Panama Vacacion: We meet two fellow peace corps volunteers, Monica and Nicole, at the Hotel Ideal (id-ee-all) and then go for a late dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Napoli's.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Panama: Peace Corps Panama : Web Sites for Panama RPCVs: Panama Vacacion: We meet two fellow peace corps volunteers, Monica and Nicole, at the Hotel Ideal (id-ee-all) and then go for a late dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Napoli's.

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, July 08, 2001 - 12:43 am: Edit Post

Panama Vacacion: We meet two fellow peace corps volunteers, Monica and Nicole, at the Hotel Ideal (id-ee-all) and then go for a late dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Napoli's.

Panama Vacacion: We meet two fellow peace corps volunteers, Monica and Nicole, at the Hotel Ideal (id-ee-all) and then go for a late dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Napoli's.

Panama Vacacion: We meet two fellow peace corps volunteers, Monica and Nicole, at the Hotel Ideal (id-ee-all) and then go for a late dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Napoli's.

Panama Vacacion

7/2/98 - Arrive in Panama city in the evening. The airport is modern and clean. Wayde, my friend in the Peace Corps and reason for visiting the country, meets me right outside of customs. We take a bus back to the hotel in the city for $0.60 each and avoid a $20 taxi. The currency in Panama is the dollar, they call it "balboa" but it is the same old green-back we use in the USA. We meet two fellow peace corps volunteers, Monica and Nicole, at the Hotel Ideal (id-ee-all) and then go for a late dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Napoli's.

The Hotel Ideal.

Back to the hotel and the peace corps volunteers are excited by the hotel as tv and hot water are a seldom enjoyed luxury at their sites in the interior (campo).

7/3/98 - Breakfast at the Coca-Cola cafe. Pancakes, pineapple and coffee. Water too, I drank the water in Panama the whole time I was there and never had any troubles in the lower regions of my torso. After breakfast, a cab ride for $1.50 (the only price inside the city) to the city's TGIF where Wayde and I watched the France versus Italy world cup quarterfinal. France wins in a shootout. Next we go to the airport Patila to buy airplane tickets to visit the San Blas islands, a popular tourist destination. Then a taxi to the Mira Flores locks. Yes, the Panama canal. Eighth wonder of the world? Well, maybe not in my book but it was impressive and all the large ocean freighters waiting in the bay is a testament to the canal's importance to worldwide trade.

The Canal Panama.

Back to the hotel for the second half of Brasil versus Denmark, an exciting game with Brasil winning 3-2. Next, the exodus from the city's luxuries in a crowded four hour bus ride to el campo ($6). Dinner in the town of Ocu at the Punto Ocueno. Then a taxi back to Wayde's humble abode. The taxi took us a couple of miles out of Ocu, to the village of Hatillo, where we turned off the paved road, and traveled down a dirt road for a couple of miles to the village where Wayde is staying, La Cabuya (kah- boo-ya). We dropped off our backpacks, put clean shirts on, and hopped back in the taxi (waiting for us) to go back to Hatillo for the Tamborito. Taxi ride cost $4, and probably 45 minutes. The Tamborito is held at a large roofed concrete pad adjacent to the town's soccer field. The Tamborito is a local cultural event that takes place several times a year. Three men play drums (tambors) while the women, or young women, or young women who aren't too bashful, sing in unison songs known by heart about the heart and its pains in life. The women form half of a horseshoe while men form the other half of the horseshoe (the three drummers are positioned at the open part of the horseshoe) and everyone stands around watching one couple dance. When a man with an eye for the lady on the floor feels that the current dancer has had enough time with the lady, he steps onto the floor and cuts in. Likewise, a woman cuts in when she wants to dance with the man currently on the floor. This goes on for the length of the song, about 5-10 minutes, then the drummers and the crowd take a break. But not everyone takes a break. In between songs, a man takes the microphone and babbles on and on and on about the rising sun, the setting sun and everything that goes on betwixt and between the two transient lights of day. A silence is taboo. If there is an amplified speaker around, something better be coming out of it. Most of the people at the tamborito were either from La Cabuya or Hatillo and Wayde introduced me to many of them. He has become well known in the parts as an environmental educator and soccer player. We stay at the Tamborito, drinking beer and socializing until 1 am and then take the thirty minute walk home. At home, a cold shower (the only kind), a trip to the outhouse, intense silence of the countryside, and then sleep.

7/4/98 - Saturday morning, woke up to rain. A thunderous racket on the corrugated tin roof. Wayde lives in the community building of La Cabuya. Most commonly used for a school for local children, but also used as a Catholic place of worship and a meeting room when the community has anything they need to meet about.

The School

Wayde has one small room to himself, and also has the whole building to himself for the afternoons, evenings, and weekends (and days when school is out). Having the gringo in the school house allows the locals to keep an eye on him. We finally get around to breakfast. Hashbrowns with New Mexico green chile Wayde grows in his garden. And coffee, mmmmh. We sit on the porch and watch the storm patterns, it is gorgeous. After a tough morning of watching the rain and talking about the garden, we don our ponchos and tevas to tour La Cabuya. Pretty much just walking down the road, waving at people who might be sitting on their porch watching us, and visiting some of the locals (camposinos) Wayde has either grown close to, or know Wayde as a teacher at school. We walk by perhaps twenty-five houses and probably stop at five of them to chat. The houses are for the most part meager structures, with two or three small rooms, with palm tree leaf roofs. When they leak, puddles form on the floor. When the rain stops, the puddles dry out some time later. If the leak is above the bed, the bed is repositioned. If a camposino has a little money and lusts for a leakless roof, he can buy a corrugated tin roof, and in addition to keeping the rain out, it is excellent at keeping the heat in during the hot days. If he has a little more money he can buy a tile roof which is the best of both worlds and a seldom seen sight in La Cabuya. Well, the tour lasts for a couple of hours, we missed visiting some people Wayde wanted me to meet because they were out working or sleeping a siesta during the rain.

The Countryside

In the afternoon, we watched Croatia beat Germany 3-2 at the local store. The store was one small room of the owner's house. Wares? Rice, beans, cokes, and crackers. The tv was decent, and the only one in the village, and the reception was okay, and was located in the owner's living room. When you have a store in the campo, your house pretty much becomes free reign for anyone who is ever a customer. Later in the afternoon we walked back to Ocu so I could see it in the daytime. It reminded me of a small town in New Mexico of perhaps a thousand residents and a large central square to walk around and socialize. The most dominant structure in town was a Catholic church. The priest had a toyota landcruiser. Few camposinos had cars but some had trucks that were used mostly for farm work (hauling milk to the pickup location). Early evening, after a day of walking around and seeing the local landscape, a taxi back to Hatillo, for a scrumptious dinner at the home of a good friend of Wayde's, Maritza. The culture is such that men and women do not eat together. So when we arrived, two places were set at the table for us, and we ate our meal while Maritza and her son served us. This treatment made me uncomfortable and Wayde agreed that it had taken him some time to get accustomed to. Following dinner, we walked to the home of another friend, Marybelle and then went to a dance, el baile.

The Baile

The dance was held at the same location as the tamborito the previous evening. As an opening act for the dance band, there was a cantadora. The cantadora was a single acoustic guitarist, and then three men singing solos in turn. The songs were stories about love and life. The band played typical spanish style music for the country. We danced late into the night, took a taxi back to La Cabuya (very atypical) and got to bed at 3 am. Noone in the village spoke english. Except me and Wayde.

7/5/98 - Woke up at 7 am to walk up to the main rode in Hatillo to catch a bus back to Panama City. When we walked by the el baile the band was packing up and there were still a few hardcore drinkers keeping the bar open. The local soccer team staffed the bar and proceeds for the Tamborito and el baile went to the soccer team to buy uniforms and shoes. The soccer team was hosting a tournament on this morning that began at 10 am. Even though I don't know how the team performed, I have a pretty good idea that they weren't feeling 100 percent for the games. We went to the main road, bought a piece of bread and juice, and sat on a bench waiting for the bus. Bus schedules are nonexistent, you catch the bus when it comes. We waited for an hour and a half. Wayde had asked a number of people what time the bus was supposed to come and everyone responded with a definitive time- but the times ranged from 8 to 11. Wayde also asked the storekeeper right across the street from the bus stop, the storekeeper responded with "no demora". This directly translates to "no delay", but in panamanian lingo it loosely translates to "if you wait at the bus stop long enough, a bus will come." The ride back to Panama City was long. The driver stopped for everyone on the road who was just going a couple of miles further down the road and wanted to catch a ride. I suppose these ten cent fares added up over the entire length of the trip but it made the commute much longer than necessary. We checked into the Hotel Ideal for the second time and then took a cab ride to the Metropolitan Nature Park. The park is a tropical rainforest park that is located within (and on the edge of) the city. It was beautiful.

A termite nest in the rainforest

It is a rainforest island within a developed landscape and for this reason most of the larger mammals no longer inhabit the forest. We saw different birds and many insects. The most common animal we saw was the leaf carrying ant. The leaf carriers break off a piece of leaf about the size of an ant, or twice the size, and then carry it in long lines back to their nest where they do .... I have no idea what they do with it. I guess they make a living somehow. We walked the several miles of trails in a couple of hours and saw magnificent and diverse vegetation. Later, back to the hotel where we saw parts of the movies Clueless and Reality Bites, and then to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, El Pomador. There were four peace corps volunteers at the restaurant and then mostly tourists. When we returned to the hotel, we had to change rooms because the leaky plumbing in the bathroom was too leaky and the floor was too wet. We took another room where the leaky plumbing was not too leaky. The only bathroom plumbing I encountered in Panama that did not leak was at the airport, everything else, leaked.

7/6/98 - Woke up at four a.m. to catch the five a.m. island hopping plane to San Blas. The plane left at 6 a.m. A ten seater plane (or so) and forty minute flight from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic and the San Blas archipelago. We deplane on one small island and are taken by boat (cayuko) to the hotel San Blas on another island (Nalunega). For $26 each we receive: a room, three meals, and boat shuttles to whatever islands we want to visit for beaches and skin diving. The ``concierge'' asked us if we wanted one room or two, we said one, he then asked us if we wanted one bed or two, we said two. We eat breakfast at 8:30 (coffee and fresh bread) and then take a nap in hammocks until the first beach trip at 9:30. Tough life. On the crowded small island with us are approximately 100 Kuna indians (natives and hotel owners and boat drivers, etc.) an older couple from Spain, three youngsters from Spain, and two Swedish students studying in Panama City. The first beach trip is great. There are a lot of tropical fish and the sand on the beach is so fine it is actually soft. Back to the hotel for lunch and due to slightly stormy weather in the afternoon we skip another beach and instead visit the Kuna museum. The museum is itself a museum of an old Kuna's idea of how a museum is supposed to be. The guide speaks both English and Spanish and gives a very detailed one hour tour of the small one room museum. The museum cost $3 to visit. Back at Nalunega, we walk around the island and find some men making a boat. They enlist our help to pick up the boat and turn it over so they can work on the other side. The boat is 20 feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide and is made out of a single large tree from the heart of the Columbian rainforest. All hand carved with old iron tools. The finished product will be sold to the Panamanian government for $1200. Dinner and the other provided meals were delicious and home cooked, some of the items were: chicken, rice, potatoes, corn, pan dulce (sweet bread), lobster, crab cakes, pineapple and coffee (instant, ugh). After dinner, we stay up late drinking beer and socializing with the other touristas.

The San Blas Nightlife

An early bedtime, 2 am. During the conversation the American phrase "what you don't know can't hurt you" came up. The Swedes offered a similar one, "what you can't remember didn't happen" with the corollary of "what you don't want to remember didn't happen either." These came in handy the next morning.

7/7/98 - Lazy morning. Yes. Morning snorkeling at Isla Perro, where there is a large cargo ship shipwreck. Really cool. I haven't done any exercising in a week so I go for a long swim and cut my foot on some coral. The archipelago is inside of a large barrier reef. This reef prevents the islands from receiving any large waves or tides (I don't know why the tide thing works out.) Therefore, the island beaches we visit are very calm, almost like an island in a small lake. The waves are about two inches, the big ones that is. Then it is back in the small wooden boat for the ride to lunch.

The Cayuko

Afternoon, we watch Brasil and Holland in the semi-final game on a 12" black and white fuzzy tv in the hotel owner's hut. Brasil won in the shootout, all fans in Panama were pro-Brasil and anti-European, no surprise. Late afternoon we walk around Nalunega to buy some hand-crafts (small colorful blankets called molas.) We discover the men playing volleyball. The only concrete on the island is the volleyball court. They play in their bare feet. Now this was a complete culture reversal. In the USA we love to play volleyball in the sand. They have a whole island of sand, and they play volleyball on concrete. There are three teams in winners rule rotation. They have two referees, one with a whistle. Very formal officiating for casual afternoon volleyball. The Kuna are excellent volleyball players. They are short but can jump high. They bump, set, spike. The whole scenario seems out of place but it is totally cool. We buy a couple of molas, and chat with the locals for a while (once they drop their guard they are a lot of fun to talk to and are interested in talking to someone who isn't a family member.) Dinner, hang out awhile, bed.

7/8/98 - Wake at 5:30 for breakfast and then the 6:30 plane ride back to Panama city. Taxi ride through morning traffic. Gridlock here and there persuades the driver to utilize shortcuts. We end up driving by General Noriega's house. It is a nice looking two story house in a nice neighborhood, but not too fancy and by no means a mansion. The driver says it is rumored to have a five story basement. Where does a drug lord keep his money? In his basement. Pun intended. We also drive by the current president's house. It is of the same style and there are three motorcycle cops outside that apparently make up the motorcaide. Airport, hugs and kisses, plane ride, customs, plane ride, parking lot. Economy parking at O'Hare is $10 a day. Chicago's economy is for the rich, the poor have no economy.

Other Remarks:

Wayde's spanish is very good. He knew little to none prior to arriving in Panama. The Peace Corps immersion program worked fairly well but his real learning came with the patient locals. In addition to the vocabulary and grammar, he also knows the cultural language and phrases of Panama, this was a great benefit to me (and us) during the entire trip. San Blas is beautiful and virgin by modern tourist standards. Money will corrupt this island paradise within the next decade or two. Great vacation!!!! I double exposed one role of film. That is why Wayde's face appears in the screen of the digital oscilloscope at work. I took some pictures of the lab I work in and then used the same role of film during my vacation. i am dumm. Sorry about tense mixing, I rushed, but I hope you enjoyed the page!!! The Kuna. Tons of albinos, it makes you rub your eyes and take a second look. Want more words? And a professional diatribe on a San Blas vacation? Check out the August 1998 issue of Conde Nast Travel. I guess you'll have to buy it unless they put the whole thing on the web. I felt relatively safe in panama. Outside of the city we gringos stick out like a sore thumb and are probably extra safe that way. There is a cultural feeling I sensed that gringos are somehow special and should not be messed with. In the city we were safe because Wayde knew where to go and where not to go, and if we needed to go somewhere where we needed to pass through somewhere where we shouldn't go, we took a taxi. Where said the hare to the bear the bear did scare in the lair-- how rare for a bear to care for a hare in a lair, what did they wear? The americans bombed part of the city and killed a lot of people during the Panama invasion- this is a part of the city that is definitely to be avoided.

Jason's Homepage Jason G. Oakley / Written Sat Sometime Before Now and After Then, CST 1998.

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