My Name is Greg and it’s Been 11 Days Since My Last Post

There are days when I feel like the blog has become an obsession. I started writing with the best possible intentions and now it seems that I cannot stop. I love writing so much that when I do not share I have feelings of guilt. I fear that I will lose the respect and following that I have worked hard to build. Today is Thanksgiving and I have put other projects and tasks aside to visit family. Being the early riser that I am, I will devote a few minutes to bring you all up to speed. Our plans for retirement are screaming at us like a freight train. On Monday I received a call from Jen’s supervisor asking me if I would like to speak at her retirement party. I had it in my mind that the day would never come, so I never expected to have to give an answer to the question being posed. I have decided not to disclose my answer to the question until the day of the ceremony. Jen has already asked me not to embarrass or make her cry. I told her that she would just have to wait and see what happens. For the next few weeks we will be firmly involved in the last 36 days of work for Jen and holidays with family and friends. Please, do not expect to have daily posts prior to the end of the year. Now that I have said that, I can live without guilt should I do not get a post out as often as I would like.

One thing we do daily to prepare for our adventure is follow ExPats In Panama Facebook Group https://m.facebook.com/groups/2397416901 . This is a closed group of people who live in (or are about to live in) Panama. You must apply and be accepted into this group of around 10,000 people, but the questions and inquiry’s are an excellent way to prepare for what we may need to know about daily life in Panama. The cool thing about this group is that they do not allow it to be used for dating or selling stuff. You will have to look  elsewhere for that. What you will find is simple, great recommendations for things you may need. This is where we found our immigration attorney and the best guide in Panama, Marc Vargas  Your Guide In Panama .

We like to use checklists or task lists to keep track of our progress toward accomplishing a goal. The task list for this adventure is multiple pages and evolves daily as we get closer to our final departure. Some of the things on our list would not even seem to be important to this blog, so you will never see them here. Remember though, that simple things can become monumental. Mail delivery for instance does not exist, for all intents and purposes, in Panama. You cannot simply complete a forwarding order and get your mail delivered. Over the next few weeks we will have to make sure that we have online bill pay for everything. If we make the decision to move permanently, our mail will be forwarded to a mail service in Miami. From there it will be sent to Panama monthly by a common carrier and we will have to pick it up at a predetermined location.

We keep seeing inquiries from people who want to know what others like most and least about re-locating to Panama. By far, people like the climate and the simple lifestyle. Cost of living and excellent, low cost health care (insurance) is important. Proximity to the equator is another huge factor. 9-10 degrees from the equator means that the threat of hurricanes is practically non-existent, weather is consistent, and you will have 12 hours of daylight every day. For me the daylight is important. The closer we get to winter in Michigan the shorter the days become. It seems that every day we have less and less sun. I am fully aware of the toll Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) can have. It is my belief that everyone suffers from it in some fashion. Some are affected worse than others. I look forward to having equal days and nights year round. As far as the least favorite aspects of living in Panama go, there really is only 1 clear stand out…traffic. We do not plan to spend much time at all in Panama City so it seems that traffic will be of little consequence for us.  2 million of the 4 million people in Panama live in Panama City. I think all of them must own cars and try to drive everywhere. Everything we read and see says that the infrastructure is improving and mass transit is a priority. As these things move forward, even living in Panama City would not be a bad option for some people.

No post would be complete without a Spanish lesson. The word of the day is aburrido. Aburrido means bored or boring. Estas aburrido? Pues ven conmigo al cine…translated is Are you bored? Then come with me to the movies. I hope none of you are aburrido with our blog postings. Sometimes I think that Jen may have been right about starting to write our blog too early. Please, do not desert us until you have had the chance to see what happens when we move beyond research and into real life experience. Please like, share, and comment. Your support will help keep the motivation to write high on our list of daily activities.

Feliz Dia de Accion de Gracias! (Happy Thanksgiving)

 

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Let’s explore Gamboa in the province of Colon

Gamboa is, perhaps,the first place in Panama that attracted our attention. Without much knowledge of the lay of the land, Gamboa caught our attention as a location where we may settle, due to its tropical, rain forest, and low cost of living. Gamboa is on the east side of the Panama Canal and with only 2 routes across, it may prove prohibitive to move about the country from Gamboa. We have developed a comprehensive list of exploration ideas, and Gamboa has the majority of cool things to explore.

Gamboa is located in a very private, secluded area of the former Panama Canal Zone. It was the site of housing for workers in the early 1900’s when the canal was being dredged. The sleepy little town was established for the workers and their families. It bustled back then, offering schools, and all the services that one would expect for it’s time. Today it is underutilized and many of its structures are unoccupied. Part of the towns seclusion lies in that it is in the lush Gamboa Jungle, on the east shore of Lake Gatun, at a sharp bend in the Chagres River. To access Gamboa you must cross the Chagres on a single lane wood and iron bridge. Nearby, to the south of Gamboa the Chagres River and Lake Gatun meet the Culebra Cut. This is the narrow pass that takes the canal through the Continental Divide. All this being said, it is hard to believe Gamboa is less than 30 minutes from Panama City.

Culebra Cut
The Culebra Cut is the narrow pass of the Panama Canal that crosses the Continental Divide.

A short distance from Gamboa we will find the Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo. There we will a variety of monkeys, wild cats, harpy eagles, and giant tapirs. We will also find the former dredging docks that now house light ferry boats to take us to the  Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute facilities at Barro Colorado Island. Visitors are allowed on Barro Colorado Island; access is, however, regulated. To visit Barro Colorado Island, you must make a reservation and arrange for a tour. Tours generally include transportation to and from the island, a 2–3 hour guided hike, lunch, and a visit to the museum. Hikes through the island offer up the opportunity to spot several creatures, including monkeys, anteaters, birds, and insects.

Since Gamboa lies at the end of the road, so to speak, it is near large tracts of relatively undisturbed rain forest. It is the home of caymens, crocodiles, iguanas, and hundreds of bird species. Pipeline Road is a trail that follows an old pipeline near Gamboa. It is considered one of the best places to bird watch in all of Central America. The Las Cruces Trail also passes nearby. This was the trail used to transport supplies and precious metals between the Pacific and the Atlantic. Some of the trail is now underwater. There are many places in Gamboa where we can access private and public boats for fishing expeditions on Lake Gatun. Lake Gatun is considered ideal for bass fishing.

The penitentiary where Noriega was incarcerated is located not far from Gamboa on the shore of the canal. It is a white collar prison, surrounded by jungle, and it is still in use today. This is a place that we will choose to avoid.

Panama Canal Penitentiary
This is where Noriega was incarcerated.

The Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a 5-star hotel located in Gamboa. The hotel attracts visitors interested in birdwatching, an aeriel tram which visits the jungle canopy, and tours to visit the Indian Reservations in the jungle nearby. The Embra and Wounaan Tribes reside on Lake Alajuela which lies on the upper side of the Chagres River. A one hour ride by native canoe (piragua) will deliver us deep in the jungle to visit with the Embra people. We will get the opportunity to see the Indians lifestyle, like hunting, fishing, harvest, and medicine. We will experience the traditional dances, and see how they paint their bodies. We will see how they weave baskets, plates and masks. We will have the chance to walk through the jungle to see the wildlife, birds and waterfalls. The Embra are very welcoming and friendly people. They will serve us lunch before we embark on our one hour return journey by piragua to Gamboa.

Gamboa and its surrounding area will be a great place to make memories of our Panama adventure. It may not, however, be our ideal choice for a retirement home.  We will be keeping a open mind. Please, continue to follow, like, share, and comment. Our Spanish lessons are going on behind the scenes we will, however, share the word of the day “extranar”. Extranar means to miss or long for. Yo extranar para eterno el verano. Translated…I long for eternal summer. Buenos Dias.

Let the excursion planning begin

As promised, we will mix it up a bit and start sharing our excursion planning. Our home away from home will be in Coronado which is on the Pacific coast, west of Panama City. We want to start out with an excursion that is not too far from home.  La Villa de los Santos is a small town down the coast from Coronado. It lies south of Chitre’ on the Azuero Peninsula, near the Golfo de Panama (Pacific Ocean). The destination is less than 2-1/2 hours from our condo.

The town of La Villa is a quiet town that hosts a couple of festivals every year, but its true claim to fame is that it is where Panamanian independence began. In 1821 the people of Los Santos wrote a letter to the leader of Columbia asking for assistance, and 18 days later they were able to declare independence from Spain. It was at this time that Panama aligned itself with Columbia. The people of Panama felt that they may need Columbia’s protection, should there be, conflicts in the future. This alignment with Columbia turned out to be not so good for Panama. It will be a little more than 80 years, in 1903, when they will claim their 2nd independence.  Panama’s independence is celebrated in November here in La Villa. They also celebrate Flag Day on November 4, and Colon Day on November 5. Colon Day is like Columbus Day in the U.S., celebrating when Columbus discovered the New World. It is the month of November that La Villa comes alive with festivals, however we will be there in February when it will be quiet, friendly, and unassuming.

The  Smithsonian is managing an archaeological dig in La Villa. This is where the first inhabitants of Panama lived nearly 11,000 years ago. The Spanish did not arrive here until about 500 years ago.

We will find very few expats here; and it may be a challenge for us to communicate. Our research tells us that we could easily live here on less than $1000. per month. The food will be all locally grown, the rents are low, and there is very little on which to spend money. La Villa appears to be one of the friendliest and most affordable places to live in Panama. Chitre’, Las Tablas, and Pedasi are expat destinations not far from La Villa. These towns are all situated on the Golfo de Panama, as well.

The Azuero Peninsula will be one of our early excursions. It seems that the area can give us an economical, friendly, laid-back, lifestyle while keeping us near the ocean. We are excited about exploring the interior as well. The mountain and rain forest destinations will be on our excursion list.

This post would not be complete without a Spanish lesson. Today’s word is cocinar. Cocinar means  to cook. Muy bien means very good. La would estar  muy bien a cocinar algunos gran Panamanian la comida. Translated…It would be very good to cook some great Panamanian food. Thanks again for checking in. Remember to check back often, like and share.

Panama map

 

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Meats at the Fonda

In our previous posts we learned that the Fonda will have sopa, and possibly a variety of meat offerings. Carne (meats) are typically served asado (grilled or roasted), or frito (fried). Hey, we just learned a couple of new words in Spanish. We suspect that in Panama you may also find Pescado (fish) as a meat offering, due to its availability. Panama is considered to have excellent sea food. Sea bass can be found in many places and will usually be served grilled or ceviche (raw and marinated in lime juice). Our daughter is a great fan of ceviche, and I believe that we will muster the courage to give it a try. Ceviche can be found in Panama made from all types of seafood, including octopus and shrimp.  At the Fonda, you will be served arroz (rice) and frijol (beans) along with your carne. If you are lucky your plate may also have a roasted plantain which is considered a staple.

panama ceviche

We fear that the recipe and food thing may get old for some of you, so we will move away from it next time and begin looking at our possible destinations to explore on our visit this winter. Let’s review our Spanish for today. Carne are meats. Asado is roasted or grilled and frito is fried. Pescado is fish and ceviche is raw seafood  marinated in lime juice. We are all ready to check out the Fonda and try the native foods of Panama.

Thank-you for sharing our Panama adventure. Please, remember to like share and comment on our blog.

Sopa en la Fonda (Soup at the Fonda)?

We have explored the breakfast offerings; now lets see what’s for lunch. We know from previous posts that most fonda’s will have a sopa offering every day. Sopa is the Spanish word for soup. Wow we learned another Spanish food word. Sancocho or sopa de mariscos are a couple of sopa’s popular in Panama. Sopa de mariscocs is seafood soup. We searched the internet for a great recipe for this, and can imagine that a typical fonda in Panama would have something similar to the recipe below. Seafood in Panama is plentiful. The fishermen sell their daily catch right on the beach near our condo so we will definitely be giving this recipe a try.

sopa de mariscos

Sopa de Marisco Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 12 white onions, chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
  • 1 12 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 12 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons saffron threads
  • cilantro
  • 1 dozen fresh muscles
  • 1 lb fresh shrimp, with shells and heads on
  • 2 large clusters snow crab legs or 8 salt blue crabs
  • 2 -3 fresh white fish fillets
  • 12 lb fresh scallops and or 12 lb fresh squid
  • garlic sea salt
  • 4 cups fish stock

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot and add onions and red peppers.
  2. After they have softened a little add the poblano pepper, jalapeno, garlic and saffron threads.
  3. Let soften a little and add the tomatoes and heat through.
  4. Place all of this in a blender with the cilantro and puree.
  5. Return to  pot and add the fish stock.
  6. Heat to boiling and salt to taste.
  7. Add mussels, shrimp, fish and top off with crab legs or blue crabs.
  8. Cover and heat up to near boiling again.
  9. Add scallops and cover for just 2-3 minutes.
  10. Serve in bowls garnished with cilantro.

The second sopa that we have decided to talk about today is sancocho. Panamanian Sancocho is considered Panama’s national dish and it can be made using a variety of ingredients depending what you have on hand. The fonda may make a version like the recipe below using chicken and other ingredients on hand. In Panama you will find that the sancocho is not spicy like other parts Latin America. The Panamanian people prefer less kick than Mexico and Columbia. Just like the U.S. chicken soup is considered to be a cure for all that ales you. This one looks like a soup we would make using fresh chicken and vegetables that we can buy at the farm market.

 

Sancocho-Recipe

Panamanian Sanchoco Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsp fresh oregano (2 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp cilantro
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 pounds of starchy vegetables (otoe, name/yams, yuca/cassava, green plantains)
  • 2 ears corn, broken into 1″ pieces
  • salt

Instructions:

  1. Season the chicken with the garlic, oregano, and pepper.
  2. In a heavy pot, brown the seasoned chicken in the oil over a medium flame and allow to sweat.
  3. Set a little cilantro aside for garnish at the end. Add the rest of the cilantro, onion and water. Make sure water covers the chicken.
  4. Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, peel the root vegetables and cut into bite-size pieces.
  6. After chicken has simmered for 20 minutes, add the root vegetables.
  7. Cook until everything softens, about one hour. Keep adding water so the veggies stay about an inch under water.
  8. Add the corn and cook 15 minutes more, until corn is tender.
  9. Stir in salt to taste.

After the sopa there will be a meat option. We will explore the meat options and how they are prepared next time. We hope that all of you will some day be fortunate enough to visit a Panamanian Fonda and taste the flavors of Panama.

Let’s review our Spanish lesson. Today we learned sopa de mariscos is seafood soup and sanchoco is soup that can be made with a variety of ingredients; probably chicken in Panama. Our Spanish vocabulary is rolling.

Thanks for checking back, liking, and sharing. Try these recipes and let us know what you think. Are you ready to prepare authentic Panamanian cuisine? We have come to the realization that the vegetables and meats available may differ from what is available here in the U.S. These posts are preparing us for an awesome adventure.

Breakfast at the Fonda?

In our previous post we talked about the typical offerings for breakfast at a Panamanian fonda. Our research finds that you will enjoy hojaldres, tortillas, empanadas, huevos, and friojoles, along with fried chicken and meat for breakfast. The Spanish word for chicken is pollo and meat is carne. It will not be long before you will recognize these two words, as when talking about food in future posts we will be referring to all food by their Spanish names. Huevos, friojoles, and tortillas are all commonly known in English as eggs, beans, and tortillas. By process of elimination that leaves two common breakfast offerings that may be a mystery to some of the readers:  hojaldres and empanadas. Hojaldres are Panamanian fried bread. They are a bit like a fritter, however, they are made without yeast and dusted with powdered sugar. Hojaldres are usually eaten in one or two bites and are very enjoyable with a cup of great Panamanian coffee. We would like to share the recipes for Hojaldres and Empanadas below. Making the dough is time consuming so most fondas will make the dough the day before and store it refrigerated until the morning.

Hojaldres Recipe

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar

Preparation:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk the milk, 3 tablespoons of oil and the egg. Pour the mixture into the center of the dry ingredients, stirring in with a spoon.

Knead the dough until it turns into a ball that doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. Adjust consistency with a bit more flour or a bit of water if needed.

Once the dough has formed a ball, turn it out on a floured counter. Knead until the dough is elastic and soft.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for a least two hours.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it by hand into a long rope about 2 inches in diameter.

Heat oil to a 2-inch depth in a large straight-sided skillet. Oil is ready when a pinch of dough sizzles and bounces immediately to the surface.

Pinch off 1 1/2-inch sections of dough and flatten them to your desired size. Some cooks like to flatten them thin then roll them up, but that method tends to retain more oil.

Drop the dough into the oil and wait for the pieces to rise to the surface, about two minutes. Note cooking time, turn the pieces over and cook the other side.

Drain the hojaldras on a cooling rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

 

Empanada Recipe

Dough:

  • ounces of butter, plus more for brushing tops
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 6 Cups all-purpose flour,  more if needed

Filling:

  • 1 pound beef chuck, cubed or coarsely ground
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, for sautéing
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 2 ounces diced chorizo
  • ½ pound potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • Generous pinch cayenne
  • Beef broth
  • ½ cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
  • ¼ cup chopped pitted green olives

Preparation:

Put 1-1/2 teaspoons salt in large mixing bowl. Melt butter and dissolve salt. Cool to room temperature.

Gradually stir in flour with a spoon until dough comes together. Knead for a minute or two on a floured counter, until firm and smooth. Add more flour if needed. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour. This can be done the night before.

Make the filling: Season chopped beef generously with salt and pepper and set aside for 10 minutes. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide heavy skillet over medium heat. Add beef and fry until nicely browned, stirring throughout to keep pieces separate.

Add onion and chorizo. Keep turning mixture with a spatula until onion is softened and browned. Add potatoes, garlic, and thyme. Stir well to incorporate. Season again with salt and pepper and let mixture cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in tomato paste, and cayenne, then a cup of broth. Turn heat to simmer, stirring well.

Cook for about 10 more minutes, until both meat and potatoes are tender and the sauce coats them. Taste and adjust seasoning for full flavor. Stir in scallions and cool. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Divide chilled dough into 1-ounce pieces and form into 2-inch diameter balls. Roll each piece into a 4 1/2-inch circle. Lay circles on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour.

Moisten outer edge of each round with water. Put about 2 tablespoons filling in the center of each round, adding a little chopped green olive. Wrap dough around filling to form the empanada, and press the edges together. Fold edge back and finish by crimping with a fork.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place empanadas on an oiled baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Brush tops lightly butter and bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.

You should get about 3 dozen Empanadas

Empanadas can be filled with many different toppings. Search on the internet for other creative topping ideas. We will try these with Pollo, la carne de vaca (beef), and fruta.

Let’s review…We have learned a couple of more Spanish words, and we won’t be hungry. Empanadas are like a pasty here in Michigan and Hojaldres are like a donut. Next time we will explore the lunch offerings at the fonda. Please enjoy these recipes and let us know what you think. As always, stay tuned in, like, share and take this journey with us.

 

Today we learn our first and possibly most important Panamanian word FONDA

The dictionary defines Fonda as an American actor. That’s not quite what we were thinking when we said “most important”. In Panama a fonda is a small roadside stall restaurant that offers Panamanian food. These are small open air food stops that are usually only open for breakfast and lunch. They are known for their low prices and authentic Panamanian food. The establishments usually prepare their offering early in the morning and when it is gone they close. The reason we thought this most important is because one has to eat. Finding a cheap meal that we don’t have to prepare ourselves has always been high on our list of important. My research tells me that most meals at a fonda will be under $4 including water. Tipping is not customary. Fondas rarely have alcohol, however there are a few where you will find Panamanian beer. Fondas do not have menus. If you’re lucky there will be a chalkboard listing the 3-4 offerings and price. Go early because as the day goes on the offerings will become less and less until they’re gone. A typical breakfast at a fonda may include hojaldres, tortillas, empanadas, huevos, friojoles, as well as fried chicken and meat. Do not panic if you do not recognize some of the menu. It is our goal to break the Spanish lessons down to small easy to learn pieces. A typical lunch will start around 10 am. There will almost always be a soup option such as sancocho or sopa de mariscos. Most fondas will have a meat option such as pollo or carne. These will be served either asado or frito. Most options will be served with rice or beans. Stews are another option at most fondas.

Jen and I are planning to immerse ourselves into the culture of Panama, so we are anxious to try some of the native foods. Visiting the fondas, as we explore, will be one of the way that we accomplish that goal. The other will be to find recipes of native cuisine and try to make them ourselves. While in Panama, we will need to understand enough Spanish to know what we are eating and buying in the store. Many people in Panama speak English, but appreciate an effort at Spanish by the visitors. Future blog posts between now and our arrival in Panama, in February, will have daily Spanish lessons, interesting facts, and recipes that we will try.

Today we will share a simple recipe for a popular Panamanian side dish, Tostones. Tostones are chunks or pieces of green plantains thoroughly fried. They can be enjoyed much like we enjoy french fries. People eat them with ketchup. They may also be eaten much like potato chips.

As we wrap up for today, think about the 2 new Spanish words you learned…fonda (a place to eat) and Tostone (french fries or potato chips). Please check back often for more fun stuff.