Bugs of the Week
Below are two strange bugs. The first one is one that we found today while working on the water tanks. It looks like a rather large ant and the picture did not come out very clear, because I had to zoom in with my camera too much. The second bug is one that my friend saw in front of her house. I have no idea what either of the bugs are called, but I think they are both interesting. So, if anyone knows what they are, leave a comment below!
Our mango tree is loaded with fruit. The mangoes are still small, close to the size of an apple, but we are anxious to start eating them. There are going to be too many for Rick and I to eat alone, but we have friends that are very willing to come get some, so they will not go to waste.
The second picture is one of the guanabanas. I have posted pictures of this fruit before, but they did not make it through the wet season. I think these are doing great and the tree has 6 or 7 of them right now and they can grow to be 15 lbs. each. I also have friends that are willing to help me eat these too. :)
Wikipedia: The flavour of the fruit has been described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with sour citrus flavour notes contrasting with an underlying creamy texture reminiscent of coconut or banana. Soursop is widely promoted (sometimes as "graviola") as an alternative cancer treatment.
There are 2 things that I really wanted to change to our house. 1 was a bathroom with a bathtub and the other was a dishwasher. Well....here is my new blow-up bathtub. It actually fits in our shower and I finally got to take a bath in our Panama house! I ordered this back in January, but it never arrived from the dealer off of Amazon. Amazon was amazing and immediately refunded my money. So this one was my second attempt and yay, we picked it up today. Best bath ever! Okay, maybe not the best, but the best one in I have had in Panama! Plus, it was cheaper than remodeling the bathroom and with our to-do list as long as it is, the bathroom remodel would not have happened this year if ever. So, I am happy to have found a solution that works that only required 1 leg cramp while using the manual air pump to blow it up. :)
So, if you ever ran across one of these blow up tubs and wondered who would buy such a thing....well, that person would be me and I don't care who laughs at me and my blow up tub. :)
(It even has a drink holder!)
To get to my goal of having a dishwasher, we have been working hard on re-doing the water system. We need to regulate the water pressure and we need to make sure we have water reserves in case a water line breaks, which happens frequently around here. Last year there was so much water from all of the rain that the city infrastructure could not keep up. The fittings kept blowing out at the main station from all of the water pressure. It also created breaks in parts of the water lines that eventually would lead to our house and would leave us without water or drizzles until the water company fixed it. Thankfully, it was not long before water was restored, but after this happened a few times a month, we realized that we needed the tanks and a water pump to maintain a regular flow of water.
Today, the tanks were finally ready to go to higher ground and get ready for the plumbing to be installed. We had repaired the broken plastic from when one of the tanks went for a ride down the canyon. The fix is not pretty, but it is functional and luckily we had a plastic welder to do the job. I am not sure if they sell plastic welders here and if they did, it might have been more expensive than buying a new tank.
Prep for Painting
With all of the free time that we have, we are also getting ready to paint the house. Now that the new roof is up and there are spots where it is grey stucco/cement showing near the roof line, we decided it was time to paint too. We have to get all of these outdoor projects done before the dry season is over, so there is not a ton of time to waste. We used the pressure washer and removed the old flaking paint. He also went around the house and put silicone on the cracks in the cement. We have all of the supplies and a 5 gallon bucket of reddish paint that was in the clearance bin, so we are ready to go next week.
We do take a few breaks from work to have fun. I was lucky enough to go with a few friends to a local play, The Dixie Swim Club. And this weekend we have some activities that have nothing to do with work, so maybe we can get energized again to finish the plumbing and painting.
I am in the process of sorting and bagging the freshly roasted batch of coffee. The house smelled like coffee all day and I realized just how lucky we are to be able to drink such fresh coffee all the time. It comes with a ton of work, but at least it is something we enjoy!
I guess this post is getting a little long, so I will save the rest for another time.
As I mentioned before, when you have work done, in this case it was on our roof, you buy all of the supplies and then you pay for the labor. Rick and Hector went and negotiated all of the supply buying in David after the roofer that we hired came to the house and gave us the shopping list.
So, we ordered the supplies, and waited a week for them to arrive at the store in David, so they could deliver them. There was a little concern about whether the truck could make it up the curvy part of the road, but it made it!
It took 3 complete days and a crew of 5 to remove our old roof and put the new metal roof on. The crew was friendly and we got to know them while they were here. One of them enjoyed practicing his English skills on us, while the others enjoyed teaching us the names of the different items in Spanish. I also learned that the berries from one of the trees in the backyard is edible! I have been wondering about this tree for awhile, then I saw one of the crew members eating the berries. I asked them the name of the berries, but none of them knew what it was called, but they all agreed they were good. They taste a little like blackberries or Marionberries (a Northwest U.S. berry.)
The crew found two snake skins, thankfully they were old and there was no snake! How a snake got on the roof, I have no clue. There were a few other creatures up there too, but they were all relocated into the jungle.
Above is the roofer, Lolo, waving his hand over Rick's auto-darkening helmet. These helmets cost twice as much here in Panama than what they do in the U.S. I am not sure why the price would be so different, since they are both imported from China, but they do. Most of the welders around here have the $15 basic welding mask and do not pay the $75 for the auto-darkening one.
Below you can see the areas where the walls meet the roof. These areas were filled in with cement blocks and the mason repaired the rest. However, one wall was not able to be repaired with cement blocks, so everyone determined that the best solution was to weld a steel beam over the area and cement around it. Lolo has experience welding with a stick welder, but was excited to try out a MIG welder and the auto-darkening mask.
Here is the mess of the old roof materials, some of it will be used on the container as we convert it into an apartment, still not sure what we are going to do with the rest of it, but I am sure it will get re-purposed.
I am not ready for the rainy season yet, but at least my roof is! The crew did a good job and the entire experience went very smoothly. There were no surprises, the price was reasonable, the crew was extremely friendly and the work was done quickly.
As I read about all the immigration issues going on back home in the U.S., there are just as many articles circulating right here in Panama.
Here in Panama, a person can own property without being a citizen or resident. It is easy to own property or a vacation home and the laws even encourage retirees and snow-birds. Property taxes are waived for 20 years on newly constructed houses, discounts for people with pensions and the list goes on. I know that no one from the U.S./Canada and probably most other countries do not need a visa to come for 180 days at a time. A tourist visa was automatically applied when you came to the country. Now, granted...there is a goofy, ridiculous law that stated that you could only drive in the country for 90 days as a tourist though. But, if you left the country for 3 days, you could come back and start your tourist visa all over. So those people actually living here as tourists and needing to drive would have to leave every 90 days to keep their own "home country" driver's license valid here in Panama. For snow-birds, that meant that they would spend a few months here in Panama, go to Belize or Costa Rica for a few days and spend the rest of the winter in their vacation home and then return back home. Those that live here all-year had to make a few more mini-vacation trips.
There are visa programs available for people who know they want to stay permanently and have the money for the attorneys, but many people had no issues with driving to Costa Rica for a long weekend 4 times a year. This is by far a cheaper option and much less of a hassle, especially if you are not sure if you want to make Panama your permanent home.
So, what this did was create a ton of "permanent" tourists. People called these long weekends to Costa Rica, their "Border Runs" and there were discussion boards on the most efficient ways, cheapest places, friendlies places, you name it and there was information about it. Costa Rica loved it. They learned how to make money from it as well. They started implementing the exit tax or something like it (I never did a border run, but I know there was some sort of stamp that Costa Rica started implementing.) I know that some of the hostels and cabs/buses were setup for this 3 day mini-vacation and a few businesses started thriving from good reviews from other border run customers.
This has been going on for years and Panama had never seemed to have an issue with it until now.
However, recently Panama has some other immigration issues and decided to actually not allow these border runs any more. Without any real warning, they decided to no longer allow this practice as part of their immigration reform. Not that the practice was technically legal to begin with, but it had never been an issue before. So, as people were across the border on their usual "border run" and are ready to come back, they find themselves unable to come back to Panama. There is no discrimination, it seems to be a pretty clear, that if it appears that you MIGHT be a person that is doing a "border run" or is with a person that is doing one, you are not allowed back in Panama.
The problem with this is that it is catching people that are really just travelling through Central America and happen to cross through the borders visiting family and friends and technically not "living" in Panama or doing anything wrong or illegal. It has left people that were doing border runs in Costa Rica with their pets and belongings unattended in Panama. I am not going to say how I think it should have been handled, I am just trying to relay how I see things today and I can tell you that it is messy for quite a few families.
It will be interesting to see if those that were doing these runs before now decide to pay for the visas or try out other parts of Central America. Either way, things will change with these new immigration rules.
We have learned to respect the wind here. We live on the side of a mountain near the jungle/forrest with a canyon down to a stream on the side of our house. When the winds come, they are to be respected. We have had a few items such as our new 50 gallon garbage can, a drone and other various items that had to be retrieved due to the wind taking them. Some of the items were easier than others to get, because the trees blocked them from being taken too far.
However, we had a lapse in our respect for Mother Nature. As we are still preparing the new home for the water tanks, we had not secured them well enough. Yesterday, Mother Nature reminded us that her wind can be strong enough to take whatever it wants. She obviously wanted our water tank. Today, Hector and Rick went down the canyon with machetes and ropes to clear a trail to go find the water tank. Thankfully, it was found. However, my husband is very sore from dragging it back up the cliff. I just talked to Hector, who seems to be in better shape than my husband.
Rick said that as he was going down the cliff he realized that retrieving the tank was not worth the risk. If it was not for Hector's confidence, he would never have risked it after seeing how steep it really was. Hector's video below shows a little of what it looked like.
On another note:
More fresh fruit! Below are guanabanas, mangos and bananas. During the rainy season our last guanabanas did not make it, so I am hoping that this round in the dry season this batch will make it. Our mango tree has 100's of mangos. I am not sure how many will make it all the way to being ripe, but I am excited to have fresh mangos from our own tree.
There are defininately differences between 6th grade here in Panama and 6th grade in Oregon for my son. For the most part, the students stay in the same classroom and the teachers rotate in for each subject, instead of students rushing to different classrooms for different subjects. Each student in my son's class has the same schedule and they all stay together. They only go to different areas of the school for subjects like technology, P.E and maybe art, I will hear about that one today.
All of their personal school books are kept on a bookcase in the classroom and doled out as needed, so they are not carrying them around all the time or forgetting them at home.
Another difference would be that they actually have a class on values. All of the grades have this course and it is called "The Leader in Me." I like the idea of having a positive class like this all year for kids.
Here in Panama, there are many parades and holidays. So, students are encouraged to join the parades and the bands. Music and art classes are still important here.
There are uniforms in all of the schools here, or at least all of the ones that I know about. The school my son attends is pretty relaxed and he wears jeans, black tennis shoes and a green polo shirt with the school emblem. It makes getting dressed in the morning really easy, no decisions to make. They even have uniforms for gym class.
Some things are the same. There is an electronic communication system that shows grades, calendars and important messages just like we had in Oregon. However, I think they use this system a little more faithfully than in they did in Oregon. That might be because this is a smaller school and the entire 6th grade has 30 children instead of 100+ and it is easier to keep track of the small numbers.
I went through his school books as we were laminating them to see what he would be learning this year and was quite surprised. In history it was not on just Panama, it is on the Americas....South, Central and North. He will be learning about envirnomental stuff like recycling, wind-water-solar energy, agricultural practices....ummm...the math, I did not look too closely at that one, since it was all in Spanish, but it looked like mainly algebra. I think it will be a good year for him.
Looking at the schedule, I was surprised that some classes were 1.5 hours some days and less on other days. My son said that on the 15 minute recess, the kids leave the classroom and all walk around outside for 15 minutes in a pattern. Not because someone told them they had to, but it just works out that way. :)
As the schools in the US are getting ready for spring-break, the schools here in Panama are getting ready to start their new year. Getting all of the school supplies ready is a chore. I went to 5 stores and am still missing 1 item. Hopefully, I will find it this week before my child actually needs it at school. Coming from the US, there were a few things that caught me off guard with this whole getting ready for school thing.
1. I needed to buy 15 composition books/writing tablets, but different kinds. A few had to have only 96 pages, some 120 pages and a couple 200 pages. In each of those page catagories though, some were wide lined, some double lined, some regular lined, 1 was graph paper lined....it did not stop there though. A few were to be binded with stitches and some could be the regular glue bound ones. The supply list was all in Spanish and thankfully I had a friend shopping with me that could explain it!
2. Each composition book, writing tablet and school book needs to be have a label with the child's name, grade and subject. I am not sure if they needed the subjects, but on all of the composition books we made sure they had the subject so my son would know which book was what. Then you have to cover the books and tablets with clear contact paper. I think my husband spent between 3 and 4 hours just covering the books. I did a few, but my husband the perfectionist had shaken his head at me when he saw that some of the labels I had put on were not exactly straight. So, I let him do most of the work and I just helped. :) Four complete rolls of contact paper and we are done!
Since this is the just the beginning of the school year, I am sure we will find other areas just as different as this part was. Time will tell. :)