Friday, October 26, 2012


I have started to pack for my trip home to the US next week. I am a little concerned because demonstrations started last weekend in Colon province against selling government owned land to private companies in the Colon Free Trade Zone.  Panama was formerly practically a colony of the United States,  with military bases in every province.  Understandably they want to keep control of what they have now.

Now there are riots and looting in Panama City,  The bus terminal is closed since all entrances to city are blocked by demonstrators, so there are no buses to Panama City, leaving me with no way to get to the international airport.  Bridges over the Panama canal and in Bocas del Toro are shut down.  Malls are closed due to looting.  There was a picture on the TV news of one guy carrying off a full sized stove.

It is quiet in David, but I heard an announcement of a demonstration at a local mall.

Will I get home?  Or should I move to Valle Escondido?

Sunday, October 21, 2012


This weekend i went to Boquete and took a tour of the Cafe Ruiz coffee plantation and processing plant.   All you ever wanted to know about coffee in four hours.  The guide was a local Indian who had started out picking the beans with his family.  He now speaks excellent English, has an Italian wife, and drives an SUV.

I stayed at Suenos del Rio Hotel this trip, overlooking the river

All coffee originated in Ethiopia, where the goat herders noticed the goats got pretty wild after eating the plant.  After detours to Kenya and Tanzania, it came to Costa Rica and then to Panama in the 1960's.  It was initially not considered a success due to low yields, but Panama coffee is now famous due to the flavors, depths, and aromatic qualities that can be found here, specifically in the highlands of the province of Chiriqui, where I live.  Starbucks has put us on the map.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of coffee growers here.  Cafe Ruiz has a few processing plants and takes beans from independent growers and cooperatives to process over 6 million pounds of coffee beans a year.  The outer husks are removed and the beans dried and sorted for size and quality.  I learned that the not so good beans are used for decaffeinated coffee, which was disappointing.   Also, the darker the roast, the less caffeine, which was opposite of what I thought.

Old coffee grinder

Starter plants sorted by variety

Beans taken off the bush have a sweetish taste
Drying area

Bagged for shipment

The taste test

Cafe Ruiz owns lots of land, but the home plantation is valued at $4 million.  The price of land is escalating in Boquete, and it is worth more if it is developed.  The owner is 92 years old.  His children work in the business, some of them in sales in America and Europe.  He will leave it up to them to decide if they want to continue the business after he is gone.

I bought some Geisha coffee beans grown locally.  This is the most expensive coffee in the world, going for $98 at the annual online coffee auction.  I was told that people came from Ethiopia to buy some beans to try to re-establish the coffee industry in that war torn country.  Life is a circle.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


The retirement websites tell you that medical care in Panama is as good as you can get in the United States at a much cheaper price.  It is cheaper, but good is a question mark.  Two hospitals in Panama are supposedly linked with US research hospitals like Johns Hopkins.  That means some of the doctors may be bilingual and US trained, but not necessarily the one you get in ER. 

In the US I worked as a quality control nurse.  Doctors got dinged if they didn't see the patients within 20 minutes of their appointment times.  In Panama, appointments are given as a range of time, like 2p.m to 6 p.m.  While I was in Panama I had three appointments with two different doctors.  The first one, a dermatologist, never had me waiting less than three hours.  The second one was not even available for the appointment, but had taken the week off.  I was rescheduled for the next Monday, and ended up waiting another three hours.  Lesson learned: take a good book and some water with you.

The doctors I saw spoke fair, not good, English, but we were able to make ourselves understood.   I can see this as an issue if there is something out of the ordinary going on that is hard to explain.

My skin developed a nasty rash on the left side of my face almost as soon as I got to Panama.  The dermatologist diagnosed it as allergic dermatitis and gave me steroid shots locally, antihistamine pills and two different creams ($75 senior price plus $35 for the appointment).  After a month and not much improvement in the rash, I saw him again.  He said to keep taking one of the creams till the tube was gone.  I questioned him about the insert that said (in Spanish) not to use the cream for more than ten days.  He said he had used it on a baby's bottom for six months with no problem.  With no alternative, I continued using the cream for the next two months.  The red rings went away, but the bumps continued.  The rash never really cleared up till I saw a dermatologist in Santa Monica the day after I flew in from the US.  One week on her creams (free samples, even) and my skin was fine.

I saw an internal medicine doctor at Chiriqui Hospital for a physical exam prior to taking a ship around the world (  I had him fill out the examination form required by the University ("what do you want me to write?") and asked for routine meds for malaria, a typhoid booster shot, and medication for seasickness. 

He said they only prescribed doxycycline for malaria, which is what made me sick when I took it in Africa last year.  He called the infectious disease doctor at the county hospital and said he could give me daraprim if I went there the next day.  I remember taking daraprim when I went to Africa in the mid 1970's, but it is not even recommended by the CDC anymore due to widespread resistance to the drug.  In other words, it doesn't work. 

Typhoid shot?  No, they apparently don't give them in Panama.  They use doxycycline.  I repeat, this made me sick in Africa.

For seasickness he prescribed Vontrol.  I had never heard of this, so I looked it up on the internet.  It is for nausea and vertigo, but should only be used in a hospital situation under close supervision because it can cause hallucinations.  I can see myself acting crazy on the ship and nobody would have the slightest idea if something was wrong or that was my normal behavior.

In summary, three requests and the doctor struck out on all of them.  I did get my physical form signed, but ended up filling out most of it myself.  The only clinical thing he did was take my blood pressure.

I was able to send the form in by the deadline, but will have to see a travel doctor in the US.  Of course, this is not covered by my $636 a month insurance policy.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


On Saturday all the the high school students taking classes at the University went to an end of term party at the Adventist compound near Volcan.  It is a huge place with many buildings and sports fields which is a private school during the week.  We took over the huge covered patio that had bleachers on one side and had many activities and games for the kids, which they seemed to enjoy.  All the classes  had different colored T shirts and gave their groups names so they could compete against each other.  We had a parade with all the different groups and the banners they had made.  Many of the groups were my former students since I assisted with two groups each term over two terms.

The entrance to the Adventist school
Some of my fabulous students

...and more

...and more

...and more

...and more

The parade goes on for a quarter mile

My advanced students

Student groups had to make a flag out of newspaper and twigs (Survivor style) and fly it
Ball relay the hard way

Bees loved the cake so much we didn't get to eat it

Some volunteers served a nice lunch one of the families provided which included the usual rice, beans, and potato salad.  There was a gorgeous store bought cake with the Survivor logo on it.  More than half of the students who started the program in January had dropped out for various reasons, so "Survivor" was the theme of the day.  The brother of one of the teachers works on the TV program and she was able to get the logo, some T shirts and bandannas.  Unfortunately, the bees just loved the beautiful cake, and they ended up giving it to the people that worked there so the students didn't get bee stung.  One of the teachers did get a nasty bite and her whole hand swelled up.

So it is goodbye to my high school students, but now I can spend more time on my adult classes.