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.
Fact: Panamá has no military, as it has no enemies, because no country wants to be denied use of the Panamá Canal
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