Saturday, March 13, 2010

Getting a Ceiling

Work has finally begun on our ceiling!

In Panama, most houses have a zinc metal roof. It is common that the roof is also the ceiling - it just depends which surface you're looking at. You will see in the shots Les has taken that the metal beams are excellent real estate for bugs and geckos to make a comfortable living. I wish them well, but do not appreciate the mess they make. Assorted insect wings and legs drifting down, along with the inevitable gecko droppings, make for increased demands on the housekeeper. The housekeeper would rather be birding than cleaning up after the indoor wildlife. During the frequent, pounding rainstorms, the noise level inside the house is extreme. Unless we are in the same room, we cannot hear each other speak during these deluges. Also, the cones and twigs from the pine trees, and even the needles to a lesser extent, make a surprising amount of noise when the wind blows them onto the metal roof. For all these reasons as well as the aesthetics, finishing off the ceiling has been a priority for us since before the house was even ours.

The contractor we chose, Adam Haney, has been busier than a cat on a hot zinc roof since we met him last November. He is originally from Canada, so he speaks English, which is of major importance to us right now. Adam lives in Cerro Azul full time, and in January he married Katiana, a native Panamanian. He managed to fit our project into his schedule in March - not as soon as we would have preferred, but it was the best he could do.

In this humid climate, drywall is an option, but a very bad one. We saw one house where the ceiling had been finished with drywall, and each 4' x 8' section had begun to sag with the moisture they had absorbed. The sagging made for a very artistic and attractive appearance, with the slight curving undulations all the way across the ceiling. However - Adam told us that there was undoubtedly nasty black mold growing on the inside, and it would eventually begin falling down, and would be a huge and disgusting mess to clean up before doing things the right way.

So the preferred material is cement board, and the brand we see around is Plycem. It stands up to the humidity, unlike drywall.

After he took measurements of the ceiling, and after a few days of not being able to find a crew to do the work (for 3 days running, the excuse they all used was that it was the first day of school), Adam brought a couple of guys over on March 11th to begin the job. As Les commented, we are all at the mercy of men who do not want to work. We hear that offering higher wages, bonuses, or anything else is of no use - it does not get the desired results.

First step was cleaning the mold and mildew off. One worker used a spray bottle of chlorine bleach to do this. He wore no goggles, mouth, nose or head protection; he just stood on a ladder and started spraying. Mist and drops went everywhere, and even hours after he was done for the day, there were drips falling onto the tile floors or anything else below the beams where the bleach collects. I was not watching the process, but Les said the worker did not wipe the bleach off the ceiling. He would spray a section, climb down, move the ladder, and repeat. I mopped & wiped it up when he left, but there was more to clean up the next morning. The bleaching guy did not show up on Day 2, so we still have only about 50% of the ceiling cleaned. The other guy, Angel, cuts short aluminum pieces to fit between the beams and longer sections to go along the edges of the rooms, where they will attach the cement board. He also sawed several rectangular vent holes through the concrete walls where they meet the zinc ceiling. That process throws up the major dust, also chunks of concrete from pea-sized to almost quail egg-sized. He will have to cut more of these vent holes, so the worst is far from over, although it has begun.

To be continued . . . . .

Friday, March 12, 2010


Restaurants of all stripes are abundant in Panama City, from small cafes that serve simple, typical Panamanian fare to large and expensive restaurants catering to upscale customers. Via Argentina is famous as an area where numerous restaurants serving a variety of ethnic fare can be found.

But up here in Los Altos de Cerro Azul, there is only the Club, which is fine, but a bit expensive for our budget, and it closes at 4:00 PM.

The closest restaurant outside the development is a small joint known as Las Nubes, and we were regular customers there until they closed.

The sign scrawled on a sheet of paper taped to the door says they are remodeling, but the sign went up in mid-January and we see no signs of progress other than one large appliance that has appeared inside. There was no printed menu at Las Nubes - you just walk in and ask what they have that day. It was usually two or three of the following: beef, chicken, fish, pork, served with lentils or beans, always white rice and a small tasty salad, and sometimes soup. The cost ranged from $2.25 to $2.75 per person. We really liked this place and hope they will reopen soon.

A little further down the hill is La Posada de Ferhisse, which has a restaurant, a mini-super, and cabanas for rent. They also have a nice, very well-maintained swimming pool.

The dining area is open-air, covered, and looks out over the pool, with beautiful views of the green hills beyond.

The owner is a welcoming and sociable sort - we have never been there when he was not present. They do a big business on weekends and holidays, but weekdays at the restaurant are often quiet. The menu does not vary, but it offers several dishes that we like well enough to order frequently. Fabio, the chef, makes a delicious baked chicken and smashed cod. (The smashed cod is delivered by Fabio at the end of the video above.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


As most of the regular followers of this blog know, the casita is the first house we have ever owned. So far, it has been an enjoyable experience. We love staying home, puttering, organizing, watching the birds at the feeders and elsewhere in the yard, and making improvements around the house and yard. Another factor relating to this is that we retired at the end of June 2009, but the next 6+ months were full of decisions, research, exploration, health crises and deaths in our immediate families, more decisions, wrangling, meetings, wire transfers, many more meetings, establishing accounts in a foreign country, frequent air travel, rental vehicles, selling most of our possessions and giving away the rest, packing up and closing down our apartment of 28 years, saying farewell to our friends and full-time life in California, and a multitude of other large and small tasks related to relocating to another country.
It didn't feel much like retirement during this time, although we sure could not have accomplished what we did if we had to go to the office much.
Now, we are finally starting to enjoy retirement. It feels real, and it feels great.
Our days are often not particularly exciting, nothing like the birding trips we have taken in the past, but the days spent at home are sublimely satisfying. We walk around with smiles on our faces (usually) as we accomplish the many activities of daily living. Just to give you an idea of what that entails, here are a few recent activities and episodes.
Les has been building window screens. I wanted to hire someone to do this, but the guy who was recommended to us could not manage to find the time to come over, take measurements and give us an estimate. Les decided he did not want to wait any longer, so he went to the hardware store and bought fiberglass screen, 12-foot aluminum framing material, several feet of the rubbery stuff that keeps the screen in the channels of the aluminum frame, a hacksaw and a mitre box, along with all the screws and other hardware. After a short learning curve (one torn screen), he's been the screen guy. Four down and several to go.
** Update since I started this post: Les is the very happy owner of a spiffy new Black & Decker table saw. Nothing can stop him now!
When he's not building screens or securing the perimeter of the lot, Les is the one who does the maintenance on the six hummingbird feeders (putting them up and taking them down each day, cleaning them.) I cook up the sugar-water. The woodpeckers are turning out to be pretty hard on the hummingbird feeders. They peck off the bee guards on the ports. And somebody, I'm not sure if it was a woodpecker or a coati (the coati is my prime suspect), managed to knock off the whole lower (red) section of one of the hummer feeders, leaving only the clear reservoir. The red part is at the bottom of the hill.
We have five suet feeders that we use as banana feeders. The Plain-colored, Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonias, Red-legged Honeycreepers and Tennessee Warblers have been regulars at the banana feeders since we first hung them up last fall. A Crimson-backed Tanager has come into the yard several times, observing the frenzied activity and eyeing the banana feeders, but he hasn't yet tried to get a bite. The Clay-colored Robins have also decided it's worth the energy required to hover long enough to grab a beak-full of banana. They're too big & heavy to hang on the side or bottom of the cage and feed at leisure like the little birds do.

Lately, the Red-crowned and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers are also eating the bananas. They look very cute curled around the little suet cages.
Les also puts out sunflower seeds, cracked corn and millet for the Yellow-faced Grassquits and the White-tipped Doves.
While I was outside watering a few days ago, I noticed a praying mantis (about 4 inches in length) on one of the hummingbird feeders. (We have read several accounts over the years of mantids lurking on hummer feeders, then grabbing and devouring a hummingbird, but even though we have seen the photo documentation, it's so hard to believe.) A few minutes later, I noticed that a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird was feeding at this feeder, and seemed very nervous, and kept to the side opposite the mantid. A few minutes after that, the hummer was back, and I saw the mantid lunge for the hummer with both front claws. That did it! I relocated the praying mantis to another spot, on the ground, far from any hummingbird feeder.
Last week we began hearing begging baby birds. It turned out to be a nest of Plain-colored Tanagers in a pine tree just outside the kitchen door. The nest is heavily obscured by pine needles, but we can occasionally see the bright orange bill of one of the chicks. We still can't tell how many chicks there are - only one has been visible at any time, so maybe that's all there is.
While working around the yard, we occasionally add a yard bird. Long-billed Starthroat was one a few weeks ago. It has been an irregular and infrequent visitor since that first time. The Rufous-tailed Hummer always chases it off. Swallow-tailed Kite was new for the yard on March 2nd. And Les heard a Masked Tityra this morning while he was getting set to cut another window screen frame - a male and female hung around in the yard trees for about an hour.
We won't be smiling as much or having as much fun for the next week or so - ceiling finishing starts in earnest tomorrow. We will be dealing with noise, disruption, major dust, and complete disarray.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Don Gennaro's

We have eaten several pizzas in the Republic of Panama. The first two were mediocre and definitely not something we would order again. But dogged persistence has led us to one decent pizza restaurant and one, Pizzeria Don Gennaro's, that we like a lot. Friends mentioned that Don Gennaro's had a wood-fired oven, so we thought it was worth a try. Les shot some video of the place while we were waiting for our $7.50 "Familia" sized pie.

OK - so the ambience isn't great, or even good, but if you sit away from the oven and out toward the front entry, it's only about 87 degrees, and although neither water nor ice is available, you are welcome to buy a soft drink from the cooler. The pie crust was flavorful and crisp, and although the mushrooms were canned (every other pizza we've had in Panama also had canned mushrooms), we plan to return to this place.