The evening of October 10th we could hear lots and lots and LOTS of cars honking down in town. It was a weekday evening so it was odd. I sent a What’sApp message to Lesia, owner of the Vista Grande apartments and she didn’t know what was going on either.
The next day we found out that Panama had qualified to go to the 2018 World Cup Soccer for the first time. Now the celebrating made sense.
At midnight that night, President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela tweeted that all public and private businesses and schools would be closed the following day for a National Holiday. The people getting the holiday loved it if they knew about it. Unfortunately the announcement was very late and many people didn’t get the word. I heard tales of children showing up at school only to find out it was closed.
I’m told that workers who did work were paid 2 1/2 times the normal rate because it was a national holiday. Folks take their soccer seriously here!
When we were in David on Thursday, there were already t-shirts for sale on the side of the road for the event!
Bocas del Toro is an archipelago (group of islands) at the northeastern part of Panama, very close to the Costa Rican border. This is an extremely popular tourist destination even though you are seriously warned not to drink the water (which also means not to eat anything that is washed such as raw vegetables and to avoid ice). Unlike other tourist areas like Granada Nicaragua where the nicer restaurants or ones that cater to tourists which use filtered water for drinking and ice, we didn’t see/hear of any in Bocas that did that.
We were extremely careful not to drink unfiltered water and not to use ice or eat raw veggies. I would have thought I got the amoeba infection there anyway except that the incubation period is much longer. (I did try literally a single drop of homemade hot sauce in a restaurant a few hours before I got sick but that wasn’t the cause if it truly was an amoeba infection).
While I didn’t get to enjoy anything other than walking around, Dan went on an all day catamaran ride where he snorkeled and saw starfish (and got sunburned). We had planned to go on a bio-luminescence tour one night but couldn’t because of the diarrhea. By the time I was well enough to consider being on a boat without a restroom for 2 hours, the moon was out again so you wouldn’t be able to see the glow.
Other common activities in the area are bicycling (we did do that-me once and Dan several times), fishing, shopping the locally made tourist items, and the like.
To get to Bocas, you go to Almirante, a small town on the mainland. As you arrive into town, there is often a person on a bike who offers to show you where to park and get the taxi (for whatever you tip the person). You park your car in a gated lot for $3 per day (not 24 hours so if you arrive on Monday and leave on Wednesday, you pay $9). From there it is a short walk to the water taxi that takes you to the island for $7 per trip per person or $10 round trip (if you do a better job of keeping up with your receipt than we did, LOL). That ride is about 30 minutes and the water taxis run every 30 minutes from 6 AM to 6 PM. The ride was fairly calm both ways since you are in a bay area.
Food is pretty good and not outrageously expensive. We had excellent seafood, usually Corvina which is a very mild sea bass.
The weather was mild with afternoon rains most days.
The drive to Almirante was verdant with rural, poor, windy, hilly roads, and was very pleasant. There are places where the road slumps several inches with no warnings. A lovely drive but quite long given the distance is only 180 KM (111 miles). It is supposed to take just over 3 hours but was really closer to 5, including a 30 minute stop for a bite to eat. Not sure why but many of the indigenous Guaymi peoples’ houses in this area are on stilts, in the mountainous area of the drive. (We did see clothes drying under some of the houses but don’t know if that is the reason for the stilts.)
Volcan is a lovely area about an hour and a half from Boquete. It is known as the Little Switzerland of Panama. It is a little higher altitude than Boquete and about 1/3 fewer people. It is more agriculture related and cheaper to live. The temperatures are similar to Boquete, 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. We went there on September 15th which is the first day of their fall festival. We didn’t want to be in the crowds of people that would be there the next day for the parade however we did see quite a few float type decorations at various places along the road.
We couldn’t see the top of Volcan Baru, the highest point in Panama (11,401 feet) because as usual it was overcast. Baru is close to Volcan.
Volcan Baru, 11,401 feet, highest point in Panama (photo from TripAdvisor)
When we arrived in David on 7/4 we had passed by the Portugal Circus. I had a mild interest in attending but not compelling enough at the time, especially with Dan having allergy issues.
Well the circus came to Boquete this week. It is a small affair, one ring only. People only, which was fine with me; I hate to see animals caged up.
I won’t say it was exciting but it was a pleasant 2 hours.
The single trapeze artist did everything while he swung with his head cradled in a little Stnd, upside down. No daring flying through the air but he did juggle rings on both legs and both wrists at the same time while he was upside down. He also juggled 3 balls very briefly while upside down as well.
I had as much fun talking to 4 new to the area expats as circus. They were two couples, one formerly from Florida, the other from Georgia. Expats make up about 10% of the population so you run into them quite a bit.
But back to the circus, it also had clowns (not in white face paint), 3 motorcycles racing around the inside of a ball at the same time (probably the only slightly tense moment), and other various acts.
At one point they had any young children who wanted to come up to the “Frozen” movie characters and get a hug. Lots of kiddos did this and seemed to really enjoy that. “Frozen” was the theme of most of the music. All of the music was prerecorded…of course in Spanish. (Did you ever consider that your/child’s/grandchild’s favorite Disney movie was in other languages? We hadn’t!)
Oh, and of course it was ALL in Spanish! The announcer had a wonderful deep voice but I could only catch a few words here and there since he spoke very rapidly. But you didn’t need to understand any Spanish to figure out what was happening.
I learned to drive in New Jersey and thought I knew what aggressive driving was. No way!
We rented cars twice and within an hour of driving, I knew that Costa Ricans forget about their national saying “Pura Vida” when they get in their cars. “Pura Vida” refers to the relaxed, easy going lifestyle here.
Once in their cars, many are in a hurry: speeding, tailgating and passing, AND the passing is done on curves, no-pass zones, in the fog…anywhere they think there is enough room to get by. The only plus is that often the vehicle being passed is going v…e…r…y slow.
Oh, and many roads are narrow, with steep gutters, sharp curves, and lots of one lane bridges on country roads.
Leave lots of time to get to your destination and let your travel days be very flexible days.
During one of our outings while we were in Nicaragua we went to a nice market in Catarina which is near Granada. The place was clean, neat, and not crowded while we were there. You could purchase all kinds of things there, including art work. I got a kick out of the ones below. These folks know how to multi-task!
Other artwork we saw in a restaurant at Charco Verde Reserve and other places can be seen here. You can see that the style is somewhat similar. A few of the images are just to show you who the artist is.
The first 11 Quaker families first came to Costa Rica in 1951 from Alabama because four Friends had been jailed for refusing to serve in the Korean War and the families were seeking somewhere they could live in peace.
Costa Rica had abolished its army and the government was encouraging foreigners to come and develop the land. The Monteverde area was only accessible by oxcart when they first came.
The families purchased over 3700 acres of land to be divided between the families. The Friends helped each family build a house.
They set up Monteverde Friends School, completing the main school building in 1957. Today it is a bilingual school serving the local community – both Quakers and local Costa Ricans – from pre-school through to high school. There is also at least one foreign exchange student who also lives with our HomeStay family.
The Quakers set up a dairy farm and the Monteverde Cheese Factory, which today produces over a ton of cheese a day. They were also farsighted enough to set aside an area on the mountain slopes as virgin cloud forest – high altitude forest cooled by moist air from the Pacific. The preserved area was the beginning of conservation in the area which now has a number of reserves including the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (Bosque Eterno de los Niños) which was started by a Swedish child who had visited the area and went back home to raise money to purchase land for a reserve. That has grown to 54,000 acres of land.
We have been on two chocolate tours since we arrived in Monteverde. The first at Don Juan’s was interesting and interactive however the second at Cabure Chocolates was fascinating!
The difference is Bob the owner of Cabure (his wife runs a very good Argentinian restaurant at the same location). Bob has a passion for doing things right, a real artesan chocolatier.
First a bit of history and trivia:
Cacao was used in beverages as far back as 1900 b.c.
Cacao beans have been used as currency
Cacao generally grows from sea level to about 600 meters (just under 2000’)
The average worker in Ghana earns less than $1000 per year growing, harvesting, and doing the initial processing of the cacao
Cacao trees are fast growing and begin to bear fruit in less than 2 years
When the flowers are pollinated, the large hard pod that is formed contains 30-40 cacao beans
When the seed pods form they are so big and heavy (up to 20” long) that they grow on the trunk of the tree, not branches
OK, now a bit about the process:
When pods are picked, they are cracked open and the seeds removed from the pulp. It is important to do this quickly so that the beans don’t ferment in the pod. The seeds are placed in a box with no oxygen for 2 days, then dumped into a different box with some air holes for 2 days and finally dumped into another box for an additional 2 days. During the time in the boxes, they are not agitated so some seeds are subjected to more oxygen or alkalization than others. After the 6 days, the tannins are reduced and the beans are dried, usually in the sun.
Suffice it to say that it is not an exact science however if you want really good chocolate, you have to be picky about which beans you buy. Bob is very select about his beans.
Once he receives his beans, usually from Africa, he must roast them. Roasting doesn’t take a long time, definitely under an hour. Then the beans are cracked and winnowed so that only the actual beans are used, not the shells.
The beans are then ground. You may have tried some chocolate nubs at a specialty store. Believe me, the ones I tried in Durango were nothing like Bob’s! I hated the ones I had tried previously but his weren’t bad at this stage.
Next the ground beans are centrifuged which causes the oils to be released. At this point, it looks and tastes like chocolate. There are several more steps to get to the final step which is yummy, yummy stuff whether it is a dark chocolate, a milk chocolate, or even “white chocolate” which is actually just cocoa butter, no non-fat cocoa solids in it.
We got to dip marshmallows into the chocolate and let it harden and of course eat them. They were good but my favorite is always dark chocolate with sea salt.
Costa Rica is a primarily Catholic country and banks and many businesses are closed Thursday-Sunday for Semana Santa and schools are off.
We have been around some of the Quakers (Friends) who settled this area in the early 1950’s and are very comfortable with them. Got up at 4 AM this morning (ugh) and walked in the dark to the school/meeting location which is about a 25 minute walk from where we live. NO cars passed us as we walked and when we arrived there were only about 2-3 people there just before the sun was going to rise about 5. We sat on benches facing the east and while the trees block actually seeing the sun, we sat there as it got light. I was shocked to see that there were at least 45 people there by the time we gathered for a pot luck breakfast about 6.
Very open/loving group and the services are primarily meditation with a few thoughts/comments at the end.