Category Archives: Panama

Posts that take place in the country of Panama

Making chocolate, sort of, not really

When I realized that Valentine’s day was fast approaching, I decided to make Jeff chocolate from scratch. He loves chocolate and it seemed like the perfect gift.


Just kidding. I am not a big Valentine’s day person. I am, however, a big fan of squash. So when I saw this in the gourd section of the grocery store, I got excited.

Doesn’t this make you think of chocolate?

I knew immediately, mostly, because of the sign, that these were cacao pods, which are used to make chocolate. I had been on Theo’s chocolate tour in Seattle where they passed around photos of these pods. I think I may have spaced out though on the tour when they explained everything that came between pod and chocolate bar.

The pod was less than a dollar, but when the grocery store bagger stared at it and held it up to look closer, I realized making chocolate from scratch was not a common thing, even in Panama.

When I looked up how to make chocolate on the internet, I realized I may have wasted my seventy-eight cents.

It sat on our counter for a week until I built up the nerve to “make chocolate.” It also took that long to convince Jeff to help me. In our over 25 year marriage, Jeff has had to rescue me when I decided to “make” soap, cheese, soy lattes, hummus, roasted pumpkin seeds, and guacamole.

Maybe I can just make a squash smoothie instead.

But then I got up the nerve and the strength to cut the pod open.

Cutting it open was super hard. Jeff stood by to dial 911 in case I cut my finger off.

Just going to close my eyes and take a little nap while I cut this.

Wouldn’t you think when you cut open a cacao pod, M&M’s would fall out? At least you would think it would smell a tiny bit like chocolate.

Nope, didn’t smell like much actually.

Ick, why are there mini aliens pods in this thing?

The inside was similar to acorn squash, lots of weird seeds, slimy, and gross looking. The seed things had a membrane that tasted sort of fruity. Sort of like a sour green grape.

This tastes nothing at all like chocolate. But this Instagram filter makes me look younger.

I planned to cook the squash but no, people don’t eat them. They don’t have much taste.

There’s a reason there is no such thing as cacao pod soup or ravioli.

According to the internet, you have to ferment the pods to get them to taste like chocolate. They need to sit out in hot weather which there is a lot of here in Panama City.

Good thing we ate an entire jar of peanut butter in a week so I had a glass jar to use.

The internet said it would take two to seven days. I put a lid on the jar and put it on the balcony.

In the meantime, I was on a kick to try new local fruits. They have a fruit bowl in our gym with mostly apples. One day they had these little yellow things that looked like pears. I asked the guy what they were in Spanish.

I said, “Como este?”

I was pretty sure that meant, Look how interested I am in your culture. Please tell me what this strange exotic fruit is? I actually said, “like this?” which doesn’t’ mean a whole lot in this context.

I thought he answered, “bara” which I took to be some very exotic Panamanian fruit. I presented it to Jeff to try.

Sheryl: Here is a ‘bara’ I hope you like it.
Jeff: This is a pear.

Turns out the gym guy said “pera” which mean, pear in Spanish. I might not recognize a pear when I see one, but I do know a jar of rotting, I mean fermenting cacao seeds.

Day 1 – They still look gross.
Day 2-4 They smell gross.
Day 5-6 What is that goo?
Day 7 They still look and smell terrible, guess I’ll make them into chocolate.

The next step in the process according to the internet was baking the seeds.

This is Theo’s Chocolate’s fault. Sure which I had never gone on that tour.

Baking the seeds went well. Peeling them was as tedious as you would imagine.

My nails and hands look at cracked and dry as the seeds.
Who wouldn’t want this for Valentine’s Day?

After the cooking and peeling of the seeds, I feared they would never become chocolate. But then, I thought about the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 and knew anything was possible.

Actually, my hair was a mess and I didn’t want to straighten it.

The blending took forever. I think it took at least an hour. Jeff says only five minutes.

Finally, cocoa powder.

While it looked pretty, it didn’t taste like chocolate. Jeff mixed it with peanut butter.

This looks like a fork of peanut butter photoshopped into a picture of Jeff. but it’s not. He really did try this.

It tasted like mashed up crayons with a very faint taste of chocolate.

So then I decided to “make fudge.” I added a ton of sugar, butter, and milk.

Action shot of the spoon mixing the boiling “chocolate.”

Jeff was once again ready to call 911 in case the boiling “chocolate” shot up and burned me.

But then after we refrigerated it overnight, we finally had “chocolate.”

Next time I’m just buying a chocolate bar.

It pretty much just tasted like sugary goo which is still very delicious. The next time you see a fancy chocolate bar at the store and wonder why it’s so expensive, this is why. The cacao pods might be cheap, but the process is not easy.

Binoculars, sloths and the Butterfly Jail

When Jeff and I visited Panama in 2014 we visited the Metropolitan Park to bird watch. We didn’t see many birds but we did see an anteater. Ever since I’ve been hoping to see another one.

First, we needed binoculars since we left our perfectly good pair back at home in Seattle. So, we headed to the mall. After checking around in several different stores, we were directed to Panafoto which sells everything electronic.

No pans and no photos though.

The store is set up similar to how Service Merchandise was back in the 70’s. First, we waited for someone to help us at the binocular counter.

How badly do you want to see an anteater?
I think I see coffee grinders in aisle 4.

Then we went to several counters, one to order the product, one to get a receipt, one to pay, and one to get the product, and finally, one to look at the product and sign off it was the correct item.

Let’s start all over and get a coffee grinder too.
Please don’t make me go back to that other counter.

After we finished with the binoculars, we decided to start the process over again for a coffee grinder.

On Sunday we headed out to the Parque Nautural Metropolitano. It was a quick fifteen minute Uber ride which only cost $4.00. The park was great with nice bathrooms, water fountains, and English speaking rangers.

Which trail has the most anteaters?
Not seeing any anteaters yet

The trails were easy and the forest was beautiful. We heard a lot of birds but only saw a few.

This bird is so still, it’s amazing.

I spent ten minutes staring at what I thought was a bird but turned out to be a really nice leaf.

It was really hot, I had to struggle just to stay upright and continue walking. But everyone else was jogging, actually running!

You’re going to miss all the anteaters if you run that fast.

We hiked up one hill, at the top I thought I would very likely pass out, other women were doing squats, on a hill, in hot weather!

We didn’t see any anteaters and very few birds. But, we did come upon a sloth!!

We didn’t exactly come across it, it was high up in a tree. But still, the binoculars came in handy.

At the end of our walk, I insisted on going to the butterfly garden, or butterfly jail as Jeff called it. Jeff didn’t want to spend the $5 on admission, so he stayed on the other side of the netting.

OK, it is a little bit like a moth prison.

Is this photo worth a butterfly’s freedom?
I bet they don’t get grapefruit in the wild.

The garden had eleven different types of butterflies. I think I saw six different kinds, all interesting, and all seeming very happy.

We got some exercise, got into nature, and saw some cool stuff. Next time I’m bringing some ants though to attract an anteater.

Coffeemax and la cinta costera

Jeff and I have been trying to swim every day, but last Saturday we needed a break from the pool.

We decided we should do an exercise walk on the Cinta Costera which translates to the “coastal beltway.” It’s a really nice walking and cycling path along the water. We were on it once before in the middle of the day and I almost had heatstroke, so I insisted get up early for this walk.

We’re still not morning people. Getting up early on a Saturday was rough.

It’s literally the crack of dawn. Why am I awake?

Do not take a picture of me until the sun has actually risen.

We got in our workout clothes and headed out to find coffee.

Coffee Max is a local Panamanian coffee shop with two locations in Panama City which I’ve been wanting to try. I couldn’t wait to go in and try local coffee.

I hope the delivery motorcycles don’t literally catch on fire like on the sign.

We got in and found they only served Illy Coffee which, while delicious, is from Italy.

I appreciated the signage but something just seemed a bit too forceful about it.

Best Cofee Ever, Hot Strong Coffee, Enjoy it, Morning Coffee Bring More
There was hand sanitizer on each table – brilliant.

I ordered an iced Americano and Jeff got a regular Americano.

Mine was so good. I asked Jeff to take a photo of me enjoying my coffee.

I specifically asked him if I looked crazy when he took the photo and he said no. Please tell me this is not my normal coffee drinking face.

Jeff: This coffee is so good, it hardly needs milk. But I want milk anyway.

When Jeff asked the baristas for warm milk to put in his coffee he somehow forgot all his Spanish and only remembered the Italian he learned back in 2005.

Jeff: Caldo leche, por favor
Barista: WTF is wrong with this American dude?

In Italian caldo mean hot. In Spanish however, it means broth. Jeff asked for broth to put in his coffee. Good thing the barista asked for clarification.

Ordering a ham and cheese croissant went better.

Why is this all smushed?

It was oddly flattened, but delicious.

They also had several different hummus’s on the menu. We didn’t order any, but as a hummus addict, this would be good for next time.

Not sure about the meat hummus.

They had these super cool cups that I couldn’t stop running my fingers over.

I’m planning on joining a bluegrass band where I just play this cup.

They also had this sign above the register. Seems a bit motivational and religious for a coffee shop, but then again there are only two locations so they can do whatever they want.

Translated from Google: Work good and win in everything you do, as if it was for God and not for people.

The barista was super nice and put up with our bad Spanish but seemed slightly frightened by us.

Barista thoughts: Please leave, please leave, please leave.

After we finished our coffee, we headed out for the Cinta Costera path.

Oh wow, when I take a selfie where I don’t look crazy. What a surprise.

They had these great telescopes. Unfortunately, they were in an area that smelled really bad. Jeff refused to even get near enough to look through them.

OMG I might vomit from that smell.

I was super happy to see these recycling bins. There doesn’t seem to be recycling here of any kind. Sadly, these really nice bins were empty, so not being used.

These might just be for show.

We walked for a while, then decided it was time to head back to our apartment to hydrate. We jumped in an uber and made it back with only minimal complaining about heatstroke on my part.

It was a great walk, we saw a ton, smelled some bad smells and had some great coffee.

After walk hydration – This water bottle has more than just water in it.

When I’m not “hydrating,” learning Spanish or looking for a job, I’m reading other blogs.

I’ve created a page for sites with other blogs if anyone is interested. It’s on the Links page on the menu.

This is a great place to get started.

A killer view vs bathroom walls

When Jeff and I decided to ditch our Air BNB with the cage-like windows for a more permanent apartment it was slim picking. A three-month lease on a furnished apartment isn’t easy to come by in Panama City. By law, Air BNB stays can’t be for longer than 45 days, Most furnished apartments want at least a six-month lease which was longer than we wanted to commit to.

We found a great realtor through a Facebook ex-pat group that not only had several apartments for us to choose from but also spoke perfect English.

Look how happy Jeff is that Rueben, our realtor, spoke perfect English.

When he showed us an apartment in a fancy high rise building we fell in love with the view and signed a three-month lease.

The light blue dot is our apartment.
Isn’t there some advice about not signing something you can’t read?

The lease was in Spanish, so as Jeff signed every page Rueben translated. We either signed a three-month lease or accidentally bought a Panamanian zoo.

The apartment is great except for one little thing. The bathroom is missing actual walls. The bathroom is in the bedroom, like IN the bedroom.

Floor to ceiling windows is nice unless they are the only thing separating the bathroom from the bedroom.

The bathroom situation is weird, but when we found out there was a bar on the top floor of the building with two for one happy hour. We decided “Who needs privacy.”

If I really need privacy I’ll just use the bathroom here at this bar.

We’ve settled into our apartment without bathroom walls pretty well. It’s really high up which means getting over a small fear of heights.

I’m looking down on birds. That can’t be right.

I’ve made up an elaborate water aerobics routine for the pool. Jeff moves to the other side of the pool area and pretends he doesn’t know me when I do it.

Why does everyone look frightened?

We have a washer/dryer combination that we can’t figure out. Our clothes seem to get locked in at the end and just cook.

Is this referring to the inside of the dryer or the outside temperature? It’s probably the same temp in both places.

We are settling into a good routine.

Jeff is set up at his desk and back to work.

Thank God someone here is working.

Here’s what I do when Jeff is working.

hahahahaha Just kidding.

This is what I’m really doing, trying to find remote work I can do from out here. So far I haven’t found anything, but I’m sure there must be something I can do.

Maybe I can just buy lottery tickets online?

We’ve sort of figured out grocery shopping.

I know what to do with these items.
Not sure what to do with these. Better buy a kilo.

We even bought this fancy shopping bag cart.


And have been trying new foods, and also some old standbys.

Jeff can escape the Seattle winter by traveling to Panama, but not my chicken sloppy joes.

Sunrise ain’t too shabby.

There’s that saying, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

We’ve adopted it to, “People who live with glass bathrooms, shouldn’t leave the bedroom door open when they have to pee.

Four suitcases, two backpacks and some zip lock bags

Now that we are settled, we have unpacked and taken stock of what we brought from home.

Normally, when we go anywhere we have an elaborate pack list. I have specialized lists based on the type of trip. I have a bike trip, visit family, cold weather, wine tasting, warm weather, tropical weather, and Air BNB specific pack list.

Below is my most bare-bones packing list.

And here is the list I used to pack for six months in Panama.

Yes, that is correct, there was no pack list. We were so consumed with moving everything into storage, we didn’t think about what to actually pack for this trip.

This may be the reason I brought twenty pairs of socks, but only three shirts.

We spent all our time cramming our stuff into here, no time thinking of what to bring with.

This is the crazed look of someone that has been moving for 16 hours straight.

When our move was complete, and we finally had ten minutes to pack, we tried to shove a bunch of stuff into our suitcases. When they wouldn’t close we realized, “We don’t have enough luggage.”

This is not the best thought at 10:30 p.m. the night before you fly to Panama. Thank God for the late night Target in Kent. I stayed in the car with our stuff while Jeff ran in to buy a suitcase.

Here is the text Jeff sent me from Target. I was supposed to choose from these two.

When I couldn’t choose Jeff may have had a mental breakdown.

If you ever see a grown man sitting on the floor of a Target at 11:00 pm giggling to himself and taking selfies in the luggage department, don’t judge.

We bought the black one, jammed it full and didn’t open it again until a few days ago. Here are some of the things we brought.

Our Stainless Steel French Press seemed important in Seattle. Turns out all rentals have coffee makers. And you don’t really need stainless steel to keep your coffee warm when it’s 102 degrees outside.

These were our kitchen must-haves. While the rentals have knives, none are sharp. We’ve used everything in this photo.

Guess which two items we’ve used the most.

We brought one pan.

This is my sexy frying pan look.

At the last second, I packed all the food we didn’t give away or eat. The apartments all seem to have blenders so the protein powder is coming in handy. Not sure if we’ll be making enough Ethiopian food to get through the bag with the berbere spice.

Berbere spice, protein powder, PB Fit, trail mix, gummy vitamins

Our friend Brenda who is traveling with her husband, Scott in Portugal suggested I bring zip-lock bags. They have become my most prized possession.

Passports are important, but zip lock backs are sacred.

Luckily, we didn’t bring a hookah, since the apartment came with one.

Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t think a hookah belongs on top of the refrigerator. A coffee table sure, but in the kitchen?

I also made sure to pack my Cubs hat. Not as important as the zip-lock bags, but still nice to have.

Turns out the hat is 15% wool, so not really great for this weather, but the Cubs are worth a hot head.