and shovel. The blocks were stacked by hand, and the concrete was poured by the laborer hauling a 10-gallon bucket up a ladder.

Outside Project Number 2: Replace Concrete with Tile

In the wet season, it rains nearly every day. After a while, the concrete becomes covered with a dark mold. It’s easily cleaned with a pressure washer, but who wants to spend all their time washing concrete? Our neighbor had just replaced her concrete with tile and it turned out beautifully. So we decided to do the same. And then, once the new tile was laid against the existing tile, it looked so good we decided to replace it all!

Outside Project Number 3: Paint the Exterior

This is easier said than done. After several trips to various paint stores, Jim and I finally narrowed our choices down to four. We bought samples and our friend and General Contractor, William Jaen, painted four rectangles on the carport wall. After all that “discussion” it turned out our colors were extremely close. We finalized our choices and are completely happy. In fact, we like the trim color so much that everything has been painted to match (light fixtures in the carport; the frame for the house number; the plastic chain that goes up across the driveway when we’re away; the top of the planter, and much more).

Outside Project Number 4: Build an Outdoor Kitchen.

This was a late addition to the project list, and probably the one we enjoy the most.

Outdoor Project Number 6: Laundry Room and Upgrade Electric

The laundry room area is just outside the kitchen door. It includes a built-in concrete dual sink and a pony wall that separates it from the rest of the backyard space. We bought an electric, stacked, full-size, Whirlpool washer/dryer combo (to fit in the space). The unit was delivered without a plug. It seems that 220 outlets are all different, so it’s normal to have to attach a plug to the wire that comes with the unit. However, we didn’t have a 220 outlet at all…so had one installed, along with a hot water heater dedicated to the laundry room. All was well, until the brown out in our house the next day. It turned out that the electric feed from the box on the street wasn’t sufficient to carry all of our now upgraded/added equipment (washer/dryer, additional air conditioning, full-sized fridge, etc). So we had to have the line upgraded.

Outdoor Project Number 8: Storage Building

We had a lot of leftover concrete and block from the “Wall” project so instead of buying a small storage shed, we decided to build one. It turned out better than we anticipated.

Final Outdoor Project: Ground Covering

We chose the red and grey bricks shown with the assistance and guidance provided by our general contractor and are absolutely delighted with the end result.

Inside Projects:

New refrigerator with water and ice in the door; new kitchen sink; larger propane tank; new window coverings throughout; new paint throughout; space saver storage units in both bathrooms; create a home office; new air conditioners in the guest bedroom and living room; new toilets; and more odds and ends. We also invested in web-based security cameras inside and out so we can view our “Slice of Heaven” when we’re not in Panama. We also added motion-sensor security lights in the front and back.

Meet the Construction Team:

I’d like to give a HUGE thank you to the construction team…and in fact, we threw them (along with their significant others) a party at a local restaurant and hotel to thank them for a job well done.

This is our first remodeling project, and at times we couldn’t see the forest for all the trees making such a mess. However, as with most sacrifices, the end result is truly our “Slice of Heaven”. Needless to say, we are really looking forward to settling in, relaxing and just enjoying our home. A reminder to friends and family – we have a wonderfully comfortable guest room available! In fact, we’ve already had a friend from Arizona visit us for a week. He assures us the bed is very comfortable.

Well….today we replace the main air conditioning unit that finally gave out after all these years. I guess a remodel is never completely finished, right?

Galveston – Part II

Hello everyone! Long time no post…sorry about that. Both Jim and I have been ill since before Christmas. We’re both feeling better now, so this will be a fairly long chat in order to catch up on our adventures.

As planned, we spent the month of December on the beach at Galveston Island, TX. We took a five-day cruise Dec 10-15, and came home with the “Crud” – congestion, cough, fever, and laryngitis for me. We spent most of our time attempting to recuperate, and unfortunately didn’t get to do any of the sightseeing we’d planned. However, I did manage to get in some “shelling” time.

My brother, Russ Gardner, his wife Virgia, and their 15-year-old granddaughter, Breanna, arrived in Galveston on Friday, Dec 28, along with my niece, Emily Brown, her husband Chad and their 11-year-old son, Jake Brown. We were very excited to spend the weekend with them and planned to show them around the island. Because of our illness, plans changed to simply spending some really awesome quality time “shelling” and hanging out at the RV Resort’s Clubhouse. We did manage to hit the Historic District downtown on the Strand one afternoon.

The quality time at the Clubhouse is my favorite memory of that weekend. I do love my family and was very sorry that my big sister, Marsha Parker, couldn’t make it as planned. However, we had a great dinner consisting of ham sandwiches, deviled eggs and several bottles…including moonshine eggnog 🙂

We left Galveston on Jan 3 for the short two-hour drive back to home base in Livingston, TX. We spent the time taking it easy, running errands and generally preparing for our trip to Panama for three and a half months.

We are now in Panama, settling in again to our slice of heaven. This trip’s focus is on the backyard, setting up the outdoor kitchen, plants, etc. We’ve been here four days – three of them have been spent in the hammocks 🙂 The house is beautiful, and the backyard is nearly complete. More about the whole remodel in the next post…I promise!

Carnival Cruise to Mexico

While in Galveston this Spring, we saw a cruise ship arrive. The passengers looked like they were having so much fun, we were inspired to book a 5-day Mexican cruise for December.

We had a boarding appointment at 11:30 am Monday, December 10. Carnival definitely has people moving down to a science. It seemed that within minutes we were being greeted with “welcome cocktails” (for which we were charged!) Because we had a suite, our bags were expedited, as was our boarding experience. Once on the ship, we explored a bit and found our room was ready for us….early.

I love these critters – a different one waited for us every day

The ship was beautifully decorated for Christmas – here’s just a few of the photos.

Tuesday was a “fun day at sea” while the ship sailed through the Gulf of Mexico on its way to Cozumel. We thoroughly enjoyed all the amenities the ship had to offer…particularly the bars and the restaurants (the casino was fun too). Our friends from Ohio, Bill and Stacey Atterbury were great travel companions. Bill and Jimmy played a bit of poker – Stacey and I enjoyed the bathtubs in our respective suites. Later in the day Jim and I joined the group playing Bingo…and the live Clue game was a hoot!

The third day found us docked in Cozumel. We all went ashore, just for lunch and a stop at the Mexican Farmacia. After lunch, Jim and I returned to the ship while Bill and Stacey stayed on shore. Jim and I explored the upper decks and discovered the Arcade. There was a really awesome virtual reality monster chasing-type of game that requires participants to sit in the machine and wear goggles. After we tried, unsuccessfully, to play the game, we decided to continue our exploration of the ship. However, while dismounting from the game, my sandal got caught…and down I went. Those of you who know me won’t be surprised to learn that I broke my third toe….again….heavy sigh.

The next day we docked in Progreso, Mexico…near Cancun. Jim and I decided to not go ashore and spent our time enjoying the ship (along with the beverage package we purchased). Bill and Stacy went shopping in town. They told us they got on a bus at the pier which then took them into the shopping district. Stacey said they had fun and even found the ceramic house numbers I wanted for our house in Panama. What a nice surprise!!

After departing Progreso, the weather got really stormy – high wind and choppy sea. Stacey had given me a seasick patch when we first boarded and it really worked well. However, they don’t last five days. Stacy and I, along with I’m guessing about 50% of the other passengers were feeling queasy and stayed in our rooms most of the day. The ship was rocking so much that the partition separating our balcony from the next suite broke loose and was making quite a racket. The furniture then began to slide back and forth between the two balconies, until we called someone to come fix it.

The rocking ship lasted throughout the last night….and made it miserable trying to sleep. However, debarkation the next morning was a breeze….even easier than embarkation. Carnival Cruise Lines has been doing this a while…and it shows. All in all, it was a great cruise – the right amount of fun mixed with equal parts of relaxation. We are now back at the Sandpiper RV Resort on the beach in Galveston, where we will spend the rest of December. Watch for more postings coming soon.