Monday, August 27, 2007

We Want the Funk

Always keen to take full advantage of the sunny mornings before the now much longer lasting afternoon rains, we hopped a taxi for El Explorador. These gardens are known more for their quirkiness than for their beauty. To say that "the trees have eyes" is quite literally true at El Explorador. It was as if the owners of these gardens purposefully populated them with things one would never think of finding in a garden setting: gutted TV sets, shopping carts, empty plastic containers and old shoes among other strange choices. Instead of items being thrown away after their purpose has been served, they were used to create funky, recycled garden "art".

Although it may not sound like a pleasant aesthetic experience, Rand and I actually found it more charming than our recent visit to the more traditional Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin (see earlier post); both boasted beautiful flora but El Explorador enchanted with an odd but kind of creative and cool style that made a lasting impression on both of us.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

You Can't Take It With You

On one of our drives through the surrounding areas of Boquete, we passed an amazing castle that appeared to be either only partly completed or dilapidated, we weren't sure which. It sat in the shade of many tall, majestic eucalyptus trees and just back from the clear, thundering Rio Caldera. It was quite a sight to see and Rand and I wondered if it might be for sale.

We asked Arturo, our friend and realtor about it. He explained that it was not for sale and told us the following story about it: An elderly man bought the land years ago and was bound and determined to build himself a castle. The old fellow had made up his mind that he would do the construction alone and refused help whenever it was offered. Arturo said he would see the man transporting materials from town on his horse, pulling three other horses loaded with supplies behind him. Randy and I weren't the first to admire what we'd seen; many people offered the old man millions for his pristine plot of land but he refused time and again.
Sadly, the old chap died before he could complete his dream project leaving behind his partially finished castle on its amazing piece of land. Sadder still is that his 8 siblings are now engaged in a bitter family feud over the property as the one thing he didn't leave behind was a will.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin

Everyone is welcome at Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin, a charming display of Boquete's flora. Private homes within the gardens share the grounds with visitors who meander across the stone paths taking in the surrounding colors and fragrances. Rand and I passed a pleasant morning at the gardens, collecting a slew of botanical photographs (click on our photo gallery to see them) as we toured. There were even some figurines interspersed and as you can see, we amused ourselves posing with them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A "YES" Could Cost You

A lot of local folks in Boquete don't speak English. This is good for us. It forces to continually improve our Spanish comprehension and conversation.

We were out with our friend and realtor Arturo recently. He is a native Spanish speaker now completely fluent in English. He recounted a story to us about being "lost in translation" that we found quite hilarious.

Arturo went to the States years ago for college and specifically asked to room with four American guys so that he'd be surrounded by English speakers, thus learning faster. One day, none of his roommates were home and the phone rang. He answered it and said "Yes" numerous times to things he didn't understand (I find myself doing this a lot) and gave the person on the other end of the phone his name and address and ended up ordering a $200 set of Encyclopedias! He was on a strict budget so it was a costly mistake for him that he certainly couldn't afford. He said that he was petrified to talk on the phone for months and months afterwards. Poor Arturo! I hope we are lucky enough NOT to lose $200 as we stumble down the road to fluency.

Sticky Ending

We've made friends with an Irish chap named Tom. Tom is a jolly fellow and both Randy and I enjoy his company. He invited us to join him and a buddy of his on a trip to one of his favorite locales - the Caldera Hot Springs, 45 minutes away from Boquete. Rand had been feeling a bit under the weather and Tom claimed that the natural minerals in the springs were just the thing to sharpen him right up. It sounded like fun to us. If we got the added bonus of Rand starting to feel closer to 100% as a result, all the better.

A bumpy, misty ride in Tom's 4x4 Jeep eventually brought us to the end of the road, we'd continue the rest of the way on foot. We disembarked and made our way in the direction of the springs with Tom in the lead. Down a rocky slope we trudged, through a marsh and finally into a flat pasture area shaded by the canopy overhead. Tom paused in front of a log bridge and waited as a young kid shimmied across the log to collect a dollar from each of us-our entrance fee for the springs.

We chose one of the three pools and eased into the agua caliente. My, MY it was wonderfully warm and relaxing! It began to rain and the cool drops were a nice compliment to spring's temperature. When we started to get too hot, we stepped out and walked down to the river. The cold water took our body temperatures back down quickly.

It continued to rain and after another soak in the springs we decided to make our way back to the Jeep so as to traverse the footpath prior to nightfall. Rand remarked that the pouring rain reminded him of "Nam". On the road, we were thankful for the Jeep's 4x4 capacity as the uphill climb was now a mud pit. We arrived home safely and agreed that we'd had a splendid time and also that we'd never been so drenched from a rain storm. The only things negatively impacted by the downpour were the candy suckers tucked in Randy's soggy backpack. They had thoroughly melted coating the inside of the pack with strawberry, grape and cherry goo. The clean up proved a sticky one.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On the Land Quest

We've devoted time to looking at land lately. A lot of the existing houses here are too large for us and out of our price range. The Boquete property boom is underway and has been for a few years so prices are climbing consistently. Forbes Magazine's article listing Boquete as one of the top 5 places in the world to retire heightened the already escalating attention and prices.

So far, it seems our best bet will be to buy land and build a home. This is an exciting but intimidating possibility as neither Rand nor I have experience in this area. If we do build, we'll rely heavily on our chosen architect and builder for guidance.

Our list of "must haves" grows more and more vivid with each new piece of land we see. We know that we want to be quite high in the mountains so as to have that "I'm on top of the world, lookin' down on creation" feeling. Secondly, existing water and electricity lines are paramount. Too many nights of barking dogs and improperly timed wee-hour-of-the-morning, repetitive rooster calls have caused us to add the NO CHICKEN/BARKING FACTOR to our list as well. Continued refining will undoubtedly occur.

Above is me in a tree on one of our property faves and one of the views from another top contender with Volcan Baru hiding in the clouds in the background. We meet with a potential lawyer today to discuss securing permanent resident visas.

IN on Boquete

It is undeniable that Boquete has an unusual magic to it. Our exploratory missions of the towns near by just haven't enchanted us the way this little town has. It doesn't matter if it is a sunny morning, or a misty, rainy afternoon...Randy and I are IN. We've guzzled the preverbal Kool-aid. If all the puzzle pieces fit, this will be HOME for us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Coast to Coast

Though we had originally thought we would spend both days with our rental car in Volcan, we decided to really get our money's worth and drive to the Pacific Coast and then to the Caribbean. Panama's horizontal, sideways "S" shape lends itself to easy access to both coasts. The Pacific side (below) was smolderingly hot partly due to the black volcanic sand. Having started our day in the mountains, we weren't appropriately dressed and hurried back to our car's a/c after snapping a quick picture.

We took the only road in the area that cuts through the country and were bowled over by Panama's beauty, especially in the high altitudes. We made our way up, up and up and then down witnessing the scenery change from lush, green mountains to lush green jungle. It only took us about an hour and a half to slice through Panama and reach the Caribbean coast (right). The road spit us out in anti-climactic Grand Chiriqui, a port town from whence we'll eventually take a ferry over to the famed beach area of Bocas Del Torro. With our rental due back the next day however, we had to save the Bocas del Torro trip for a later time. With Captain Randy at the wheel, we headed back to Boquete. We decided to milk our car time the next morning and motor to areas of Boquete inaccessible to us on foot.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


We got a lot more than we bargained for at Don Tavo's that night. I guess the glass door separating the lobby from the rooms should have been a clue. Upon check-in though, we failed to notice the bar in the rear of the motel. An easy mistake to make as it was early when we turned in for the night and things hadn't yet begun to hop. The road noise was pretty noticeable from our room but we were tired from our day and found slumber easily. Later though, the bar started pumping, and the music, singing and partying rose to a level that was the antithesis of soporific, to say the least. Either someone left the glass door open, or it didn't do squat to muffle the sounds.

To top it all off, at what we guessed must have been midnight, everyone in town owning a car got into their vehicle and began honking their horns and yelling. The "joyful honking parade of fun" continued for about 15 minutes as the cars motored up and back and up and back down through the streets of town. It was one of those situations where all we could do was laugh. Little did we know that we had just audibly witnessed our first Panamanian GO BIG OR GO HOME celebration. We had arrived on the 156th anniversary of the Chiriqui Region and the locals did indeed GO BIG and NOT HOME until the wee hours of the morning. Silly Gringos, sleep is for wusses!

Volcan & English Trap

There is no direct road from Boquete to Volcan. Currently, to reach Volcan, you head South to the city of David then West in the direction of the Costa Rica border then North up to Volcan. David is very still and muggy, a sharp contrast to Boquete's and Volcan's higher, breezy climates. We were surprised to see that although Volcan is situated just on the other side of Volcan Baru, the look of the countryside was quite different than in Boquete. Large, gorgeous mountains graced the sky on either side of the city, beautiful to behold but the town itself was flat. Another difference is that Boquete is overflowing with flowers everywhere you look but Volcan had very few. We drove around all afternoon, seeing what Volcan had to offer, going down side roads anxious to see what was off the beaten path. It was a beautiful area with rolling, green hills and outstanding views.
The town to the North of Volcan, Cerra Punta, is a farming community and we were amazed to see farmers working on a very steep incline. Sadly though, the town is so heavily drowned with pesticides that you can actually smell them when you drive into Cerra Punta. No thanks.

Upon arriving back in Volcan, we found an acceptable little dive called Don Tavo's that would house us for the night. The folks there suggested the Pollo Loco for dinner and it was quite good. The guitar on the wall made Randy miss and wish for his, so the owner of the Pollo Loco called a local Gringo named Wade and had him bring his guitar to the restaurant.

Wade was a nice old fellow and he and Rand traded off playing guitar and singing. It was a nice "fix" for Randy. As the two played and the evening continued, other Gringos arrived at the place. That night, it really hit us that if you don't make a concerted effort to speak and learn Spanish and really TRY and break into the local culture, you could easily find yourself with only English speakers as friends. Don't get me wrong, it is very comforting to have the option to converse in English sometimes, however these folks, while nice, seemed lonely and in a way, trapped with only each other in their foreign language "paradise" of Volcan.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Lilliput Land

These "trumpet plants" (not sure of what their official name is yet) are pleasantly scattered on many of the roads all around Boquete. We see them in white, yellow and pink. On one of our walks, we saw these and they were bigger than the normal ones we'd noticed before. Randy said that they looked like the flora that the munchkins danced amongst in the Wizard of Oz. Plants and flowers here look like they are constantly fed on Miracle Grow x 10 but it's the daily rainfall "bajareque" and volcanic soil that nourish everything so perfectly.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Our home in Boquete

We are staying at the beautiful and serene Boquete Garden Inn for at least the next month. Everyone is so kind and helpful though the day after we arrived their internet connection went down. Apparently, the wires got cut by mistake or something....our fingers are crossed that it will come back up soon. One thing we can certainly say for the Panamanian people is that they are so friendly and kind and love to smile. That works well for Randy and me as we're big smilers too.

We went on a long walk yesterday and saw a lot of areas of the Boquete that we hadn't yet had a chance to see. We also were fortunate enough to see a toucan! Talk about brilliant coloring! Here is a picture of it:
We rented a car today and will spend the next few days in Volcan, the city on the other side of the volcano. We have heard that it is even more beautiful than Boquete (how is that possible?) so we are going to see for ourselves. We'll post again in a few days with a full report.