Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Questions About Life in El Valle

This is in response to the comments on the previous post:

Hello Claudia,

I went over and looked at the house today. I am amazed that it's for rent. Those types of homes are usually owned by rich weekenders and they don't typically rent or sell them. How much are they asking?

So, the street that goes off the main road is at first unpaved, then paved but badly pitted. An ordinary car can manage it, but in general for living in El Valle I recommend an SUV or 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Once you get near the house the road is smooth. The house itself is nestled in the foothills among the trees and birdsong. It's a lovely location. I viewed the house from the street, but from what I can see it looks large, and the yard is huge.

Seeing the inside is important however, because Panamanian homes are often dark inside (to minimize sun exposure and heat), and some people don't like that.

Answers to your other questions:

American TV: You can sign up for Direct TV (cable service) which offers a wide selection of American programming. I don't know how much it costs.

Internet Connection: The most reliable service provider here is Mobilphone. It's wireless. I don't know if they offer 5mps, but another web developer here (Zach) has 1mps and I think he pays $150/month. I have 256K and pay $45 per month. Are you sure you really need such a high speed?

My internet connection is stable, though sometimes slow in the afternoon. The power goes out often here (a few times a week, several hours at a time, usually at night but occasionally during the day) and of course when that happens you won't be able to use your computer unless you have a large battery back-up unit. I do have one and it provides about 5 hours of power.

Things to bring: for us, nothing but thank you for offering. For yourselves, I wrote a post on this topic some time ago. See it here:

What to Bring When Moving to Panama

Monday, April 28, 2008

Re: Check Out This House in El Valle

I got this comment recently through my contact form. I've abbreviated it slightly. See below for my response:
Hi Laura. My husband and I myself are coming to Panama in mid May and we are right now deciding if we should rent a house down at Playa de Coronado and/or in El Valle. We found a house in El Valle. I would love if you could tell me on which "side" of the road this property is:

Here's a description: (removed to keep competing house-hunters from getting it).

Laura, since you live in El Valle would it be possible for you to find a little bit more information on the house and the location aside from what our realtor explained to us? I really truly appreciate your comments.

P.S. We have no icecream machine... but if everything works out ...well a dinner in our new home is on us :-)

Best wishes

Claudia, thanks for your email. Actually I am Wael, Laura's husband, and this is my blog. Laura's blog is www.CasaSalaam.com.

Yes, I know the street you described. It's a nice, quiet street in a good area. Not so close to the center of town but near the Centro Commercial, which is handy since that's the biggest store in town.

I'll go over there tomorrow and take a look at the house. Thanks for the dinner invitation and I look forward to taking you up on it. Please send me another message through the contact form and leave your email address this time.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Begone, Duende! Let my Daughter Be

Has Salma seen a duende? More likely she is just going through a phase. It started about four days ago, at least that's when I noticed it. She was in the bedroom watching an Elmo DVD that we recently got. Normally either Laura or I am in the room with her, but at that moment Laura had gone to the kitchen to get Salma a snack. Elmo is pretty harmless anyway. Suddenly Salma came running out of the room, crying.

Ever since that moment, this is what we're going through:

Salma will not stay in any room alone, even for a moment. If we're playing in the living room and I get up to go to the bathroom or get a glass of water, she will whine or cry and follow me.

Salma refuses to sleep in her crib, until she first cries for an hour or more. I (or Laura) hold her, sing to her, she falls asleep, but as soon as I try to lay her down she clutches my shirt and cries. If I set her down she will scream and cry. The only thing that will work is for me or Laura to sleep in the bed that is next to her crib. Even then she cries and wails before settling down.

Same thing for daytime naps. She will not sleep on her own. She cries and screams as soon as I set her down. Even Ani cannot get her to sleep.

She has also become very insecure. She used to be intrepid, exploring everything, approaching everyone. Now all of a sudden everything frightens her. I picked up the vacuum cleaner the other day - it was off - and Salma ran away just at the sight of it.

As a result Salma is exhausted, so she whines cries all the time and doesn't want to eat. She's a total basket case, and I am becoming one too. It's wearing me out. What on earth is going on?

Meanwhile Rosa is out sick, apparently with an infected molar. Her husband Claudio came by today and I gave him Rosa's pay for the week to pay for her medical care. I mentioned to him what was happening with Salma, and he said very matter of factly, "Maybe she saw a Duende."

Because of a discussion I had with Corrin Skubin last week, I just happen to know what this is. A duende is a mythological figure similar to a fairy or goblin. According to some, it's a goblin or elf that appears in the form of a dwarf and takes small children.

Wikipedia says, "They are believed to be of a small stature wearing big hats whistling a mystical song while walking in the forest. Using their talent they are believed to lure young girls to the forest and causing them to lose their way home. Conversely, in some Latin cultures the Duendes are believed to be the helpers of people who get lost in the forest so they could find their way home.

In Hispanic folklore of the American Southwest, Duendes are known as evil, green-skinned, red-eyed little monsters who live inside the walls of homes, especially in bedroom walls of young children. They attempt to convince children to misbehave, and will eventually try to steal a child's soul."

It's true that I sometimes hear noises coming from inside the air conditioning unit in Salma's room. Laura has mentioned that we might have mice in there.

In all seriousness, though, I hope Salma gets over this problem soon, Insha'Allah.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cicadas, Peacocks, and Frogs with Bad Timing

We're at the apex of the dry season. The weather is warm bordering on hot, bright and sunny every day. The birds are singing, our resident iguana is growing huge, and Laura and Salma have been making frequent trips to the swimming pool at Aparthotel El Valle, which charges $2 per person for a dip in a pool heated by natural hot springs. Salma wears a flotation device and is gradually becoming more comfortable swimming on her own, with her Mama a feet away watching.

The cicadas have started up and you can hear them all day long. A cicada's call starts out with a sputter like an engine trying to start, then winds up into a long, loud air-raid siren. If you didn't know what it was you'd think it was a machine of some kind.

Summer is mosquito season and the geckos are going to town. They're all over the house, laughing at us with their distinctive call. We've hung a mosquito net over Salma's bed and we make sure to draw it closed every night. I sleep in long sleeved pajamas as protection, with the ceiling fan running on low. No need for AC up here in El Valle, except on the hottest afternoons.

The peacocks at Los Aramos seem to have spring fever. We hear their calls at all hours of the day and night.

We had a few brief rainstorms last week and it seems to have fooled the frogs. Many came out of hibernation and can be seen hopping all around the neighborhood by the hundreds. Unfortunately for them the early rain was a nasty April fool's joke, not to be repeated. The ditches and streams are dry and I'm afraid this crop of frogs will die out. Laura already removed one from our driveway, picked to the bones by black ants.

The termites have shown a few signs of an impending population explosion. We'll see.

Laura is now teaching English two days a week at the public school. It's turning out to be quite an experience for her. You can read about it on her blog, http://www.CasaSalaam.com

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good News: the Golden Frog is Not Extinct in the Wild

From the English-language section of Prensa.com:

Panamá, Friday April 10 2008

Golden frog may escape extinction

"We could be witnessing the greatest extinction since the dinosaurs," explained Jeff Corwin, host of the popular television show "Animal Planet." Corwin was in Panama to film the first leg of a research project that will take him South America, Africa and Australia as well.

Corwin is investigating the massive and somewhat sudden extinction of amphibians around the world, specifically frogs, toads, newts and salamanders. Panama has not been spared the disappearance of these sensitive and wonderful creatures. The golden frog, the country's most well known amphibian, recognized worldwide for its extraordinary beauty, is on the verge of disappearing.

The species has suffered from deforestation and urbanization, but the principal cause of its demise is an aquatic fungus that adheres to its skin, asphyxiating and dehydrating the tiny creature.

The odds of anyone finding the endemic species where Corwin and his knowledgeable guide and colleague, Edgardo Griffith, director of the Centro de Conservación de Anfibios El Níspero, went looking for them, were miniscule. The frog was believed to be extinct in the area.

"A few years ago I was doing a show in the extraordinary region of Darién," Corwin said, "and we discovered some spectacular species of frogs. Three years later, when I went back to the region to document them, we travelled all over the area and weren't able to find any."

Yet to their astonishment, in the town of Copé in the province of Coclé, they found 15 adolescent frogs accompanied by an adult.

The golden frog will be featured in Corwin's forthcoming documentary, "The Vanishing Frog."
I had heard that these Animal Planet fellows were here in town. A few young American expats here (children of the Blume family) went with them on their expedition to the Darién, and returned vowing never to do it again.

That's great news about the the symbol of El Vallé - the golden frog. I have noticed a dramatic reduction in the number and variety of frogs here in El Vallé, and I understand that many species in the wild have disappeared altogether. Hang in there, rana dorada! Fight the fungus that be!

P.S. Prensa.com's English-language supplement can be found here:



Sunday, April 6, 2008

Another Business Idea for Entrepreneurs in Panama

I've updated my popular post on Business Ideas for Entrepreneurs in Panama (popular in terms of the number of people who have viewed it, though no one has commented yet - grr!).

There are now 28 business ideas, after I added the following to the list:

Same-Day and Next-Day Courier Service - It's true that Panamanians like to take their time with things. What's the hurry? But the number of North American & European expat communities along the Panama-Penonomé corridor is growing, and these folks might appreciate a reliable same-day or overnight courier service that could do any of the following:
  • Pick up mail or packages in Panama city and deliver them to coastside communities.
  • Deliver documents to lawyers or banks in the city.
  • Buy requested items (or even do a full-fledged shopping trip) in Panama city and deliver.
With the rising price of gasoline, a day trip into the city to do any of these things is cost prohibitive. For me, living in El Valle de Antón, a round trip to the city in my 2003 Nissan Sentra costs $30 in gas. That's outrageous. The alternative is a long, tiring trip on the bus.

A courier service, on the other hand, could use fuel-efficient mopeds and small vehicles to keep costs low. After all, Chinese restaurants and pizza parlors in Panama already use mopeds for home delivery, as in the photo above. Why not do the same for documents and packages, like the Thai fellow in the photo at the top?

In addition, courier services combine several deliveries going in the same direction into one run, for the sake of both time and cost efficiency.