Dec 27, 2013

Political Alliances are beginning

The Cambio Democratico party and the Molirena party announced an alliance in support of candidate Jose Domingo Arias on 12/26/13.  Talk is circulating of a pending alliance between the Panamenista party and the Populist party, which would support Juan Carlos Varela's candidacy.  This hasn't yet been officially announced, however.  More as things unfold...

12/27/13   7:00pm   Alliance between Panamenistas and Partido Popular is confirmed supporting Juan Carlos Varela.  On a local TV channel members of Molirena party spoke out against the alliance with Cambio Democratico and indicated despite the official party alliance, they would vote for candidate Varela.  Much mention is also being given re: the possibility of President Martinelli's wife, Marta Linares de Martinelli, running with Jose Domingo Arias as the Vice Presidential candidate for Cambio Democratico.

Dec 26, 2013

Visit from a Wandering Spider

Cessation of the heavy rains and the start of the drying, summer winds in Boquete drives insects indoors at the time of year.  I've been visited by multiple spiders, large ants, and the occasional scorpion from time to time, despite screening all doors and windows. I initially reacted to these encounters by aggressively fumigating the yard. Experience has slowly taught me, however, that fumigating only ups the ante on snake, worm, and insect entrances, albeit it weak and dying ones. I prefer now to keep the grounds weeded and the grass very short.  This practice has served me well.   It's been more than a year since the last scorpion and I did battle.  

So, I guess it was about time to find this large spider in my living room. More precisely, my cats found it at 3 am and created such a ruckus chasing it that they woke me up.   Feeling sorry for the poor creature, I considered just letting it be.  But it was really large---about 6 inches in diameter.  That worried me.  So I removed the cats and got out the insect spray.  
The little glowing dot seen in the center of this photo is the camera flash reflection from one of it's eyes.  It's body was about two inches long, and the leg span another 4 inches or so.  I really hated to disturb it, as it seemed pretty mellow up there.  I briefly though of encouraging him/her outside with a broom.  But to be truthful, that idea scared me. So in the end I called upon my inner assassin to push the button on the spray can.  Then I ran into the bedroom, closed the door with the cats inside, and crawled into bed leaving the lights on.

The next morning I found the unfortunate carcass between the sofa cushions and became clinical.  Spent a long time on the computer trying to identify the creature so that, in the unlikely event I should run into another one, I'd know if I needed to kill it or not.  I narrowed the spider's genus to either Cupiennius or Phoneutria.  I was particularly impressed with an article from the University of California, Riverside's website which defended the unjust fate of  harmless Cupiennius spiders, which are often mistaken for Phoneutria spiders.  

Brazilian Wandering Spiders, whose bites are potentially lethal, belong to the genus Phoneutria. These are also known as banana spiders, armed spiders, or "armadeira" spiders (Portuguese). Although the UC Riverside article mentions that Phoneutria spiders are endemic to Brazil, in actuality there are species,---Phoneutria boliviensis and Phoneutria fera, which are prevalent in Costa Rica, Panama and other parts of Central America. And sources apart from the UC Riverside author indicate that some [but not all] species of Cupiennius spiders are also dangerously venomous.  Most of the research regarding these two genera is recent,---- 2005 or later.  

Even with the internet, information that would empower a totally clueless person such as myself to make a confident identification is sparse.  I decided to rely on the experts and snapped more photos of the deceased. These I emailed on for expert conclusion.  To my consternation, the consensus came back that my visitor was a Phoneutria spider. 

Phoneutria bites contain a potent neurotoxin that is significantly more potent than that of a black widow spider. These bites are intensely and incessantly painful due to their excitatory effects on the serotonin receptors of sensory nerves. Per wikipedia,  "At deadly concentrations, this neurotoxin causes loss of muscle control and breathing problems, resulting in paralysis and eventual asphyxiation."  In Brazil human deaths are intermittently reported, and there even is case documentation where two children were killed by the same spider.  Anti-venom exists for Phoneutria spider bites, and should to be employed if a human is bitten.  Hospital treatment is indicated for Phoneutria bites. 

It's quite concerning to me that my early morning visitor was a dangerous one. It's not the first time I've seen such a spider.  Granted, this one was larger than most, but I see smaller versions quite frequently. They are especially appreciated by my cats, because besides running fast, they sometimes hop and jump when threatened.  I've been quite cavalier about dealing with them when found inside, choosing to let them come and go at will, not realizing their potential danger to the cats as well as myself.  My attitude will change. I wanted to post this as a heads up to other expat residents of Panama, who like me, might not realize they are a concern.  A quick glance might lead one to regard them as Wolf Spiders, which are harmless.   Wolf spiders, however, have a differently shaped thorax and abdomen.  

I was informed that the distinquishing characteristics of my Phoneutria spider were the dorsal line down the thorax and spots on the abdomen. The arrangement of the eyes is also unique, however my photographs don't illustrate this clearly.  There are actually three rows of eyes, the first row having 2, the second row having 4, and the third row having another 2.  

Dec 22, 2013

Sorting out Panama's Political Parties

In January, political activities in Panama are expected to ramp up as President Martinelli's presidential term is coming to an end.  Panamanian law allows for an elected president to serve only one political term of 5 years.   Ex-pats obviously aren't allowed to vote, and many Spanish-illiterate, ethnocentric gringos in Boquete expound their views that ex-pats should remain completely unengaged in local politics.  I assert that being unable to vote doesn't mean we should remain uneducated, uninformed, and uninterested in what will be occurring around us regarding the presidential elections.  It is not my intention to go out and campaign for any particular political candidate, but I feel understanding the individual platforms and leanings of each candidate is reasonable,  given I've chosen to make my home here.   That said, I'm finding it isn't all that easy to do.  Nevertheless, I've decided to undertake the task of informing myself on these matters and will try to share my ongoing discoveries here.   To date there isn't a lot of information available, but as the party candidacies and running mates are solidified, I expect more material to be presented.  

What I've learned so far is that Panama has a multi-party system with extensive, involved smaller-party histories that I wouldn't endeavor to explore or describe at this time. Suffice it to say the following is an overview of the currently recognized political parties in Panama. 

The Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) is the largest party, reporting 519,000 members as of September 2013.  It was founded by general Omar Torrijos in 1979.  It is social democrat in ideology.

Closely behind is the Partido Cambio Democrático, (CD) with 507,000 members.  It was founded in 1998 by the current Panamanian President, Ricardo Martinelli.  Its ideology is liberal conservative. 

The Partido Panameñista (PP) has 246,000 members.  It was founded in 1991 by Arnulfo Arias Madrid, and was the initial party of President Martinelli.  Its ideology is conservative nationalist. 

The Partido Molirena (MOLIRENA) has 117,000 members and a liberal nationalist ideology. It was founded around 1980 by leaders of several abolished smaller political parties that existed prior to 1968.  

The Partido Popular (PP) boasts 24,000 members and is christian democrat in ideology. It was established in 2001 as a new denomination of the  previously known Partido Demócrata Christiano.

The Frente Amplio por la Democracia (FAD) is a socialist progressive party that doesn't have parliamentary representation but is recognized by the Electoral Tribunal as a result of having 63,000 members.  

Traditionally there have existed two major political forces that control parliamentary majority in Panama.  The major political parties have found it necessary to establish alliances and coalitions in order to support their goals, get their representatives elected, and govern the country.  These alliances are in the process of being formed now and are expected to be solidified by January 2nd,  2014.  The alliances and their significance will be my next topic of investigation for future posts.  Stay tuned!

Dec 21, 2013

Strained relations between Panama and Ecuador

I’ve recently started following the diplomatic crisis arising between Ecuador and Panama over Ecuador’s  seizure of the vessel “Doria” captured in international waters on October 13th.  The vessel, which allegedly is under Panamanian flag, was found to be carrying 700 kilos of refined cocaine and was being crewed by 5 people of varied nationalities. Panama has requested return of the vessel, but Ecuador continues to detain it, claiming the origin of the vessel has not yet been confirmed. 

Last week, Panama’s Chancellor, Fernando Fabrega,  pressured for the vessel’s return, claiming the ship and its crew were being detained “in violation of the United Nations convention regarding sea rights”.   Panama also accuses Ecuador of retaliation, because of President Martinelli's grant of political asylum to Galo Lara, an Ecuadoran ex-legislator sentenced to 10 years in prison in that country for his complicity in a triple crime in the Los Rios province.

Ecuadoran officials deny a connection between the two incidents, stating Ecuador doesn’t participate in the exchange of delinquents.  They’ve also posed questions as to why Panama would send its Vice Chancellor, Mayra Arosema, to their country to defend the rights of narcotraffickers.  They maintain they will release the vessel to Panama once Panama’s authority is established.  To date, they cite doubts of Panama's claim to the vessel based upon recovered evidence that the boat carries flags from Panama, Columbia, and Venezuela, and that the provided Panamanian navigation patent doesn’t correspond to the characteristics of the Doria, but rather to a fishing ship.  Sonia Barcia, the Ecuadoran Fiscal de Manabi, also indicated there were discrepancies regarding the Doria’s motor, which doesn't contain the identification numbers indicated on the Panamanian documentation.  They postulate that Panama’s jurisdiction over the vehicle hasn’t been legally justified. Ecuador has solicited information from four other countries regarding the vessel's jurisdiction.  They also requested additional information from Panama, which the latter hasn’t provided.  Ms. Barcia indicates they've requested international penal law assistance regarding the matter, given that legal jurisdiction can't be established.  

Panama claims everything required to document its juridiction has been submitted. Panama’s Chancellor, Fernando Fabrega, stated that interviews in Ecuador gave Vice Chancellor Arosemena the strong impression that cooperation would be related to an upcoming new petition for reevaluation of the political asylum granted Mr. Lara.

Ecuador insists the issue of Galo Lara’s expedition request is a separate matter which they will continue to pursue separately.  

Controversial Day of Mourning

December 20th is the anniversary of the 1989 US invasion of Panama and ouster of Manuel Noriega as dictator. Many Panamanians continue to feel this day should be recognized as an official day of mourning, despite the refusal of political leaders to grant the designation.

Panamanian sensitivity centers on the [still undetermined] total number of civilian deaths and property and business destruction that resulted from the military actions.  As one interviewee mentioned in a TV broadcast this evening, "It wasn't just military personnel that were killed. There were pregnant woman and unborn babies that died from that military action. "  Estimates of civilian casualties are anywhere from 300 to 1000+ Panamanians.  US military casualties were listed at 23.  

Whereas many Panamanians feel the events of that day should be forgotten, others retain painful memories or experience ongoing sadness at the loss of loved ones.  Prior students from a  particular military academy, between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time of the invasion, remembered being called upon to fight against the invasion only to subsequently be abandoned and never later acknowledged by the government for their service and sacrifice.  

When one looks at the outcome 24 years later, one can celebrate the strong democracy, peace and prosperity Panama now enjoys.  But those whose lives were touched in very personal ways, those who suffered familial losses, personal harm and/or financial hardships, also present a convincing case for acknowledgement and recognition.  Perhaps they will be someday be heard. 

Dec 9, 2013

Summer has arrived!

Don't mean to rub it in for those of you freezing your behinds off,  whether it be in Texas, southern California, Idaho or wickedly cold Wisconsin, ----I feel your pain.  But I am soooooo grateful to be back in Boquete !   It's a balmy 75 and sunny,  with flowers and ripe fruit everywhere.   Pura vida!

I'm dreaming of a warm Christmas.... 

Nov 28, 2013

This is NOT Panama

Back in the US for a short respite from Boquete's rainy season.  Didn't seem to hit things right, though... First I experienced a cold front that hit San Antonio causing temperatures to drop from 77 degrees to 41 degrees in only 18 hours.  Temperatures continued to plummet over the subsequent three days of my visit.  I never got acclimated to their hovering at 30 degrees.  Temps were predicted to climb to 55 degrees, however, following my departure.

From there it was on to Wisconsin, where I expected 40 degrees and encountered 20 degrees with snow.  There was additional snowfall the day after arrival, which I captured on camera to show my Panamanian neighbors.   Today was the coldest Thanksgiving on record here in the last decade.  

I'm finding myself eager to return to the Boquete rains.  Have enjoyed the brief visit, and the additional 10 lbs of body mass I acquired, which MUST be exercised off. Couldn't resist all the great Tex-Mex food, nor the Brats & Beer (Leinenkugels).  Don't intend to repeat any of this for a few years now.

I am so grateful to have been able to spend time with my son, who just graduated with honors from basic military training, and then with my sister and her family here in the great lakes region.  Hoping everyone out there enjoyed a bountiful and blessed Thanksgiving in the company of loved ones and friends.  

Below are some highlights from San Antonio, TX.  Can't help but think about Boquete's Rio Caldera and how it has the potential to someday resemble the River Walk....I can remember discussions regarding the creation of a river walkway in Boquete as far back as 6-7 years ago.  Sigh....

And remember the Alamo...

Nov 2, 2013

Cultural Center Brings the Arts to David

The following is an article written by Linda Card for Inside Panama and reprinted with permission.

An artsist adds the finishing touches to her work 1024x768 Cultural Center Brings the Arts to David photo

There’s a cultural arts center in David? Who knew?!  David, the provincial capital of Chiriqui province in western Panama, is known as a commercial center. It is a bustling city where folks come to shop, take care of business, handle government requirements, or attend school. But it has not had a reputation as a locale that appreciates the arts and culture. That is changing thanks to the determined efforts of one man.  Antonio Singh at the arts center.

Antonio Singh at the art center  300x225 Cultural Center Brings the Arts to David photo

Antonio Singh founded David’s center for the arts and culture, Casa Cultural La Guaricha, two years ago. Housed in a small residence on a side street in David, the center’s purpose is two-fold. One is to provide a place for artists of all genres to create and display their projects, with both working and exhibit space. The other is to promote these artists and their work, along with all aspects of the arts and culture, to the public to increase awareness and appreciation of the great talent in our midst.

With an extensive background in marketing, training, promotions and organization (he is the former director of the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival), Antonio has made great progress toward his and the center’s goals. La Guaricha presents musical and theater performances, film screenings, and literature readings, and hosts round-table discussions and exhibits of original art. Antonio has enlisted the support of two local restaurants, Cuatro and Most Bistro, for additional original art exhibits. The center also sponsors a music program in two of the community’s grade schools, with outside and local funding.

The biggest challenge facing the center is the establishment of regular financial recursos to meet expenses and continue to grow. There is now a Board of Directors and they are in the process of creating a foundation in order to formalize their funding. Antonio plans to create a Friends of La Guaricha program, which will encourage supporters by collecting a small annual membership fee in exchange for certain benefits. Until the foundation is established, resources are scarce and consist mainly of donations.

Sin embargo, Antonio has big plans for the future and is promoting upcoming events. On November 17 a fund-raiser will be held at Fiesta Casino in David to launch the Peligro Jazz Festival, which is scheduled for late March 2014. The music festival will feature mostly local musicians and will be held in the old town section of David. Antonio will be recruiting supporters and helpers for the event, and volunteers are welcome!

Art on display at La Guaricha 300x211 Cultural Center Brings the Arts to David photo
Art on display at La Guaricha.

People in and around David are getting to know La Guaricha and what is has to offer. Especially among young people, it has become a cool place to go. It is so important to have a place dedicated to the arts, where artists and art lovers can gather and flourish, and where cultural activities can take place and thrive, and La Guaricha is meeting this need.

Y, what about the name? A “guaricha” is a small, tin oil lamp used in the countryside in the absence of electricity. Folks use them to light their homes or to light their path so they can find their way. It seems the perfect name for a center for the arts and culture, a place where we may all be enlightened!

Nov 1, 2013

New Bakery in Alto Boquete

Had some business to attend to in Plaza San Francisco today, so after finishing up,  I stopped off at the new Morton's Bakehouse Panaderia which  opened up 5 days ago.  According to the owner, business has been brisk for the first week.  Morton was there himself to attend to customers, and offered a 10% discount as part of the grand opening special.  Samples of the breads and bagels were available and I ended up taking home several bagels.  They were delicious. 

Couldn't help commenting on the pricing, however, which was significantly higher than Sugar and Spice, in Bajo Boquete.  According to Morton, the price difference has to do with the density of his breads, which he claims are 3 times that of the Romero's bakery and stylistically different from that of Richard's breads at Sugar and Spice.  I tasted a bagette sample and decided to forego purchasing a loaf.  I prefer a softer, lighter bread and this bakery specializes in hard crust bread that is drier, chewier and, well, denser. It's kind of  difficult to swallow without a thick smearing of butter or cream cheese or something equivalent to help it slide down.   Sort of reminded me of the bread I ate at my Godmother's house in Germany many, many years ago.  I can imagine that the bakery will develop a strong following of European expats, and it's probably no accident that he located the business near the Zum Auslander restaurant which caters to the same. 

Small bagettes cost $ 2.50, compared with $ 0.75 for the same sized loaf at Sugar and Spice. 
Bagels are $ 1.00  each.  Round loaves of sourdough rye run $ 5.00 each.  Loaves of a rustic country style white bread sell for $ 4.00 each.  I imagine they go well with a hearty bowl of soup, but I think I'd find them a little dry for sandwiches or morning toast.   I will probably visit the bakery intermittently to purchase bagels, which Sugar and Spice does not offer, and which frankly, were quite good.   

Oct 18, 2013

The Paso Canoas Experience

For many expats who either can't afford or can't commit to establishing formal residency here in Panama, a relatively painless alternative has always been available. Referred to as border hopping or border runs, the activity involves going to the "frontera" of Panama with Costa Rica and following a simple process.    Costa Rican expats follow the same process, only in reverse, and on any given day, even friendships and networking sometimes happens amongst the multiple participants from either or both sides. In general, border authorities respond benignly to these procedures, provided the individuals presenting appear respectable, reasonably affluent and harmless.

Essentially what happens is a person whose visa is about to expire [from either country] signs out of the country they are living in,  signs into the other country at the border, spends a few hours shopping and having lunch in the neighboring country, then wraps up the excursion, signs out of the neighboring country and then re-enters the country they live in with a new visa that usually lasts 3-6 months.   

Apparently, the rules changed about 2-3 months ago.  Word has it there's a new immigration chief at the border, and an official mandate was issued requiring that people in the above situation spend at least 24 hours out of their respective country before re-entering.   Additionally, new documents to prove economic stability are being demanded before border personnel will grant re-entry. A friend from the USA, after spending the night in a one-star hotel [the best hotel in Paso Canoas], was required to provide a return airline ticket to the USA,  show she had $500 cash on her person, show a credit card and statement indicating available balance on the card, and provide a copy of her personal bank statement before being allowed back into Panama.  

Because of these changes, I decided a few days ago to investigate the accommodations in Paso Canoas.  The most expensive lodging I found was Cabinas Romy, located in the center of town on the Costa Rican side.  The rate for one person in a room with one queen bed, low season, is $28.  This includes wifi and air conditioning, but there is no hot water.  The rooms are clean but very basic.  On the day I went, the hotel personnel were barely accommodating.  

Cabinas Romy, above, is where my friend stayed. She reports an unfortunate incident with the evening receptionist. She left for dinner, and when she returned her room key broke off in the lock as she was attempting to open the door. The receptionist initially refused to help her, stating he was alone in the office. She asked what he suggested be done, as she had no intention of remaining outside all night. He harshly blamed her for "incorrectly unlocking the door", and told her she'd have to pay for calling in a locksmith.  She asked to speak with the hotel owner or manager. Her request was denied. At that point she snapped photos of the lock & key with her cell phone, and threatened to go to the police. The receptionist reluctantly relented, obtained tools, removed the key, allowed her access to her room, and gave her a replacement key. 

Right next door to the Cabinas Romy, is a smaller location called Cabinas Hilda. Rooms there run about $12 for one person.  When I was investigating, I was unable to see the interior of a room because they were all occupied, but I did snap this outside photo. The facility didn't seem much different from the Cabinas Romy at less than half the price.  The receptionist was pleasant. 

Also next door to Cabinas Romy, on the opposite side, is a small hotel and restaurant called the Interamericano.  I was told rooms there also run about 
$ 12 for one person.  I didn't explore the rooms, but did eat in the restaurant and enjoyed a great meal and cerveza for about $8.  

Just outside of town, about a 5 minute drive into Costa Rica, is a hotel called Los Higuerones, which comes well-recommended by other bloggers.  I called to inquire about low season rates, and was told the rate was $36 for one person. I didn't go to explore. It isn't easily accessible to shopping and restaurants, and requires driving or a taxi to get there.  My friend didn't want to travel outside the town, so she also deferred on this recommendation. 

To summarize, the times they are a changin' at the frontera, and many expats will have to either adapt to the changes or commit to legitimizing their residency.  Guess this sort of thing happens when too many people get wind of a good thing, and business minds smell a way to make a profit. 

Oct 17, 2013

Changes at the Border,

Recently heard it was getting more difficult to make the customary border runs to renew visas in Panama. On October 13th I took a drive out to Paso Canoas to find out for myself. Spoke with one of the exit border agents, who confirmed that they had received a mandate from on high requiring them to insist on a 24 hour out-of-country stay before allowing a visa renewal and return entrance into Panama. I did a little shopping, researched a few hotels,  and returned home.  

Today news was circulating that Chase and JP Morgan have both restricted money transfers out of the US, and have limited their daily withdrawal amounts for cash.  Looks like things are going to be getting tougher for expats all around, and perhaps could affect the decisions of people considering a move out of the US.  If I had to do it all over again, given the current social and financial climate both here and in the US, I'd probably not make the move. 

In the 5 years I've been in Panama, I've seen the sales tax raised to levels comparable to those in California---even exceeding it in certain product areas, such as cell phones and telecommunications.  I've seen the cost of domestic goods almost double.  My utilities bill has quadrupled  Granted, there's been increased usage living here year around, but still, I've seen a 50% cost increase for equal or decreased usage in just this last year.   The price of several food items has increased by 75% or more.

Crime has also been on the rise, especially in Panama City. I have 3 personal acquaintances who have either themselves or their family members been victims of physical violence and assault in the commission of robberies.  Two of the men were severely beaten, even after having complied with  the wishes of the assailants. 

All in all, the reasons I came down here in the first place---for the opportunity to live in a tropical country and enjoy a different culture and lifestyle---haven't changed. But the economic advantages I once hoped to enjoy have significantly narrowed. Many of the people who moved here around the same time I did,  have moved on---either to other countries,  or returned to their points of origin. Many others are contemplating relocation. I find myself once again vacillating.  Will I stay or will I go? This seems to be a recurrent theme at this point in my life....

Sep 19, 2013

Double Trouble?

Today I stopped in at the local market to buy plantains.  They sell for 20 cents a piece.   I requested five, and the vendor cut four, then asked me if I "would mind" taking the above plantain for my fifth one.  As you can see, it is two plantains grown together covered in only one peel.  I readily accepted, commenting it was two for the price of one. Why on earth should I mind?

She then told me that many people won't buy double plaintains.  She said the indigenous women are especially opposed to them.  They believe that if they buy one, "their babies will be born stuck together".

Fascinating.  I assured the vendor I had no plans to have babies any time soon, and packed away my bargain.   Come to think of it, I am frequently sold double plantains in the market place.  Could it be other vendors take one look at me and realize I couldn't possibly be plagued by such fears?  One more benefit of being a retiree in Panama...

Aug 29, 2013

Visiting a Mission in Canas Verdes

Boquete has a variety of expat-funded charities established in recent years by multiple USA, Canadian and European transplants.  The constant clamoring for money, attention, goods, and volunteerism can turn even the most well-meaning among us a little cynical.  As for me, I was born cynical. 

But, like most of us, I do feel the call to do something  in some way that is life affirming and ego gratifying. I'm having a hard time finding the right cause, though.  Aside from helping neighbors in small ways with loans and other assistance, and doing some English tutoring off and on,  I can't say I've done much.  It's not that I'm unwilling, it's just that I'm jaded and want to find the right opportunity.   

This morning I accompanied a small group of Christians to the community of Canas Verdes, where fourteen Ngobe Bugle families are learning about the Lord while enjoying child care and full stomachs.  Their needs are being met by a warm Panamanian couple who have lived among the Ngobe for the last 12 years.  These people are living in primitive quarters without electricity or running water.   The road to the community is unpaved, even ungraded in spots, and dark and treacherous in others.  Four wheel drive is required to drive in, and even then, one can't drive more than 5 mph.  It's a 25 minute "drive" in a good vehicle. 

On this trip, the objective was to deliver solar lights to the families.  Money for the devices was contributed by school children affiliated with the Pentecostal Church of God, in Bedford, Texas.  Apparently the children sold candy bars and raised $500 which was used to purchase the lighting. The devices are nifty, sturdy, light-weight globes that can be carried as flashlights, or placed upright in stands to function as lamps.  They can also be used to charge cell phones, which is truly a godsend,  given the nearest electrical outlet is an hour's walk down the mountain to the tiny outpost known as Palmira Arriba.

Above, Gene Melton is providing instructions in assembly and use of the lights, aided by interpreter Raquel Sitton.  Below, Ana, the Panamanian wife who gives her time so freely to care for and feed the Ngobe children, is demonstrating the solar panel and how to connect it.  In the foreground is Bob Wilson, whose mission work lead to the donation. 

The overall objective in this union of the Bob & Marcela Wilson ministries with Ana and Rodrigo's dedication to their neighbors, is construction of a small community center where people can come together for feeding, education and worship.  Apparently this center has been the focus of Ana and Rodrigo's prayers for the last 12 years.  It's underway, with the beginning of what seemed an insurmountable funding of about $20,000.  Ground has been broken, and manpower will hopefully be dedicated to erecting the walls in the next two weeks.  Meanwhile, Ana continues to feed and watch the children, whose parents leave them in the dawn-filled  mornings to toil away for a meager day's wages in the coffee fields of surrounding plantations. Rodrigo works closely with the parents, gives weekly bible sermons, and handles numerous physical jobs around their minimal home/meeting place.

For anyone interested in learning more about the project, or possibly even donating money and/or time to help, you can learn more at this link:  I hope to provide intermittent updates, as I suspect I will get more involved in this endeavor. 

Aug 4, 2013

The Boquete Highway: Progress Panacea or Pedestrian Peril?

Set out this afternoon to snap photos of what I thought would be a very positive post on the status of the David-Boquete four lane highway.   The pedestrian overpass by the CEFATI building is almost finished, and there are pretty little blue-roofed bus stops sprouting up all along the route.  There's even a small island  near the entrance that has been filled with green grass and bright flowers to perk up the parkway.  
My mistake was setting out on foot to take the photos.  But it it was only a short walk and I didn't want the encumbrance of parking a car. The experience was quite enlightening.  It's astounding what's absent from the overall plan... 
With a huge car-less segment of local population, you'd expect a highway project of this magnitude to include the means for pedestrian access across the thoroughfare to public transportation  points along the route. With only a short while until the politicos stage some kind of official highway inauguration,  there has been abysmally little accomplished on behalf of pedestrians.  

One crosswalk is painted on the roadway some distance ahead of the bus stop shown below.  But it ends at the decorative center island, just ahead of a sign telling people NOT to walk on the grass.  The nearest roadway intersection is about 20 feet away, and there are no crosswalk markings where people are actually able to cross the road. Words can't begin to express the conundrum the pedestrian encounters trying to get from point A to B now that the 4-lane road is in place.  Perhaps these photos will help illustrate it.  You're literally taking your life in your hands trying to cross the road.

Crosswalk to center island where stepping on grass is prohibited, leading to nowhere. 


Hopefully the grave oversights will be addressed before serious pedestrian injuries or even deaths result.  As for me, I'll just keep driving....