Monday, January 31, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
...and there was all kinds of meannasty ugly looking people on the bench there.Mother rapers. Father stabbers.Father rapers! Father rapers sitting right thereon the bench next to me!And they was mean and nasty and uglyand horrible crime-type guyssitting on the bench next to me...So I sat there, not half-an hour, not an hour but two hours before they called me. Luckily they let me keep my clothes on, not like in Arlo Guthrie's story. The guy asks me if I know a place called Matinoba. I'm thinking what the hell is this guy about? A geography test? I tell him I've never heard of it. His partner corrects him "Manitoba". Oh, sure it's a province in Canada. "Did you ever go to prison in Manitoba?" What? You've got to be kidding. No. Never. "Ever been arrested in Manitoba?" No (nervous laughter). "Ever been arrested?" No. "Hmm...okay give me a couple of minutes." I guess they thought I was one of those Father stabbing rapers. But they seemed to clear things up in about five minutes and let me go. Not so much as a "sorry". I collected my luggage, hit Customs, re-checked the bags, got a pat-down (meh, nothing to write home about), and made my connecting flight. And I got to see the U.S. Immigration system - your tax dollars at work - up close and personal. Welcome to the U.S, eh!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The day we drove my wife and Tante Poutine to the Tocumen Airport the other side of Panama City we were up with the birds. Their flight was around 1:30pm but it's a 2 hour drive and their charter company Air Transat tells you to be at the airport 3 hours in advance of your flight. We left Bejao for the airport about 6:15am. We off-loaded Poutine and Mrs D with their luggage along with my mother-in-law while my brother-in-law, his son and I made arrangements to trade our van in on a sedan. The deal done we met the departees on the departure deck. So, first step accomplished: arrive at airport on time. We knew it was too good to be true. Turns out the airline's computer's were down and all passengers and their luggage would have to be processed by hand. Luckily our two travellers were in Club class and were among the first passengers to be processed. There were tears all around, not on my part of course, and hugs and kisses as we said our goodbyes and waved to my wife and her aunt. Next stop: MetroMall.
Once at the mall, which isn't too far from the airport we decided on breakfast. It was about 10:30 and I don't think the food court does breakfast because hardly any of the establishments were open. We settled on hamburgers at the McD outlet, which evidently didn't do breakfast either. Then we hit the stores. I was looking for some golf shirts, so that I might at least look like I know what I'm doing when I play, but found out the hard way that often XL must mean medium. I did get a nice shirt at a sportswear store that fits well but the 3 I bought at a bargain basement place are a tad tight. And nothing comes in anything over XL. Don't they know size matters? Gee, they have small people in Panama.
Odd thing about Panama. People move a little slowly. I'm not talking about people on the roads. Once behind the wheel some kind of transformation takes place and they zip and zoom like dive-bombing hornets. But retail clerks and cashiers, that's another story. In a department store called Stevens we just about tore our hair out we had to wait so long to pay for our stuff. There were seven people all appearing very busy behind the cashier's counter, but only one of them was ringing in purchases. I don't think the other six were "in training". But they sure weren't big on customer service.
So we've found the Pan Americana highway and we're happily on our way home. And I can almost taste a nice cold Balboa out on the condo balcony when - zip - my brother-in-law's taking a right exit off the highway into the town of La Chorrera, about an hour shy of our destination. Why? Cause he thinks there might be a hardware store where he can find some drapes for his balcony. Well we found a huge home store so my brother-in-law, his son, the mother-in-law and I all pile out and trot into the store. No drapes, but they do have some fans he's looking for. He makes his choice and the sales guy piles two huge boxes into a shopping cart and wheels them to the cash at the front of the store.
But wait! Look at that BBQ! Man, it's a Weber. Oh I like that. I think I should get it. Of course by now we have no van. We already have two huge boxes that I doubt will fit in the trunk and my brother-in-law wants to take the BBQ too! I tell him we don't have room. The salesman tells him the last one is the display model. I tell him that it'll never fit. I tell him the solution would be to ask them to dismantle it and we'd come back the next day. But he wants it today. I tell him the behemoth BBQ is too big. So we measure the BBQ. We go out to the parking lot to measure the trunk. Guess what? IT'S.TOO.BIG! Guess what he does. "Hey, maybe if they took it apart we could come back tomorrow." Hello! Where were you half an hour ago when I said this??? Size matters!!!
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
When I arrived at the beach I beheld a sight of nature unleashed. The waves were crashing and the surf was rushing up the beach further than ever before. The bases of the thatch-roofed umbrellas were covered in water and one had even been knocked over by the constantly rushing water. I snapped my pics as the sun was rising and stood back and enjoyed the moment - a panoramic view of nature doing it's work. It was quite a start to the day. I was charged.
We were all searching now, even my mother-in-law. You remember her. She's the one with diminishing eyesight who asked her son to open her half-lime at dinner one night thinking it was a container of tarter sauce. Since then there've been a few other incidents like when she dried the lettuce for the salad on paper towels. The salad was good but, what's this? Is this paper towel in my salad? Yep. We sure laughed over that one. Pass the paper towel salad please.
So anyway we're searching, searching, searching for the damn charger. And guess who found it. Yep, my nearly-blind mother-in-law. We all got a "shock" out of that one. Way to go Maman!
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Part of my rationale for a month's sojourn to Panama was to put those 3 golf lessons I took back in September to good use and finally play some golf. Mrs D and her aunt - Tante Poutine (her name is Jeanne but I call her poutine because she comes from Warwick, Quebec, the undisputed poutine capital of Canada) - hung out for two weeks and then headed back to cooler climes. -10 to -20C in Canada these days. Masochists! No, not really. Eskimos, maybe. For me this is a dream vacation. The best of both worlds. Two weeks in this Central American paradise with the wife, two weeks without her AND four weeks of golf. After all I have to hone my skills before I meet up with Whitey and Killer, the other Dufus dudes, for a fifth week in Orlando. Wait a minute. Bonus. Three weeks without the wife! I miss you honey. Heh, heh, heh, heh.
So that's my plan. Practice golf for four weeks so I can show my brothers a thing or two.
Luckily my brother-in-law's condo community has a golf course. My first game wasn't too bad. Remember, I've never golfed before. I hit a 57! Of course the course (see what I just did there?) at the Bijao (pronounced be-how) Resort is only 9 holes. But hey, what do you want for the first time. I had a blast. I even scored better than my 11 year old nephew. Hey, he's good!
In Panama, at this time of year, you've got to start your golf game early because by noon the temperature's in the mid to high 30s Celsius. So we started around 8:30am and finished in the high 30s Celsius. I shudder to think how long it would have taken us to play a regulation 18 holes…and how hot it would have got.
I made some shots I was proud of. Mostly I made shots I wasn't very proud of at all. I seem to have an affinity for water and sand. But hey, after all, this is Panama. Panama's all about water and sand. One hole in particular was memorable. I addressed the ball. I drove for all I was worth and ka-ping my ball made a beeline for a short stone wall, bounced off onto the sandy ground beside a water trap. Ha, I thought, I could play that. Not as optimistic as I was, my brother-in-law suggested I take the stroke and use my ball retriever instead. Down I climbed near the water to get my ball. I took two steps…and immediately began to sink into the sandy mud. Shit, I thought, quicksand! My mind raced wildly with visions of those classic western movies were the cowboy wanders unknowingly into quicksand and sinks quickly to his waist before lassoing the saddle on his trusty steed and being pulled to safety as the dramatic soundtrack swells. I could hear the soundtrack swelling in my head and I sure didn't have a lasso, let alone a trusty steed. Luckily I was able to extricate first one foot and then the other before the mud had reached my mid-calfs. Boy, that sure was a different take on a sand trap!
One last thing, as I continue to hone my skills. Apart from a driver for teeing off, I pretty much stick to a 7 iron on the fairway and a putter, of course, on the green. This moved my brother-in-law to wonder aloud why I'd spent so much money on my golf set because I never use the other 12 clubs. What with all the balls I've lost so far, he's got a good point. I could have spent that money on more balls!
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Friday, January 7, 2011
Life's been hard on our Panama holiday. My brother-in-law didn't get his internet installed until a little over two weeks after I got here. So I've been having withdrawals. I posted my first piece from Panama December 30th on the fly from an internet cafe - $1US for an hour! And I decided to leave my Blackberry at home. Anyway, let's continue with our adventures…
When we first arrived at my brother-in-law's place at the Bijoa golf/beach resort on December 21st there was nary a soul other than us here. We'd spend a lazy day at the beach, play a round of golf or sit in the late afternoon glow of "happy hour" with hardly a sound to be heard. That all began to change around Christmas when we noticed with annoying frequency the loud buzzing of what might have been over-sized insects but were really Kawasaki 4 seater ATVs. They seem to be the mode of transport of choice of the Panamanian well-to-do who live in the complex. My brother-in-law says the units here - condo apartments, town homes and houses - are basically used by well off Panamanians as their weekend and holiday beach residence. The rest of the time things are pretty quiet. Nobody here but us and the security guard ninjas.
Is it just me, or am I getting old? I swear the drivers and their passengers of these things ripping around the pathways here have an average age of 7! I'm not kidding. When I was a kid and my parents told me to go play i the traffic for an hour I knew they were kidding (I think). But not only do these kids play in the traffic they all have their own little vehicles! And speed. These things whip around here so fast I swear they'll soon need a traffic cop…or an ambulance. And it's the same thing at the beach. Kids on ATVs are everywhere roaring up and down the coast. When did beaches stop being for people. Well, I suppose things could be worse. Two years ago when we stayed at the Royal Decameron resort not too far from here, there were horses being ridden up and down the beach. The word to the wise on that beach was look before you step.
Over New Year's this place was jumping. I think the entire upper crust of Panama City migrated here to celebrate the holiday. And I think the average Panamanian family must be quite large. We'd sit on the balcony or at the beach and marvel at the pre-pubescent kids, crawling up and down in packs, all on their cell phones. Cell phones? At the beach? Who the hell are they texting? Their friends are all here!
But it's not just kids. Everywhere you go in this country people employ the salute known internationally. Right arm raised, bent at the elbow, cell phone implanted firmly in one's right ear. Let me give you an example of how crazy it is. We were at a party the other night, meeting some folks from Panama, Columbia, Sweden, us from Canada - a real United Nations affair. People sat at dinner tables in the back yard and animated Spanish conversations drifted to me from the different groups of people. The loudest voice of all was a woman at the other end of my table. I just figured she must be telling her seat mates an interesting story. I turned to see who was talking. Turns out her animated conversation was with someone on the other end of her cell phone. Most people go to parties to socialize with the people there. Not talk to someone who isn't. Don't they?
I am getting old.
My brother-in-law got his internet. I can post pics now. Yay!!!
Thursday, January 6, 2011
There are times during our stay in Panama when I really identify with the title of that Robert Heinlein science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. I'm visiting a Spanish speaking country and apart from "si", "gracias", "hola", and "dos cervezas por favor" - the essential phrases, of course - I can't speak enough Spanish to get directions to the bathroom. On top of that Mrs D's family is French. Add in her mom's cousin and her husband who hail from Quebec's eastern townships and who visit once and awhile from the nearby Royal Decameron resort I'm totally lost. Sure, my wife, her brother and his son all speak English but when they all get going en francais, they're not gonna stop and translate for the poor old English square head. Of course, I guess I only have myself to blame as after years of french language lessons when I was a public servant - your tax dollars at work - I know about as much French as I do Spanish. So you can understand why sightseeing, grocery shopping and the rest of our activities can be a bit of a challenge for me from time to time.
One day we picked up my mother-in-law's cousin and her husband and the eight of us took off about 30 clicks down the road to Penonome, a small place pretty much at the exact centre of Panama. We found a parking spot, disembarked and decided to split up. My brother-in-law and his son went one way and my wife and I and the french geriatric set - her mom, her aunt, the cousin and her husband - were left to fend for ourselves. None of us speak Spanish, I don't speak much French and after about half an hour of wandering up and down the main street of Penonome I'm beginning to feel a little like I've been adopted by the retired refugees fleeing from the French old folks home. But the day went well. I took a lot of pics. And we had fun passing by the street vendors and going in and out of all the stores, largely populated by the Panamanian locals.
One of the funniest incidents so far involved Tante Poutine. She's a great person and we try very hard to communicate with each other, given the language barrier. One night we're out for supper - just down the road at Los Camisones (the place where "The Specials" are so special they've run out of them) - and the waiter asks us all if we'd care for a beverage to start off. Well up until then Poutine and I were used to enjoying a cerveza or two during the afternoon's "happy hour" at the condo. No better way to bond than over a beer. Our beer of choice has been Balboa - the beer of the masses in Panama. It costs $3.12US a six-pack and is named after some guy who founded Panama or something. He must have been pretty popular. He's got a statue in a park named after him. There's a road that bears his name. He has a tree named after him here and even the condo we're in is named "Balboa II". But for the life of her,Tante Poutine couldn't say "Balboa" to the waiter. Her order kind of went like this: "ball bow, non, ba bowl, uh, non, bow boo, oh non, bill boa…" It was truly a Kodak moment for everyone. And days later I still had the tune "Won't you come home Bill Boa" stuck in my head.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
I'm on the fly posting from an internet cafe in Panama. Waiting for my brother-in-law to get his internet installed. Can't post pics for some reason but here's our next instalment...Happy New Year everyone!
We've met some wonderful people on our trip to Panama, mostly through my brother-in-law who has met up with them while on previous visits. Juan Carlos and his wife Marcella are a delightful couple who live up the hill here. They have a striking house with the central part of the house's interior open to the skies. Out in the backyard they've got their own pool - like the 5 other pools on site aren't enough for them - and they have a fantastic view of the rest of the complex, overlooking all the residences below, the beach and the ocean. On New Year's eve they invited us to their place for a dinner party, along with about 45 other people. I was surprised that so many people spoke English. The neighbour next door, for example, was actually American and her father had been in the armed forces stationed in what used to be the canal zone. Her grandfather actually worked on the efforts to build the canal, Thomas, a good friend of our hosts, while now a resident of Panama is originally from Sweden. Juan Carlos's wife Marcella's family hails from Bagota, Columbia. It was most interesting to encounter these folks and socialize with them, all of whom went out of their way to speak English to us.
Earlier in the day, my brother-in-law and I helped Juan Carlos out by driving down to a nearby restaurant and with the help of Juan Carlos's nephew Miguel brought back 4 banquet tables and 30 chairs in the back of our van. We took them back to the restaurant the next day on what had to have been the hottest day we've encountered thus far on our holidays. So we not only attended a party but we got in a good work out too.
One of the first people we met upon arriving at the party was Miguel's father, Juan Carlos's brother, also named Miguel. He was quite jovial, spoke English, and seemed to have had a wee start on the celebrations. But nevertheless a nice guy. Mrs D and I met so many people that night we were glad there wasn't a test later to see if we remembered their names.
Midnight was spectacular. We had a great view of the resort's fireworks on the beach, the fireworks from the nearby hotel The Breezes to the left and those of the Royal Decameron resort down the beach to the right. As well we could see more fireworks behind us from little towns down the highway. From our perch on the hill it was a fabulous panorama of pyrotechincs. And of course the champagne was flowing to toast in the new year. Which was a good thing, considering what had happened to me. I'd spent a rather dry evening you see. We'd been told it was a BYOB party so Mrs D and I dutifully packed up a bottle of wine for her and 3 Balboa beers for me. We arrived. Met the father and son duo of Miguel Sr. and Miguel Jr., and stashed our booze. I poured a glass of vino for my wife, opened a beer for myself and my brother-in-law, who doesn't drink, settled in to his customary cranberry juice. We began to circulate and socialize and tried our best to avoid Marcella who desperately wanted my brother-in-law and I to dance.
Oh, time for another drink. I poured my wife another glass of white wine and went to pull another Balboa from the cooler. But there weren't any. What the..? Don't tell me somebody's gone and swiped my beer? That hasn't happened to me since my college days. It was a long, dry party until the champagne came out at midnight. My brother-in-law had done a little investigating and determined who had swiped my beer…the effervescent Miguel Sr.! Oh, well. I let it go and chalked it up to not keeping an eye on my beer. Besides there'd been enough fireworks already. But guess who shook my hand and wished me "Happy New Year" about four times before we called it a night…a wobbly Miguel Sr. I think good old Miguel's new year started just a little bit earlier than the rest of us. And he rang it in with Mr. Balboa!