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Thought for the Day: A Life

From what we get, we make a living.

From what we give, we make a life.  – Winston Churchill

Sign in front of a surf shop in Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

Aloha, Renée







In Panamá: Panamá City

Panamá City has many attractions.  Of course, you know about the Panamá Canal.  But there is more:

Although you will see many modern business people in suits and high heels, you will also see indigenous peoples in Panamá City.

When the Spanish arrived in 1501, several dozen native tribes inhabited Panamá.  Now only seven groups remain. But the indigenous culture is much more vibrant and present in Panamá than in neighboring countries such as Costa Rica although an inordinately high percentage of that population lives in poverty.   According to Lonely Planet Panama, “In the comarcas (autonomous regions), illiteracy runs between 10 and 30 percent.  Access to health care and education are serious issues” (p. 260-261).

However, the Guna (until 2011 spelled “Kuna”) have probably the most sovereignty of any indigenous group in Latin America.  The Guna woman above has a mola blouse, which is made of brightly colored squares of cotton fabric laid atop one another; cuts made through the layers form basic designs that  are held together with tiny, evenly spaced stitches  (LP 269). Her colorful fabric skirt, legs wrapped from ankle to knee in long strands of tiny beads – forming colorful geometric patterns – a printed headscarf, and many bracelets too all note that she is a Guna.

You’ll also see many beautiful churches in Panamá City.  The Iglesia de San José holds the famous Altar de Oro, the sole relic salvaged after the pirate Captain Henry Morgan sacked Panamá City  in 1671.

The Iglesia de la Merced – a small Casco Viejo church has a circa 1680 baroque facade –  one of the oldest Panamá City structures:

PC church cat

La Iglesia de la Merced church cat

For better photos, see:

You’ll see that Panamá City streets are great to walk.

PC cv cafe

What was a crumbling section of Panamá City is now an area of trendy cafés and renovated buildings

PC cv renovation

Casco Viejo (Old Compound). When construction began on the Panamá Canal, all of Panamá City existed where Casco Viejo stands today.


Restored Casco Viejo streets

Beautiful architecture - old and new

Beautiful Panamá City architecture – old and new

Modern buildings and new construction in Panamá City

Modern buildings and new construction in Panamá City

PC art on street

Art forms on the street


Good museums – in Panamá City

Along the Panamá City Causeway

Along the Panamá City Causeway

View of Panamá City from the causeway

View of Panamá City from the Causeway

A pelican

A pelican near the Panamá City fish market

Memorable Panamá City sign - but I hope the stylist doesn't really look like this

Memorable Panamá City shop sign. The stylist doesn’t really look like this – nor the clients 🙂

People walking, riding bicycles, swinging or sitting on benches are shaded by an overpass along the waterfront in Panamá City

People walking, riding bicycles, swinging or sitting on benches are shaded by an overpass along the waterfront in Panamá City – the Cinta Costera


Colorful paintings on the walls of Panamá City

Colorful paintings on the walls of Panamá City

Panamá City - wall art

Panamá City – wall art everywhere

You’ll find happening places in Panamá City.  Here at the Veneto Hotel – a pool and nightlife.

Meeting people is always interesting wherever you are.

PC Eufracio & B

Barry with our Servas host Eufracio on the Causeway

PC host gift

Gift from our Servas host

Nightlife at Casco Viejo:

PC CV night

Beautiful walking streets – Casco Viejo


PC CV night3

Hanging out in Casco Viejo – music, ice cream, and lots of people to watch with Eufracio


pc Santa Carmen

Iglesia de San Carmen


Visit Panamá City for the people, the museums, the history, the beautiful walking streets, and the nightlife.

Amor y Luz, Renée




In Panamá: Albrook Mall

Malls are much the same wherever you go.  In fact, for most malls, it’s not easy to tell if you are in St. Louis or Dublin since many of the stores and much of the retail is the same.  An exception is China with its modern, high-rise, high-end malls filled with Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, action-packed movies at $20.00 a ticket, and  fine dining on the upper floors.  Panamá City too has a mall that seems exceptional to me.  It is big – in fact, the largest mall in Latin America – the Albrook Mall!

Besides being a retail center, the Albrook Mall is the terminus for the Panamá City Metro and the Central Bus Terminal of Panamá – the long-distance and city public bus terminals.

Albrook Mall has over 350 stores, more than 100 restaurants divided into three food courts; the mall is so big that we found only two.  The food courts include all the big names such as the McDonalds, Dunking Donuts, Subway, and Quiznos plus local chains and independent restaurants: Fitness Foods, Ni Hao Chinese restaurant, and salad bars.   Also you’ll find a movie theater, a bowling alley, a supermarket, casinos, and more – almost anything you could possible want or need is there at Albrook Mall.

Al shops 2

Even a kiosk of religious items from Israel – at Albrook Mall

The mall is opened every day from 10am to 8pm; the restaurants in the food courts close at 9pm.  We found nothing open at 4am when we arrived by our long-distance bus from Boquete.  But we caught the first Metro train of the day to the Veneto, our hotel, where they let us check-in early – and we were there in time for its great breakfast that starts at 6:30am.   So even if you end up at Albrook Mall when it is not open, transportation to where you want to go is readily available.


We were at the Albrook Mall several times: we got our sim cards, drank fruit smoothies, ate tasty snacks, caught long-distance buses and the Metro, and watched people – all at Albrook Mall.

Be sure to check out  the Albrook Mall when you are in Panamá City.

Aloha, Amor y Luz, Renée











In Panamá: The Panamá Canal

Of course, Barry and I needed to see the Panamá Canal – that engineering and commercial feat that cost the lives of many but today allows commerce to flow between the Atlantic and Pacific. Most of the workers came from Barbados – but also from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad, and Jamaica.

The Spanish, Italians, Greeks, Hindus, Americans, Armenians, Cubans, Costa Ricans, Columbians, and Panamanians came too.  On March 30, 1854, the Sea Witch clipper arrived with 705 Chinese to work on the transoceanic railroad project, which was crucial for the construction of the canal.

According to the Miraflores Locks Museum, the labor force peaked in 1884 with 19,243 workers. “They managed to understand each other, started families, made fortunes, and exhausted the country,”  says the museum.  However, thousands  of those who came to work died – mainly of yellow fever or malaria.

canal map

Instead of going around South America, the Panamá Canal allows quicker and less dangerous passage for commerce

On October 10, 1913, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson gave the signal via telegraph to blow up the Gamboa Dike – to join the waters of Gatun Lake and the Culebra Cut, thus creating the Panamá Canal.

Richard Haluburton

In 1928, U.S. adventurer Richard Halliburton swam through the whole Panamá Canal. He was charged $.38 for his passage

canal B & Ron

Barry with Ron, a U.S. citizen married to a Panamanian woman. Ron says the roads and other aspects of life have improved since military dictator Manuel Noriega was removed in 1989. Ron was a member of the President George H.W. Bush ordered U.S. invasion of Panama

In 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian leader General Omar Torrijos signed Torrijos-Carter Treaties that started the process of handing over the canal to the Panamanians by 2000.  The U.S. military bases remained and the transfer was to assure that the canal would be kept open for U.S. shipping.

“The US had long-standing relations with General Noriega, who served as a US intelligence asset and paid Central Intelligence Agency informant from 1967, including the period when Bush was head of the CIA (1976–77).[6]”  

However, according to a Mother Jones article, “As George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas Pickering said about Operation Just Cause: ‘Having used force in Panama… there was a propensity in Washington to think that force could provide a result more rapidly, more effectively, more surgically than diplomacy.’ The easy capture of Noriega meant ‘the notion that the international community had to be engaged… was ignored.’

‘Iraq in 2003 was all of that shortsightedness in spades,’ Pickering said. ‘We were going to do it all ourselves.’  And we did.

The road to Baghdad, in other words, ran through Panama City. It was George H.W. Bush’s invasion of that small, poor country 25 years ago that inaugurated the age of preemptive unilateralism, using ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ as both justifications for war and a branding opportunity. Later, after 9/11, when George W. insisted that the ideal of national sovereignty was a thing of the past, when he said nothing—certainly not the opinion of the international community—could stand in the way of the ‘great mission’ of the United States to ‘extend the benefits of freedom across the globe,’ all he was doing was throwing more fuel on the ‘wildfire’ sparked by his father. A wildfire some in Panama likened to a “little Hiroshima” [because of the destruction of at least 4,000 residences, and according to human-rights organizations, the deaths of  thousands of Panamanian civilians].

From: “How Our 1989 Invasion of Panama Explains The Current U.S. Foreign Policy Mess” -The road to Baghdad started in Panama City, 25 years ago, by

Today, the Panamanians Barry and I talked to have mixed opinions about the removal of Noriega.  Major roads are good throughout the country; Panamá City has a terrific metro system, new high rises,  construction is everywhere, and many American and European ex-pats are moving to Panamá.

Right now, construction is underway to double the capacity of the Panamá Canal to accommodate even larger vessels.  The “Third Set of Locks Project” will create a new lane of traffic with about one and a half times the current maximum width and length – known as Panamax – that carry over twice as much cargo.


Panamá Canal expansion

Image from: <;

I hope you too will be able to see the Panamá Canal.

Adios, Renée


In Panamá: Bocas Del Toro


Bocas del Toro

Image from: <;

We went to the Caribbean – to Bocas del Toro on Isla Colón to be exact.  One of the best parts of the trip from Boquete to Bocas was the water taxi from Almirante; we practically flew over the emerald water.  Bocas is known for its laid back atmosphere and water adventures.



Panamá  – Bocas del Toro in the NW

Image from: <;.

biking Barry

Biking Barry in Bocas – no gears!

You can see some of the highlights.

Aloha & Amor y Luz, Renée

In Panamá: Boquete

Boquete is known as the Napa Valley of Panamá’s coffee region and is a top destination for adventure lovers – climb the volcano to watch sunrise, go white-water rafting, hike, bird-watch, rock climb, and enjoy coffee tours.

In the highlands of Chiriqui Provence in western Panamá, Boquete is where Barry and I spent much of our time in January.  With a population of 19,000, Boquete has about 14%   North American and European retirees. That fact is probably why we met people who had time to talk.   Also a result of all the ex-pats is the number of Boquete interest groups: hiking groups – at least two, a bird-watching group, bridge players, and bocce ball players; these are just the ones we discovered in the 10 days or so that we were in Boquete.

rainbow euc

Rainbow eucalyptus trees in Boquete. Many of the plants are the same as those we have in Hawaii.

N-B woman

A Ngäbe-Buglé  woman.  This indigenous group that lives in Panamá has been able to keep much of its culture.

The Ngäbe-Buglé (actually two groups of indigenous peoples whose languages are mutually unintelligible) have exclusive land rights and considerable administrative autonomy in their region.   The Ngäbe (also spelled Ngöbe), the larger group, speaks Ngäbere,  and the Buglé speaks Buglére, both members of the Chibchan language family.   Collectively, they make up the largest indigenous population in Panamá of about 200,000.

According to Lonely Planet: Panamá, “Like other indigenous groups in Panama, the Ngäbe-Buglé are struggling to maintain their cultural identity, especially as foreign pressures continue to descent on the comarca (autonomous region). They predominately survive on subsistence agriculture, but they have been more successful than other groups . . . in maintaining their cultural identity and resisting the drive to modernize” (166).  From what I saw, this means they are very poor and not well respected.  😦   But some Panamanians realize the importance of having traditional cultures, so hopefully the Ngäbe-Buglé opportunities will improve.  Walking eight hours to pick coffee is not a good opportunity!

coffee plantation

Just outside Boquete are coffee plantations. Roasted beans roll down into the waiting truck.

Ngöbe-Buglé children

Ngäbe-Buglé children

Boq susan

Susan gives terrific mat Pilates and cardio Pilates classes at The Haven Spa in Boquete

boq road

A road up from the town of Boquete. We loved picking different roads and hiking up (and back down)

At the top of one Boquete road - the colorful cemetery

The view of the central square out our Mamallena Hostel window in Boquete

save energy

Mamallena Hostel sign – and sign of the good humor there.


For $3.00 U.S. we bought - two pineapples, onions, peppers, oranges, eggplant, chilies, and a slice of watermelon!

For $3.00 U.S. we bought – two pineapples, onions, peppers, a bag of oranges, eggplant, chilies, and a slice of watermelon – all fresh and tasty!

Near the top of one of the Boquete roads - a colorful cemetery

Near the top of one of the Boquete roads – a colorful cemetery


Panamá is about 98% Roman Catholic xxxx but many other religions are part of this diverse and important trade area xx

Panamá is about 85% Roman Catholic but many other religions are accepted in this diverse and important trade area


Boquete cemetery

Boquete cemetery

A Boquete cactus

A Boquete cactus

The river that runs through Boquete

The river that runs through Bouquet


boq B, S, &amp; R

Our new friends, Suzie and Russ, originally from Chicago, are now living in Boquete. Here we are at Sugar & Spice restaurant. We had a lot of fun hanging out with them.

Stone art

Stone art


Farm animals next to a Boquete road

Farm animals next to a Boquete road

Boquete from above.

Boquete from above.

Me on a Boquete hike

On a Boquete hike

Barry hiking near Boquete

Barry hiking near Boquete

Mi Jardin

Mi Jardin entrance

photo 5

Mi Jardin es Su Jardin – an open to the public garden

photo 4

At Mi Jardin es Su Jardin

photo 4

Boquete flowers

photo 3

On a Take-A-Hike outing

boq castle

Take-A-Hike – to the “haunted” castle

to the wall

Take-A-Hike – to The Wall

Our favorite places to eat in Boquete (in alphabetical order) include:  Big Daddy’s, La Casona Mexicana, Mike’s International Grill, Retrograde, and Sugar & Spice.  All had fresh produce, vegetarian choices for me, and wonderful cooks.

We had fun eating in Boquete too.

We had fun eating in Boquete too.

We loved the cool weather, the fair, the friendly people – local, ex-pat, and at our hostel, the travelers and Mamallena staff,  the yoga and Pilates classes, the great hikes, the organized Take-a-Hike group, and good food.

We would visit again.  We recommend that you go to Boquete too.

Aloha and Adios, Renée

In Panamá: El Explorador

One of the reasons to spend time in Boquete, Panamá is for the wonderful hiking.  If you walk on almost any road that intersects with the main street, up you go and soon have great views of the town, coffee plantations, and green mountains.

One path we took is about an hour walk from the center of town – up a steep hill to the Lonely Planet Panama recommended site:  El Explorador – “The gardens are designed to look like something out of Alice in Wonderland, with no shortage of quirky eye-catching displays, including fanciful suspension bridges, koi ponds and playful sculptures” (165).

It’s $5.00 each for foreigners to enter this private garden.  At first, I thought “ridículo!” – but the place grew on me.  The figures and garden decorations often included sayings – many of them inspiring.

Here are some of my favorite:

La Felicidad

“La Felicidad es elfruto de nuestra comunion con Dios” – Happiness is the fruit of our communication with God.

Los Libros

“Books make you well, because they are vitamin “Se!

Hay Que Chuparlo

“Hay Que Chuparlo Para Mojarlo: Hay Que Empuarlo Para Metro Hay Que Lamerlo Para, Pararlo … Que Dificules Meter Un Hilo en Un Aguja.” Mi Abuela “You have to suck it up if you are wet: you have to to Lick It, Stop It … Difficulties measure a thread on a needle. says – My Grandmother

As you can see, my translations aren’t quite right.  Let me know your better versions.

El Explorador grounds

El Explorador grounds

El Alma no tiene

The spirit does not have secrets, it does not have compartments.

view and figure

Mountains and clouds from the El Explorador grounds

Barry &amp; cat

Barry at El Explorador – with the cat that adopted him.

bag + shoe

Creative pieces everywhere

barry walking boquete

Barry walking the Boquete hills

When you are in Boquete, spend an afternoon climbing to El Explorador and enjoying the quirky, peaceful spot.  Vaya con Dios, Renée


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