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.

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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.

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Never Alone

Daily life, Living spaces

Although I’m the one who pays the rent on my house, I am never truly alone here. I have several tiny housemates who keep me company. One has taken up residence in my office, and I’ve named him (her?) “Punkin”. Actually, I call all of them Punkin or Baby. They are geckos (related to the one in the Geico commercials). Most of them are about four inches long, but one time I saw a really tiny one that wasn’t more than two inches from nose to tail.

The one in my office usually hangs out in the window that’s behind my computer, and sometimes he peeks out from behind the curtain and skitters down the wall, startling me when I see him out of the corner of my eye while I’m working. Geckos are very shy and harmless and they earn their keep by eating bugs, so they are welcome residents. However, they are not silent – they “chirp” fairly loudly for their small size, usually in the evening and usually seven or eight times in a row.

Every place I’ve lived in Boquete has had geckos in the house. At the first place, I kept hearing what I thought was a strange bird every evening, until one day I saw a gecko run across the wall and duck behind a picture, then heard the chirping sound. I thought the “bird” sounded like it was inside the house, and had to laugh when I discovered what it was! I love listening to them, though – it makes me smile every time I hear them.

Punkin apparently gets a little chilly occasionally – now that it’s a bit cooler during the rainy season, almost every day I see him resting on top of the voltage regulator (located next to my office chair), which throws off a little heat. He’ll hang out there for hours at a time, not moving even when I get up to go to the other room.

BTW, voltage regulators are useful to protect electronic devices from power surges and brownouts. I had never heard of such things in the US, but the electricity in Panama is notoriously prone to high and low voltage variations which shorten the life of appliances and computers, so I use them throughout the house. Apparently they’re also useful as gecko warmers!

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Mosaic Fun

Crafts, Friends

Last April, my friend Terri and I had planned to go to a mosaic workshop hosted by the owner of the Cosmic Crab Resort in Bocas del Toro (where Terri, her husband Brad, and I had visited last October). Sadly, the pandemic squashed that outing. However, I saw on Facebook a couple of months ago where the owner had figured out that if people couldn’t come to her, she would (virtually) come to them – she made up kits for various mosaics, to be shipped to those who wanted them. These kits were comprehensive, and included ceramic tiles and a backplate to build it on that had color artwork to use as a guide. It also included a bottle of glue to attach the tile pieces to the backplate, grout, a tool to apply the grout, a sponge, and detailed instructions. Impressive, and an ingenious way to modify the workshop to work in the lockdown!

Terri was enthusiastic about doing this, and when I mentioned it to another friend (Barbara), she wanted in on the fun, too. So we ordered our kits and set up a work space in my living room. Fortunately, I had a spare six-foot table which was perfect for the occasion.

It took us several afternoons to complete our projects – a couple of days to finish applying the tiles, and then letting the glue dry overnight before grouting. Unfortunately, we all ran out of grout before finishing our mosaics, so I bought more here in Boquete to finish up.

I think we did a creditable job on our artwork, given that none of us had done anything like this before. We also had a good time socializing during our work sessions, which had been in short supply the past six months. So it was beneficial on several levels, and we had something to show for it, too! Here are photos of the finished mosaics…

My toucan.
Terri’s parrots.
Barbara’s sunflowers.

In the days before we actually started our projects, I got a little head start on the mosaic thing – I made some banana pudding, and the cookies that went in it had gotten pretty broken up, so it fit right into the “broken tiles” theme!

Mosaic-topped banana pudding.
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Freedom

Holidays, Life in General

This is July 4th, Independence Day for those from the United States. There are all kinds of freedom in this world. The first things that come to my mind are those mentioned in the first amendment to the US Constitution, providing for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The most serious breach of freedom in the news recently is the freedom to live when stopped by police, if you are a person of color. Racism has reared its ugly head once more, and it seems the US is more divided and polarized on that subject than it has been in decades. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that parents of young African-American boys especially, must give them “the talk” about how to survive an encounter with those who are commissioned to protect and serve their community. Of course, the vast majority do not misuse the power their position provides them, but all it takes is a few bad apples to taint the reputation of an entire profession.

In the United States, personal freedom is almost a religion unto itself, for better or for worse. Right now during this pandemic, I see people on the news who are whining and complaining about doing a very small task that will not only protect themselves, but others as well. You would think they were being brutalized by being required to wear a face covering or mask, yet they have no problem with other rules such as wearing shoes and a shirt in a restaurant or wearing a seat belt. Where is the outrage for those requirements? I don’t get it.

Art credit: Craig Frazier

One of the reasons I came to Panama is to gain a greater measure of personal freedom. Freedom to go to sleep and wake up in the morning without the tyranny of an alarm clock, freedom to structure my time as I see fit, freedom to work at home and set my own hours, and freedom to travel when and where I want (with the exception of the current pandemic rules).

With those freedoms I’ve experienced here in Panama comes a greater sense of peace. I’m happier and more comfortable in my own skin than I think I’ve ever been. I have more friends and a richer social life here than I did in my hometown. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and living in harmony with my inner self, and that brings me joy every day.

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