My Rainy Season Trip to Panamá in October and November of 1998
by Tomas Carey

I just completed a trip to Panamá toward the end of rainy season. I had been down for dry season in the last few years and I wanted to see the end of rainy season, especially this year since it has rained so much. For those of you that are interested, here is the story of that trip.

I traveled from Lafayette, LA (my old Louisiana home in the swamps) to Houston, TX and then on to Panamá on Friday,  Oct. 23rd. I had called Continental Air Lines about three weeks prior to ask for a quote round trip to Panamá. They quoted me $645.00 RT from Lafayette, LA to Panamá City. I thought: "SH**T!! (means: "SHOOT!!…) This is altogether too much to be paying for a plane ticket." So I called a travel agency and asked for a few quotes ("no matter how you get me there…. just get me there")…. Well Lacsa, Taca, and all the Latin American airlines wanted the same fare: $645.00. (Are they price fixing or what???) American Air Lines wanted me to fly first to Dallas, then to Miami, then to Panamá and pay $50.00 more than what Continental Air Lines and the other Latin American airlines were charging through Houston non-stop to Panamá. I thought: "Yeah, that’s the ticket!!! …fly American again, and get your bags pilfered again, and pay extra for the pilfering…".  So I decided to do the prudent thing: ….procrastinate…hehehehe….. Well, about four days before I was to go, I thought: "What the hell….pay the $645.00 and bite the bullet"….. So I called Continental again and asked for the ticket and to my surprise they quoted me $538.00 RT to Panamá from Lafayette. Needless to say I didn’t offer that they had quoted me an advance ticket price of over a hundred dollars more!!! Why stir up a can of worms? (especially when I could end up paying more by pointing out their "mistake"….) That was an E-Ticket by the way…. you order by phone, give them the credit card number and pick up your boarding passes at the airport, no hassle.

I got on my commuter jet from Lafayette to Houston, nice short flight, and made my way immediately to….outside the airport, to have a smoke of course, and then onto the gate in Terminal C for the flight to Panamá. There was a guy there at the counter and I asked: "Can I get my tourist card here?" ( hehehe …I have a Panameño passport, but why go through the hassle?…its easier to go to Panamá as an American) He asked: "Where are you going?" I replied: "Panamá!" He said: "Oh that’s in Terminal E!" Now I have 15 minutes to make the flight in Terminal E…. I asked: "Which way to Terminal E?" He said: "I’m going that way, come with me.." So we started off to Terminal E at a very leisurely pace and I started to worry about missing the flight. I asked him if this were a possibility, and he replied: "Don’t worry about it". My kind of guy! We had a nice conversation on the way and I found that he was retired mining engineer who spent lots of time in South America and had also traveled in Panamá. One thing led to another and I discovered that we had a lot in common, me being a geologist and he being a mining engineer.. We discussed mining techniques, geology, etc. We were pretty chummy by the time we got to the Continental counter in Terminal E. It turned out that he was the ground supervisor for their Latin American connection and he was in charge of the flights leaving to points south from Houston. We continued our conversation while he helped with the tourist visa thing at the new gate, he introduced me to a few other old Spanish speaking ticket agents at Continental, we joked around a little, and chewed the fat some more. I had seen Fred Kunkel on the phone near the gate in Terminal E when we first arrived there, so I thought I’d go over and chat with him when he got off the telephone (no doubt closing on one of his multi-million dollar deals…). So at this point I saw Fred finish his phone call and told my newfound friend good-bye and moseyed over to talk to Fred. (The flight was delayed an hour -- in case your now wondering at this point why I had so much time…) Fred and I chatted until they called the flight and we started for the gate. Fred boarded first and when I was going through I cracked to my new friend: "So did you arrange my first class upgrade?" He pulls me off to the side and tells the ticketing agent: "Put him on first class". I said: "I’m just kidding.." He said: "Well, Tomas, I’m not kidding, enjoy the flight!" They changed my boarding pass, and the next thing you know I’m eating a lobster cocktail and enjoying a good glass of white Merlot and stretching my feet out with the other first class passengers of which there were only five others besides me. We had two stewardesses pampering us through the whole three hours and forty-five minutes to Panamá. It was the best flight I ever had to Panamá. [Well almost the best, the best flight was a year earlier when I took Monchy Vallarino (Panamá Beer), and his Marketing Manager for $50.00 in poker in the back of an American Flight from Miami to Panamá and we were pretty pickled by the time we reached Panamá…] So anyway, the flight down to Panamá started out right.

I picked up a rental car from Budget in Panamá and was feeling so expansive at this point that I bought the extra insurance thinking: "Nothing is going to ruin this trip to Panamá this time". I headed (naturally) right away to La Tablita for an ice-cold Panamá beer and some chorizos even though I was stuffed from the five course meal in first class. Afterwards I headed on to Cardenas to my sister Maureen’s house. After saying hi to my mother and chatting for a while, Maureen and I headed to the Yacht Club, which was nice and breezy and actually cool. Afterwards we headed back into Balboa to the Elks Club where we saw Doug Allen, Don Ross, Art Mokray, Gary Dalton, Mike Young and a few others. Ashby did the bartending honors, and it was fun to see him again.

The next day I took my mother down to the Clinica San Fernando to get an MRI on her knee, which she needed due to a fall she took two weeks earlier in Volcán. After that we went to Pizzeria La Italia and got Pepperoni Pizza and Almejas con Salsa Roja. This pizzeria on Calle Tumba Muerto makes pizzas the same as Napoli because it is run by the guy who used to flip pizzas at the Napoli years ago. Remember him? (The Italian looking guy that flipped pizzas back in the ‘60’s?) The meal was great, and again the Panamá beer was ice cold. That’s one thing about Panamá, I don’t think you can sell a luke-warm U.S.-convenience-store-refrigerator beer, they wouldn’t stand for it in Panamá. That afternoon I lounged around in Maureen’s pool in Cardenas so as not to look too "Norte Americano". That night Maureen threw a party and invited the last of the true Zonians over for barbecued chicken. Here’s a few who attended in case you know them: Alex Livingston (he retired this week and will live in a house he’s going to build on some land he bought in Punta Mariato out on the Azuero Peninsula….the lucky S.O.B.!!!), Bob and Mindi Dollar (they are moving to Virginia and Mindi had a going away party, Bobby will join her in a month or so), Billy and Jerry Foster, Mike and Elaine Little, Mary-Ann and Donnie Mans, Tom Giles, Brent someone, Greg Norton, Maureen (my sister), and Martha (my mother). We had a great time telling stories. These stories had to be told in a certain way. You had to hold up your right index finger and say: "True story!", and then tell the story. Let me tell you….there were some GOOD stories. We had a grand time.

The next morning I went driving around the old Canal Zone to take pictures because it was very rainy season at its height, everything was a resplendent emerald green. What made it nice was that hurricane Mitch was out in the Southern Caribbean and for these first few days I was there it was like dry season in the middle of rainy season. The Panameños call it veranillo or veranito. All the foliage was a beautiful deep green and the sky was bright deep blue. There was a wonderful cool breeze blowing. So I took pictures of the Panamá Canal Administration building and various shots around Balboa and Panamá City. Later that day (Sunday) I went out to Panamá Viejo by way of Via Porras. I went that way because I wanted to stop at Bodega Mi Amiga on Via Porras where the best ceviche in Panamá is sold. You can also buy Cuban cigars there. I went out later that night on the town with a Panamánian friend, Juan Moreno, to the Tabou Bar and then to Bacchus Discoteque afterwards. We had a great time. If you’ve never been to Bacchus before I highly recommend it. It’s a huge place with lots of really neat people frequenting it on the weekends. Its expensive ($10.00) to get in but the drinks are cheap once you are in.

On Monday I took my mother to Doctor Dayan in Paitilla to see what to do about the knee after having got the MRI at San Fernando. He is supposed to be the best orthopedic specialist in Panamá, and a very nice guy. He recommended arthroscopy on the knee to remove part of a damaged meniscus. She asked him if she could put it off for a few weeks, he replied that she could. I asked him could he do it the next day and he said probably not, but let him call the outpatient surgery to see if they had space. They did and I told mom to get the surgery over with, especially since recovery was supposed to be very quick. It turned out that the recovery was not very quick, but that’s another story. On the way back from Paitilla, I stopped at the vegetable trucker’s market next to the Pan Canal Motor Transportation Div. and bought some great tomatoes and some mangotins (not to be confused with mangostins). Mangotins are these little hard oval shaped fruits, with a hard green skin, that appear towards the end of rainy season. They are yellow inside with a stiff prickly seed, and I love them. That night I went over to Alex Livingston’s place in Cardenas and drank cold Soberanas and chatted with Alex, Jorge Bloise, and Bobby Hanna’s kid Daniel who is the current reigning motocross champion on 175 cc bikes in Panamá I believe. He’s headed to the States for college. After that I headed back to Maureen’s and turned in for the night.

The next day at 10:00 A.M. (Tuesday) I took Mom down to the Marbella Ochsner out patient surgery clinic to have the arthroscopy done. While she was having that done, I left the rental car there at the clinic, flagged down a taxi and went first to El Dorado shopping canter, and then to the old market place at Salsipuedes. I love walking around that area of Panamá, which hasn’t changed in years. I have been visiting and shopping at the Chinese section of Salsipuedes ever since Doug Allen showed it to me a few years back. It’s a good place to get machetes, and snow cones shavers. (My friends in Louisiana always want me to bring them back a machete….) I did that until about 3:00 P.M. when I was supposed to be back to pick up Mom from the clinic. Well she wasn’t coming out of the anesthesia as quick as they had hoped, so I ended up sitting there until 5:30 P.M. Regardless, I now consider myself an expert in the new Panamá traffic scene. At rush hour, I was making it back to Cardenas from Paitilla in about 20 minutes. You go down from Paitilla to Balboa Avenue towards Salsipuedes and hang a right at a Shell station right before you get to Salsipuedes and head onto Fourth of July (Avenida de Los Martires) at the old Legislative Palace. It saves a tremendous amount of time rather than trying to get back the "new quick way" (Corredor del Norte). I went out again that night…..(hehehehe). Those restaurants and nightclubs in Panamá are a treat to be taken advantage of when your there. By the way, there is a new Niko’s Café right across from the Paitilla Airport that is really great and has very reasonably priced food too.

The plan was to take off to Volcán the next day but after seeing how groggy Mom was from the surgery, we decided on another day in Panamá City. That next day (at least the part I remember) I spent preparing for the trip to Chiriquí, packing up the car and various odds and ends. I did go down to the seafood market that morning and bought corvina, flounder (lenguado), tiger shrimp, langostino, lobster, and small red snapper which I love fried whole. That night I went over to Alex Livingston’s and chatted with Dave Young and some other guy named Tommy something or other. Dave has some really cool artwork of his on T-Shirts, so I bought a few and smoked a cigar with Alex and listened to yet another round of good fishing stories. Back at Maureen’s, I finished packing up the car that night and was ready to leave for Chiriquí at 5 AM the next day (Thursday).

We left at 5:30 A.M. from Cardenas after having the required startup of Café Sitton. I’m not lying here….there were 7,900 birds chirping in the dark predawn (remember how they used to do that in the very early morning in the Canal Zone?) in Maureen’s yard when we departed. I wanted to get an early start for two reasons. One, to get to David airport in time to turn in the rental car to Budget before they closed for the day and pick up the jeep which my mother left there when she flew down to Panamá. Two, a landslide had wiped out the Inter-American Highway near the Rio Tabasará and all the traffic was routed through Santiago to Soná, around the coast to in Chiriquí, and then back onto the Inter-American in Remedios. I was kind of looking forward to that ride because I went that way a few years ago from Santa Catalina to Chiriquí and the scenery was spectacular. Well we didn’t get to go that way because by the time we got to Santiago they had the highway opened again. Well I say opened, but if you saw what the rains have done to that part of Panamá you’d be astonished. There were landslides everywhere. At one location (not the part that was closed for 6 days) they were backing up dump trucks one after another and dumping dirt and rock down a hill to try and mitigate an ongoing slide. I counted at least ten very tentative sections where the road could be closed again at any time.

Regardless, the ride to Chiriquí was great except for one minor setback, breakfast in San Carlos at that gas station that sells cold pipas. It was the worst ever. The coffee was terrible, the hojaldres were stone cold, the water was dirty (we asked for water when we shouldn’t have), the eggs were (I’m not kidding) from the Jurassic, and the only juices available were tutti-frutti and chicha de durazno which was way way too sweet. Man…that’s how I want to start my morning with a glass of sugary syrup tinted with peach flavored sweetened condensed milk. You live and learn as I always say (I say that now, watch me go there next year expecting something different.) However, aside from that one minor glitch, the ride was fun. What made up for the bad breakfast in San Carlos was the great Sopa de Mariscos (seafood soup) and Arroz Frito con Pollo (chicken fried rice) in Concepción. We shopped for verduras (lowland vegetables: yuca, plantain etc.) and fresh micha bread in Concepción before heading up the mountain to Volcán. There is great micha bread right on the plaza at Concepción in a little bakery called Winner’s Panaderia, really excellent michitas and long french bread type micha. The drive up the mountain was refreshing, getting cooler as we went up, and finally reaching the house at around 3 P.M. Like the rest of Panamá, Volcán was a resplendent emerald green and the mountains were majestic. We unpacked, caught up with the goings-on with the caretaker and ate a simple meal, which the maid cooked, and retired early with a fire going in the fireplace after a long day.

The next day we ate fresh eggs, tortillas, bacon, micha toast, coffee and fresh squeezed Boquete orange juice. I forgot to mention that we got two dozen Boquete oranges and a big red papaya at the entrance to the David airport for $2.75. The oranges were delicious, as was the juice. I am forever pulling off the side of the road in Panamá, and buying the fresh fruit, which is a real treat for me after suffering the fruit from the U.S. That’s a subject I can expound on all day. Whatever! I had plenty of work waiting for me….a leaking roof around the chimney, a new chicken pen and chicken house to build, a very cranky starter motor on the jeep, cleaning out a hectare of recently planted coffee, and this and that and the other (the kind of stuff I love to do…hehehe, way better than drilling a well out in the ocean for gas and oil!!). I did manage to get up and visit Mary Ann Herr, (the late Vic Herr’s wife), Gladys Kucikas (Cabañas Kucikas), Don Goyo (bartender at the Motel California), Cesar (Dillon’s caretaker and my hiking buddy and field hand), and the Yovannovich sisters (my Yugoslavian buddy’s sisters who are in the farming business.)

Let me see…. its now Saturday night and I’m so bushed that I’m not even going out on the town tonight. Actually I’m gonna wait for November 3rd , Panamá’s Independence Day. There are supposed to be parades, and food, and fiestas at night. I’m prepared…hehehehe….I keep a few (two dozen or so) big bottle rockets (about 6 foot tall packing a pound or two of dynamite) stashed somewhere around this house to blow off on the required occasion. Meanwhile the work goes forward at least for the time being. Its raining this afternoon, a nice patter on the corrugated roof, attenuated by the one by six underlying tongue and groove, a chilly rain made warm by a cozy fire, what a place to relax! Relax and work that is……we have onions and coffee going, so that takes some minor looking after. Also, Mom wants to have chickens so we are going to build a chicken house for 50 laying chickens and 20 fryers. Actually we already have the fryers, a neighbor is keeping them for us. So aside from building a big closet, I will be building a 12 by 16-foot chicken house with a big pen for the chickens to run in during the day. This is way more fun than what I do for a living….hehehe. Tonight I prepared little red snappers fried whole and fried tiger shrimp with rice, plantain, and a tomato and lettuce salad. The tomatoes were delicious, nice red, and naturally ripened, not hot house tomatoes. I mixed some homemade aji chombo hot sauce that I bought from Ashby at the Elks club my first night here -- pretty good stuff.

Somewhere I lost a day, oh well, that’s what I came to Panamá for anyway. It’s the 2nd of November, and tomorrow is the 3rd of November, Panamá’s Independence Day. They are preparing the town of Volcán for fiesta tomorrow and the day after. There are toldos all over the place ready for the revelry. You would think that the day before Independence Day or at least the night before you would be able to go out and party. Nope! Every bar is closed until 12:00 tonight (Nov. 2) due to "El dia de Los Disfuntos", the day of the deceased. So naturally I spent the evening before the day of the deceased pre-empting the blackout today with some of my old Volcáneño friends at the Eruption disco in Volcán. One of them was a guy named Agustin Atencio whom I took down to Panamá, for the first time years ago, when he had literally nothing. He started out at the old market place unloading vegetable trucks coming in from Volcán and Boquete, and now he has a fleet of trucks and just bought his second semi-tractor trailer to haul produce from Chiriquí to Panamá. I can’t do anything wrong as far as he’s concerned, so naturally he bought the Soberanas …hehehehe. Tomorrow I will go and borrow a pick-up truck from him to buy cement, blocks, corrugated roofing and steel re-bar, since my our Isuzu jeep won’t do handle that kind of stuff. Two things three…before I close out tonight…. First thing is that they actually have an internet café, at the Hotel Don Tavo in Volcán, with 5 computers. They have their own server. But it doesn’t matter because the phone is slow as molasses to David, especially at night, so I’ve been checking my email at 9:30 A.M. It costs $1.00/half-hour if you check email. If you surf the net its $2.50/hour. So everybody tells the girl at the front desk that they are checking email to get the lower rate. Second, the video tape club in Volcán. Its run as a side business to Lizzy’s Fried Chicken. They have a selection of about mmmmm…. 30 tapes. So I take three empty boxes that were on display (that’s all they have on display) to an old lady that sits at a desk there and I show her the movies that I want. She pokes around in a filing cabinet and comes back and tells me that they aren’t there. Everything I want is gone. So I ask her to please let me look. After a brief friendly argument she concedes and lets me look. Lo and behold…. the tapes I am looking for are there in the filing cabinet! That’s typical of our Panamá businesses, a bit disorganized to put it lightly. Anyway, so she gives me a goofy look. I tell her how Blockbuster does it in the States and she says "yeah, we need to get organized". Hehehehe………. The third thing is…..uh…don’t write to me about how I talk too much about drinking…every time I write one of these accounts of my travel to Panamá, someone writes to me complaining about me mentioning about how much I drink….if you can’t or don’t want to drink….TOUGH!!!! Stop reading right here and save yourself the grief and especially don’t write to me whining about me talking too much about alcohol….I drink moderately and like it!!!! OK???!!!

I may be skipping days here……..(due to alcohol intake....)….but anyway it’s the day after Panamá Independence day so I can now talk about that! I went to David with Agustin Atencio and his family…’s how that happened: First I went to Volcán looking for chicken feed….hehehehe on Independence Day of course, why do things early when you can procrastinate….you may get a better price waiting……our caretaker tells me that morning that we are out of feed. Naturally everything is closed, and what's more, its raining cats and dogs and there are parades through Volcano. By the way, all these school children are slowly marching around the town of Volcán for hours in the pouring cold rain and not missing a step in the rain. So not only is it a mess to get around, but the weather is bad on top of everything else. After exhausting all possibilities I decide to head to the Motel California for a cold beer. There I find Agustin and a few other Volcáneños celebrating the Independence of Panamá from Colombia. One thing about running into Agustin in a bar is that I cannot spend my money no matter what. If I try to buy a beer, he takes my money and puts it back in my pocket and tells the bartender that everything that I drink goes on his bill and that my money is no good there. Well I should have seen this coming….but he tells me he’s headed to David with his family to buy them gifts and clothes etc. and a few things for the kids who are marching in another parade the next day. The problem is that he has a four-wheel-drive Toyota pick up truck and his family consists of two sons and two daughters, plus the wife. So he asks me: "Tommy (they all call me Tommy in Volcán, pronounce the "o" like a Panameño does) yo quiero pedir un favor muy grande." I ask him: "Que clase de favor Agustin?, tu sabe que para ti, no hay favor ..digo…tan grande.." He asks me to take him and the family to David to go shopping and eat out. Now I wasn’t planning driving to David today, but Agustin is the kind of guy that you can’t say no to, because he would do anything I asked of him. He’s a "high maintenance" friend. So after he asks another two times I relent and we’re all on our way to David. The wife and children are happier than ducks in the rain. Agustin has the strange habit of knowing everybody everywhere in Chiriquí, especially in all the bars. So he wants to stop at a bar in each town on the way to David, after all, this IS a day of fiesta. The funniest thing is that the family expects this and waits patiently in the car, in the rain, for us to have a beer. Then we’re off again to David. We stop in a nice restaurant in David and he tells everybody to order what they want. I got a really good sopa de Concha, and an excellent Churrasco a la Plancha. Naturally, the restaurant has a bar, (no surprise there…) and there is Agustin talking to some good friends (because he DOES know everybody). He introduces me as his Norteamericano friend and tells the bartender that I can’t pay for anything…. hehehe …my kind of guy. I’ll never tell him that I have an updated cedula (which he DOESN’T have). Here he is a big business guy, with trucks and lots of crops in the ground, and he hasn’t renewed his cedula in years. His license is also expired. Anyway, then we take he family to downtown David and he gives them 500 dollars, tells the wife to buy him two shirts, and tells her we’ll be back at 6:30 P.M. By the way, he has promised me that he can get chicken feed in David on Independence Day. So we go (naturally) to a bar near the David marketplace. He sends some little guy out to get chicken feed and we order the usual, Soberana for me and Carta Vieja and ginger ale for him. The guy comes back with a hundred pounds of chicken feed on his back and Agustin starts arguing price with him. The guy wants $18.50 for a hundred pounds of chicken feed (which is fine with me) and Agustin wants to pay $18.00. I tell him never mind, I’ll buy it. He refuses to let me buy it at that price, regardless of the fact that its cheaper than what I can get it for in Volcán. One thing about Agustin is that he is extremely stubborn when it comes to haggling about money. He’s the most generous person I know, but if it comes to arguing fifty cents, he won’t budge. So I missed my opportunity to buy chicken feed over fifty cents. The poor guy had to haul the hundred pounds of chicken feed back down the street on his shoulder. I told Agustin that I was mad at him for not getting the feed. His reaction? Order another round of beers: "Chupa y no jodas Tommy!" hehehehehe……

We went and picked up the family, of course there they are…. waiting on the curb patiently, but they are happy and they all got what they wanted. The wife was happy with new clothes for the children and herself. We gassed up and headed back to Volcán at 7 P.M. When we got back to Volcán, Agustin tells the wife to take the kids home (it has stopped raining by now) and we go (naturally) back to the Motel California. By this time I start to realize that Agustin hasn’t slept in two days since he’s taking cat naps in the middle of a conversation with another friend of his. So I offer to take him home and his response: order another round for the bar. With the help of a few other friends we get him to go home only after we all agree to go eat sancocho at his house the next day. I went home, showered, and headed out to the Discoteque Erupcion 81 in Volcán. It belongs to another friend of mine, a Yugoslavian potato farmer by the name of Slobodan. Also Ernesto Berard and his lady, Arcelis, are there at the disco. Ernesto makes hams, sausage, and bacon that sell locally in Panamá. His only competition is Keiner. Don’t mention the name Keiner to Ernesto…hehehehe. Ernesto is Swiss, born in Panamá. He has a Swiss citizenship and a Panamá citizenship. He has plenty of cattle, and pigs, as do his other brothers. He was sent to Switzerland when he was 11 years old and became a master butcher. He worked for the U.S. Army in the Canal Zone for a year or two before he went back to Volcán to take over and build up the family business. So I’m sitting there talking with Ernesto and we are talking about one thing or another and the subject becomes knives, how important a sharp knife is. Well I always carry a Swiss army knife and recently bought a little portable pen-sized diamond knife sharpener at Academy Sports in Lafayette. So I showed him that little diamond sharpener (it looks like a pen) and he liked it so much that he put it in his pocket and tells me: "a mi si me gusta esto mucho, ahora es mio" ("I like it a lot, now its mine"). I thought he was kidding, but he really wanted it. It cost like $16.00 and I could get another one, and I knew Ernesto, I was sure he was gonna try to give me a few hams or something. But he disappears for ten minutes and comes back and tells me: "You thought I was going to steal your sharpener from you right?" I replied: "Of course not Ernesto, if you want the sharpener, you can have it." Then he pulls out a beautiful Victorinox Swiss knife, not the regular army knife, but a really neat pocketknife, and he says "here’s a gift for you." It’s a beautiful knife, longer than the regular Swiss army blade and gray in color. I love the knife already!!! We sat there, Ernesto, Arcelis, Slobodan, I, and a few others along with 500 or so other Independence Day revelers having a fantastic time. Slobodan knows how to run a disco, and all the music is great Panamá typico music. The crowd is especially fond of Victorio Vergara’s last composition before he died. Its about him making a promise to the patron saint of Las Tablas, the Virgin Mary. Anyway, I thought it really cute that Ernesto and his wife both have their own bottles of Old Parr sitting in front of them all night at the bar (I’m slowly drinking Soberanas). I came to find out that Arcelis’ bottle of Old Parr was actually water, while Ernesto’s was Old Parr. That’s the way people buy drinks in Chiriquí. You buy a bottle for the table. Suffice it to say that a great time was had by all. On top of everything else, Slobodan’s disco serves appetizers: empanadas, carimañolas, fried yuca, little meat balls, and barbecued meats on little plates at no charge. I love it!!! They just bring it to you every now and then without you asking for it. These people know how to live and party….

Tonight (the night after Independence Day, Nov. 4) I went down to Volcán to take back the videotapes I rented two days earlier, and they were closed early, worn out from all the fiesta I suppose. There was a police unit from Volcán and a few cars stopped on the road down to Volcán. Apparently someone hit a horse and it was still alive, I felt really sorry for the horse and pissed at the owner. It seems these kinds of things always happen around the holidays when people are out celebrating and ignore their animals. They were pulling the horse off the road when I came back by on the way up the hill. This kind of put a damper on my whole evening.

Well here it is a week later and I’ve made no entries into this journal for a whole week! I’ve been working on the storage closet, doing cement and block work etc., and building the chicken house. The chicken house is finished, the storage closet is all blocked in and the new steel door is in place. The plastering starts tomorrow and should take only two days. The problem is….that the mason is also the local numbers guy (loteria cimaron) so he can only give me about three days a week. The other days he’s out selling and paying off in the numbers game. For those of you who are ignorant in this booming Panameño business, it is the same as the chance game in the National Lottery except that you can win on first, second, or third place, and it only costs 20 cents versus 25 cents for the legal lottery. The payout is the same, eleven dollars for first place, I forget what for second place, and two dollars for third place. I know what it is for third place because I hit that today (Wed. 11 Nov.) on the number 14. I bought like 5 dollars worth of tickets and hit on a dollar’s worth of 14. That was a ten dollar win! Hehehehe…..

I went down to the river below Concepción to go swimming the other day. On the way down through Concepción I stopped at a small restaurant on the plaza and got some hot fresh hojaldres, and tasajo with Maggi’s peach nectar for breakfast; now that hit the spot! I bought some pivas and snacked on those at the river. After swimming, I took a ride out toward Divala, which is heading toward the coast from Concepción. Its pure Panameño cattle and rice country, a really nice place, beautiful green fields and pastures, campesinos riding horses, combines harvesting rice, ducks flying around, morning doves and brown turtle doves on the road in the shade, the smell of cow manure in the air, and the hot humid air in the Panamá sun. A perfect place for a cool clear fast running river (which I took advantage of several times that day). On the way back to Volcán, I stopped at the plaza again and got a piña raspado. It was also very good because it had fresh pineapple in it. I don’t care for the sweetened condensed cream, on the top of a raspado, so I had it plain. On the way back up the mountain I stopped and bought 200 lbs. of dried corn grain to grind and mix with the chicken feed, it stretches the feed out and makes the eggs and chicken taste better. Meanwhile, mom shows up with a box of 50 little laying chicks from Melo y Cia. So I scramble to wire the chicken house for light bulbs, lest these little chicks freeze to death. We have had sunny cool weather the last few days, just like dry season again. The few days before that it rained quite a bit. Anyway, I got a really good sunburn at the river and had to get the caretaker’s wife (Dayanita) to give me some aloe to rub on my face. She has all the required herbs to take care of any ailment that comes up. Today her son Miguel, who lives with them on our property, brought me a Pava. That’s like a wild turkey but not quite a real wild turkey. The real wild turkey is called (surprise!!) Pavo Real. He is promising me one of those, some conejo pintado, and a small deer called a corso real soon. He is lobbying for me to leave him my over and under 22/shotgun to use while I’m not here. I just may do that if he brings me a conejo pintado in the next few days (I made that clear to him….hehehehe). The Pava is in the refrigerator waiting for tomorrow afternoon, it weighs three pounds. Tonight, we had fried rainbow trout filleted, soaked in lime juice, salt and pepper, fried yuca, steamed broccoli, cucumber, onion, and sour cream salad, and hot micha bread. Last night was filet mignon with broiled lobster tails, French fried fresh potatoes, and a tossed salad. But I’ll tell you what…..I made some fried flounder the other night that was DELICIOUS. I’m going to buy a bunch of that to bring back to the U.S. I’ve got another week here before I head back to the zone for a few days. Hopefully Alex Livingston will have his outboard motor fixed by then for a day or two of fishing. I’m going down to a neighbor’s house for a few phone calls tonight. Maybe I’ll call him and threaten to reveal his secret internet identity on one of the Zonian web sites….hehehehehe…… But I digress here…. (The whole point of my writing….) I took an old family friend (88 years old, and blind as a bat, and deaf as an earth worm, but lots of fun to be with) Don Don Efrain Franceshi into Volcan with us today to look for an electrician he knows because half of the circuits in our house went on the blink after I wired up the chicken house for light. When we couldn’t find the electrician, so I got a friend of mine, (Roy) who is the local refrigeration guy in Volcán, to look at the breaker box. Being an expert refrigeration guy, he spots the problem right away. Turns out that in each of the small breaker switches on the top row of breakers, there is an ants nest. A sort of ant condominium if you will. The simple act of cutting off and then cutting the electricity back on (to do some wiring) activates the ant sabotage. So we got that fixed (by tapping out the ant’s nests) and I asked him to take a look at the air conditioning in the Isuzu matraka while he’s there. He finds that problem too, a bad relay switch for which naturally, there is no part in Chiriquí. So he wires up an on/off switch on the dash. It’s simple. When I want cool air, I switch the switch on ….hehehehe. Meanwhile, the caretaker and friends are showing up now and then with all kinds of vegetables, I’m long on onions, fresh corn, chayotes, and lettuce and short on broccoli. I reciprocate with green plantain from a huge stock of 60 or so that I purchased in the cattle and rice country on my river excursion. As they say in Panamá, "Un mano lava el otro, y los dos lavan la cara".

Had a great lunch today at the Hotel Don Tavo. It was a hamburger. Not your regular everyday American style hamburger, but a hamburgesa Panameño!! The difference you ask? Well for starters…the lettuce is on the bottom, Maggi’s ketchup, there is no mustard, the bun is a hamburger shaped bun, but its micha bread, and best of all, it has cilantro flavoring due to the fact that there is cilantro in the meat patty. Where else but Panamá can you get a cilantro flavored burger? Also the French fries ..again…are all natural, made from fresh potatoes. The other highlight today was that the maid found a scorpion in mom’s chair in the living room. Hey there’s a pleasant thought….recover from a knee operation and get bit by a scorpion. So tomorrow we spend the major part of the morning at the farm over in Tizingal while the house airs out from a good fumigation. I don’t like scorpions at all. Spiders I can tolerate, some of them are good guys, but ALL scorpions are bad. What was "god" thinking when he said "LET THERE BE SCORPIONS" ?????

Here it is a few days later, the 16th of November to be precise. Do I have powers of premonition or what? Roberto found another scorpion outside while re-arranging some rocks around a flower bed next to the house. Of course mom was out there digging in the flower bed too. So I told her that she had better be wearing gloves. I went off to Volcan to get some wood and do some errands for a few hours. When I came back, sure enough there she was with her fingers in ice. She looked at me and told me: "I know you told me to wear gloves, and I didn’t". She was in extreme pain every time she took her fingers out of the ice. So I went down to Don Efrain Franceschi’s to call Dr. Vega to ask him what to do. Don Efrain told me: (his exact words) "Tommy, si es una picada de alacran, tu ganaste la loteria llegando aqui hoy, yo tengo la mejor medicina para eso". There were a few neighbors at Don Efrain’s house and everyone of them had a different remedy. Agustin Atencio showed up and he also had a remedy: "take the same scorpion and mash it up and rub it into the area where it bit you." Mrs. Julio Gomez’ remedy: "mash garlic and rub it into to the affected area." Pablo Veral’s remedy: (I’m not to sure about this one) rub urine into the bite. Regardless, I called Dr. Vega and he prescribed an antihistamine and a pain killer. The nice thing about Volcan is that you don’t need a prescription for ¾’s of the drugs they sell in the pharmacy. By the way, Don Efrain’s remedy was a small bottle of Carminative Oil. It’s an oil made by (the Chinese of course) Kun Wing Fook Medicine Co. Ltd. Of Hong Kong. It’s made up of some kind of Palm Oil and some aromatics like clove, camphor, eucalyptus, and mints. So I go back to the house, armed with the remedies and the bottle of Carminative Oil, to tell her that I was headed to Volcan to get the medicine from the pharmacy. Meanwhile, mom decides on the Chinese cure. When I got back from Volcan. She came out with her hand out of the ice exclaiming that all the pain was gone, and that there was no sign of the bite what-so-ever. So today (16th of Nov.) when I took Don Don Efrain and Don Carlos into town with me, when I went to buy some lumber, they showed me where to buy that Chinese medicine, and I bought two bottles. When I got back here to Paso Ancho to Don Don Efrain’s house, I made reservations to fly back to Panamá and also made the reservations to fly back to the states on Sunday the 22nd of November. Its always better to leave Panamá on a Sunday, because the drive to the airport is way easier on Sunday morning when there is no commuter traffic. What else?……… Don Efrain bought the Critica and the Panamá America for me while he was in the farmacia. So tonight I get to read all about the bloody accidents that happened in Panamá over the weekend.

Miguel came back yesterday with nothing from the hunt. He explained that since he didn’t have the dog he couldn’t find any deer or wild pig. The dog is recovering with stitches from a bad run-in with a saino (wild boar). The saino gored the dog in the face and cut the dog’s jaw real bad. So Miguel had to take the dog to the veterinarian to get it sewn up. It was the dog’s third run-in with a saino, each of those times requiring stitches.

OK, here I am on the plane back to Houston, and I’ve got a little time to catch up on what happened during the last week in Panama. I did some more work on the coffee, fertilizing and cutting the brush around the coffee. Went back to the disco and partied some more with Ernesto and the boys on Saturday night then went over to the Kalahari disco afterwards. I found the secret to ceviche. They serve this ceviche over there that’s every bit as good as Bodega Mi Amigo’s. I asked the owner (forgot his name) how he made it. He told me that they mix the sour oranges with the lime juice and put in (get this!!) fresh ginger root. Not too much and not chopped up, just in chunks to give the ceviche a slight tint of ginger flavor. You heard it here first folks…….

A few little reflections on some things in Panama during the last week. First of all, not enough can be said about the flavor of good fresh Panamá tomatoes. We have had them in salads, on sandwiches, cut fresh with eggs in the morning, and whatever way we have them they are delicious. Its worth living in Panamá just to eat those fresh tomatoes. Secondly, acronyms…..the Panamanians love acronyms. Here’s a good one: FEPAFUT: Federacion Panameña de Futbol. They are trying to start like a National Soccer League in Panamá kinda like the NFL. I don’t think they’ll be quite as big as the NFL at the outset. Thirdly, every other car DOES NOT repeat does not dim their lights on the highway.

We set out for Panamá City on Thursday the 19th of November and ended up doing part of the drive at night. I was going to fly back to Panamá City, but Mom got the bug to go down to the city to see me off and take care of Maureen who is having surgery on the 23rd of November. Before we headed out, I got Roberto and headed over to Tizingal where we have the coffee, to get some watercress and oranges to take back to Maureen and friends in the zone. We also have rose apples and persimmons over there but they are out of season. Then we headed back to Paso Ancho and Roberto’s wife Dayanita went out and got chayotes, I didn’t even know we have a bunch of chayote vines growing at the Pasoancho place. We have onions growing too, so I took a bunch of those to the Zone also. Victoriano Rios came over on the last night we were there to have dinner and he brought a bunch of lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, and carrots, more than we could ever eat so I took those back to the Zone as well.

It rained cats and dogs on the trip back and we stopped at McPato’s in Santiago to have a sandwich at sundown. They make to excellent sandwiches there: a filete sandwich and an emparedado Chiricano which is really a cuban sandwich with roasted pork, ham, cheese and chicken, and quite delicious I might add. We rolled into Panamá City at 11 P.M. that night. Needless to say I stayed home that night; I was tired from the seven hour drive through the mountains in the rain. The next day I went over to National Car rental in Corozal and rented a Toyota Corolla for the last two days in Panamá. I went out to the Elks Club that night after cooking some Lafayette style grilled langostino’s with onions, lemon juice and cajun spices. We had Mary Ann (Spagna) Mans over for dinner. She is Maureen’s exercise alter ego. She won’t let Maureen off with an easy session ever or so I hear. Then I headed over to the Elk’s and ran into Marvin Wright, Kenny Morales, and Art Mokray. You may remember Art for his very informative updates on the Zone situation in the Zonelink mailing list. Ashby did the bartending honors. Marvin and I talked about the good old days while Kenny tried to tell me about a conspiracy by the U.S. to control the direction of hurricanes via extremely long wave radio signals (to wit Hurricane Andrew missing most of Miami and Hurricane Mitch missing the U.S. altogether, they are getting better at it as time goes by according to Kenny). Can anybody add anything to this? Please contact Kenny directly. I ended up at Bacchus later that night by myself (Thank God!!!). The next day was Saturday, my last full day in Panama. Maureen and myself went down to the YMCA to shop for handicrafts. I bought two sweaters from Ecuador, and some other odds and ends. Then I drove down to the Barrio Chino again in Salsipuedes and bought five machetes with cases for friends in Lafayette.

That night we went to a housewarming pig roast, and going away party in La Boca and then ended up at a party that Rowland and Connie Folse threw for Connie’s brother Pablo Carrasquillo. Pablo retired from the Army and is living in Austin, TX. He was in Panamá for a few weeks on vacation. Let me tell you something about Rowland and Connie. Those two KNOW how to throw a party. They had typica dancers and a comparsa from the interior. When I walked onto their absolutely beautiful patio in La Boca, there were two Pollera dancers performing to the typica music of the comparsa. A bunch of old Curundu friends were on hand: Karl and Lena Marohl, Tommy Duncan, Bobby Cruz, his mother and wife, Ricky Velasquez, Pablo Prieto and his wife, Anthony Garcia, Louie and Robin Husted, Art Mokray, Doug Allen and many more. Doug, Rowland and I played with the Comparsa and had a blast. Connie put out a spread of delicious spread of typica Panamá food. There were empanadas, bite sized tamales, and all kinds of other delicious stuff. I made it home relatively early that night in order to pack up and get to bed at a reasonable hour for the 11 A.M. flight to Houston the next day. That next morning, I drove myself to Tocumen, did my duty free shopping (a bottle of Martell Cordon Bleu at $73.00, a few bottles of Famous Grouse Gold Reserve at $19.00, and two bottles of Ron Cortez one dark and one light. I priced some Cuban cigars and they were more expensive at the duty-free than at Bodega Mi Amiga on Via Porras. I’m glad I bought there first.

I had a nice flight back to Houston although not near as nice as the flight down. Of course I missed my connecting flight to Lafayette because an hour is not enough to change planes and go through customs in Houston. I caught another flight two hours later to Lafayette.

Panamá is changing, yet it remains the same. I am so fortunate to be able to get back often and enjoy it as not many people get to do. The only regret I have, is that I am hooked completely on the country and the people. I should be travelling to other places in the world, yet every time I get the chance, I go to Panamá. It’s a beautiful place, full of life and color. It’s my home and I’ll always go back as often as I can.

Presented by CZBrats
November 25, 1998
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