Shiripuno Women

The Shiripuno women decided that while their men go off and do whatever they do during the day to work that they (the women) should be paid for what they do anyway. With this in mind, they developed a simple program where they show how they make some food with yucca and sweet potato, do a little native dance, look at an incredible rock, and then hopefully sell some trinkets. Sounds hokey and the young German tourists who were at the lodge and leaving that day made it sound pretty lame.

In reality we enjoyed it. Yes, it is touristy but it was still interesting. We learned some things about this culture listening to the Spanish speaking woman who ran the event and talking with our English speaking guide from the Lodge.

Indigenous woman and daughter and tourist who got into the act

Unmarried girls and women wear blue outfits like you see in the above picture. Married women wear blue and red outfits. The more traditional outfit is seen in this picture but we saw a woman in blue pants and a red top to indicate she was married as well. All unmarried women, of any age seemed to wear the outfit this little girl is wearing.

First they made a couple of things, one a fermented drink and the other something with sweet potatoes. Note how they shredded the sweet potato…you will see this is tool is from the root of a tree in the jungle walk post.

The little girls of the village participated in the making of yucca and sweet potato  dishes and the dancing. They were so cute in their outfits and helping their mom.

I loved watching them imitate their mom.

The rock! This is an incredibly interesting rock. In the lower right (as you look at it) of the rock is a little “door”. While it is solid, the tone is distinctly different when you hit this area with a rock than if you hit just a foot or so away. Empty sounding like it is an entrance.

A number of different animal shapes can be discerned on the rock: serpent, puma, bear, and others. What can you see? (Hint: Serpent, Alligator, Tortoise, Piranha, Toad, Cougar(Puma), Charapo (noidea what this is), Boa, Dolphin, Capybara, Monkey)


There is an area to the left of the rock (as you face it) that again has a hollow sound when you hit it with a rock. They call this the window. It isn’t really easy to scale the front of the rock but there are stairs built partway up the back. Dan went up the front and I stayed down and took his picture.

And there was a parrot in the rafters of the exhibit area that chimed in while they were singing and dancing. What fun!

What a handsome guy!

Our guide took a part of a flower that I would call part of the bird of paradise family but it really isn’t. He put it on our noses. Funny looking beak!

He also opened a seed pod from this plant and used a stem to break up the inside into a paint and painted our hands much like the indigenous women/children who spoke with us.

The handmade jewelry items for sale were pretty typical of what we have seen in other places although there were dried leaves for tea and spears/knives as well.

Trinkets, turtle heads bob up and down
Dried leaves for tea
Toy knives
Toy drums
Toy spears
Toy knives

This is a village of about 50 families, about 250 people. The kids do go to school from age 5-12. They are working to get more education but it is hard since that is usually in town and these very rural folks are very poor. Sometimes they have relatives with whom the youngsters can live for more education and the family sends money as they can for this.

While it is humid here, it isn’t as hot as I expected for being in the Amazons. The river we heard the night before is a tributary to the Amazon River but that is many miles away. There are fewer bugs here than I expected as well. I’m not getting eaten alive, here at least…hurray!

All in all, after much trepidation, I am enjoying myself in the jungle. It isn’t as hot, buggy, and filled with bugs as I expected.

OK, I wrote that above sentence and then almost immediately the mosquitoes and bugs found me! I should never have written it and tempted fate. I ended up with over 50 bites, mostly on my arms but even under my clothing and in my hair. UGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Education in Ecuador

Education is free and required from age 6-14 (9 years). Secondary education is  optional and available to age 18 but there is a charge for the last 3 years. The literacy rate is purported to be over 90% for older teens and adults.

Vocational education hasn’t been good but it is improving. Colleges and universities don’t have a great reputation internationally either.

As is common in so many places, the rural students tend to have less education than students in the cities.

Schools often offer a foreign language, English is common. We have run into a number of people who started learning English in their school.

The country is working hard to improve teachers’ training, reduce class size, and generally improve education by increased funding.

Education in Colombia

Colombian school children in uniform,

In Colombia, although education is supposedly mandatory according to this website (I can’t tell you anything more about this website), our guide told us it isn’t so it must not be enforced. The drop out rate is fairly high as the students reach the upper grades.

Students start school at age 5 in Kindergarten. They go through grade 11. Like many Latin American countries, the “high school” is called colegio. The public university is tough to get into and private university is very expensive.

In recent years, there are some trade subjects taught in colegios.

Unlike in Nicaragua, the teachers are fairly well educated.

Both public and private schools wear uniforms here.

Students must buy their own textbooks; they are not provided by the schools.

More information is available here.

Villa de Leyva

There are mountains and everything is very green on the way to Villa de Leyva

The bus ride from Bogotá to Villa De Leyva was beautiful! There are at least 2 bus stations in Bogotá and we got the bus at the north station. The 18 passenger van was full except for the two passenger seats next to the driver when we got on so we had a wonderful view of the mountains for the 2 ½ hour trip.

View of the plaza

Founded in 1572, Villa de Leyva is a town of about 9500 people. It has the second largest plaza in the Americas (the largest is in Mexico), 120 meters on each side, which was paved hundreds of years ago with “cobble stones”. You and I would just call them rocks so it is uneven walking in the plaza and some of the streets. They have done a wonderful job of building lots of brick sidewalks in many areas and some of the newer roads are brick as well. The area is known for its colonial buildings.

We went on a wonderful horse back ride one day with 5 other tourists. You may remember we did a few lessons in Costa Rica. We wanted to see how we would do and besides it was less than $60 for the two of us for a 4 hour tour.

We did great! We even trotted a lot of the time. (Did you know that different horses have different gaits so some are more comfortable than others to ride? These were very comfortable!) The horses were whistle trained and the leader would whistle to tell them to go faster or to stop or move to the side. It was amazing to experience.

On the ride we went to an area called the Observatorio Astronómico Muisca or also called Observatorio Sol. The Muisca were the indigenous people of the area and they created a way to keep the calendar using stones, akin to Stonehenge but much smaller stones.

We also went to a fossil museum that while quite small, it has the most complete Kronosaurus, a Cretaceous-period relative of the crocodile ever found (this mountainous area was once under the ocean). There were many other fossils as well.

The last stop was at a small, turquoise colored lake called Pozos Azules (Blue Wells). The color of the water comes from the minerals in the surrounding rocks.

Stone laying on ground at Observatory

Education in Panama

Candelario at his desk. The building is older and there is no door on his office. The arched door leads to a woman’s office (secretary?) which is much larger than his.

I’ve been wanting to talk with someone familiar with the education system in Panama and this week our B&B host, Lisia, and I were out for a walk and ran into the principal of the local elementary school. Lisia introduced me to him. His name is Candelario. I asked if he might have time this week to chat for a little while; he was happy to have me come the following day.

When I arrived, Candelario was waiting for me at the school. After he rang the recess bell, we went into his office to talk. His office is barely 8’x5′. The secretary or whatever her title is has twice the space as the principal. But it was very significant to me that the FIRST area you enter is to HIS office, not hers! During our 20-30 minutes of talking, at least 4 students came to him to ask quick questions. Each time, Candelario immediately stopped talking with me and focused intently and lovingly on the child. It is obvious that he is there for them.

He often gave the child what they wanted but one child wanted something to do with a non-nutritious snack and he kindly but firmly said that they don’t eat that kind of food at school. One of his main focuses is health and healthy eating…more on that later.

I will divide the information I have on education in Panama over several blogs since it is a lot of information and quite diverse.

Education in Panama Part 2

Kindergarten kids always love to get their picture taken.

The local elementary school is one of only 8 schools in Chiriquí Province where we are currently living. In this posting I will discuss general education in Panama and a subsequent posting will talk about this special school.

Panamanian children attend school from kindergarten (or as Candelario called it “his garden”) through the 12th grade. Schools are generally 5 hours per day (a little shorter for kindergarten). The school year runs from March to a few days before Christmas. Students are off for about 2 1/2 months for their vacation.

I was surprised and saddened to see in at least one article (very interesting article from late 2016) that Panama’s education system is considered the “worst in the world” which would be bad to be worse than Nicaragua or other really poorer countries. Candelario characterized Panama as a rich country whose wealth is centralized among the elite and doesn’t trickle down to the masses. Drop out rate is 20-25%.

Beginning in 2008, children with disabilities are integrated into the regular classroom. I’m a huge proponent of integration but in Panama most of the teachers don’t get any support to teach the child with disabilities. No aide, no training, no smaller classroom. Hard to expect any success for those children in those situations.

More females attend college/university than males who have usually already joined the workforce by their mid to late teens.

Education in Panama Part 3


Local elementary school: Ministry of Education, Volcancito School.

This post is about the Volcancito School. As I said in the first posting about education in Panama, this one is one of only 8 schools in this province of Chiriquí. The school is almost entirely indigenous students, k-6th grades.  While the kindergartners only  attend until noon, the other students attend from 8-4 each day. The students generally don’t have any homework except occasionally to study for a quiz.


Education is mandatory however the principal, Candelario feels that the children are really sent by their parents because they are fed. They each receive a breakfast and lunch. The school receives $3000 per month from the Panamanian government to cover the cost of food. With 180 students, approximately 20 days of school a month, that works out to $0.83 a day for food per child. Despite the limitations I saw a large crate of fresh tomatoes when I was in the kitchen.

Students receive 2 hours per day instruction in English by teachers that only teach English. The rest of the day is taught in Spanish. In addition to English and Spanish, students are taught sanitation, health, relationships, reading, writing, math, and history.

Candelario feels that his biggest obstacles are:

  • Poverty-as many as 8 people would live in a space the size of his office. If you look at the picture I took of it, you can see how small that is.
  • Inadequate facilities-Since becoming the principal in 2013, several classrooms have been added however they are barely adequate. The kitchen is approximately 25’x15′ including two large picnic benches where the children eat, refrigerators, freezers, sink, and stove! The Rotary club has helped them add space, including a new classroom that is almost ready to be used.
  • Abuse-Sadly, physical, sexual, and mental abuse is common in the culture. Girls as young as 10 get pregnant.

This school is truly blessed to have Candelario for their principal. Although he plans to retire in a few years after 31 years as a teacher and a number of years as a principal, he hasn’t done that yet because he feels that he has a mission from God to help these kids.

One goal of his is to add a computer lab. There are currently no computers for the children to use. If you are so moved, let me know and we will see how you can help with this.