You will recall my last blog about the November holidays in Panamá. I have asked my friend Myra to be a guest blogger this week, capturing the celebrations as offered by Panamanians themselves. You will appreciate the costumes and dancing. Living on the mountain, I was unable to get down to view these celebrations myself.
A glance back to this past November reveals that Panamá celebrated at least 6 holidays. Panamanians love to party, and any excuse brings on parades and revelry. November may be the noisiest month on the calendar for this country.
Five of these 6 celebrations occur in the first 10 days of the month. History has dealt a full hand to Panamá. The holidays begin on November 3 with Separation Day when Panamanians rejoice that they have shaken off the reins of Colombia. The countries were originally one. The separation is logical if for no other reason than the Darian jungle is a natural barrier creating two jurisdictions. This is probably the second biggest holiday in the month.
The very next day, November 4, is Flag Day, an important piece of cloth symbolizing the country’s independence. Of the world’s 195 countries, 29 have red, white, and blue flags, including Panamá. There are many theories why these three colors are used on so many national flags. One theory is that red and blue are easily obtained dyes, while white is used to be a buffer between the red and blue. A post-industrial theory is that many modern flags are derivates of strong nationalities – Great Britain, France, and the United States. Whatever the derivates of the Panamanian flag, white stands for peace, blue for the conservative party, and red for the liberal party. Each party has its colored star.
Continuing the pattern of one holiday after another, Colón Day comes next on November 5. Colón is a city at the Northern end of the Panamá Canal. The day is important not only for the city but also for the country as it signifies the day in Colón when its citizens stopped the invasion of the Colombian military in 1903. The Colombians were going to march on Panamá City and thus try to squash Panamá’s fight for independence.
Finally, there is a breather of 2 days between holidays. Next in line is Mother’s Day on November 8. This date overlays the celebration of the Immaculate Conception, a major Roman Catholic holiday in religious Panamá. This day is intended to raise up all women, not just mothers. It is not just a religious holiday but a national holiday when all government offices, banks, and other institutions are closed.
November 10 is celebrated as Los Santos Uprising Day. This observes the day when the people of the province of Los Santos revolted against Spain, resulting in the first attempt to separate Panamá from Spain’s control. Although this was not accepted by all Panamanians, it took only 18 more days before an official Independence Act of Separation was declared. This leads to the final November holiday on the 28th officially celebrating Panamá’s independence from Spain. The year 2021 was the 200th Anniversary or Bicentennial Celebration of Panamá becoming a country in its own right. This was a massive celebration throughout the country last year. The town of Boquete built a monument at the head of two streets to commemorate the bicentennial.
There’s no doubt that Panamanians like to celebrate, but these holidays are observed very seriously. Most businesses and offices are closed. People travel to other towns to celebrate, making traffic very heavy and causing roads to be closed or traffic diverted. Historically, it’s a coincidence that these holidays occur in the same month, but it results in a very festive 30 days.
Feliz Año Nuevo! A new year always bring changes. This year is no exception for me. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Advent hymns: Lo! He comes with Clouds Descending or as one of my friends here says: You’re coming down out of the clouds. Yes, I’ve left my yurt to live in the town below.
My residential community was going to become a vacation rental resort and I would have to leave. The day I left, I was told plans had changed and the whole place was going up for sale. There was still no future for me there. I’m now ensconced in a small apartment next door to friends of mine who had alerted me to its vacancy. I miss the beautiful setting I had on the mountain, but I am enjoying being able to walk to most everything in town. I can even stay out past 7 pm (which was the last bus departure) .
Another piece of news is that I made my self-imposed challenge of obtaining 30 followers to my site. In fact, I ended up with 31. My most popular bog to date is Riding the Bus. I hope that this blog will continue to grow and be insightful and enjoyable to you and my future followers. Thanks for coming along with me for the ride.
I’m dreaming of a green Christmas. The song is the same, but there is no snow, no cold, no skinny dipping in freezing water, no ice fishing, no playing golf with black balls. Here in Panamá, Christmas traditions are very similar to those in the North, but without the snow, cold, and ice.
The beloved carols are sung with the same music, but the words are different. Red and green are everywhere; twinkling lights explode their colors wherever a string can be strung; marchers parade the streets; Santa Claus appears everywhere at once; nativity scenes, big and small, proliferate; children tear into their presents.
No, you can’t build a snowman but, if you’re at the beach, you could build a sandman. No, you can’t snow ski, but maybe you could water ski. Hot chocolate is probably not on the menu, but there is the ubiquitous fruit cake. A traditional dinner might be arroz con guandú with pork. Guandú, also known as pigeon pea, is a legume that grows in the Western mountainous region of Panamá. Peas, rice, and pork is one of the traditional Christmas dinners for family gatherings around the table. Another is turkey but without the stuffing and gravy. Instead, turkey slices are covered au jus with mixed or finely chopped vegetables.
Panamanians are not left behind when it comes to eggnog. It is as prevalent here as in the North. You can find it in the grocery stores in plain or high octane versions (rum). These are known as ponche de huevo or ron ponche, respectively.
As if the joyful noise of singing or the ringing of church bells are not enough, a Panamanian tradition is the exploding of fireworks. Panamanians love fireworks and Christmas is another occasion to ignite the wick-like fuses. These fireworks are just the warmup for New Year’s Eve when all hell breaks loose. That’s a whole other story.
Living carless in Panamá means that I get around with a taxi or a bus. Both the local taxis and buses are independently owned; they are the source of income for the drivers. I see as many taxis in downtown Boquete as I’ve seen in lower Manhattan. I suspect that keeps the prices down but also makes it hard for the drivers to earn a sufficient income. Consequently, the drivers try to build a ridership by passing out their business card which lists several phone numbers and a Facebook contact. I have my personal driver I call when I need a taxi (usually evenings when the buses don’t run).
There are two types of buses in Boquete. There are the large Greyhound-like buses that travel between Boquete and DaVID, Panamá’s second largest city about 35 miles south of me. These are comfortable buses to ride, though demand requires the use of some old school buses, also. These buses serve as local buses, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. They run frequently in the early morning and late afternoon, less so in the mid-day. I don’t think they stick to any schedule. I have seen as many as 3 buses arrive one immediately behind the other.
Small, white buses serve the outlying areas (and there are many of these). In addition to the driver, there is usually an attendant who opens and closes the door and collects the fare. These buses are designed to seat 12 people, but again, since the driver is trying to earn the best living he can, he packs the bus as full as he can. He jams 2 people into 1 seat and even adds a box in the aisle for someone to sit on. Panamanians have no sense of personal space and are willing to sit cheek by jowl. Recently, an indigenous woman squeezed in next to me with two children on her lap and began breast feeding the youngest. In my opinion, the most egregious example of packing people in was when the driver asked a small boy to give up his seat, go outside and enter the bus from the back and then lie on the floor under the seats. I am still angry to have witnessed this.
Beside overcrowding, having to wait for a bus is the biggest nuisance. They are supposed to run about every hour, but I’m not sure when they are going to arrive. I have waited between 2 and 50 minutes. Despite these problems, I rather enjoy riding the bus. My bus line serves the coffee and vegetable workers; I am usually the only white person on the bus; sometimes there are white hikers going back into town. Since I live in the only white community on the bus line, they never have to ask me where I want to get off. Once I did tell an attendant where I wanted to get off and he just gave me a look that said it was obvious. On that occasion, some guy in front of me turned his head around so fast I thought he might break his neck. He starred at me for a moment and then turned back. To this day, I wonder what he thought. Did he not know or expect there would be a white guy on the bus? Did he wonder where I was going? Other people in my community either drive a car or take a taxi. I’m all for the adventure of mixing with the locals. I always look forward to riding the bus, except when it is overcrowded.
Living 9º above the equator (or about 600 miles) means that daylight begins about 6:00 am and ends about 6:00 pm. In Panamá, there is no Daylight Saving Time. There is no variation during the year – the length of day and night is always about the same. A typical day begins with sunlight but extends beyond sundown, as sleeping 12 hours a night would be an extreme.
Usually, I am awake before sunlight, whether I want to be or not. I have two alarms clocks which I don’t need to set. The first is the crowing of roosters. I think they are trying to make me into a chicken. The second is the screeching of howler monkeys. The sound of the roosters I knew right off; however, I didn’t know what the sound of a howler monkey was.
My first attempt to decode the sound of the monkeys was hilarious. At breakfast one morning in the hotel where I first stayed, I heard this sound coming from the nearby mountainsides. I asked the waitress if I were hearing howler monkeys. She laughed and said what I was hearing were the sounds of a group of women exercising and singing. So much for my first encounter with the monkeys.
Another element we have here is an abundance of humming birds and butterflies. In fact, Panamá has a larger variety of birds than the US and Canada have combined. I love the plant/tree (?) pictured here: the huge leaves and the unique trunk and roots. Fruit trees are everywhere on the grounds here. One of the fruits I’ve never heard of seems to be a cross between an orange and maybe a lemon; it’s less tangy than either but still delicious.
Waking up the first morning in my yurt, I knew I wasn’t hearing women exercising. What I heard sounded like a small dog whining. On subsequent mornings, I tried to analyze this sound. It wasn’t so much whining as light screeching and occasionally a grunt-like sound. It dawned on me that these were the howler monkeys. These monkeys live in trees and are rarely seen. I don’t know how that is possible, but a Panamanian coffee grower I’ve met said he had never seen a howler monkey.
Once up and about, I usually start writing. There’s not much housekeeping needed in a yurt. Later, I’ll do some exercising and eventually take a hike. I leave the grounds and have a choice of going right or left on the road. Right takes me down a gentle slope with a small hill of two. Left takes me up and down some steep hills. I chose to go left, as it’s a more productive exercise. Around the corner, I stop to see if my coffee-grower friend is up at the road. If so, we manage a conversation between his English and my Spanish, neither of us very proficient with the others’ native language. Along the way, I greet workers and teenagers who traverse the road. They are even less proficient with English, so they don’t attempt to converse.
Often, I will meet an interesting person or two. One day, a man stopped his car wondering what a white guy was doing up in the mountains. He said he was a businessman who split his time between Panamá and California. That’s about as far as we got talking, as another car came along, and he had to move. Another day, I was waiting for the bus and a car stopped and offered me a ride to town. Same story. What is a white guy doing up here? He turned out to belong to a writing group I had joined, though we didn’t recognize each other for two weeks.
By day’s end, the lighting in my yurt is so minimal that the only thing I can do is climb into bed and search for a movie to watch on my laptop. Such a limiting day still has its assets. On a clear night, the sky is filled with brilliant stars; Venus is so bright that I had to Google that light to know what it was (first planet I’ve ever seen).There is beauty everywhere I look, the rainy season makes all vegetation green, and I know there is life just beyond my doorstep.
I continue to gain followers at my site www.TravelSketches.info. As of this writing, I am up to 27. You may remember I had a goal for December of 30 followers. I’m almost there. Can I make it? I’m not sure. I would welcome your help by sending me some new followers. All they must do is subscribe at the site and the posts will just popup in their email boxes, like it does for you. Thanks!
I also want to point out to newcomers that my posts can be seen in their “finished” state if you go directly to the site instead of just reading the email you get. WordPress, who manages my blog, has been unable to get the blogs I upload to look the same in email. I can’t do that, either. I don’t know if anyone can. That’s the weakness of email. Take a look and you’ll see that the layout is a little different, a little more polished, if I may say so myself.
The blogs that have drawn the most reaction are the outside and inside of my yurt. That’s not too surprising, as most people haven’t experienced a yurt. Comments have been: I always wondered what the inside of yurt looked like; you’re the most adventurous person we’ve even known; your whole life is an adventure. I seek new experiences and I am enjoying my life. Stay tuned.
Just what would a yurt look like on the inside? Let me give you a pictorial tour of my previous home (little text).
Is this a candidate for House Beautiful? Far from it. Still, a unique adventure.
The bed is the best object in the yurt – actually a very good bed. The sink is impractical and takes up too much room. The kitchen includes a single burner plate, a toaster oven (a good one), a rice cooker, a coffee pot, and a griddle. I make these work for me. The old refrigerator needs to be defrosted every week or two. The wardrobe is functional. Control Central at 3-feet square for working and eating is totally impractical.
The walls are heavy canvas which undulate with the wind. They are covered inside with crisscross slats. There are two large, screened windows on the side, which each have an external heavy plastic shield that can be rolled up in hot weather. There is a large round daylight “window” typical of yurts. You can see a bit of this in last week’s blog.
Altogether, living in a yurt is certainly a new experience to add to my life’s experiences. I’ll look back on this someday and marvel that I lived here.
I am now ensconced in Boquete, Panamá. After six days in a hotel, I found housing! The amazing story is that I am now living in a yurt way up a mountain side among the coffee plantations. How cool is that? Actually, it is cool in the nights and mornings, but a good comforter solves that problem. I’m at 5260’ foot elevation, about like Denver. The yurt is beautiful, with a separate building for bathroom facilities.
The owner is “everything Gauguin;” Gauguin’s reproduction paintings are everywhere on the grounds, in addition to Gauguin murals on buildings. Five years ago, this was a flat piece of land sloping down to the road. Now it is sculpted land with a home, apartment, cabins, and yurts. It began life as an Airbnb, went to long-term rentals, and now it’s back to short-term rentals.
My first day, I woke up to fog on the mountain tops – a usual occurrence at least this time of the year. As it lifted, I saw that I had a very long-distance view. I’m told that on a clear day I should be able to see the Pacific Ocean and islands beyond. That would be nice.
A little closer in, I had my first visitor – a baby lizard. He came up on my front deck looking for food scraps. Two days later, not finding any, he left and hasn’t returned. Replacing him has been a small sparrow. This bird will come into the yurt and peck around on the floor for something to eat. I thought this was cute and didn’t discourage him. Eventually, he even brought his pregnant spouse. I have had to discourage these visits, though, as they always leave droppings on my floor. So much for having pets.
Up above my front deck, I found that I had growing three bunches of bananas. Perhaps when these are ripe, I’ll have some breakfast already available. There are all kinds of fruit trees on the property. I tried the guava but couldn’t hack all the seeds, so gave up on those. There is a fruit that tastes like a mild orange; it must be a cross with something else. We also have some vegetables and many herbs growing on the grounds. There are some raised beds waiting to be planted.
Boquete is a town of about 25,000, 5,000 of whom are expats Most of the expats here are Americans or Canadians, with many other countries represented in smaller numbers. The town is nestled in a valley (probably a dormant volcano) and extends up the mountainsides. Boquete means a pass in the mountains. It was used by miners traveling through to the California Gold fields in the 1860s. There are many YouTube videos of Boquete if you’d like to see more.
Greetings from South of the Border, way south of the border. I have arrived in Panama, frazzled from complications and lack of sleep. But, I’m here, and my new life has begun.
After 6 days of estate sales and multiple trips to the thrift stores, recycling center, and transfer station, I got rid of everything. I left an empty house, except for those things my landlord/best friend wanted. He even bought my car and drove me to the airport! Anything to get rid of me :).
The first day of travel was very complicated due to the new use of QR codes to exit and enter a country. I was not prepared for this. It took professionals an hour to get me out of Atlanta and another hour to get me into Panama. I have a learning curve to take on with this subject. I had long waits for shuttles, a late plane, but an early arrival. It all worked out, but I needed much more sleep. I got up at 3:00 am to catch an early flight because I forgot to set my clock back an hour. Panama has no daylight saving time.
I met with my immigration lawyer right after getting off the plane and got the Visa process started. I then took a bus up to my new “home town” and checked into an old, funky hotel which I thought was really kool. After 15 days, I got my temporary Visa. It takes a couple of months to get a permanent Visa. The cost for these Visa is around $1600. These are then followed by an e-cedula (only about $65). The “e” in cedula stands for extranjero – foreigner in Spanish. With that, I will no longer need to carry my passport. In fact, I can travel around much of South America with only the e-cedula.
It turned out to be a rough beginning. The big weekly expat event is the Tuesday Market. I missed the first two (I arrived too late on the first Tuesday and the next I had to go to my lawyer’s office to pick up my Temporary Visa). The private expat group (those who took the tour I took) meets on Friday afternoon/evenings. I missed the first of those because I couldn’t find the hotel where this occurred.
By far the biggest problem I had after arriving was the fact that I didn’t have an American phone number. I had given that up. I couldn’t do business with anyone in the US, because I couldn’t accept a security check call. This means I couldn’t access my bank or credit card accounts, in addition to some other businesses. I did get a WhatsApp phone number the first day I got here because most of the world uses the WhatsApp free phone service – that is, everybody but the US. After a month, I solved the phone problem by getting a Google Voice phone number (thank you Melissa!). Now I use that almost exclusively.
This blog is getting to be a bit long, and there’s still so much to tell you. I will continue to do so, reverting to the once-a-week posting on Wednesdays. Thanks for traveling with me.