Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Panama City

We arrived in Panama City after a surprisingly painless 7 hour bus ride from Boquete. I was very disapointed that I didn't get a window seat, but survived nontheless. Panama is really a beautiful country. I am wondering how it has taken me so long to get here. Panama City is also a fascinating place. We only spent two days there, but I would definately like to come back and spend some serious time.

We went to the Panama Canal early Sunday morning. It was actually quite impressive. We saw a couple of enormous barges go through, watched a video and checked out there museum. It was all very impressive and well run. But, I think the most impressive part was that on each of the floors of the building, they had these box shaped aparatus' that when you pushed a button, water flowed out of a spigot into an arch from which you could drink without worry of intestinal distress. Fascinating! We snapped some pictures of this modern engineering wonder.

We also visited Casco Viejo which is the oldest part of Panama City. It is part ruins, part ghetto and part gentrified tourist neighborhood on the bay. It was really beautiful.

Unfortunately, our hotel was really, really, REALLY bad. We decided to splurge and then immediately regretted it. We got a room that had no hot water, no cable and looked like it was rented by the hour. When I complained to the front desk clerk he was amazingly rude and insulting. It was an amazing display of disrespect that nearly bordered on verbal assault. I am working on a strongly-worded letter to the owners of the hotel (that outta show'em) and am telling anyone I can get in contact with that they should not, under any circumstances, stay at the Costa Inn Hotel in Panama City. There is my mouse's roar.

We landed in Bocas del Toro yesterday and after dodging and icky gringo that wanted to charge us $60 a night for a concret box with no windows, we found an AMAZING hotel right on the water that is slowly healing the damage done by the Costa Inn. There just may be hope for the world after all.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Travel Route

For those of you keeping track, here's our travel route so far. You'll need to zoom out to see it. I will keep it updated as internet cafe technology allows:

View Larger Map

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Boquete, Panama

We are officially flying by the seat of our pants. We have essentially tossed our original itinerary and are going which ever way the wind blows us. We caught the 11 am bus South out of San Jose, Costa Rica and made it as far South as Paso Canoas and we decided to call it a night. We found a hotel that is located literally between the Costa Rican and Panamanian borders. We took advantage the next morning to do some duty-free shopping and then crossed the border on foot. We were navigated back and forth between the Latin American beurocratic stamp windows by a 12 year old. At one point, just after we both handed him our passports and five bucks, it dawned on me that we were putting quite a bit of trust into him. I mean, he didn't even have an official looking vest. All turned out well though. We grabbed a bus into David and had an hour and half of the most pleasureable ride so far on the trip. Even included air-con. The highways in Panama are amazingly nice. In David we grabbed a bus North to Boquete.
We arrived here at about 3:30 in the afternoon in a complete downpour. It became immediately apparent that my raincoat, which has been molting liner dandruff on me for the entire trip, is absolutely penetrable by rain. So, it is getting tossed. Which leaves me raincoatless in Central America in hurricane season. Not to fear though, I'm sure I'll be able to find something in Panama City on Saturday. Until then, I bought a crappy umbrella from a local store.
The most striking thing about Boquete, after the lush green mountains poking out from the mist, is that there are a boatload of gringos here. Apparently, the AARP ranked Panama amond the top five countries in the world in which to retire. So there has been a flood. I hate to generalize too much, but my experience with Ex-Pats in Latin America has been that they generally come lurred by lower living costs and then proceed to try to make their new home just like the one they left behind. They end up raising the cost of living for everyone, fine for them and their American pentions, but economic death for the locals. They end up pushing locals off properties they have lived on since the beginning of time, evidenced in Boquete by the fact that there are more real estate offices than there are hotels. Anyone that makes the argument against immigrants that "If we went to their country we would learn their language and respect their culture," has likely never been outside of the U.S.
It is beautiful. We went rafting this morning through some amazing Class IV rapids. It was a ton of fun. I am glad I got it in when I did. At one point we floated past one of the 17 damns they are constructing. Next year, that river won't be floatable. I don't know what we are heading towards, but I am pretty sure it's not progress.
Tomorrow I'm getting a massage.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Plan B: Make Plan B

Against all logic and odds, I managed to get myself up early enough yesterday to go for one last run in the Puerto. It's really the best time of day, between 5:45 and 6 am. The ocean is gorgeous and the sun is not yet baking your insides, but also rather easy to sleep through. Then I went to dance class with my little old ladies, they are still a kick.

We were set to leave Puntarenas at about 2 pm and go to Monteverde, when a vendor guy came up and told us that the road to Monteverde had washed out with the last rain storm. We just looked at him and thought, "Well, that's not right. We are trying to get there." His story was confirmed when the bus didn't show up. So we sat there looking lost for a good twenty minutes trying to figure out our options, and also commenting that maybe we should start coming up with Backup Plans. We finally decided to head to San Jose and substitue Boquete, Panama for Monteverde, Costa Rica. We stayed last night at my the Hotel Aranjuez, my favorite San Jose spot and ate an amazing dinner at Tin Jo. Still rocking my Peace Corps discount, YAHOO!

So we were going to head to the border this morning, but when we got there, the bus was full. So we are set to leave on the eleven o'clock bus. We'll see how far we get. With a little luck we can get all the way to Boquete tonight and sleep in tomorrow. We are looking forward to holing up in a hotel for a couple of days. Do some rafting and swing through the trees on a zipline.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gira de Despedida

Alicia and I arrived in the Puerto last night around 10 pm. It was a pretty easy bus ride. I think it helped immensely that we went out with the mara the night before we left and went straight to the bus without even a nap. So we slept most of the trip. It's a long ride, but buses are a completely different story in Latin America and are much more comfortable than you would imagine. Course, my standards are also pretty low.

So we landed back in the Puerto. We are staying with doña Julia, a family I hung out with a lot when I was living here. This morning we went for a walk through the community and said Hi to lots of people. Lots of surprised faces. Almost everyone remembers me so I guess that is a good sign. Even Fat, Nasty Bar owner got throw out a catcall for old times sake.

Most everything is still pretty much the same. The kids are a little bigger. The bridge crossing over the estuary into Fray Casiano has finally become completely depleted. Only an iron skeleton remains. Even the concrete steps have been taken apart. I was sad to hear that don Luis, my initial host dad has been battling cancer. He looks good, but much thinner. They say that he should be coming out of it. Ojala.

The puerto is still amazingly hot and we have already sought refuge within the air conditioning of the internet cafe. This afternoon we are going to hang out on the Paseo de Turistas, and keep ourselves cool with chilled beverages and maybe come patacones. Tomorrow we are going to go to dance class with my little old ladies and then head out to Monteverde.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Things are coming to a close. I had my last day of work at SHARE on Wednesday. The last couple of weeks have been a flurry of running around, trying to wrap up lose ends. The reality of leaving is slowly starting to dawn on me. But not completely yet....

I was fortunate that I was able to see and personally say goodbye to some of the people I have been working with. It is a tough thing to do and carries with it an aura of abandonment, or so it feels to me. Salvadorans continue to be as I have always known them to be; gracious, resilient. It's been an honor to be here. I know it's time for me to go, but I don't have to look far ahead to foresee a visceral aching for this place. El Rinconcito. This heart-breakingly, beautiful place.

Fortunately, I have a month of beach/bar sitting with Alicia to buffer my angst.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Karmel Juyu and Antigua

We had our annual VMM retreat at Karmel Juyu which overlooks Lake Atitlan. It is simply a spectacular site. The pictures do not do it justice. It was great to be able to hang out with the other volunteers. Quite a few of us are getting ready to transition back to the US, and there were also a few new faces.

We spent the weekend at Karmel Juyu and then all piled into a mini-bus heading to the Moran's site. Most of us hopped out at Los Encuentros, Alicia, Laura, Christine and I were headed for Antigua and the Salvadoran volunteers were headed back to Salvador. It was raining pretty hard and we were thankful that a chicken bus was going by right as we pulled up. Apparently I dilly-dallied too long getting out my raincoat. Everyone piled onto the bus, and then it left without me. Ooops.

Not to worry. If there is any place in Guatemala that I feel confident I can get myself to, it is Antigua. I ended up catching another chicken bus about 3 minutes later. I was able to get a seat and I wondered if my traveling companions were so fortunate (they were not). As I mentioned, it was raining pretty hard which in Central America means that roads become rivers and often large parts of the mountains slide away. In dry weather, the chicken buses swerve around cars and corners at approximately mach 10. When it is raining, the chicken buses swerve around cars and corners at approximately mach 9.5. I long ago accepted that the act of traveling in Central America is an act in which I surrender any control over my safety or well-being. I think it is best to accept this and enjoy the ride. I was pondering this reality, and morbidly thinking of the role of chance in life. Thinking that missing that bus was really a minor event, but how often things like that can change your life. I was sitting in the front seat so I had a descent view out the front window (only one wiper on driver's side) and out the front door where the attendant stood calling out destinations and collecting fares. At one point, the door was open, and the attendant yelled excitedly to the driver "Dale! Dale!" which means "GO! GO!" I looked outside just in time to see a wall of water shoot off the mountain and clip the mid-section of the bus. It wasn't enough to knock us off course, but it was definately enough to get my heart beating and other anotomical regions puckering. Needless to say, I was content to meet the girls in Chimaltenango with nothing more than a good story.

We arrived in Antigua soon thereafter, found our hotel and then set out for dinner and internet. Kelly and Lisa, two Costa Rica PCVs traveling Northward by bus, were also in Antigua. They had passed through El Salvador, the week before. We had plans to meet up in Antigua for my second cameo on their "MesoAmerican Farewell to Freedom Tour." We didn't find each other than night, but I stumbled upon them the next morning in a cafe. So we spent the day checking out the sites of Antigua, a really cool city, except for the tourist inundation. It was a good time. We tortured the VMs with PCV talk. We split in the afternoon as Kelly and Lisa went to climb the volcano in the rain and Laura and Christine headed back to their site in Managua. Which left Alicia and I to pre-trip preparations for our own upcoming farewell tour. We did some shopping, ate dinner, drank a margarita and listened to an obnoxious, tortured ex-pat kiss wooden ducks in a Frida Khalo bar.

I made it back to El Salvador on Tuesday night and am trying to get things wrapped up here. I finish at work on the 15th and then we hit the road on the 18th.