Sunday, July 19, 2009

la playa! (and some other stuff)

Hello, family and friends and random strangers reading my blog!! I hope you all are doing well :-)

I haven't written in a while, so this might be kinda long, but if you prefer, you can read it in segments and just pretend like it's several different posts...

A week ago Friday, I went with the other "youngins" at the school and a couple of our teachers to a popular open-air dance club that plays typical Latino music. Beers only cost 75 cents (awesome!) but lots of creepy old men try to dance with you (not awesome), so it's kindof a give and take...
The happy group:

Last Saturday, Bess, Laura, Loren, and I went to Isla Taboga, a little island in the Gulf of Panama that's about a 45-minute ferry ride away from Panama City. It was pretty awesome!!! Beautiful turquoise water, sandy beach, and an all-around relaxed atmosphere. The island only has 1,000-ish people, so there isn't a whole lot going on. This is the grocery store & supermarket:
It has a few basic things, but if you really want to go shopping, you probably should go to the city... There are about five restaurants on the island, and they primarily serve seafood (duh), although I didn't even eat any fish the whole time we were there...oops. This restaurant where we ate lunch had a one-woman-show (she took orders, cooked all the food by herself, then served it), so we had to wait a while, but it was yummy!

After lunch, we headed to the pretty beach to swim and tan (hey now, I can dream, can't I?) for a while.
A big storm rolled in late afternoon, so we went to this Chinese restaurant/bar/club for a while, where beers cost, once again, 75 cents. Nice. They played typical Latino music, and the locals were just dancing and having a great time while it rained.
This is me at said restaurant looking wistfully at the beach in the distance...

Laura and Loren decided to go back to the City for the night, but Bess and I stayed on the island. We found a great little bed & breakfast, Cerrito Tropical, run by a really nice Canadian woman who moved to Panama a few years ago. It was comfortable and clean and even had air conditioning! I definitely recommend it :)
I love hammocks!!

Sunday morning, Bess and I decided to hike up to this cross on a giant hill overlooking the town. Loren had gone the day before, and despite his best efforts to give us proper directions (so maybe we didn't really listen, it's hard to say), we got lost a couple times on the so-called "trail." By doing this, we did get to see...
the town's trash dump!
Pretty, huh?? Ok, we did get a nice view of the ocean too...

We eventually got on the right track and panted (or rather, I panted while Bess ran ahead) our way up the steep hill to the cross. Here's a little taste of the "path":
The view from the top was definitely worth it though!! It was bee-yoo-ti-full!! This is the town in the distance:
And, of course, the cross:

After that hike, we visited the second oldest church in the western hemisphere, built in 1524:

We went back to the beach that afternoon for a bit. Lots of ships/boats hang out around the island while waiting for their turn to go through the canal:

We eventually had to take our ferry back to the heat and pollution of the city... :( All-around great weekend!

This past week hasn't been too exciting...I started the "law" portion of my program, so we've been learning some legal terms in class and talking about the Panamanian government system and laws and things like that. I've also been going with Bess (who is starting her 3rd year of law school this fall) to a law office for a few hours each day. We don't really do anything (and neither do the lawyers who work there, oddly enough), but we get to hang out and speak in Spanish about legal stuff, so I guess it's alright.

Yesterday, Loren and I went to Casco Viejo, the old Spanish colonial city built in 1671. The neighborhood is kindof interesting because some blocks are super dangerous, and then you walk over a couple blocks and find the fancy Presidential Palace...

We also wandered around some ruins of a building that was apparently destroyed in the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989... it's now covered in grafitti:

We also saw the Cathedral in the Plaza de la Independencia (where Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903):

Then we went to the Canal Museum, which has TONS of information about the history of Panama and the canal (all in Spanish!). It was interesting, but I wish it had less words and more pictures... :)

Last night, Panama's soccer team played the USA in Philadelphia for the Gold Cup tournament. Panama played well, but the U.S. got a penalty kick in overtime and managed to come out on top, 2-1. Loren, Bess, and I went to a bar to watch the game so we could be around the intense atmosphere of the excited Panamanians. We wanted to make it clear that we were American, so we took pictures of ourselves making faces:

Well, that's pretty much all I've got, but I'll leave you all on this I still get honked/whistled/yelled at pretty much all the time when I'm just minding my own business walking down the street (it's not too often they see a white giant such as myself). A couple days ago, I got my favorite comment -- I was using my umbrella to keep the sun off me while walking, and a guy yelled out the window of his car something about how I probably shouldn't be using it because I need the sun for my pale legs. Ouch....

Hasta luego!! :-)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Take a walk with me!

Hola! I took a bunch of pictures while I was walking home from school the other day so you all could see the neighborhoods I walk through. Usually I blend right in (not), but this silly gringa got even more stares from Panamanians while I was taking pictures, so I hope you all appreciate this!! :-)

So I leave my school...

and walk down this street...

then I turn right and walk down this street...

this is close to the intersection where the traffic gets clogged and I almost see an accident every day...

then I walk past the closest non-sketchy restaurant to school, which has cheap Greek food and we frequent it often for lunch...

I then turn down another street and walk past this strip mall...

This is a public bus (they're called Diablo Rojos [Red Devils] - doesn't that make you want to ride one?) and are usually painted a lot crazier than this...

The REY is a huge grocery store that's part of the big mall in El Dorado...

A few things you'll find in the mall... (SAKS is an amazing store with tons of super cheap clothes! Apparently American companies send their rejects/weird sizes/surpluses down here. Most of their shirts cost less than $5!!)

I turn down another street and find another little taste of home just a short walk from my house...

I walk past this casino, where I went last weekend, every day...

Do it!...

This is an awesome Italian ice cream place where it's so cheap and amazingly delicious, I've started taking a different route so I don't tempt myself as often...

And then I pass by the TGIFriday's...

...and Country Inn & Suites (which I'm seriously considering checking into one of these days just so I can take a hot shower!)...

There's a park right across the street from my house (Las Mercedes is the neighborhood)...

With a basketball court! Although I've only played here once so far...

And then I'm finally home!!

This is the wall I climbed over when I couldn't get my key to work one day...

Apparently this Neighborhood Watch Club doesn't work so well, because nobody called the police on me while I was climbing over said wall...

Well, that's pretty much it! Thanks for coming along; you were great company :-) Maybe next time I'll give you a tour of my house!

Hasta luego!


Monday, July 6, 2009

one week!

So I've been here for a week now and I'm having a blast (and learning too :)! Lots of things to talk about...

On Thursday I visited the Panama Canal museum at Miraflores Locks. We watched a ship move through the locks as they raised and lowered the water. It was pretty slow and not too exciting... the museum was interesting though. I suppose it's good that I went to the Canal since I'm already in Panama and all, but I definitely would not recommend making a special trip to Panama for it. This picture pretty much sums up everything you would see:

On Friday, it was the last day of one of the students in my class (Joe), and his final presentation was "hosting" a cooking show and making a bunch of different kinds of smoothies. They were yummy!! I was his assistant:

Yesterday, Saturday, Loren and I went to the beach at Santa Clara, which was about a 2 hour bus ride away from Panama City on the InterAmerican highway. A round-trip ticket on a nice air-conditioned bus only cost $7.50! This beach isn't super touristy, so it wasn't crowded at all. This might have something to do with the bus dropping you off about 1K away from the beach, and there are no signs to tell you where you're going, so you just have to know somehow... but it was fun!!

I swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time!

I even ate seafood for lunch since we were right next to the ocean (and it was delicious!):

We caught a bus back to Panama City out on the highway. There's not really an organized way of getting tickets or finding which bus to take. Basically you can just flag down any bus that's going the way you want and if there are open seats, you hop on, and then pay when you get off. This is what a bus stop looks like:

Time for a funny story -- We got back to Panama City around 7 and I went home for dinner. Berta was at mass, and she had told me that my food would be in the fridge, so I rummaged around and found a bowl covered with foil that seemed like it was probably my dinner. It was just plain shredded chicken, which seemed kinda strange because usually Bexi (the maid) makes something fancier than that, so I found another bowl with plantains, and I ate those too. Later, Berta got home from mass and asked me why I hadn't eaten my dinner. I told her I did, I ate the shredded chicken in the bowl. So Berta said, oh no, that was Chris' food!!! Who is Chris, you say? This is Chris:

Well, crap. How was I supposed to know that her incredibly spoiled dog eats shredded chicken?!? Apparently there was spaghetti in a different container for me... She laughed at me about it for the rest of the night, and all day today, and probably will for the next five weeks that I'm here. Yay.

Saturday night, Loren and I were supposed to meet up with my Spanish teacher, Olga to go to a concert. Long story short, we took a sketchy cab to a sketchy part of town, I was wearing super uncomfortable shoes, there was no concert, Olga didn't answer her cell, we took a nicer cab back to our neighborhood, and decided to go to a casino...where there was a karaoke competition!! (I didn't participate; the singers were all registered and super good.) Click HERE to watch this guy singing Michael Jackson!! He's pretty awesome!

This is Loren and me in the casino shaking off our "misadventure":

Today, Sunday, I went with Berta to a fundraiser "fair" for her church. They had music and a bunch of different food stands. I ate Spanish chicken paella and sangria, mmmm. And Berta told all her friends about how I ate dog food...I'm glad to be representing the States well in Panama :)
The fair:

I have a new house mate now! Her name is Marilyn, and she's from Arkansas. Her daughter is 22 and she's going to be studying here too - she's staying in a house just down the street. They're only going to be here for two weeks, but Marilyn already knows a lot.

You should check out this VIDEO Loren made of new President Martinelli's party last week.

I don't have a cell phone here, but I do have internet in my house, and I have skype! My name is courtney.e.moran, so skype me!! :-)

Hasta luego!!

Friday, July 3, 2009


Well, I'm in Panama!! I got in late Sunday night, after a long day of traveling. Things have been going really well so far, except for the extreme heat and humidity... the temp is about 90-95 every day, with something like 85% humidity.

I'm staying with a señora (aka house mom) named Berta. I have my own room and right now I have my own bathroom, but another girl from the States is coming on Saturday and then we'll share the bathroom (but she has her own room). There's a window air conditioner unit in my room, but Berta told me it would cost extra for me to use it. I'm trying to tough it out, so we'll see how long I last... Luckily (haha) there's no hot water either, so when I need to cool down, I just take a shower! :-)

Here's a pic of my room:

Berta is super nice and helpful. I don't think she knows any English, which is good for me, because I need to practice practice practice!!! She has a maid, Bexi, who comes every day to cook and clean and do laundry and stuff. Bexi is the one who actually makes my food (I get breakfast and dinner at home, and I'm on my own for lunch). Bexi is also really nice and a good cook :)

This was my dinner last night (pepper stuffed with chicken & cheese & beans & potatoes [mmmm], rice, plantains):

I have Spanish class from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every day. My "school" (ILERI Panama) is in a lady's house about a mile and a half away from my house (a 20 minute walk that gets me drenched in sweat). Students can start classes on any Monday, and there were two other new "norteamericanos" this past Monday - a girl from Chicago (Laura) and a guy from Seattle (Loren). They are both really good at Spanish already and want to talk in Spanish all the time... (Which is good for me, I know, I know...) There are probably about 12 students total at the school. There are three other students in my class right now, and they've all been in Panama for a while. These first two weeks, I'm just getting back in the groove of speaking Spanish, and then I'll be doing the law Spanish program the last four weeks, with regular Spanish classes as well as legal Spanish classes, and observing/volunteering in a law firm. I've already learned a lot, and I'm thinking in Spanish, and I understand about 95% of what I hear. It's just hard to say everything I want to say!

Panama City is extremely Americanized... there's a mall a few blocks away from the school that
looks freakishly similar to American malls. There’s even a food court with all kinds of fast food restaurants - sushi, pizza, hamburgers, Italian, Chinese, “Panamanian” food, etc. On my mile-and-a-half walk to school, I can see three McDonald's!! And a block away from me, there's a TGIFridays attached to a Country Inn & Suites, if anyone wants to come visit! :-) All the cars look just like ones you would see in the States too. They even use the U.S. Dollar for currency! It doesn't even feel like I'm in a foreign country! Except for the part where everyone is super tan...

Panama's new president, Ricardo Martinelli, was sworn in yesterday, and Loren and Laura and I went to a "fiesta" of sorts at this stadium called Estadio Roberto Durán. We're all pretty pale with blond/red hair, so we definitely stuck out even more so than usual (I assume most people there actually had something to do with Martinelli being elected). We got there around 3:00, and Martinelli didn't come until about 7:15, so we were just hanging out listening to a bunch of different popular Panamanian bands play for four hours. It was pretty cool though - now I can say I've seen the president of Panama!

Anyway, I'll try to update this as often as I can.
If you would like to send me a letter :-), my address here is:

Berta Barrera (ATN: Courtney)
Apartado Postal 0819-01737
Panama, Republica de Panama

I think postage for a normal letter is 98 cents, but I'm not sure how long that takes... I'll be here until August 8th.

Hasta luego!!