Monday, March 16, 2009

Engine engine number nine: when the train of life derails


I sometimes recite to Salma a "choosing" rhyme that I learned as a kid:

Engine engine number nine
going down Chicago line.

If the train goes off the track
Do you want your money back?

Then if the person says, "Yes", for example, you would count out y-e-s-spells-yes-and-you-are-not-it. Of course like all choosing rhymes, if you are adept you can manipulate it to bring about the desired outcome.

I wonder about the origin of this rhyme. Was there a real accident in Chicago involving an engine number nine? Anyway, each time I recite it I get to thinking about it in a deeper sense. Because at some point, every train goes off the track of life, and you never get your money back, nor any compensation at all, except maybe the karmic variety. As the Quran says, "Whoever does an atom's weight of good shall see it, and whoever does an atom's weight of evil shall see it." So yes, everything is counted and weighed.

Nevertheless, in the short run all you get is a pile of tangled metal.

Derailment happens in many ways. You get caught up in the mundane realities of life - work, bills, debt, family - and lose sight of your dreams. Or God presents you with special opportunities and you reject them out of fear of the unknown. Or you suffer an unexpected loss. Or betrayal, that's a big one, especially if it is perpetrated by someone close to you. That's explosive on the tracks. It shakes the ground beneath your feet. So you lose faith in God, or in yourself, or in the world around you, and BOOM, engine engine number nine goes crashing off the track.

What now?

Well, you are still alive. Still breathing. Other opportunities will present themselves. God is still here, you are still here, the world in all its shambling glory is still here. If you've suffered a loss then take some time to grieve and allow yourself to function at less than full capacity for a while. Then get up, dust yourself off and, armed with the wisdom of lessons learned and losses survived, step out into the world bravely, unflinching from what may come. You will recover from your loss in time. Human beings are resilient. After all, we managed to survive saber toothed tigers, ice ages and the black plague to make it this far.

So no, I don't want my money back, thank you very much.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Retirement in El Valle? - Questions from a Reader

I received an email from a reader named Rick with some questions about life in El Valle. Here are his questions and my answers in blue:

"Hi Wael, Thanks for all the information on your website. I have a few questions regarding year-round living (i.e. retirement) in el valle de anton:

(1) What is the low temperature and the high temperature on a typical day in El Valle?"

Answer: Temperatures in El Valle are extremely comfortable. The wet season (April to December, approximately) is warm, rainy and humid; dry season (January to March) is slightly cooler, windy and dry. Heating is never needed and AC is rarely used. You will often run a fan on a warm day. If you go out in the evening, you might sometimes need a light jacket, but mostly not. I'd say the lows to highs during the day are 65 to 85, and at night 55 to 70.

The humidity of course is high. In the beginning this can be quite uncomfortable, but eventually your body adjusts and you don't feel it anymore, except maybe when it rains on a warm day. The high humidity presents many other challenges when it comes to storing and caring for food, clothing, electronic equipment, etc, but that's a different subject.

Weather in El Valle is mostly lovely and perfectly attuned to human comfort, but at times it can be dramatic. Crashing thunderstorms, heavy downpours, lightning shows... the dry season is also very windy in El Valle - I mean, at times it sounds like it will tear your roof off - and that takes some getting used to.

(2) "Are there any houses to RENT on a long-term basis, or must I buy a house if I want to live there?"

Answer: The rental market in El Valle is always tight, but there are usually a few houses available. They range from "typical" Panamanian homes with small windows, no AC and primitive kitchens, to newer, more upscale houses. Rent could be anywhere between $400 and $1500 or more, depending on the house. In fact my house will probably be available for rent in May. I saw a recent posting on the El Valle forum regarding a house for rent and you should contact Larry and Becky from the Golden Frog Inn about it.

(3) "Since the juice of the green (young) coconut seems to help my kidney problem, I'd like to know if fresh green coconuts are readily available in El Valle - or do I have to go down into the lowlands to buy them?"

Answer: Coconuts grow everywhere in El Valle. You can buy them at the mercado or climb a tree with a ladder and cut them down with a machete. "Coconut water" is also sold in all the stores.

(4) "How long is the ride (by bus or motor scooter) from El Valle to nice beaches with very clean seawater for swimming?"

Answer: It is a 45 minute drive down the mountain to nice beaches such as Santa Clara beach. The bus might take a little longer.

(5) "Are the any freshwater options (rivers, lakes, waterfalls) near El Valle that are clean enough and warm enough for bathing and swimming?"

Answer: There are streams in the hills around El Valle with natural pools (in the photo at top you see a local waterfall called Chorro El Macho). The water would be slightly on the chilly side. I have often seen locals swimming in them, but never ex-pats or tourists. If you hike up the La India Dormida trail, you'll see some natural pools. I don't see any reason why you could not swim in them. There is also the thermal hot springs in El Valle, which charges (last I checked) $1.50 for admittance. Also, a few local hotels have swimming pools and will let you swim for a nominal fee.

Thank you!
You're welcome.