After the pandemic lockdowns and event cancellations of the past couple of years, it finally feels like things are pretty much back to normal in Panama. Parades are back, musical events are ongoing, and this Christmas season is being celebrated enthusiastically all over Panama!
The first event I attended was a first for me here – a Christmas concert with a symphony orchestra. The young people in the orchestra did a good job, and it was an enjoyable evening spent with new friends.
On Christmas Eve, I had a delicious buffet dinner at El Punto restaurant. Entertainment was provided by my friend Vanessa Ferguson, which you may remember from her performance at the Good Timey Music Revue a couple of years ago.
The atmosphere was very festive and the restaurant was full of good cheer. They gave us all Santa hats and other fun headwear to get us into the Christmas spirit. I went with some good friends, and we had a great time!
Good friends, and a great time!
After dinner, some of our group went to the town plaza to take photos of the Christmas tree and lights. The weather was perfect, and the lights were spectacular – the perfect ending to a perfect evening!
The Christmas tree and some of the many dazzling lights in the town plaza.
On Christmas Day, I attended a potluck party for another friend whose birthday is on Christmas. We had plenty of good food and drink, and there was an uproarious “white elephant” gift exchange. I ended up with what I really wanted – a couple of small, colorful ceramic lizard figurines to go with the larger ceramic gecko I received at last year’s gift exchange at this same party, which was in remembrance of my little “office buddy”, Punkin.
Punkin is on the right, and his two new (as yet unnamed) friends are keeping him company.
All in all, this Christmas season has been most enjoyable, for many reasons. Merry Christmas to all, and I hope yours was a joyful one, too!
In the past few months, I’ve had a couple of episodes with my gallbladder – not hugely painful, but definitely uncomfortable. Some anti-inflammatories and anti-spasmodic meds calmed it down each time, but it was obvious this was going to be a recurring problem, so the gallbladder had to go!
After getting blood work and an ultrasound, as well as a chest x-ray and EKG to make sure I was fit to undergo surgery, I met with an internal medicine doctor (Dr. Diaz) to go over the results and write up a pre-op report to give to the surgeon. She spent an hour with me, carefully looking over the results and writing up a four-page report.
When I told Dr. Diaz the name of my surgeon, she assured me that he was very good at laparoscopic surgeries. She had even sent her own husband to him, and her glowing recommendation definitely put me at ease.
After all the paperwork and tests were completed, it was time to schedule the surgery. I had planned to go to the public hospital because it costs very little, but the surgeon (Dr. Isaacs) told me there would be a 3-4 month wait, since it wasn’t an emergency. If I had it done at the private hospital, it would cost about $5000 and could be scheduled right away. Since I didn’t want to have any more episodes and didn’t want to wait until it WAS an emergency, I opted for the private hospital.
Hospital Chiriqui, located in David, a town about 40 minutes south of Boquete.
My surgeon, Dr. Reinaldo Isaacs. I took this picture on the day my stitches were removed. He chuckled and commented that this was the first time I had actually seen his face. He’s very nice, and did a great job!
I actually had insurance, but since my deductible was $5000, it wouldn’t have done me much good, so I bit the bullet and paid the cash price. I should mention that medical care is considered to be very good in Panama, and much less expensive than in the US. The same surgery in the US could easily be $40,000 or more, from what I’ve read. Many people here self-insure – that is, they don’t purchase insurance and pay for medical care out-of-pocket instead, since the cost is so reasonable.
I checked in to the hospital at 8 a.m. The surgery was at 10:30, I was back in my room by 2 p.m., and was released about 2 p.m. the next afternoon. To reduce the cost, I chose to have a semi-private room, but it was almost like I had a private room. There was another person in the room when I checked in, but by the time I got out of surgery, they were gone, and I didn’t have a roommate the entire rest of the time, until about an hour before I checked out. Good timing!
The hospital room was very much like a standard semi-private room in the US. No frills, but perfectly adequate. And the hospital food was quite good, too – I even got to choose what I had for lunch on the day after surgery.
One thing that I found to be quite different from hospitalization in the US – here, they don’t use a urinary catheter after surgery. Instead, they have you wear an adult-size diaper, and you pee in the diaper instead. That took a minute to get used to, but I suppose it’s more cost-effective than a catheter.
During my stay, I think Dr. Isaacs checked in on me at least a couple of times each day. One time, he brought me some “souvenirs” – the gallstones he had removed! All I could say was, “Wow!” when I saw the size and number of them.
Seven gallstones! Each one was at least half an inch in diameter. No wonder I was in pain!
My surgery was about three weeks ago. Recovery was much quicker with the laparoscopic approach, and after the first couple of days, I was able to get up from a chair or out of bed with relative ease. And now, I feel pretty much back to normal. Aside from one incision where I had a drain for a few days, which is still healing, you wouldn’t know I’d had surgery at all.
All in all, it was as pleasant an experience as possible (if any surgery can be called “pleasant”). I agree with the reports of the excellent healthcare in Panama!
Over the past couple of months, I’ve attended several musical events. It seems that Boquete is definitely back and open for business after the pandemic lockdowns, and I decided to take advantage of it. There is a wealth of talent in this town – I’ll share the ones with you that I’ve experienced recently.
First, my friend Andrea and I went to the Boquete Brewery for some live music by a very talented duo, Adia and Dario. High-energy and an enjoyable playlist!
A few days later, Julie, a friend from drumming, invited me to join her and some friends at Mesa Azul, an upscale restaurant and bar. The dinner was delicious, the company was agreeable, and the live music was sublime. Here is a lovely clip of Julie and her husband swaying to the sweet sounds of the Café con Leche band.
On another evening, it was Reggae Night at Mike’s Global Grill, where the Agua de Coco band laid down some of my favorite reggae songs. I enjoyed seeing friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, and the fried chicken dinner was awesome!
Next on the list was the Blues Extravaganza, hosted by the BCP (Boquete Community Players) at their temporary location in a large tent on the grounds of The Rock restaurant, and featuring the Boquete Blues Band.
After the regular performance, they had a jam session with additional local talent. My friend Andrea Lynne was one of the featured performers. This was the first time I had seen her perform, and she did not disappoint!
Apologies for the poor video quality! Here’s a better photo of Andrea belting out the blues.
I had a great time getting out and experiencing some special events with friends, and I hope you enjoyed the musical tour featuring just a fraction of the talented performers in Boquete.
Just a few days after the chocolate luncheon described in my previous post, I went with three friends down the same road to Volcán and beyond, to Finca Dracula (dracula refers to a type of orchid). This is a botanical garden high up in the mountains north of Volcán that specializes in all manner of orchids, along with other plants. I had been wanting to go there for quite awhile, so when the opportunity came, I immediately said yes!
We ate breakfast before exploring the lush grounds. Three of us had huevos rancheros (eggs on top of toasted tortillas, covered with spicy salsa), and the other person had French toast with fruit. I think she made the best choice!
French toast at Finca Dracula, topped with bananas, apples, strawberries, and blackberries. Yum!!!
Finca Dracula is arranged into several areas, including the Garden of Light, Fern Garden, Buddha Garden, Japanese Garden, Succulent Garden, and others. Click here to see a map of the property.
The orchids were in full bloom, and were so interesting with their different colors and shapes. Some even had little “faces”!
Multi-color orchids – one of my favorites.
Dainty white orchids with tiny spots.
I love this little guy! His hair sticks straight up, he has a goofy expression, and even has a little handlebar mustache!
Here is a gallery of more photos from our trip. Click on an image for a larger view.
Recently, I went with a group on a culinary adventure to Volcán, a town on the other side of Volcán Barú – about eight miles from Boquete as the crow flies, but almost a two-hour drive by car. Unfortunately, the volcano is in the way, and you have to drive south to go north, to get back almost directly west of Boquete.
The route to Volcán from Boquete. Good roads and scenery, but a bit of a drive.
We rode in one of the small white “coaster” busses that usually transport people from one area of Boquete to another. The driver is a friend of Raquel’s, who organizes these outings, and he was able to reserve the bus for our trip.
Our group at the restaurant. About half of them were in the group I usually go places with, and I met two new couples on this trip. Nice folks!
The name of the restaurant is Cerro Brujo, which translates to “Witch Hill”. Nothing spooky about it, though – it was lovely!
The menu for this luncheon had a chocolate theme – all of the dishes featured chocolate in some form. Raquel does some marketing for The Perfect Pair, where we took a chocolate making class awhile back, and the owners of this restaurant are associated with them.
Following are photos of the offerings, all of which were beautiful and delicious!
Yuca and cheese croquettes with a creamy garlic/spice sauce and crushed chocolate nibs sprinkled on top.
I had the croquettes, but the salad looked delicious, too. It was beautifully presented and included four kinds of greens, multi-colored cherry tomatoes, seedless cucumber slices, and a creamy garlic dressing with cocoa nibs.
The main course – roasted chicken breast with a chocolate/spice sauce, and mashed sweet potatoes on the side. Roasted potatoes and carrots were also served.
Dessert! Strawberries flambéed with rum and served warm, alongside a rich chocolate brownie.
Both the food and the company were excellent, and the our table was on the covered terrace. It started raining soon after we arrived, and it was lovely to listen to the rain falling on the dense trees around us as we chatted before lunch was served.
There seem to be quite a few “foodies” in Boquete, and special food-related events are not uncommon. There are special meals like this, as well as community-wide competitions similar to those you would find at a county fair that are held in the town plaza. I remember one that was a “best strawberry dish” competition.
There are also challenges between chefs, pitting one restaurant against another to determine who makes the best chicken wings, hot dogs, barbecue, etc. They also had a “taco crawl” earlier this year (on Taco Tuesday, of course!), in which diners are shuttled to six restaurants around town and enjoy six tacos for one price ($17). Food culture here (of all types) is a real thing here, apparently!