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I had lost my driving glasses a couple of years ago, and my prescription is about seven years out of date, so new eyewear was also on the agenda.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!



Daily life, Food, Shopping

When grocery shopping, some items are difficult to find, and others seem to be ridiculously overabundant.

At Thanksgiving, I like to make sage dressing. Well, sage is one of those hard-to-find items. I looked in several stores, both in Boquete and David, with no luck. I put the word out to friends to keep an eye out for it when they shopped – no luck there, either. One of my friends was in the States before the holidays, and I asked her to tuck a couple of bottles of sage in her luggage on the return trip. The dressing was saved!

Another almost impossible to find grocery item is Ro-Tel canned tomatoes and chiles. Jackie (of Panama Relocation Tours) mentioned on our tour that she couldn’t find any here, so when I moved here, I brought her a few cans. Needless to say, the gift was well received! I have since found them in one of the grocery stores here ONE TIME, so I bought almost all they had because it was likely they’d not be available again soon, if ever.

However, some things go the other way – there seems to be a superfluous amount of certain items. Take tuna, for example – they have canned tuna in oil and water, but also with vegetables and many other varieties I’ve never seen before.

Tons of tuna! Also a goodly amount of sardines.

And if you want a sauce to go with your meal, you’re in luck – a huge variety of sauces are available for any taste. 

Pick your poison – BBQ, Asian, hot, mild, or in-between. It’s all here!

Another grocery item that I found to be a bit strange – an overabundance of nothing but Campbell’s pork & beans! I’m not sure I understand its popularity.

Who knew that this one particular item was so popular in Panama that two and a half shelves should be devoted to it?

And then there’s one of the basics – milk. When I first arrived in Panama, I bought the usual half-gallon of refrigerated milk, like I had purchased in Oklahoma. But I found that after just a couple of days, it began to turn sour, and I threw it out. That got old fast, so I switched to shelf-stable cartons of milk that have a six-month shelf life not requiring refrigeration. My neighbor calls it “plutonium milk” because it’s irradiated, but not having to discard spoiled milk regularly works for me. And apparently it’s a very popular item, because there are pallet-loads of it on the back wall of the store, and another good-sized stack of it in the center aisle!

Every time I shop for groceries, I pick up at least a couple of quarts of this milk.

This final item is not at all surprising – beer! I’m not a beer drinker, but many people here are. Not surprising, because beer is generally cheaper than soda in Panama. In many of the restaurants around town, a Panamanian beer usually costs $1 and a soda is $1.50. But the sheer quantity of beer in the grocery store was amazing to me.

This entire aisle (about 20 feet long and 4 feet wide) is filled with nothing but Panamanian beers – Atlas, Balboa, and Panama brands. Drink up!

So it seems it’s either feast or famine in the grocery store, but 99% of the time you can find an adequate supply of pretty much anything you want in the way of groceries. If you can’t find it in the Boquete stores, it’s probably available in the bigger stores in David, about 30 minutes south of here. I have no complaints!



Holidays, Mother Nature

The seasons have changed here. A couple of weeks ago, it’s like someone flipped a switch and suddenly it was the end of the rainy season and the beginning of what they call “summer” here, with less rain and a lot more wind. It still rains occasionally, and the wind doesn’t blow hard all the time – although sometimes I feel like I’m back in Oklahoma when the wind howls so loud!

This is also called “rainbow season” because there are some spectacular rainbows at this time of year – often double ones!

The other changes around here are related to the pandemic. Starting today, they have modified the nightly curfew. Formerly, it was from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., and now it’s from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. It gets dark here about 6:30, and I’m rarely out after dark, so the new hours are no big deal to me.

A slightly bigger deal is the holiday restrictions they have implemented. For the next two weeks, only women can shop inside stores on Monday and Wednesday, and men can shop on Tuesday and Thursday. My understanding is that we can freely move outdoors on any day, but they are attempting to reduce the number of people in enclosed spaces. I can understand that, and it’s not a hardship if you plan your shopping trips ahead of time to accommodate the new rules.

The biggest change is a total quarantine from December 24 at 7 p.m. until the following Monday at 5 a.m., and the same for December 31 through January 4. This means we are to stay home and not move from our property at all during Christmas and New Year’s weekends. I know this is an attempt to reduce the number of large holiday gatherings and avoid super-spreader events, but it feels like the covid grinch has stolen the holidays this year. It’s a good thing I had such wonderful Christmas and New Year’s celebrations last year to look back on, and I look forward to a cheerier holiday season in 2021.

Wherever you may be, I wish you a healthy and happy holiday season. Next year just has to be better than 2020!


Before and After

Mother Nature

Panama has been on the receiving end of a deluge for the past five days or so from the rain bands of hurricane Eta that made landfall as a category 4 storm in Nicaragua at the beginning of this week. Parts of western Panama (where I live) received 10+ inches of rain per day for several days. The storm has moved back into the Caribbean now, and our rain has diminished greatly starting today, but the damage is severe and extensive, including flooding, landslides and washed-out roads.

This western region of Panama is the area where most of the fruits and vegetables for the entire country are grown. Many of the crops have been either washed away or ruined from flooding, so there will most likely be shortages and price increases in the near future.

People in the severely affected areas, many of whom had little to begin with, are now homeless and have nothing. Relief efforts are being organized to provide food, clothing, diapers, and other items.

From what I can learn from others who live in Boquete, we seem to have escaped the bulk of the severe damage which has occurred mainly between here and the Costa Rica border. There are mudslides and road blockages in the area, but I haven’t heard of any major flooding in Boquete proper.

Following are some before-and-after photos to give you some idea of the scale of this event.

The Caldera River, which runs through Boquete. The top photo is how it normally looks. The bottom photo was taken a day or two ago from almost the same location. The river is still within its banks, but is much higher than normal.

A waterfall in one of the area’s many canyons. Usually a modest amount of water flows from it, but this same waterfall has become a raging torrent in these heavy rains.

This is the main (and perhaps only) road leading to Bocas del Toro, on Panama’s Caribbean coast. The road has been completely washed out from the high waters of the river below. This is the road that trucks use to deliver food and supplies to the area, so other arrangements by air or sea will need to be made soon.


Feline Field Trip

Community, Pets

My friend Terri and I took a little field trip the other day to the Los Mininos Cat Sanctuary located near Palmira, which is about 15 minutes southwest of Boquete. The owner, Judy Odom, has lived in Panama for about 15 years, and has a beautiful property devoted to the life-long care of about 80 older, abandoned, or un-adoptable cats, who roam free in a large yard that’s securely fenced and has a number of trees for the cats to climb and other plants and shrubs for them to explore.

Judy and a few of her cats. Note the open-air A-frame shelter behind her, so the cats can get out of the rain.
Terri and her visitors.
A lap full of furry friends.

Judy likes for people to visit, because it’s an opportunity for the cats to become more socialized and accustomed to people. Like any animal, each has their own personality – some are shy, some are cuddly, some are aloof, and some are a**holes (Judy’s words, not mine!). 

The indoor section of the shelter has many buckets for the cats to curl up in and sleep. Oddly, this arrangement reminds me of the chicken coop we had when I was growing up, where each hen had her own nest! Can you find the 11 cats in the picture below?

Comfy kitty beds.

Los Mininos is just one of the animal sanctuaries and rescue services in Boquete. There are others in town that specialize in rescuing and rehoming cats and dogs, as well as providing dog training. A monthly spay and neuter clinic regularly services close to 150 dogs and cats each time at a very reasonable cost ($8 for cats and $15 for dogs), with several vets volunteering their time for the event. They were shut down for several months during the quarantine, but are ramping back up now with a limited volume of about 30 pets. Many people in Boquete volunteer at the clinics. Both a love for pets and volunteerism are alive and well in Boquete!

Here is a video of Judy explaining who she is and showcasing her lovely property and her mission. These cats are so well taken care of! The first minute or so of the video shows the countryside on the way to her property (which is serene and beautiful in itself), and the orange tabby she’s petting at the beginning of the interview reminds me so much of my sweet cat, Moose, who I re-homed when I moved to Panama.

If you feel inclined to donate and support her efforts, here is a link to the donation page of her website.