Education in Panama

Candelario at his desk. The building is older and there is no door on his office. The arched door leads to a woman’s office (secretary?) which is much larger than his.

I’ve been wanting to talk with someone familiar with the education system in Panama and this week our B&B host, Lisia, and I were out for a walk and ran into the principal of the local elementary school. Lisia introduced me to him. His name is Candelario. I asked if he might have time this week to chat for a little while; he was happy to have me come the following day.

When I arrived, Candelario was waiting for me at the school. After he rang the recess bell, we went into his office to talk. His office is barely 8’x5′. The secretary or whatever her title is has twice the space as the principal. But it was very significant to me that the FIRST area you enter is to HIS office, not hers! During our 20-30 minutes of talking, at least 4 students came to him to ask quick questions. Each time, Candelario immediately stopped talking with me and focused intently and lovingly on the child. It is obvious that he is there for them.

He often gave the child what they wanted but one child wanted something to do with a non-nutritious snack and he kindly but firmly said that they don’t eat that kind of food at school. One of his main focuses is health and healthy eating…more on that later.

I will divide the information I have on education in Panama over several blogs since it is a lot of information and quite diverse.

Thinking of Home

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. January 2017

I am reading House of Rain by Craig Childs. It is non-fiction, about the Anasazi and Craig’s travels to their ruins in the four corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. I am enjoying it, even though it has me a little homesick thinking of SW Colorado and areas I have been and those I can go check out. Thinking of friends too!

 

 

 

 

Boquete Panama

View from our apartment in Boquete. We haven’t seen the rainbow like this is but I can imagine it.

We have been in Boquete (pronounced Boe ket ay) for the better part of a month. Most of that time we have been in the same apartment which is furnished with everything you could want, including a mixer, knife sharpener, and lots of dish towels. The bed is comfortable and the entertainment center includes a ton of movies via Kodi as well as Netflix and cable TV. It is clean and well maintained.

Now it is even better maintained (minor fixes) because we made a barter for part of our rent payment. I created a website for the apartments and Dan is doing some minor repairs.

Our view is wonderful, it looks out over the town of Boquete. We are on one of the higher points in the area. The view varies from clear to socked in clouds but I enjoy it all. I’m surprised that the almost daily rain doesn’t bother me. I think that is mostly because the temperatures are very comfortable (shorts or capris most of the time), the humidity isn’t bad, and it is usually in the late afternoons so you can plan around it.

While Boquete doesn’t compare to Durango Colorado in many ways, it is about the same size. About 10% of the population is English speaking so you may or may not run into clerks and wait staff that speak English. Our Spanish has progressed to the point that we can usually do without Google Translate when we talk to people.

Boquete is less than an hour from David (pronounced da veed like the lady who used to be on NCIS) which I would guess is about 150,000 people. Doctors of all kinds come to Boquete on a regular basis so you can get most health care taken care of here and many of them speak English. Dan saw an optometrist (no charge!!!) to get a new prescription for his glasses and the new lenses were about the same cost as the ones he got not quite a year ago.

The monetary system is based on the US dollar although they do give change sometimes in Balboas but it is still based on 100 cents to the dollar or Balboa and the coins (except for the Balboa itself which is a two metal coin) are the same basic size and materials as US coins so it is easy to think in US money. (Makes life less challenging!)

We haven’t done any sightseeing since we were getting over our colds/allergies/whatever but we have enjoyed the relaxed pace, doing a lot of reading, some walking, occasional Zumba using the video that Rebecca Thompson kindly made for me.

And receiving packages is easy here. We are using a company who contracts with Mail Boxes Etc. and we have things shipped to Miami, FL and they are forwarded to us. It isn’t cheap since we pay shipping to Miami and then another fee to get it here and deal with Customs but we got our first two packages today, some of the same products that we couldn’t get in Costa Rica, with no problems!!!

If I wanted to relocate, this might be a good place however I understand that it is very windy like Monteverde during the dry season so I don’t think I’d want that. In any case, it doesn’t have some things I really miss from Durango: recreation center (there are gyms here but not as extensive a selection of activities), Seniors Outdoors organization although they do have small groups that hike several times a week, and most importantly the friends we have made in Durango.

So while we keep a look out in the back of our minds for a better place to live permanently than Durango, nothing has come very close to filling that description.

Slow Traveling

Volcan Baru looking from Isla de Muertos (Island of the Dead) in Bahia de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead) on the Pacific Coast, looking up to 11,398′. Boquete is east and down the slope to the right of the peak just a couple or three miles.

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Slow traveling is actually a term people use when they move from place to place without any hurry.

Originally the reason for slow traveling was a way to live frugally for a couple of years. Later it was an idea with motion, gaining momentum, with nothing strong enough to slow or stop it. I remember waiting at the airport in Houston for our flight out of the country, physically tired, mentally sapped, and whether all preparations were complete or not, we were about to fly to Costa Rica.

I thought “What are we doing? What are we getting ourselves into?” Momentum won as we took the flight.

Or maybe it wasn’t momentum, perhaps my cousin, Ginger, said it more accurately “You are wanderers.”

The fears and doubts were just that. The learning curve has been pretty gentle. My Spanish is improving, a few more words here and there.

Now in our third country, I know that there are so many nice people from all over. Sure, there are the few to watch out for and places to avoid. That has been easy, as we meet other travelers who have been places we are heading toward.

The world is beautiful and I am glad we are on this journey.

Converting Money In My Head

$    *    %    +    =

First let me say, I am good at math. I’ve always liked math in all ways (ok, I never did Calculus but I liked the math I had). But money conversions and strong vs weak monetary systems seems to stifle me.

For example with Costa Rican Colones, I sometimes get confused: am I doubling or halving and moving the decimal point? One US dollar is a little over 500 colones so if you double the charge and move your decimal point you get a rough conversion. So if the bathroom charge is 150 colones, it is about 30 cents US money (150*2/10). I got the hang of it pretty well by the time we left.

Panama is great because it uses US money except they sometimes give you a one dollar coin called a Bolivar. I don’t get why they do one sometimes. The other day, my change was $4 and they gave me 3 one dollar bills and one Bolivar. Go figure! I think she had the bills so I don’t get it.

And you would think that the left over Costa Rican colones could be used in Panama. I only have about 7000 colones (7000*2/10=$14) but I guess I will have to go to a bank to get it converted. People act like I am giving them Monopoly money when I try to use it. LOL

Restroom Rents

Maintenance Fee $0.26

In the US, I always resented paying to use a restroom. It’s not that I love it when we travel but I do have a better appreciation since I saw a sign that said that the money was used for maintaining the restroom. Another sign said that you were “renting” the restroom.

It isn’t expensive, just inconvenient sometimes to have change. It is usually $0.50 or less. I remember that the bus station at Turrialba is 150 colones which is about $0.26. (The cents sign in the image above indicates “Colones” the money unit in Costa Rica.)

Don’t forget to keep toilet paper with you when you travel since it is sometimes a rude surprise to not have any. One place I went in didn’t have any dispensers in the stall but then (after I finished my business, fortunately I was prepared), I saw the dispenser on the wall outside the stalls. That seemed a bit odd since it might lead to taking more than you might actually need…just in case!

In many of the places where you pay, the attendant gives you a premeasured amount of paper before you go in. Not wild about the idea of someone handling my paper before I do but again, it is often much more than I need so it is wasteful.

A Couple Of Updates to Earlier Posts

Banking: beware that you may run into ATMs/banks that DON’T accept cards with chips. If you are using an ATM you get an error that your transaction can’t be processed…not that the machine doesn’t accept cards with chips. We found this problem in Santa Elena Costa Rica although it probably isn’t an issue in larger cities.

If possible, you will want to use a company that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. USAA, and at least some Citbank and Bank of America cards do not charge this fee. USAA even rebates the ATM fee up to a certain limit each month. (You must have been in the military or a family member of someone who has been in the military to join…no checking account fees, free checks, etc. They are great to work with too!)

Oh and remember to let your bank/credit card company know that you will be traveling so that transactions are not denied as being potentially fraudulent. You can do this online with most banks/companies or via the phone. It is usually very easy to set up.

Shipping: remember the supplements that I had shipped to me in Costa Rica? Long story short, the Minister of Health must not know how to search online to get a list of ingredients because after I was told that I couldn’t find out anything for at least 30 days I went to their office (post 30 days) only to find a letter dated before the 30 days was up saying they needed to know the ingredients in the supplement. By then I didn’t have time to deal with it and thought I could have my package returned and at least I would get my $150 for the products credited back to me.

Today I found out that the package was destroyed at some point so the moral is, don’t have supplements of any kind shipped to Costa Rica…and probably not anywhere. Hopefully I can find things or friends can bring things to me if/when they visit. Come on now, we miss you. Think about a trip to visit us!

Packing Light

Dan with 2 rolling bags, 2 backpacks, 2 fanny packs, and a tote bag. That’s about all we usually have!
Osprey Convertable Rolling Bag and Backpack (Photo courtesy of Osprey Packs)

I’ve had folks ask us how we can pack for such a long trip. We pack “light” which is a relative term. I have 2 pairs of long pants, one pair of capris, and one pair of shorts. I think Dan has only a couple of pairs of pants and one pair of shorts/bathing suit.

We each have a few shirts and underwear. Generally we run out of underwear and have to wash. We prefer not to wear them more than one day although our outer garments are often worn 2-4 days depending on if we get dirty or sweaty.

What takes up a lot of luggage space is supplements. I take a number of OTC items and two prescriptions. Dan takes a few supplements. It has been a challenge getting the supplements and I am running up against issues with the prescriptions that I hope to solve soon. So far I have enough of everything for the next few months.

We have one Sony digital camera with a couple of extra lenses and we each have a cell phone (number changes with each country) and a tablet, and we have one LG Gram laptop which is very lightweight. Even though it is brand new, the warranty is only valid in the US and it is getting hotter than I think it should. My advice if you buy electronics to travel to make sure you have an international warranty or know that you may have to pay repairs out of pocket AND repairs done at a non-authorized dealer may void your warranty. We are a little over half way through on a one year warranty so if I can find someone to look at it I will have it repaired and the warranty voided. Also be careful if you purchase an electronic from a store, the warranty may be limited to that store. We looked at getting a second laptop (we both want to work on this one at the same time) and talked with Dell about a laptop the PriceMart had. The warranty would only be covered at a PriceMart.

We carry about 7 items each time we travel: each of us has a rolling Osprey bag which fits in the overhead of a regular jet, a matching backpack that can be zipped onto the rolling bag, a fanny pack, and a tote for miscellaneous. We sometimes have something extra like this time we have a box of gluten free crackers, gluten free cereal, and a big jar of peanut butter in another bag.

(Bring several charging devices since you may have a problem finding where you packed them. We are thinking about getting a lightweight extension cord since there aren’t always enough plugs, or convenient plugs.)

All in all  it isn’t too hard to pack and move from place to place. We can take the bus if we need to. This time we took a taxi because it was only an hour away and Dan is under the weather with allergies. Hopefully the higher altitude of Boquete Panama will help him.

David Panama

Sintia and Corrado

We arrived in David Panama late yesterday afternoon so here are some initial impressions. Hot and humid, no surprise. In 2013, David (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable: da veed) was about 145,000 people. It is near the closest city to Costa Rica, at least from the route we took (about a 7 hour bus trip, including going through Customs but with 3 stops along the way). It is about 7 kilometers (4.25 miles) to where the bay/ocean start.

Our hosts are very congenial. Corrado and Sintia own the Hostal La Libertad which is on the edge of town. They have 4 rooms available for rent with a private bath for each room (and some have AC like ours does). She is from the Dominican Republic and he is from Italy. (They were introduced to each other when her sister needed a fourth person for an activity).

Don’t you love this picture of them in Genova (Genoa) Italy? She said she was very contented when it was taken. It reminds me of something from a movie from long ago, a guess because of her hair and the pose.

Tonight we are eating with them for dinner. Corado showed me some fresh lobster he got yesterday morning. I think he is the cook. We are paying for our dinner but fresh whole lobster for $15 per person, I’m in!

Which brings me to a brief comment on currency. Panama uses US dollars for their bills and it seems for their coins as well although they do have one Balboa coins that they use as well. One Balboa is equal to one US dollar. Prices are listed as “B” for Balboa. You can see the recent bimetalic Balboa here.