Monday, April 9, 2012

Immigration, Customs, and Security

Sunday, April 8, 2012

We all met up bright and early just as we planned.  Ricardo dropped us off at the airport before 6AM.  The check-in line at Delta was very long so I'm happy we calculated in extra time.  At check-in we all had to pay a $2.50 departure tax.  We originally anticipated a departure tax of $20 so we were elated that it was much less than we thought.  After check-in we had to wait in another long line to get through security.  We had to take off our shoes, empty our pockets, remove belts and jewelry, and pass through the metal detector, just as we did with Atlanta's security.  By the time we did all this it was after 7 and our flight was boarding!

B.E.S.T. Boys checking-in at Panama's Airport

The flight was great.  Most of us slept part of the way, or the whole way.


We were given immigration forms to fill out on the plane.  It asked questions like where you visited and why, if you were carrying fruit or vegetables, did you have more than $10,000 with you, and did you have anything to declare?  Once we got off the plane we waited in a long line in order to go through immigration.   The immigration office checked our passports and our forms, asked a couple of security questions, and welcomed us back home. 

After immigration we collected our checked bags and went through customs.  Customs checked our form to see if we had anything to declare, meaning did you purchase anything while you were abroad.  After going through customs we re-checked our bags and passed through security.  Once again we have to take off our shoes, empty, our pockets, and pass through the metal detector.  I could not take pictures of these procedures because they are high security areas.

B.E.S.T. Boys on the plane train at Atlanta Airport

After all that we finally took the "plane train" back to the area where we can once again collect our luggage and meet up with our families. 

Our trip is over but we will remember this experience FOREVER!

We will regroup next week to talk about our trip with our families and to start early planning for next year's adventure☺.

Y.O.L.O. is our motto

sábado, 7 de abril de 2012

Today is our last full day in Panamá and once again we started early. We started early for our small certification ceremony. The Ileri Director, Marianela, gave each boy a certification for their participation in Spanish classes and Volunteering.  Way to go boys! 





Even our B.E.S.T. Academy High School teachers were presented certificates for their hard work!
Good job ladies!
Ms. Vennise

Dr. Malik

After that we hung out then headed to the Zoo.  Our hope was to see a sloth but we didn't.  We did, however, get an opportunity to experience a Central American zoo.  This zoo was not as big or exotic as the Atlanta zoo but it was still nice it also doubles as a botanical garden.

 Be careful, these animals bite!

Ms. Vennise carrying Amadou
This is proof that we happily support our students 100%
After the zoo it rained and rained and rained.  This is the beginning of Panama's rainy season and it does just that, RAIN!  While waiting for the rain to stop we grabbed a quick bite to eat then headed to CoastWay.  Since we got split up last time we were looking forward to having fun together this time.  The teachers rented motorbikes this time,  Amadou got a 4-wheeler, and the rest of the boys rented 10-speed bikes.  You Only Live Once that's our motto!!!!
 Amadou and David

Ms. Vennise 

After a good hour of riding we all had ice cream and headed home.  I gave everyone very specific instructions to make sure they packed everything tonight with only their plane clothes out and read.  I reminded everyone that they should be gathered in front of the school at 5AM.  Our flight leaves at 8AM and since it is an international flight we need to arrive at least 2 hours early. 
Today was a great last day we look forward to going home but we will miss the time we spent in Panamá.

Friday, April 6, 2012


jueves, 5 de abril, 2012

Our boys are just too much.  As a way to say thank you on their last day of Spanish classes they bought their teacher a rose and almost brought her to tears.  She keeps telling me how much she is going to miss them.  She has taught for years but these boys hold a special place in her heart.  I can totally relate, they are a great bunch.  They also bought roses for their host mothers and I know I will be getting rave reviews and phone calls about that!

Caleb`s family requested a family day with him, so he was released to his family for the rest of the day instead of touring with us.  They wanted to spend time with him and he also asked to help his host mother at her beauty salon.  I had a chance to talk to his host father Fernando yesterday and he says they all feel a very deep connection to Caleb.  He reminds them all of a young cousin that passed away a couple of years ago, they think he is a wonderful kid and a gift to their family.  I will fill you in on how his day went on our next post ☺

 The boys in class with their beloved teacher.

 Ms. Vennise & Dr. Malik with their teacher Tikiko

As for the rest of us, after class we went back to El Rey Mall to grab lunch and relax.  I then organized two cabs to get our group to Casco Viejo at the Plaza Catedral.  Casco Viejo is the historic district but unfortunately it is all being renovated. Once we met up there were plenty of souvenirs to buy, the only problem was that dark clouds were moving in.  There were a lot of people at the outdoor fish market.  Tomorrow for Good Friday everyone will eat fish, not meat, as a tradition.  No one will work.  It is strictly a religious and family rest day for all.

 Plaza Cathedral in Casco Viejo

 Indigenous vendor in Casco Viejo

We took pictures of the beautiful architecture and boats that were docked at the nearby port.  Then the rain began, slowly at first.  I was able to get the first group in a taxi then the rain came DOWN.  It came down tropical rainy season style, sheets and sheets of rain.

 Very expensive Condos in Casco Viejo

 Cathedral in Casco Viejo

Cinta Costera.  Look at those dark clouds coming in!
 Finally I was able to hail down a second taxi. The taxi driver had a great attitude and teased us about being wet most of the ride.  We met the other group at the school and headed to our host families.  We are meeting up at 7:30 am tomorrow, we are heading for the beach, this time on the caribbean side. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dancing with the Stars

Classes were a little different today. At 11:30 we packed up our stuff and our classes got on the move.  We walked over to the nearby mall strip and used our interaction there with store personnel and restaurants as our Spanish class.  While there we ate lunch and returned to school just in time for dance class.

El Rey Mall Food Court 

Caleb´s new favorite drink, Chicha de Piña (pineapple juice) 

 Our friends from Bermuda are gone.  We will miss them, but no worries a group from Wisconsin just arrived and they are also cool.  Since B.E.S.T. is all boys and the Wisconsin crew is mostly girls this made the perfect dance class.  Those lucky girls had a chance to dance with the stars.


Our boys learned how to dance Merengue, Salsa, and Reggaeton.  After our dance party it was off to CoastWay.... or is it called Cinta Costera?  The taxi with me David, Jabir, and Robert arrived in CoastWay and we had a great time.  We rented  bikes and rode up the coastal strip that divided the Pacific Ocean.  But what happened to the other taxi with Ms. Vennise, Ms. Malik, Amadou and Caleb?

Jabir at CoastWay on his rental bike

While half of us were bike riding and eating ice cream at CoastWay the other half of us were at La Cinta Costera.  Although they were a little scared they made it back to the school safely and without incident.  The teachers and students put their heads together and got un-lost.  I will post pictures from their journey as soon as I can. ☺

Canta Conmigo

Monday night was a big night here in Panama.  Almost everyone, including our host families, tuned in to watch the finale of Canta Conmigo.  Canta Conmigo (Sing With Me)  is a children´s version of American Idol and the whole country is in love with the 3 semi-finalist.

Here is a link to their website

Here is a clip of the winner being announced.  Watch and see how much you understand.

Congrats to the winner Elainy!!!!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Casa Esperanza

martes 3 de abril, 2012

We started our morning with classes.  Last night was HOT!!!!  We all have the same story of not sleeping well and being stuck to our sheets.  We hope that tonight it is not so hot.  Caleb has been complaining of a head ache and I think it may be from dehydration.  I bought all the boys Gatorades and have been forcing them to drink, drink, drink.  After drinking tons of Gatorade, water, and taking an aspirin Caleb seemed to feel much better.  As classes ended it started to rain and cooled everything down just a little.

We walked over to the corner mall for lunch.  Some of us had Pizza from a pizzeria and others ate at the cheaper Panamanian spot.

 Chicken, salad, black beans, and rice

After lunch it was still drizzling and we walked over to the little mall that has a post office to send off postcards to family in the US.  We will most likely be back home before the postcards reach their destinations.

BEST Boys at the Post Office
It cost .25 cent to send a post card 

Street vendors on our way to Casa Esperanza 

We then headed over to Casa Esperanza for our last day of volunteering.  We are so grateful to Melody, who served as our escort (and teacher) each day to make sure we were safe to and from Casa Esperanza.

   David- Casa Esperanza student

 Daniela- Casa Esperanza student

 Melody (our fabulous tour guide) & Sra. Pereira (me)

Once we got back to our side of town it was time to get back to our host families for dinner and time to relax.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Love Fest

I cannot go on enough about how proud I am of these 5 boys.  The school owner told me today that all of their host mothers have called her to tell her how wonderful the boys are.  They help their moms clean up, they ALWAYS greet them with the customary kiss on the cheek, and most importantly they spend time with their host families.  She says that she wishes all her students would be such great host students.  These boys know they are all that too,  they all stopped by the bakery on their way home from volunteering and bought sweets for their families.  I also want to personally thank them and let everyone know how much they have helped with Grant and Eric, my two children.  My sons now have 5 big brothers that they didn't have a week ago.  Muchas gracias chicos ♥♥♥♥♥!

OK, so back to our day.  We started off with our Spanish classes and chill time with the Bermudans before lunch.  We walked over to the main street and had lunch at a Pio Pio restaurant.  I can best describe Pio Pio as a Panamanian version of Wendy`s.  It rained pretty hard today but that was OK because it help make the temperature feel cooler.

lunch at Pio Pio

After lunch we took the new buses over to Casa Esperanza. 

men playing dominos in the street 

At Casa Esperanza the boys made themselves right at home.  Robert, Caleb, and David went in the room with the younger kids 3-6 yrs old and had a blast singing and dancing.  Amadou and jabir went with the  older kids 9-12 and had real Spanish conversations with some of the kids.

Ms. Malik and Ms. Vennise played  a customized Panamanian Monopoly with 3 very sassy and cute little girls.

Our boys listening to instructions on 
how to play a new game with the little kids. 

 Ms. Vennise and Dr. Malik playing Monopoly with
Daniela, Diana, y Rosana

Specialized Panamanian Monopoly 

Jabir and Amadou chilling with new friends

The best part of today was our return back to our side of town.  Since it was a little cooler than usual our tour guide Melody and I decided to be a little extra adventurous and take the Diablo Rojo back to Ileri.

El Diablo Rojo (Red Devil) is the nickname for the pimped out school bus public transportation.  People pack in there is no A/C and the music ((((BLASTS)))).  You can say a lot about these buses but you will never forget your first ride and you can never say they lack character.   Let the pictures speak for themselves.

We will have the same schedule tomorrow.