Tag Archives: Panama expat

Parents in Panama: The Canal Part 1

Panama Canal – Miraflores Locks

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Wait, THAT’S the Panama Canal? It looks like the Ballard Locks in Seattle.

My parents came to Panama City this last week for a visit. I’m pretty sure they came to see the Panama Canal, but we just happened to be here too.

Toucamen airport - Panama City
Sheryl: Don’t look, but the guy behind you is doing the YMCA dance. He’s on the letter C.

Our building has both apartments and a hotel. Since our bathroom doesn’t’ have walls, and sometimes smells weird, they stayed on the hotel side. We did have them up to our balcony for appetizers and to see the boats waiting to enter the Panama Canal.

Boats waiting to transit the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal version of the cell phone waiting lot at the airport.

Mom: If I knew about the bathroom, I wouldn’t have drunk all this water?
Dad: Maybe there is a gas station nearby.

On the first day of their visit, we went to Casco Viejo which is the old part of town with lots of doors.

Iglesia de Merdec
Mom: Why do we have to stand here?
Jeff in the background: Just ignore Sheryl, she’ll make you stand there all day to take photos.

Since I didn’t read the guidebook first, every church we went into I thought was the cathedral. This statue was particularly interesting.

Statue of St. Hedwig
From the sign in front of the statue: “St. Hedwig founded monasteries along with her husband. On his death, Hedwig became a nun and continued to serve the poor and sick. Panamanian devotees come to her to request the grace of a home; for this, they offer houses at her feet.

After walking around town, two things happened.

  1. My hair became extremely crazy.
  2. I became a cooling tie user
Maybe the tangled hair on top of my hair will distract from this jaunty little scarf I’m wearing.

The cooling tie is a product (I bought mine from REI) that you soak in cold water and wear around your neck. It stays cool for hours, and so do you. At least this is what our friend Brian and my parents have told us. I have mocked them for years for their cooling tie usage. But when it’s 101 heat index, it was time to don the cooling tie. And I have to say, it really did work. Jeff still had some dignity and refused to wear his.

It was around this time, that Jeff may have become nervous about the upcoming week.

Are they going to laugh like this for seven days straight.? Also, should I lend them a comb?

The next day we got up early and took an Uber to the Miraflores locks. This is the locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Bet those people are hot without cooling ties.

The viewing platform was crowded but we found a spot to watch a ship filled with windmill blades transit the Miraflores Lock.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Here we are, ready to be amazed at the Panama Canal.

Ships take a LONG time to get through the locks.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Can’t they speed this up?

Like a really long time.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell Dad, but I’m only watching this for his sake.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell my parents but we’re only watching this for their sake.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell Mom but I’m only watching this for her sake.

The boat was still in the locks when we realized we would all have heat stroke if we had to watch it go through completely. Inside the visitor center, they had a great museum that explained the history and workings of the canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Mom: I’m about to pass out from heatstroke.
Dad: I’m so hot, I’m taking a short nap standing up.

But the best part was where we could pretend to actually drive a ship through the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
I can’t believe how good I am at this. This is going to be my new profession.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Sheryl: Go left go left! I better give him more instructions on this walkie talkie.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Hello, welcome to the Panama Canal. Press one if you would like to transit.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Listen, buddy, this is 2020, you answer your own damn phones.
I really like what you’ve done with your hair.

This is what this guy’s hair looked like six years ago when Jeff and I visited.

Next, we went to the IMAX theater for a really good movie about the canal that was in 3D. Morgan Freeman was the narrator. Between his soothing voice, heatstroke and comfy chairs it was hard to stay awake.

I’ll sleep through the beginning, Mom, you sleep during the middle and Dad, you sleep during the end.

And then we were all canaled out and headed back to Panama City via Uber and went out to dinner.

Let’s get up even earlier tomorrow and see the Atlantic side.

Other interesting things:

There is a really fun website that shows the boats going through the canal, and ports around the world.


Here’s a webcam to watch boats go through the Panama Canal in realtime.


This book is excellent. My Dad and I both read it and learned a ton about the history of the canal.

The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough

If you are going to visit the locks this site has all the info you need:

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I am recommending cooling ties. This is the one I bought and really liked.


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.

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.