Bringing Your Car To Panama

My adventure, which ultimately led to my destination in Panama was a long one. I drove through Central America, stopping at interesting sites (aka beaches) along the way. So needless to say, I arrived in Panama with a car.

Just like all the other countries (the exception being Mexico that has its own peculiarities) I stopped at the Aduanas, or Customs Office. There I was instructed to buy car insurance first and foremost, nothing could be completed without it. Fortunately, there were several offices that sold insurance in the near vicinity for the same price ($15/month 2015) and you could purchase it for up to three months. I would understand later that three months was the limited amount of time a foreign car could be kept in Panama without further trekking into the land of bureaucracy.

Insurance secured I headed back to the Aduanas Office where they of course wanted originals and copies of everything having to with the car. I was pleased that the nice lady selling car insurance has already taken care of said copies*** (listed below), but I must mention I was wary of handing over my car title and passport and being told to, “go wait over there”, but as one does with all things immigration, I smiled and stepped two feet from the window, which was not quite, “over there”, but no need to get technical.

After twiddling my thumbs for what seemed like endless ages, 15 minutes later my name was called. The official handed over my title, passport and told me to sign both copies of the official car “registration” paper. One was mine, one was hers. Next I was instructed to get the car inspected. Logical enough, if only I knew who was suppose to inspect the car. After waving the paper around in several people’s faces I was directed to the gentleman that had on a polo shirt (it does have official insignia) and a lanyard around his neck with identification. Mr. Inspector took my paper, looked at the license plate, matched it to the one on the paper and looked in several windows. Then he scratched his signature and handed me back my “registration”. The car was legal!

The next stop was actual Immigration. I handed over my passport and my car papers (this was on advice of a local and I am guessing it null and voids any question about my departure or return ticket) and they stamped me into Panama. The story is longer, as I had Jack, my faithful 4-legged travel companion with me, but that part of the story is for another day.

Before you can leave the border area you must purchase a fumigation ticket. This is $1 and allows, although you are forced, to drive through the fumigation machine. This is like a giant car wash, big enough for trucks to pass. A word to the wise, remember to put your windows up. Yes, I forgot! Borders always take longer than one would like, but to help speed things up, while you are waiting for the Aduanas Office to deal with your car, go across the street and purchase your fumigation ticket. It only takes a couple of minutes, but it is one less thing to worry about once you are finally legal.

***Copies you need:
2 Copies of your title
2 Copies of your passport (both the front page and the last page)

The Silent Avengers – What To Know In The Jungle

I feel the need, both as victim and human ex-pat guinea pig, to share with everyone some of the silent avengers of Panama. Not talking politics, business or taxes, but those avengers of the wild, which includes my “garden”.

The first and in my mind the most annoying of the avenger species is the biting ant. These tiny avengers may not seem like much at first glance, but just stand near one for a moment and you will realize their minute stature is nothing compared to the bite they inflict. Ants are everywhere. They strut down the sidewalks in Army fashion. They build homes in the dirt, waiting for the unsuspecting bare flesh of a flip flip wearing human. They climb the stalks and branches of various plants, plotting the demise of any human hand that may touch said branch. They also drop from the leaves, branches and fences as if the sky were raining ants and climb about on your shoulders, taking painful bites as they stroll along. What does one do about ants? That is a wonderful question that I would love to hear some comments on. In the meantime, I highly suggest wearing long pants and boots if you plan on walking through my garden or any other undeveloped location. If you see their Army on the sidewalk, stay clear and the rest of the time do as I do. Grin and bear it until I can find running water to rinse their tiny souls away to ant purgatory and help diminish the pain they have inflicted upon me.

Mice are a pain no matter where you live and Panama is no exception as they seem to highly enjoy our tropical weather. They find their way into pantries digging through dry goods that are not theirs. They build nests in unused spaces, slip under door jambs and run along rafters. In Panama most homes are built with not only open floor plans, but open ventilation to enhance the natural breeze and create a flow of fresh air. This also seems to be an invitation to mice, although I guarantee it is not a welcome one. Let me just suffice it to say, they were here first and they aren’t going anywhere. The best thing you can do it mouse proof your house. This means keeping all dry goods in sealed containers to prohibit pilfering. I use the fridge for this purpose, as the mice have not learned to open the door as of this writing. Try to keep floor spaces clear of hiding places. This means doing the laundry more often than I would like (before it piles up on the floor) and moving storage items frequently. I also highly recommend adopting a cat from one of your local neighbors or a rescue group. My cat Cali does more in the rodent department than I could ever expect to accomplish. Below are a list of various rescue organizations. If you know of a group not listed please add a comment with their link and I will update this post as I receive new information.

Slither they do. Snakes love the jungle and well, I hate to break it to you, but Panama is a jungle. Many of the snakes you might encounter are harmless, just looking for the aforementioned mouse, but that does not mean you should play, taunt or otherwise become involved in their lives. There is one snake in particular, the Fer-de-Lance, or el Terciopelo which is a member of the viper family, that is particularly dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. This is the most common form of the viper found in Panama, especially in low land areas and plantations.
To see a short video about this snake check out the link below:
There are actually seven different poisonous species found in Panama, so please just avoid any and all snakes you may find. The best advice against snakes, again, wear boots when walking through undeveloped locations and never stick your hand in a dark crevice, ditch or hole.

So a nuclear bomb goes off, what will still be living? Yes, the cockroach. No silent avenger story can be told without mention of the creepy bug that makes this girl scream like a school girl and cry for the Bygon, Raid or whatever chemical the professionals have designed to kill off these annoying creatures. I must admit, even living three blocks from the ocean with an open house I rarely see my nemesis. They fly, just like in New Orleans, and are just as big, but they just don’t seem to have the population numbers. Thank you Panama! If a nuclear bomb won’t kill them, either will the human race, but once again I must mention my cat Cali. Not only does she keep her place in the family by hunting mice, she also hunts cockroaches. Just another reason to adopt a cat!

Don’t be intimated by this article. We have silent avengers, but they are for the most part just part of the scenery. Life in Panama is not an every day battle against them, just something to be aware of and to consider when making plans to hike, build a house, do laundry or leave out leftovers.

The 8 Wonders Of Papaya – Eating, Drinking and Cooking

Papayas, they grow fast, the die quickly and in the process they grace the people of Central America with their sweet fruit. I don’t know where they came from. A year ago there were no papaya trees in my yard. Today I count thirteen, what on Earth does one do with that much papaya?

One is taller than my house, another one bends precariously around the corner of the first floor and yet another one is skinny like a #2 pencil. Not all papaya trees produce fruit and if my yard is any example not all papaya looks or tastes exactly the same. I have footballs, I have baseballs and I have gourd shaped fruit. Some are sweeter than others, one is red inside while another is orange. Color, race or creed all papayas are created equal in the eyes of the ravenous consumers.

Humans are the obvious and possibly the largest creature that loves papaya, but don’t forgot the rest of nature. Each day the garden birds feast upon the fruit, the woodpeckers stop by to drill a hole or two and hummingbirds flit around the flowers above the fruit. At nighttime the infamous “zorro”, or as we English speakers say, possum, climbs high into the night and sucks out the bottom of the ripe fruit. The iguanas lazily rest upon the long branches waiting to move unnoticed.

Back to the human. I have literally one hundred papayas in various states off ripeness sitting feet from my balcony and before they all land in a gooey mess that attracts ants and flies I am on a daily race to decide what to make with them. Below are 8 of my favorite uses for papaya.

Note: This blog is not a cooking blog, a food blog or a recipe blog, but occasionally food is relevant. Check out 1-8 and click on the links if you want to see the entire recipe.

1) FREEZE YOUR PAPAYA Slice your ripe papaya in half and de-seed. Then scoop out the fresh meat of the fruit, it works best to scoop mouth-sized bites just like you would with a cantaloupe. As you scoop lay your papaya out on a baking sheet. When your down to just the skin chuck that and put your baking sheet in the freezer until your fruit is frozen through. Then place your frozen treats in Ziplock bags. Whalaa…you have papaya ready any day of the year!

2) SWEET TREATS This recipe was originally for mango bread, but after mango season I tried papaya and it came out just as yummy. I also like adapting this recipe to cupcakes, making a sweet bread into a fantastic on the go snack. Don’t change anything, just pour the batter in a cupcake tray (I suggest those fancy non-stick ones, makes clean up completed in a jiffy). Please check out the link below for the entire recipe.

3) PAPAYA SMOOTHIES There is no exact recipe for a smoothie, no matter how many are posted on the internet and the best thing is, there is no right or wrong. For me, de-seed said papaya. Scoop fruit in blender and add water and ice until your smoothie is full of ice frothiness. My husband requires sugar and skips the ice. Sometimes, if we are prepared he likes to add evaporated milk, or even plain milk in a pinch. I am positive there is no going wrong, just taste your creation and add or subtract.

4) PAPAYA COOKIES I love these cookies. They are so simple and yet so tasty. Perfect for a party, breakfast or a sweet snack. Make them any size you desire. A quick note: if your use fresh papaya they come out picture perfect round. If you use papaya that has been in the fridge the dough is harder and they don’t melt as pretty, BUT they still taste just as yummy. Thank you to better recipes for their great contribution to my papaya world. Check out the link for the complete recipe.

5) PAPAYA CHICKEN Before you stick your tongue out hear me out. This is a sweet spin on chicken that will leave your taste buds smiling. Thank you to genius kitchen please check out the link to see the full recipe. You will not regret it. Note: We loved this dish the first night, the papaya wasn’t a great leftover!

6) SWEET DESYUNO This is as easy as it gets. Slice that perfectly ripe papaya in two and de-seed. Grab a spoon and dig in. No dishes to clean and zero cook time.

7) CANDY LAND Thanks to tasty kitchen, we will all need dental work after a sugar high, but man is it worth it!! Highly recommend this treat in moderation. To see instructions on how to make candied papaya click on the link below.

8) CHRISTMAS IN OCTOBER This is one of my favorite papaya recipes. Give the suckers away to grateful friends. Yep, this would be the lazy woman approach to papaya invasion and if you saw how many papayas I have to deal with you too would be Santa.

Rain, Rain, Where Art Thou?

Rain, rain, where art thou? Oh, trust me, I need not ask. I spent fourteen years in New Orleans and four years in Nicaragua. I thought I knew what rain was. Then I moved to Panama.

The rainy season is only part of the year, the guidebook will tell you April through December and they are for the most part right. What they don’t tell you is how much rain. When I think of rain, I think two different things. I think of the afternoon showers in the summer heat of New Orleans and the tropical storms and hurricanes there. What I don’t imagine is six weeks of rain.

Yes, last November (2016) Puerto Armuelles had six weeks of rain. It rained all night, it rained all day and it rained in between. It is only October, but I am getting that rainy feeling. It has now rained basically 24 hours non-stop. No big deal right? Wrong. Although, Panama has a much better infrastructure than many of its Central American neighbors, drainage would not be considered a highlight. Especially when it is not just rain, but actual torrential downpours. I don’t have a way to measure, but I can tell you my yard was flooded at 7am this morning, and since the rain has not stopped, I would guess I am close to swimming pool status. We don’t have a public pool here…maybe I should consider opening one at my house?

So what does one do when it rains? First question. Is the power still on? Today yes, although it has flickered. Second. Do you have water? Seems like a dumb question…my yard is a swimming pool. Strangely enough, lots of water in the sky, the rivers and everywhere but where you want it is the norm. In Panama many of the water filtration plants work from the rivers. When the rivers flood and all the debris and detritus of the world gets pushed into the plants, the water stops flowing. So, six weeks of rain last year equalled six weeks of no fresh water.

Being my first year as a home-owner here I was NOT prepared. Generously the government sent out water trucks. Would have helped if I had a container bigger than a five-gallon bucket for said water. Bottled water is a good idea, but why buy water when it comes out of the sink? The argument I had about the electric plugs downstairs not being at ground level like they are back home…well, after my downstairs flooded knee-deep, I just feel like a moron. While all my neighbors were out digging trenches along the road and I sat reading a book and drinking a cold beer…again, moron comes to mind.

So, now as the second season of rain appears to be upon us I have learned many a thing. How many I have I implemented? Lets just say, my downstairs did not flood yesterday, but I was forced to drink bottled beer. The most important thing I have learned is that, although many things my neighbors do seem odd to someone from the U.S., there are reasons for them all (with the exception of booming stereo speakers) and as a transplant here I would be wise to take a few tips from them. I have also learned that all of my neighbors and friends here are more than happy to explain the reasons why they do strange things and even help me out on occasion.

Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to ask for help and always be prepared!

Gringas & Machetes – Life Taming A Garden

Wack. Wack. Wack.

Ok, this isn’t so bad. I can do this.

As the old proverb says, “Give a man a fish and he will be hungry tomorrow. Teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry.” Here in Panama it rains A LOT. In an attempt to live on a strict budget I decided instead of paying someone to cut my grass, and the never ending plethora of weeds that I call a garden, I would teach myself to use a machete. How hard can swinging a blade through grass possibly be? Ha!

I made it through the garden with only two ant bites and the need to start alternating arms due to burning muscles and newly arriving blisters. Not bad so far. With the garden somewhat under control, I headed for the backyard. Here lives the “vine” of which I am the less than pleased owner of. Not heading the warnings of locals about snakes and other undesirable creatures I began my wacking. I was honing my technique quite successfully, at least in my mind. Wack.

“Oh no, what’s that?” Under my flip flop, yes…highly recommended footwear for climbing around in the jungle swinging a sharp blade, I felt a distinct wiggle…and it was BIG. My first thought, as an ex-New Orleans city dweller…rat!

I jumped, totally forgetting I was swinging a machete high in the air. Out from under the wretched “vine” sputtered, wings flapping, screeching to high heaven,and scaring the living daylights out of me, flew a chicken. Yes, chickens live everywhere. Although I ran from the backyard machete held high, screaming like a little girl, possibly never to return, I am quite sure my neighbors had a good laugh.

Only after I had reached the safety of my house did several important facts come to mind.

-Never run with sharp objects (pre-school)

-Flip flops are for the beach (middle school)

-Chickens live everywhere, not just at a Purdue Farm (post graduation)

So please, take a word from an amateur. Never under-estimate how much hard work gardening with a machete is.

Una Cerveza, Por Favor – Guide to Panamanian Beer

Onesimo and Dave enjoying a cool beer.
The world of micro-breweries is a concept foreign, to many of my friends in this foreign country, so I would suggest leaving the concept at home and giving one of the national beers a go. Unless, of course, you are in places like Bocas del Toro or Panama City that cater to more tourists. In the rest of the country your choices are somewhat limited. Although, I will say that in many bars you might spot something you recognize. Corona is popular with the Panamanian ladies, Old Milwaukee somehow has a hold out crowd here and Miller Lite shows up at the baseball games quite frequently.

Throughout Central America each country has what is termed, “national beers”. Nicaragua it is Tona, or Victoria. In Costa Rica look for Imperial. Panama is unique, as it has several options. Take a gander below to get your bearings before the bartender raises her eyebrow and waits for you tell her which cold beverage you want…most likely there is no menu, and good luck if she cares to share with you your options (she doesn’t get tipped often, so customer service can sometimes be a tad lacking).

Balboa. Now in just the last two years Balboa has become slightly more complicated. Once it was just Balboa. Now you have Balboa Ice and in larger cities like Panama City you can find Balboa Roja. Balboa, the normal Balboa, has a red label and in small town like Puerto Armuelles many call it Balboa Roja (not to be confused with the Roja in the cities). See, ordering a beer can be difficult. This Balboa is the darkest and considered a premium lager. The alcohol content per bottle (330 ml) is the highest of the other local options at a “staggering” 4.4% (Ok, its not exactly Chimay…but it will do on a hot sunny day). The local saying is “Balboa es por los hombres” meaning it is for the men. This is an argument that my tastebuds refuse to take part in, and as a woman I proudly drink my “manly” beer. I also personally find it is the only beer I can drink on the warm side without being reminded of a a stale port-o-potty.

Panama. This is just a guess, but I am going to say that this beer was named after its country of origin. It is distinctive by its little green bottle (285 ml). Some of my friends drink Panama, and in a pinch it is my second choice and has the same alcohol content (4.4%) as Balboa. It is lighter than Balboa and as far as I am concerned, does not have the flavor, but if it is hot, and it is hot in Panama, just about anything will do. Just don’t drink it warm. Did I mention pot-o potties? There is also Panama Light (3.8% and also 285 ml), be careful when ordering. Panama Light is like its counterpart Panama, a beer with very little taste and yet they took the taste out of it.

Atlas. Hands down this is the most popular beer with my friends, and no, I have no idea why. My husband drank Atlas before he met me, but since then he swears each bottle tastes different. I don’t drink enough Atlas to claim one way or another, but he has YEARS of experience. At least Atlas is served in a regular sized bottle (330 ml) and has an alcohol content of 3.7%, but for the sake of your mental health, make sure it is cold! They also have a Golden Atlas, which is lighter and I am guessing has even less flavor. Not a fan of beer in clear bottles.

Soberana. With clear bottles being an issue, I will state I have drank Sobrana once in my beer drinking life, which is an extensive life, and I have never had such a bad hangover. No, I didn’t drink a case, I had one beer and a headache for two days. So I have very little to comment about, but just be forewarned. Stop! It is not the alcohol content (3.8%).

All alcohol contents are according to the bottles in my house. They recycle the bottles and you pay a deposit, so NEVER-EVER throw your bottles in the trash or goodness forbid the ocean!!!