Great Customer Service

Often you hear of the customer service horror stories (like my blogging colleague's) but little do you ever hear great customer service stories. The other day we had two very pleasant could-have-been-unpleasant experiences, and one a few months ago that definitely needs a little praise.

1) BestBuy - we bought an MP3 player for our trip, but it turned out to be an extremely irritating accessory. It was 'touch sensitive' which means every time you even came close to touching it, or even breathing on it, the song would change. Irritating to say the least. We didn't have the receipt, it was opened, it was purchased over 30 days ago (a time frame that is underlined and highlighted on their return policy!), it had been to a few different countries, it was used, it still had songs on it, and.....They took it back! Couldn't believe it! That's awesome.

2) Black's - on Monday we printed 70 pictures from our trip, but the colours came out much duller than I expected. This was very disappointing because we should have just went to Wal-Mart, but we bought a 300-print gift card to get a deal on all our pics. Great, I thought, now we have to return there for the remaining two hundred. So, while we were there queuing up the rest of our pics, a customer sales guy comes over to tries to upsell us some other stuff. We told the man we're not interested considering the quality we got last time and we only came back because we bought this gift card. What does the guy do? Asks if he can have his best lab-tech reprint the 70 we were unhappy with, for free...Plus gives us three 8x10 of our choice for free. Isn't that great?

3) AirCanada - This one was a while ago, but definitely needs some attention. Air Canada, of all businesses, was fantastic during our last trip to Manitoba. As many of you know, we brought a pinata with us. A pinata people! A big ball of paper mache in a cardboard box. Light, extremely fragile, and very large. When we were checking it with our baggage, I knew it probably wouldn't make it in one piece. Tom was anticipating the tears, and already had a backup pinata-plan in place. The lady behind the desk says "No problem, please take it over to the Oversize Luggage belt". No extra charge, no nothing to get a huge box with an extremely vulnerable ball of gluey paper across the country. It came out in one piece! It wasn't even thrown on the belt in the Winnipeg airport, but carried in by an employee. I can't believe they took that great care of it and at no extra charge. Now that was great customer service.

Have you ever received 'above and beyond' service that was unexpected?


SMART Goals...
Does anyone else out there actually use this?

I tend to be productivity driven. For those or you who know me, this is no revelation. I tend to work harder when there is more to do, feel better when things are getting done, am motivated when there is a goal to complete, and get a *bit* of anxiety when things aren't getting done.

Sometimes being productivity-driven is a great thing (it gets things done!), but I'm not sure you would find it in a health food store if you could bottle it. So, here is a little something I have learned some time ago, you need to set SMART goals.

  • Specific - defined, objective goals. Know what the final product is.
  • Measurable - must be able to measure progress or completeness by some objective standard.
  • Attainable - must have (or gain) the ability to accomplish the goal (physical and financial ability, building material, or whatever else you will need).
  • Realistic - Much like achievable, except with a hint of reality. Need to be willing and able.
  • Timely* - have a time frame for getting it done that is measurable, attainable, and realistic.

{*this one is the tricky one for me}

Overall, this method of defining what my goals are and if they can actually get accomplished, how I am going to get them done, and by when, is pretty helpful. I don't use it with everything, of course, but it becomes particularly helpful when there is a lot to do and I am becoming a bit stressed over it.

I can go on and on about it, why it is a great idea, the hang ups, the reasons it works, how it helps tame my stress levels and emotional sate, EXCEPT, I have to unpack the rest of this apartment, move the rest of the furniture into place, put up some wall hangings, print the best pictures from our trip, buy a photo album (and arrange the pictures nicely in there!), do the laundry, make an extra set of keys, and scrub the floors, tub, and hallway closet before tomorrow at 1:00 when our weekend guests are arriving.

I can hear my husband now, "Um, Candice, are you being SMART?"

Again, does anyone else out there actually use this?



Yes, I made it back, and I have to admit that when I walked into Toronto's international airport and read "Welcome to Canada" on the wall behind the customs agents, I broke out into the national anthem. (Very quietly of course!) 
No, I won't go into a rant about how we are so blessed to have been born into such an amazing country, or how we can't take things for granted (I am just too tired for that right now ;), all I do want to say is that it is good to be reunited with my husband, as hairy as he is, and I am thankful to be Canadian .


The Beautiful Costa Rica

Lag #2 - CHECK!

I´m back in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. The drive over here was breathtaking... Honestly, if you don´t have any plans for next Friday, may I highly suggest hitching a ride with the Copa bus line through Costa Rica.

Besides the views, the trip over was relatively uneventful, and for that I am very, very thankful. I´m checked into a pretty neat hostel Tom booked for me. It really embraces the tropical feel.. with a security guard outside to boot! Yeee-ssss! The guests stay in these kind of beach-house-type accommodations that are divided up into dorm rooms. Number one thing I like best - safe. Number 2 - free internet! And for me, aesthetics come after that, but it helps that it is gorgeous too...

The Ride Over

Ok, I'm back on here again. I just wanted to tell you a little more about the ride over here. If you really don't care, that's fine, just stop reading! I won't be offended, I'm nearly just killing time. If you are bit bored, by all means, read on!

The best parts of the trip began after we crossed the border, when we hit the miles and miles of pineapple fields. There were a few rice paddies and patches of coconut too. No bananas on this side though. I always enjoy seeing the farmers selling their produce on the side of the road. So close to the source, you know? Further on down the way we started heading up the real mountains of the country. In here is the tropical rain forest. I'm telling you, it was the definition of 'lush'. The canopy was so thick you couldn't walk through it if you tried. The thousands and thousands of shades of green were amazing. All of the different plants of varying heights on the mountains surface creating brilliant and deep greens when the sun shines on them at so many different angels. The bus climbed up the entire way to San Jose. The road was the continuous zig-zag pattern that wound itself up the mountain. Curve left, curve right, curve left, curve right....All the way up, as otherwise the trucks just wouldn't make it. Looking across to other mountain sides the greens contrasted so sharply against the deep rusty red of exposed soil. The brilliant red paths up the hill sides were so visible, upon closer look you can also see streaks of white - the rivers and waterfalls with the rain forest water rushing towards the ocean. It didn't have too far to go. As we climbed we got closer and closer to the clouds, until, eventually, we entered them. We weren't actually that high up, it's the clouds that are so low as they are formed from the moisture of the ocean being pushed up the mountain side. Eventually, we made it above them for a bit. It was so neat gazing down the mountain side all you can see it bright white below you - I thought it was just amazing.

Pictures just don't do justice to the scenery. But have no worries, I tried many times regardless.


Homeward Bound!!!

Yeaaaaah baby!!! On my way... {pretend we are listening to Paul Brandt's "I'm coming home to see you baby, you're the one thing that I know for sure..."}

Today I finished up at the Spanish school in the beautiful town of Boquette, said a tearful goodbye to my host family, and completed the first 'lag' for my journey home.

I'm in a hostel in David for the night and already have my ticket for the international bus to Costa Rica for first thing in the morning. Wow, I'm so excited to be heading home! I'm a bit excited to board the bus, but kinda nervous about the border crossing, but I am very excited about the drive up the Costa Rican Pacific coast, but a bit nervous about making my way around the city of San Jose once I get there, but am very excited to only have to stay ONE SLEEP because I will be home the next day!!!!
(Yes, alright, technically I will be in on Sunday morning, but lets not get drowned in the details, k?)

What a journey. My goodness. I didn't really expect to be leaving little bits of my heart in some of the places we have been. What a journey... I have seen so much, heard so much, learned so much, it is just impossible for me to return home unchanged.

Here is a glimpse of tomorrow, oh Costa Rica, how beautiful you are...



So, did you know that chocolate actually grows on trees?

This is a (pronouced) "Kakaow" tree (cacao tree).

The seed of the yellow fruit is harvested, dried, and fermented, rolled up in to semi-soft balls and either sold as is (cacao), or have milk added to make milk chocolate, or is semi-sweetened, etc.

Carli bought some semi-soft ones and we have been having a hay-day grating it onto fruit salads, into coffee for mochas, and pretty much eating it straight up.

Who knew!?!


Food for Thought

I don't think I reported back yet on what we did with the rest of the donation money!! We did a huge grocery trip for the feeding centre, which was a wonderful opportunity to do a grocery store tour with Tracy, learn about the food culture of the area, and provide a bit of a training session on label reading and general nutrition tips and tricks. Tracy and Rafael are doing great work here in Panama, and the children they are helping are so sweet. This is what we were able to do with the remained of the cash...

It is such a blessing to be the middle-man messenger. I take great joy in passing on the credit to our loving friends and family back home. Tracy wanted me to extend an extremely heart warmed thank you. She said that your generosity inspires her and reminds her that we all have a job to do. Thanks for taking part!


Funny moments, observations, and lessons learned.

  • Roosters do not only crow first thing in the morning. Don't get me wrong, they do crow in the morning, but also at every single other time in the day. And night.

  • Everyone owns roosters. Even us.

  • Chickens are usually not couped up. They are everywhere. You see them waltzing down the street, in your yard, on your front step. (See picture above).

  • If you accidentally (or intentionally) kill someone's chicken, you must find its owner and compensate them for their loss. It is about $3 for the chicken itself and about $2 for the egg production that has been lost.

  • One of the top causes of accidental chicken loss is road kill. Go figure. Don't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Please.

  • You can pretty much buy anything in single servings in Panama. It's probably because so many people in this area would not be able to buy an entire carton of eggs, so you can buy them individually for $0.15, which means the person being compensated only $2 for their lost egg production is actually getting ripped off. The other day I went to buy garbage bags. The man asked how many I needed, while pointing to the packages of ten. I answered 1. So he proceeded to rip open the bag and handed me one. Ummm, I guess I'll take ten then.

  • Panamanian vehicles have e-brakes too, so check that is it off before trying to drive a vehicle inconspicuously through your neighborhood.

  • While trying to knock oranges out of the orange tree in the backyard, don't stand directly underneath it, remember - you are relying on gravity to get them down.

  • Don't barter a price then hand the man a bill that he has to give you change for. It's just bad business.

  • Roll up your windows when driving to areas with coffee fields, you often have to drive through a free 'car-wash' where your vehicle is doused with pesticides and fungicides to help preserve the economy.

  • In a country that has coffee as a main export lacks the good stuff itself. A tiny voice in the back of my head reminded me that my Dad claims McD's black brew isn't too bad. So there is me yesterday in David, tearing across the street to get to McDonald's for a fix.

A Few of The Friends We Have Seen

And I don't even want to know about the ones we didn't.


How I would love to have coffee with you.

And that's not only because they are lacking on the cappuccinos around here.

If we would go for coffee, I'd show some of our 700 pictures, tell you some stories - some humorous and some not so humorous.

I haven't been around an internet much lately and haven't been able to update you as to how the trip is going. It is a very different world out here when you are a white, young female, traveling alone. The fun and games pretty much came to an end when Tom walked out of our hotel room in David the day he left for Canada. Overall, its been good, but it has been tough. It is incredible to be on the other side of the prejudice\racist line. A good learning experience. Not necessarily an entirely enjoyable one though.

San Felix is a pretty much a small-town kind of place. Maybe about a 1000 residents or so. An extra resident is usually noticed, an extra white female is a spectacle. When one of us leaves the house, we are on display. Not many whites are around here yet, and our way of life, natural social reactions, language, laughter, and overall appearance is new. Many are naturally and innocently curious. Many are excited, many are suspicious. From the corner of your eye you can see a group of children daring each other to say hi to one of us. Sure enough, one is pushed towards me, he taps me on the arm, then waves and runs.

No matter where we go, we are constantly reminded that we are setting a precedent, we are representing North Americans as a whole in some of these communities. This situation is even more intense in the rural mountainous regions we are working in. Here, we are so interesting to the people that the children come and stand in our doorway, bare foot and some with bloated bellies, just to look at us. For hours. When we close the door for some privacy, some climb up to watch us through the windows. They all know where we are, where we are staying. Even in San Felix, when we hail a taxi, they drive straight to our house - before even inquiring where we live. One driver asked Tom and I ''Are you staying at the house that is white?'' We answered no, so he automatically drove to our pink house. The caucasian Peace Corp volunteers that live in San Felix are staying in a white house.

When we walk to our destination, such as the store, a part of the whole experience are the cat-calls and car horns from men, glares from women, and, when we arrive at the store, being overcharged for items no matter who is behind the cash register. White = desirable. White = money.

This has been a long standing struggle. In moments we represent all of us from North America. So what do you do? Get upset? Go into a rant in broken Spanish? Put up with the overcharging and let this happen to the rest of us that will come through? When men rush to you to say "Good day!" Do you respond?
  • If not...Does this create a label that all caucasian women are stuck-up and racist against latins?

  • If so...Does this display unintended interest?
How do you display proper kindness? And, where in the world did this power dynamic come from? We can talk for hours and hours over our coffee about theories, proper responses, and ways to 'fit-in'. But lets get real, we are staying in a house 6 times larger than most families, I am typing on a personal laptop with a headset and camera for skype. I have shoes on my feet.

Although it is a struggle to not have my blood boiled ever time I venture out, I can't imagine the struggle other racial groups face on a daily basis in other parts of the world. Here, I am whining because of the attention we get over desirable skin colour and the automatic response that we have money, etc. But what about the first black Canadians or Americans entering a new town? What about those from the middle east? They may have sales clerks rushing to their sides too, and people watching their houses, but probably for different reasons.

I feel that I need to take a moment here and defend the many, many fantastic people we have met and are working with. Lets make sure a few people's reactions don't lead to us being prejudiced against a people group. I am concerned that I may be sounding a bit harsh, and I don't want you walking away from this e-mail thinking things are awful, unenjoyable, or harsh.

Overall the trip is still going well. I am so glad to be in San Felix with Carli. Not only is she really fun and full of life, but we also think alike on many theoretical and philosophical issues. Yesterday we spent the entire evening cooking food we gathered from our own backyard and talking about life, traveling, making a difference, idealism versus realism, what we can actually accomplish with our lives, and in order for this world to change - who needs to change in this world and how we can go about facilitating that change. We have both been awakened to the reality of this world through being here in Panama. Panama is supposedly most developed and stable economy in Latin America. Yet, the stories of domestic abuse, corruption, and palm-greasing that goes on here is amazing. Makes you wonder what the reality in Canada is, are we really that much better?

I am staying with friends in Dolega, near David, when Carli has been away. Needless to say that my husband ensured I would never be staying in this town alone. This coming week we are heading out to the remote area of Chorcha. It is a few hours ride in, in a transport vehicle that trained individuals drive to ensure safety. No worries, we have one of those drivers. And, on Tuesday, I will be getting back out on horseback. Yes, you read that right, by horse and guide. Here's hoping we make it out by the time the monsoon rains come. Did I mention that the academic life is a bit different down here?

On Tuesday I am planning on returning to the beautiful town of Boquete where I will be staying with a host family and attending a Spanish school for a few days of Spanish immersion. Not because I need a few more challenges, but because my mad desire to learn Spanish is stronger than ever before. I love the language, and, believe it or note, I love the people. Life is different, can you really expect anything else from a foreign country? And, as far as the outsider-dilemmas are concerned - if Tom and I feel called to ministries abroad, these are some of the issues that come with the package. So, in a way, all of these challenges have been a great exposure and learning opportunity for our life to come.

Go Dave! And all who lift you up...

My cousin, Dave Calder, earned Canada's first medal at the Olympics today. And being in the bow of the boat, was the first Canadian to finish an event in a top 3 position. I'm so proud of him, but I know that I had nothing to do with it. I suppose most of Canada is proud of him, and (again) most of Canada had nothing to do with it.

Just cool to think about how many people did have something to do with it, though, and how rewarding that race must have been to them. People like his wife and little girl, like his family, like his coaches...

And of course Scott Frandsen (Dave's teammate) had a little something something to do with it. ;)

I know I couldn't get through life without (first) my faith in God, and (second) my wife's faith in me. I can only imagine it's kinda the same for Dave -- your own efforts are important, but real success is impossible to achieve on your own.

[It's funny... As I'm writing this, Dave has just come on the television and is saying many of the same things.]

Quick Candice update...

Her beard is coming along really well, too:



Sometimes Candice calls me "peanut". I always thought it was some sort of cutsie nickname, but I just figured out that she is simply stating the obvious:


Dancing Plagues and Contagious Laughter

Okay, I was wasting a little time on the web, and came across this article.

Apparently, there have been a few well-documented occasions throughout history, where people have compulsively danced in the streets until they exhaust themselves! They can't control it, they can't stop!

Also detailed is an 18-month epidemic where people couldn't stop laughing.

Just... plain... weird.

(I think I've had minor cases of both of these diseases.)


The little car that just wouldn't stop...

Some of you might remember our not-so-recent car purchase. Well, after enduring a bunch of trips to Ottawa, the States, all around the city, and some random other places, we kept expecting it to die on us, but the little car just wouldn't stop! But...

The day before we took off for Costa Rica, Candice called me at work:

The wife: "Tom, ummmm, uh oh...."
The husband: "What happened to the car?"

Now, it should be said that Candice is a much better and safer driver than me, so in no way did I think she had done something silly, like get into an accident. But that car worried me a little every time I gave her the keys... I knew she'd treat it well, but always worried how it would treat her.

Turns out, it was just a little problem, you know, NO BRAKES!!! She somehow managed to realize this before having to find out the hard way, and managed to glide it into a parking stall at Walmart. Then, when the Walmart service center refused to look at it, got it across the street to a Mr. Lube (I assume she pushed it there).

[I know you're thinking, "She probably just used the emergency brake.", but if you look at the line labeled "E-Brake" in our "Mazda vs. Tercel... Fight!" post, that silly thing has never worked!]

Turns out the main brake line is shot, and would cost way more than the car's value to fix. (For the record, apparently the main fuel line is shot, too.)

So, the little car that just wouldn't stop became the little car that just couldn't stop.

It looks like we'll have to put a bullet in the little white beast.


"Hot" Tamales

Tamales: a delicious Panamanian dish mostly made of corn. Although renowned, you can't get these puppies in a restaurant, because they take over 2 hours to make. And, for the same reason, you can't buy them in the grocery store. So, where do you get Tamales??? Well, apparently, there is usually a scary-greasy guy that sells them home-made out of a bucket on the street corner. He usually doesn't have a license to sell them...So the transaction is strikingly similar to a drug deal. Ours went something like this...

Tom and I are looking around a bit lost, then start staring right a man sitting on a bucket. I whisper to Tom "Do you think that's the guy we are looking for?"

The man, looking straight back at us: "Tamales?"

Us: "Yes!"

The man, in a more hushed Spanish voice: "$1.25 for 2."

Us: "$1.25 for 2?!? No way, $1 for 2"

The man, staring in all seriousness "$1.25 for 2."

Us: "Alright, here's a $1.25 then. We'll take two."

We slip him the cash, he reaches into his bucket and pulls out a little baggy with 2 green steaming rolls inside.

We split.

This, is Tamales.

YEEE-ESS! Internet baby!

A computer, an internet connection, A HEADSET FOR SKYPE!!! This is awesome!

So much to say, so much to blog about. So little time...

For my Cambodian peeps, I'm sure you will remember Mr. Hose...Yes, apparently, he lives here too!


I'm sitting here...

I'm sitting here, waiting for my wife to call, and I've to decided to do what she does best. Blog.

I'm sitting here because I'm tired. I don't think I ever realized how much stuff we own, until a) trying to jam a two bedroom apartment into a one bedroom, and b) trying to do it myself. Sure, I'm only moving stuff 50 feet, but you know...

I'm sitting here, too tired and sore and, well, lazy to finish writing this post.


There's nothing good on TV...

I remember flipping through channels, back when I used to watch TV. 100's of channels, and nothing on that was worth watching. Scrubs was a repeat, the football game was a blowout for the wrong team, and I had already seen all the flicks on the movie channels. Boy, life was rough.

In the last year, I've pretty much abandoned TV, probably 'cause Candice isn't too big on TV, and she's helped me realize that we've got better things to do than sit in front of the tube. Honestly, other than a few movies here and there, the hockey playoffs, our buddy Peter on The National, and an amazing Super Bowl, I don't remember turning the TV on in our apartment.

But, as luck would have it, the cable company hasn't shut off the services yet in our new apartment, from the previous tenant. I've got basic cable, and the Olympics are on... My cousin Dave is rowing there, so I'm pretty interested. Besides, Candice isn't around so I have no other company. 

But, WOW! You step away from TV for a second, and when you go back to it you actually notice all the bad stuff you were previously accustomed to: rotten rotten language, graphic graphic advertising, just absolutely devoid of value. 

And the Olympics? That's good, clean television, right? I thought so at first, and then had to seriously rethink that notion. Nobody's wearing any clothing! And what they are wearing is skin-tight! Honestly, my wife is the only one in the world where it is appropriate for me to see that much figure. I talked to Candice about this, and we both understand that it is probably for performance reasons, that baggy (i.e. appropriate for public viewing) clothes probably get in the way and slow you down. I don't care, I don't want to see that!

If I remember correctly from my high school history class, back in Greece at the first Olympics, they used to compete completely sans-wardrobe. Maybe it's just returning to its roots. Too bad.

I used to think there was nothing good on TV. Now I realize there is just nothing GOOD on TV.

Somebody tell me how Dave does, please. I'm going to go unhook my free cable. (I felt guilty stealing the signal, anyway.)

You gotta play it safe around electricity...

First: Sorry for the slightly boring direction this blog has taken recently... :) Candice is safe and sound, but has succeeded in finding places for the last few days where the internet isn't. She apologizes for not updating everyone one how Panama is going, and she'll post as soon as she can.

Believe me, I'm as interested as you to see her writing again on this blog!

But for now, bare with me because I found out (again) today that Louie the Lightning Bug is right.

I have been moving our stuff to the new apartment for the last few days, and today (among a few other choice items) I moved the dishwasher. I had to, correct that, got to do a little drilling, a little cutting, and a little electrical work... The first two went well, but that last one, well...

This should save me a thousand words:

I had even shut off the breaker labeled "Dishwasher". Apparently, it was actually attached to the breaker labeled "Puse Contoir" (whatever that means!). One huge bang, a big flash of light, and I was able to blow one of those huge double-fuses (like the one that runs your stove or clothes dryer) and melt metal into a pretty cool heart shape...


Beard Watching

Well, it's been about 50 hours since my last shave. That's no record for me, I've gone whole sections of my life without shaving, and taken 4 or 5 day timeouts in the more recent past.

This time is different, though. I'm growing a beard!

You see, my wife has style, so she knows that (for most people) beards are a ridiculous idea. I know this, too, but have always wondered what it would be like to have one. Or if I could even grow one if I wanted to. I figure I have about 3 weeks to find out.

There is a long history of handsome Tom's looking good in facial hair:

Tom Cruise: Some nice stubble.

Tom Selleck: Cool dude mustache.

Tom Green: Nice beard.

Tom Hanks: Maybe a little too much.

You'll be able to watch me as I move through (hopefully) all of these stages, by the little feature I've set up on column to the right.

Here is me at the 50 hour mark:

Let me know what you think!!


Home Sweet Home

I made it back to the apartment in Montreal last night about 2:00 in the morning. Took the bus from the airport, because the idea of a $35 cab ride was a little sickening.

Some happy surprises: nobody robbed us, my equipment made it home in one piece, and all of my favorite lunches are in the freezer to tide me over until Candice returns (she made them all for me before she left).

Some neutral surprises: a few scattered pieces of equipment that didn't make the final cut during packing (or we forgot to pack, like the laptop), two incredibly "ripe" bananas and a plum, and a malfunctioning answering machine. (BTW, if you left us an important message in the last two weeks, please phone again!)

Some very sad surprises, too: my wife's flip-flops that greeted me as I entered the door as though she was home and had just kicked them off, an empty echo of the door closing instead of her cheerful "Welcome home!", and a big empty bed.

Yeah, it's home, but it's not so sweet right now. I think it will be good to move out of this place over the next few days.

Miss you Candice, but don't worry about me. There will be only happy surprises when you get here!



The morning we have been dreading has arrived...Tom packed his bag for the last time this trip and headed out the hotel, alone. Candice sat on the bed for a few more minutes, alone. Both alone for the very first time in a very long time. I absolutely refuse for this day to consist of a tear stained face and puffy eyes. Nope, there was no way Tom was walking out the door if he saw me in a mess. It is interesting to see how strong we can be if the situtation calls for it.

The last time we were seperated for more than a few nights was when I went to Europe last summer with my parents. But at that time we were only engaged, and seperation is a part of the engagement world. Not to mention he had his family with him, and I had my family with me. The only time I was actually truely alone was for one night during that trip when I ventured off to Germany by myself. One night. Now, three weeks??? Thankfully we have met some great people on this trip and some of them are only a taxi ride away. If any trouble should arise, I now have 2 Panamain nutritiontists two doors down the street. In their incredibly fast Spanish I heard "You hear a noise, you see something, or you just don´t want to be alone, you come here!" Awesome. Tracy and Rafael are just an hour´s taxi ride away (which would be, like, $15), and Matcha, Metcho, & Umberto are a quick flight and a taxi ride away too. And, of course, God is with us always. So, really, neither of us are totally on our own here.

Last night we moved from the hostel to an upper-scale hotel in David for our last night of the trip together. "Upper-scale" meaning hot water, A/C, and private bathroom to boot! Actually, in all honesty it is one of the top hotels in town, which means we paid $40 for the night. Prices here are so strange. For example, you can get a taxi ride from to anywhere in the city of David for $1.25. It´s a $1.50 if it is raining and only $1 if the driver is in a good mood. When you find a taxi you like, you ask for his personal cell phone number, and he becomes your ´chaufer´for the next while. We only do that for divers who didn´t try to rip us off when we got into the cab. I love being in one spot for long enough to know what they are up to and what the cost actually is. Dinner last night was awesome, we returned to a restaurant called El Fogon. They serve typical Panamaian food, and it´s really great stuff, with a wide variety and pretty inexpensive. It´s an classy resaurant, yet both times the bill was around $30 for an appetizer, drinks, and our meals. How awesome is that?!

I´m going to check out of this hotel soon and grab a bus back to San Felix. Carli and Marie-Pierre should be arriving from Soloy & Chortcha tonight as well. The Three Amigas!!!

One Last Date


Snap shot of our last 2 days

Happy Birthday Tom!!

Yesterday we headed back to the pastor´s home and visited the feeding centre. What a great time! The kids were so excited to have new poeple there. We had no toys or anything for them, but we had fun just hanging out. Our digital camera astonished many, and we took some fantastic and funny pictures.

After lunch (the bill for four large meals =$6.50, plus tip of course ;) we headed out to Boquete. It was beautiful, kinda reminded me of Jasper, but a bit warmer, and better coffee! If you can believe, it is very, very difficult to find good coffee around here. During the few hours we spent in Boquete, we had a total of 5 cappucino-like beverages. Delicious. We toured some gardens and had great photo ops. Apparently the pastor is also a photographer, and used us to practice for an upcoming wedding. Can´t wait to get those from him! It felt like our wedding day all over again, the smiles were starting to quiver near the end as our cheeks got tired!

We said our good-byes to the Rodriguez´s and headed to our hotel. We were planning on doing a Tree Trek this morning for Tom´s birthday (a little belated). This trek is a crazy 3 km ride down the moutain side on pullies and a cable system. Looked pretty awesome...But when we laid our weary heads to rest last night, all we could think about were the kids at the feeding centre and how much fun we all had. So, we threw the cable ride out the window this morning, and used that money to buy a soccer ball, skipping rope, balloons, a load of celery, raisins, peanut butter and spreadable cheese product. Games and "Ants on a Log" for all! Tracy and I were throwing around some ideas as to how to get the children to actually eat vegetables - and this one worked!! We made a really big deal of racing to build them and eat them. I don´t think they even realized it was a vegetable! We learned after that these kids have never tried raw celery before, nor even saw peanut butter. Wow.

Tom played soccer/baseball with the kids in the afternoon, they had so much fun. No one really wanted to go home. Including us. The balloons were a hit too. Well, until they busted...lots and lots of tears. No worries, we had extras.

So, forget the cables, we had a big vegetable-soccer-birthday party instead!

Now, if we can only get some of those pictures on the net...


Yet another moving Sunday Service

Today was the long-awaited meeting of more internet friends - Tracy & Rafael Rodrigez. This couple runs a local church, which they started a little over 2 years ago, and a feeding program for children from resource poor homes. Pastor Rodrigez picked us up from our hostel in David this morning and drove us to the church. It was such a warm and welcoming place, again, many were very intersted in us, considering we nearly glow in the dark in comparison...

Tracy asked me to attend the teenage-girl Sunday school class, and offered me an opportunity to share my faith and offer encouraging words to the young ladies. I made a few girlfriends, who tended to accidently, continuously forget that I am not that familiar with their language. It was pretty funny, they would get all excited to tell me something, or ask me something, and then remember the language barrier when they saw my blank face staring back...We´d then laugh and begin our game of charades...

Tom attended the adults Sunday school, and when we were introduced in front of the congregation during the service, the pastor invited him to the front of the church to share his faith and our jounrey. Isn´t it amazing that when you go searching for opportunities to share, they can be given to you in a more nerve racking situation then you ever intended??? I don´t think I need to mention that he did a fantastic job, and spoke through the interpreter with ease.

After the service we all jumped in the church bus and headed down to the creek for baptisms. It was beautiful. After, the church bus drove all around and dropped off anyone who needed a ride home, many of them where people who would otherwise not have been able to afford the transportation to and from church this morning. It was such a strong community.

We had dinner at the Rodrigez home, and were joined by a guest pastor and his wife. Out of the 6 adults at the table; 2 spoke English, 2 spoke Spanish, 2 spoke both. I´ll let you guess who was who. I don´t know if I talk about the language issue too much, but it affects EVERY SENTENCE!

Tomorrow we are heading back to the Rodrigez home and visiting the feeding centre for their lunch session. Tom and I are both very excited to be a part of that. Tracy and I have had some discussion about nutritional concerns and considerations, and I am eager to learn more the children. When I return to San Felix later this week I have the opportunity to spend some evenings with some Panamanian nutritionists, I´m sure they will have a few pointers I can pass along as well. (I´m just picturing how I am going to act this one out --nutritionally deficient children, cooking practices, calcium content, budget planning!?!!)

Tom has been able to help Rafael with a few computer glitches they are having, and he and Rafael were getting all excited over "pixels and lumens". We have so much more to talk with them about! So, after the visit to the centre tomorrow, we are heading up to Boquete with them. Boquete is a tourist town about a hour from David, they are going their for a conference. This trip will help us squeeze in a little more time with each other...Not to mention be a lot closer to an opportunity to do something a little crazy for Tom´s b-day...Oh, there will be pictures...



Hola! Long time, no type. First things first...

1) Go turn on a light switch
2) Flush the toilet
3) Turn on the hot water tap
4) Don´t take it for granted

Whoowheee....Was Soloy an interesting/amazing/learning/and slightly amusing experience. No power, no toilets, no real roads...Wait, in all fairness there was a little "light bulb that couldn´t", which was powered by a solar panel, and a latrine out back. Yes, latrine. For those of you who are unfamiliar with latrines, it´s an open pit with a bit of a can (that bugs just love) and sheet for walls. (I said shEEt). When the pit is filled, you just move the can over a few feet. Watch your step!"Little House on the Panama?" It was an amazing experience. The bats flying just above your head during dinner, which was actually appreciated because they kept the bugs at bay, and the giant resident toad left nothing to be desired, well except your bug net at night. Again, whoowhee!

On the first morning we were there, we hiked up to some of the more remote communities. Beautiful, beautiful views. The landscape is just breathtaking. Thankfully, we saw no snakes that were breathtaking. On the hike we met a man who took us to see the local school. It was this old, run down building, with a huge rack of solar panels in the back! They were used, of course, to power the 27 inch tv inside.

The monsoon rains stranded Carli back in San Felix that night, so we were left to fend for ourselves again against the bats and bugs (and local gawking children). We were thrilled when we woke the next morning. We made it through the night!

We don´t need to wonder why one man described North Americans as "delicate".

The next day we ventured out again, this time all by our brave selves. By our selves of course until we made another local friend who was more than happy to show us his "special" rocks out in the middle of freaking nowhere. After I started to realize that these boulders were sacred (the white painted rocks that surrounded them, then the black, black painted rocks that were in the distance really tipped me off), I started to wonder about sacrificial practices and said "Boy howdy, am I tired!!!" (in Spanish) followed by "Tom, I´m scared." (in whispered English). We quickly followed the GPS bread crumbs back to the main ´road´.

In all honesty though, the man was very nice, and the indigenous people are so friendly and proud to show you their beautiful land and share in their community. As North Americans, who have watched too much tv, we weren´t used to this hospitality.

We hitched a ride out with Carli when she went and dropped off the study poop at the lab in San Felix. The two of us then beetled it over to a cabana on the beach of the Pacific. We found an awesome (cheap, cheap) place, with an awesome beach. We were so excited to turn on a light and run a shower. Well, lets not get carried away here. The lights were on until the generator was turned off at 9:00pm, and the shower was refreshingly icy. But, relatively speaking, this place was a resort! This morning we walked along the soft sandy beach, which stretched for nearly 20 kms. The tide was out, so we walked way out into the ocean and carved up our pineapple we bought the night before from the convenience store. It was an awesome experience. Come to think of it though, I´m not exactly sure the pinneapple was for sale, but when we saw it hanging out there all by its lonely self and offered to buy it, the woman quickly came up with a price, which was cheap to us, but she probably hosed us on it. Sometimes things are just a little more expensive for us than it would be if we looked a little more local... (can you believe they charged us a buck for a roll of toilet paper and bag of sugar?)

Today we are back in San Felix, but accidently left Carli´s umbrella in the taxi. I´m pretty sure he isn´t going to come find us to return it considering we drove such a hard bargain with him. Stupid us, walking away all proud of our success for not getting ripped off this time...We are heading to the store right after this to see if we can replace it before Carli comes home from the field tonight. I´m sure the dollar we saved on the cab ride will offset the cost of a new umbrella. It´s not like you need a quality one in the rainy season.

Seriously though...This has been a great trip. We have learned so much, we have experienced so much, and I think we have been doing a good job of making the most of the time we have here. And the time we have here together. When we got back to the house this morning, we found a poking stick and whacked some fresh oranges out of the tree in the back yard and made fresh squeezed OJ. Delicious. Did we mention we have seen pineapple fields, sugar cane, banana crops, and rice fields? In our own backyard, in addition to the orange tree, we have a lemon tree, avocado tree, and some unknown vegetables that are growing in the ground. We are planning on having them for dinner. Tom snatched up two eggs this morning from the backyard chicken coup. I stood on gaurd with a 2x4 stick to ward off any hen that wanted her eggs back. Thankfully, the peace was kept. Eggs for lunch!

By the way, does anyone know if there is a second verse to the Happy Birthday song???