Kobbe Kid Returns
†††† I flew out of Howard a little over 45 years ago. It was July 5, 1962 and in my minds eye I can still see P. J., Bunky, Jerry, Nancy and others at the bottom of the boarding ramp as I turned just before entering the doorway of the airplane.† This was the first time I remember having any feelings about moving and I had very mixed emotions.
†††† So here I sit, looking out the window of another airplane.† Only now, instead of leaving, this plane is landing at Tocumen, just north of Panama City.
†Monday, October 22nd, 2007
†††† Itís 12:55 in the afternoon and I sped through Immigration.† Allan Hawkins was meeting me at the airport, but somehow we missed one another.† I collected my luggage and hailed the first available cab. I will be staying at the Country Inn and Suites on the Amador Causeway.† As soon as he left the curb, I am sure that my driver was a Kamikaze pilot in a former life.† One thing I feel I know for sure is that wherever we are going, no one is going to get there ahead of us.† We were on a toll road and he stopped a couple of times to pay.† Of course, in 1962, there were no toll roads and there was never a skyline like I was seeing now.† I counted at least 20 high rises with cranes being constructed.† Thatís not counting those that werenít high enough for me to see.† I didnít recognize a thing and if not for the hills and the bay, I would have absolutely no idea where I was.† Miraculously, we made it to the hotel in one piece and Iím sure, in record time.†
†††† Itís 86 degrees and humid.† I canít describe the smell in the air, but instantly remembered after all these years Ė it wasnít bad and it wasnít good Ė it wasÖÖ.. Panama.
†††† Iíll be staying in tonight.† I had to check out of my hotel in New Orleans at 4:00 am, so I never did go to bed.† Also, there is a TGI-Fridayís right here at the hotel so I donít need to leave the property to eat.† Tomorrow I will rent a car and make Balboa my first stop.† I sure hope that cabby isnít around when I hit the road.
Tuesday, Oct. 23rd.
†††† I had trouble getting to sleep last night.† I think I was just overly tired from a lack of sleep.† I called Hertz Rent a Car and was told they would bring a car to me in about an hour.† It turned out to be two hours, but hey, this is Panama.† They brought me a cute little Renault.† We donít have them in the U.S. anymore, but who cares it will serve its purpose.† I do have to pay very careful attention as to where I park it though.† The damn thing changes color from blue to green.
†††† I was in Balboa in no time.† Some things are as I remember, but much has changed.† The theater and clubhouse are still here, but the clubhouse is empty.† I was expecting to see merchants selling their wares in Stevens circle, but there are none.† Of course, the Balboa Union Church is here as are both banks and the post office.† I can still look up the center of the Prada and see the Administration Building and the Goethals Memorial.† Balboa High is standing as before, the main building, the JC, the gym, auditorium and even the ROTC building Ė all still here.† Other buildings have gone up around the old ones, making it difficult to take recognizable pictures.† I took many and decided to head to Fort Clayton.† This is not as easy as one might expect.† Balboa is now a major container terminal and there is a highway that wasnít here before.† The regular streets are still here, but I guess you just have to be lucky enough to find them Ė I wasnít.† Also, signs that would help are in Spanish and are few and far between.† So, I followed a sign that said, ďColonĒ. That is the direction I want to go, right?† Wrong move!† This puts me on a highway that literally is bypassing everything.† I stopped and paid tolls twice to toll takers who did not speak a word of English.† Finally, after almost ten miles, I see an off ramp marked, ďCentral PanamaĒ.† I maneuver my little Renault off the highway and into a very busy area.† I donít see the taxi driver from yesterday, but everyone around me is driving like him.† I manage to get turned around and lo and behold there is an on ramp that goes in the opposite direction from whence I came.† So, back on the toll road I go.† Within a few miles, much to my surprise, there is an off ramp, an arrow and a sign that says, ďClaytonĒ.† I am so lucky.†
†† ††This exit actually is the back entrance to Clayton and things to some degree are starting to look a little familiar.†
†††† The house I had lived in was on the backside of Clayton, and in no time at all I can see it.† It is now pink and is occupied and of course, I pulled off the road to take a picture.† This is so cool.† Now, Iím off to Clayton proper.† Most all the old buildings are still here.† The PX and snack bar, the EM Club, the pool and even the old theater, though abandoned, is still here.† The only thing missing is the Teen Club, but I havenít been able to locate it on Goggle Earth either.† After pictures, Iím now heading to the old CFN building.† It and others around it are still in place, but it appears that they are being converted to apartments or some other use.† So, more pictures and off I go to the front housing area.† Iíve taken a few pictures of the houses like EMO used to live in and I stop to recollect before moving on.† I pull over and look at the old PX and EM Club. It seems as though they were much larger 45 years ago.† Maybe itís just that they, along with everything else Iíve seen today have just been so big in my memories.
†††† This has been a good day.† Iíll take a couple of pictures of the old Miraflores Bridge before heading back.† I turn left after going through Claytonís main gate and go past Albrook AFB on my way to Balboa.† Now I see how I got screwed up on my first try.† I must make a mental note.
†††† I headed back through Balboa, on my way to the Causeway.† I even found the entrance to the Bridge of the Americaís.† That will come in handy tomorrow.† Iíve decided to drive out to the end of the Causeway.† There has been and there still is, much landfill.† There are hotels, restaurants, a convention center and even a Mall.† These are all new buildings.† The old Amador buildings that remain are abandoned.† I spotted a restaurant called, ďMi RanchitaĒ, that looks good, so I guess it will be Mexican food tonight.† Now, back in my room with the sliding glass door open, I think to myself, ďI never did see a kid selling ginnups Ė damn.
†††† This seems like a good time to talk about driving in Panama.† Aye, Carumba!† The taxi driver I had yesterday was apparently the norm.† Speed limits are posted (in km) but you (they) donít pay attention to them.† Stop signs are visible but you (they) donít pay attention to those either.† Unless you (they) are on a divided road, you (they) donít have to even stay on the correct side and passing seems to be allowed anyway possible.† Wow! This is fun.† It seems like the only traffic law adhered to are traffic lights.† Well, I guess there has to be some sort of law and order.†
†††† Speaking of that, National Police and buildings with National Police written on them seem to be everywhere.† The only one however that paid any attention to me was on foot around Balboa High.† He would walk toward me, I would take a picture and he would veer off.† He never did let me out of his sight.† He got close once, so I just nodded and walked the other way.
†††† Itís after 6:00 pm Ė time to freshen up, check email and head to dinner.
†††† Dinner was nice.† Nice, but not what I expected.† Like, why wouldnít a little guy from California think that a place called, ďMi RanchitaĒ, was Mexican???† Iíve been gone much too long.† I had prawns and empanadas.† These were not the empanadas you and I know and love.† The inside is good, but I have no idea what this corn like stuff theyíre wrapped with is. I think they are deep fried.
†††† So, with my tummy full, I head back to the hotel.† Letís see whatís good on the TV tonight.†
†††† Television, obviously, has changed much over the years.† Of course there is no more Army PFC Gunner Bennett or CFN.† And ABC, CBS and NBC donít seem to exist.† There is however plenty of channels on cable to choose from. There are some in Spanish, some in English with Spanish subtitles and some just in English.† I canít find a local news channel in English, so that would be a problem to some if you donít speak Spanish.† I found the WB and a couple of movie channels, so Iím good for the night.
Wednesday, October 24th.
††††† I connected with Allan and heís picking me up at 1:30.† This will be a good day.† I meet Allan in the lobby and now we are heading to Kobbe.† This is the first time for me crossing the Bridge of the Americas.† I remember as a kid wanting to be one of the first to cross it.† But, it was not to be Ė we left just before it was completed.† Once over the bridge, it seems like no time at all before there is a sign that says, ďHowardĒ.† We are passing Farfan, which seems to be alive and well.† On the right is a Dell Computer training facility, and soon, right in front of us, is the old main gate.† It no longer has the words Kobbe or Howard on it, but it is still here.† Allan slowed his little Toyota, till the National Policeman waived us through.† We are here. We are on Kobbe.† We passed the Commissary and are at the Theater in no time.† I can see all the houses.† Someone has painted all the buildings white Ė hmm, donít know if I like that.† We continue straight and find every street on our left, where all the houses are, barricaded.† This is not good.† Not good at all. We turn left onto the last street, as it is the only one open.† A National Policewoman stopped us.† Allan, in Spanish, explained who we were, why I was here and what we want to do.† She said OK and we are on our way.† There are a number of National Police in formation.† This as I have heard is a training facility for a special force, similar to our SWAT units.† At least that is what Allan thinks they are.†
†††† This now looks to be all familiar, except for the white paint.† The first house we come to that is on my photo list is Barbara Bibbyís.† As we turn the corner, there are two National Policemen at the curb in front of her house one on a motorcycle, the other with a bicycle.†† Allan and I both get out.† Iím taking pictures and Allan is speaking with them in Spanish.† One of them, the one with the motorcycle offers to escort us to my old house on Commissary Hill.† We didnít need an escort, but for some reason we have one.† So, we are following him.† No matter, we can come back here and take the rest of the pictures afterward.† I see it.† There it is Ė my old house.† Damn, I loved that house.† Other then the white paint, it looks the same as I remember.† Air conditioning must have been put in at sometime because the old shutters are gone and the windows are now all glass.† I just took my first picture and all of a sudden this National Policeman is going ballistic, yelling, ďNo picture, no pictureĒ.† We were then ordered to follow him to the National Police office which was behind the Commissary.† Iím staying in the car as Allan goes inside.† They donít speak English anyway and I donít speak Spanish.† So, it is probably best that I just stay sitting in the car.† Allan apparently sweet talked a Superior officer, so now he is escorting us back to my old house.† Now, itís OK that I take pictures and I can take as many pictures as I want Ė of my house only and nothing else.† Strange!† So now, after taking my pictures, we are being escorted back to headquarters and have to leave the base.† He posed for a picture and I thanked him.† Iím a little disappointed, but, had it not been for Allan, I would have nothing at all.† Besides, tomorrow, Iím coming back.† No, Iím not nuts (well, maybe a little).† But, now I know how to play.† The hanger side of the base is open and occupied by Dell Computer and I should have no problem driving through that area.† I can use my telephoto lens to get some of the shots I want.
†† So, Allan and I are now going back across the Bridge and heading for Panama City, Casco Viejo and Casco Antigua to be exact.† This is the French Quarter of the city and there are many iron balconies like the ones found in New Orleans.† This area is also home to the National Theater, Presidential Palace and the Panama City Cathedral that houses the Golden Alter.† Iím unable to take a picture of the Alter because there is a funeral going on and the place is filled to the rafters.† I didnít ask, but, I really donít think the people would move out of the way to let an American tourist take a picture.† We went across the street to visit a friend of Allanís.† His name is Lloyd and he had lived in Santa Barbara, California for 40 years.† He has lived in Panama four years and is producing a cartoon.† The cartoon will feature a little octopus, and the purpose is to teach children the hazards of disposing plastic in salt water.† In the end, the little purple octopus dies because his tentacles get caught in a six pack piece of plastic.
†††† Our next stop is the statue of Balboa overlooking the bay.† In the near future, this statue is going to be, ďRelocatedĒ.† It seems, that just about all of the waterfront property is scheduled to be developed with high rise condos, hotels and apartments.† I took a few pictures and bought a few gifts from street merchants before leaving.
†††† Allanís wife, Elena, works not far from where we are.† She works for the Tourism Department, so we will stop so I can meet her.† She is a very nice lady and is trying very hard to learn English.† I bought a few more things from the Tourism Store before Allan and I leave.†† Now we are at the Old Panama City ruins.† Yes, after all these years, they are still ruined Ė they have not been repaired.† What has happened is that many measures have been taken to keep them safe and to keep them from deteriorating any further.† All new infrastructures are made with modern materials.† That way the visitor can tell the difference between the old and the new.†† One new feature is a steel stairway inside of the old tower.† Now you can safely go to the top for a really great view.
†††† After the ruins, we go across the parking lot to a co-op of primarily Kuna Indians selling their wares.† Here, you can find molas, dolls and many other crafts and souvenirs.† I purchased the dolls Sandy wanted from two different booths and now Iím talking with a lady who worked on Kobbe, Clayton and other US bases before they closed.† Her English is excellent and I found a beautiful hand carved, burned and painted, wood plaque that was the old crest for the Canal Zone, ďThe Land Divided, The World UnitedĒ.† Itís about 13 inches across and is very well done.† I just had to have that for myself.†
†††† Iíve taken a few more pictures and Allan and I are†† on our way back to pick up Elena from work.† Weíre going to a restaurant in Balboa called, ďShamrocksĒ.
†††† ďShamrocksĒ, is connected to the ďElks LodgeĒ and Allan says it is a meeting place for ex-pat Americans.† We had a nice dinner, took more pictures and now Iím waiving goodbye from the front of the hotel.† Tomorrow - itís back to Kobbe......heh heh!
Thursday, October 25th.
†††† ††Itís raining quite a bit today, so I think I will stick around Amador and Balboa.† Kobbe isnít going anywhere and I want to be able to have the car windows down enabling me to take pictures without getting out of the car.† So, that plan will just have to wait till tomorrow.
†††† Itís funny, but some things have a way of appearing obvious because of their absences.† For example there are no little kids selling ginnups (mammones) on the street.† I had thought of coming here and stuffing myself with ginnups and empanadas.† ďWhere the hell are they?Ē† Another thing missing from street corners are the people selling lottery tickets that were attached to plywood boards.† Do they still even have the lottery? Iíve seen no evidence of it, but that doesnít mean it is no more.† It quite possibly may have modernized and is similar to ours.† Anyway, tomorrow, it will be Kobbe again and then an empanada and ginnup hunt.† Tonight I am going down the Causeway to an Italian restaurant.† I know that it is Italian because it says so, in neon yet Ė so there.
Friday, October 26th.
†††††† I am on my way across the bridge and headed to Kobbe.† Well, I thought I was anyway.† I made a wrong turn somewhere, but managed to get turned around and going in the right direction.† It was not my fault! Really! It wasnít.† They save a lot of money in Panama by not putting up many signs.† Like the one that said ďHowardĒ.† There were choices to make after that first (and only) sign, but there were no more signs to help.† OK, I got it down now. I can see the gate.† I slow way down, almost to a stop when the National Policeman waived me on.† Heh heh - I have it made now (I hope).† Allan had told me that the base chapel was now open and holding Catholic services every Sunday at 10:30.† So I am pulling up in the Chapelís driveway.† Guess what?† Yep, you got it Ė pictures.† Iím going just a little past the Chapel and, now have a clear view of Elaineís old house.† So, another picture!† While in front of the Chapel, I am also taking pictures up the old parade field toward the hangers.
†††† I had thought about going out to the beach, which is now totally covered by the Intercontinental Hotel & Spa, but if you donít have a reservation or an appointment, they wonít let you past their gate.† Not a problem, we already have pictures that Allan got for us.
†††† When passing the theater, I noticed that the barricades were way down past the pool driveway.† So now, I get to take pictures of the theater and the pool.† It appears that the pool is still being used Ė by the National Police.† They are standing or sitting around the front of the pool.† I donít see any uniforms or radios, so hey, what the heck Ė they can be in the picture too.† Before I pull out of the drive to make my escape, I will take a picture of the house that Jerry Denton used to live in.† Got it!† At this point, I think I have pressed my luck about as far as I should and decide to leave.† As I pass by the Commissary, the bad, bad policeman from the other day passed me going in the opposite direction.† I was by myself and in a different car, so he never noticed me.† I guess I showed him.
†††† Iím heading back to the bridge now and as I said before, Farfan seems to be alive and well, but, I canít say the same thing for Cocoli.† Most every building is torn down and nothing is left but the foundations.
†††† OK, were at ďNikosĒ in Balboa.† Will they have the illusive empanada?† Will they??† Will they?? No such luck.† Thank goodness the recipe from the Diablo Club House is on the CZBRATS website.† As far as ginnups, I guess itís just not the right season.
†††† Speaking of seasons, we used to tell people that Panama has two seasons: Dry and rainy.† It now seems that the Tourist Bureau decided that the word ďrainyĒ is a negative so now the two seasons are: Dry and Green.† I always thought everything was green year round.† But hey, who am I to point this out to them?
†††† Iím back on the Causeway now.† Iím going out to see what all is in the shopping center here.† Letís see Ė there are numerous restaurants, a real estate developer that plans on putting condos on Las Brisas Isle along with deep water docking for cruise ships.† There is also a Dollar Store, however there is very little in here you can get for a dollar.† I guess their concept of a store title is different than what Iím used to.† I spotted a real Mexican restaurant, so I will come back here tonight.† For now, itís back to the hotel.
†††† Dinner is not bad.† It took two servers to wait on me because the little girl who started couldnít speak any English, and as a result, couldnít answer any of my questions or requests.† The restaurant only had one other occupied table and I was hers.† It wasnít her fault I couldnít speak Spanish, so when I left, I tipped her and the guy who ended up taking my order.† I ate outside so I could people watch.† There are lots of people on the Causeway and traffic is heavy.
††††† Restaurant prices, like most things, are lower in Panama compared to the US.† Example Ė I ordered a combination: 2 tacos, 2 enchiladas, 2 taquitos and a burrito, all for $8.00.† All that would cost more than that even if you go to Taco Bell in the US.† And, no, I didnít eat it all.† It was the only combination they had and didnít come with rice and beans.
†††† One thing that has not changed in Panama over the last 45 years is the Chiva.† They are still everywhere and painted as individually as the people that own them.† Most of the chivaís are former US school buses and the fare is still only $.25.† You pay when you get off.† Some enterprising owners have converted their chivas into ďParty BusesĒ.† Most of the seats have been removed for dancing to either a live band or DJ and a full open bar is provided.† The cost is all in 4ís.† They take a maximum of 40 people for 4 hours for a total of $400.00.† Thatís ten bucks a head.† Not bad for a nights entertainment.† Sometime next year, Panama, is to inaugurate a State run bus system.† What impact, if any this will have on the chiva is unknown at this time.
†††† As far as personal transportation, the large SUVís seem to hold the same status here as they do in American cities.† For the most part though, you will find small economy cars, coming mainly from Japan, Korea, France and the BMW from Germany.† Many of the makes, such as my Renault, and some of the body styles of other makes, are not even available in the US.† There are not that many American cars.† If you see one, it is usually a Chevy Cavalier, and is not made in the US.† I think my Trans Am would stand out like a sore thumb here.† Hell, Iíd be afraid to even drive it here.
†††† I need to turn in early tonight as Allan is picking me up for another tour at 9:00am.† He has also, graciously invited me to go with him to Gatun to attend the Baptism of his Grand Daughter.† I feel quite honored.
Saturday, October 27th.†
††††† I have had a very bad night, so I called Allan and gave my apologies, then went back to bed.† After catching a little sleep I eventually started feeling a little better.† I drove down to the mall, got a banana nut gelato cone, and just sat and watched the people.† That was about all I wanted for lunch and it was so big, I couldnít even eat it all.† This being Saturday, the mall was a little more crowded.
†††† Next, I drove into Balboa and started driving around looking at the houses.† Many of the old single story homes have been replaced with two story models and many have iron fences, gates and bars on the windows.† I donít know if it is for effect or security.† My guess would be security because of the bars on the windows.† Can Balboa be that unsafe of a neighborhood?† I asked Allan about it a few days later and he said it was a combination of things and part of it came from the old French heritage.
†††† Now, Iíve pulled into the parking lot of the old Army Navy YMCA in Balboa.† One end of it now houses a co-op of crafters, which appear to be mainly Kuna Indians.† Iíve picked out a few molas and a Panama Coin display for my friend Peter.† The young man helping me is one of the few that speaks English, so he is taking care of the other sellers that have the items I want.† Allan told me the YMCA in Ancon has done the same thing except it is much bigger.
†††† Back at Country Inn & Suites, itís time to relax before going to dinner.† Tonight will be Italian food, also on the Causeway at a place called Michelangeloís.† Iím pretty much sticking to the Causeway at night because I donít know what areas are or are not safe in Panama City and I wouldnít know how to get there anyway.† Again, Iím sitting outside watching people and traffic.† Iíve counted at least four of the Party Buses I told you about earlier.† They are loud, but everyone on board seems to be having a blast.† Since the people are on their feet dancing, the bus goes slow, holding up traffic Ė I know, as I was behind a couple of them as I was heading back to the hotel.† They do pull over at one point and it appears that everyone gets off.† It also looks like they are having a bar-b-q, but Iím not entirely sure about that.† I found an article in one of the tourist booklets about the Party Buses. Apparently they have had a problem in the past because one of the few rules the passengers have to abide by is they are not allowed to expose any body parts.† I bet that sure drops the fun factor.
Sunday, October 28th.††
†††† Itís raining quite a lot again today, but fortunately my little Renault has good wipers.† So I am off to Curundu and Ancon.† Curundu is much like Balboa in that most of the houses are occupied and some are newer than the ones from the 60ís.† I went to the YMCA in Ancon and even though the co-op is larger, they sell the same things as the one in Balboa.† So, here I am back at the Balboa YMCA.† The young man that was here before is here again today and he even remembers my name.† We gather what I think is the last of my gifts to bring back home, so itís time to head back to the hotel.† Earlier, I had spotted a restaurant almost all the way out on the Causeway called ďBennigansĒ.† It has an Irish sounding name, but I have absolutely no idea what they serve.† All I know is that it is large and looks quite nice.† So, it will be a surprise.
†††† Back at the Country Inn & Suites, I go to the business center to do the email thing.† They have four computers for the customers and it is free of charge.† The same thing at the hotel in New Orleans cost $7.00 for up to 20 minutes.
†††† I park in the lot next to Bennigans and go inside.† This place is nice.† They have an indoor dinning room, a covered, outside dinning room and yet another outside dinning room with a bar.† I pick a table right on the Marina.† A young lady brings me a menu and I can actually read part of it.† The name of what you are ordering is in English but the description is in Spanish.† I donít understand this concept. There are pictures though, so that helps a little bit.† I ordered the half rack of baby back ribs.† According to the picture, they come with fries and cold slaw.† I already know that if I wanted something other than slaw it was just going to be too bad, cause guess what Ė you got it Ė no English.† I also ordered a glass of red wine.† Because the menu didnít say and the waitress didnít know, she brought the bottle for me to look at to see if it was OK.† It was, and it turned out to be a really great meal Ė all for $15.00.† Now, if you are a Pensionado, there would even be a discount on top of that.† Iíll explain that later.
Monday, October 29th.
††††† Today is my last day here.† Allan is picking me up at 1:30 for another tour.† We travel along the old road that parallels the canal, passing through Balboa. We passed by Albrook and Clayton and on to Pedro Miguel.† There is a large cruise ship just entering the locks.† It is the Norwegian Dream and it is just starting to hook up with the first mules.† I take a few pictures and then we are back in the car.† It is a very rainy day again, so pictures are going to be catch as catch can.
††† Our next sight is the new Centennial Bridge, which is beautiful.† Allan drove us over and back just so I could see it.† Itís raining like hell, so Iím taking pictures through the windshield.† We go through the town of Pedro Miguel and into Paraiso, both of which look much like before, but maybe a bit more run down.† At this point along the highway we are for the most part surrounded by jungle and it is beautiful.† We also pass by Summit Gardens.† Itís still raining hard, but they donít call this a tropical rain forest for nothing.† I remember as a kid, I loved what I called the jungle and would go into it often.† At this stage in life though, I think I will stick to observing it from the edges.†
†††† We have now reached the old, wooden one way bridge.† It is exactly the way it was 45 years ago.† I canít believe, that with all the modernization in Panama, that this bridge is still here as though in a time warp.† We wait for our light to turn green so we can cross.† As though it were timed, the rain stops just as we reach Gamboa.
† †††Gamboa is different from anyplace else Iíve seen so far.† I canít tell if the houses are new or if the old ones have been redone to look new.† Either way, they are very nice, each a different color with white trim.† There is only one problem Ė they are all empty.† It seems they are only available for rent and Gamboa is just too far of a commute.†
†††† Now, you might remember a time when the train stopped here.† Not the case anymore.† The train is modern, air conditioned and quite plush compared to what we once knew.† However, it leaves the Pacific side every day at 7:30am.† It leaves to come back at 5:30pm. And, it does NOT make any stops along the way.† I am told the round trip ticket is $25.00.† It seems most of the riders are tourists or those that work on the other side in the Free Zone.† The tracks do keep busy the rest of the time with car after car of containers going back and forth all day and probably through the night.† So, I know not what will become of the new Gamboa, but at least the lady in the little guard house has a job baby sitting the place.
†† Allan and I have now turned around and are heading back to Panama City.† We need to pick up Elena from home and I need to turn in my rental car.
†††† This seems like as good a place as any to finish my little talk about driving in Panama.† First off, there are not many cities that I know of that are worse than Panama during rush hour.† Secondly, I left out one of the most important things one needs to know about driving through the city.† That is, how and when to use the horn.† And believe me, the horn is used for a multitude of things.† An example Ė If you put your signal on to change lanes, you are telling the other driver that you want to merge into his lane.† If you turn you signal on and honk your horn, you are telling the other driver to get out of the way because you are coming over now and he better get the hell out of your way.† Another example is if you want to pass someone on the right, you want to tap your horn a few times to let them know your coming.† On the other hand, if you are in a good mood and want to let someone cut in front of you, well, you tap the horn a few times then also.† And, if by chance they cut in front of you without your permission, yep, you honk again, only with more vigor.† Basically, the horn is used for anything you like and it is up to the guy in the other car to figure out the message you are trying to convey.† Also, DO NOT ever honk you horn if you have by chance accidentally cut the other guy off.† There is no need, because the other guy is going to get around you anyway possible and do his best to try and run you off the road.† So, honking at this point would not be advisable.† Donít forget, everyone else is honking in Spanish, and you donít know the language. †
†††† Allan and I have finally made our way to his house to pick up Elena and we are now headed toward the Causeway.† We pull into a shopping center and Allan says, they will be just 5 minutes.† Elena came back first then Allan a few minutes later.† They had purchased gifts for me and my Lady.† It was unexpected and quite sweet of them.†
†††† So, we are again making our way through the city.† Allan takes us by, and points out where the Tivoli Hotel used to be.† He said he had heard that much of the mahogany from the Tivoli was used in the construction of another hotel.† As I remember, it was beautiful wood.†
††††† I had told Allan the story of me being kicked out of Balboa High for going to the El Rancho and drinking my lunch, as my home room teacher, Mrs. Graham sat across the room having lunch with her husband and son.† I told him how Marvin and I proved we were not drinking and they had to let us back in school and that in the end, Mrs. Graham was the one who got in trouble.† We were heroes.† Well friends, Allan drove us to the El Rancho and it is still here, in business, not looking a day older than it did back in 1962.
†††† From there, it didnít take long to get back to the hotel.† Turning the rental car in consisted of making a phone call and then giving the keys to whoever was at the front desk of the hotel.† I wanted to take Allan and Elena someplace nice, and since they had never been, took them to Bennigans.† We first ordered drinks and Elena ordered in Spanish Ė she is trying so hard to learn English.† When her drink came, it was so large it took both hands to hold the glass.† Luckily there were straws, so she didnít have to flex her muscles.† We all had a good laugh Ė a good time Ė good food Ė good drink, but most of all, good friends.†
†††† On the way back to the hotel, Allan drove us through what used to be old Amador.† The old buildings that are left, are also empty and some are gone completely except for the foundations.† Allan told me that the military tore some of them down in the late 90ís well before the turnover.† Who knows why!† Maybe they didnít have anything else to do.
†††† So, here we are, in Front of the Country Inn & Suites.† A handshake and hug for Allan and a hug and a kiss for Elena.† It is time to say goodbye.
†††† I cannot begin to express how wonderful these two people are.† I had communicated once in awhile with Allan via email.† In fact, it was the pictures he sent of what has become of Kobbe beach that made me decide that I needed to come back here.† I wanted to come back while there was still something left and I was still able.† So, about three months ago, I made my reservations and wrote Allan that I was coming and that at some time during my visit, I would like to meet him.† After all, he has kind of been my eyes down here for the last few years.† His immediate response was, ďIíll pick you up at the airportĒ.† Wow, I didnít expect that.† But, as I have found out, thatís the kind of guy he is, and Elena, she is a sweetheart.† Not once did I ask Allan to take me anywhere or to show me anything, he just did it.† Itís like he could see inside of me and knew what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go.† He would just say, ďI will take you on a tourĒ, and off we would go.† He knew I wasnít interested in jungle tours, eco-life and the other touristy things.† My main focus was the old Zone Ė the good Ė the bad Ė the old and the new.
†††† Many of you have been fortunate enough to see some of Allanís pictures on the web, and fine pictures they are.† He has quite a good eye.† It has been a joy to meet the man behind the pictures and his wonderful bride.† I told them if they ever make it to the States, wherever they might be there will be Kobbe Kids to meet and make sure they have a good time.† Elena asked if I would come back.† I said that I didnít know, but if I do, I will bring others with me.† Then, it was time to go Ė me to my room to pack, and Allan and Elena home.
†††† Mr. Gustavo, my driver, will be here at 5:00am to take me to the airport.† After a layover in Miami, a change of planes in Dallas followed by a two and half hour drive, I should be home by midnight.† Iím sure you are not interested in any of those details.
†††† I had mentioned the Pensionado discount earlier.† It is a retiree (Pensionado) visa.† This type of visa is offered to anyone over the age of 18 that moves to Panama.† You do not have to be retired.† You only have to be able to prove that you have a guaranteed government or private entity income of $500.00 per month - $600.00 if you are a couple, and an additional $100.00 per month, per dependant.† You will receive up to a $10,000 exemption on personal property you bring into the country Ė pretty good considering the value of used furniture.† Also, you can bring in a car every two years and that will be tax and duty exempt also.† With the Pensionado card you are given, you are entitled to discounts in all restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, doctors, dentists and much more.† Panama wants us here.† They want us to spend and invest our money in Panama.† Sound good?† Come down, check it out.† Everything costs less and you can get a discount on top of that.† If you like city life, Panama City might be the place for you.† If you prefer a slower lifestyle, the possibilities are endless.† One negative though is that doctors and hospitals do not accept USA Medicare - yet.† However, this too may change as more and more Americans make the move.† Bangkok, Thailand and Manila in the Philippines, because of the number of ex-pats that have relocated there, DO accept Medicare.† There are approximately 25,000 Americans in Panama already, with more coming all the time.† So, it is quite possible that Medicare will soon be accepted.† Now, you have something to think about.† I know it is something I will think about and may consider in a few years.
Until then, like my friend Allan says, Saludos!
†††† Most guides will tell you that the language in Panama is Spanish, but most, especially those that work in the service industry also speak English.† I have not found this to be true.† Most restaurant menus are in Spanish and not all servers speak English.† The same holds true with taxi drivers and the National Police.† You DO want to be able to communicate with the National Police.†
†† ††This has been a very interesting trip, that for some reason, I felt I had to take.† Fortunately, I came with an open mind and very few expectations.† If anyone has the opportunity to come to Panama, by all means do.† Come see the people, the cultures, the cities and the interior.† Come rediscover the history that makes Panama the wonderful, beautiful place that it is.
†††† DO NOT come looking for the Canal Zone.† Itís not here anymore.† The canal and the locks that we remember are still here, but most everything else of what was, is no longer.† And yes, our beloved Kobbe is still here but the houses are white and empty and at this time, I donít know what is to become of them.† Except for the lone kutamundi, the National Police and Dell computer down by the hangers, Kobbe has died and with the white paint on all the houses, it looks quite stark, almost like a ghost town.† Thankfully, we all have our memories, memories that will last forever.† After all, thatís what makes us Kobbe Kids.
†††† Most Kobbe Kids had the fortune, or misfortune (depending on your point of view) of moving half way around the world every few years.† Kobbe was our Paradise.† Pardon the pun, but- - - - - - Paradise lost.† I can only try to imagine what our Canal Zone friends that were born and raised here must feel.† The Canal Zone we once knew is gone, but to many, it still is a paradise.† So, come, check it out.† Maybe you can find what may be your new Paradise.† And, I highly recommend, as it would be quite helpful, that you learn a few key words or phrases in Spanish.† After all Spanish is the language of Panama and it is their country.† We are the visitors and the ones that need to adapt.