Cuenca Ecuador

By admin | October 13th, 2009

I had to do it, I had to follow the bread crumb trail to Cuenca Ecuador to see why International Living and others haver called it a best place in the world to retire, last week and maybe this week also. I decided to do the trip by bus from Guayaquil Ecuador, I was told the trip was about four hours. About two hours to get out of Guayaquil and through an agricultural valley until turning to ascend the endless slow, mountainous road up 2,500 meters to Cuenca. The road is under construction, has shear drops, landslides, traffic and few places to stop. Not a drive or even a ride would enlist to repeat. The bus fare was $8, there was no air conditioning. Going up the hill the bus was filled, coming back the next day it was empty. Maybe no one leaves Cuenca?

Upon arrival I saw a large city, over 400,000 metro, sitting in a high mountain valley. Cuenca is not to be compared to Boquete Panama, it is an entirely different experience. An old urban core, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Caso Viejo Panama surrounded by unsightly urban sprawl.

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Cuenca is under contruction, hoping and desiring an influx of new immigrants. The economy appears to need them. Ecuador depends on oil sales and remittences, income from Ecuadorians who leave the country to work and send money home. The world economy has cut that revenue, it has cut oil revenue, it has cut tourism revenue and the pain is spreading.

With a lot of help from my friend Patricia, she selected Cuenca over Boquete, I found a wonderful Hostel for the night. There was no comparing this hostel to Hospedaje Caso Veijo, this was Hostel Casa del Rio was spacious, it was clean, it had hot water and it was empty. I was the only guest.
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Obviously in one day in Cuenca I cannot provide anything but first impressions and once I was ensconced in the old quarter I had only one first impression; Antigua Guatemala. This city had the character and flavor and yet according to anecdotal reports is a safe place day or night. It is still not suffering from Gringo inflation or bingo. Prices are very low compared to Panama on most everything. I was never once gouged for being a non local.
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If you like big cities, like Spanish colonial charm and like weather a bit colder than Boquete then Cuenca is on first blush an interesting place to explore. I was hard pressed to find a traditional restaurant for dinner, lunch is the main meal in Ecuador so nothing exciting until the next day on food.

It was interesting to wake a seven in the morning and find I had to roust the innkeeper to open the door and let me out. Cuneca starts late. At 7 am I could not find an open place for breakfast or even a cup of coffee, just newspaper sales booths.

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With a lot of help from Patricia I discovered the culinary treasure of Cuenca, the municipal market. The nicest I have seen, perhaps ever. A new building laden with everything, Ecuador. We stayed about an hour but I could have moved in for a week.
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Fruits and vegetables fresh and abundant including many I could not identify.

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Smiling faces at the meat counter and above it all traditional food, lots of it. Including these two Guinea Pigs trying for my attention.

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Sadly I had neither the time or appetite for them on this trip. Perhaps next time because I do think Cuenca is worth another visit.

Tomorrow I will be back in Panama City at a conference on offshore retirement, a competitor to International Living. I will be happy to report my observations here after some processing.

There was one interesting observation I saw in Cuenca. The few English Speakers I did meet there seemed to have one common thread that you will not find in Boquete. They were lost in a cultural sea, a sea of being a virtually unnoticed minority in an ocean of local culture. The Anglophone community there is scattered and does not havea cultural theme of it’s own. To me after three years in Boquete that might seem exciting but to enjoy that you either need to enjoy solitude in an urban environment or be fluent in Spanish and slide into the culture.

Here is one thought to consider based upon my experiences and observations for three years without ever having had the benefit of a sales pitch on off shore retirement. If you decide to make a major move to another culture for retirement remember this; you are making the move. That translates to this, regardless of where you are, you need to discover happiness and satisfaction in you, not your environment. This type of transition is difficult for anyone. The difficult is compounded when you are also transitioning your life from work to retirement. My observation is many if not most people fail and return to their point of origin within one year.

Road Trips: Guayaquil Ecuador Day 3

By admin | October 11th, 2009

October 9 is Independence Day in the city of Guayaquil and the city celebrates. There as a parade, I skipped it. there was a regetta of ships on the river.
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As the day progressed I felt an anticipation of the evening. I was told the party begins at eleven at night and keeps going. In my anticipation I asked around to discover typical street food and I was directed to this booth someplace near the downtown area. The lineup of people was a good hint something was special about the food here.
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A pig on a bun, roast pork and pork skin, chili sauce and flavor overload, $1.50. If you visit know the sanduche, sandwich is called a Chancho, and this place is Mr Chancho.
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This place is so popular they appear to be adding a real restaurant across the street., home of the once smiling pig. I was smiling after the sandwich, thank you Babe.
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Road Trips: Guayaquil Ecuador Day 3

By admin | October 11th, 2009

October 9 is Independence Day in the city of Guayaquil and the city celebrates. There was a parade, I skipped it. there was a regetta of ships on the river.
GuyaquilEcuador0010.jpg

As the day progressed I felt an anticipation of the evening. I was told the party begins at eleven at night and keeps going. In my anticipation I asked around to discover typical street food and I was directed to this booth someplace near the downtown area. The lineup of people was a good hint something was special about the food here.
GuyaquilEcuador0008.jpg
GuyaquilEcuador0007.jpg

A pig on a bun, roast pork and pork skin, chili sauce and flavor overload, $1.50. If you visit know the sanduche, sandwich is called a Chancho, and this place is Mr Chancho.
mrchancho.jpg

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This place is so popular they appear to be adding a real restaurant across the street., home of the once smiling pig. I was smiling after the sandwich, thank you Babe.
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Road Trips: Guayaquil Ecuador

By admin | October 9th, 2009

Not much more than a year ago an icon of the Expat community in Boquete Panama announced she was moving to Cunenca Ecuador. Like many people I wondered why, I told her I had money on her returning within six months. I was wrong she lasted a bit of a year. I really have no idea what motivated her move or her return but I decided I wanted to see a little bit of Ecuador.

Fortunately I had a corresponding friend in Guayaquil, a well known local author and Physiologist and she offered to show me her home city. This is the first of a few posts about my observations in my short time here. Dra. Quila found me a nice inexpensive hotel about three miles and a $5 taxi ride from the airport. The Hotel Marcelius is neither the Raddison Decapolis nor the Hospedaje Casco Viejo but in a place square between the two with a cost of about $60 a day. Ecuador like Panama is a US dollar economy so currency conversion is not an issue here, no Bolivars or Pesos but lots of US Sacagawea dollar coins; I wondered where they all went.

I am writing this after scarcely 36 hours here so it is very much a first blush. I spent yesterday walking through downtown Guayaquil. The city is large and coastal with wide streets in the downtown and a beautiful river park. The Police and military are visible everyplace.
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The feel of the city is cosmopolitan more like Buenos Aires Argentina than Panama City. We visited two museums
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Mueso Presley Norton is laden with archeological treasures and Mueso Nahim Isaias, art, in particular a collection of religious art.

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The food in Guayaquil is exactly what you would expect if you did not keep hearing stories about Ecuadorians eating Guinea pigs. The city is on the coast and the primary foods are from the sea. We joined Dra. Quila’s daughter and her boy friend for lunch. A simple local fonda.GuyaquilEcuador001.jpg

The food was unexceptional but different. The Seafood plate was fresh boiled seafood served over a gruel of green plalntain.
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The shrimp Ceviche looked enticing also.
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Today is independence day in Ecuador and I hope to observe some more of the local public life.

Rancho Paisa Boquete Panama

By admin | August 30th, 2009

At least once a week, usually more, I drive past Rancho Paisa in Alto Boquete. It is on the highway to David and in the past I passed it by. Yesterday Heather and I were driving back from David and decided to heed the sagely advice of Susan Thoms, “STOP there, it’s good”.

As usual, Susan was right.BoquetePanama007.jpg

Rancho Pais, named after the Paisa region of Columbia has some exciting cuisine.

“The Paisa cuisine is very influenced by their traditional rural background of the mountains. It belongs to the Colombian Andes cuisine with abundance of beans, rice, maize, pork and cattle meat, tropical fruits, potato and several types of vegetables.

  • Bandeja paisa: It is the more traditional dish and is generally composed by carne asada (grilled steak) or carne molida (finely ground grilled steak), chicharrón (fried pork rind), rice, red beans, a slice of avocado, sweet fried plantains, a fried egg, a small white corn arepa, and sometimes chorizo (sausage). Bandeja paisa is also a very popular dish served in Colombian restaurants in Europe and the United States.”
  • Boquete’s very own touch of Northern Columbia has some of these treats in a relaxed unusual atmosphere. The Restaurant is under a giant thatched roof.
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  • But there is more including a pool table and real swimming pool.
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  • There is the food, hearty fair from Paisa like this Bandeja de Carne, $10 and too much for the two of us to eat.BoquetePanama009.jpg
  • Out first impression, we will return. They are open from 9:30am Wednesday through Sunday and it is a great place relax, chill out, play pool or swim and not have internet access.

Carta Vieja, Rum made in Chiriqui Panama

By admin | August 19th, 2009

Just a short ride from Boquete Panama, near the town of Boqueron, is the distillery of Carta Vieja Rum and two types of Seco. Seco is the national drink of Panama and is best equated to moon shine, an American tradition.

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Acting on a tip from a friend I contacted the distillery and discovered they are open to provide tours of their facility. That knowledge is all that it required to enlist a group of enthusiastic rum and Seco tasters, mostly my house guests.
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The process of making both rum and Seco at Carta Vieja starts in the same way. It all starts with sugar cane, this cane field surrounds the distillery. Sugar cane juice is fermented to make Seco and molasses from the cane is fermented to make Rum.

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Sugar cane is fermented in a large cylinder for 36 hours, that all folks, 36 hours. Then the distilling begins.
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Seco is made from this un-aged distillate and is bottled and on the truck to your local market within 48 hours. Seco is aged on the supermarket shelf, that explains why it is the legal moonshine of Panama.

Carta Veja rum is processed differently. It is blended and aged. The Anejo Rum is aged for years in used bourbon casks Aging adds flavor and color. Samples are taken throughout the process and when it is ready it goes off to bottling.
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After we finished the thirty minute tour we had the opportunity to sample the output.
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Our tour guide was most informative and did his best to explain the process he and the other 87 employees working for Central Industrial Chiricana SA do producing and distributing their products.

For more information or to setup your own tour follow this link to: Carta Veja

Dining in the Garden of Eden

By admin | July 25th, 2009

I eat at restaurants all around Panama, I write a lot about restaurants in Boquete. With the exception of a great location for fried chicken in a broken down truck I have never had an exceptional meal in Bocas del Toro; until now.

Heather, Gumby, Rae and I had the opportunity to have dinner at the Garden of Eden in Bocas del Toro, twice. Not everyone has that opportunity, the meals are only available to guests. The resort is wonderful, dinner was better.
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Served in a palm frond covered ramada by Helena and her staff everything about the meal was fantastic. Mood, drinks and above all food.

Our first evening was seared tuna, it was perfect. Seared on the outside and succulently raw on the interior. The second night was lobster, fresh caught by local indigenous and brought to the dock. My lobster was prepared by rolling in fresh shredded coconut and fried. I have never has this preperation before and it was hot, crunchy and the lobster was moist, most incredible.wpid-GardenofEdenBocasPanama017-2009-07-25-19-21.jpg

The rest of the group received not one but two lobster tails steamed and bathed in butter. My daughter who has eaten lobster in every restaurant she could in Panama proclaimed it the best. Once again moist and succulent, not achieved in the normal Panamanian tendency to overcook.

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It is worth staying at the Garden of Eden to relax or even just for the food and drink and not having to call a water taxi to take you home.

Dining in a garden of Eden

By admin | July 25th, 2009

I eat at restaurants all around Panama, I write a lot about restaurants in Boquete. With the exception of a great location for fried chicken in a broken down truck I have never had an exceptional meal in Bocas del Toro; until now.

Heather, Gumby, Rae and I had the opportunity to have dinner at the Garden of Eden in Bocas del Toro, twice. Not everyone has that opportunity, the meals are only available to guests. The resort is wonderful, dinner was better.

Served in a palm frond covered ramada by Helena and her staff everything about the meal was fantastic. Mood, drinks and above all food.

Our first evening was seared tuna, it was perfect. Seared on the outside and succulently raw on the interior. The second night was lobster, fresh caught by local indigenous and brought to the dock. My lobster was prepared by rolling in fresh shredded coconut and fried. I have never has this preperation before and it was hot, crunchy and the lobster was moist, most incredible.

The rest of the group received not one but two lobster tails steamed and bathed in butter. My daughter who has eaten lobster in every restaurant she could in Panama proclaimed it the best. Once again moist and succulent, not achieved in the normal Panamanian tendency to overcook.

It is worth staying at the Garden of Eden to relax or even just for the food and drink and not having to call a water taxi to take you home.

Coffee, the Boquete Panama Elixir

By admin | April 10th, 2009

If Napa California is about wine, then Boquete Panama is about coffee. For people living in Boquete Panama before the influx of expatriates, the economy was coffee. It was when the price of coffee collapsed that local farmers sold their farms to developers and expats who had fantasies of growing and selling boutique coffee.

I have a small, postage stamp sized farm, far smaller than required for economic viability. Boquete coffee from either Jaramillo or the slopes of Volcan Baru is about the best in the world. I have written about growing, picking and drying in the past. Today, with the help of my friend Richard of Finca Dos Jefes, I am going to share my initiation to roasting coffee.

Finca Dos Jefes, located in El Salto on the foothills of Volcan Baru, produces an excellent crop of organically grown coffee. I showed up with a bag of beans of my own for Ricard to roast. One look at the beans and he explained they were not ready to roast. They were separated from the cherry, cleaned and dried but they still had the thin parchment layer around the beans. Perfect for aging, green coffee should be aged several months before roasting, but requires parchment removal.
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Pretty with the parchment on in the photo above. Ready to roast without parchment in the photo below.
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Richard is hand sorting the beans prior to roasting to remove any imperfect beans, stones or other debris. The roaster at Dos Jefes can roast about two kilos of coffee in approximately twenty minutes. You should always request freshly roasted coffee if you really want the flavor.
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Richard, clip board in hand is about to release the beans from the hopper into the preheated rotating drum. The drum is at 420F before the beans are added. The temperature rapidly falls as the cool beans are introduced. It fell to 203F and then started to rise again. As the temperature increases, Richard checks the beans for color and aroma at various stages.
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At 363F the beans have a pleasant aroma and are starting to gain color.

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By 386F they have cracked, sounds like popcorn popping. The color is darker, a light roast.

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By 405F the beans are at a medium roast, where I wanted them. The next step is to rapidly cool the beans. To do this they are dumped into this cooling tray and moved around until cool.
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I was given the difficult task of opening the chute and emptying the roasted, cooled beans into a tray, where they need to rest for 12-24 hours before bagging them into a vacuum sealed bag. The process is impressive and the taste of your cup of coffee depends on the quality of the beans, the preparation for the roast, the roast and the freshness of the post roasted coffee.

I did not know that when roasting coffee loses about 20% of it’s green bean weight and puffs up also. I try to learn something new everyday, today was full off coffee lessons.
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Put you nose up against the screen and smell the aroma of fresh roasted Boquete coffee. If that did not work call Richard for a roasting experience.

Richard is giving interactive coffee tours of Dos Jefes, in this real boutique coffee experience you can learn all you ever wanted to know about coffee production then roast your own organically grown coffee. You get to take a pound you roasted home with you to savor the experience. You can contact Richard at dosjefes@gmail.com or call his cell phone, 66 77 77 48 . Richard speaks more English than Spanish so don’t be shy.
wpid-coffeeboquetepanama013-2009-04-10-16-34.jpg

Coffee, the Boquete Panama Elixir

By admin | April 10th, 2009

If Napa California is about wine, then Boquete Panama is about coffee. For people living in Boquete Panama before the influx of expatriates, the economy was coffee. It was when the price of coffee collapsed that local farmers sold their farms to developers and expats who had fantasies of growing and selling boutique coffee.

I have a small, postage stamp sized farm, far smaller than required for economic viability. Boquete coffee from either Jaramillo or the slopes of Volcan Baru is about the best in the world. I have written about growing, picking and drying in the past. Today, with the help of my friend Richard of Finca Dos Jefes, I am going to share my initiation to roasting coffee.

Finca Dos Jefes, located in El Salto on the foothills of Volcan Baru, produces an excellent crop of organically grown coffee. I showed up with a bag of beans of my own for Ricard to roast. One look at the beans and he explained they were not ready to roast. They were separated from the cherry, cleaned and dried but they still had the thin parchment layer around the beans. Perfect for aging, green coffee should be aged several months before roasting, but requires parchment removal.
coffeeboquetepanama021.jpg
Pretty with the parchment on in the photo above. Ready to roast without parchment in the photo below.
coffeeboquetepanama026.jpg
Richard is hand sorting the beans prior to roasting to remove any imperfect beans, stones or other debris. The roaster at Dos Jefes can roast about two kilos of coffee in approximately twenty minutes. You should always request freshly roasted coffee if you really want the flavor.
coffeeboquetepanama012.jpg
Richard, clip board in hand is about to release the beans from the hopper into the preheated rotating drum. The drum is at 420F before the beans are added. The temperature rapidly falls as the cool beans are introduced. It fell to 203F and then started to rise again. As the temperature increases, Richard checks the beans for color and aroma at various stages.
coffeeboquetepanama020.jpg
At 363F the beans have a pleasant aroma and are starting to gain color.

coffeeboquetepanama017.jpg
By 386F they have cracked, sounds like popcorn popping. The color is darker, a light roast.

coffeeboquetepanama024.jpg
By 405F the beans are at a medium roast, where I wanted them. The next step is to rapidly cool the beans. To do this they are dumped into this cooling tray and moved around until cool.
coffeeboquetepanama014.jpg

coffeeboquetepanama022.jpg
I was given the difficult task of opening the chute and emptying the roasted, cooled beans into a tray, where they need to rest for 12-24 hours before bagging them into a vacuum sealed bag. The process is impressive and the taste of your cup of coffee depends on the quality of the beans, the preparation for the roast, the roast and the freshness of the post roasted coffee.

I did not know that when roasting coffee loses about 20% of it’s green bean weight and puffs up also. I try to learn something new everyday, today was full off coffee lessons.
coffeeboquetepanama019.jpg

Put you nose up against the screen and smell the aroma of fresh roasted Boquete coffee. If that did not work call Richard for a roasting experience.

Richard is giving interactive coffee tours of Dos Jefes, in this real boutique coffee experience you can learn all you ever wanted to know about coffee production then roast your own organically grown coffee. You get to take a pound you roasted home with you to savor the experience. You can contact Richard at dosjefes@gmail.com or call his cell phone, 66 77 77 48 . Richard speaks more English than Spanish so don’t be shy.
coffeeboquetepanama013.jpg