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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Re-Release of my book, Mirror Images Book 1: The Darkness of Man

Ok, so I usually write about Panama. I try not to mention my own personal endeavors very often, but since I've made some good friends with this blog, and the reader base is growing, forgive me for advertising the re-release of my book. It came out yesterday, on my birthday, and I just want to mention to everyone that it's available on Kindle right now. If you don't own a Kindle, but you have one of the other e-reading devices, you can pick up a copy in almost any other format at Smashwords (I'll post the link below). It's also out in paperback. Any support I can get would be really appreciated. So, what is it about? Here's the synopsis from Amazon: 

When an average Joe's reflection in the mirror switches places with him, he finds himself trapped in a strange mirror world, battling his way back to the other side so that he can stop his reflection from destroying the life he knows. 

“Have you ever wondered why so many people in prison claim to be innocent? It’s ‘cause most of ‘em are,” Dozier whispered. 

On the other side of the mirror, lies a horrific world where each of us has an image, our violent replica, capable of fulfilling our darkest desires, and only released into our world when we’re unable to follow through with an evil deed. Gabe Cutter, an average paper pusher, has his life ripped out from under him when his image switches places with him, hell bent on destroying the life Gabe knows, and killing his cheating fiance’. Now, stuck on the other side of the mirror, Gabe must join together with a band of stranded survivors and find a way to get back to his world before his image destroys it. Along the way he battles his way through maniacs, monsters, and ultimately his own heart, as he realizes that the woman he’s been trying to save...wasn’t worth the price of admission. 


So it might not be for everyone. It's dark fantasy, or what I like to call kick ass action. I recently signed with GMTA Publishing, so they're the company behind the new, edited, re-release. If you've got a few bucks to spare, please pick up a copy so I can finally start to establish myself as a real (hopefully full-time soon) author. Here's the cover of the book and I'll post all the links below the photo.

To get the Amazon Kindle version click here.

To get the paperback version at Amazon click here

For all other devices, go to the Smashwords page here

Thanks for all of your support. Keep your eyes open for my next Panama post. 


Monday, April 15, 2013

Just a random Panama post

Hey guys,

I posted this once on Facebook, but I just came across it again today, and I felt like my Panama-loving buddies should see this. I swear, I'm not making this up. I was standing in line at the pharmacy one day, at one of the Rey supermarkets here in Panama City, and I saw this when I looked down. I had to snap a photo.

I don't know what it is. But it was right there on the shelf. All I could think of was, "Hmm, maybe this is the 'The morning after pill didn't work' pill. Hahahaha. 

That's all for today. Just thought you might get a kick out of it. 


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Taking your kid to the hospital in Panama

So this couldn't have come at a more perfect time. Just yesterday I wrote about some of the great things about living in Panama. One of the things I mentioned was cheap medical care. Well, yesterday evening, while playing around in the backseat of the car (sitting in the horrible 4-8pm traffic along the Cinta Costera) my son, while playing with his brother, accidentally smacked himself in the face with one of his toys.

With blood gushing out of the little cut, we fought our way to the next "Retorno" turn around point and made our way to the Hospital del Niño, the children's hospital, which luckily is located along Avenida Balboa, right around the corner from where we were parked in traffic.

Again, this is one of the awesome things about Panama. Yes, we had to wait for over two hours to be seen by a doctor, but my son received one stitch, and you won't believe how much we paid. How much would that have cost in the U.S.? Please, someone comment below and let me know. I'm not sure. I got stitches once in Chicago, but it was a work accident and covered by insurance so I don't remember what the cost was.

My little knucklehead got stitches, just for this blog photo

So what was the cost here in Panama? We paid $1 to sign in at the emergency room counter, and only $2 for the stitch (which included anesthesia). So the whole thing set us back $3. I'm 100% sure getting a stitch in an emergency room back in the States wouldn't have cost $3. That's a good way.

The doctor gave us three prescriptions (pain reliever, some sort of cream to put on the stitch, and antibiotic) which wound up costing a total of $32 at the pharmacy.

So, if you find yourself in Panama City, and one of your kids has an accident, go to the Hospital del Niño. Chances are, you'll be able to afford lunch after.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Life in Panama, the best things are the simplest things

Yesterday, on my way to pick up my daughters from school, I was reminded of how simple things can make such a difference. It’s these little things that keep me grounded and remind me of how great this country is.

It was hot yesterday, and my air conditioner in my car is messed up. I don’t recommend driving around Panama with no air conditioner. The great thing is entrepreneurs have realized that the days are smoldering and many people don't have the time to make a pit stop for an icy drink. So they've set up shop on the street medians. 

On the route to my daughters' school, I pass several of these vendors. I passed this one guy, at least five time, not sure I wanted to buy what he had to sell. He was selling fresh orange juice in lidded cups, with a straw and everything. He'd walk up and down the center of the two aisles of cars, with this carrying case that held six cups at a time. I don't know why, maybe it's that part of me, born and bred in the U.S., that makes me weary of unsealed containers. Finally, I broke down and bought a cup of juice. Cost? One dollar. I was hooked. 

This guy's fresh squeezed orange juice was the tastiest, most refreshing drink I'd ever had. And it was dirt cheap. I looked for him the next day, and he wasn't there. The day after that I was practically foaming at the mouth, and he was nowhere to be found.

"Where the hell is the orange juice guy?" I shouted from within my car. I needed a fix. 

Sadly, I guess I wasn't the only one who didn't jump at the chance to buy a cup of freshly squeezed OJ. He'd moved on to some other street and out of my life forever. 

I miss you OJ man

Every morning on my way home from dropping off my daughters, I pass a woman who sells styrofoam cups of fresh fruit salad out of a cooler. The lids are taped down. A girl I used to work with would come into the office sometimes with these cups of fruit salad. What a great, healthy breakfast idea? Are you going to go out of your way to pull into a McDonald's for greasy $5 breakfast, or holler at this lady from your rolled down car window for a $1 cup of fresh fruit salad? You don't see that in the United States. Or at least I didn't when I was there. I think people back home would be afraid to buy something like that. Things are just different here. 

On the road leading to my house, you'll see a guy with his car parked on the side of the road, a sign made out of the ripped off lid from a cardboard box. He sells bottles of fresh honey. This guy literally brings bottles of honey from the interior of the country and sells them on the side of the road. What does he use as a lid? A piece of wax paper rubber-banded to the top of the bottle. That's it. I would absolutely buy it too. I probably wouldn't have bought it in South Florida. But I'd buy it here. 

Cell phone covers and chargers for sale

It's the ability to pick up these random treats on the road that makes Panama such a cool place to be. I love it. I was stuck in my mom-in-law's car one day, with nothing to listen to but the horrible radio station channels, and her cds, which are always Panama tipico music, which isn't bad if I'm at a live concert with my wife and I've had several rum & cokes, but I'm not driving down the street blasting this accordion-filled music. Not by myself. So, as I'm sitting at a red light, playing drums on the steering wheel with my fingers, wishing I had something cool to listen to, a guy taps on my window and has a stack of cds. I'm not going to say he had America's Top 40, or Van Halen, or anything like that. But at least I could purchase a mix of more modern Salsa or Reggaeton. 

If you find yourself without a car charger for your cell phone, or you decide you'd like a new cover for your phone, or the sun's blinding you and you desperately need a pair of bootlegged Oakley sunglasses, you can find that stuff roadside too. Sellers walk up and down the lanes at every red light, calling out their wares. Some of them will stop at your window, especially when they see you're a gringo, and try to convince you to buy, but if you firmly say "no" a couple of times, the'll be on their way. 

Papaya, avocados, onions, and peppers for sale

I was sitting in my car the other night, after a long trip to Panama’s local Costco-style store, PriceSmart, when I realized that I'd forgotten the bread. With a wife and four kids at home, and school lunches that needed to be made, the bread was a must. So there I sat, contemplating whether I should make an extra stop at another supermarket, or give the kids money for lunch. A tapping on my windshield brought me back to reality. A man stood next to my car at the stoplight, holding about six fresh loaves of bread wrapped in plastic bags. For $1.50 I was able to bring home the bread.

This isn’t the first time these street vendors have saved my hide. I’ve forgotten tomatoes, onions, even garbage bags, all items on sale right at the intersection. 

The guandu (pigeon peas) often cooked in rice here can be found on most major streets. I’ve even picked up a bag of oranges, with the rinds already peeled off, to take home to the kids.

My kids love these oranges (just slice them in half and suck out the juice)

I used to think often about how much I missed going to one store, such as a Walmart or Target, to pick up everything I need. There are a few stores here that allow you to do that, but it’s not the same. El Machetazo is the closest thing we have to a Walmart-style store here in Panama. They’ve got a supermarket, but they also have an electronics department, toy store, and furniture area. It’s a great place to pick up exercise equipment. And sure, I'll go there every once in awhile just because it's easy. The one in Coronado is fantastic. However, I’ve realized that for every big thing I miss from the States, like Starbucks, there are a ton of little things that keep me grounded in Panama.

I was in a mini-supermarket the other day. I went in, specifically, for a bottle of fresh coconut juice, my new favorite drink. So while I’m buying the bottled stuff, I glance to my left and see a customer perusing the aisles carrying a coconut with a straw driven through it. She was drinking right from the fruit, while doing her shopping, and her coconut was provided by the shop keep. Where in the United States can you walk into a store and walk out sipping a fresh coconut? It just doesn’t happen.

Fresh coconut juice is awesome

Fruits and vegetables are everywhere here, and they’re not expensive like they are in most areas of the United States. I remember when my mother in law visited us in Anchorage, Alaska. She wanted to make a Panamanian style soup. She needed a vegetable called Ñame, which is a root similar to Yucca. Only one store in town had this root, and it was a small health food store. I paid US$11 for this one ñame root that couldn’t have weighed more than two pounds. Here in Panama it costs about $.80 per pound. That’s a huge difference. In the suburbs of Chicago, it was surprisingly hard to find plantains. In Panama, they’re everywhere.

Everywhere I’ve lived in the U.S., it would’ve cost a fortune to pack my kids’ school lunches with fresh fruit. Here it’s cheaper than anything else, and there’s so much variety. I’m still stumbling upon fruits I’ve never heard of.

Workers stop for affordable lunch in Costa del Este

Gas stations here still offer full service. It took me a little while to get used to this. I felt lazy letting someone else pump my gas. But here, it’s their job. If you don’t let them do it, they won’t get paid. I usually give them a tip, but even that isn’t mandatory. They’ll check your oil, check your tire pressure, wash your windows…in some ways living in Panama really is like living in the United States back in the 60’s.

Shopping for clothing here can be very affordable. I have broad shoulders, so most of the Panamanian-made men’s clothes won’t fit me, but if you’re a little bit smaller than I am, it’s very easy to find t-shirts for $2. Or blue jeans for $10. A pair of decent jeans in the States can run you $50. Women’s clothes are extremely affordable. I’m not going to say that the quality is equal to what you might pick up at Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus, but we’re talking t-shirts here.

A $1 medical bill

Don’t get me started on medical expenses. My daughter, when she was an infant, was taken to an emergency room about five miles down the street after my wife called 911. That ambulance ride resulted in a bill of about $400. Just for the ambulance ride. Here, 911 is sort of a new concept, but if you call 911 and an ambulance takes you to the hospital, you don’t pay a penny. It’s covered by your taxes. 

My co-pay back in Columbus, Ohio, was $30, and that’s a low co-pay compared to a lot of others. Here in Panama, without insurance, I went to visit a doctor about my high blood pressure. The cost of this doctor visit was $4. I visited an orthopedic specialist for problems with my back, and I was charged $40 for the visit. This was one of the top doctors in all of Panama. In San Carlos, a small town near Coronado, I went into the emergency room one night, worried about my sugar levels being high, and I walked out with a $1 bill. One dollar. Find that unbelievable? Just look at the photo above. 

So while my mind wanders back to the United States from time to time, and how my life was before the recession, when I reel it back in and remind myself of the advantages here, I realize that this place makes sense for me right now…and offers a lot of promise for the future.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Road trip to Panama's interior

I'm back in Panama City, and wow, this past weekend was an exhausting, but terrific one. Marlene (my wife) and I loaded up the kids, the bags, and the snacks and headed into the interior of the country. It was a mistake leaving at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday (the start of the Semana Santa). My wife had to work a half-day though so we got a later start than we'd hoped for. 

With the craziest music mix you can imagine (I let the kids help me put it together) we be-bopped along while we sat in bumper to bumper traffic. I'd expected there to be some congestion, but I'd never expected it to be as bad as it turned out. It was like carnaval traffic headed to the interior. 

I always get a kick out of seeing all of the young entrepreneurs lined up alongside the Pan-American Highway, selling everything from bottles of water to bags of chips to bootlegged mix cds. Anytime you hit traffic in Panama, you can rest assured you won't go thirsty. Someone will be smart enough to set up shop on that busy street corner. It's the same along the highway during any major festival or holiday weekend.

One of the great things about Panama, is everything is kind of set up in one straight line, well, one long curving line really. My point is that I'm always asked if it's confusing trying to get from Panama City to David or Boquete or anywhere else. Really, there's one highway that takes you most of the way. I'll explain what I mean by "most of the way" in just a second. The only decision you'll need to make in Panama City is which bridge you'd like to travel over when you leave the city.

One road heading out will take you past the entrance to the Amador Causeway and out over the Bridge of the Americas or Puente de las Americas. This is the exit you'd choose if you were at downtown Panama City or anywhere near the Cinta Costera, as it's the closest to that area. 

The Bridge of the Americas taken at Amador Causeway

The other option, if you're closer to the Bethania, El Dorado, Condado del Rey area, is to head out past the new shopping center, Centennial Plaza, where the Arrocha, McDonald's, Rey, and Taco Bell are (plenty of other places too). This road will lead towards the Estadio Nacional de Panama, also called the Rod Carew Stadium, where many of the big baseball games are played. That's where you'll find the Centennial Bridge. 

It's important to know how to get to each of these bridges because you never know when one will be closed down for maintenance. The day we were leaving, the Bridge of the Americas was closed down for a couple of hours because a truck spilled oil all over the place. By the time we left it was open again, but in that kind of situation, it's nice to know you can head over to the other bridge to escape town. 

The Centennial Bridge is the newer, cooler looking bridge. If your desire is to cross the Panama Canal, both of these bridges will take you over it. 

Since this article is all about the road trip, I thought I'd mention the house in the photo below. This house is kind of known as the "haunted house" along the highway. It's been recently painted so it doesn't look all that freaky right now, but it's right on the corner as you head into the swervy part of the highway, in the Capira area. Many people have come back from road trips late at night and swore they saw the ghost of a woman walking alongside the road. Truck drivers have told tales of picking up a stranded woman to have her vanish from the truck cab a few minutes later. 

The Haunted House on the Pan-American Highway

I wonder if the people living there know that people think their house is haunted. They probably have no idea and if they stumble upon my article they might be pissed. Like, "Hey, that's my house. What the heck? Haunted? No, we've seen that ghost chick too, but she doesn't live here." 

So, the traffic cleared up right after Chorrera, which is right around where the two lanes of traffic (the one coming from the Bridge of the Americas and the other coming from the Centennial Bridge) meet. Even on a normal, non holiday weekend, you can expect to run into a little bit of traffic right around this point. After that it was smooth sailing. Watching out for cops became the new challenge. On most of the highway, when you're not driving through one of the small towns, you can count on the speed limit being somewhere between 80km per hour and 100km per hour (which is equal to 50-60 miles her hour). The limit changes quickly though. Watch out for the "Reduzca Velocidad" or reduce speed signs and the cops, which were EVERYWHERE this holiday weekend. 

Quite a few Panamanians know about the blinking of the high beams to let fellow travelers know there's a cop up ahead. It's nice when you see that, and to pay it forward I try to do the same whenever I notice a curbside cop in the opposite lane. 

Near Penonome

As I mentioned before, there are only a couple of detours you might need to make, depending on where you're headed to. If your plan is to travel to Chitre, Las Tablas, Pocri, Pedasi, or any of the other towns on the east coast of the Azuero Peninsula, you'll need to make a right onto the overpass in Divisa, which you'll find shortly after you pass Aguadulce. The overpass will take you up and to the left, where you'll begin your drive down the peninsula. Look at the photo below to see what I'm talking about. Once you're on the peninsula, it's pretty much a straight drive all the way to Las Tablas. Once you hit Las Tablas, you'll want to make a left onto the main street (the one across from the church) to reach Pocri, Pedasi, and Playa Venao. 

Head onto this overpass to travel to the towns on the east coast of the Azuero Peninsula

If you stay on the Pan-American Highway, you'll find that it's fairly smooth from Panama City until you get as far as Santiago. You'll still want to be careful for a few random potholes and some dips in the road. I was driving a little Suzuki Swift on this trip and I swear I thought I was about to launch my family into outer space when we hit this smooth dip and rise somewhere around Aguadulce. Somehow my wife slept through the leap and my kids cheering from the back seat. I swear, she can sleep through anything. 

Once you reach Santiago, it becomes a bumpy ride. Never never never ever never make this trip without a spare tire, a jack, and a tire iron handy. No joke. The road gets pretty nasty. And it's a good idea to try and make the trek during the day. Cows tend to roam across the road wherever they please. Night driving isn't a good idea unless you're in a huge truck and you know the area and its road very well. 

Just passed Tole and the sun was going down

We left Panama City at about 12:30 p.m. and reached David at about 8 p.m. That was with the traffic we'd encountered earlier in the day and we stopped to eat at the McDonald's in Santiago. So, I'd say that it probably takes a good 6.5 hours to make the trip with no traffic.

Near Volcan

Besides the turn towards the Azuero Peninsula, that I mentioned earlier, there are only a few other turns you might want to make as you journey to the country's interior. The turn towards Dolega and Boquete is located in David, and about twenty minute's drive down the highway, past David, you'll find the street that takes you towards Volcan. Still, as I mentioned before, each of these turn offs is located on the Pan-American Highway, and since each is a straight street that leads you towards your destination once you leave the highway, getting around this country is really simple. If what you're looking for isn't sitting alongside the highway, you'll be sure to find it at the end of a side street.

Our destination was David, where we hung out with my wife's sister, Darlene (Doctor Dar), for the weekend and visited the surrounding areas. We had a great time, good quality family time. Nowadays it's hard to get away from the computer, so for this trip, I didn't take it with me, and it was wonderful. 

On the way home we hit some horrible traffic, right around the street that takes you up into El Valle, right before San Carlos and Coronado. It took probably an hour just to get a few miles, but then the cops created a third lane by putting cones up to block off one of the west-bound lanes, which allowed some of us heading towards the city to move onto that lane. So, with three lanes headed back to the city, and only one headed away, the congestion thinned out and we were home in no time. 

Thanks for reading,