Monday, March 28, 2011

The elusive Quetzal and an elated hiker!

Our trip to Guadelupe (Cerro Punta) was a huge success, not only for the chance to enjoy some cooler weather ( it is about 40 degrees in David today with a very high humidex) but also because we were able to see these beautiful birds at very close range. Our guide agreed that to be able to see a Quetzal couple as they prepared their nest was a true and relatively rare privilege. The male quetzal in these pictures was busy pecking out a hole to allow his partner to lay her eggs. The wood chips were flying. We first saw the female but by the time I got binoculars and camera ready, she had left. The couple takes 3 days to build the nest and then the female lays 2 eggs. They take turns caring for the eggs until they hatch. The little ones then stay in the nest for about 2 months, according to our guide. The quetzals form a couple for the duration of their lives. Apparently they choose trees like this one that have a smooth exterior and that give off a certain smell that attracts the quetzals, similar to the way pherenomes (spelling) work for attraction between humans and other animals.
We met several very serious birders while at the lodge..they were actually quite funny to watch and listen to as they described their wait to see the various birds that inhabit the tropical forests of Panama, as well as their search for the perfect picture. The names of  birds they could say before the birds flitted off to their next perch was quite incredible. I am afraid that we appeared to be real amateurs compared to the others. Thank goodness they left with a private guide as I think we would have disturbed their birding activities. I can say that my Pentax binoculars that the health service staff gave me as a my parting gift are a great tool each time we hike into the tropical forest. Thanks again everyone!

Hasta la proximas

Jennifer en Panama

prize winners

These huge beasts were really something to see. And with their handlers sleeping nearby in their hamacs there was not danger they be stolen.
I did not really mean to send 2 of the same picture, but that is the nature of this blogging business.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

La Feria

Last night we went to the feria de David one more time to see the sites and buy souvenirs. Imagine a mix of the Calgary Stampede, Festival Western de St Tite, Old Orchard  and La Ronde, with a little of the Foire Agricole de St Hyacinthe and the Toronto Exhibibition added. Then to top it off, mix in a lot of really loud music, mariachis and a few Latino crooners, and you will get a flavor of the Feria!It has been going on for over 50 years, bringing in millions of dollars for the City of David. People swarm to the fair grounds which are basically opened 24 hours per day! The streets leading up to the Feria are lined with kiosks selling everything from cell phones to sausages and brochettes. And every kiosk also has loud music blasting from its sound system.
Last night I saw huge cows and oxen that are there to compete. The men watching the animals sleep in hamacs hung behind the pens and stay there for the 10 days of the fair to make sure these valuable beasts do not get stolen. Apparently some of them are worth millions.Several of the animals have many ribbons above their stalls as they are the prize winners I saw a lasso contest wherein cowboys come riding out of the stable and try to lasso a little calf who is running around the arena with terror in his eyes. Bull fights are not permitted here in Panama so this is the closest legal thing. There are cock fights here but not at the feria thank goodness.
Due to the Feria and the Wild West atmosphere that has permeated David for the last week, I had a visitor sleeping under my window one night last week. My room gives onto a cement wall that is the remains of an abandoned house next to ours. There is about a 2 foot space between the wall of my bedroom and the wall of the other house. I heard leaves rustling under my window a few nights ago and thought it was an animal, so went back to sleep. However the next morning I heard loud snoring coming from outside my room. Thinking it was coming from another room in the house I proceeded to prepare for my daily trip to Nutre Hogar. The snoring however got louder and louder so I walked outside and to my surprise found a man sound asleep under my window....did he fall asleep with visions of sugar plums in his head after peeking into my room, or was he recovering from a night of festivities at the Feria. I hope the latter, but I admit that I am not too thrilled that anyone can come to camp in the space under my window. And I wonder why they do not use the abandoned house next door...they could have it to themselves!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baile Typica and El Dia internacional de la poesia

These pictures are from the Feria de David where this group of children performed last night as part of a cultural celebration. And we too, las damas Canadienses, were surprisingly part of the entertainmnet!
Last week one of our group accidently met a woman here who is very involved in the local arts scene. She  speaks fluent French and Spanish, so when she heard what we were doing in David she invited us to read some poetry and perhaps sing a tune in French, as part of the international day for poetry. Did you know such a thing existed?
Anyway ,we agreed and several read some poems, mine in English, and then we sang two songs: Vive la Canadienne and Mon Pays (Gilles Vigneault). I have no idea if anyone had any idea what we were doing, as we were in the middle of the Feria (a big La Ronde) with music blasting nearby. But anything to promote culture, n´est-pas?
I have to say that the culture lady was a real caricature...she made me think of Mrs. Tiggywinkle the way she was built and the way she pattered around the room! That will give those of you who know Beatrice Potter a picture of what I mean.
Las Damas Canadienses, as we are now called here, will also be performing a Quebec square dance (danse carre) next week at the Feria, while some of my colleagues will also be dancing a Baile Typica with several of the residents at the Asilo (old folks residence, or CHSLD) where they have been volunteering. It should be quite a spectacel, flags and all!!
Today is a national day of mourning (dia de duelo) for the death of an ex vice-president who died on Saturday. He was well respected for his fight to promote democracy, and was apparently active at the time of Noriega´s reign here and the subsequent invasion at which time Noriega was ousted. It is a privilege to be here and to live alongside the people at times like this.
Hasta luego



 Local colour as you walk the path in Isla Bastimentos
 Town on stilts
 We saw many huge  star fish while at Bocas des Torro
 Roots restaurant is a local place on Bastimentos where they serve delicious Caribbean food for a great price.
Wizard Beach..a 20 minute hike through the rain forest. Mitch knows this place. The waves are quite big and there is a big undertow with rip tide. But it was fun to play in the waves after the hot hike. There are quite a few surfers around. apparently living in the many hostels and small hotels that dot the village.
We took a local lancha to get to Bastimentos (this is where Christopher Columbus stored his supples when he came to Bocas de Torro. They have kept the name.) There are no cars on the island, only a narrow  foot path through the village and then on to the various beaches. It has a very Jamaican flavour and the locals speak a patois called Gauri-Guari, a mix of Jamaican English, Spanish and Ngobi. It was a pleasure to hear the children speaking as they played in the pathways. The houses are very colourful as are the plants that grow everywhere. And to add to the mix there are the usual dogs, hens and ducks in front of most houses. Music blasts from many different places, making up a cacophony of sound that is wonderful...if you like the combination of reggae, rap and steel drums.
Michel tells me that he loves Bastimetos and I can understand why. It was hard to leave after only 4-5 hours. There is magic in the air. If we had walked further we could have arrived at Red Frog Beach, named for the many tiny poisonous red frogs that live there. But we were happy to enjoy the surf for a few hours, and after yesterdays long hike we were in for some R&R, Jamaican style.
We have really enjoyed our time in Bocas del Torro. For anyone wanting to see a different part of Panama that is very unique in its sights, sounds and local colour, it is highly recommended.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

stray dog, flat tire and a long walk

Yesterday 3 of us (las mujeres muy desportivas) walked 16K to Playa Drago on the other side of this island. As we started out an old white lab, who I named Old Yeller, started following us, despite our coaxing him to go back. He must have walked about 10 K with us, panting and showing signs of severe hip dysplasia. We finally found water and he lapped it up, regaining some energy. But there was no way he could finish the walk without collapsing which we did not want to happened.  We were able to flag down a garbage truck and beg the driver to take the dog back to town. It was a feat getting him into the cabin as it was really high and he had no strength to jump.  The guy put a huge tree stump at the door and then hoisted the old dog up. It was really touching to see him in the cab, almost smilimg with relief. We all felt relieved as well as he had found a place in out collective hearts.
Continuing our hike we arrived at the Playa after 4 hours, feeling great relief...the walk had been on asphalt although through a beautiful area where we heard and saw birds, and other wild life. Today my right hamstring is a bit sore but otherwise I am OK. Walking along the beach at Drago was soothing as the water was shallow enough at the shoreline that we could take off our shoes and soothe aching feet. We walked to Playa estrellita where there are big starfish. A swim in the Caribbean was all it took to refresh before the bus trip back.
I have included a picture of the bus driver repaing a flat tire on the way out. He did it in about 5 minutes with a lot of help from various passersby. That is the Panamian way...always stop to offer aide. The people here are very warm and friendly.
Today it is spitting rain but the clouds seem to be lifting and we hope to  go to another island and try some new beaches.

correo en David

I had to share this with you...if any of you are waiting for post cards coming by snail mail you might wait a long time! Last week I tried to buy stamps and was told I had to go to the bank to buy them which I did. People here do not have visible addresses and street have few names. So few people actually receive mail at home. At the bank I bought 10 stamps for 1 dollar (Balboa) each. I was surprised but figured it made sense given the poor mail system.  I was told that the mail box was around the corner. I finally found it the enxt day and happily slid 3 cards down the shute. I alos noticed that there was a post office on that street...go figure! The next day Luce went to mail her cards with the stamps I ahd bought. She was told they were useless and would not pass. They are apparently for bank documents. So I am back to sqaure one....I do not think any of the cards I mailed will end up at their destination, as they are most likely in the dead letter bin. I will send others that I hope will arrive before I do, especially for Noah and Evelyne.


Friday, March 18, 2011

A room with a vista hasta ma Puerta en Boca Brava...La vue de ma chambre

When did you last wear hair rollers?

I could not resist this pic as we waitied to board our LANCHA for Bocas de Toro. This lady was the clerk that we registered with to get on the boat. What a picture!

celebrations and other news

We have barely got over Carnaval and now it is La Feria Internacional de David..a 10 day fiesta of animals, plants, crafts and other things including rides for children, etc, etc. There is even a queen of La Feria. So we have been treated to firework displays which Panamaneans love....they have fireworks for birthday parties that are as big as those at La Ronde (digne de la competition international des feux d,artifices). They love a celebration. The presuident of Panama himself, Martinelli came to inaugurate the Feria.
Because we are in Bocas de Toro for the weekend, we are missing the most anticipated event of the Feria which is the Calbogata......a happening that invovles thousands of horses with their riders, galloping through town for this exciting event. Given the everpresent danger of getting crushed by a car in David where there are few stop signs and only one traffic light in the city, I am not sure that I am sorry to miss the spectacle of that number of riders on horseback taking over the streets. Panamanians love horses and they can be found everywhere. There are 2 in my back yard. For the last week, the owners of these horses have been practicing for the annual lasso contest at the Feria. They have a little wooden horse that they practice on as well.You could say it is a little like the Far West.
We drove up to Bocas over the mountains for 4 hours. The roads are better then in Costa Rica in most parts, thanks to the United Fruit Company and the need to move bananas out of this area. Then we took a boat ride for about 20 minutes to finally arrive here in what is a bit of a frontier town. The people here are a mix of native Ngobe, Caribbean workers who came to work on the plantations and Spanish descendents. It reminds me of Belize. A different culture than the rest of Panama. We are staying at the Bahia hotel which was the headquarters of the United Fruit Company in about 1904. It is a big wood structure that could be right out of a plantation. The people here speak a dialect of Guari-Guari that mized English, Spanish and Ngobe. Fun!!
Tomorrow we will be hiking across the island to a beach that is supposed to be beautiful.

Hasta Luego

Jennifer en Panama

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Children in the park

We have created a precedent with our daily outing to the little playground. Every morning when Luce and I arrive, there is a group of little ones all dressed with caps and shoes, ready to go outside. They follow us around as we do the chores of bathing the others, washing cots and anything else that needs doing. It is absolutely amazing to see them..they do not talk a lot, but they know exactly what they want to do. And other children are joining the club, wanting to be dressed with shoes and hats, even if they can only watch and cannot go out because they are too young. They just want to be like the big guys. I wonder what happens on the days we do not they wait around all day dressed for an outing?
Today, was the 4th day we went outside. I see that Henry and Martina can climb up the rope ladder with little help and slide down with more confidence. I hear more words and laughter when they are outside. Even Henry who is virtually mute is starting to make little sounds as he listens to the words and sees the birds and animals, buses and bikes pass by. being outdoors seems to free something inside these children.

Boca Brava (Chicas at Boca )

A brief correction..we were at isla Boca Brava on the weekend, which is about 500 meters by boat from the town of Boca Chica. I did not mention that two of my friends saw a coral snake, very venomous, cross their path on the way to the beach. Luce was able to get a picture, while Lyne ran screaming in the other direction! When she showed the picture to the locals they were very surprised that one was seen, because they are usually in the underbrush and not on the paths. Whatever, it was there and apparently a sign of good luck. So they bought lottery tickets yesterday!

Since Monday I have walked miles trying to find the only existing museum here....Museo de arte y de Cultura Jose Olbadia. Anyway after many hours and asking directions three times (my Spanish is getting better) I found it! It is an old abandoned building that was donated by this guy´s family in 1979 to the city of David. But it is comletely abandoned and apparently to be restored. I was able to enter, walk up the broken stairs and into the rooms, all the time wondering if I was going to fall through the floor. A beautiful garden was out the back and I could see men working to restore the park across the street. I will return to take a picture of this old building that was the home of Jose Olbadia, the founder of Chiriqui province. If any of you are reading Panama guide books, this is the museum mentioned in them as the only historical place of interest in David. They need to update their information.
Speaking of abandoned buildings, this is a phenomenon that I have oberved throughout Panama....people leave their little homes to be taken care of by the weather as they move out into other residences. So there is an abundance of empty derelect buildings that are gradually being eaten by the vegetation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

chicas en Boca Chica

Hola...hoy es sabado y somos en Boca Chica, une pequena isla en el Golfo de Chiriqui.
This is paradise compared to David. We are at the only hotel on the island, and had to get here but bus-taxi-boat, but the water is wonderful and the hotel comfortable and open to the air, the wind and of course the ocean. I just awoke from a siesta in a hamac overlooking the bay. Que bueno! The best is that the room I am sharing is only costing me 15$. And supper will be fresh fish and hopefully a glass of white wine. I have to say there has been no wine or coffee to speak of since I arrived in David. The family I live with drink a lot of special juices mixed with milk ( a liquid milk shake) as well as a lot of soft drinks. So It has been mainly water for me. I have got used to the water here and am pleased to report that so far it has agreed with me (you will know what I mean).
The tsunami has not affected this area, although the news was concerning. So here we are, enjoying a welcome break. As we walked through the forest to get to the beach today, we saw a family of about 20 Howler monkeys, sleeping above us. I think we will hear theirs calls tonight and early tomorrow morning.

Friday, March 11, 2011

fun in the park and cockroaches

Today is Friday and I have been in David for 2 weeks. If the Tsunami warning is lifted, we will be heading for Boca Brava tomorrow to spend 24 hours on the island and finally see the ocean. The six of us will be sharing rooms and sleeping in bunk beds which will be a novel experience.
Today I was thrilled to take four of the children out to play at the park outside their residence. I chose Henry, Jessica, Angela and Marie Lise because they are the oldest and the easiest to supervise in an open area. It was as if they had never been outside. They walked carefully around, picking up sticks and picking little flowers, pointing to a bus in the distance and a car that passed by. Slowly, they went to the old swings and then asked to be lifted up and swung...none of them really knew what to do and I had to show them how to hold on. None of them knew how to slide down the slide. These are children who are about 4-5 years old, but their growth is severely stunted so other than Henry, they are tiny, like one year olds. None of them really talk but point and make sounds. Some of them will repeat words that sound similar to the real word. The equipment is old and most of it broken but they had fun anyway . For 30 minutes they were able to soak up some sunshine and fresh air. After that the extreme heat really makes it hard to stay outdoors. Only Henry ran around, the others walking tentatively with very serious looks on their little faces. It was so good though to hear one little laugh with pleasure when she was pushed on the swing. Because inside I have heard little laughter.  I hope to renew the experience next week. And maybe there will be a volunteer from the local community who can come and repair the existing equipment.
Today I found my first dead cockroach in my room... there are always many in this hot humid climate. People here put mothballs in all their drawers to keep cockroaches away. I discovered that on my first day when I wondered why my clothes smelled of moth balls. I had put all my things in the dresser drawers only to see that it was full of moth balls. What a smell....I had it on me all day. So now I hang things up and have piled everything else on a shelf.

Hasta luego.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I could not resist the colorful pinatas in a local store in Boquete. They are filled with candies for birthdays and then smashed by the children with a bat.
Yesterday was Tuesday but the final day of Carnaval so everything was closed. We hiked again for the third time in Bpquete. The hikes are steep and hot but we are keeping fit . This is the fodd basket of Panama, more particularly the province of Chirique is where most of fruits and vegetables are grown on big farms in the mountains.
Potties drying in the sun at the place where I volunteer. In the morning there are about 12 many little bare children as there are potties, sitting on them in the bathing room waiting for their is quite a site!
aquacates del arbole en nuestro jardin/avocadoes from the tree in our garden

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nutre Hogar

I am finally back at this internet cafe after several days of busyness. Yesterday we once again hiked in Boquete, a mountain town about 1 hour from David, where there are nice trails and beautiful scenery. It was good to get out and see the country, although I am getting good at getting around by bus in the busy, confusing city.
5 mornings a week I am volunteering with another woman at  a nutrition rehab center. For reasons of confidentiality I cannot send pictures of the  children, but I would love to be able to show the look in their eyes. there is such a look of sadness and in some, emptyness. There are all very beautiful children who are a delight to be with. I soemtimes think that there bodies are being nourished but wonder about their souls.
This place has about 40 children, mostly native, who are in various states of malnutriton, which in many cases, has stunted their physical and intellectual growth. They are far from their families and so spend a lot of time alone in cribs, waiting to be fed and cared for , and starving for the few minutes of attention and affection that the staff can give them when they have time. Our help seems to be appreciated as there is a never-ending list of things to do, the least of which is changing the many wet cloth diapers that the children go through. When the work is done we try to get to the playroom to play, cuddle and sing to the children that can go there. Many of the younger and weaker ones spend hours in their cribs, and once picked up for a cuddle, scream when put down. There seems to be a lack of arms to hold and touch the children. A program of holding and doing infant massage would be great here as would more time and equipment for reading, playing, building blocks and just normal developmentally appropriate play. There does not seem to be a local volunteer group who provides a regular presence so I wonder what happens when after seven weeks we also leave. The work that is done here is very important, and the fact that we are able to help even a little bit is rewarding.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Up to the elbows in ·········!

Today is the second time I have gone to Nutre Hogar where I am volunteering 4 hours a day. I am getting good with the bus route to get there and I love the ride,,lots of noise, school children getting on and off . There are 40 children at the centre, mostly native and showing grave signs of malnutrition and lack of stimulation. They are starving for lack of human contact, their families unable to care for them and them living in an institutional setting. But there are lots of good intentions and much work for us to do.
Who would have thought that I would be washing stool- filled diapers upon retirement! But that is what I did today, after feeding 3 children a mix of cream and cereal, then washing about a dozen alongside the employees. I then went into the LAVANDERIA and spent an hour emptying and washing dirty diapers before soaking them in javel. It is easy to compare this with what is done at home, but I am not sure that when you get down to basic needs there is not much difference.
David is a big city so I look forward to the times I can get out to the country to actually enjoy the beauty of this country. I am hoping that the family I am living with will be able to go to the ocean one day as we have discussed. They do not have a car so everything takes a lot of organizing. I realize that I am very fortunate to be with them where there is lots of family live and much communication. The other women I am with are in more quiet homes where there are mainly adults. There is no hot water in most homes here so I am getting used to a brisk shower.
In our back yard there are 2 horses and some chickens. Alanis, the 6 year old loves my binoculars so yesterday we went outside to use them to look at the horses and the huge avocadoes hanging high in the branches of tree in their yard.

 still cannot get pictures to work so willt ry another time.