The Olsons have lived in Playa Blanca, Panama for 6 weeks now and are enjoying our final week in this paradise. We’ve experienced some extraordinary activities in the past few weeks that are worth recounting.
A couple weekends ago we decided to quite spending so much money on meals, and learned about Fondas. A Fonda, unlike Henry or Jane Fonda, is a small family owned corner eatery where a couple works behind a cement counter off the side of the road, under an awning of some kind, usually one of the family members is in the kitchen behind the counter stirring a pot. We learned to pull off the hwy, beep the horn twice, jump out of the car and wave at the owners with a friendly, “buenas”, which is short for buenas dias, or buenas tardes.
The blessing of a Fonda, this one is in El Higo owned by Armando and Marlene from Cuba, is that they put chicken in a crockpot at 6am and serve it with homemade rice and beans. We get a little ensalada with the meal on an overflowing paper plate… and it only costs $2.50. We ask for two of them, and a coke to share and our family of four can eat for $6, plus a $2 tip and we are stuffed for less than $10. We like the Fondas in Panama, and every single one is totally different all along the hwy to our home. There’s a Fonda everywhere you turn down here.
Another adventure on the weekend over the past month was going to the local races. We live on a beach called Playa Blanca, near Farallon, Panama in the province of Cocle. One of the cool things near the town we’re in is a “gently used” airport that sits abandoned most of the time. We pulled onto the hwy for a quick Fonda lunch, and found hundreds of cars and semi-tow trucks pulling onto the airport runway. Totally curious, we pulled into the mob of cars and found myself mistakenly driving down “pit-row” where all the stock-cars were being worked on prior to them pulling onto the make-shift race track. Before we knew it, my little white rental Yaris was being waved at by pit crews with orange flags telling me to turn around and pull out of the pit. They waved us over to a viewing area where most of the cars did a hair-pin turn to loop the track. One at a time cars would make their way onto the track, waved on by a local flagger wearing an orange construction vest. It looked like anyone and everyone could race that day. Not that I was going to take our little 4 liter rental onto the track, but if I had my Festiva “Feisty” from back home, like the guy on the racetrack did, I would have totally gone for it.
Next we found ourselves at the end of the road in Farallon near the Decameron Hotel. Literally at the end of the road, on the beach is a small community of homes that are worn by salt water and weather. I pulled the car over and said to my kids, “Hey guys, it’s balloon time of awesomeness with Mr. Twister”. I rolled the window down and asked some kids who were walking by, “que todos ustedes como un regalo de globos?” They ran to the car and I quickly got out and pulled out my balloons from the trunk. As I went to work making some balloons and bringing some joy to kids, many others started running over to the car. It was such a hoot to have a bunch of kids yelling Spanish words at us about what kinds of balloon figures they would like. “Mariposa, mariposa.” We had the best time together making kids laugh and bringing some joy to town for a bit. The cool thing about these kids is the respect they had for one another in the community. The older kids waited for the little kids to get their balloons first, then they would kindly ask for something of their own.
A unique situation happened when an elderly lady walked right up to me, through the crowd of kids, and demanded a balloon animal. She wanted a horse. All the kids just stepped back and let her have her space. I didn’t like the arrogance of this woman being so pushy on the kids, but I quickly concluded that kids give their elders utmost respect here. Funny thing is though, she didn’t say please or thank you to me. I finished the balloon I was making for one little boy named Julio and asked the woman to say please. She smiled and said please. Then when I finished her balloon, she pulled at it, but wasn’t going to say thank you, so I held onto the balloon horse and pulled back a little. I looked at her and smiled and said, “Dice gracias?” and she said, “Gracias” and smiled. It was kind of fun to have the little kids see that adults are supposed to be polite too. What a fantastic day all around. On the way home we stopped at our local panaderia (bakery) and bought 4 of our favorite little strudels that rounded out a great day.
The next morning we decided to take the family up the mountain of El Valle and go on the much anticipated Canopy Zip-line Tour that our church paid for in June, thank you again. We had a fantastic time together. The humidity was high, bugs were all around, but nothing hindered us from donning the full body climbing harnesses, helmets, leather gloves, pulleys and beaners to connect us to the line. We began our walk with Roger, our guide who’s led guided tours for 14 years up there. He slowly led us up the hill, pointing out bugs and termite nests along the way. We got to our first zip out of 4 and were anxious to experience the day. I went first so that I could video tape the kids and Kris coming after me. They all did so awesome. Kade video taped our third zip over the waterfalls (click here). The cool thing about that morning is that it was clear, sunny and humid for our hike and zips, but right when we finished, the heavens opened up and it rained like a monsoon for an hour when we were driving home. It was fun to stop on the side of the road home at another Fonda for lunch. We asked for a shake, so the owner twisted off the top green leaves of a pineapple, cut it into slices and flipped it into a blender, added 12 iced cubes, 2 tablespoons of sugar, some condensed mild, a banana and some orange juice and hit the power button. Absolutely one of the best fresh fruit shakes we’ve had in this country for sure. I sat down on the ledge and made a few balloon animals for some kids waiting for the bus on their way home from school. Another great day.
We have truly had some of the most memorable experiences of our lifetime as a little family of four. There is so much more to write about, so many more people to introduce, so many ways to describe how beautiful this country is after living here for nearly 7 weeks.
We’ve been attending a little church here in Coronado on Sundays and have really gotten to know some great people. Coronado Bible Church is a wonderful group of people who minister to the local community around the west coast of Panama just south of Panama City. We’ve had lunch after church with them every sunday for over a month. A week ago on a Tuesday we met together with a local missionary family with quite a story. Mario and Fernanda Herrera work with Palabra de Vida camps here in Panama and local orphanages taking care of the over 50,000 Panamanian abused and neglected children. It’s quite a story that Mario would grow up in an orphanage himself in Argentina, get married, have two kids and, by the will of God, sell everything they owned and move to Panama on a whim to help orphaned kids here. He met Gregorio at the orphanage near the Tocumen airport outside Panama City when they moved here in June. Gregorio’s story of abuse and pain is so severe that Mario and Fernanda are working to adopt Gregorio out of the orphanage as soon as they can establish residency.
We didn’t come down here to recruit anyone on mission with us, but God has done a work to renew our love for missions, for ministry and care for people. Hearing the story of 50% of the Panamanian population being under the age of 20 and 50,000 of them being neglected, abused and forgotten, our hearts care for the lost and lonely down here. If you’d like to reach out to Mario & Fernanda Herrara, to offer them financial support, or simply to pray for them and encourage them from state-side, I’m sure they would appreciate all the support they can receive. Mario’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are blessed and honored to have the use of Ralph and Kathy Aye’s rental condo and will be ever grateful to them for this experience. You can rent this place out too and find some peace and rest in your life, if not for 7 weeks in a summer, maybe just a week or 10 days to experience the amazing local life and glow of God’s presence in his creation and his people in Panama. We love it.