First Impressions are Lasting Impressions

It is the start of day 4 at Playa Coronado, Coronado Bay, Panama. We left Florida on Memorial Day morning. We were held up in Miami as the plane had mechanical failures. The APU failed before take off. The key word is ‘before’. It was great to visit with Aunt Rita and Uncle Danny as well as being able have a number of visits with my mom. She looked great and is getting around better now than she has in a long time. Keep it up mom – I love you!

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Mom, Aunt Rita, Denise, Uncle Danny @ The Villages
Carl, Linda, Denise - Denise's parents
Carl, Linda, Denise – Denise’s parents

Denise’s folks were true saints putting up with Denise and I, OK mostly me, for a month’s stay. Thanks so much and we enjoyed visiting and the chance to acclimate to the hot weather. We arrived in Panama where we had previously decided to have a private driver pick us up vs navigating the bus or taxis on this first trip. The delay of the flight caused us to hit rush hour so we got to experience the somewhat unique driving habits of Panamanians. We had to go right through the city. It has been growing very fast for years and there still was construction/building almost everywhere we looked. We saw a lot of very modern buildings, old historical buildings, some well to do areas and some not so well to do areas. Bottom line is we made it, met with the realtor who took us to our Condo building and unit.

We have a 2 bedroom unit that has both an ocean and mountain view. The facility is top notch – 3 pools with one being on the roof top, a heliport (forgot to pack my copter), nice fitness facility, a game room, and a beautiful beach fronting the whole place.

Ocean from our condo
Ocean from our condo
Mountain view from our Condo
Mountain view from our Condo
Down the beach from our roof top pool, cloudy day.
Down the beach from our roof top pool, cloudy day.

We are about 2 miles from the main road (PanAmerican Highway) where all the banks, groceries, shopping for the area are located. Some folks have cars but there are also buses (.30 each) and Taxi’s ($2). On the first day we knew we needed to get some groceries. The condo was stocked well with most stuff we needed except food. About a ¼ mile away there is a little Mercado (market) that we got some coffee and cream. Kind of the local 7-11 but priced lower just like the big grocery store.

Mercado - 1/4 mile from Condo
Mercado – 1/4 mile from Condo

Not knowing where to get a taxi or where to pick up a bus or even ask for one, we figured we would walk the 2 miles to get some staples and get a taxi back. It was a long and warm walk but we made it. About ¼ mile left some woman pulled over and offered us a ride. We have tried to take the bus numerous times but so far each time someone has stopped and offered us a ride. The grocery is a modern 24/7 supermarket with just about everything you would need. There are actually 4 large groceries within 100 yards of each other at this intersection. One is called Machetazo and is 3 floors and is something like a super Walmart, has everything from housewares, cloths and food, etc.. except I would say it may be a step up from Walmart, at least the Walmarts we are used to. We got our initial basics and navigated the taxi and made it back to the unit just after lunch time.

One thing you find in Panama are places called Fondas, no not the Jane type. From what we can tell, a Fonda is a small, usually family run ‘restaurant’ most often on the roadside and/or out of the front of their home. We have a Fonda about 50-100 yards up the road from our building. We were told these are usually good, very low cost, and supports the locals. On this first full day, after our groceries were put away, we thought we would be ‘brave’ and try it. We walked in and there were a few tables, a counter and 3 items on the chalkboards behind the counter – Eggs, sausage, toast for breakfast or some form of chicken, rice, beans for lunch. You could also get a soup of the day, that is usually chicken, rice and some kind of broth. Today the lunch was chicken with a red sauce and the rice/beans. We were pleasantly surprised as it was not only good but a nice serving. Maybe even the better part, the full lunch for two was $7. Btw…breakfast is $3. Same price every day for what ever they post on the board. Since then we have been back for a breakfast and another lunch, very convenient for a mid-day meal. We have found that we are eating way way less with the activity and the weather. Many times a small breakfast and a mid-afternoon lunch is more than enough for the day with maybe a small snack in the evening. Last night we had pineapple that just melted in our mouths, so sweet!

'Jane' Fonda - so far my favorite.
‘Jane’ Fonda – so far my favorite.

So back to our first day and ‘brave’ lunch in the local Fonda. As we are sitting there waiting for our food a guy walks up that looks something like Jimmy Buffet (mostly bald on top, white hair on sides, shorts, flip flops and t-shirt). On his t-shirt was a big Gamecock from USC where Lisa graduated. So we were quickly talking and found he is from Charleston, SC, has been here a month, lives in our building, and just signed a long -term lease. He is here until he feels he wants to leave – kinda like us. Well Buz invited us to a daily 5ish PM happy hour poolside on the roof top with some other folks that happen to show up – BYOB. Oh did I mention that local beer is about .45-.55/can! So we have attended 2 of these in the 3 days and have met a young couple from Canada who are here for good, a couple from Texas who after a month returned to Texas this morning, a couple from Illinois, and another couple from Iforget. Fun folks.

Roof top happy hour with pool and ocean behind
Roof top happy hour with pool and ocean behind

We went to another Happy Hour at a local hang out called Picassos. Wednesday night is the usual 5PM hangout for ex-pats (that is what they call folks living in a country who are not from the country – nicer than Gringo). Met a bunch of other folks but it was a bit much for us, like drinking from a fire hose. Everyone though is more than happy to share their knowledge and experiences of being here.

We have done more shopping mostly for more groceries and a crock-pot and just to find out what is where. We are trying to get in a routine of an early morning hour walk on the beach, a short work out in the gym, then coffee and breakfast, then whatever might interest us for the day. Denise is great at the beach. When she comes across some nice shells, she is like a kid in a candy store, gathering up her delicate booty! Next week we will start looking for a long-term place but we are really liking being here, guess we will see what happens.

Well today it is now 10:40 and we have made it through sleeping in, breakfast/coffee and Denise threw some chicken and beans in the crock-pot. I guess we soon will see what today brings – what-ever day it is? Here are some more pics we hope you enjoy.

Comments and feedback are welcome – stay in touch!

Everyday on our beach!
Everyday on our beach!
How to make a beautiful place prettier
How to make a beautiful place prettier
Amazing black volcanic sand mixed with normal sand. All as soft as sifted powdered sugar.
Amazing black volcanic sand mixed with normal sand. All as soft as sifted powdered sugar.
12 is traveling with us!
12 is traveling with us!
A house down the beach from us.
A house down the beach from us.
Not lost yet – welcome to Panama
Not lost yet – welcome to Panama
It is amazing what/who you might find an a beach these days.
It is amazing what/who you might find an a beach these days.
One of our 3 pools
One of our 3 pools

Pleasantville, FL ,,, aka The Villages

We are days away from embarking on the next leg of our Journey – Panama. But that will be another story. For the last 4 weeks we have been guests at Denise’s parents home in The Villages, FL. They have been tremendous in putting up with us, especially me. Guests after 3 days start to be like old fish…Anyone who has watched at least the Golf Channel has seen commercials for The Villages. The weather has been wonderful – low 90s each day and barely any rain. I do agree there is no place like this anywhere else. It is a 55+ community. Some call it Paradise, Heaven’s Doorstep, God’s Waiting Room, Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, …. I have a like/dislike for the place. It has many amenities and is well maintained. It currently has 3 town squares, 11+ Country Clubs, 30+ executive golf courses, every neighborhood (Village) has its own maintained swimming pool like a Mormon neighborhood has a church. there are community centers and, I am told, a club for every interest. Every town square has multiple restaurant/bars with patio seating. They all seem to have ALL day EVERY day happy hour of $2 draft, $2.75 wells, etc…and 7 nights a week there is live music on the square(s) with dancing if you wish. Most everyone has a golf cart they can drive everywhere on special cart paths and under-road tunnels as well as some streets. Some of these carts are really laid out and cost more than cars. See my pics below. Everyone will tell you it is great here, say hello, wave, almost as if everyone is on Oxycodone.

OK so now you say, what is there to dislike? Well to me something seems off. It is very possible that it is me and not the place. There are approximately 114K residents and growing. It is one of the fasts growing communities in the country. I grew up in the Youngstown, Ohio area and this place is 2X the size of Youngstown today. Everyone here is old and it seems everyone has 1+ dog(s). There are dog parks and most everyone has their dog’s name hanging from their light post (see pic). Did I say everyone is old?

I feel like I am in a cross between the movie Pleasantville and The Truman Show. Everything is just so, every home is dress-right-dress. Everyone has at least their one obligatory palm tree, their dog sign, their golf cart, everyone says Hi, waves….if you haven’t watched Pleasantville, rent it on Redox (if you can). Everything seems a little too Pleasant, a little too perfect. Over the weeks I have observed some of the ‘underbelly’ of The Villages. If you go into a town square in the morning you can watch some of the patio bars begin to attract some folks as soon as they are open. Did I say they are old? Of course if I was 70+ maybe having a cold Yuengling for $2 instead of morning coffee would be where you would find me. Some folks go dancing ‘at the ‘square’ or go to watch those that do, many of the folks are up doing the same line-dance step to fast, slow, rock, jazz, country, etc….the same same, all in a row. a perfect line dance. Did I say they are old? Yes I feel like I am in Pleasantville or Truman, living in a fake world as an experiment.

Oh, also if you are a guy and want a date I guess this is where to go. If you hang around long enough a (cougar is way to young of an age to use) older female will be on the prowl. I am not saying there aren’t guys prowling either but males expire earlier so the population is swayed a bit. Did I mention everyone is old? Did you know that the Villages has the highest incidence of STD in the country. Some might see all this as an attraction but yes ‘Pleasantville’ has a ‘colored’ underside to it. If you saw the movie you would know the reference to ‘colored’ vs non ‘colored’. For all you liberals reading this, this has no racial reference – though this place does look awfully anglo but coming from Seattle many places might look that way. Did I say everyone is old?

All in all it has been a very ‘Pleasant’ visit. We were able to spend time with our parents, yes my mom lives here also. We saw my sister, Arlene, who was visiting my mom on Mom’s day. We visited with my Aunt Rita and Uncle Danny – yes they live a ‘Pleasant’ life here. And finally we were able to spend a rather not so ‘old’ night with Bob and Wendy McFadden, great friends from back home in WA who have a winter home just outside of the ever ‘pleasant’ Villages.

So like/dislike. I certainly would rather be here than where it is cold, rainy and grey most days. Maybe if I were old? Some say i am old-er (57) but I guess it is a matter of perspective. I can’t image even 20 years from now that I wouldn’t rather want to be at a beach with a mixed community but then again maybe ask me again in 20 years. That cold $2 Yuengling is actually sounding pretty good right now as a pre-lunch cocktail.

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One of the Town Squares – Sumpter Landing. Supposedly modeled after Key West
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Our neighborhood (village) pool
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Should be wearing her ‘Life is Good’ shirt.
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Lots of sand on this course – if you make it across.
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To young for a morning Yuengling draft?
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This cost more than some of these folks 1st house – 4-door, AC, Stereo
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Golf Cart only roadway
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Gold cart under-road tunnel
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Mermaid in our neighborhood pool with her floatie.
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A town square dance night – get down and ‘line-dance’?
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Those here to watch the dancers or who can’t line dance or can no longer stand or ….entertainment
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Everyone has 1+ dogs, some push them around town in strollers. Their new babies.
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Town square corner bar
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More entertainment – I guess at least they are not just sitting.
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Lexi lives here – woof!
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Band is getting ready – got to start early since the sidewalks roll up at 9PM SHARP! If you are out past 7:30-8 you are obviously up to no good.
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Avoiding all this ‘oldness’ is exhausting

13 Day Odyssey – Seattle to Florida

Denise and I have safely arrived in The Villages, Florida where we are preparing for the next leg of our trip to the tropical beaches of Panama. The 13 days started off rocky but by the time we got to lucky 13 we were cruising. We purposely drove all and any coast road we could within reason. We first stopped off in Portland and had lunch at the vast fields of food trucks with dessert at Voodoo Donuts. From there we headed SW toward the coast. We went through the Willamette and Tillamook Valleys. I never saw such a great variety of wineries and vineyards. We didn’t get any Tillamook cheese but did see way to many people who looked like they ate our share. Lot of dairy in the airy-a. The drive down the coast was amazing, views were spectacular. I am so glad we came this way.

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Proceeding into Californication we first wanted to see the redwoods. All this time out west (24ish years) and never stopped to see these. We went through the Valley of the Giants where we saw supposedly the world’s tallest tree as well as a big statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe. The quantity of trees were impressive but I feel that for anyone who has spent time in the Olympic Peninsula and Hoh Rain Forest has also seen some pretty damn big pieces of wood. I guess it would have been more exciting for people who had never been to the PNW (Pacific North West – for you newbies). There were a lot of signs in Northern CA about Bigfoot. Ya right, I didn’t see him once in CA. You want to see Bigfoot, then come to the PNW. I saw him 4-5 times up there.

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From there we continued hugging the coastline on Highway 1 and 101. California has some beautiful coastal roads but nowhere near the ruggedness of Oregon. Finally on the 101 we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Sure it is big and picturesque but does it swing and collapse like in Washington? Neat bridge though. We made our way to the Fisherman’s Warf, again another first. Other than seeing Alcatraz from a distance it was a bit of a let down – tourist trap on steroids. I wouldn’t go back. SF as a city seemed really neat but unfortunately we decided to get on down the road and not stay there for the night. A return to the city of SF could be a future trip. California has all kinds of wonderful smaller cities on the coast that we passed through. Many we saw on TV or heard about in songs. It was neat to drive through – Malibu, Carlsbad, etc..,etc.. We avoided LA as much as we could. I have been there, done that. Before you know it we were passing through La Jolla, past Torrey Pines (played and stayed there – highly recommended) and heading to our lodging on Hotel Circle in San Diego.

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Lodging is another story. Some places were cool and some dumps. We used Trivago a lot but one person’s 3 stars (our agreed min in quality) is anther persons dump and then they add smiley faces, frowns, and color shades to the ratings so hell it becomes a crap shoot at times. Our San Diego lodging was not to bad.

While in SD we decided to stay 2 days and spent time with Rich and Ginny – my oldest brother and wife as well as Neil and Nicole, my Nephew and his wife as well as Grace and baby Stella. We had never met Nicole or the kids before. We had a wonderful time and got to know Neil and his family a lot better. They live in a very nice house a 5-minute walk from Hotel Del Coronado so we were able to go to the beach with the kids for a while and also spent an extremely pleasurable evening dinner at Hotel Del with Neil and Nicole. They were great hosts/hostess. Grace and Stella are cute as buttons. We also spent some great time with Rich and Ginny. We haven’t seen much of each other over these many years. We missed the rest of Rich’s family so Tracie and Erik and family will need to come to Panama to visit us.

Nicole/Neal/Stella/Grace
Nicole/Neil/Stella/Grace
Ron and Grace
Ron and Grace
Hotel Del
Hotel Del

From SD we headed East on I-8/10. We had crossed the country multiple times but never this far south. New Mex, Ariz, and Texas are for the most part very rugged but beautiful at the same time. We stopped overnight in Tucson and had a wonderful dinner at the home of the infamous Steve and Sandi Parker and their daughter Katie. What great hosts and beautiful home. We really enjoyed the visit. After that it was 80 MPH across desolate Indian lands and amazing giant cactuses. Seemed we were always going up but not coming back down the hills. Denise’s car developed a drinking habit and we ended up putting in 7 quarts of oil in the puppy over 13 days. That speed and those climbs were brutal to her baby.

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Entering the San Antonio area we saw things start to green up, pretty area. We stayed overnight there and visited the Alamo. In honesty it was a bit of a let down. Our expectations were different from what is there but it is worth checking it off your list with a visit. While in San Anton we watched an online Jimmy Buffett Concert live at Orange Beach, Alabama. At the end Jimmy said for folks to follow him, as he will be playing in NOLA Sunday. We said, Damn, we will be in NOLA Sunday. Bottom line is we went to the NOLA Jazz Festival and were 30 yards from the stage for the J. Buffett concert – way way cool. NOLA is now one of my top 5 favorite cities. We stayed in a quaint French style place near Frenchman Street that was real cool. We had the typical gumbo, music in the streets, red beans and rice, hurricanes, dancing with a hula-hoop (Denise) after the hurricane on a dance floor at about 11AM with about a dozen other die-hards. Nola is just real cool, beautiful architecture, great food and drinks, and on and on. All we wanted to do was walk around and see the crazy people. Well the day we were there they had Tornado Warnings and massive downpours. Yes we were the ones out in that. We became the crazies we came to see.

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From NOLA we stopped at the Flora-Bama, made somewhat famous by Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney. It was not what we expected. It really is a hole in the wall with well over a dozen different bars, rooms, and tents. We had a lunch of boiled shrimp and Oysters on the deck looking out to the beach. I found a small pearl in my oyster!

Flora-Bama
Flora-Bama
Main Stage
Main Stage
ATM machines - hope there is some paper!
ATM machines – hope there is some paper!
Pearl from my oyster
Pearl from my oyster

The Alabama/Florida panhandle beaches are a beautiful as they say – powder white sand. We again drove the coast as much as we could. We arrived in the villages and our truck of goods beat us here. We now need to hit the ground running to get it emptied and get ready for the next leg of the journey.

In-laws back yard on golf course in the Villages
In-laws back yard on golf course in the Villages
Picture of beach area from Condo in Gorgona, Panama  near where we will stay (thanks Suzi)
Picture of beach area from Condo in Gorgona, Panama near where we will stay (thanks Suzi)

Comments or questions are tolerated. If you don’t want to share my ramblings then why are you reading this?

I need to practice my Spanish so – Adios

RB