Friday, May 28, 2010

Family Visit 2010

Way back in April my parents came down for a visit. We split our time between Coiba and Boquete. We headed to Coiba from Malena on the western edge of the Azuero peninsula, where Jodi, one of my fellow volunteers lives. From Malena, we arranged for a boat to take us to Coiba for two nights. If you are planning to visit Panama, you should definitely add Coiba to your itinerary. While Coiba is a bit of a hassle to get to, it is worth the effort.

Mom and I on the beach at Grana de Oro, just off the Coast of Coiba Island. Grana de Oro is a tiny island surround by a large reef with crystal clear waters that are prefect for snorkeling. Coiba's waters are filled with a variety of brightly colored fish, as well as sea turtles and sharks.

A view of the ANAM ranger station on Coiba island. If you want to spend the night on Coiba, you have to sleep here, either on the beach or in one of the cabins. The cabins are basic, but have water and air conditioning.

Locked up in Coiba's jail. Noriega was commandant of the jail in 1970's before he became president.

After arriving in Boquete, we took a day trip over to Cerro Punto to hike in Parque La Amistad. The sign says "Umbrellas with Chlorophyl," and is referring to the large leaves on the left of the photo. Umbrellas are common in the rural areas of Panama (despite the insane amount of rain that Panama receives,) and I often see people using a variety of leaves as umbrellas when the rains get too heavy.

Family photo in front of a fountain in Paradise Gardens, an animal rescue shelter in Boquete.

A rescued baby capuchin in Paradise Gardens, Boquete.

These are baby coffee plants that are being grown in a nursey before being planted.

Coffee ready for shipment to the roaster.

Hand sorting of the coffee for quality control before it is sent to auction.

Here I am sampling a cup of Panamanian Geisha bean coffee, the World's Most Expensive Coffee. A pound of coffee retails for more than $100 in the States, and a cup retails for $18-$27.

The evidence of my $9 cup of coffee.

Feria de Cucuá 2010

Hello everyone, here is the next installment of my much delayed blog. Hopefully, I'll catch up soon with my posts.

March means it's once again time for San Miguel Centro' s annual Feria de Cucuá. The Feria is a day of competitions at various campesino activities, and the highlight is the traditional danza de la cucuá . The dance is performed in costumes made of bark from the Cucuá tree and decorated using organic dyes made from local plants. The costumes resemble demons and were traditionally used to scare away evil.

The competition to split the coconuts was fierce. The first person to open three coconuts was declared the winner.

These two men are racing to be the first to peel the bark from the cucua tree, though keeping the bark intact was just as important as peeling the bark quickly.

These kids are from the Cucuá youth group. The boys are wearing homemade Cucuá costumes while the girls are wearing traditional dresses.

This couple is demonstrating a traditional tipico dance. The cucuá dance is only performed in San Miguel Centro, but the tipico can be found everywhere in Panamá.

In this photo, the woman is showing off her pollera, or traditional dress.

These photos were taken during a Cucua practice session for the Cucua youth group.

Each of the costumes is handmade and slightly different. The masks tend to depict demons with the features of deer, wolves, and dragons.

Hike to the Kuna Coast

Hello all!!! I've been quiet here a while, and I know you all are wondering what I've been up to down here in Panama. Well, I've been busy, so I'm going to try and catch you up in the next couple of posts.

Back in February, Mateo organized a hike from his community across the cordillera to Kuna Yala with the goal of joining in the Kuna Independence Day celebration when we arrived. We started off near the border of Panama Este and Darien provinces. We began by hiking into the Comarca Wargandi to the community of Nurra to meet our guide. (The Kuna people live in three separate comarcas which are roughly equivalent to reservations, though the Kuna have greater autonomy and self-governance than the other indigienous groups.)

We hiked the four hours to Nurra where we met our guide, Gaspar.

After lunch in Nurra, we went for a quick swim in the river, and then headed out for another 4 hour hike to our campground.

We camped for the night by the side of the river. My Thermarest proved adequate padding for the stones, while others hung their hammocks between the trees.

We headed out the next morning. From here on our path would take us through virgin rainforest, becuase we were hiking through the Kuna Comarca, it is likely we were among the only gringos to ever see this part of Panama.

Around 11am, we reached the top of the cordillera, and got out first glimpse of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, we still had another 7 hours to go before we reached the coast.

We took this photo of the group using a campo tripod, i.e. a machete stuck in a tree.

Apparently, Ryu is King of the World. The rivers were so refreshing that we stopped every hour or so for a quick swim. On the Carribbean side of the cordillera, the rivers were pure enough that we were able to fill our water bottles directly from the rivers.

Seven hours later, and a slight case of heat exhaustion on my part, we reached the coast. Unfortunately, the boat to take us to the island wasn't there, so we had to spend the next 90 minutes hanging out in the local garbage dump while our guide went for a boat. This part of the jungle wasn't so pure.

I was still recovering later that night when someone asked me to show them how I felt. This picture was the result.

The next day, still feeling exhausted, we got up to join the party. Kuna all over the island were parading through the streets.

Eventually, we ended up at the center of the celebration, the chicha house. This is where the Kuna served their traditional alcoholic beverage made from fermented corn and coffee beans. Caffeine and alcohol, it was an indigienous Red Bull and Vodka. They lined us up in groups of 6 to 8 people, and while the crowd chanted and clapped, we chugged down bowls of chicha.

Nikki joined the ladies half of the house, where instead of bowls of chicha, the women were served chicha in shot glasses made from gourds.

Here's Gaurav, Alan, and Ryu partaking of the bowls.

And another round.

We met a lot of people and made a lot of friends that day. In the front of the picture, is an albino Kuna. The Kuna have the highest rate of albinism of any ethnic group.

We got up early in the morning to catch our boat ride back. The boat took us 9 hours down the coast using it's 40 horsepower engine. We were all on the verge of seasickness for a couple of hours as the boat went up and down 6 foot swells.

Once the boat landed in Carti, we managed to negotiate a ride to Chepo in the back of a pick-up. You can see the effects that the combination of salt water from the boat ride, and the ride in pickup had on my hair in this picture.

The whole trip was an amazing experience, and I recommend it for anyone who wants a serious adventure, and is comfortable with their spanish.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Workin' in the campo

A couple of months ago, my boss Tim came out for his annual visit. He managed to arrive just in to join a junta at my neighbor Gregorio's house. The neighbors had all gathered to dig out the foundation for his new house.

Once we finished for the day, we sat down to pega barba and guarapo (alcohol made from fermented sugar cane juice.)

The sloth crawled down from his tree to watch us work.


So it's been a while since my last post, and I know you all have been craving an update, so here's a brief summary of Thanksgiving: Good Friends and Good Food = A Great Time. A hundred plus volunteers managed to converge on the town of Cerro Punto in western Panama for the annual volunteer feast. Between us, we managed to consume 5 turkey, 3 hams, and countless pounds of stuffing, beans, and pie.

Happy Thanksgiving! (Much belated)

Alan, Andrea, Seth, and Meredith's back sitting around fajita mixins that Alan and some others prepared the night before Thanksgiving as a kind of warm-up stretch for the real festivities the next day.

A few of my fellow EHers: Dave, Meredith, Seth, Zach, and Jesse.

Not really Thanksgiving related. This is a picture of the Novena procession in Quebrada Grande to celebrate Mother's Day, Dec. 8th here in Panama.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happy Birthsecond to Me!

Today, I celebrate my 1,000,000,000th birthsecond yup that's right folks. I was born 1,000,000,000 seconds ago today. Unfortunately, I can't tell you which second it was specifically, because I'm just too lazy to calculate it, but since I was born around 6am, I think it should be around 7 or 8am.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Black Christ Festival

A couple of weeks ago I headed to the Black Christ Festival in Portobelo, and I gotta say if you are ever down here on October 21st you should definitely go. I went with Seth and Nikki who are a couple of my fellow volunteers here in Coclé. We arrived in Portobelo a little after noon, and spent the next few hours wandering around town and sampling the street meat. Portobelo has two of the oldest Spanish forts in Panama, and was one of the major points of transit for Spanish gold as it was leaving the New World. The area surrounding Portobelo is gorgeous, and I believe with a little work from the government, they could turn Portobelo into a great tourist destination. The problem currently is that signage and information describing Portobelos historical importance are lacking. There are a few signs but they mainly give dates and lack historical context.

But that was not why we were there. We were there for the festival, and the festival was amazing.
People make a pilgrimage from all over Panama in handmade purple robes (though most are afro-antilleanos from Colon province.) They walk to Portobelo, and once they reach the town borders, they crawl the rest of the way on hands and knees. Some remove their robes and have hot wax from candles dripped on their back as penance while they crawl. Usually they work in teams with a friend or relative carrying an image of the black christ in front and shouting words of encouragement while another drips hot wax. Some woment crawl with their children on their back or stomach (people crab walk, when their knees become bloody.)

The pilgrims arrive all day until Mass at 7pm. After Mass, the statue of the Black Christ is removed from the church an carried around town in a procession until midnight when the statue re-enters the church. Afterwards, the whole town parties until 3 am. The whole experience was amazing and incredibly. 40,000 people descended on a town of only 2000, and only a handful of us were gringos. The best word to describe it is authentic, you can really feel the emotion and strength of belief from the pilgrims. You get the feeling that this is a celebration by the people, for the people, as opposed to a celebration by the Church for the people.

With that said, on to the photos...

The first of two forts overlooking the harbor. Portobelo is located inside a natural harbor.

This is the second fort and closer to town. People are allowed to go wherever they like inside the forts.

Looking down on "downtown" Portobelo. About 2,000 people live in Portobelo.

Seth and Nikki demonstrating the Panamanian shirt roll.

Sitting in a window of one forts. One of the few places that didn't smell like urine. With 40,000 people and no port-a-potties, the forts did double duty.

A man crawls through the entrance of the church as a woman drips hot wax on his back.

A group of pilgrims in their purple robes enters the church.

The Black Christ himself. Behind him is a statue of James helping him carry the cross. Unfortunately, this photo doesn't give a good idea of the size of the platform he stands on, but its large and heavy.

Worshippers carrying homade idols of the Black Christ. Many of these were carried in front of pilgrims as they crawled for inspiration. It's hard to see, but many were blinged out with christmas tree lights and at least one black light.

These men are carrying the platform that holds the Black Christ. There were approximately 30-40 men per side to carry the platform.

A view from a balcony as the procession marches down the street

What a view to wake up to. Five minutes after waking up, I was swimming off the end of the pier. During the festival, we ran into another group of volunteers who had a friend with a house near Portobelo, and we ended up spending the night at his place. Thanks Humberto!