The elusive Panama hat

I love a hat. I’ve made a couple over the years and gently nudged Deepika to have a hat contest on next Spring during the Easter / horse racing season. So, imagine my excitement when I found out that ‘original’ Panama hats were made in neighboring Penonome.

And, imagine my slight disappointment when I found out that the Panama hats we know, are actually made in Ecuadar. According to Wikipedia, they have been made there since the 1830s, but because they were shipped from Panama to the rest of the world, the name ‘Panama Hat’ stuck.

Machts nichts, I figured we could make the best of it. Above, Edwin is modeling a traditional hat from Panama. And I found a vintage style hat I like that mom is going to take back to Penonome and see if they can make it.

At the artists market in Penonome (mercardo artisinales… i think) there were two stands with hats. You can see from the photos above that the traditional colors are white and black. But, with some different designs. The prices ranged from $20 to $75. I hear in Panama City they can be upwards of $300. The less expensive ones had a less tight weave and fewer color transitions.

Also at the market you could get wonderful fruits and veggies. The mangos (as big as my hand) were 3 for $1. Perfectly ripe and delish. We took Melissa’s suggestion to make the tortillas with brie cheese and Marji’s salsa. Delish.

Beans were less than $1 a pound and you could buy pineapples right on the street.

I also picked up some honey. I like to make multigrain bread in the fall. The large bottle to the right is $4.

If you want meat and fish, you can go inside this buther’s area. Don’t do it if you have a weak stomach. It made me remember I like my meat prepackaged and unrecognizable as a living creature. They also don’t have anything here on ice. I’m not saying that’s all bad, just as FYI.

I also picked up two hand carved wooden platters. The smaller oval one was about $10 and a large round one with handles, the size of a trash can lid and too big for my suitcase was $12. I’m thinking they will be great for serving breads and cheese for parties.

My mom is taking a Spanish class with a large group of Americans. I have to give them a lot of credit. I know how hard language classes were when I was 18, nevermind retirement age.
And finally, I fly home tomorrow. Please pray for no flight delays! American Airlines got me here five hours later than I was scheduled!
Thank you for taking this trip with me and your positive feedback and comments. It’s been fun telling you about Panama. You may get sick of it, because I’ll be back in six months or so. Now, if only I could make a living as a travel writer!

Joyas de Panama; Questions and Answers

The following post does not advocate the use of tobacco products. I don’t smoke, but I also don’t think you are the devil incarnate if you do. So, if you know that anything tobacco related will irritate or cause you to pontificate, might I suggest you not read the following post.

Thank you
– the management

Seriously. Off the beaten freaking path. The Joyas de Panama (outside link: review and description of the cigars) cigar factory is open sided and sits along the side of a beat-down, semi-paved road in a town called La Pintada. An easy 20 minutes or so away from the larger town of Penonome in the province of Cocle.

I don’t know why, but luckily I knew the word for smoke (fumar) which got me a lot farther than asking ‘donde la factoria joyas de Panama’ . Hmmm. I think I made up the word for factory, because that’s another word I shouldn’t know. I make up a lot of words here. My dad does too. But, he just adds an ‘o’ to the end of English words. We both probably sound like idiots. I digress.

Once we arrived at the factory, there were three people working. This young woman was out back taking the tobacco leaves,

flattening it out by hand and then pressing them under these large boards. She told us she also lives on the property.

Inside, just one man was rolling cigars, despite the dozen of tables / desk set up. I asked him if he was the only one working and he said yes. But, there would be more tomorrow (Tuesday).

According to a post I read online, they churn out 22,000 cigars a month — mostly for export to the US, France and England. Mom and I decided that it’s too expensive to smoke in Panama. A pack of Malboros are $1.50. If you are a domestic and make $10 a day, there is no way you can really afford to smoke.

I took a million photos, but I think it’s really neat to watch him handroll the cigar. So a quick little video from my camera:

The tobacco is grown in Chiriqi, about six hours away. It’s dried and brought to La Pintatda for the actual cigar making.

After rolling the cigars, they put them in these molds for a couple of hours. Once out of the mold, they do a final rolling / finish of the cigar” .

Video #2:

The cigars come in a number of sizes. The ones below are ‘Churchill’ sized. According to the article I linked to above, these haven’t been available in the US for the past two years. But, they have a new distributor and will be this fall. Also, the company owner is a woman!

I emailed this photo back home. Get it? ‘Be back soon’

I was asked to bring back a box, because someone told all his friends that he was getting ‘handrolled Panamanian cigars grown from Cuban tobacco seeds with wrappers from Nicarauga’.
I also got a pack of five for my boss. Because, well, I’m on a two-week vacation and I’d like to keep getting those leave slips signed. The box of 22 was $40. I saw them online at 25 for $73. ]

Next post on the artists’ market in Penonome where they have the original Panama hat and some other cool stuff to see.

Questions: *sorry if I miss one*

Dana asked if Panama was a recent thing. My parents aren’t from Panama originally. But, they decided to retire here last year after hearing all the great things about Panama. Stable economy, good health care, low cost of living, low labor costs, four hour flight from Floriday, no hurricanes, and they use the US dollar as thier currency. It’s had it’s good and bad, but I’m choosing to enjoy the good!

Padme asked what options are here for vegatarians. Vegetarians will do quite well here. If, you can stomach that the broth in your soups are probably made with chicken stock. In Panama City there are a several vegetarian restaurants. Lots of fresh food markets, well stocked grocery stores too. To me Panamanian food consists mainly of root veggies and a small side of meat. So, leave off the meat and you’ll be fine. Also, there are A LOT of Chinese restaurants — better and cheaper than I’ve had at home. Today on our drive, we saw a Lebanese place and there are three Hindu temples in Panama. So, there are vegetarians around.

Wildlife. There are a lot of different birds here. I, really, cannot stand birds. They have freaked me out ever since one was caught in our chimney and flew around the house until my dad caught it. That was 20 years ago and I still shudder. There are also lizards and plenty of things that make odd noises in the night. There are also snakes, which I haven’t seen, but I hear tale of them.

Barbara asked if I take anything to eat food when I travel. No, I don’t. And I lived to regret it in Ghana last summer.

Nancy K. asked for a definition of ‘fug’. I’m just as embarassed to tell her. But, let’s say ‘freaking ugly’.

Less sewing, More Panama

… at least that’s what a non-sewing friend emailed me yesterday.

So, my Spanish is limited to the present tense, four verbs (I want, I have, I need, I like) and four adjectives (more, less, smaller, bigger). Today mom and I went to a Spanish-only church. I had to concentrate very, very hard to understand the service. One, because I don’t speak Spanish. And two, because the church is along the highway and has no windows and no doors which makes it really loud and distracting. Especially when you only understand 3% of what’s being said.

After services everyone walks outside to greet each other

As some point, the speaker was talking about how some man named Pedro had fallen from the heavens to earth. I kept thinking, “who the heck is Pedro? What am I missing here? Is this the mission story? Seriously, who is this Pedro guy and what does he have to do with Christ?” Finally, I turned to my mom and said, “Who is this Pedro?” and she looked at me and said, “Peter. It’s Peter.” Oh. Right.

Same thing 30 minutes later with some cat named Pablo. Turns out that’s Paul. doh.

The teenagers met outside next to the church

After church we grabbed some more mangos to try out Marji’s salsa tomorrow. We also got lunch at another fonda at the bottom of the mountain.

They were smoking beef and sausage outside for grilling later.

They also had chicken tamales all prepped to be served.

I had sancoche for lunch. I asked mom what makes it sanchoche instead of just plain soup/sopa. After thinking for a minute, she said you add peas and that’s soup. But, root veggies (potato, carrot, yucca) make sancoche. And, they called it sancoche too back in Carriacou, Grenada, WI too (where she is from).

I also had corn empenadas stuffed with beef and mashed fried green plantains. These are not sweet like my Jamaican father makes. Rather, more like potatoes with lots of salt. I ate mine with ketchup and hot sauce. I eat everything with hot sauce.

My mom not trying to be today’s model.

Tamale unwrapped

While we were there, they were prepping for a big party tonight. They were making pork with a dry rub.

Monday I’m driving to another town called Penome. I hear there is a cigar factory there (joyas de Panama) and I want to get a little gift for the cop. I also hear that they are the home of original Panama hat. Could not be more excited to see the hats being made. Of course, this is all just rumour and conjecture at this point. I asked several of the neighbors if they had been / how to get there and they were like, “You know you can get cigars in the mall, right?” Right….

Oh Happy Day!

This morning someone asked me why I would come all the way to Panama to sew clothes when I could do that at home. I told them it’s no different than travelling to play golf or sail. I could do all those things at home, but it’s my hobby, it’s what I like to do and it relaxes me. Besides, I haven’t had time to brush my teeth the past couple of months nevermind sew for fun.

After taking Judith’s advice, I pinched coffee from an expat neighbor. That’s when the Colonel (mother) decided to give up the goods and told me that coffee is in fact easily available. A five minute walk to the local fonda and I had my 35 cent cup of Panamanian Duran Coffee.

I can’t remember the last time I spent less than $1.25 on coffee.

These guys are gardeners and were getting their breakfast. Rice and yucca. We went back for lunch today (before the six hour power outtage, lol). Soup, rice and beef for two. Our bill was $3.25. A lot of the Americans here spend gobs of money running back and forth to the City for ‘American’ food. I actually like the local food. And, it’s dirt cheap. Last week my mom got a grocery bag of mangos for free. They were just falling off the tree along the road. I’m going to try my hand at a mango cobbler this weekend.


There are several things I forgot about Panama. First, my parents don’t drink coffee. So, next time I have got to bring a coffee maker or a French press.

Second, is that the manequins here have the most ridiculous boobs I have ever seen. Like gravity defying, scientifically-impossible big. Here’s what I’m talking about:

These are from regular clothing stores — yes, plural. Not at Love Craft or something. Not in the red light district. In the mall! Ridiculous, right?

On a plus note, I found a new fabric store in El Dorado Mall in Panama City. Actually, there were four fabric stores in the mall. The linen ($6.95 a yard) below is the same as a skirt I bought in Australia three years ago. Just a different colorway.

Some pretty eyelets too. I needed a knit lining ($1 a yard) to make up a skirt while I’m here.

You know what else I found? Retin-A for $17. Without a perscription. That beats the $120 it costs me back home (not covered by my insurance). I actually use Retin-A micro, but for less than $20 I’m willing to give this a shot.

I’m Back Baby, I’m Back

…and it’s so frickin’ cold here I want to cry. Flight came in at midnight and was home around 1:00 a.m. Which was not too late for me to stay up and watch three missed episodes of Project Runway.

Before leaving Panama, I completed an apron for a hostess gift to my mom’s South African friends whose home I sewed at. Yes, there is a large ex-pat community there. The Colonel (my mom) is modeling.

Instead of narrow hems (haaate narrow hemming), I made a bias binding old school. No rotary cutter, no tape measure. Just me, my shears and some serious eyeballing. Yes, that’s some left over Merimekko.

Overall, lovely time with The Colonel. I would like to point out that she pinched my second favorite spring jacket from the February 2007 BWOF. I’m not bitter…. I’ll just have to make another.
And of course we went back for the buttons and some assorted notions the day my flight left. Twenty Five cent fabric covered buttons!!

I’m taking a public pledge:


And after that


And, at West Coast PR Weekend, no more than $200 spent. Period. You hear me Caroline G , Nancy and Christina? You will have to be my conscience. To ensure this, I am only taking cash. No credit card. One of you may even need to carry my cash. There. I’ve said it out loud. Now, I have to stick with it.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with my collection and want to sew it down. I love fabric. I’m addicted to fabric. But, I have tendencies to waste and spending. When I travel to second and third world countries, I feel like this. People all over the world make do with so little and I’ve just got a lot of *stuff*. So, I just need to feel in control of my *stuff*.


You remember when you were a kid and at church they would give a ‘mission story’? It was always set in some remote part of the world where there was no church and folks were meeting in metal sheds? Or your church was organizing a mission trip to someplace where they were building a church? Well, I went to that church today.

My mom’s church meets outside on the porch of a church member. The house has no running water and lights were supplied by lightbulbs plugged into extension cords that dangled from the ceiling. They are saving up the $6,000 needed to purchase land for their own church.
There were about 25 members there today and one bilingual person. Hermano John translated for a solid three hours.

My mom purchased a bilingual bible with the thought it would help her Spanish. I did the scripture reading today in Spanish. Have no doubt in your mind that I butchered it something awful. But, I figured they could follow along just fine.

I was a little slow to photograph the highlight of the morning. During song service a herd of cattle was making its way down the dirt road the house backs.

Finally, some fabric shopping

Here’s what’s really really cool about Panama City. At one mall, four differnt fabric stores. For me, I have a Joanns about 15 minutes away, and two indies about 30 minutes away. Imagine a world where there are four fabric stores (and this doesn’t even count the notions store) in one mall.

I also found a Spanish edition of Burda World of Fashion magazine. It’s the August edition and new to thier shelves. I took a peak inside and see that the Spanish edition still has beauty tips and recipes. What’s up with that? I also noticed that the directions on the pattern come in Italian, Portugese and Spanish. I think ours are German, French and English, right?
Back to the fabric. I wouldn’t say there are fantastic bargains to be had in Panama fabric. Polyester is prolific at low low prices. The ‘good’ stuff is pricer than at home. They promote Guartamalen cottons and fabric from the US, Italy and France. But, fabric shopping on vacation is about getting your fiber fix and finding your souvenir.

I’m really excited about these three! I squealed like Bobby Hill when I saw the print on the left. Even my mom recognized it as my Gorgeous Fabrics print. The ones on the left are a sheer poly something. They need a wash to soften some (I hope). Will be great as a funky big sleeve summer blouse. I got three yards of each at $1.50 a yard. The polka dots on the right ($5 a yard) will be the lining for my tailored suit that I’m going to start when I get home.
Claudia (above) did my measuring at cutting. I’ve been wanting to add more yellow to my wardrobe. Also $1.50 a yard. If you’ve ever been shopping in New York, the stores are stacked just like that.

I fell in love with these buttons. I didn’t buy any because they came in about six different color combinations and I just could not commit.

As I mentioned a bit earlier, there is a seperate store for notions. Zippers range between 50 and 75 cents and ribbon a quarter to 50 cents a yard. We were in a huge hurry today or I would have bought many many zippers. Gutterman thread also at $1 for the medium size spool. Next time I’m coming with a list of the colors I don’t have!

The View

I’m still on vacation until next Wednesday. Now, I’ve started on curtains for my mom. I thought I would show the amazing view I’m working with.

The pool (not ours. mom’s place is very messy so we’re sewing at a friend’s.) sits out on top of the mountains.

Go no further if you are faint of heart with bugs and stuff…..





This beetle (the size of my Blackberry) was sitting in the kitchen sink the other day. I was defrosting chicken and wondering what that brown thing was.
Once I caught my breath, I asked one of the workers to come in and take it out. There went 15 minutes of my life. Cured me of tropical living I think.

La Playa

The only thing I have to report today is that it’s about 90 degrees here and the beaches are beautiful. Not a lick of humidity wityh a nice ocean breeze (we’re on the Pacific side of Panama).

Mom and I drove down to Gorgana beach today. The sand is black and the water beautiful. It’s not Grenada, but I’m not complaining. I tried to get in a real swim since all I’ve eaten since getting to Panama is rice and fried chicken.

Pollo con arroz, $2 at the corner market by the house

Pollo con arroz, $2 at the corner market by the house

But, the lifegaurds kept blowing thier whistle everytime I got far enough out that the sand wasn’t filing my nails.

On the way home we stopped at a roadside stand and bought oranges and tangerines. A dozen tangerines and 20 oranges for $1.50 US. Don’t question why Americans and Europeans are flocking to Panama for retirement.

Yesterday, mom picked the ripe lemons from the tree to make me lemonade. We’re also waiting on the bananas to grow. Hopefully before I leave!

Oh, and check out my mom’s neighbors. Originally from China, the Wu’s are building a house, a hotel, a furniture store and currently own a hardware store and cement factory — all on the same property.

I thought it was pretty cool how they took the concrete to replicate a Chinese style home.

Tomorrow will be spent reading “Atonement”. I want to see the movie, but since the book is almost always better, I figured I should get on that first.