We want to thank everyone who supported us through the 2019 year and followed our progress.
Here is a list of a few of our 2019 accomplishments:
It has been quite the year! Many challenges, but also many solutions. We are excited to see where 2020 takes us.
2020 - Coffee Tree Update
We expect to have a few challenges this year with the coffee trees. They have decided to start blooming 4 months early. Does this mean we will have 2 harvests this year? The thought is that it does mean that, which means we need to come up with a way to dry the coffee during the wettest part of the year.
This farm has never had 2 harvests, nor have the farms around us....so this is all new territory and we hope that we will be prepared for whatever happens.
I am slowly moving forward on my recovery. This has been a long and challenging few months. There were days that I felt that I would never get better and then there were days that I could see a small light of hope way, way off in the distance.
I have removed the house of most of the equipment that has gotten me through the beginning stages of recovery. I am now down to 1 pair of crutches, that are mainly there "just in case." I walk with a huge limp now and my ankle is swollen each night, but at least I am mobile. :) My physical therapy sessions are not as painful as they were in the beginning and some of the kinesio tape designs are more intricate now.
My dogs ended up being more helpful than I expected and as I am writing today, I am hopeful that the worst is behind me, at least for this little pitfall.
There are just a few minor items left to finish the roasting house. Melvin finished painting it and Rick is moving items into it. As we are finishing the last finishing touches to the roasting house, we are now against the clock with the harvest now approaching quickly.
The harvest has started and we are busy with tours, harvesting, getting ready for the holidays and now working on improving the floor in the solar drying house. Life on a coffee farm!
Some of you have met us through the Workaway program or have read other posts about Workaway. For those that do not know about the program, it is a program for people traveling that either want to travel on the cheap or want to learn more about the places they are visiting other than the typical tourist visit. It is a cultural exchange program where travelers work or help out with projects for a few hours a day in exchange for room and board. The idea is that the sponsors and the travelers learn from each other.
We have had some great experiences and have made life long friends with many people through this program. Each person has left a mark on this farm. Each time we look at the compost bin or the fireplace, we are reminded of James and Maddie. When we are making coffee soap or driving on the road up to our house we are reminded of Dale and Shane. When we look at the herb garden we think of Alex and Ashley. Evening fires and banana bread reminds us of Lucy....I could go on and on, but this post is about Mona Lisa and Lea.
Two physiotherapists from Germany contacted us through Workaway. What great timing! I need to recovery from my Achilles tendon surgery and they were here traveling through Panama.
They were tough on my physical therapy and I will always remember them as I gain my independence back. (They even helped Rick with his knee and back.) Hopefully the nightmares of them yelling to keep my head up, hips rotated, feet pointed a certain way, bend my knee, 5 more times and all of the other things that I was doing wrong will fade. :) Military drill instructors should look at recruiting these 2!
They hiked the volcano here, practiced their acrobatic yoga, went the beach, learned all about coffee, taught the expats here how to do a proper Oktoberfest cheer and have now moved on to have more adventures. We wish them luck and hope they know how much we appreciated their time here.
I can now hobble around more and even walk fairly normal for limited amount of time. I am only a few degrees away from getting my flexibility in my ankle back. I have no muscle tone in my leg yet and my balance is not back yet, but I am getting better each week. People with access to the live-feed cameras might actually see me slowly walking around once in a while. :)
The outdoor spa in the mornings is my favorite time. It helps loosen everything up in the mornings and I might enjoy it in the evenings if would stop storming at night.
Just when we think we are catching up, something has to go wrong. After hours of checking wires and problem solving why one of the camera systems is down, Rick has determined the system works great EXCEPT for the internet connection. Which means that it is worthless to us if we cannot fix it. This is the project of the day. Hopefully the company will have a fix for us.
We are still working on the roasting house, but getting much closer!
No cast, scar is healing and now onto the kinesiology tape and lots of therapy. Some days it is 2-colors of tape and some days it is either pink or black. That is my excitement for the day, always a surprise.
Each time the pain recedes, it is time to do more exercises, stretching or practice putting weight back on my ankle. The pain comes back, then I ice it again......this has been a very long and painful process. I will be very excited when this is over and I can walk again.
I do have to say thank you to our insurance company. Their website to upload receipts is a little archaic, but they have been very good and this is the first time that we had to use them. Expats that need insurance should contact them. :) https://www.pagroupco.com/
Rick and Melvin have slowly been working on the roasting house. The weather and other chores keep slowing them down, but each week there is a little more progress. The roof is close to being done and the stucco is maybe 20 percent done.
We still have 2 doors, a window, painting and tile to do after the stucco is finished. I slowly made my way out there the other day to see it for the first time in 6 weeks. It will be nice when it is all done.
I do not get outside much these days, so just a couple of pictures this time.
We are averaging 1 power outage a day right now. Since August 1st, we have had 37 power outages. Most are only 10-15 minutes, but the longest one was over 20 hours. We never know how long we will have to wait for it to return. The power going on and off is really bad for all of the appliances. We had to invest in power supplies, surge protectors and battery back-ups. Not everything is protected, but most things are now.
Then we had a week of internet problems. Those only lasted 2-3 hours each day.
This is one of the things you deal with when living in a developing country. Most days we would not have noticed the outages. However, while I am recovering, I am inside the house all day and having no internet or power is a bigger deal to me.
We are not sure what has made the outages worse, but it has been said that there was never a budget for expansion or upgrades. With the city being more populated now than when power was installed, they just can't keep in this area.
After the last big rain storm, 3 or 4 families on the hill got together to repair the drainage ditches on the sides of the road. Dante, the dog, was the supervisor. :)
The dogs have many hiding spots among the coffee trees where they can sleep or guard the property. Here is Karma not being happy that she was found, she thought she was invisible....haha
After 3 years of living here, we finally had to use the E.R. in Panama.
I ruptured my Achilles Tendon. We went to our regular doctor who sent us to the E.R. in the City of David. Thankfully there was a orthopedic surgeon that could see me that day. After an examination he sent me to imaging for an ultrasound. We quickly found out that the ultrasound tech was out for 2 days. The surgeon then sends us down the road to a private imaging facility. We were surprised how clean and modern it was inside. After a very short wait, a doctor, not a tech, did the ultrasound and took pictures of the tear. Back to the hospital with my report and a CD with all of the images....
The surgeon offered to do the surgery that night or I could go home and work out all of the pre-certifications with insurance and come back in the morning, which is what we chose to do.
After the surgery, Rick is driving me home and we stop off to pick up a wheelchair and crutches from one of the local community charity groups and then to start my recovery! The first few days were incredibly painful.
Paige and Jacque came by a few times and have helped us out. Paige even helped Rick fix my wheelchair. Jacque made some food for me and even restocked our banana bread supply for tours. :)
In one of the pictures below you will see my cast with a couple of black boxes filled in. My wonderful husband put an advertisement for a USA president candidate that I am really hoping does not get elected....so the paint marker had to be used to black it out.:)
On the other hand, my son found a bell for me to ring if I need him for anything. He is so sweet!
I am on day 8 of recovery now and the swelling and pain are much better. One more week until I go back to replace the cast with an AirBoot if all goes well. In the meantime, while I am stuck on the couch all day the internet goes out for 2 days (no tv, no phone games, no email work....) Longest 2 days! A couple of hours after the internet was restored, the power goes out! We had to test out our new generator for real....all went well and power was restored last night around 11:00pm. Then we find out that water is now out in our area. Again....I am glad that the rain catchment system works well and we have 4 reserve tanks full of water.
The worst part of all of this, is that I am stuck here and unable to walk. Everything happening around here has Rick running all over (taking Cole to the orthodontist, transporting him to and from the school bus, feeding everyone, doing the coffee tours, fixing stuff....) while I just sit here. I thought I would enjoy a little forced vacation more than I am. :(
Last week the earthquakes slowed down, but before that we were having an earthquake swarm. I had never heard the term before, but I guess there were hundreds of little earthquakes and a few bigger ones that we actually felt.
So far there has been no damage from the earthquakes that we have had to deal with. But our neighbor, Hector, came home from a vacation to some damage to his rock wall. I cannot go outside yet, so I am not sure if he finished fixing it yet or not.
I have a very small laundry room. It barely fits the washer and dryer and even then there is not enough room to plug or unplug the machine. However, this room is the best place to put cleaning supplies. Our house does not have any storage or closets other than one closet in each bedroom. Before Rick made me the wonderful shelf, I had cleaning stuff hidden in the dining room, under the kitchen sink, on the floor in the laundry room, it was all over! Now, everything is in one place and all organized...yay!
I bought an old, used roaster that does not work. Panama does not have a store that sells roasting equipment, so you have to take what you can get...right?
It is the size I need for the majority of my roasts and since we roast only small batches and ship out freshly roasted coffee, I had to get it! Which means Rick has to fix it and build a new roasting house for it. :)
We decided to move the pilon station and build the roasting house there. Rick and Melvin are finishing the prep work now and should be ready to pour the flooring tomorrow.
I had never seen an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar before. I actually had to put it on our community Facebook page and ask people what it was. It is not poisonous or harmful to people and pets, but it looks like it came out of an Alien movie.
Caterpillar - Moth
Living in a country with over 500 rivers, one might think that water would not be an issue. We go 4-5 months during the dry season with no rain. I might expect water rationing during these dry months, but the issues seem to come more during the rainy season. There is too much pressure in the lines during the rainy season, or a mudslide happens when it is too wet and things break the water lines....whatever the reason, we can go days without water. It is hard to see so much rain in the rainy season and know that we have no water at the house. In the first couple of years we just relied on more and more storage tanks, but when you see 4-5 inches falling from the sky each hour it is silly not to try and use it.
I can honestly say that having to create a rainwater catchment system is not something that either of us were anticipating when we moved here. Thankfully, Rick is good at coming up with solutions.
The rainwater goes into this little barrel which is then plumbed to take out debris and fill up our larger water tanks. The tanks are then filtered (including a UV filtrations system) and we are back with full water! This system has already saved us multiple times since he installed it. We even have a lighting system to tell us if our tanks are not full, since we are not in the habit of making sure there is water every day.
Very exciting!!! Not only is there water issues here, there are power issues too. For whatever reason, either poor maintenance, lack of planning or insert any other excuse here....the power is not as stable as one might expect when paying a monthly electric bill. One day this month the power went out 6 times, sometimes they are short outages and once it was a 3 day outage when a tree went down on a power line. You just never know!
We do have a cheap generator that was getting us by, but mainly was just strong enough to keep some lights on and run the refrigerators. Gosh forbid, we wanted to take a shower or run any water that is connected to an electric water pump! The poor generator would bog down and so we are really careful when the power goes out.
Once a year or so there is a store in David that has this generator (seen below.) They normally only stock the 1 generator and I don't mean 1 model....I mean only 1 single generator. For a couple of years now, we keep threatening to come up with the money for it and if we were still living in the States with regular paychecks it would have been purchased a lot earlier. However, we live very differently now and having a big generator for power is a luxury that we went without until now.
Rick saw the generator for sale again this month and after some budget discussions, we decided to buy it this year. Yay!!!
Melvin helped him get it set up in place and Rick spent a couple of days getting everything else set and it was time to test it. White smoke.....more white smoke....
We started researching all of the things that could be wrong. Most of the articles made it clear that there was something broken in the new generator. We started thinking about how we would have to take it back and due to the store only having the 1 generator there would not another one that we could exchange it for......well, it was depressing to think about.
Today we learned (through a bunch of trial and errors) that Rick has made our house too efficient. He has tried to limit the amount of power in the house to the point that we are not using 60-75% of the generator's capacity and the generator is not working hard enough, hence the white smoke.
This is not a fancy, high-quality generator. It does not even have a gauge to tell you how many hours you have used it.... The white smoke goes away when we have everything on and even run the microwave. If the microwave turns off, the white smoke comes back....so Rick is back to thinking about what to do next.
He just told me that it also could be a high-altitude issue.....I guess we will be doing some more testing.
Worst Flying Experience Ever
Cole and I flew to the States for a week. This is not something new, we do this a few times a year, so we are fairly prepared now for these long flights. Before we left, we downloaded a bunch of shows and movies for the long flights and layovers. We had our 1 blanket to share while we dozed and watched our movies.....we were ready!
Starting from the top:
After a day in California, my sinuses and ear start hurting. By the 2nd day it was so bad, I went to an urgent care. Turns out that I had a bad ear infection and blew my eardrum, along with a possible sinus infection. I was miserable for awhile. :(
The return trip was just as bad!
I love when Cole and Erik get a chance to see each other. They are not only brothers, but good friends. We all got together at the Star Wars themed party that Erik was hosting, where yes I wore a Princess Leia wig for a while, even though I felt miserable most of the time with my sinuses and ear issues.
There was lightsaber fighting, eating cake with black frosting (that did not go away for hours!) and we even had some hot springs-pool time. Cole and Erik could not be more different and they make the most awesome brothers!
Flowers not Bugs
Orchids grow on ALL of the trees here. I keep forgetting to look up and see them, but Rick took a picture of one of the orchids and Melvin took some pictures of the flowers in the front of the house.....seemed like a good day for flower pictures and not bugs this time. :)
I had to go back to the doctor here in Panama to get another round of antibiotics for the ear/sinuses that are still not better, but everything else is back to normal now.
It is good to be home!
I have had many people ask me what was it really like....
It has been many months now since that show was filmed, but what I remember most was really liking the crew. They were funny, super sweet and loved dogs. :)
Here are some things that people might not realize:
I try to show the good and the bad on this blog. There are many good things that have come out of our relocation to Panama. However, there are also frustrations that we have to learn to deal with too.
For those that are not familiar with the Northwest - USA....
We moved here from Oregon and that part of the world is very into recycling and environmental responsibility. Recycling is part of everyday life there.
It is just not part of the culture here yet. There are recycling containers in the city, but people just put trash in all of them and the barrels all go into the same garbage truck at the end of the week.
There is a group of expats that have started a recycling program. However, you must be able to go down to the fairgrounds on a certain day between certain hours once a week or so, and it changes on what they take from time to time. There is no permanent structures in place that you can put recycling when you go to town yet. Hopefully, the country as a whole will start to make recycling a real thing here.
Today, the school had their Earth Day and they have been teaching the kids about recycling for a few weeks now. However, some of the obvious recycling efforts are not even touched.
This country is a paper society. Everything is paper and more paper....things in triplicate and the system for making payments to agencies is even worse. There is no online payment options for most things and after you drive to the office, you might then have to drive to their bank and bring back a paper receipt and then get another form.....
The one thing they do have going for it as far as recycling or reusing is beer bottles and Coke bottles. These are sanitized and then reused, but only for the few companies that have bottling plants locally.
Below are a couple of pictures from their mandatory, Sunday Earth Day celebration. The first one was a display made by the kids, which was probably fun for them to make assuming they did not cut themselves, but at the end of the celebration, I can only assume that it all is going in the garbage, hopefully not though. The second picture shows how they used plastic ties that will be thrown away instead of reusable rope or something biodegradable.
At least they have started talking about recycling and I just have to remember that even in Oregon, they probably did not recycle in the beginning.....although, they have recycled as long as I can remember. :)
We are not perfect, but we do try to recycle or reuse as much as we can. There is always room for improvement!
Here are a few of the things we currently do.
There have been many posts about shipping here. It is one of the dreaded tasks that we do frequently because of the coffee business.
I am not sure that I could ever truly explain how complicated and painful it really is.
In this last shipment, we had to get a total weight of just the coffee. Instead of weighing the box empty and then again full, Rick had to stack all of the coffee bags on the scale in front of the postal worker. The bags kept falling and some where actually not really on the scale when they took the weight.
The brown box had to be wrapped in brown paper, you cannot just use a plain brown box. The paper has to be glued to the box, so we do this 1 to 2 days before we ship anything, to allow for the glue to dry properly.
But, you have to leave the top open until you get through with all of the postal processes in the office. Then you finish glueing the top while you are there.
We never know the exact price until they give it to us, it changes all of the time and I think some of that is depending on what scale they are using that day. But, you have to come prepared with exact change or very close to it. Sometimes they have required exact change and they only accept cash.
I totally understand why most places here will not do small shipping. Most coffee companies will only do large container orders and go through a shipping broker. Thankfully, some months we are allowed to use the yellow/brownish large envelopes for really small shipments.
The good news is this is the lowest price-per-pound we have ever been charged. No idea why though....
We have both cars working right now. (Although, both cars were at the mechanics this last week.) Here is one of the parts off of Rick's truck. He had to have the clutch assembly replaced....sigh. This is the throw-out bearing. Luckily it did not actually grenade while it was in the car. The clutch was shot also. It was a hassle, but it's hard to complain too much when the total labor bill was $150 and this is a very difficult vehicle to remove the transmission.
Road Ditch Work Round #1
The work to clear the ditches for water runoff is done for now! There are pipes running under the road for the water to drain down the hillside properly. Here is a before and after picture of one of the pipes that Rick and Melvin cleared. If you look closely at the after picture, you will see Melvin's face. :)
One of the farms near the bottom of the road has moved in cattle and started planting fast growing grass for the cattle. The problem is that it has over-taken the runoff ditches too. The crew had to spend hours cleaning that up. I can only hope this does not require cleaning it up every month. :)
Bug and Eggs
This little green guy is smaller than a dime and is a very bright lime green. Grasshopper or cricket??
The bird nest in the workshop has more eggs now. They are very spotted. A few of the nests around the farm already have baby birds in them.
We love getting pictures from customers showing us how they make their coffee at home after coming on a tour here and learning all about how to get the perfect cup of coffee. However, sometimes getting coffee to our customers is a real challenge.
I went to the post office one day to mail out coffee and the post office looked at the packages and said, "No." I was confused and asked what the problem was and was then told no coffee to North America right now. What?!? I could ship to every other place in the world, but nothing to the USA. This went on for over 2 weeks. It turns out they told me no coffee, but it was all mail. No postcards, no letters, no packages of any kind.
I searched the internet, newspapers....no one was talking about it. After the 7th day, I did see a notice on Facebook from another expat that was unable to ship anything. No one is exactly sure why there was a hold on all packages. Now, it seems to have been cleared up at least for the immediate future.
However, there are limits on how many packages you can send in a day. TWO....that is it. So, we are now trying to catch up on shipping out all of the packages that had to wait for 2 weeks. We are doing the 2 packages a day, each day....but wait...this is Holy Week, so there are some closed office days in there. If all goes well, we will eventually get caught up.
The hardest part is telling people, "I am sorry, but Panama is not shipping to your country right now." "No, I do not know why or for how long this will be a problem..." It is just not something North Americans have really had to deal with. I just can't imagine going to the post office in the USA and them giving me a limit on what I can send or to what friendly-countries they are not sending that week.....there are still times here that we have to step back and remember patience and the rules here are not always the rules we expect. :)
To make things even more complicated. There are problems in Miami right now with the USA post office or Customs. Again, I cannot find out what the actual problem is, but when I track all of the packages we have sent, most of them say they are in the US Customs Office. From there they just sit and sit. However, I get pictures from some of our customers that actually have received their coffee, even though the tracking of their order still shows that it is Miami. I am hoping whatever issues Miami has, it clears up soon too!
When I worked in the States, there was a lady that sat at the next desk over that loved her antique typewriter. I could not believe she had one when we had access to computers. :) The lady at the post office here reminds me of her. She has this old typewriter and no computer on her desk at all. They use paper books to tell them the postage fees and use forms in triplicate here....I think my old co-worker, Sharon, would have been in heaven here....haha.
We had our first real rain, so that means that the dumb beetles are back. They run into everything, fall on their backs and then die. In the meantime, they make a ton of noise and their bodies will fill up the window sills and walkways each night.
The first picture is me having a pork chop outside and one of the slow flying black fly/bee came and tore a chunk of it off and flew away!
The second picture is of a spider we have not seen before. Thankfully, it stayed outside and left us alone. :)
Rick worked on balancing the load to our generator this weekend. As he was working, he kept running into nests. They are in the workshop, in our electrical panel...everywhere you go there are nests of some sort right now. We are lucky that there does not seem to be any damage to the wiring at the panel box!
This weekend we also gathered up some of the mangoes that are almost ripe. I am going to try making mango cobbler this week. I have heard it is really good, so I am very hopeful!
Rick has been working on a device to sort the coffee beans. The motor he is using right now needs a little adjustment so that it does not shake the beans so hard that they jump off of the rack. Sorting the beans into different sizes is important for roasting. You want the beans in each batch to roast evening and that will only happen if you have similarly sized beans. :) Last year we had another farm use their sizer on our beans, this year we are doing everything in-house.
Now that the rainy season is about to come, it is time to remove all of the debris in the ditches along the road running up the hill. We are lucky to have 2 Workawayers here to help (Lizzy and Karina.)
As they were working today, a branch from one of the trees above them decided to drop. Melvin barely had enough time to get out of the way before it would have crushed him. No one was hurt, but if it had been a someone walking that road at night, they might not have escaped like Melvin did.
My car is working for today! But we had to trade the mechanic my car for the truck. The truck is worse off than the car right now, but at least we have one working vehicle! Some day we hope to have 2 working vehicles......one can hope!