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Boquete on the Rocks

Boquete, Panamá, haven for North American and European expats (ex-patriots) has gained worldwide attention for being a superb retirement community. Former residents of many countries have flocked to Boquete for a new life. The reasons for this include a moderate climate (yearly average 70º F), clean air, no hurricanes, and sometimes a lower cost of living.

Expats, however, arrived late on the scene in Boquete. The town is nestled in a valley with mountains rising on the sides. As such, it was a pass through to reach more distant lands. Miners going to the California Gold Rush of 1868 often stayed, but they found no gold here. There were no roads in the early days; most people traveled by horseback. The district was founded on April 11, 1911, but people have existed in the area since about 600 BC. This is evidenced by petroglyphs in the outlining community of Caldera.

There is evidence of even earlier habitation. Anthony Ranere from Temple University conducted an archaeological survey in western Panamá in the 1970s. What he found has astonished not only archaeologists but also general history buffs and inquisitive people. Outside Boquete, Ranere excavated a site which came to be known as Casita de Piedra, a natural cave-like indentation in the mountainside. His discovery shows this structure had been used for thousands of years for domestic life and work, as well as for shamanistic practices.

A natural cave-like indentation in the mountainside
Casita de Piedra – HuffPost.com

In 2007, Ruth Dickau, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Exeter, arrived on the scene and discovered a cache of unique stones. Below these rocks was a piece of charcoal radiocarbon dated to be 4800 years old. A similar fragment was found in the layer above which was dated to be about 4000 years old.

Carbon dating further indicated the base of the rock shelter showed this area had been used about 9000 years ago. The way these rocks were placed, as well as their composition, suggests they were used by a shaman. If so, this would be the earliest material evidence of shamanistic practice in lower Central America, according to Richard Cooke of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panamá.

It is a known fact shamans used rocks and crystals in their practices. These rocks were often unusual in some way. Some of these would have been quartz, pyrite, and magnetic minerals, carved or uncarved. This evidence shows the Boquete site was most likely to have been used by a shaman.

Quartz, pyrite, and magnetic minerals

Why these pre-human beings gathered crystals is still a mystery to modern science, but it is possible to deduce crystals had some intrinsic value for these people, and if they were making cave drawings, they had a spiritual life and, if they had a spiritual life and, if they gathered crystals too small for use as tools for manipulating objects, the crystals may well have had a spiritual or energetic value to them. [attrib. to Richard Cooke, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute]

Crystals are more than a power object for the shaman. He and his practitioners believe these are living beings from the spirit world and they transmit energy for healing and can affect a change from negative energies such as sickness to health.

The receivers of shamanistic knowledge were hunters and gatherers living off the land. They gathered fruits, nuts, and roots and captured animals and fish. These people progressed to be herders and farmers. Farming is an indication people moved from finding food to growing food. This occurred some 10-15,000 years ago, a significant practice which is still primary for survival.

Expats have made their mark on Boquete, but Casita de Piedra shows a handful of rocks are an even bigger mark for the town. Even though this excavated site must remain in seclusion for its protection, just knowing the importance of its existence puts Boquete on the map.

Fact: Boquete is home to Barú Volcano National Park
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Behind the Scene in the Boquete Library

Boquete is blessed to have a wonderful library, thanks to a generous doner and others who raised over a million dollars to construct a 3-story facility. It holds the distinction of being one of the few lending libraries in the country. Until coming to Panamá, I thought all libraries loaned out their books. Such is not the case in Panamá. I find this hard to comprehend.

Boquete Library building

There are more than 40 libraries and branches in the country. The largest is the National Library of Panama, a branch of the Ministry of Education’s library system, with over 200,000 volumes. The Biblioteca Pública Morales has 280,000 volumes, while the University of Panama library has over 267,000 volumes. All of these libraries are located in Panamá City. Lastly, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa has 44,000 volumes.

The Boquete Library has a growing collection of books. As of 2020, the catalog totaled over 26,500 books, with 30% being in English. There are also a few holdings in French, German, and Italian. This library is so much more than books. The intent is to have a place of pleasure and discovery; it is not intended to be a research library. Books are taken to the local schools for children and youth to use.

Children's library

The facilities offer a meeting room and hall for monthly rotating art exhibits, classical music series, and community talks. There are English classes for both children and adults and story times for children. There are computers throughout the library as well as Wi-Fi being available for personal computer use. Books can even be checked out via the Internet and picked up later.

Library shelves

When an architectural design for the library was created, it was modeled as a cross between a lending library and a Barnes and Noble bookstore. This meant the space would be bright and open, allowing for a comfortable and welcoming mode. This has proven to be true, as the number of users and patrons is high for the size of the community.

The Boquete Library is often ranked as the best public library in the country. Residents of Boquete are proud of their library as they should be.

Fact: The Boquete Library was the first lending library in Panamá
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At the Chocolate Factory

Once again, I have asked my friend Myra to share with us one of her recent posts. She has been in Boquete longer than I have been and gotten to places I have yet to visit. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel, so I welcome her post which I think you will enjoy:

Please visit Myra’s blog at https://gayle54.com. Thanks, Myra.

Fact: Chocolate is big business in Boquete
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Panamá Has a Desert

A desert in Panamá. Doesn’t that seem contrary to tropical living? Yet, a desert does exist and the worst thing about it is that is man-made. The desert is now a national park, a contrast to the Ecoparq of an earlier post.

A northeast portion of the Azuero Peninsula has been stripped bare from over grazing and cultivation for thousands of years. What had been there were coastal forests and mangrove trees. This vegetation was chopped down in the 20th Century to allow for farming. Unfortunately, the loss of trees caused the soil to be blown away and farming was at best difficult to sustain. The Azuero Peninsula is the driest region of Panamá, and this desert area has higher temperatures and less rainfall than even adjoining areas. The rock pictured was split due to heat.


https://recorriendopanama.com/
cracked by the heat

Fortunately, this area has become the Sariqua National Park in an attempt to revive the land. It consists of 20,000 acres or 18 square miles on the Pacific Coast. It had once been covered by the sea and remains a salt-encrusted land. What mangrove trees remain at the edge of the park serve as breeding grounds for shrimp. These shrimp have contributed to the renewed growth of vegetation, which has slowed the loss of soil due to winds, rains and tides. Sariqua might be more correctly called a salt bed than a desert.

Sarigua is likely to be the oldest, pre-Columbian settlement in Panamá. The area was settled by fisherman 11,000 years ago and was a farming community from 3,000 BCE to 500 AD. There still are remains of ceramics and tools used to farm.

This land was farmed until the 1900’s when the devastation began. Eventually the farmers had to move to greener pastures. The land they left remained devastated for decades until recently. See nature’s attempt to revive the land in this 6 minute video:

People come to this sad-looking park to see the beauty in eroded valleys, the salt deposits, quartz, and volcanic rocks. What they also see is a park on the mend with flocks of pelicans, and 162 migratory birds that have stopped on their way to somewhere else. With the slow growth of new trees, forestation is taking over where it once thrived and now this land is beginning to show a new life.

Fact: There are 16 national parks in Panamá
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Some Panamá Romance

Laura Ann Neuleo. Messages to Jake. Author published, 2021 Romance          Softcover, ISBN 9781736349205; ebook

The villagers in Almagro worry about Emma living by herself. But between teaching English, the arrival of HIV testing, and monitoring a mysterious path by her house, loneliness isn’t on her mind. Nonetheless, she experiences moments that trigger thoughts of home—in particular, text messages she used to receive intended for a stranger named Jake.

When Emma discovers that Almagro has cell phone reception, she tracks down Jake’s friend via unexpected help from a villager. Meanwhile, Jake, a third-generation American with Panamanian roots, confronts his past and learns about Emma. After failing to get in contact with her, he heads to Panama.

Emma and Jake develop feelings for each other, but Maya, a villager who resents Emma, gets in the way. To complicate things, Jake has a history of leaving, and Maya holds a secret that affects all three of them.

Will Jake leave Almagro because of village conflict? Can Emma and Maya overcome their differences?

Messages to Jake is a novel about love and loss, secrets and trust, and the danger of assumptions. It showcases the beauty and struggles of living in a rural village, and the challenges of health care in a developing country.

Laura Ann Neuleo. Messages to the Mule. Author published, 2021 Romance          Softcover, ISBN 9781736349229; ebook   

With her boyfriend gone, Maya is offered a choice: join a South American drug cartel or risk the cartel entering her village of Almagro. Treacherous months hiking through the jungle and lonely nights sleeping on coconut husk mattresses ensue.

Maya knows the cartel’s weapon is to use relationships as a threat. Despite that, she makes a friend, visits Almagro, and develops feelings for a fellow mule-all while banking on the trustworthiness of those she encounters. Meanwhile, scenes from the past reveal information about Maya’s first love.

While she struggles with loving a new man after having lost another, a revelation happens that could upheave her life as a mule.

Will Maya succeed in keeping her relationships a secret from the cartel? When faced with life and death choices, will she be able to resist leaving Almagro’s residents out of the drug lords’ hands?

Messages to the Mule is a story about forbidden love, the power of choice, and discovering self-worth under oppression.

Two other Panamá fiction works can be found here.

Fact: 7 books about Panamá have sold over 10,000 copies each (see: https://bookauthority.org/books/best-selling-panama-history-books)
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How Does the Panamá Canal Work?

What is your conception of the Panamá Canal? Many think it is a slot of land which has been dug out from one ocean to another. It’s true that it goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean or vice versa, yet it is anything but dug out. The Pacific Ocean is nearly 8 feet higher than the Atlantic Ocean. Ships can’t travel uphill or down, so a series of 12-18 locks (depending on lanes used) were built to raise and lower the ships. Here is an animated video of this process (see the first 1:32 minutes):

or perhaps you would like to take a real ride through the Canal:

The Canal is 85 feet above sea level. Ships take 8-10 hours to travel through the Canal; each lock takes 8 minutes to fill. The Chagres River supplies most of the fresh water needed to keep ships afloat. Each ship displaces about 52-million gallons of fresh water to the oceans. Nearly 1 million ships to date have passed through the Canal.

WorldAtlas.com

How does the Panamá Canal compare with other canals in the world? Panamá’s is not known for its length (51 miles) but for its construction. By comparison, the St. Lawrence Seaway is the world’s longest natural waters passage at 2,342 miles. The Grand Canal of China, 1,103.5 miles, is the world’s longest man-made canal. The Suez Canal is 120 miles long.

The Panamá Canal is what makes Panamá famous. Not only ships but also a swimmer have made this Canal known.. It is one of the busiest waterways in the world. About 15,000 ships pass through the Canal each year. An average of 38 ships use the waterway each day. How much money does the Canal produce? Panama’s GDP is approximately $68.5 billion with the Canal taking in about $2 billion a year in revenue, of which approximately $800 million goes into the country’s General Treasury each year. Still, the Canal overrides everything in the Country.

History.com

The Canal is important not only to Panamá but to the world. Ships no longer have to cross through the dangerous Cape Horn of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago at the tip of Southern Chile. This saves about 8,000 miles, 12 less days of travel, and a large amount of money not spent. Most countries of the world make use of the Canal. Panamá has reason to be proud of the canal, while at the same time profiting greatly.

Fact: 12,000 lives were lost building the Panamá Canal (mostly from cholera and malaria)
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Afternoon at the Ecoparque

Afternoon at the Ecoparque – Uploaded 5/11/2022

I’ve asked my friend Myra to share her recent blog with us. We in Boquete are blessed to have a wonderful park for all ages to enjoy. Please find her blog at:

Check out Myra’s blog for more on Panamá: http://www.gayle54.com. Thank you Myra!

Fact: Chiriqui Province has Panamá’s only volcano (dormant) at 11,398’
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Chiquita and Oil

Downtown Shoreline

For all of Panamá’s 1500 miles of coastline, there is only one actual beach town. That honor goes to Puerto Armuelles, situated on the western end of the country near the border with Costa Rico. Other Panamá towns are near the beach, but none are actually on it.

Puerto Armuelles is named for Colonel Tomás Armuelles, a hero in the Coto War, staged in the 1920s. This war was fought between Panamá and Costa Rico over a small piece of land. Panamá won the war but then 10 years later returned the land to Costa Rico.

Carmen’s House

The United Fruit Company arrived in 1927 and really built the town, laying the street grids and building houses by the thousands for its workers. It created a class structure as company towns do. The workers’ houses were built on stilts to escape the dampness and bugs (picture the movie The African Queen). The executive’s homes were large and painted every color available, giving the town a unique flavor.

United Fruit Company was the first company to use refrigeration during open sea transport and then gave their bananas the unique name of Chiquita. They introduced the brand in 1944 and advertised it with a catchy, calypso beat jingle which made it a household brand name.

That brand name was registered three years later and is still known today.

In 1990, United Fruit Company changed its name to Chiquita Brands International and expanded into ready-made salads, and health foods. The banana was still the queen, however, noticeable by the little stickers on the bananas. These stickers began to appear in 1963 and are still affixed today by hand so as not to bruise the bananas.

About this time, the workers began to strike and carry on activities harmful to the company. In 2003, Chiquita Brands sold out to a cooperative of local banana farmers, but these farmers seemed not to know how to run a company. They faltered and Panamá began negotiations with Del Monte Foods, who eventually took over. By 2018, the company was employing 20,000 workers in 70 countries.

When Chiquita Brands left Puerto Armuelles, the town’s population was cut in half to about 23,000 and, by 2010, it had fallen another 2500. All is not lost, though. The banana industry continues, but now there is oil flowing in and out of the community.

The other industry in Puerto Armuelles oil transporting. As supertankers became larger and larger, they could no longer traverse the Panamá Canal. Supertankers coming from the Mideast and elsewhere found the Blue Ditch, a small island about 6 miles offshore from Puerto Armuelles. Because the depth there is great enough to accommodate these large tankers, storage tanks were erected and the crude oil subsequently off loaded onto smaller tankers which then went through the Canal.

In 1982, the search for a better way to get the oil across the country resulted in building a pipeline. It runs from Puerto Armuelles to Chiriqui Grande in the province of Bocas del Toro. The pipeline has to go over the continental divide, so pumping stations are needed along the way. Not only does the pipeline get oil from the Pacific side of Panamá, it reverses to bring other oil from the Atlantic side of the country. Seemingly never being satisfied, the Canal began construction to accommodate the large supertankers, resulting in two ways for oil to cross the country.

Such is called progress. Panamá has become the leader in Central America through its economic policies, as well as the hub for shopping and international flights. Currently, Panamá ranks ahead of its neighbors in its drive to become a stable and progressive Westernized country.

Fact: Panamá is outside the hurricane path
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Thanks to Barrie Thomson, Jr. for suggesting this topic.

A Note to My Subscribers

Because my blog post was aborted last Saturday, WordPress.com will not send a second notification for that post. The post, “The Day Panamá Changed the World,” is available at my site: www.TravelSketches.info Click on blog and it is the first post. I apologize for the trouble. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about this matter. I appreciate you reading my blog weekly. Without you, there would be no point writing it.

Warren

The Day Panamá Changed the World

Were you to guess that it was the Panamá Canal with which Panamá changed the world, you would be right. However, you would be a little late in time. Of even more importance is the fact that about 3 million years ago, the isthmus of Panamá rose out of the sea and connected two continents. From this occurrence rose one of the world’s great natural events, the evolution of plants and animals migrating between continents. At the same time, this land bridge also brought about two distinct marine ecosystems, separating the waters into two oceans.

The years 1910-1912 saw the beginnings of study on the tropical biology of the Panamá Canal area. Scientists set about establishing a base for the natural environment which was about to be torn up with the building of the Canal. Specimens were then sent to the U.S. National Museum to preserve a bit of ecological history. From this was born, in 1923, the Institute for Research in Tropical America made up of private industries and universities.

Stri.si.edu

This evolved in 1946 into the Canal Zone Biological Area under the aegis of the Smithsonian Institute. This is still based in Panamá, now known as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), where researchers are studying biodiversity and human culture throughout the tropics. Now almost a century later, the Smithsonian in Panamá is breaking new ground on the study of tropical forests and marine ecosystems and their astounding biodiversity. Pertinent to my former neighborhood up in the mountains, the Smithsonian, in collaboration with the University of Illinois, is also studying one of Panamá’s treasures – Geisha coffee.

Journalist Michaele Weissman’s God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee (2008) is an elaborate study in itself. Much of Central and Northern South America make claim to having the best coffee in the world. The inside cover of Weissman’s dust jacket poses three questions:

Geisha Coffee Beans – Pinterest.com  
  •  Can a cup of coffee reveal the face of God?
  • Can it become the holy grail of modern-day knights-errant who brave hardship and peril in a relentless quest for perfection?
  •  Can it save the world?

She answers her own questions by saying, Yes to all three. God can be found in a cup of Panamanian Geisha coffee, as it sells for about $1300.00 a pound or $75.00 a cup! Climbing the Smithsonian’s hills, I saw row after row of Geisha coffee trees. There are also many rows of other coffee trees. Clearly, there is a comparative study going on.

Geisha Coffee Tree – Seriouseats.com

Today, the STRI has a staff of 40 scientists, while playing host to some 1400 visitors made up of students from undergrad to postdoctoral and tenured professors. There are some 350 research projects taking place in facilities across Panamá, though most are located in the Canal Zone.

Score another important kudo for Panamá. It’s no longer a sleepy little country. It has coffee to keep it awake.

Fact: 10,000 plant species reside in Panamá.
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