Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Finca Dos Jefes sign, coffee tourConfession:  I am a tea drinker!  Still, when I found myself in Boquete, surrounded by some of the most highly regarded and rated coffee in the world, coffee became my caffeinated beverage of choice – you’d kinda have to be crazy to skip the coffee here.

Though there are several growers in the area, we chose to tour Finca Dos Jefes, where they label their coffee beans as “Cafés De La Luna”.  Richard and Dee Lipner own the finca (ranch or farm), and Rich filled us in on their history in Boquete as he drove us the hillside from town. 

Rich’s story:  After 20 (or was it 25?) years running the Meals on Wheels program in Berkeley, CA, Rich and Dee were ready to settle into retirement.  They set their sights on Italy, preferably the area around Lake Como.  On the way there, they took a detour to visit a Panamanian friend who, after many years in the Bay area of California, had moved back to Boquete . 

Beautiful labelThat was the end of their Italian dream – and the beginning of their new life in Panama.  They found the abandoned coffee plantation, purchased it, and soon settled into “retirement” in Boquete.  Since 2003, they have worked to rehabilitate the coffee trees, adopting organic growing methods in traditional alliance with the lunar calendar – hence their coffee label, Cafes De La Luna. 

Our tour was small (we three friends and two young women from New York) and personalized.  Rich gave us a good overview of the growing, harvesting and drying process as we walked a couple acres of his ranch.  His “cherries” are hand harvested, then dried (intact) in the sun on raised racks.  Once dried, the cherries are stored for a minimum of 3 months before they are peeled and the green beans removed, ready for roasting. 

In the warehouse, Rich spoke of his sacks of dried, aging coffee as vintners speak of their casks of aging wine: the specific type of bean (Caturra, Catuai, Criollo and Gesha), the year it was grown, date harvested, weather and drying conditions.  Sacks are marked with the information he will use to blend the final product.  We’re not talking Folgers here!

Coffee cherries on the treeAfter we visited the storage warehouse, we headed off to headquarters for a lesson in coffee roasting and tasting.  On a comfortable outdoor patio, Rich set a table with 3 empty cups for each of us, and we sat down to “cup” (taste) three roasts of coffee: light, medium and dark.  We didn’t know which was which when we tasted, and I could only distinguish the light roast from the others – it was noticeably fruity, a citrus flavor I have never before associated with coffee.   My uneducated taste buds said “It’s all yummy!”.

Our tour concluded with a lesson in coffee roasting (what an aroma!), followed by a traditional toast – using a thirst-quenching Panamanian beer – to the roaster (Miriam, one of the young New Yorkers along on the tour).  Coffee was available to purchase, and we each received a 1/2 bag of the roast of our choice – which is now in Rosanna’s cupboard. 

To take the tour yourself, make a fresh cup of your best coffee and take a look:

From bush to cup: how coffee is grown and processed at Finca Dos Jefes


Sunday, January 29, 2012


Reflection in Half Moon TankOne of our favorite trails in Cochise County just 25 miles from Paws and Hooves Ranch, and that was where we headed on Friday morning.  It was sunny, calm, and in the low 60’s when we pointed Jules out the gate at 11:30 am, and we had hiking lunches (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Cuties) in our backpacks.

Odel made a short detour in Sunsites, to Shadow Mountain Golf Course to find out whether or not it was still open (it is, thanks to community volunteers) and the current rate ($20), and then we were on our way out Ironwood Road to Cochise’s Stronghold. 

From time to time, I try to see this part of Arizona as if I’d never seen it before and, honestly, much of it is not that appealing a sight in the dead of winter, dry and chilled at this high altitude.  In winter, the beauty of Cochise County is not in the broad valleys, but in the canyons and hidden byways of the numerous mountain ranges poking up in every direction.  As soon as we left the Sulphur Springs Valley behind and the beautiful rock formations of the Stronghold loomed up ahead of us, I remembered why we so enjoy the time we spend exploring Cochise County as it awaits the coming of spring and the greening of the mesquite.

Sunset at RosannasSince the last time we hiked the Stronghold, the Forest Service has changed its fee policy: it is now FREE for Golden Age Passport holders (used to be half price, $2.50).  We parked at the trailhead, grabbed our packs, hats, and hiking sticks, and headed up the trail – after a brief pause to chat with a trio of typically cheerful Canadians enjoying Arizona’s warmer winter weather.

Last year at this time, Odel was planning to have his partial knee replacement surgery, and this is the first time we have attempted a 6 mile, rocky, uphill hike since that surgery ten months ago.  He knee held up well, but that hike just about kicked our butts!  I’d forgotten how ROCKY Arizona’s trails are, and how that trail seems to be one long UP hill.  I felt like Rocky Balboa trying to get back in shape – but without the aid of the inspiring music.

Clouds had formed by the time we reached the summit, and a breeze on our sweaty shirts was cold, so we ate our late lunch and started back down the trail.  Not much chatter on the way back; I definitely felt the effects of the distance and effort and was happy to get home and pull off my hiking boots.  By then, the clouds had thickened, and I stopped in the middle of cooking dinner later that evening to jump outside with my camera for a picture of the blazing sunset.

Warm Quinoa SaladOne more photo, this one snagged from the website of the Whole Foods Market.  A couple nights ago, I prepared a recipe from the Whole Foods Market cookbook.  It won a definite thumbs up from the three of us – Odel, Auntie Carol and me, critical eaters all.  The combination of colors, textures, and flavors was exceptional, and it all cooks in one pan! 

Though the recipe claims to serve 4, we had no trouble eating every last bite (even with the addition of the optional tofu) – so if you plan to serve 4, best to serve accompaniments.  I’ve added the recipe to the recipe archive on the left of the blog.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Yellow angels trumpet, pink bananasNo, we’re NOT in Panama… we are at my cousin Rosanna’s Paws and Hooves ranch in Sunizona, Cochise County, Arizona, where I HOPE to find the time to finish up my Panama trip posts! 

Though I greatly enjoyed the Canal, the history of Panama City, and the youthful, mellow Bocas vibe, I looked forward to the higher, cooler, less humid climate of our next stop, Boquete – where Becky had just completed her six month long Peace Corps assignment. 

There are many ways to travel from Bocas to Boquete, none of them short and few straightforward. We opted for the water taxi/private car combo, the short water taxi ride followed by a 3+ hour drive through jungle and rainforest, over the continental divide. 

From the dock at Bocas, we caught a water taxi to Almirante, a straggling village on the mainland, its polluted harbor filled with floating plastic beverage bottles (plastic water/beverage bottles are a HUGE problem in Panama) and other trash.  As usual at transit stops, many kids vied to move our luggage a few feet to earn a tip, or open a taxi door while they requested a quarter.  Sympathy trumped exasperation and I unloaded all my bits of spare change while we worked our way down the street to the private car and driver Becky had arranged to meet us.

Panama BoqueteOur driver, Luis, was an engaging young man who quickly loaded our luggage into his company-owned Yaris – and away we sped.  Luis knew about as much English as I do Spanish, and expressed an interest in conversing in English to improve his vocabulary and grammar.  Before long, though, Luis and Becky chatted in Spanish, with me following about half the conversation and Pat mostly lost.  Lots of misunderstandings and lots of laughs made our drive whiz by. 

Panama has two seasons, wet and dry. Wet is longer than dry, and much of Becky’s time in Boquete was during the wet season: sunny, dry mornings gave way to torrential afternoon downpours. Not too long ago, the river in the photo below flooded, washing away one of the few bridges in town.

Yet, because Boquete is in the mountains so doesn’t suffer the intense, humid heat of the sea-level elevations, the “clima” (Spanish for climate, and the word every Panamanian spoke when we mentioned going to Boquete) of Boquete is of great appeal to Panamanians and travelers alike.  Pat and I had timed our arrival in Panama to coincide with the beginning of the dry season and the wonderful weather we experienced no doubt contributed to my strong attraction to Boquete.

Boquete from the visitors centerToo bad for us, the continental divide was completely wrapped in cloud cover, so no fabulous view of the Caribbean to the north and the Pacific to the south as we dropped over the spine of the mountains.  Another half hour and the sky cleared, the humidity dropped, and we were under the spell of the dry, highlands climate – the mild temperature, the wafting breeze, the sunshine.  As we dropped into the valley, we caught our first glimpse town, and Becky sighed with pleasure at the sight of home.

I loved our little “roundhouse” at Isla Verde, our lodgings for the five days we spent in Boquete.  Though it looked like a small, square cottage from the outside, the inside was ingeniously designed to maximize space and we three companions moved around comfortably without bumping elbows.  Of course, Becky and Pat may have felt somewhat more cramped than I did; those of us used to living in a tin can have a warped sense of residential spaciousness.  :)

Our roundhouseThis photo doesn’t do our abode justice, as I have the contents of my suitcase spread over the loft railing (no closet up there).  Becky and Pat shared the downstairs bed; the roomy bathroom is through the door straight ahead.  Our little kitchen is visible on the right, and out of view is the dining table, next to a TV (never used by us) and a futon sofa.  My back is to the front door; a closet, dresser and safe are along the wall between me and the downstairs bed.

What gave the roundhouse its spacious feel was the ceiling, which followed the roofline up to a peak, capped with a skylight that flooded the room with light during the day.  My loft was tucked into the cone of the roof, giving me sufficient room to stand next to the bed on the overlook side, where I had a great view down at Pat and Becky as they worked on their laptops at night.  :)

From Isla Verde, we could walk to all parts of Boquete: the Mercado, where we bought fresh pineapple for $1.25 and fresh papaya for less; Romero’s grocery store, the largest in town and always an experience; Sugar & Spice, a bakery and favorite gringo hangout; all the shops along main street; the river; and the multitude of coffee shops, each specializing in a particular brand of locally–grown, ultra fresh coffee.  Starbucks addicts, eat your hearts out!

Becky and Pat Zumba’ed at a little gym near our lodging on Tuesday and Thursday, and we joined the Monday morning hiking group for a couple-mile walk to visit a hydroponic garden to buy fresh lettuce.  As always, food was a premier interest, and I’ll cover our tour of Finca Dos Jefes (coffee) in a separate post.

Mixed hydro lettuces The Monday morning hiking group

Lettuce doesn’t get any fresher than this!  The grower cut it to order for us; we were eating our salad a couple hours later.

Becky (right) and two members of the Monday morning hiking group as we head back down the hill towards town.

Though exploring on our own was fun, visiting with friends Becky had made during the prior six months was another highlight of our stay in Boquete.  We learned a considerable amount about the politics and history of Boquete and of Panama from ex-pats and Panamanians alike, and met several American and Canadian ex-pats volunteering (or working) in their adopted home (I particularly admired the couple who started a recycling center in Boquete).

Several years ago, Odel and I spent two weeks in Alamos, Mexico, taking Spanish lessons.  We both remember that period as a highlight of our fulltiming travels.  In Boquete, I found Habla Ya, a Spanish language school a few blocks from Isla Verde.  Is a trip back to Boquete in our future??

Friday, January 27, 2012


5 May 2011Our stay with the Boomers at Quartzsite was short, filled with fun activities, new friendships, and visits with friends we see infrequently.  As usual, many new Escapees joined our Boomer group during this annual gathering, so we were busy with registration and accounting, and sales of Boomer decals.  The size of this gathering (over 110 rigs had registered by the time we left) can be overwhelming for “newbies”, but we all try to recognize and welcome them into the circle as they are introduced during the daily 4 pm happy hour meeting.

This time last year, we had a commitment in Phoenix for our interior renovations; this year, we left the gathering early to head east to my cousin Rosanna’s ranch, Paws and Hooves.  On the way, we needed to stop in Tucson to initiate the replacement of our non-functional washing machine.  So, a hop to Gila Bend, a skip to Tucson, and a jump to Sunizona, a tiny community in Cochise County.

The drive to Gila Bend is not long, so we joined the group for our usual 9 am desert walk before pulling out of Quartzsite just before noon.  A couple hours later, we were settled into a roomy slot at Holt’s RV Park (click here to read our review), behind the Holt’s Shell fuel stop just off I-10 in Gila Bend.   We filled the tank with diesel before parking, then tossed a week’s worth of dirty laundry into the machines at the RV park.  As usual, this efficiently-run combination fuel stop (competitive prices), convenience store, fast food place and RV park met our needs at a reasonable price.

Dryer shelfWe were on the road early (for us) the next morning, heading to Lance’s RV Service.  Lance has done repair work for us in the past and has earned a good reputation with us.  On this stop, we arrived at 10:15 and headed off to the very nearby Costco with a moderate shopping list.  By the time we returned about an hour later, our washer and dryer were out of the rig, sitting in Lance’s shop. 

Inside the empty washer/dryer closet, a mind boggling layer of dust was made even more awful by water that had drained out of the washer hoses.  Wispy, dusty, cobwebs festooned the walls of the closet; dust was so compacted on the edges of the dryer shelf that it resembled a layer of thick felt.  ICK, ICK, ICK!   We were happy to see, though, that we have no dry rot in the floor, so no pre-installation repair work is necessary.  We made arrangements to return in a week to have the new machines installed, then headed for the Pima County Fairgrounds RV Park (click here to read our review) to settle in for the night.

Next day, we didn’t need to hurry, as the drive to Rosanna’s Paws and Hooves ranch is barely two hours.  As I whirred up smoothies for breakfast, I glanced out the window in time to see our friends Jeanie and Ray looking towards our rig, puzzled looks on their faces.  We rushed outside to hugs all around.  What fun to run into them – and what a surprise, since they live about 30 minutes from Paws and Hooves, our next stop!

As we chatted with Jeanie and Ray, a new face appeared on the edge of our gathering – a friendly blog reader, Mike.  Mike, retired from Arizona State Parks and a resident of Show Low, AZ, comes to the lower (warmer) elevations of the state during the winter.  He said he has been reading this blog for a few years, and thought he recognized Scoopy – but my not-up-to-date blog didn’t mention being parked at the fairgrounds!  Mike commented particularly on the food photos I so frequently post; Mike, I added the collage up top especially for you.  Thanks for stopping by to chat.

Paws and Hooves RanchWe finally pulled out of the fairgrounds just before noon and, as expected, it was an easy, uneventful drive to our next stop.  After many, many years in southern Arizona, including at least a decade on her little ranch in Cochise County, my cousin Rosanna and her mom, Carol, are moving.  Rosanna’s place is for sale, so this is likely to be our last visit to the property.  We have SO MANY happy memories here, and it felt good to settle in to “our spot”, to enjoy the warm sunshine and visit with Carol, all the dogs, cats, birds…

I hope to finish up my Panama posts while we are here, though we already are planning a hike at Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoons, a visit to the ranch sitters at Jeanie and Ray’s place, a visit to Bisbee, a day of golf for Odel… and I have several new recipes to try while we’re here.  Never a dull moment!

Monday, January 23, 2012


100% pure chocolateChocolate.  If it is anywhere near me, I feel an irresistible pull; I indulge infrequently ONLY because we resist bringing it home.  When Becky mentioned a tour of a cacao plantation while we were planning our Panama trip, we all quickly agreed to save a spot on our itinerary.

When we arrived in Bocas del Toro, our first stop (after breakfast) was the tour office, where we were disappointed to learn that the English speaking guide for the cacao plantation tour was sick.  Since Pat and I are not sufficiently fluent in Spanish to follow a guided tour en Español, our deep disappointment registered on our faces.

After a little thought, the very helpful booking agent, Kelly, said perhaps she could arrange for us to tour the Cerutti’s cacao plantation – and with a few phone calls, she arranged a private tour of the plantation, a boat and guide, and our lunch.  All we had to do was show up at the correct dock the next day, which we managed.

Approaching the cacao plantation by boatTito, our boat captain, stowed our lunch, handed us each a life jacket, and away we went, flying over six-inch wavelets.  Fifteen or twenty minutes of water travel brought us to the Bay of Dolphins, where we – and half a dozen other tour boats – watched dolphins frolic (or maybe they were eating lunch?) while cameras clicked and videos whirred.  Ten or fifteen minutes later, we buzzed off across the bay once more and were soon tied up at the Cerutti’s palapa-covered dock.

Linda and David Cerutti came from the U.S to settle on their 30 acre plantation 15 years ago.  Cacao trees were already growing there, and the Ceruttis landscaped several acres of gardens while David brought the plantation back into production.   David grows low-yielding criollo trees, the most rare and expensive cacao (about 5% of all the cacao grown), native to Central America.

Our tour began with a walk through the gardens, then we continued on into the jungle where the cacao trees grow in the shade of the rain forest canopy. Along the way, David pointed out sights of the jungle – poison arrow frogs, the bat tree (where bats sheltered in a long cleft), odd fungi – while he educated us about how cacao grows.

Hiking on the cacao plantation Cacao blossom

Hiking in the rainforest, cacao pods in the foreground.

From this tiny blossom, a cacao pod grows.

Then the tour turned hands-on.  David pulled a cacao pod from a tree and cut it open, revealing a juicy white pulp protecting the huge, pale, cacao seeds.  We each sucked on a pulp-covered seed – and it was easy to see why the pod is prized for its extraordinary seeds instead of its mediocre fruit.

The fleshy cacao podCacao trees don’t have a “season” – they are in various stages of fruit production at any time.  When enough pods have ripened to make processing cost-effective, David cuts open the pods, removes the flesh covered seeds,covers them with burlap in a large bin, and lets them ferment for 4-7 days.  From the fermenting bin they move to the drying rack (where solar panels also provide the power to run David’s tiny processing operation), where they are stirred several time a day to discourage mold.  Once dry, the seeds (now called beans) are cleaned, roasted and shelled.

Then the fun starts.  The roughly chopped cacao beans are called nibs, and have the texture of a roasted almond with the flavor of mild, unsweetened chocolate.  We all tasted nibs - and at the end of the tour, we each bought a few small bags of nibs to bring home with us.

Chocolate (sometimes called chocolate liquor) is produced when the nibs are finely ground into a warm (from the grinding process), runny paste.  At this stage, David pours the unsweetened chocolate into molds which he refrigerates to harden.  The result?  Solid bars of rich, unsweetened chocolate (top photo), about 50% cocoa butter and 50% cacao solids.  They reminded me of heavy gold bullion and, indeed, cacao beans and unsweetened chocolate were used by Maya and Aztecs as currency and as food for the aristocracy.

Cacao beans fermenting to remove the pulp Cacao seeds, dried and roasted.

Cacao beans fermenting in their pulp.

Beans dried, cleaned and roasted.

David’s is not a large commercial operation, and it was interesting to see the machinery he has invented to decrease his production time.  Through trial and error, he’s crafted his roaster from a discarded propane tank and a gas burner; a shop vac, a bleach bottle, and a 5 gallon plastic pail figure prominently in post-roasting production.  An old refrigerator cools David’s chocolate filled molds, made from PVC pipe sliced in half.  It was an interesting, inventive operation – absolutely nothing commercial about it!

Chocolate nibs (ground cacao beans) Tito admires the finished cacao beans

Chocolate “nibs”, the first grind.

Our boat captain, Tito, admired the beans.

The finished bars of unsweetened chocolate are the end of the production line for Cerutti chocolate, which is then sold to chocolate manufacturers in bar form.  Most manufacturers remove a percentage of the cocoa butter to sell to cosmetic companies (to recoup some of the cost of chocolate manufacturing), replacing it with lecithin, a soy product.  Add sugar and you have a dark chocolate bar; add sugar and milk and you have a milk chocolate bar (vanilla is often added, too); add flavorings, nuts and fruit… you’ve seen the results on the shelf at Trader Joes.  :)

Cacao molds in refrigerator The chocolate grower

Chocolate liquor cooling in molds.

David Cerutti and his chocolate bars.

Recently, I’ve noticed the introduction of “boutique” chocolate: bars labeled with specific areas of origin and percentages of cacao solids.  Now that I can picture the Cerruti’s small, very local operation, I have a much better understanding of how terrior and variety defines chocolate, in a way similar to wine.  Hmmmm… perhaps a chocolate tasting is in our future?  Or at least another visit to Chocolate in Bisbee when we are in the area next week?

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Leaving on a prop plane, flying over the Panama Canal and the Bridge of the Americas.

Our first view of Bocas Del Toro, through the clouds (and propeller).

Bridge of the Americas from prop plane First glimpse of Bocas del Toro

After three nights in Panama City, we arose at 4:30 am to catch a propeller plane to Bocas del Toro, a province in northern Panama along the Caribbean.  Comprised both of mainland and many small islands, Bocas del Toro seemed a magnet for young backpacking travelers looking for eco-adventures.  Bocas town, where we landed on one of the islands, has a distinctly Caribbean feel: wooden houses and businesses; lively music and spicy scents wafting from open-air restaurants; coconut trees laden with huge coconuts; warm breezes and occasional cloudbursts (serious downpours at night); water taxis, sailboats, canoes (both powered and paddled) plying the water – even a cruise ship arrived during our short stay.

Pat and Becky in Bocas town Typical Bocas home and coconuts

Pat and Becky on the main street in Bocas

Becky admires the coconuts in a yard in Bocas

Along the Bocas main street at night.

Typical Bocas water taxis.

Bocas at night Bocas water taxis

We settled into narrow, three story, tin roofed, wooden Hotel Olas, a few blocks off the main drag, hanging out over water.  I LOVED it!   It was the only time we rented two rooms: Pat and Becky shared the large suite on the top floor with its own spacious balcony; I had a second floor room just below them with a small private balcony adjacent to a comfortable, open air common area. 

Lobby at Hotel Olas 2nd floor lobby at Hotel Olas

Lounge and breakfast room, open on three sides, water underneath.

Second floor balcony lounge (with free WiFi, as was true throughout the hotel).

Private balcony of the third floor suite.  We spent a lot of time relaxing here.

This little house was my neighbor; the view is from my second floor private balcony.

Another view of the suite balcony Little house next door Hotal Olas

When I was younger (half the age I am now), I traveled many months and many miles solo, with a backpack.  Hotel Olas brought back intense, enjoyable memories for me.  I loved sitting in the upstairs lounge or the first floor, open air dining room, watching the young travelers plan their adventures while we seniors enjoyed our morning coffee and breakfast.  Out on the streets, walking past lively hostels, hammock-festooned porches, and outdoor restaurants, I recalled the sense of adventure and the pleasure of anonymity I felt during my solo travels.  It was a time of exploration and personal growth, and the fond recollections made my current adventure even more enjoyable.

Waiting in line for the water taxi Waterside view from Hotel Olas

For me, Bocas was both relaxing and invigorating, and I am so glad we took a few days to visit. We didn’t make time to visit the advertised deserted white sand beaches, to search out the bay of starfish to snorkel or hike – but my next post covers another highlight of our trip, our tour of a cacao plantation.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


One of the most remarkable documentaries I’ve seen was on American Experience on PBS several years ago.  Simply called “Panama Canal”, I found it riveting, never thinking I would see the canal up close and in person one day.  When we visited Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, a couple years ago, I began to understand more clearly the mechanics of using water and gravity to lift and lower large ships in locks, and fell in love with the huge freighters.

Becky and Pat next to a mockup of the Miraflores lock gate. Riding high in the Miraflores Locks

This replica of a lock gate is in the museum at the Miraflores Lock Visitor Center.

Watching one of the big ships enter the lock, preparing to descend to sea level.

We were lucky – we happened to be in Panama City on one of the days the partial transit tour is available (they don’t run daily).  After making a reservation with Panama Marine Adventures (www.pmatours.net), we prepared for our canal tour with a trip to the modern visitor center at the Miraflores locks (the lock closest to Panama City).  Once again, watching the huge ships rise and fall in the locks captivated me – and it was fun to watch Pat and Becky study the process.

So we were excited when we boarded the Pacific Queen early one hot morning.  I can’t recommend this tour highly enough; there is nothing I would have changed. For $115, we spent half a day on their comfortable tour boat (air-conditioned inside, with plenty of outdoor space both covered and open) with a fantastic, bilingual tour guide (English and Spanish) to fill us in on the history, engineering and stories of the canal.  Lunch was included (and delicious), and after the ride north through two sets of locks (three lifts) to Gatun Lake (the highest point of the canal), we had a quick, air-conditioned bus ride back to Panama City.  It was a great experience.

If you’d like to see a slide show of my photos from the tour, here is a little video (a couple minutes long).

From the Pacific ocean through two sets of locks to Gatun Lake, the highest point on the Panama Canal.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Sometime during the second half of January, I usually write about our visit with the Boomers in Quartzsite, Arizona (click here to read a typical post from last year).  It is our biggest annual gathering of Escapee Boomers; in fact, I think the 100th rig just signed in around 3 pm today.  It is one of the few times during the year that we boondock (camp without hookups), and it is sometimes difficult to explain to people who aren’t RV’ers – and even those who are - just exactly WHY we want to leave the comforts of electric, water, and sewer hookups behind to go squat in the dusty Arizona desert in a group of 100+ other RV’s.  In fact, our group is just one of the many groups that bring together 100,000 +/- RV’s on federal land surrounding this normally tiny desert town; Quartzsite is said to be the third largest (by population) city in Arizona during the RV shows.

For us, it is all about friends – here in Boomerville, we have the chance to catch up with people we might not have seen for a year or two, and to meet more of the Boomers we don’t know. 

And activities!  Here is a partial list of how we can spend our time here in Boomerville, each activity planned and announced by volunteers:

Saturday, Jan 21 – Big Tent Opens (this is the beginning of the RV show).
9 AM Walk – tent  (This is usually a 4 mile walk for us; some go farther, some not as far)
10 AM Desert Bar (This is a solar-powered bar at the end of a dirt road out in the desert)

11 AM Zumba – Alfa with flags (Yes, Zumba to a DVD outdoors)
1 PM Easy Watercolors (taught by a volunteer artist)
4 PM Happy Hour (everyday at 4 pm, with announcements followed by food and socializing)
7 PM Panama Canal Pix  (At “Pace Theatre”, projected on the side of the Pace’s RV after dark – BYO popcorn)

Sunday, Jan 22
8 AM Pancakes – tent  (Gretchen makes pancakes every other day or so, a fundraiser)
8:30 AM Trash Run  (Volunteers with pick up trucks take all our trash to the dump in town)
9 AM Walk
10 AM 4 x 4 Run – meet at tent (lots of 4-wheelers in our group)
11 AM Tai Chi (a change from Zumba for a little variety)
1-3:30 PM Z Circle – (like a progressing dinner, but it’s progressive visiting – a great event) 
4 PM Happy Hour
7 PM Rose Float Decorating – slide show at Pace Theatre

Monday, Jan 23
9 AM Walk
11 AM Smart Phones – fire pit (We have a LOT of tech talks)
12 PM Artist Trading Cards – Time to Trade – fire pit
1 PM Military Campgrounds – fire pit
1 PM Women's Outing - tent
4 PM Happy Hour – fire pit
5 PM Potluck – fire pit
7 PM Burning Man Movie – rally 2011 (at Pace Theatre)

To me, it is amazing.  We come together for two weeks and our community blooms.  You can do it all, or just hang out and visit.  Odel and I usually stay 5-7 days, until our water runs out or other commitments dictate we move on, always invigorated by our visit with our tribe.

Now… back to our previously scheduled programming: Panama.  :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Remember: click on any photo to enlarge it.

There were many things I didn’t know about Panama before I visited.  In fact, there were only two things I knew for certain: it is in Central America, and is the site of the Panama Canal.  Since my friend Becky, who had already been in Panama for six months, was handling our itinerary, I did a bare minimum of research, and learned five things:  Panama runs east and west, not north and south; Panama uses U.S. currency; Panama City has a skyline to rival most major capitals; Panama is in the same time zone as New York; and we were going to be hot, hot, hot!

Panama City skyscrapers Miraflores locks and Centennial Bridge, Panama Canal

Modern, cosmopolitan Panama City, with more skyscrapers going up daily.

The view north to the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal, towards the Centennial Bridge.

A typical working class bus in Panama City, collectively known as Red Devils.

Walking the Amador Causeway – at 8 am, it was hot enough that Pat unfurled her umbrella for shade.

A typical "red devil" bus on the streets of Panama City. Becky and Pat on the Amador Causeway

We had eleven days in Panama, and spent them in three very different places.  The first few days and the final day were spent in Panama City, on the Pacific coast, at the mouth of the Panama Canal.  It is very cosmopolitan, filled with history, busy, rapidly growing, and VERY tropical (in other words, hot and humid).  Our number one sight to see in Panama City was the canal, which was every bit as fascinating as I imagined (and deserves a separate post).  The remainder of our time in Panama City was spent exploring Casco Viejo, the old city (no skyscrapers here!), and the fresh fish market, where we ate fresh, ice-cold ceviche every chance we got.

From what we read, heard, and observed, Casco Viejo has undergone a renaissance in recent years.  Those areas that have been renovated are reminiscent of New Orleans, or the old town area of Mazatlan, Mexico, with flowered balconies, pastel buildings, and narrow sidewalks along narrow roadways.  Those areas that have not yet been renovated are literally falling apart; both the buildings and the neighborhood looked dangerous (I didn’t hang around long enough to take pictures!).

In Casco Viejo, Panama City Renovated buildings in Casco Viejo
Bright building in Casco Viejo


Above left: flora has gained a foothold on an older building. 
Above right: appealing renovated residential area of Casco Viejo.
Left: A restaurant on the ground level, residential above, and outdoor dining on the plaza.
Below left: our favorite ice cream shop where sorbets helped us cool off.  My favorite flavor was limonana – I have no idea what is was!
Below right: The Spanish Wall.  I STILL haven’t looked up its history.

In our favorite ice cream shop The Spanish Wall

Between the skyscrapers and cosmopolitan hustle of downtown and the historic buildings of Casco Viejo are the piers and markets serviced by the local fishing fleet.  Outdoor vendors sell icy ceviche – spicy marinated seafood – in Styrofoam cups.  My favorite was corvina ceviche, tangy with lime juice, spiced with peppers, and icy cold.

Repairing the boats at low tide.

Inside the fish market.

Boat repair at low tide Fish market in Panama City

During our first few nights in Panama City, we stayed at the Balboa Inn, a small B&B in the Balboa neighborhood, close to the administration buildings of the Canal zone.  This quiet neighborhood at the foot of Ancon Hill was once part of the U.S. territory of the canal and is mostly residential, with few restaurants or shops.  On our return trip ( just one night) we stayed at a hostel on the edge of downtown – noisier, but in a more interesting (to me) neighborhood.  It was a charming place, frequented by young international travelers and we three old ladies, who had reserved the only room with both air-conditioning and a private bathroom (thank god for both).

Colorful Hostal Urraca.

Flower-draped outdoor lounge.

Pat relaxes in the hammock.

Hostal Urraca in Panama City Outdoor lounge at the hostal Almost asleep again

Next post: Exploring the Panama Canal.