Wednesday, October 10, 2012

House Sitting

La-to-da! Here I am, perched in a big red leather armchair, big screen TV showing me CNN International news, wicker fans whirring overhead. i'm housesitting in the plush home of my friends Jon and Anne on Carenero Island. Located only a quarter mile across the water from Bocas Town, thIs island was named by Christopher Columbus himself as the place where he careened his ships to clean their bottom. He would be flabbergasted by the development!

For me, this life is much different than life in our Pieceful Jungle. This house is on-the-grid, so I don't fret about running 4 fans at once, leaving the TV on all day, or even using an electric refrigerator and stove. At the same time, there are draw backs. Like yesterday when Jon and Anne wanted to leave on their trip but the city power was off and they could not run the electric motor on their boat lift to lower the boat to the water.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Oops, I forgot!

The rule for putting on boots in the tropics is to look inside and then turn them upside down for a good shake. I forgot. So look what was inside when I got back from my walk -- sure, glad I was wearing a pair of Carl's old socks! 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Home again, Jiggity Jog

Ahh, so grand to be home! The monkeys welcomed us, scrambling about the Hog Plum Trees in the front yard, munching away on ripe fruit. Smart rascals, they reach out to pinch fruits to find the ripe ones!

And sweet Samantha Najarro, who took care of our house while we were away, had dinner ready for us when we arrived, so welcome after getting up at 4:30 am to catch the 6:30 flight to Bocas . Sam, who is officially house sitting next door, slept alone at our house, keeping it safe, and leaving her friend, Jenn Ambrose, also to sleep alone. Both said they heard new jungle sounds -- all night long -- for the first few nights. While here, Sam even caught geckos to feed Bob, Carl's False Coral Snake, who lives in an aquarium on the porch.

Of course, we're now back at work on our Perpetual Projects, our decadent city days behind us for a while. Carl has been scraping old vinyl from Camryka's ceiling panels, prepping them for new vinyl. I bought the vinyl in David on my recent shopping spree -- along with a boatload of supplies from Pricesmart (Latin division of Costco) and other shops where items are much cheaper than in Bocas. Purchases arrive via Toby's Transport Service, a big truck which makes the 4-hour journey across the high mountains from Pacific to Atlantic, to the end of the road in Almirante, then about an hour by ferry to Bocas where we load all in our panga (open motor boat.)

We filled a couple of 5-gallon jugs with gasoline and exchanged 2 empty propane tanks for full ones and headed south for 8 miles, lucky the sea is calm with such a full boat. At our dock, we call a couple of Ngobe-Bugle Indians guys who live in the nearby village. Happy to earn a bit of cash, they make short work of carrying everything up our 60 foot hill and up the stairs to our home. We really couldn't live here without these good fellows.

And then comes storage. All our years aboard sv Camryka taught us to be hoarders -- if you see it and need it, buy it now, buy 12, since you don't know when you might be back, and it may not be there next time. We only go 2-3 times a year to David for stocking up and once a week, at most, to Bocas for fresh veggies and dairy products. An 8.1 cubic feet chest freezer that operates on 12 volts allows us to buy meats, fish, flour, nuts... in David, and even to buy extra veggies in Bocas. If winds, heavy rains, or lightening make the trip to town dangerous or uncomfortable, we don't go. Fewer trips means less gas, too, as the panga uses 3.5 gallons, costing about $15.

My project this week has been making black mesh curtains for the back porch, the only sewing I've done.The mesh, another David item, typically shades plants at nurseries. Here it blocks late afternoon sun, heavy winds and rain. We've had it on the front porch for 2 years as the house faces prevailing winds from the northwest. But occasionally we get a southerly wind which roars into my "sewing room'' on the back porch. The new screens block the morning sun from bags of ripening oranges, stalks of bananas, and more importantly, shade the freezer for a little less power consumption!

Emilio, Gardener Extraordinaire, chopped down a dead lemon tree yesterday, and he's caught up with mowing cleared areas and trails which got a bit behind during his annual 4 weeks vacation. He uses a lawn mower on reasonably flat ares, a weed eater on steep hills, and, like most of the Indians, relies heavily on his machete for trimming. For four years, Emilio has planted and planted and planted, bringing delightful additions from the villagers' gardens and surrounding jungle. He works unsupervised, has a good eye. Yes, a landscape artist could do better, and a little supervision wouldn't hurt, but, me, I'd rather be sewing ;)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Einstein and Hard Rock Hotel

Back to New York Bagels at Cabeza de Einstein for morning coffee. We wanted 4 dozen onion bagels to take home, but ended up with a variety after depleting the entire onion stock. Einstein, hanging out in the bushes just outside the door, grinned when we left lugging 4 big brown paper bags -- 52 bagels in all since we scored the traditional Baker's dozens.

We spent the afternoon poking about shops. At Multicentro, a huge shopping mall that rivals any in the US, we shared a gooey and delicious Cinnabon then walked directly through a conecting passage to the Consultorio Paitilla, the office space for doctors affliliated with the private Paitilla Hospital. This passage passes through the Hard Rock Hotel where we ogled photos and costume displays for many of the world's most famous musicians.

Good news at the opthalmologist's office: Carl's eye has healed properly and his vision is much improved in his right eye. Of course his macular degeneration will always cause some distortion and it is most prominent in the right eye.

There's a very early morning tomorrow as we have to leave the hotel by 5am. We're going home.

Wujuuuuu!! (that's Spanish for for woohooooo!)

Monday, August 27, 2012

New York Bagels!

New York Bagels, located beside Cabeza de Einstein ( a statue of Einstein's head) in Panama City, offers up bagels to rival any found in the Big Apple. Only $0.75 each, bagels here are served along with bottomless cups of international roast coffees in an atmosphere like any college town hotspot. Yum! We plan to take 4 dozen bagels home for our freezer. We will, of course, get lots of stares at the airport as our luggage will reek of onions!

Like many places where we cruised about the Caribbean, Bocas del Toro doesn't have decent bagels to offer. Yes, there are expensive frozen imitations at the Gringo grocery store, not even worth the effort to carry them up our hill. So I've learned to make onion bagels, and while the ingredients are few, the labor is intensive. For years, my bagels have been totally ug-lee! While they tasted fine, they looked more like old wrinkled men, and I would not have considered offering them to guests. Now, in an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, I've discovered the Magic Step.

A breadmaker takes some of the work and mess out of the process, but kneading by hand is always an option if electrical power is in short supply. For onion bagels, I add the following, in order:
  • 2Tbsp. yeast
  • 1 pkg. dry onion soup mix
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (substitute 1 cup whole wheat if desired)
  • 1 1/2 cups not water *
* To get water the exactly perfect temperature, bring 1/2 cup water to boil in microwave or on stovetop, then add 1 cup cold water. (A beautiful Dutch cruising lady at anchor in CuraƧao, 2000, taught me this handy trick.)

Mix or knead all to make a firm dough then let rise in the breadmaker (or other warm place) until double in bulk, usually taking about an hour. Place dough on a bread pan sprayed with non-stick. Cut into 8 equal pieces and form pieces into slightly flattened balls. With 2 fingers, make a hole in the center of each ball. Stretch the hole evenly to about 2" in diameter.

Now the Magic Step: place bagels under the broiler for 2 minutes on each side. No longer, as they do not need to brown at this stage. Sounds weird and makes for an extra step, but oh, so worth the trouble.

Next, the bagels get a hot water bath. Put 2 Tbsp. sugar in about 3" of water in a large pot and bring to slow boil. Gently put 4 bagels in boiling water for 1 minute, turn them over, and boil another minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove bagels from water and place them on a wire rack to drain. Repeat with the other 4 bagels.

Beat an egg in a coffee cup and use a pastry brush to brush the tops and sides of bagels with egg. Re-spray baking pan and place glazed bagels so they don't touch. Bake bagels at your oven's highest temperature, 450-500 degrees, for 15-18 minutes or until browned on top. When done, place bagels on the wire rack to cool.

Voila! These bagels are pretty enough that we invite neighbors for a Lox and Bagel Breakfast on our front porch in the jungle! And of course, it is now also clear why I am so happy to take home 4 dozen bagels from Panama City for which the only labor required is hailing a taxi:)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Car Alarms and Howler Monkeys

At 5:00 am, a car alarm rousts me from sleep here in this air conditioned room on the 5th floor of a Panama City hotel. I'd rather hear the howler monkeys outside the windows of our jungle home. The car alarm is... well... alarming, disturbing, unnatural, invasive, and LOUD. Okay, howlers are LOUD, too, but they are natural, Poppa Monkey announcing to his family that all is safe to start a day of foraging in the canopy, just happy jungle sounds. Howlers in this world are still exotic while car alarms seem to proliferate the city streets and make me want to go home.

Carl has just had surgery to remove the cataract from his right eye. All
quite successful and we are only waiting for final check up before we
can go back home next Thursday. We've been here 6 days already, long
enough for the dozen bagels we bought at New York Bagel on Sunday
to start molding. We read, watch a little tv, shop, play on the Internet,
give ourselves over to this time of decadence. I've already learned to
prepare a full meal using the little microwave with only 2 saucers and
2 bowls in the tiny galley: rotisserie chicken, baked sweet potatoes,
steamed broccoli. Not bad! And there are advantages here: no mud
between my toes, no need to look for scorpions on a midnight ramble
to the bathroom, somebody else to mop the floor and make the beds.
I could get used to living like this. All but for the car alarms.