Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you're enjoying some special family time, or spending it with close friends, or at the very least travelling to somewhere hot!

I made some cookies and chocolates. Come on over while there are still a few pieces around.

Monday, December 05, 2011

So relieved

In all my life, my head has probably never been so itchy as it's been in the last week. I was starting to really believe I had lice and it got to the point that this morning, instead of going to the gym before work, I went to the clinic to get my head checked out once and for all.

It's confirmed. I do NOT have lice. What I do have is an over active imagination and probably some dry winter scalp. Time to ultra-condition.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Panama - Day 3 recap

Sunday, 27 November 2011

This morning started off bright and sunny but it didn’t stay that way for long. Long enough though to give us a little bit of time by the pool and also just enough time, for me at least, to get a tiny bit of colour on my legs. The clouds soon moved in and we had scattered showers until late in the afternoon.

After a lazy morning at the hotel’s rooftop pool, we spent the afternoon in El Casco Antiguo, exploring the old neighbourhood and dodging raindrops. We visited the Canal museum and were also able to snap a few pictures in the courtyard of the Presidential Palace. They have some special white herons in the courtyard there. Apparently the herons (well, generations ago) were a gift dating back from the 1920’s, and they’ve been kept there ever since. We had to ask a few different guards where we could go in, then pass through security (Joan had security risk shoes, apparently!).

We saw some beautiful old buildings, wonderfully restored and others that have been left to crumble, in all that different kind of beauty. The old architecture of these buildings is incredible. And each building that has a balcony, the ironwork is different and original to each. The area just screams of character. However, as Shirla told us, some of that character will soon be gone. With the regentrification of the neighbourhood, the old (read: poor) residents are slowly being removed from the area. I think it’s a shame because for me that’s part of the charm of the place: the old men reading their newspapers on the front stoops, the kids playing street soccer, the little bodegas and hole in the wall restaurants – it wouldn’t feel the same without the atmosphere these people and places give it. Hmmm …

Back in Plaza Balboa, we enjoyed a late lazy lunch in the square. It felt very European, but the pace was distinctly Caribbean. Also had the best cup of coffee there!

After waiting for the heavier by the second rain to stop, which it didn’t, we walked as quickly as possible over a few blocks to visit the church Shirla told us about, with the solid gold altar. Wouldn’t you know – the place was closed! I thought the church was supposed to offer sanctuary.

The story, as Shirla told us, is this: This solid gold altar was in a church in Panama Viejo. The priest at the church heard that pirates were coming to attack, so got some black paint and covered the altar with it. Many years later, after people had pretty much forgotten about it and the paint started fading away, it was “discovered” and restored to its natural state. How cool is that?! So no picture of the golden altar, which would have been nice, instead I got Keith to take a picture of me knocking on the church door! Ha, ha! (Sorry, Mom …)

Finally we gave up on the weather and went exploring by car for a bit. This also gave us enough time to visit a Do-It Centre (memories! Oh, and I found a cute little bathroom soap set for $7.50) and drive across The Bridge of the Americas into North America and back again, into South America. I love that!

Last night for dinner and we returned to the Amador Causeway and tried the Columbian restaurant. I had another mixed ceviche but this one wasn’t quite as good as the one from Mi Ranchito.

Back at the hotel for one last swim in the rooftop pool – honestly, best pool view ever – and then time to pack up. Three days really flies by. It’s going to be tough going back to the winter weather. Hope it hasn’t snowed any more.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Panama - Day 2 recap

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Today was a fantastic day. We headed up to Sabanitas and a quick shop for some lunch foods and stuff before picking up the kids of a day at the water park.

Those plans got slightly delayed though when we arrived at the home and discovered a group of people from the local university doing a presentation to the kids. We missed the beginning part of it and arrived in time for games, songs and lunch for all!

The girls sang for them, the university group sang for the girls. They organized all sorts of fun games and even a real piñata (in the shape of a mermaid, no less!). There was a hot lunch (rice and chicken pieces) and a huge cake with ice cream. Besides some of the girls winning prizes at the games they played, there was also a gift for each girl. One of the youngest ones, I think it was Madalena, when she opened her gift and saw it was a Barbie type doll, her eyes nearly burst out of her head, she was so happy and she exclaimed, “Una Barbie!” It was priceless. Many of them came to show us what they’d received and were all so proud of what they had.

While eating lunch, my little friend Janilka from yesterday was sitting beside me. She told me she didn’t like her rice and would prefer to be eating the candy she collected from the piñata. I told her she had to at least finish her chicken before she ate anything else. So she started chewing on that like it was the last meal of her life. When she got down to the bones, she looked at me for somewhere to put it. I picked up a bowl from the table and brought it back to her, where she promptly SPAT it into the bowl. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that she’d spit it out. Classic.

Finally, about 90 minutes later than planned, we left for the water park. It started to rain on the way (typical) and by the time we arrived it was really coming down hard. Keith was worried that the place would be shut due to the weather but it wasn’t. It was open and we all traipsed in. Pretty soon it didn’t matter if it was raining or not because we were all wet anyway. The next 4 hours were so much fun. Joan and Marlene played with the littler ones for a bit in one of the paddling pools. I joined a few of the older girls for a few trips around the place in the “lazy river” and then we headed to the big slides. That seemed to be the biggest attraction for the older kids. Later I played with some of the younger ones in a shallow pool. Estrella (4, possibly 5 years old) wasn’t too sure about being in the water and was quite scared to be close to the heavy falling water. She got pretty comfortable clinging to me and being swung through the water. When we discovered a little slide, she was happy to try that out as long as I stood at the end to catch her! She’ll fit in a hockey bag, right?

On the car ride back to the home, Joan thought to play “Eye Spy” in Spanish with the 5 kids in our row. They liked that and it made the ride go that much more quickly. A few of the older ones sang a little bit in the back row. It was a very nice and relaxed atmostphere.

Once home, we handed out the bags of school supplies and gave Marlene the Christmas gifts. The girls were quite excited to pen the bags but also quite tired after the long and busy day. While the girls were going through their presents, Rodelaida (13) was eating some pop-rocks candy and I could hear the sound of them popping on her tongue. I indicated that I could hear it. She offered me what was left from the package but I said no, that I didn’t like the feeling. She laughed and said it’s true, “duele” (it hurts) but she liked it anyway! Probably I would say the exact same thing if I was 13 again.

Keith had a nice surprise today with the visit of Ovidia. She lived at the home for a number of years and still stops by a few times a year to catch up with the girls and Marlene. She’s 20-something now and working. It’s encouraging to see that some of the girls still keep in contact with Marlene. I suppose she must be quite a mentor and mother figure to these girls. They’re lucky to have her.

Then it was time to say good bye. Quite said to think that I may never see some of them again. Rodelaida, Janilka and Estrella touched me quite a lot, in just one day.

Back in Panama, we went for dinner at Mi Ranchito on the Causeway and then for coffee/ice cream further down the road. A nice quiet evening after a long, loud, busy, fun, happy day.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Panama - Day 1 recap

Friday, 25 November 2011

Happy Birthday, Yvette! First things first, after all. It's my "bestest" friend's 43rd birthday today. Hope it's happy!

Yesterday's travel down to Panama was pretty uneventful. We even got all 5 of the hockey bags!

Downtown Panama City traffic is worse, and I do mean Worse with a capital W, than Montreal's. Same goes for Colon - and not even counting rush hour.

We picked up Major (retired) Shirla this morning in Paraiso, and brought her with us for an afternoon visit to the girls orphanage in Sabanitas, a tour of their school, and a short visit to the seniors home in Colon. Thank goodness we had Shirla with us today! She had Keith going left, right and avoiding traffic wherever and whenever possible. Without her, we'd probably still be sitting in a traffic jam somewhere between Panama and Colon.

Met Janilka, Anna, Melissa, Kimberly, Hiam, Nawal and ... I'm missing about 7 other names. Marlene is still in control at the orphanage and ready with a hug and smile for all. Us too! We arrived just as the girls were finishing lunch and I made friends with Janilka. She's 7 years old and is just the right size for a dress I got from somebody at work. While Joan and I were emptying the clothes and blankets from the van into the house, Janilka asked to help us and when she saw that dress, she held it up to her and said to me, "Oh, me gusta!" (Oh, I like it!). While many of the others were playing floor hockey with Joan and Keith, Janilka and I played on the swings and see-saw. My Spanish is pretty rusty but we somehow manage with our limited language skills and charades.

After a bit of a visit at the orphanage, we headed over to the school with Marlene to deliver some school supplies Joan collected from her own school in Montreal. We had over 1000 pencils to give out, plus red pens for the teachers and some other important things like erasers, tape and highlighters! We were warmly welcomed by the principal of the school and she let us go about our thing. She told us that the school runs in two shifts: mornings from 7:30am to 12:30pm, and afternoons from 12:30pm to 5:30pm. There are about 1300 students total, broken into those two shifts. Quite an operation. We arrived pretty much at the turnover hour, so it was slightly chaotic, as only a school can be. But we stopped in every classroom and gave pencils to each student. One of the funniest things I noticed while we were there was 2 little boys dripping glue straight from the bottle into a gutter, right in the middle of the school yard! Not shy at all, those two, and not worried about getting caught either! Boys will be boys, in Panama just the same as at home.

From there we headed to Colon for a visit to Hogar Jackson, the old folks home. We got stuck in traffic going there – this was about 2pm. Crazy. And it seems mostly it’s because of the Free Zone shopping. Apparently the toll highway will eventually come out to there but it’s not there now, so there’s traffic, traffic, traffic! Anyway, Hogar Jackson is looking good, all things considered. There are only 5 (or is it 7?) residents there now, all of whom are blind except one. Good old Mr. David Bennett is still kicking around there too. What a surprise that was! He’s still blind and down on his knees praying, but happy to talk to us and welcome us to Panama. Incredible.

On the way back into Panama, we had a quick stop to visit Shirla’s daughter at work and then to the shop where Shirla works (retired from the Army but now has to work 6 days a week to afford her retirement – no kidding). That woman is something. The shop is called Galeria de Arte Indegena, and is filled with the most wonderful indigenous baskets, carvings, molas, paintings and even a few of the usual tourist trap souvenirs. I went in saying I only needed two t-shirts for my niece and nephew. I came out with two t-shirts, 2 woven trivets, a pair of shoes, 2 rings, and a basket. Yeesh, there goes the budget! Everything in there was so lovely, I couldn’t help myself (and you wouldn’t have been able to either, Mom).

After dinner with Shirla, we headed back to the hotel for a rooftop swim in the pool (heaven!) and then wrapped the Christmas presents for all the kids. The Panama skyline seems to grow while you’re watching. There are more skyscrapers than ever. Pretty soon there won’t be much of a view to Caribbean left.

Great, great day. Tomorrow – water park with the kids. Should be … wet :)