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.
Due to computer problems beyond my control, an email announcing my latest blog post was not sent out. This is an interesting guest post about the bee and butterfly farm in Boquete. The post is available and can be accessed here: https://wp.me/pdrVMz-9K Thanks!
Note: I write only of the indigenous people I have observed. The photos are from the Internet, as I am not comfortable filming them or their homes.
My heart really goes out to the indigenous coffee workers for their hard work and living conditions. It seems that all of the housing provided for these workers are long barrack-like structures, most in dilapidated condition. Those nearest me at the time had no doors on what might have been 1 or 2 room accommodations with dirt floors and lacking electricity. I’m told they often have a couple of bunk beds inside and the family members might sleep two to a bed and in shifts through the day and night. I did see some evidence of propane, so there must have been some cooking facility inside.
The men all dress in standard work clothes and rubberized boots, appropriate for working among the coffee trees. The women have a stylized dress (unique to each tribe) and varies only in color. These are true for the little girls as well. The boys all play soccer during the day. When they get older, they too will work in the fields. The women generally are overweight, probably due to their diet. Despite the poverty, they all seem to have cell phones. The central plaza in Boquete provides free charging stations, so it is common to see these people standing around while their phones charge. It’s hard for me to look at these people and see any hope for a brighter future.
There are seven tribes of indigenous peoples in Panamá making up 12% of the country’s population or about 418,000. Two tribes, the Ngäbe and Buglé (sometimes linked together) are the most numerous, living predominately in Chiriquí Province in Western Panamá. Each of these tribes have their own language and they may not know Spanish. If children are educated in a school, they may learn a little Spanish. If they go to school, they generally attend only up to the 6th grade. This may be due to little availability of transportation or even the lack of roads.
In addition to the coffee workers, there are those working in the greenhouses, growing all the vegetables for the country. Some of these greenhouses stretch as far as the eye can see. Since the workers are inside, they are less visible to the passerby. Still, their life must be on par with the coffee workers. It angers me that all these workers are not treated better or given better opportunities. Panamá does, however, give the indigenous some financial breaks, as the country could not survive without them.
I continue to marvel at my experiences living up on the mountain in my yurt. I would not go back, yet there are interesting things I reminiscence about that experience.
One of these is living among the coffee plantations and the indigenous coffee workers. I became acquainted with a man around the corner from me who had recently planted his first coffee tree farm. His plantings are arranged horizontally across a hillside. If you squint at the photo, you might see the tiny rows he has planted. I took the photo from high up on the road. He told me he would have coffee to sell in three years. I would love to go back then, view his progress, and drink his coffee.
His English was better than my Spanish, but we did manage to communicate some. He will eventually end up with rows of mature trees, much like those across as well as up and down the road from me there. Generally, these rows are numbered and display the name of the coffee they will produce. Half of the rows all seem to be the Geisha (expensive) coffee that I referenced in the last blog posting. This coffee originated in Ethiopia, but now grows in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Just down and up the road from my yurt is the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (offices in Panamá City) on one of the highest points in the area. It is a tough walk up and I made it only about 80% of the way but the view was worth it, as well as to see the rows of multiple kinds of coffee trees. This Institute has research centers scattered about Panamá where scientists come to study ecological issues, marine and terrestrial biology, animal behavior, coffee, and more scientific endeavors. The oldest of these centers was created at the time of the building of the Panamá Canal.
There seems to be no end to interesting finds in Panamá. I look forward to discovering more of them.
Fact: Dormant Barú Volcano (11,398’) up the mountain from Boquete is one of the few places in the world where you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at the same time
Petunia. Impatient. Orchid. Or one of some 30,000 other plants. It is the Boquete Flower and Coffee Fair, one of Boquete’s major festivals. This Festival, currently happening, has in the past drawn up to 100,000 people over a 10-day run but, due to Covid, it is drawing a smaller crowd this year. However, I couldn’t tell that from all the people and traffic in town.
Boquete is Panamá’s flower and coffee capitol. There is a large plot of land along the Caldera River which runs through town. Planting for this January Fair begins in May and the plants can be viewed for a few months after the Fair. In mid-April there is a smaller fair exclusively for orchids, as that’s when they are in bloom.
This Fair began in 1950 and ran sporadically until 1971. In 1970, Boquete was hit with a major flood, wiping out about one-third of the city’s homes. Following some much-needed infrastructure to prevent future flooding, the city declared that this Fair would run every year.
Scattered both within and alongside the Fairgrounds are about 200 vendors and businesses selling handmade articles and temporary open-for-business commercial centers. The latter includes the coffee makers, offering their products for on-site tastings and take-home bags of some of the world’s best tasting coffees. Boquete grows a lot of Geisha coffee which sells for about $1,300.00 a pound. Needless to say, I haven’t tasted much of this supreme product.
The flower arrangements are well planned and occasionally creative. Their beauty is spread over several acres with paths for wandering among the displays. The bridge crossing the Caldera River allows for an “aerial” view of some of the displays. Boquete is blessed to have this array of beauty to enjoy for months.
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.