Still picking coffee and we will be going on well into January. My main worker is even coming 'off' vacation to wear my bee suit tomorrow and pick around the hives. Good for him. I am otherwise occupied with just 3 days left to Christmas.
The orange harvest will be over soon, probably in about 2-3 weeks. So a final push to candy oranges. My maid peeled about 300 or so for extra Christmas money over the last couple of days........kitchen is full of rind steeping in syrup and in various stages of processing. Fridge jam packed with juice.
We have done most of the workers food baskets. Another trip to David today for things to finish them off. This year, we are going to help out a family who used to live on the farm. A single mother with three children who is making around $26 every two weeks ($52 a month) working full time. Yes, it is not legal but it happens.
Christmas shopping trip in close 100 degree weather down the mountain in David is tough. On the other hand, here you get service. You do not have to carry your bags around the shop or to your car and people are there to help you find what you need. There is also excellent wrapping services in most shops. All you have to do is find the shop (not as easy as it sounds); Find parking (even harder); check over all merchandise more than once and thoroughly (Here there is a very high incidence of returns, not quite right things and wonky parts) and then stagger in and out in the extreme heat.
Then bananas - yes, what happened to all my bananas? Not just my bananas but all the bananas in this banana rich town. I like to have a supply by the terrace so we can watch birds when we relax out there - something I am looking forward to over the holiday.
Well, the coffee pickers have an appetite for them. I would love to know how much of the diet is banana, but I bet it is somewhere between 10-30% if you include plantains. There must be 5-10 thousand Indigenous camping out in Boquete for the coffee harvest and that amounts to a lot of bananas. So, my birds are not getting so many these days, the horse is getting carrots, the rabbit has been eating grass and I have not had one for breakfast for nearly a month....
Lastly, what is all that sound of gunfire? Sounds like someone is firing rounds day and night in the Barrio above me. I feel like I'm under attack. Well, it turns out it is fireworks. It is normal. It will last until the New Year.
Has it really been 4 months since I last made it into David for a serious shop? Going to David is low on my list of best things to do in Chiriqui, last attempt was in July. This time, I hired super personal assistant Ms Martinez to navigate. She earned about 2.5 times her fee in discounts and I have never done so much in Panama before lunch, not ever.
We started getting our farm logo polo shirts ordered. In Panama, everyone wears a polo with a logo, it is big business, it is the uniform. My fabulous guide proves her value early in the day......... The store, Coto Serigrafic SA is quite a significant business with a warehouse!. It is however, well hidden. Inside a house one of several nice houses in a residential block off the highway. Absolutely impossible to find if you did not know, no signs, no name on the front. Nada. Within 30 mins we have 20 shirts with logos ordered in a nice bright peachy color. Ms Martinez not only found the place: She has negotiated them down by about a week on the number of days to delivery; Managed to get the owner to give us his personal attention to find the nice peachy color rather than the muddy papaya from the warehouse out back; + persuaded staff to open multiple packets to made sure the shirts would fit my workers and family members. I am very happy, we are off to our next chore.
Next to THE fancy clothes store in David - Carrillo's. Only 5 circum navigations around the block before landing. We find the Hotel National almost first time around and find parking the 3rd/4th time around the block - traffic nasty. Once inside: Ball dresses, nice cocktail attire and of course riding gear. This is after all a cow town, least you should forget it. Social events here are more likely to require cowboy boots than a ball dress - but this store has both.
I scored a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a big buckle. Although I think they all look quite ridiculous, it is a matter of conditioning. When in Rome xxxx as they say. Personal Assistant Ms Martinez pays half her fee by negotiating a hefty discount. She talks about the huge order, she makes lots of arm movements, she dramatically rejects their first offer of a discount....... I feel very comfortable saying I would not have achieved a 'before tax' price point without her.
A few more trips around the block - this time around Hotel David. Enter Daysi. Wow - more high points for the amazing Ms Martinez. An old fashioned habadashery store. Amazing choices of everything needed to make things. Really, these places used to exist 40 years ago in the UK when everything was hand and custom made - here much still is. I am very excited by this shop. What was I thinking buying jam pot cover fabric in Joanne's - This is much superior. We buy butterflies and dragonflies and ribbons for end of term pageant costumes, special tape to put on the inside of hats to make them smaller and an impressive Christmas Angel.
Now for more mundane things - hose connectors for the rose garden irrigation system and large quantities of white paint for the horse fencing. Although I was ready to cave and buy in the first store, Ms Martinez ploughed on. She easily earns about twice her fee by finding the best value on large quantities of white paint - yes, DO IT was $13 cheaper per pot than Novey or Franklin Jorado! On 10 liters this is mucho dollares.
Back up the mountain, almost home and find a gas tanker on fire in the middle of the road. Big problem for someone. We take our SUV over the regular highway and into the 'new highway' to make our way North and around the edge of the canyon to get back into town.
Already thinking about the creations and possibilities in Daysi and may not wait so long for my next return trip. Starting to get excited about what you can find in David. Never thought I would say that.
Huge thank you to Ms Martinez - the best Personal Assistant that there is. Not only does she find things, she is a fabulous negotiator and good company too. ...And the lady is 8.5 months pregnant and expecting any day...... a true professional.
Every now and again one is compelled to leave the farm and the mountains to get supplies down hill in the fleshpots of David.
For a Gringa navigating David is very hard. David is a sprawling cow town and the second largest city in Panama. I don't think it is very big, it looks quite small from the air, but on the ground it is complex. That said, the rewards for being able to find things here are great. It is much bigger and more prosperous than Boquete. Almost everything you could ever want, and many things you would never want, are available here somewhere.
There are a number of reasons why it took me 2 months to make the trip. David is hellish hot and one of the ugliest towns I have ever known. No land marks that stick up in the sky, not even a church spire, big potholes in the road where you least expect and driving that makes London look tame. There are landmarks in the middle of the soup, like the startlingly red David Hotel, but I still have to drive around in circles sweeping the general area to find them. The best advice I received was to take a tranquilizer a nice bottle of wine and hire a taxi to do the driving for you. The trouble with this is there is only so much stuff you can fit in a little yellow taxi.
So off Beatrice and I went, with a very long list and a whole day at our disposal. We started cleaning out the shelves of cascade gel tablets in El Rey one of the big super markets and the replacement mop sponges in Novey, a sort of household' bed bath and beyond' kind of place. If you see something you absolutely need, stockpile, you never know when you might see it again. We had lived without cascade dishwasher tablets for 2 months. Lets just say, after some trial and error, Tide Ultra works but is probably not very good for the machine.
We had an excellent lunch at Cuatro. It was all delicious. However, for me the most impressive was the macaroni cheese for Beatrice on the children's menu. It was homemade, beautifully put together and she loved it. Rare on a children's menu.
Fortified by lunch and a glass of wine or two it was time to find the French bakery. I had left about 2 hours for this, I knew it would be challenging. The staff in the restaurant had given me directions, it was about 1/2 a mile away maybe 10 mins. One hour later I had found the local University, American store, a huge taxi stand and, voila, a French bakery. Unfortunately, not the French bakery I needed, a whole sale place that made long French like sticks of bread, probably open all night but by 2.30pm in the afternoon it was shut. Oh well, not one to be defeated............
After stopping some likely looking women a new set of directions emerged. Beatrice was becoming sceptical and name calling the kind people giving us directions 'liar liar pants on fire' (hopefully no one understood her speaking English). 30 mins later we found Marapan the bakery I had been searching for for months and got our pastries and Beatrice had a meringue shaped like a catapillar. Then spent the next 40 mins making sure I could find it again by not making any turns until I got to the Inter-American highway. Not an efficient strategy but a fool proof one.
Came out on inter-American half way to Pricesmart so decided to go and see what I could find there. Fairly pleased to find minced chicken meat, agave syrup and the 6 buck 12 yr old rum in a nice box. Also, stocked up on Barilla pasta. Until living in Panama I had not realized that pasta varied so much in quality. Humbling actually, as I had always considered any pasta to be a fairly in-expensive food. Here, I have learnt that Barilla is the only brand on the shelves that for me is worth cooking sauce for and I am very grateful I can afford it.
Next stop, the wholesale fish market on the way to the airport. This is relatively very easy to find for a Gringa. All Gringos know one route in David and that is the way to the airport, anything en route to the airport is a relative breeze. The fish market is easy to find just about 500 yds on from the Prison which is hard to miss with all the barbed wire. They have great fish here at terrific prices, I was told about this place by my Spanish teacher. Good find. Nice men too, they showed Beatrice a sharks jaw with all 7 layers of teeth, she was impressed and asked how the shark could manage without its teeth...Time to go before she asks in Spanish.
Homeward bound, just needed some fruit. Mostly some yellow pineapples that are actually ready to eat. Very tricky most are sold quite green and take fore ever to ripen. Boquete is full of green pineapples or somewhat yellow ones going brown on the bottom. As luck would have it spotted a yellow taxi with a boot/trunk stuffed full of beautiful golden pineapples. We laid chase to the taxi and followed it to the fruit stand he was planning to unload and sell to, and purchased a couple.
Home again. More action than I like in a day. If we are careful, maybe I can last another couple of months before going foraging again in David.