Thar She Blows!

Adventures, Mother Nature

Recently, I did something I’ve never done before – I went whale-watching. My friend Terri wanted to do this to celebrate her birthday, and she invited me to go with her and her husband Brad.

On the Pacific coast of Panama during August and September is where humpback whales go to have their babies, and the many islands off the coast of Boca Chica (about 1 1/2 hours from Boquete) provide a protected “nursery” for the youngsters.

This was a day trip organized by one of the tour companies here called Boquete Outdoor Adventures. There were others on the tour with us – a mother with her two boys and two other couples, for a total of 10. We left Boquete in their van at 7 a.m. and arrived at Boca Chica to board the boat (called a “panga”) about 8:30.

The tour group heading out in the panga. I’m in the center of the back row, chatting with Terri.

We did see numerous whales, but their appearance was a little underwhelming – basically, we only saw them coming up to breathe and they were some distance from the boat. None jumped out of the water in spectacular fashion, which would have been totally awesome. No matter – it was a treat to see those great creatures at all!

This is about the best view of the whales that we saw.

After spending some time in the open water watching the whales, we headed out to a gorgeous island for some beach time and relaxation. I had been to this island about two and a half years ago on the same tour (minus the whales, since it was the wrong time of year). This island is a national park and has no man-made improvements on it. The tour guide, assisted by Terri’s husband, hung several hammocks from the palm trees for us to relax in.

Terri and I took full advantage of the hammocks and the shade.

Brad said this was his “happy place”…

While we were chilling or playing in the water, our tour guide was preparing some appetizers – pineapple, mandarin oranges, coconut, and rambutan (featured in a previous blog post). A bit later, the main course was served, which was a traditional on-the-go meal called a mono (Spanish for “monkey”). It consists of rice and beans, baked chicken, and a couple of thick slices of ripe plantain wrapped in a banana leaf. Panamanian workers commonly take this meal with them to work as their lunch.

Lunch – it was filling, but the rice and beans (like most Panamanian “typica” food) was really bland. There was hot sauce available, but I didn’t feel like getting out of the hammock to add it.

Terri found an impressive new friend on the beach – a huge iguana. She had brought some bananas with her for a snack, and was happy to share them with him. He was joined by many hermit crabs – they were everywhere!

 

I stayed in the hammock most of the afternoon, since my balance isn’t very good. With the shifting sand and the waves knocking me off my feet, I’m not at my best in the ocean. I do love the sounds of the ocean, though – I could sit on the beach and listen to it for hours!

 

We were scheduled to leave about 2:30, as the tide was coming in. The waves were quite a bit larger than in the video, and it was rather tricky to get on the boat. We had to wade in waist- to chest-deep water go get to the boat, then climb up a small ladder on the side of the boat. The tour guide provided much-needed assistance for me to get to the boat and up the ladder.

On the way back to the dock, we stopped to do more whale-watching. Shortly afterwards, the tour guide spotted a whale jumping out of the water in the far distance. However, no one was prepared to get a picture and most of us didn’t even see it. 

Overall, it was a very pleasant adventure, and I can now mark seeing whales off my to-do list. Due to my balance issues and the power of the ocean, I think I may limit my aquatic adventures in the future to swimming in a pool instead of the ocean. But walking on the beach and enjoying the soothing sounds of the waves is still on the list, for sure!

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Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On

Mother Nature

Over the course of a few days about three weeks ago, Panama experienced a series of significant earthquakes, measuring between 6.35 and 7.0, depending on which reports are consulted. Fortunately, the epicenters were located south of Panama in the Pacific Ocean, and caused little to no damage in the country itself. Even in Boquete, however, they were felt as some of the strongest and longest-lasting quakes (perhaps 30 seconds) I’ve experienced in the three years I’ve lived here.

We do have fairly frequent smaller earthquakes here, because there are several tectonic plates that converge in this area. This graphic illustrates the boundaries of these plates. As you can see, the location where the majority of the local earthquakes happen is where the blue dot is, at the point where two plates meet.

I noted one of the quakes that occurred soon after I moved to Boquete in a previous blog post here. We hadn’t experienced any shakers of a significant magnitude for quite awhile, so these bigger ones got everyone’s attention!

I was at drum circle when the larger of the quakes happened. There is a large flat-screen TV on a free-standing pole next to where we meet, and I noticed it start to sway back and forth – and then the ground shook and rolled for quite awhile. We joked that our drumming was so powerful that it caused the quake. It definitely added an extra dimension to our afternoon!

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Another Trip Around the Sun

Celebrations, Friends

Another year, another birthday – and this one was a happy day, indeed. 

I started the day by treating myself to a haircut and color at the salon. I usually apply the color myself, but my water heater isn’t functioning correctly at the moment, and it’s no fun to take a shower with cold water. So I decided to let someone else do that little chore this time. My landlord is taking care of the water heater issue – she’s great, and much appreciated!

In the evening, I had dinner with a few friends at a nice restaurant in town. I started with a gorgeous cocktail called the Boquete Garden. A friend had told me about how wonderful it was, so I had to try it. I wasn’t disappointed!

The Boquete Garden cocktail, with blackberries, strawberries, and edible flowers. Lovely to look at, and tasty, too!

On Thursdays, this restaurant has an all-you-can-eat rib special I had been saying for months that I was going to have them for my birthday dinner, and since my birthday fell on Thursday this year, I had to take advantage of that happy coincidence. Their ribs are falling-off-the-bone tender, and the sauce is excellent, too.

Delicious ribs! I love these ribs so much, but only indulge in them about once a year.

After dinner, we went back to my house for cake (thanks, Terri!), drinks, and conversation. The cake was so good – white cake with crushed pineapple in it, with whipped cream frosting and toasted coconut on top. Sort of a piña colada vibe to it. Yummy! We were having so much fun, we almost forgot about the 10 p.m. curfew, so we had to wrap it up quickly when we noticed the time.

So it was a very good day, filled with special treats and even more special friends. I couldn’t ask for a better day!

PS: I got my second Pfizer vaccine shot last week, so I’m now fully vaccinated. Feels good to know I have some protection against this virus!

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One Down, One to Go

Community, Health

The COVID-19 vaccine has recently become widely available in the US and many other countries. A significant percentage of the population has received at least one dose in the US, and most of the elderly and vulnerable have been fully vaccinated. This is good news, but in the past few weeks the vaccination rate has slowed, prompting some creative ways to increase participation.

Some states and companies have initiated incentives to motivate people to get the vaccine. New York has offered a lottery ticket with a potential payout of $5 million to those who get immunized. That’s a pretty inviting incentive! Other perks offered in some places include basketball tickets or day passes to entertainment venues. And I’ve also heard of “a shot for a shot” that gives bar patrons a free shot of spirits in exchange for their vaccination shot. Cheers!

The most amusing perk I’ve heard of is the offer from nine of the more prominent internet dating sites that grants special badges or access to increased levels of exposure for their dating profile that would normally cost extra, with proof of immunization. Associating advantages on a social media platform with efforts to improve a public health crisis is brilliant, and a clever use of technology.

I haven’t received any of the extra perks mentioned above, but I did get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday. Vaccination in Panama for the general public (age 60 or older) began in Panama City a couple of months ago, since they had the highest rate of infections and deaths. The effort was rolled out in other areas, depending on their infection rates, and this week it was our province’s turn. They will be in Boquete for four days.

Residents in Boquete 60+ years of age waiting to get their vaccine. This photo is from the first day of vaccinations here. When I went for my appointment the afternoon of the next day, there was no line at all. Very thoughtful of them to provide seating for the “old people” while they wait!

I had signed up online to receive the vaccine a couple of months ago, and received a notice of my appointment date and time this week, to be administered at a school not far from my house. When I arrived yesterday afternoon, there was no line at all, and there were plenty of people there to get me registered and usher me to the different rooms to get the shot and remain in a waiting room for 15 minutes to ensure there were no adverse effects from the injection.

Volunteers from the Red Cross were on site to help with the flow of recipients, and after getting the shot, the guy who was in charge of the vaccination room told me to “follow the red boy” – the young man in a Red Cross t-shirt – to the waiting room. I had a giggle about that!

I was so impressed with the level of organization and assistance at the vaccination location, and with the use of technology to inform us about upcoming availability and appointments. By the time I arrived at home afterwards, I had an e-mail confirming my first dose and saying I would be notified within the next 30 days of the date and time I’m scheduled to receive my second dose.

Congratulations, Panama – you’re doing it right!

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I Can See Clearly Now…

Health, Shopping

Recently, I made the short drive to David (the largest city in western Panama, a 30-minute drive south of Boquete) to have my eyes examined for the first time since I moved here. In the US, I had gone to the ophthalmologist every six months, since I’d had both cataract and glaucoma surgery on my left eye about eight years ago. Since I’ve been in Panama more than two and a half years now, I figured it was time for a check-up.

I had lost my driving glasses a couple of years ago, and my prescription is about seven years out of date, so new eyewear was also on the agenda. Back then, I had a healthcare spending account with money I had to use by the end of that year, or lose it. So I bought three pairs of glasses – one for driving (with clip-on sunglasses), one for the computer (minimal distance correction and progressive bifocals), and one for crafts and reading (no distance correction). All told, this used up the $1000 or so that was in that account.

When my friend Terri learned I was going to see the eye doctor, she wanted to get an exam, too, so we made consecutive appointments. A friend had used this doctor for cataract surgery recently and was pleased with him, so I felt confident in his expertise. (Doctors are very well qualified here, and many of them have studied in the US, so the health care is generally top-notch.) The exam was thorough, and he gave us prescriptions for our new glasses. His office had a very cool piece of art on the wall.

Artwork in the eye doctor’s office. The English translations reads: “The important thing is to see what is invisible to others.” I love this!

I was pleasantly surprised at the cost of the eye exam – $50 (without insurance)! In the US, I always paid at least $100 per visit, even with my health insurance. Before we left, I asked the receptionist how much a pair of progressive bifocal glasses would be, using my existing frames. She quoted me $150, which I thought was reasonable, considering the cost of my previous glasses. But we wanted to check out the prices and selection at the optical shop, so I didn’t order them at the doctor’s office.

I’m glad we went to the optical shop – they had a huge selection of frames! I asked them for a price for the same glasses using my frames, and the price there was $92. Quite a savings over buying from the doctor’s office! I ended up getting two other pairs – one was for driving (distance correction only, with transition lenses that darken when in the sun). The frames for these glasses were $45, and the total cost was $152. The other pair was for reading, and these frames were only $25, with a total cost of $65.

So, for a little over $300, I got another three pairs of glasses, instead of the $1000 I had spent in the US – without using insurance. Quite a bargain, I think!

And, yes – I can see clearly now!

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