My Two Worlds

Sorry if I’ve been absent for a while.  One of my goals for 2017 was to slow down a bit and a least a little bit “retire from retirement.”  Well, that isn’t going to happen!  January has been busy promoting my properties for sale and those of others on my site PanamaforSalebyOwner.INFO, and we’ve been doing a whole lot of work painting our house inside and out, getting rid of stuff, and preparing for the eventual sale of our property … it is available! … and eventually downsizing a bit … part of the “slow down” and “retire from retirement” thing.

Boqueete estaste

But we are still enjoying Boquete after 12 years … one of my worlds.

Drying Beans for Own UseCoffee harvest was all screwed up for Central America this year.  The yield was far below average … watch the price of Central American coffee soar on the commodities market.  This was largely due to the crazy weather changes.  We’ve discovered over the years that sometimes the worst years produced the most flavorful beans, so we’ve held out a big part of our crop for our own enjoyment.  We produce really good coffee, and were we younger and had the energy and time, we would have a great opportunity to sell our entire group to an upscale US restaurant that wanted a single source, high quality coffee that would only be available in their restaurant.  But we leave that opportunity to the next owners of our farm.

Coffee In BloomHowever, one of the “miracles” of living on a coffee farm … last week I woke up at 4 am, let the dog out, and walked outside to look at the stars.  Stars where we live on a clear, moonless night are one of the most incredible sights!  It’s something you have to experience to appreciate.  But during the night the coffee had bloomed.  And the air was perfumed with this jasmine, orange blossom like fragrance … it was like walking into a perfume factory on the French Riviera.  Absolutely incredible.  And after sitting down to my computer in our library, which has windows facing east, and watching a gorgeous sunrise, I walked out and it looked like it had snowed overnight.  With the coffee trees covered in beautiful, white blossoms … which, unfortunately, last only a day.  Coffee is self-polinating and really is a remarkable plant, and not just to sip in the morning.  Because we have not lived in the “gringo ghetto” or “American compoud” but in the real Panama, one of our great joys living in Panama is to have been a part of the coffee culture that has dominated life for 100 years in our tiny town.


So that’s one of my worlds … and the other is at sea.  I kind of thought that most of the 1st Quarter I would be at home in Boquete, which was fine by me, and I had nothing on the cruise schedule.  Then Pearl Seas Cruises asked me to join them for one of the first cruises to Cuba on PEARL MIST, the ship I did the Great Lakes and Canada/New England  fall foliage cruses on last year.  Of course I delightedly accepted since we’ve both wanted to visit Cuba for years..  So most of February both Nikki and I will be cruising from Fort Lauderdale to Cuba visiting Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, El Cobre, Santiago and a number of beach/national park areas.  Fantastic!  But it does mean preparing a whole new set of lectures … hence starting work at 4 am.

DSC_0255On the heels of that, Princess asked me to to join CORAL PRINCESS  for six cruises to the Southern Caribbean, Panama Canal and Central America.  Fortunately these are all lectures I have done before.  I get off PEARL MIST and the same day board CORAL PRINCESS!  Fortunately both ships will be in Fort Lauderdale so I just have to get from one terminal to another.

So 1st Quarter 2017 has suddenly gotten very busy and it looks like slowing down and retiring from retirement will have to wait.





My Day in The Panama Canal

In what may be a classic case of over-reaction, Carnival Corp following the Costa tragedy has now decided that nobody is allowed on the bridge of its ships except the bridge team and the pilots. You will recall that the captain of the COSTA CONCORDIA was entertaining his dancer-girlfriend on the bridge when the ship veered to close to the island and slashed open the hull.

Always in the past I gave my “Bridge Commentary” while passing through the Panama Canal, well, from the bridge! Not anymore. So I was somewhat pissed yesterday to have to give the “Bridge Commentary” from the Horizon Court surrounded by passengers chomping away on breakfast and with, for me, a very limited visibility plus the need to describe the play-by-play without being there.

I was to start at 5 am. I was there, but as so often happens on ships, the right hand didn’t have a clue what the left hand was doing. It was almost 7 am before I managed to get the right people awakened, and get a mic in hand and begin my commentary.

While our normal “Pilot on Board” is scheduled for 5 am, yesterday was not a normal day in the Canal. The pilot was scheduled to come on board at 5:45 am, something nobody thought to tell me about. Normally I check everything out with the Bridge the day before to confirm the schedule … Of course every ship is different and operates differently.

For me it’s a long day … 5 am until about 3 pm when we get through the final locks, with me talking much of the day. So, with both me and Princess looking disorganized, we managed to get things going at 7 am.

I learned that sometimes changing things, even in ways you don’t want, actually works out for the better. I loved doing the commentary from the Horizon Lounge with all the guests right there asking questions. If one person asks a question, or really didn’t “get” how something works or why, the likelihood is a score of other folks have the same question or misunderstanding. And I had stewards filling my coffee and all the food was right there. So eventually it worked out great!

So why wasn’t it a normal day on the Canal? First they were doing a lot of dredging in Culebra Cut. [Culebra Cut was renamed Gaillard Cut by the Americans to honor David Gaillard who was the American engineer who was largely responsible for the success the US had in digging through the Continental Divide. Since the Turnover, Panama has been returning to using the original Panamanian names, so it’s now usually called Culebra.] the dredging forced one-way traffic through the cut. And, the big news, in more ways than one, they were moving one of the giant new gates for the Pacific Locks through the Canal.

The rolling-type gates that will be used in the new locks are made in Italy, then brought across on specially designed barges. The gates for the new Atlantic locks have all been delivered and are sitting beside the Canal near the present Gatun Locks, awaiting installation. The gates for the new Pacific locks have to be brought through the Canal over to the Pacific side. So we got to see the process when we passed one of these gigantic gates, not the largest by the way, in the Canal making the transit. The largest of the new Pacific gates is 11 stories high!! On the picture you can see the centipede-like method of specially constructed vehicles that moves the lock gates.

While we were going through the Canal, with me accessible in the Horizon Court, people were coming up not only just asking questions, but wanting pictures (pity their friends who need to watch them, but I guess it’s easier to watch friends’ vacation pictures on iPad than a full-scale “come over for drinks and see my vacation ‘slides’” presentation), express appreciation for my lectures (Princess take note!), or get me to sign copies of my PANAMA CANAL DAY books. Incidentally, we sold out the books I brought on board and I’m hoping to have more to pick up when we get to Ft. Lauderdale.

Panama Canal Day Gates 1Panama Canal Day New Lock GAteNew Pacific Lock Gate in the Canal



Things Change

If there were a mantra for living in Panama it would be “things change!”  In fact, if there were a mantra for life it would be “THINGS CHANGE!”  Living in Panama I’ve learned that you always have to be expecting change and to have a “Plan B” in mind.  In Panama, also  Plans C, D, E, F, etc.  But here, as everywhere else, the secret is to keep plugging and respond as positively as possible to the changes life throws at you, whether they are the gigantic life-altering changes, or the little “that’s interesting” changes.

It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since I was at sea, so wanting to get back in the swing of things I agreed to do several “one-off” cruises this fall, one for Celebrity and four for Silversea. While in the Canary Islands on Celebrity I experienced loss of vision in my one eye several times.  Once when attempting to start a talk, while an inexperienced AV guy tried to figure out PowerPoint, I was stalling by telling jokes I’ve used many times and in the middle of the joke I forgot the punch lines.  I ended up in the medical center with the ship’s doctor sending me to an ophthalmologist.  When the eye doc said there was nothing wrong with my eyes, the ship doctor, fearing a stroke, sent me back home to Seattle for a whole string of tests.  Tests which proved … drum roll! … I’m normal, much to the surprise of some of my friends.  But in the meantime, not to leave Silversea hanging at the last minute, I had to cancel my four scheduled cruises.

The silver lining was getting to spend some time with my daughter and her family in Seattle.  I’m now with my other daughter in Sonoma County working my way back to Panama.  And the other day … Princess called.  They want me back at sea, doing my favorite run through the Panama Canal on ISLAND PRINCESS … starting mid-November!

Island Princess in locks

Since 2014 is the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal, and with all the expansion construction going on, this is an exciting time to do the Canal run and be able to introduce a shipload of folks [1,970 passengers, 900 crew] to Panama.  Plus, no long-haul flights!  I start with a Canal transit from Los Angeles to Ft Lauderdale in less than a month, and then do the partial transits round trip from Ft Lauderdale.

New Picture (3)