Sunday, November 29, 2009

We Don't Need No Stinking GPS

Well we flew from Panama City, Panama to David, Panama today (David, is pronouned Dah Veed down here). Our goal was to make it to our hotel in Boquete, Panama before it got dark - oh well ...shucks...and doggone it - guess what we didn't make it.



The plane arrived on time in David, and there were Rent-A-Cars so this was good. I thought I was walking into the Hertz booth, but discovered I was in the Budget booth instead....who cares? what's the diffence? I got really excited that we could get a car with full insurance for less than $50 per day...on top of that....they have Nevah-Lost!!! I knew this would be a hit with Nancy.



Well, after a few contract glitches and lugging our 150 lb. circus tent bag of a suit case to the Budget Rent-a-Car place we were almost ready to go. But I couldn't get the Nevah-Lost to speak English. Damn thing kept asking questions in Espanol like; Donde Vayo Condias Amigo? I wasn't sure if it was a "born again" unit trying to save my soul or a "marketing unit" trying to get me to buy some Adidas running shoes. In any case, the local agent was able to correct that within about 15 minutes. Still the sun was going down, as I tryed to key into the system that I wanted to go to Boquete, Panama it said no locations found. The sign at the desk said that the Garmin had every road in Panama mapped, and obviously the major tourista attractions like Boquete should be in there. Nancy was getting frustrated - and decided to help me - you can imagine how well this went....(it could be possible that I forgot to thank her properly for here insight as to how to use this fine piece of equipment)...in any case luckily the Budget agent showed up and began to work on getting us to Boquete.... Well, by now its dark - and the agent explains that even though the Garmin has every street in Panama mapped - they must have omitted the entire city of Boquete. Budget took the Garmin back - gave us a half azzed map - and said Vayos Condidos Gringos! (Go with God you dumb Americanos) y Buena Suerte! (Good Luck).


So we set out in the dark, in an uncharted (at least by Garmin) part of the world, with a half azzed map. We made it through David - which is a testy little drive with some of the worst drivers and pedestirans you will ever imagine - but we missed a turn - and had it not been for Nancy making me ask directions 5 times - we probably would have made it back to Panama City by some time in January.



Asking directions is never easy for us real men, and neither is answering them. The first guy I spoke to was shocked - it could have been my appearance - I know I look like a dumb Gringo - when I said "Senor, por favor, donde es Boquete? He smiled, I think he was relieved that I wasn't going to waste a whole lot of his time - and pointed us back in the opposite way we were going. Then he started speaking in rapid fire spanish - which always loses me - but I thought I had the general idea.



We had to retrace 20 miles we had driven, but son-of-a-gun we made it to Boquete, Panama. Which as you now know, is not even on the Nevah Lost GPS System. We are now somewhere near the town of Boquete, which you can see on this jake-legged Google map. Not only that, we found our hotel in this "podunk, dog-barking all night long, two-bit joint of an "eco tourism" town. If they have a couple of cases of Cerveza or Tequila - I may be able to get some sleep. This place makes Naples, Texas look like New York City.


I think there are lessons to be learned here. Clearly these trials and tribulations are what you must go through to find true paradise. Secondly, I can understand why there are no reports of Mrs. Columbus travelling with Chris. Finally, I'm sure Christopher Columbus experienced the same things I did, and just like old Chris. C........we don't need no stinking Nevah Lost GPS!


Have Mercy.


All the best,


Mike

White House and Black Buzzards

We were awaken on Saturday morning by our driver Kevin, calling in to report that he would now be available to drive us until later in the day. No problemo, Nancy and I got a new driver and continued with our plan to explore Casco Viejo, the old city of Panama.

As a matter of fact, Casco Viejo is the second oldest Panama City. The oldest one was destroyed by the Pirate Captain Henry Morgan. Henry Morgan was one of the most savage pirates of his era, he left a trail of blood thoughout the carribean as he plundered Spanish colonies and ships. The cathedral tower to the left, is just about all Henry Morgan left standing in the first Panama City.



An intereting local tale is that the people of Panama City knew Henry Morgan was coming, and took all the valuables from the church, and every where else and hid them. There was an elaborate gold altar in the Catholic Church which they dismantled and moved. What they couldn't move they covered with a black tar-like paint. Legend has it that when Henry Morgan saw the sad looking remains of the altar, that he made a large donation to the Priest, and asked that it be used to obtain a nice altar, as the one in the Cathedral was the ugliest he had ever seen.

Anyway, back to known facts. It turns out that when Henry Morgan sacked Panama City, England and Spain had a peace treaty. Morgan was sent back to England to stand trial for breaking the treaty with Spain. Morgan successfully argued that he had no knowledge of the treaty and was released (wink, wink). Not only was Morgan released, he was knighted for his services to Empire. Interesting going from savage pirate to Knight of the British Empire.

In Casco Viejo, the second Panama city there are 11 major cathedrals and the architecture is spectacular. Honestly, it looks a lot like New Orleans on steroids. All the streets are brick, there is a lot of the lovely iron work, and statuary everywhere. It is really quite a place. Here is picture of a couple of the cathedrals we saw.


The cathedral on the right has a plaza in the front with a statue of Simon Bolivar in front of it. I don't know all that much about Simon Bolivar, but he is credited with liberating much of Central America from Spanish rule. If you look carefully on the enlarged picture of Simon Bolivar, you can see a bird, and I swear I think it is a buzzard. It sure doesn't look like an Eagle. In any case this brings us to the next parts of the story.

The city of Colon, Panama originally sat on an island just outside where the Panama Canal is today. It originally had been a headquarters for the French, as they attempted to build the canal. Colon is on an island called Isla Manzanillo. Colon has always been a sketchy place but during the French era here, there were no sewers and little fresh water. Waste and dead animals went into the unpaved streets or into the ocean. The nastiness of this place prompted one historian to say, "searching for something that this town could excell at, we found it in her carrion birds, which cannot be surpassed in size or smell. Manzanillo Island may boast of the finest vultures on the planet." What does this have to do with the White House? Well there are two things; Guess what famous American Presidential candidate was born in Colon? I'll give you a couple of hints, he is still a U.S. Senator. And he look like the guy on the left. Yep, it's John McCain, the old buzzard himself. The second thing that Buzzards have to do with the "White House is below.



We walked down to the Presidential Palace. So here is a picture of the Panamanian Presidential Palace. Everyone told us it is the "White House, just like in the United States". The President of Panama has a nice view of the Panama Canal and you can see the ships cueing up there from the front of the house on the other hand....



Well, I am not so sure about that this is just like our "White House". I never remember seeing one of these roosting on the White House in the United States. This is a picture of one ugly buzzard roosting / resting on the Presidential Palace. Oh well, as the old movie said "in a country without grave diggers, vultures serve an important purpose. Click on the pic to get a real good look at this ugly sucker.



Finally, you have to adjust to the pace of life here. The entire Casco Viejo area is being restored. They expect to have the restoration completed by the year 2020. Based on the sign below, I am not sure that they will make it. If you look closely you can see that this building restoration was to be completed by August 2006 - worse yet, it is supposedly 80% sold out. As one U.S. vulture once said to another U.S. vulture, "Patience Hell! I am going to kill something!". Manana y Manana




All the best,

Mike

Friday, November 27, 2009

Panama; Here we are

You know the flight from Detroit to Panama is not that bad, no where near as bad as I might have guessed. We left Detroit at 6:30 AM and arrived in Ft. Lauderdale around 11:00 AM; from there on to Panama; got here aroud 2:00 in the afternoon.

We were to our hotel, the Marriott Courtyard Panama City by 3:00 pm. (How Gringo can you get?). There is a lovely American style mall next door complete with a Tony Romas - yep we had ribs. The ribs were better than the Tony Romas' in the U.S. I think it is because they used younger pigs, the ribs weren't as big; but they were very tender. We had more than we could eat so guess what? Nancy got a too go box for our room. Somethings never change.
The Mall has a bunch of very high end stuff; Coco Chanel; Svwarski Crystal; Lladro statuary; Tiffany's etc. Looks like we are in either New York or Paris of Panama at this point.
Panama is on the same time as U.S Eastern time. So there is no time change. The hotel is beautiful, and we used some of our Marriott Points to stay here; so it isn't costing much. If you think Panama is some kind of mosquito ridden jungle swamp; take a look out of our hotel room window. This place is growing rapidly and is extremely modern. You can see building cranes in the pictures; and the only place I have seen this many building cranes in the last ten years was in Shanghai last year. The room is clean and ice cold with air conditioning. I am posting this on the high speed internet connection in the room. So, I guess you get the picture, this place is very up-to-date.
On the other hand we are anxious to get to a more Panamanian type location. We continue to practice our Spanish; and both of us are beginning to pick up on local conversations. We have met a couple of Americans already; one retiree and one business man. They both love it here.
Today, Nancy is still having some sinus problems, so I am going to "La Pharmacia" to see what I can get to make her feel better. That will be interesting....may try and get something for myself too!
I think she will mostly rest today. I want her to get feeling good before we continue our adventure.
I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving!
All the best,
Mike




Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Letting Go - Thanksgiving - Way Down South!

Earlier this year, I felt it was necessary for me to come out with a fashion edition of the "Let Go Journal", so I did. In that edition, I elaborated on how the style for this year was going to be the Panama hat. I guess that must have been a spiritual insight for me because here it is, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we are packed and ready to spend the next two weeks in the Nation of Panama. Our primary goal for this visit is to try and understand the country as much as we can, and to get an idea if it is a place we might like to live.

In preparation for our Panama tour, Nancy and I have gotten the complete edition of the Rosetta Stone for Spanish, and we have been practicing daily. We have read every book we can get on the country - and tried to learn as much as we can about the culture of Panama. We are going to do our best to "fit in" and get in the "Panama Groove". Our plane leaves at 6:30 am tomorrow. Our good friend Jerry is going to oversee our current "World Headquarters" here on Whitmore Lake.

Panama seems like it has a lot to offer. Fantastic tropical rain forests run throughout the country. The world record for spotting the most species of birds in the shortest time was set there. There are an amazing number of monkeys, butterflies, and wildlife (probably more than I can explain). I am sure there are some snakes. The isthmus of Panama is a narrow strip of land that makes it possible for you to be on the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean, within a couple of hours. There is great fishing off both of the coasts, as well as diving and other water activities. The cost of living is low, by US standards. They have great health care facilities (including several branches of Johns Hopkins) and medical insurance is available for $600 per year to everyone.

Our trip will kind of take us on a triangular approach to Panama. We will begin in Panama City at 2:00 pm tomorrow and will explore the Panama Canal, the National Park at Gamboa, and the Casco Viejo - (the old city). From Panama City, we will fly to David (pronounced Dah Veed) in the Chiriqita region of the country. From there we will drive into the mountainous region in the northern and central part of Panama. Here the temperature fluctuates between 65 degrees and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the area we are most interested in - they say it is "spring time" year round. And if you want summertime - you can drive an 1 1/2 hours down to coast - where it is 80 - 90 degrees year round. Finally, we will drive to the Bocas del Toro (The Mouth of the Bull) to sample Panama's Caribbean aspects.

So as we get ready for this new "letting go" adventure, I want to give thanks for my blessings. I am very thankful for:
  1. My beautiful wife Nancy, who has the sense of adventure and courage to take off on this crazy adventure with me.
  2. My Mom, who if we make it down to Panama; will have her own hacienda and will stay as long as she likes.
  3. My Sister, who just makes me laugh - and I will never get to spend enough time with.
  4. The opportunity to work in Michigan this year, with some great people and some challenging projects.
  5. The ability to go on an adventure like this and visit another country.
  6. And by the way, God Bless Jerry Woods, for looking after our Schnauzers (Tita and Rose) and for overseeing the World Headquarters while we are away.

I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving. As Tiny Tim once said (no not the one who said "Tip Toe Through the Tulips"), the otherone who said "God Bless Us, Everyone!"

All the best,

Mike

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wildlife - in my backyard

This is a good time for me to do a quick photo documentary of some of the sights and times we have had here in Michigan over the last six months. I think in this one I will focus on some of the wildlife we have experienced around here.

Tom the Swan Killer
Probably the first thing we saw a lot of was Geese. Honestly, there are so many of them up here that they have become a nuisance. My next door neighbor, Tom, is a real (_l_) head. He doesn't like people and he doesn't like animals. He is mad at the world because he lost his job at Chrysler. Anyhow, he would see the geese on his place ...and go out and chase them in his pontoon boat. Anyway, this was probably alright because the geese were way to quick for his pontoon boat......at least until he decided since he couldn't catch the geese, that he would run over the swans. When he did this, a guy at the marina saw him and chunked a full can of Coors Light at Tom. Tom, took the "silver bullet" in the leg. Tom called the cops; the marina called the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The DNR paid a visit to Tom, you see, the Swans are a protected species. After that, Tom stopped chasing the wild life. Here is a picture a swan with a number of geese - they are next door at my neighbor Jerry's place.


Swans
The swans are really very pretty; except for when they are young. The little swans are truly "ugly ducklings. When they are young, they ride on their parents' backs and hide under their wings. I think this protects them. We had over 25 swans on the lake this year. Here's a picture of Nancy feeding them out of her hand...which is actually a little bit scary. The second picture is the adult swans with their "chicks". See below:




As I said before, the little swans aren't very attractive.







Goose, Goose, Duck!
Did I mention the ducks? The ducks are Nancy's favorites. Nancy buys corn by the bushel to feed them, and they have torn up all the grass in the yard. They are all mallards and as far as I am concerned are pretty boring relative to the other animals around here. Here are some of Nancy's ducks over by the tree in our backyard.







Blue Heron:

Here's a picture of the Blue Heron that came buy and posed for a while on our boat's bimini top. Pretty strange looking. We also had some kind of a seahawk that would dive in the water and grab a fish....but we could never get a picture of him.





Strange Amphipians?

When we first got here we kept seeing something plowing across the water. Most of the time, all you would see was its head, with a large wake behind it. Finally, we got a close up of it. It was the first muskrat either of us had ever seen. There is actually a whole den of them - they have tunnels under the sea wall. Some of you who were alive in the 70's may remember the Captain and Tenille's song "Muskrat Love". There are some weird squeaky sounds in that record which I never understood. Well it turns out that those "squeaky noises" are actual muskrat sounds. If you click the link on this page, you can hear for yourself what they sound like. Nancy made a pretty good video of them on land. Honestly, they are pretty ugly little animals. But Nancy makes sure he gets plenty of apples from the apple tree in the yard. I think you'll like the video that Nancy made of these guys. It is below.


video




Other Amphibians....

This guy got caught by Nancy - looks fairly ordinary to me other than the turtles up here have very pointy noses. As you can see, she brought him in the house for a full inspection. I am not sure what kind of turtle these are. I do know that Grandpa Roberts always said that if a turtle bites you, he won't let go until it thunders. Yikes! He looks a little uncomfortable in this picture.






Rodents:


At least they are not rats. With all the duck and bird food we have put out, it was bound to attract other animals. I have always loved chipmunks, but you just don't see them that often. Here's the one who came to visit us.






The big brother of the chipmunk, at least around here, is this fox squirrel. When he first showed up this squirrel was pretty skinny. But between the corn, the bread, the walnuts on the neighbor's tree, and the apples - I now believe this squirrel has become the fattest squirrel in the world. He is now fatter than any squirrel I have ever seen. And he enjoy's teasing the dogs.


What's Next:
With all of the wildlife that we have enjoyed here in Michigan, I'll bet we will have a blast in Panama - they have even more strange animals.


All the best,


Mike

Friday, November 13, 2009

Most Fun You Can Have For 2 Bucks

I think it might have been W.C. Fields who was once told "You don't know what good clean fun is do you?" Fields response was, "I guess your right, what good is it?"


OK, so how much fun can you really have for $2.00? Probably more than you think, but you gotta do a little looking around.


Here in Detroit there's a bakery called Awrey's. Back around 1910 Mrs. Fletcher Awrey became famous throughout her neighborhood for delightful breads and pastries that she made in her wood-fired stove. Her business grew and grew until the wood-fired stove could no longer keep up with demand; neither could her horse-drawn delivery vehicle. Finally, they purchased a Model T Ford and started expanding throughout the Detroit area. To the right you'll see a picture of the horse drawn delivery vehicle which was replaced. The men in the picture are very likely to be Mrs. Awrey''s sons Elton and Wilbur. They joined the business along with their Dad. Today Awrey's is known as America's Bakery, supplying quality products to the Military and restaurants throughout the United States. So what is so fun about Awrey's bakery? Well the bakery makes good food....but the fun is in the Awrey's "Bird Bread".





You see every week, Awrey's boxes up their left over biscuits into large boxes that they sell for $2.00 a box. So for your two bucks, you get about 8 dozen biscuits. I guess mathematically that would work out to about 2-3 cents per biscuit. Yeah, the biscuits are a little stale - I ate one for lunch one day when I was in a hurry - and it wasn't to0 bad really - but you aren't supposed to eat them. These biscuits are for the birds!





Nancy likes to feed the ducks - and the occasional swan that comes up to the dock. I like feeding the swans - if you are brave enough, the swans will take bread out of your hand - but to be honest the ducks are boring. But for some real action.....you have gotta get the sea gulls coming in. The sea gulls come in like an army of white angels - and they are pretty smart. The best ones can catch their bread in the air; and a sea gull will dive bomb a duck in a heartbeat for a piece of bread. My neighbor and friend Jerry Woods came by, with his lovely 1o year old daughter, Madison. Luckily, I still had about half a box of Awrey's bird bread, and Nancy had the camera. So here is the video of Madison, Jerry, and I feeding the sea gulls. Click below to watch



video

I wonder who enjoyed the Bird Bread the most Madison or the gulls? In any case, that's a lot of fun for $2.00.