Laid-Back Holidays

Food, Holidays

The holiday season was good for me this year, although it was very low-key compared to some of the pre-covid celebrations in Panama

Thanksgiving this year was celebrated with a home-cooked dinner at my friend Terri’s house, with all the traditional American-style dishes – turkey, ham, dressing, green bean casserole, broccoli/cheese/rice casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cranberry-orange jello salad, with cherry pie for dessert. Everything was delicious!

On Christmas Eve, I had dinner at Ngadri, a fairly new local restaurant that focuses on locally grown ingredients. I had eaten there a couple of times before, and this menu did not disappoint. It started with a festive cocktail that featured intriguing botanical snippets, garnished with a little candy cane.

Welcoming holiday cocktail

The appetizer included crispy vegetable chips and shrimp in a light creamy/citrusy sauce with diced green apples. The tartness of the apples contrasted nicely with the shrimp and sauce. The main course featured ham with a guava sauce (very good), mashed taro (like mashed potatoes), and asparagus in a cream sauce.

Vegetable chips and shrimp appetizer

The main course – delicious!

The dessert was adorable – a little gingerbread house that was shared by three of us. Great presentation, and the gingerbread cookies were crisp and tasty. Good food and good conversation were the theme of this evening – there were nine of us at the table. I knew most of them, and met others for the first time. We lingered over dinner for more than three hours, enjoying the food and camaraderie.

The modern-style gingerbread house dessert. So cute!

My dinner companions

Christmas Day was a quiet at-home time, watching several holiday movies and enjoying a glass of wine. A couple of days after Christmas, I cooked my own holiday dinner with a turkey breast, dressing and gravy, and cranberry sauce. And just before Christmas, I bought myself a present – an electric ice cream maker. Merry Christmas to me! LOL!

New Year’s Eve was VERY casual – one of the restaurants had a “PJ Party” theme for brunch that morning, so I invited my new neighbor to join me and wore my lounging-around-the-house attire. Nothing too special about the menu, although it was good – an omelette and diced potatoes, with a couple of Bloody Mary’s. The evening was spent at home, watching the ball drop in Times Square and enjoying the fireworks go off all around my house at midnight.

However the holidays are celebrated, life is good – and may 2022 be better than the last couple of years! Cheers!

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More Bicentennial Celebrations

Celebrations, Community

The bicentennial was officially commemorated on the evening of November 27, with the presentation of a new monument at the north end of downtown. After the usual speeches and official hoopla, the elegant granite structure with its surrounding fountains was unveiled. The monument is topped with a bronze statue depicting two figures and the national bird (the harpy eagle), with banners on either side representing the colors of the flags of Panama and Spain.

The new bicentennial monument

The location of the monument generated a fair amount of controversy, since it occupies a triangular plot of land where two roads converge. This vacant area had previously been used as parking spaces for about seven cars, and some people were up in arms about losing those spots, even though plans were immediately implemented to create twice as many parking spaces on two adjacent streets.

Another point of contention was the concern that public funds were used to construct an unnecessary project, when other infrastructure projects were left undone. This project was funded with private donations and the major donors are listed on granite plaques on the sides of the fountains for all to see, so their protests on this count are unfounded. The controversies did make for interesting reading on Facebook, though!

The monument is surrounded by walkways and seating areas. I think they did a great job, and in what appears to be record time.

After the unveiling, there was music and fireworks. Pyrotechnic displays are a staple of Panamanian celebrations of all kinds – weddings, holidays, and many other special occasions. I love the fireworks, but people’s pets may not be as enthusiastic!

Fireworks! I didn’t attend the monument unveiling, but I watched the live videos on Facebook.

On the official independence day, November 28, two of my favorite events were resurrected from their pandemic sleep – a parade and a cabalgata (horse parade). Neither of these events was even close to pre-pandemic proportions, but at least they were there! I loved seeing the students exhibiting their long-denied opportunity to show their musical skills, and several tiny little drummer boys were so cute! They did a great job keeping up with the older kids.

The last pre-covid horse parade had about 400 horses in it, as I remember. This one was more sparse in number, but their riders were every bit as proud of their steeds as previously.

All in all, I think the bicentennial celebrations were a rousing success. There was one sour note, however. Our mayor was hit with a $5000 fine for allegedly disregarding some of the health regulations from MINSA (the ministry of health). He maintains he had permission to hold the events, and that other much larger events where people were crowded together, with many of them not wearing masks, were not similarly punished.

Our mayor has initiated many improvements in Boquete and the surrounding areas in his jurisdiction, and is well-liked, so people have been contributing monetary donations (mostly in the form of rolls of pennies) to help offset the fine that was imposed. Bravo for the people supporting our mayor!

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Bicentennial Song and Dance

Celebrations, Cultural events

The month of November hosts many celebrations in Panama, collectively known as Fiestas Patrias, or patriotic holidays. November 28 is the major November holiday, celebrating Panama’s independence from Spain. And this year it’s especially significant because it’s the bicentennial celebration, and events were scheduled for several days.

In Boquete’s town square on the evening of November 26, a large stage was set up and many rows of chairs were added to the open area in front of the municipal offices for an exhibition of traditional music and dancing. Folk dancers from all provinces of the country showcased their talents and elaborate costumes, and is one of the events I have missed most during the pandemic.

The “signature dance” of Panama is the pollera dance. The ladies wear dresses with very full skirts (usually with row upon row of embroidery), lots of gold jewelry, and elaborate beaded headdresses. The men wear black or tan pants, white shirts, and a particular style of hat. The movements are graceful, and the ladies show off the fullness of their skirts by spreading them like a peacock’s tail as they dance. 

The children participate in learning this traditional dance from a young age. There were two performances by the youngsters, one with the smallest dancers and another with young teenagers. The little ones are so adorable!

The various Panamanian provinces have distinctively specific styles of dress and music. Some are more formal, with the classic white polleras with lots of embroidery, and other dress styles are more “rustic” and have floral printed skirts with white tops and little or no embroidered details.

The provinces along the northern coast of Panama have a distinctively Afro-Caribbean flair in their traditional dances, both in their costumes and dance styles. So energetic and free-spirited!

There is one folk dance that is extremely different from the pollera-style dances. These dancers seem more like fairytale characters, wearing masks and fanciful outfits. I haven’t yet learned the story behind this style or its meaning, but it’s very intriguing, to say the least!

I’m so happy to see that some of the exuberant Panamanian cultural demonstrations are coming back after the (hopefully) worst of the pandemic is over. I have missed them so much!

More bicentennial festivities in the next post.

 

 

 

 

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Trip to the Top of Panama

Adventures, Sightseeing

Recently, I had quite an adventure – a group of us went in 4×4 vehicles to the top of Volcan Baru, the dormant volcano that lies just west of Boquete, to watch the sun rise. Since it’s a rather long and grueling climb, we left at 4 a.m. and made it to the summit about 6:15 a.m. The entire area is a national park, and the road was rough, to put it mildly. It felt like driving over a dry riverbed, rather than a road, with big boulders and places where the rain had washed deep trenches in our path. The drivers were excellent – they sometimes make this two-hour trek five days a week! Here is the view on the way up, in the dark:

We arrived near the top at sunrise, as promised, and fortunately it was a perfectly clear morning. On a clear day, you can see both the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, which was the hoped-for highlight of the trip – this is the only place in the world where that is possible.

The Caribbean Sea in the distance.

The Pacific Ocean view, with the sign showing the way to the summit of Volcan Baru.

At this high elevation, it was COLD! It was about 40°F colder than it was when we left downtown Boquete. We were told to dress warmly, but one guy apparently didn’t get the memo and wore shorts. He didn’t thaw out until we were halfway down on the return trip! I wore my heavy jacket and leggings under my pants, and borrowed a hat from the tour leaders who provided them, as well as gloves, for their passengers. I wished I had a scarf, because my neck was cold, but I found a solution for that problem.

It may look odd, but it worked!

Our tour guide leader provided coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, and grilled cheese sandwiches for the group, which were very welcome. I hadn’t had anything at all to eat or drink, after my unfortunate experience on the shuttle bus to Bocas del Toro a couple of years ago. We even had a little visitor to our camp, a coatimundi, which is fairly common in Panama. He was obviously accustomed to tourists, and he received a grilled cheese sandwich for his breakfast.

Our breakfast visitor.

Some of our group hiked to the actual summit a bit above where we parked. I had no intention of hiking, but got a good photo of some of those who made that final ascent. The cross marks the highest point in Panama – 11,400 feet above sea level.

The highest point in Panama and the members of our group who made the final climb.

Our parking area was at the base of the communications towers. Locating them here makes a lot of sense!

The towers that provide communications for this part of Panama. You can see them from town on a clear day, but they look like matchsticks from there. And it’s cool to see Boquete – and Volcan on the opposite side of the volcano – from this vantage point.

You can get a better view of the road on our return trip – another two-hour journey. This time, we had to stop and move a tree branch that was projecting into our path. They hooked a strap to it and pulled it out of the way with the vehicle. At another point, our driver got out and filled a deep hole with rocks, so we could pass over it without possibly getting stuck. These guys not only drive this road, they sometimes need to maintain it – they are awesome!

We got back in town about 10:00 a.m. I’m so happy to have gone on this adventure, but I will say that it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me. That drive is brutal! But we were blessed with a perfect view of both oceans, which is the icing on the cake of such a trip, so I’m satisfied with the results.

Our tour group. Our tour leader, Priscila, is second from the right, in the pink jacket.

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Boundaries

Life in General, Relationships

I’ll tell you up front – this post has nothing to do with Panama, except circumstantially. It’s about life and relationships, which sometimes get off-balance and strained for various reasons, and this is intensely personal to me.

A little background – for most of my life, I avoided confrontation and didn’t stand up for myself when I should have. I know other people noticed, because 20 years ago I remember my boss saying to me, “You wouldn’t say shit if you had a mouth full of it.” Her observation was indeed true back then – I would either hold my emotions in or simply avoid uncomfortable situations.

A little over two years ago, I left a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship that began soon after I moved to Panama. After that experience, I determined that enough was enough, and vowed never to allow myself to be devalued, degraded, dismissed, and made to feel “less than” again. I also decided that if I felt that was the case, I would make my objections to poor treatment known – not in an angry or confrontational way, but as a rational statement of how their words or actions affected me. Boundaries can be about many aspects of life. Some examples are illustrated below:

I applied my new boundaries several times in the past two years, when something was said that didn’t sit well with me. I took time to think about it, then approached the “offender” and explained my position, which cleared the air. In one case, the person actually thanked me for saying something, and agreed to adjust their view of the situation to a more positive outlook. We came to an agreement that was mutually satisfying, which was a successful outcome to an uncomfortable situation. Win-win!

Sometimes things don’t work out so well, though. Recently, I alerted a friend (who was going through a disruptive time in their own life) that I objected to their unwarranted outburst of anger and negative characterizations toward me, and politely asked them to stop. Not only did they NOT stop, they added even more harsh words in reply. In the days afterward, I sent a couple of e-mails attempting to clarify my objections and both times offered to sit down and resolve the issue. The first attempt was met with additional negativity, and in the second instance, they completely ignored my offer of reconciliation, and instead complained about how many e-mails they received per day.

It takes two to resolve any conflict, and I saw no willingness to do so from the other side. So although I still hold out hope for the repair of this long-standing and important relationship, the jury’s still out on whether that will happen. I would love to have my friend back in my life, but their behavior displayed in this situation was so completely removed from this person’s usual character as to be almost unrecognizable.

I sincerely hope that at some point, they reconnect to their “true self” and wish to restore the relationship, but that’s their choice to make. If it happens, I’ll gladly be there – but if not, I will sadly accept their decision to remain estranged.

The above statement may sound a bit harsh, but I am at peace with my decision to treat myself with respect (finally), and to live in accordance with my authentic self. The “Golden Rule” is a great yardstick for successfully navigating life – I subscribe fully to that concept. 

Peace to all….

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