Casa de Montaña

Boquete is not immune from the viruses and flu bugs running around the world and I am not immune to them, either. For the past week many of us, including myself, have been stricken with a deep, painful chest cold. Boring, I know. But it gives me a little down time to write.

Today I want to introduce you to two of the newest hoteliers in town, Terry and Manzar. As a team, these former-Minneapolitans (whew!) migrated to our little burg to fulfill a lifelong dream of theirs: to build and operate a luxurious bed and breakfast. So they made trip after trip down here, found a plot of land close to town and began building. I’m not going to tell you their whole story, as you can read it for yourself on their own web site, but they’ve given the enterprise the lovely name of Casa de Montaña.

John and I have become good friends with “the boys” and I’ve been documenting their building progress. In addition, we are lucky enough to be included in some of their social get togethers. They had their first potluck recently and I snapped a few photos from that event and I hope to grab a few shots this week as we head over there for Thanksgiving. Construction photos are first followed by the “afters” taken at their recent potluck.

The exterior of house, seen from Calle Central in Boquete.

The exterior of house, seen from Calle Central in Boquete.

Meet Terry, one of two partners in Casa de Montaña. He is in the outdoor main patio, which will eventually contain a big screen tv  over the fireplace.

Meet Terry, one of two partners in Casa de Montaña. He is in the outdoor main patio, which will eventually contain a big screen tv over the fireplace.

The kitchen is getting its appliances in.

The kitchen is getting its appliances in.

I'm loving the colors choices in this home!

I’m loving the colors choices in this home!

My favorite part of the home: the upstairs bar and relaxation lounge. Wait 'til you see the "after" shots!

My favorite part of the home: the upstairs bar and relaxation lounge. Wait ’til you see the “after” shots!

View from behind the upstairs bar. The relaxation area is completely covered, yet it emits light and sunshine.

View from behind the upstairs bar. The relaxation area is completely covered, yet it emits light and sunshine.

Okay, here are the “after” shots, taken at the recent potluck. I took them with my new Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 tablet, so I’m not real good yet with its camera technology:

This is the view from one of my favorite guest rooms. If the cloud cover lifted, the mountain on which I live would be revealed.

This is the view from one of my favorite guest rooms. If the cloud cover lifted, the mountain on which I live would be revealed.

Another view, looking straight out from the same balcony.

Another view, looking straight out from the same balcony.

The entryway is a warm greeting for all guests.

The entryway is a warm greeting for all guests.

Here is one of the downstairs guest rooms.

Here is one of the downstairs guest rooms.

The outdoor patio is now furnished with both furniture and guests!

The outdoor patio is now furnished with both furniture and guests!

Here's a view from the other angle , showing the seating area in front of the fireplace.

Here’s a view from the other angle , showing the seating area in front of the fireplace.

Remember the kitchen shot, above, waiting for its appliances? Look at it now, serving up a potluck dinner!

Remember the kitchen shot, above, waiting for its appliances? Look at it now, serving up a potluck dinner!

Here is the upstairs bar area, finished. Again, this is my favorite place in the home.

Here is the upstairs bar area, finished. Again, this is my favorite place in the home.

I cannot wait to enjoy this fireplace!

I cannot wait to enjoy this fireplace!

If you’ve got family coming for the holidays, or if you’re planning a trip to Boquete and want the experience of a lovely “home living” arrangement, Casa de Montañas B & B is a great choice!

Posted in Entertainment, Local Happenings, Lodging, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

3rd Leg of Our Trip: El Valle

I’m going to finish off our trip we took last year when we visited Las Lajas, Coronado and El Valle. John and I have travelled quite a bit since then, but not in Panama. Since this blog is about Panama, I’m keep my travelogues to trips taken in country.

From Coronado, we got on the Pan Am Hwy and drove just a little ways west to the turnoff to El Valle. It’s well marked, so we didn’t overshoot it, which is what we did in trying to get to Las Lajas for the first time. That’s a whole other Oprah and involved furrowed brows, tears and threats.

The road to El Valle is charming, twisting and turning all the way up to the town. I’m going to copy some facts about the town from Wikepedia here. All live links are courtesy of Wikepedia:

El Valle de Antón, generally called El Valle, or Anton’s Valley in English, is a town of 4,500 in the Coclé province of Panama.

First view of El Valle from the road as it drops into the valley of the volcano.

First view of El Valle from the road as it drops into the valley of the volcano.

The town is located in the flat wide caldera of the 6 km wide El Valle volcano that is inactive; there is evidence that it erupted as recently as about 300,000 years ago[2] Because of its elevation (600 m), it is cooler than the Panamanian lowlands.[3]Natural attractions near El Valle include the Chorro El Macho waterfall, Las Mozas waterfall, the “square” trees behind Hotel Campestre, and a group of small thermal pools (which consist of three cement pools of mineralized water that varies in color depending on the specific minerals present at a given moment).[4] The area around the town is also known for being one of the last habitats of the critically endangered Panamanian golden frog.[3] Some of the forests around the town are protected areas.[

Panamanian Golden Frog. I didn't see any.

Panamanian Golden Frog. I didn’t see any, reaffirming their critically endangered status.

El Valle has one main road, called Avenida Central or Calle Central, which runs east–west across the town.[5] (We drove all around and especially made sure we saw “Calle de los Millonarios”!

A map of town. The arrow in the lower right shows the way in. The large circle is where we stayed.

A map of town. The arrow in the lower right shows the way in. The large circle is where we stayed.

Yup, downtown. This is it. We're beginning to believe what others said about the place: there's not much to do if you live here.

Yup, downtown. This is it. We’re beginning to believe what others said about the place: there’s not much to do if you live here.

A main landmark is the town’s public market, which is open seven days a week, although it is sometimes referred to as El Valle’s Sunday Market.[6]

The street view of El Valle's market.

The street view of El Valle’s market.

This is a typical stall in the mercado. Also, a veggie and fruit stand in one corner. Sorry to say, but it was a little underwhelming. And we were there on a Sunday!

This is a typical stall in the mercado. Also, a veggie and fruit stand in one corner. Sorry to say, but it was a little underwhelming. And we were there on a Sunday!

El Valle has a very small historical and geologicalmuseum, as well as a small zoo (El Nispero, named after a type of tree), a small serpentarium, and an orchid conservation center, calledAPROVACA, which displays over 100 native local orchid species.[7]

Some of the people who own properties in the heart of El Valle are wealthy people from Panama City who use the area as their vacation or weekend home.[8] Popular activities in the area include cycling, hiking, horseback riding, and birdwatching.[8] El Valle is home to around 500 species of birds.

The town is about 25 km off the Interamerican Highway by a two-lane road. The road is generally in good condition, with a few potholes that are repaired regularly. Buses to Panama City are frequent and take approximately 2.5 hours. To reach other locations in Panama, it is generally necessary to take a bus to San Carlos and transfer there.

(end of Wikepedia narrative)

After we drove around town just to get our bearings, we followed our map (see above) to our hotel. We’d heard from others who had visited El Valle that Los Mandarinos Hotel was the best place to stay, so John booked us a room. Needless to say, it was way more than we needed. The Italian-inspired hotel was lovely with multiple buildings scattered throughout the large grounds. Swimming pools, gorgeous views, a so-so Irish Pub on the grounds. Each building housed roughly four to six rooms. Here are some pics:

Our room is on the second floor. See the circular stone area? It is our shower!

Our room is on the second floor. See the circular stone area? It is our shower!


Our living room.

Our living room.


...and the bedroom. Quite large, with a balcony outside the double doors.

…and the bedroom. Quite large, with a balcony outside the double doors. 

Remember in one of the previous photos I said where our shower was? Here’s the inside shot of it:

It felt like I was showering in a cave!

It felt like I was showering in a cave!

On property located adjacent to Los Mandarinos is a FAH-bulous French Restaurant located in a boutique hotel called Casa de Lourdes. Antiques, incredibly laid out, gorgeous accessories, wonderful food. I could have lived there! Here are pics:

Casa de Lourdes Exterior

Casa de Lourdes Exterior

The canopy is over the entrance and the restaurant is on the ground floor in the back:

We had a wonderful dinner here and sat at the table with the green tablecloth.

We had a wonderful dinner here and sat at the table with the green tablecloth.

If one were to walk outside of the restaurant towards the pool and looked back at the restaurant, this is the view:

Dramatic curtains frame the view to the pool.

Dramatic curtains frame the view to the pool.

As we walked around the restaurant during the day and then ate there at night, I can tell you how different it looks! With candle light, chandeliers, patio lights and pool lights it’s a completely different view. As I gazed around me with a particular light in my eyes, John said “Uh oh, I’m in trouble aren’t I? This is your ‘I think I’m going to change my whole style of decorating’ look. Puh-leeze don’t tell me you’re going to go out and buy a houseful of furniture!”

No, dear, I’m not. Been there, done that. We live in Panama to “live lightly upon this earth”. That means we think very carefully about each and every thing we buy now. It’s just one more thing to pack when we next move.

This was the last leg of our LasLajaCoronadoElValle trip. We can now say we’ve been to El Valle, we’ve checked it out as a potential place to live some day and for us, we’ve placed it in the “No way, Jose” column. It’s gorgeous, but it is waaaaay too quiet for my tastes. Not large enough and not enough going on. Plus, if either of us had a medical emergency getting down that twisting, winding road to the Pan Am Hwy would have been a major obstacle.

We are happy we live in Boquete, where everything we need is within our grasp. Hope you enjoyed this little travelogue, and we’ll speak again soon!

Posted in El Valle, Retire in Boquete, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

De-Dimpling And Bus Rides

I’m going to do something I’ve never done on this blog before: I’m writing TWO DAYS IN A ROW! I know, I know, shocking. Deal with it.

Our car has been in the repair shop since Sunday. This is Thursday. We are having the dimples in the car “de-dimpleized” after someone backed into my driver’s door while I was in the library last Friday. Hit and run. No note. sigh…..So, John and I decided this was the time to take care of that door and replace the back bumper that had twin “bashes” in them from previous, um, driving issues.

Yes, I realize half the town will no longer be able to say “There go the Coles, I know their white X-Trail by the back bumper”. We will now be hiding in plain sight. A white X-Trail is one of the most common cars you will see in this part of the world.

The X-Trail is equivalent to the Nissan Pathfinder in the U.S.

The X-Trail is equivalent to the Nissan Pathfinder in the U.S.

While this photo is what our X-Trail looked like when it was new 8 years ago, I’m hoping it might reach some of it’s former glory after our repairman, Hoffman, gets finished with it.

We have never had work done by this gentleman, Hoffman. He seems like a nice enough guy. We were told by those “in the know” that he’s okay, his prices are low enough. If you want a superb paint job, go to David and pay twice the price.

Since “Dimple” is an 8-year-old workhorse with 210,000 kilometers on it, we decided to keep the repair work local. We went with Hoffman.

Supposedly it was to be done on Tuesday afternoon. Late Tuesday we get a call from Hoffman, saying he’s having trouble matching the paint. Turns out this car was repainted before we bought it, so he had to spend time discovering THAT fact to figure out why the formula for a white Nissan X-Trail wasn’t matching the rest of the car.  Tuesday evening he received the correct formula and began painting Wednesday. Then some rains hit. By last night, the paint wasn’t dry so hopefully it will be done today.

In the meantime, John and I have been hoofing it all over town. Cabs have been such a help, but yesterday afternoon, when the big rain hit I was finishing up a 3-hour gym workout at Valle Escondido. I had been promised a pick up and ride home by hubby in the newly painted car. Lo and behold (this is Panama, after all) when I got the call from John that the car was not ready, I had to find my own way home.

I tried calling a cab, but with the rain and the time of day (5:30 pm — EVERYone was heading home from work), every taxi was busy. Sooooo, me and my umbrella walked from Valle Escondido in the rain, into town where the city buses park, waiting to get filled up before they head out on their runs.

In case you don’t know, most main roads here all run in large loops that begin in town and end up back in town. John and I live on the Arco Iris loop, running north of town through the areas known as Los Naranjos, Lino, Alto Lino, Alto Boquete, “that part across the river past The Rock”, etc.

Now I want you to know something. I’ve ridden the city buses here many, many times, but I’ve never written about them. Until now.

I’ll give you a brief lesson:

In case you’re thinking the buses look like this:

City buses in Boquete do NOT look like this!

City buses in Boquete do NOT look like this!

…think again.

On the other end of the Spectrum, if your image of bus travel in Central or South America is like this:

This is a bit too crowded for me!

This is a bit too crowded for me!

…once more, think again!

The truth is, the city buses here are sort of large, mini vans. Some of them are nice and new, while others — well — they could use a little sprucing up. ALL of them leave the station when they are full. I was unable to take a picture of the one I was on as I didn’t have my camera with me, so I found this image on the web that definitely has the feeling of every bus I’ve ever taken in Boquete:

Yup, this is what it's like.

Yup, this is what it’s like.

Somehow I find myself in the back row, stuffed into the corner, feet propped up on the wheel hub, backpack on my lap/chest. Before we took off on our route, I was able to count 17 heads on our bus and I was the only woman, let alone the only expat.

As we traversed up the road out of town, I also noticed we left the rain behind in downtown. That’s what I love about this area: with 13 different micro-climates, you never know when or where it could be dry or wet. I love the saying here: “Don’t like the weather? Cross the street.”

As we approached my stop, I realized only one person had gotten off the bus. It was still packed. There I was, stuffed into the back, with roughly 7 men between me and the exit. Oh boy, all these men were going to have to exit the mini-van to make room for me to get off the bus. There were lots of “permiso” and “lo siento” phrases uttered by me as I struggled with my overloaded back pack, wet umbrella and tired body to work my way towards the exit.  One man wanted to just turn his legs to the side for me to climb over him — he, too, was loaded down with grocery bags from Romero’s and really didn’t want to have to move. One simple phrase “no puedo hacer” from me got him up and moving out the door ahead of me.

When I finally was able to crab-crawl out the door, I decided to make a joke of it. When my feet hit the pavement, I dropped my backpack and umbrella, raised my hands like an Olympic gymnast finishing a routine and “sticking it”, with arms raised overhead:

I felt sorta like this!

I felt sorta like this!

I yelled “Diez!!” and looked around for the laughter.

I was met with silence and stares.

I picked up my backpack, umbrella and slightly bruised ego and began the climb up the mountain to my home.


Posted in General, Retire in Boquete, Transportation in Boquete, Travel | 8 Comments

Next Stop: Coronado

After we left Las Lajas, we drove through some beautiful country heading east to the busy beach town of Coronado. Many expats have — “wait!”, you say? “What the heck is going on – you haven’t posted in over a year!!! Your last post was September of 2012! If you think you can sneak a post in on us exactly one year later and not have us catch it, you’re sorely mistaken!!”

You’re right, it HAS been one whole year. I can account for my absence. I’m not making excuses, just providing reasons. And here’s why:

1)  I spent last Christmas in Park City, Utah and 6 weeks in Europe this past Spring
2)  I am a lazy wench and have been having too much fun to write anything
3)  I have dropped everything to produce a body of art of which I’m just beginning to               be proud
4)  I have held two art shows featuring my work and also entered Chiriqui’s first-ever
Juried Art Show in which I won 1st Place Amateur
5)  I learned how to watch any TV program I want on my computer and have been
holed up with Dexter, Justified, The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Banshee,
Orange Is The New Black, House of Lies, Hannibal, ad infinitum
6)  I have been abducted by aliens and probed and prodded mercilessly
7)   I lost my downtown art studio and had to re-locate it to the house
8)   I’ve been serving as President of Boquete Artworks and have been volunteering
as the Graphic Artist for numerous local charities and organizations
9)   I’ve been focussing on my health, working out 9 hours per week and cutting
out lots of food that is bad for me. I’ve dropped 20 pounds.
10)  I’ve held 4 Encaustic Art workshops in my new studio, each one needing publicity, preparation and follow up.

Nine of the above 10 reasons are true. It is your job to decide which one is false. I gotta keep you all one your toes, you know!

All that being said, I have no idea when my next post will be. I’m done making excuses, life is what it is and blogs are what they are.

On to Coronado:

John and I spent 2 days in this popular beachside community. Loads of expats live here as there are numerous golf courses dotting the beachside up and down this particular part of Panama’s coastline. Commerce has moved in to accommodate the population and loads of upper class Panamanians have gorgeous homes along “Millionaire’s Row” along the beach. But here’s the deal: it’s frickin’ hot. Wa-a-a-a-a-y too hot for this little greenhouse orchid. I need the cool, refreshing air of Boquete, thank you very much!

We found the Coronado Golf and Beach Resort in due time after getting lost, of course. Check in was easy and fast and we found our room easily enough. We were in the 2-story section of the resort, which is reserved for hotel guests. Other living areas on the resort include a village of villas and residential condominium tower. Here are pics of our room, which I loved, especially after the spartan surroundings of Las Lajas:

Living areas are comfy and spacious. Check out the TV stand -- it swivels to face the bed!

Living areas are comfy and spacious. Check out the TV stand — it swivels to face the bed!

The bed area has its own alcove

The bed area has its own alcove

Bathrooms are nicely appointed and meet with the approval of this snooty chick!

Bathrooms are nicely appointed and meet with the approval of this snooty chick!

Once we checked out the rooms, swiveled the TV around and jumped on the sofa beds in the living room, we went out to explore the grounds. There’s a nice looking golf course (we didn’t get to play), an okay restaurant in which we ate the whole time we were there (the “good” restaurant was under renovations) and a large pool which, frankly, has some deferred maintenance. Here are pics of the exterior:

Exterior of the Hotel

Exterior of the Hotel

Aerial view of the resort and golf course from the condo tower. This is from their web site.

Aerial view of the resort and golf course from the condo tower. This is from their web site.

Lovely looking course. Wish we'd played it.

Lovely looking course. Wish we’d played it.

Photo of the pool from their web site

Photo of the pool — this photo is from their web site

This is my photo. Even with the deferred maintenance, the cool thing is lunch can be served poolside.

This is my photo. Even with the deferred maintenance, the cool thing is lunch can be served poolside.

John enjoys the pool. Better get some sunscreen on that head, don'tcha think?

John enjoys the pool. Better get some sunscreen on that head, don’tcha think?

We never did make it to the beach. I understand there is a courtesy shuttle which takes you there and picks you up, but after Las Lajas, we were ‘beached out’. We never discovered anything to do at night, so each evening after dinner we retired to our rooms to jump on the sofa beds in the living room some more. That, and watch TV.

After two days, we were ready to hit the road and tour El Valle.

Who knows when I’ll post that, eh?

Posted in General, Retire in Boquete, Travel | 4 Comments

Las Lajas

You know, I’ve been laying awake a couple of nights, wondering why I’ve been resisting writing this blog. My last entry was 3 months ago, and I’m shocked that much time has passed. I’m not going to apologize; I’ve done that before. I’m not going to make excuses, as we all know “excuses are like assholes; everybody’s got one”. (sorry for you profane-challenged readers! That quote is not original to me!). But I do have reasons. Part of what kept me laying awake at night was finding a way to wrap those reasons in witty, thoughtful prose that would justify my absence in the blogosphere.

But it all boils down to just one thing: I’ve been busy! Life is busy here. I wake up at 5:30 am and go to bed ultra tired at 9 or 10 pm. As my favorite L.A. morning radio jocks, Mark and Brian, (now retired, themselves) used to say “but it’s a good kind of tired”. It’s a wonderful kind of tired. Because everything I do here that makes me tired is of my own choosing. My freedom to be bored to death or ultra busy is limitless (health issues notwithstanding…of course…).

So enough of the absence bullshit. It is what it is.

For the next couple of semi-brief posts, I’m going to show you some travel pics. Hubby and I took a week to check out three areas of Panama we’ve been wanting to see. We moved in an easterly direction as we voyaged to Las Lajas, Coronado, and El Valle.

First stop: Las Lajas Beach Resort. A Pacific-side beach resort in a tiny little coastal town about a two hour drive from Boquete and due east of David. A couple of guys who own a pizza shop in Northern California built a two-story hotel on a section of beach that is flat, walkable and endless. This is really the only visitable (for a gringo like me) habitation in this town. Here’s a pic:

Las Lajas Hotel viewed from the edge of the beach.

The Bar and Restaurant is the lower right-hand portion of the building. The food was pretty darn good and the service was excellent. Don’t like the salty ocean? Enjoy the pool. Here’s another shot of the rest of the hotel:

The left hand side of the hotel, showing rooms in the single-story section of the property.

All of that is extremely secondary, though, to the real reason we came here:

Toes on the Beach

Vegetation time. Sit and do nothing time. Have this be my view for two days. If I looked left, this is what I saw:

Endless, endless beach to the left.

The same thing, looking to the right towards David.

Yup, my friends, this is what I came for. To do nothing but stare and be hypnotized by the endless waves, crashing to the sand. My biggest effort of the morning was to walk back to our hotel room to retrieve my book for some serious guilty-pleasure reading:

“Will someone please peel me some grapes?”

The interior of the hotel is not much to speak of . I didn’t take any shots because, quite frankly, it didn’t impress me. Suffice it to say, the rooms are okay, they’re fine. They’re clean and we weren’t there for the rooms anyway. Our room had two doubles and a twin. You can tell the rooms were built to accomodate families. In addition, a huge plastic painted map of the world hung across the room from us, so I stared at that in the morning as I was waking up, re-familiarizing myself with my place in the world.

I meandered outside, drawn back to the beach, this time with camera in hand. Here are a few shots I grabbed:

A blue ocean that has NOT been photoshopped.

I never saw a morning such as this

We begin a morning stroll up the beach.

The rest of that day was pretty much like the first. We rented a couple of beach mats for $5 each, but without fins, it’s pretty hard to generate enough speed to catch any waves. After that effort, it was time for a nap and dinner. Like I said, this was two days of vegetating!

The next morning, I caught this shot from the hotel looking out at the beach. When we say the hotel is right on the beach, it’s RIGHT ON THE BEACH!

Saying goodbye.

So, we said our goodbyes to Las Lajas and headed four hours east to Coronado. That will be the next post. Which will be much sooner than the time from the last one, I assure you!

Until then, safe travels!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Ice Machine and Snooty and Envy!

Dinner at a friend’s gorgeously appointed home last night got me to thinking of  the differences in the way my friend lives vs. the way John and I live.

When John and I decided to move to Boquete, we had a decision to make about lifestyles. The way I see it, when one is retired there are 3 lifestyles one can enjoy:

1.  Live Big and Travel Big. You own a large, well-appointed home and you travel much of the year. In other words, you’ve got bucks.

2.  Live Big and Travel Small. All your money is in the large, elegant home but you go nowhere. You have lots of friends over for potlucks and card games.

3.  Live Small and Travel Big. You have a modest home or apartment and travel big. You’ve invested in some sturdy luggage.

I don’t know about you, but based upon our budgets, Choice #1 was not an option. When hubby has been a school teacher and baseball scout and I’ve been in marketing communications at a golf course — not a high paying industry!, your retirement funds have a limit. (By the way, Choice #1 is the way my friend lives. Gorgeous, large home in the hills and they travel 3 to 6 months of the year… sigh….lucky them….)

So, we focussed our life based upon choices #2 or 3. Did we want to buy or build a large and lovely home, the envy of our neighbors and friends, yet not have enough income left over to finance trips to England to see the grandkids or back to California to see our daughter and my mom? Something like this?:

“C’mon over for dinner tonight! I can afford bread dipped in water!”

Or,  were we going to live small, in something that does not cost much but we get our passport stamped a lot? I was worried it was going to be in something like this:

“Yes, we’re the corner unit on the bottom. Watch for the falling car tires, though!”

We chose Option #3, and we settled for something in the middle. We’ve lived in a condo for the past 16 months (and yes, it IS the corner unit on the bottom) and it is much nicer than the picture above. It is two bedrooms, 2 baths and about half the size of the home we left in California. We do not have granite countertops or a (–get this –) under-counter-dedicated-ice-machine for your beverages which I thoroughly enjoyed at my friend’s home last night.

This morning as I was bitching about the fact we have six plastic ice cube trays that you have to manually twist and drop the cubes into a plastic box (last night’s ice machine was still calling to me), John pointed out: “Hey, at least we have indoor plumbing and you’re not walking on a dirt floor.”

What??? — I’m thinking to myself. Here’s what the voice in my head I’ve named “Snooty” starts saying to me: “Excuse me, but has THAT now become my baseline for gratitude? I have indoor plumbing and I’m not on a dirt floor???? My baseline used to be w-a-a-a-y higher than that!”

“Oh, quitcherbellyachin’, Snooty!” says the another voice named Common Sense. “You know the story’s not over until the story’s over. Many people are envious of the lifestyle you lead, even IF you’re in a tiny, furnished apartment.”

“Ya, but, did you SEE the double walk-in shower in that place last night?” says Envy. “Did you SEE the outdoor privacy garden with another shower? Did you see the view all the way to the Pacific Ocean? She somehow got MY life, the life I was supposed to have.”

“I agree with Common Sense,” sez another voice named Recovery. “You need to make a gratitude list! Your stinkin’ thinkin’ is causing you to forget you’re going to Spain, England, Ecuador, California and Utah this year.”

“Yes, and while you’re gone, you don’t have to worry about anything in the condo, because you can just close the door, turn the key and everything is safe,” says Common Sense. “This is the life you and John chose. Now go have a cup of gorgeous Boquete coffee and enjoy your canyon view.”

Recovery finishes off the diatribe in my head by saying: “And while you’re sitting there, why don’t you try writing about this? Share what’s bothering your heart today. It’ll take the power out of it.”

So that’s where I am right now, folks. You now know what a war zone it can be in my head at times. I am grateful for my life. I am loving my life and I am lucky for my life today.

Even if Snooty and Envy can be bitchy at times…….

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lucero is Cielo Paraiso’s New Paradise!

Last year, I think it was early July, I played Cielo Paraiso (since renamed “Lucero”).
I wrote about it, and none too affectionately. I won’t repeat what I wrote, as you can click on the above link and read it for yourself.

But I was invited to play with lots of other women by the resident golf pro, Elizabeth Archer. She hosted a “Ladies Day” for us all, wanting to show us the improvements that have been made at this newly re-named course “Lucero”.

The day was a gorgeous one. Mid-May, before the rainy  season could decided if it was starting or not. Four of us piled in my POSSE (Piece Of Shit Sucky Extrail) and we hauled up the backside of the Jaramillo Mountains, dodging the potholes and shrieking in laughter as we went.

We caught up with the other car of four women coming from the Los Molinos/Montañas de Caldera end of things. It was hilarious….we tried to pass the car in front driven by my friend Susan Kelly. She kept veering left and we thought she was trying to block us. We hysterically screamed “Game on, bee-yatch!” and continued to play dodge ’em car with her, thinking she was playing with us, as well. It turned out she had no idea  we were even behind her, and her “veering left” was her trying to dodge her own potholes!

Anyway, we all arrived safely (despite my best efforts to the contrary) and were waived past the Pro Shop, not stopping to pay. We followed an escort in a golf cart down to the first hole. Which is wa-a-a-ay far away from the current Pro Shop. Plans are to turn the Pro Shop into a Guardhouse. The First Tee, next to tennis courts, will be joined by a hotel, new Pro Shop and parking lot. Because I didn’t stop by the Pro Shop to pay, I still don’t know if they accept credit cards now or not. (I’m assuming by now, you’ve read the other story!)

The thing about Cielo Parai……er, sorry! …. Lucero is that no matter what hole you are on, you’ve got some gorgeous views. All the way to the Pacific. You’re either looking at a broad expanse over to the Boca Chica area, or you’re looking west towards Las Olas. Either way, it’s tough to concentrate on golf when the views are just so outstanding. Here’s an example of a friend teeing off. Besides looking at her great form notice the great views out beyond. This is what we saw all day long:

She’s got “great form”. Not only that, she looks good hitting the ball….yuck yuck…

Elizabeth got us going on the first hole. Because we were playing with some lady golfers that, um, prefer to play a scramble (keeping up is their main goal for the day), I asked if I could play my own ball. I kind of wanted to play the course the same way I played it last July. Elizabeth responded: “Of course, Robyn. Just be aware that we are in the process of moving all the ladies tees forward, in an effort to make the course more ‘lady friendly’ “.

Ooooh, put a point in the “plus” column! I always like it when I hear “lady friendly”. It means I have a chance (slight as it is) to getting on the green in regulation. Which I couldn’t do on most of the holes last year.

Moving the ladies tees forward was an understatement. Many of the tees I played made the hole little more than a chip and a putt. Because of arroyos splitting the tee boxes from some fairways or approaches on some of the Par 3s, they HAD to put the new ladies tees really close to the green in order to put it on the green side of the arroyo AND keep it out of the way of the permanent tee box they’re building.

As I played the front nine, I was taking notes (I heard through the golf grapevine that ownership was still smarting from my review last year and were hoping I would have a more favorable impression this time around, hint…hint…). I want to be completely fair and unbiased and was frankly hoping to come out and play when no one knew I was on the course. But that didn’t quite work out.

Anywho, so I’m taking notes and pictures, trying to convey what I saw. The course is in great shape, especially since they are recovering from a fungus that grabbed their greens in March. This is any golf course owner’s nightmare. A fungus can jump up on you overnight and destroy weeks of hard work and will take even more weeks and more work from which to recover. But, I’m pleased to say, overall the greens looked great.

They’ve re-shaped some of the holes, permanently cut down some rough that was hampering play and are really paying attention to putting more amenities on the course. I’m super pleased to report they now have bathrooms on the course! This was our first hint that bathrooms were on the course. I really really hoped they weren’t lying to us:

All I can say is, there BETTER be bathrooms over there to the left!

And, fortunately, there were! Lovely, lovely bathrooms!
Another point in the “plus” column!

Loving it! Bathrooms!

Okay now, let’s stop for just a moment. I know most of the people reading this are guys. By now you’re squirming as if you got trapped into watching a chick flick when you really wanted to watch a hockey game. I’m asking for some empathy here. Guys, we all know what kind of equipment you have. We all know how easy it is for you to stand against a tree and “let ‘er fly”. Yeah, yeah, we get it. And we JUST DO NOT HAVE THAT EQUIPMENT. We are unable to complete that task in as efficient and as quick a manner as you. We are terrified of exposed body parts coming into close contact with grasses, stickly bushes and other things that go bump in the night. We are 100% certain that when our precious little derrieres are bared for the task, a MILLION bugs are communicating the GPS coordinates to a MILLION OTHER bugs, telling them lunch is ready.

Nope, not having it. And, when a facility won’t provide a place for us to do it, we get bitchy. And mean. And sulky. (“Don’t make me angry….you won’t like me when I’m angry….”)

So, yeah, it’s a big deal to me that Lucero put in some bathrooms. It makes me rest easier, knowing there’s relief up ahead. I relax, I play a better game. I love life more, I love my husband more! I go home, feeling great and before you know it, my husband is the beneficiary of Lucero putting in some bathrooms! It’s a “win-win”. But I digress….

If I remember correctly the first set of bathrooms are after the 4th hole (perfect placement, if you ask me) and in addition, a halfway house is at a juncture of about 3 holes. Don’t ask me which ones, but here’s a picture of it:

Halfway House.

In the near future, all electrical will be in place and this little spot with the great big views will serve as a great place to grab a beer and something to eat on the go. But today, a superb lunch was laid out for all of us. I didn’t get pictures of the food, but I’ve got photos of all the ladies socializing. I then realized I don’t have permission from them to be put on a blog, so I’ll just post this one of my friend, Susan Kelly. We were getting ready to head back out to the links and she spotted me with my camera pointing in her direction:

The Back Nine awaits!

As we played the back nine, I had a chance to chat with Elizabeth. I still wanted to get pricing from her, as I wasn’t too happy with pricing I saw a year ago. As we chatted, I marvelled in the continuing non-stop gorgeous panoramas:

Hard to focus on golf when these are the vistas….

The rates at Lucero are $75 (including cart) in the dry season and $65 in the wet season. While I still think these are a bit high, I’m a little more appeased because of not only the better course conditions, the added bathrooms and the Halfway House, but also because a fully loaded beverage cart travelled non-stop around that course that day. When you’ve got these types of amenities, the sticker shock can be diminished. In addition, the per-round fees are diminished with a new player package that is basically 10 rounds for $55 per round plus tax. All good news for the wallet, which is good news for golfers.

If you are travelling to Boquete or its surroundings, and you’re a golfer, you definitely want to include a trip to Lucero in your plans. It has come a long way, baby, from the place it was just a short year ago!

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Jubilado Cards

John and I just completed one of the primary tasks of those who wish to live here and enjoy the financial discounts offered by Panama to retirees: the Jubilado Card.

I may be naming this card wrong; I may not get the names of the departments right. You’ll just have to bear with me as I make no claim to journalistic accuracy. Hell, I’m no reporter, just an average gal going along for the ride.

But this was a huge accomplishment and one that most expats go through. Some people get this handled before they even land here permanently. Others begin it right away. Us? Well….it took us a little longer. We didn’t feel the need to get the card right away. Don’t know why. Maybe it was because we already receive the “jubilado discounts” wherever we go without the card. (god, do we look that old?)

Either way, we dragged our feet and we took our time finding our attorney. Finally, last May we were meeting with Eric Quintero in Alto, Boquete. Great guy, active in the Boquete life, with two kids in local colleges. Once in his office we discovered we were missing a document. So, what else is new?

Yeah, just because the Panamanian consulate in San Diego (the office that provides all the “apostiles” for all the necessary documents for our U.S. geographic area) told us our list was complete and we were ready to file in Panama, does NOT mean they were correct. Once again, the left hand is not communicating with the right hand. Bottom line, we waited a few months until we were scheduled to travel back to California to get that one last eensy, teensy document stamped, signed and delivered.

Once we put everything into our lawyer’s hands last September (remember, we landed here in February a year ago), he was ready to ship it to Panama City. He warned us it could be up to 6 months to one year for the cards to be ready, although four months is not unheard of. He told us if he didn’t hear anything at the four-month-mark, he would call the department in charge in Panama City.

Sure enough, right at the four months’ time, Eric called and asked the status of our package. He was told the package was approved and ready for pick up after one month’s time! Unheard of. And why no one called him to tell him? (Duh, it’s Panama! And get this: Eric submitted our package at the same time as another client. Duplicate packages, both complete and ready to submit by Eric’s standards. The other guy’s package was not yet ready and our’s was ready after one month! Go figure….)

Either way, it was now January of this year. John and I decided to wait until we were heading for the states anyway to be in PC to pick up our cards. Eric also advised us to get our Panamanian driver’s licenses the same time, as it would save us a day’s hassle in David. In anticipation of all this, we scheduled 3 days in PC before we headed for the States.

At the recommendation of our friends, we hired a cab driver who is apparently very much “in the know” on how to obtain all of these items. Where to go, which departments to walk into, conversing with the bureaucrats, etc. His name is Luis Arcé, and people! I cannot say enough nice things about him. Speaks English, cares about his customers, knows how to cut through red tape, etc.

There were glitches in our paperwork we never would have sorted through without him. (things like administrators copying our file number incorrectly and then putting the wrong number on all our paperwork!) There were places we had to go we NEVER would have found without him — “Oh, that stamp you need for the driver’s license? Yeah, that’s not here anymore, it’s now located at this location.”. He found it and drove us there.

Other issues: “yeah, your jubilado paperwork would have been ready, but the guy who is going to issue the final stamp just went to lunch. He’ll be back in an hour.” Remember, all of this is in Spanish. If it were left up to us, we’d still be there trying to understand them! But when he told us about the final-stamp-guy going to lunch, he said “Let’s kill the next hour and do the same. I know this great place to eat….all the locals go there.”. So we did.

THEN, when we went to the equivalent of the DMV, they told us we needed a blood test. Luis knew where to take us. When we got back to the DMV, over 40 busdrivers had come in to get their annual updates! We were going to either have to wait out these busdrivers, or come back the next morning to complete the process. Luis knew what to do: he had a chat with the receptionist and before we knew it, we were being hustled past all 40 bus drivers and to the head of the line. AWESOME, people, just awesome!

Okay, I’m not supposed to show this; in fact, just after I took this shot, a security guard came over to me and shook his finger in my face. But here’s a shot of the interior of the DMV. Look closely: all the men in pale blue shirts are the bus drivers who were there for the day. In this shot, I can count nine of them:

This process: getting our jubilado, getting our Panamanian Driver’s licenses took us two days. Without him, we figured it would have taken us four to five days. Worth his weight in gold! Speaking of gold, here is a pic of Luis and John. If you look carefully, John is getting his “gold” out to pay Luis:

Luis Arcé is the man to hire when you have to go to Panama City and do all of this. His rates were fair, and we then later hired him to drive us around as we looked for furniture. And get this: John and I found two chairs we liked. We paid for them, took off for the States and Luis handled the rest for us: getting the chairs and their paperwork delivered to Boquete for us. So he’s a concierge as well. He told us “If you know what you and want where it is located, I can get it for you, take it to Fletes Chevales and get it shipped to you.” Here’s a pic of one of the chairs:

What a guy, eh? The chairs were in Boquete two weeks later when we returned, wrapped carefully, all invoices attached, perfect.

So, the next time you need help in Panama City, call Luis at 6536-1179.

I receive no commission Luis for recommending him and I would never expect to. I just love the guy because he’s honest and extremely hard working. I told him I would write about him and he was thrilled to hear about it. He would love to quit his third job as a bell man at a main hotel and would love to survive on taxi and concierge services for people.

Maybe this little article in this silly little blog will help him do just that.

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A Quick Trip To Gamez Island in the Pacific Ocean

A good friend in Boquete bid on and won a day trip on a yacht in the Pacific Ocean, off of Boca Chica. We were invited to be one of four couples (paying $100 each — hey, I said she was a good friend, not a RICH one) to enjoy this day. We all decided, however, that the day before we would all rendezvous at a favorite hotel of mine, the Boca Chica Plantation and Resort.

The Boca Chica Plantation

I wrote about the Boca Chica Plantation stay I enjoyed last June. Click here to read that post.  And this trip proved no less wonderful. The same view out to the ocean from the infinity pool, with good friends sharing drinks and snacks the afternoon before launch was just loads of fun.

I could just move in.....

Dinner, as usual at the Plantation, was scrumptious. The kitchen offers 4 different entrees, each better than the last. Dessert was a hot chocolate brownie drizzled with chocolate sauce and snuggled in a martini glass with vanilla ice cream.

Early to bed in the luxurious king beds and up early to be on the road by 8:30 am. Although we did take enough time to enjoy the “included in the price” breakfast of fresh fruit, orange juice, coffee and any entree we wanted cooked to order. (I’m privately thinking I’ll just stay here at the Plantation and all of my friends can go on the boat themselves, but hey! I’m a trooper, so I steadily trudged forward, on to the next activity.)

We arrived at Boca Chica’s  boat dock full of trepidation at the ominous clouds that were exhibiting major thunderbolts and lighting strikes. We weren’t particularly looking forward to a day spent inside a rocking boat’s cabin, riding out a storm. And if that were to be the case, I know I’d become intimately acquainted with the boat’s bilge systems.

Fortunately our ship’s captains and new friends, Dottie and Larry Thompson, assured us that we were going in a completely opposite direction and their radar systems showed nothing in that direction. So, fears allayed, we set off.

They own a 50 foot Fleming, one of the better cruising yachts, from what I’ve been told. With 3 levels of seating, no one felt crowded. There was an aft (that’s the tail end, for all you landlubbers!) deck to enjoy, an interior salon, kitchen, two bedrooms, the head (which I prayed I would use for only one purpose), and an upper deck.

We stowed our gear (that’s sailor talk for neatly putting away our stuff…..) and took off for Gamez Island, a roughly 40 minute ride away. Now, when I say 40 minutes, that’s because these cruising yachts are NOT built for speed. It’s not like you can hop off the back of the boat with a water ski strapped to one foot and yell “Hit it!”. Well you can, but not much would happen. These big boys work up a sweat when they’re going 6 knots, or a little over 5 miles.

So we all relaxed, chatted and enjoyed the scenery. We passed by island after island, wondering “hey, that island looks good, what about that one?” “No place to beach it,” replied our Captain. “okay, that one looks good, how about it?” “Nope,” said Dottie, “wait’ll you see Gamez.”

And the wait was worth it. A tiny little island, with a gorgeous swimming beach, a narrow isthmus revealing another beach on the other side. Dueling beaches!

Well, “the boys” of the trip instantly decided it was time to go for a swim after a little horsing around. Some people just NEVER grow up. If you look closely, you can see through the isthmus to another island beyond:

After a couple of hours spent on the beach, the boat’s horn sounded, signaling lunch. A quick swim back to the boat brought us to a feast! Curried chicken salad in pineapple boats, couscous, egg salad, crudité platters (to you unrefined masses, that means raw veggies with dip, heh heh), followed by chocolate brownies. And, of course, whatever we wanted to drink. Our group stuck with margaritas, beers, sodas and waters.

The afternoon made for just chillin’. Everyone became noticeably sleepy, including a couple of our friends: nap or not to nap?

Then, better sense prevailed and instead someone broke out the champagne. Please don’t offer the Captain alcohol while she’s working!

Diane (r) chatting up our captain Dottie (l) on the Captain's Deck.

Needless to say, just a tad bit of fun was had that day. By the time we docked back in Boca Chica, it was 4:30 pm, just in time a the drive back to Boquete and a shower before dinner. What a fun two days!

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My hubby writes, too!

Every now and then, my husband sits down to write his own experiences about life in Panama. He’s pretty good at covering what’s going on from a perspective different from mine, AND he gives me permission to post it here on my blog, as well. So, grab a cup of coffee and have a good read. BTW, any mis-spellings are his fault, not mine!  🙂

For an update on the Coles in Panama. I always want to talk about the culture and the experience here and then get to the family stuff for those who might wonder.
This place is unbelievably social for Panamanians and for gringos. We just had a huge community fundraiser that in the past has raised over $60K. This year their goal was $75K and then they distribute the money out to several organizations that do good work in the community. These include a group that does monthly spaying clinics for local anamals (unreal number of street dogs around here and I think I have talked about that before. Panamanians think about their pets in a much different way than those of you stateside). There is a group that delivers food to the indigent (usually the local indigenous community of Noble Bugle indians). A local service club gets a share for their work and several other groups also collect a much needed check to keep their efforts alive. The fund raiser lasted two days, included a wine tasting, art sale, regular auction and silent auction and patio sale. Tons of volunteers took part in one role or another, including the Coles.
There is an upcoming Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival the first week of March that is largely the product of one man’s tireless efforts. He would get my vote for citizen of the year, if we had such a thing. It too raises money for charity. This week is Carnival. I am not sure what we are celebrating and Boquete has a small role in this one but the neighboring communities go all out. We had two independence celebrations in November (from Columbia and from Spain) that filled the city streets. Christmas is huge down here as well with decorations everywhere.
Then there are the various social gatherings at local restaurants or homes of hosts. This week there is a dinner on Friday night for those who purchased a coupon book of discounts from the local recycling group (a great bargain, I bought two of them) and then a local couple is having a taco night on Saturday night at their house. There are regular groups that meet such as ROMEO for 10-12 of us old guys who have lunch on alternate Fridays. Stands for Retired Old Men Eating Out and, no, I did not create the name.There are a variety of golf dates at Valle Escondido, our local golf and country club and hotel. You get exhausted just thinking about all the things you could do down here. Many burn themselves out in the first year as they over-volunteer for good causes.
Then there is the local hub, the Boquete Community Players, or BCP. They have a meeting place, small theatre, Tuesday morning market for everything edible and wearable, periodic plays and entertainment.  They rent out the facility to other groups as well for a variety of functions, from Yoga to wine tasting and auctions. Rob does their website and we are active in many of their plans (no, no acting). As part of the Tuesday market, there are presentations from time to time for an hour or so in the theatre and I will be there on April 10 to talk about what it was like to have a speaking role in a Brad Pitt movie. Obviously, these folks are easily entertained.
What about us? Well, two things were special  and will take up most of the rest of this note. First, the entire Cole side of the family came south for Christmas. Kit and Mandy were able to stay for a little more than a week and Casey/Tessa and the boys stayed for three weeks. We went to the beach on both the Pacific and the Caribbean, spent time relaxing in various resorts type environments and just enjoyed showing off our new home. I think all were impressed and happy for us and relieved that we were not living in a grass hut with dirt floors……… There was swimming, hiking, zip lining (no, not for me or Casey), snorkeling, as much as we could fit in to the calendar. I was exhausted a the end of it all and told Case that if he wanted to see the old man reach 69, he needed to get the hell out of town……
And the big news…………….Robyn was commissioned by the new library in town to do a painting of some size that would be hung on the wall in the new computer section (about a dozen workstations) on the first floor, directly across the room from the front doors. (more on this in a subsequent post) You walk in and there it is, a 3×7 foot encaustic piece across the room at eye level. She designed it to show the ways we get information, from past to present. She has received some wonderful comments on her work and the library had someone come in and offer to buy it. They explained it was not for sale (all other art in the library has a price on it and can be sold) but was a permanent endowment. They asked for the name of the artist and contact info. We shall see if they follow through. Robyn sold $1000 worth of art at a local sale in December and has created three workshop for locals to attend and “discover how encaustic is done”. She has work that has been ordered by locals and next needs to complete those assignments. Obviously she has had little free time for other things but life will reach a balance eventually and she is sure enjoying this attention at the moment.
A note here about the new library….it is an unreal building for this small community, three stories tall, glass everywhere, designed by a local architect, the pride and joy of the local mayor and a focal point of pride for the community. There are books, computers, periodicals, meeting rooms and the local art group will display the work of a different artist each month. Robyn’s turn is next January. You look at it sometimes and I wonder show they got this done in this small town.
To view some of the pictures of  Robyn’s art work, the new library and other news and notes, I encourage you to go to Robyn’s website,
And finally, when we came here we said we can go “house big and life small” or “house small and life big”. We went with the latter. This year we will travel to the states in March, Equador in May, Spain and the UK in August (have to get my grandkid “fix”) and then back to the states at Christmas time. Possible golf trip to South America in October could make the list as well. Also, we are moving next month about 50 feet. We are going to the larger two bedroom, two bath condo with the same floor plan on the end of the building. We will get more square footage, patio on two sides and more room to live. We still get to lock the door and drive away anytime. We are renting and not buying and we have no intention of buying down here in the near future at least. Want the freedom of renting so we can travel.
That about does it for this one. Hope you enjoy this and hope to write to you again in a few months. Hope all is well with you and yours and that you are being good to yourselves.

Author’s Note: Happy anniversary to us! We have lived here for one year. We landed in David at 5:00 pm on February 16, 2011. I cannot believe it’s been a year. If you think time will drag when you’re retired, think again! It’s been a great year. 

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