Day 648- Volunteer Service - Recommended Reading for Panama

Trips are much more interesting if you know something about where you are going. If you are planning a trip to Panama here are some books and movies you should check out.

  • Path Between the Sea by David McCullough - The Creation of the Panama Canal
  • Rivers of Gold by Hugh Thomas - The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to Magellan
  • The Tailor of Panama - A cold war spy novel that takes place in Panama, lots of references to real places in Panama City
  • Panama Fever by Matthew Parker - Another story of the Panama Canal Construction
  • The Tapir's Morning Bath by Elizabeth Royte - Mysteries of the Tropical Rain Forest and the Scientists Who are Trying to Solve Them - the first short story is from Panama
Movies that take place in Panama:
  • Quantum of Solace - 007's latest movie, all the Bolivia scenes were shot in Casco Viejo, Panama where we will be staying when my mom and sister visit.
  • The Tailor of Panama - a book made into a spy movie starring Pierce Brosnan from 2001
  • The End of the Spear - about the Waodani Indians and how missionaries effected their culture apparently pretty heavy on the Christian saving the world theme. But is supposed to have some incredible footage of the Panamanian Jungle. Hint, turn on the closed captions.
So there you go. You better start beefing up on your knowledge of Panama!


Garden Rant

My lovely friend Jacqueline turned me on to a blog called GardenRant.com. This group of garden writers keep a blog together. It is wonderful combination of funny and pertinent gardening articles.

Recently they had a post on a new book called Green Gardener's Guide by Joe Lamp'l. They offered a copy of the book to "someone who really needs it". I nominated Peace Corps Panama. And we were selected to receive a copy. That's pretty exciting. This book will be a great resource for those of us working with school and home gardens. The book will become part of the technical library in the Peace Corps Office.


Bayano Lake Caves

January 31 all the volunteers east of Panama City had a regional meeting. 
To make these meetings more interesting they are held in different locations each time. Our regional leader and a volunteer who lives on the lake organized a trip to one of the caves that border Lago Bayano. We gathered at a small port next to the bridge over Bayano Lake, which is several hours drive from Panama City. After distributing life jackets and face masks (as dictated by PC medical to avoid inhaling bat guano) we climbed into the boats.
We made the half hour trip across the lake in these log boats called pangas. "Panga" is used for any small boat other than the dugout canoes. Dugout canoes are called peraguas.
A short walk from the edge of the lake, the cave begins as a canyon with steep overhanging limestone walls that eventually meet overhead. The stream that carved out the cave varies in depth from a mere trickle to section four feet deep. The ceiling opens and closes a handful of times for approximately one kilometer then transitions into your standard beautiful-stream-flowing-through-untouched-rain-forest.
The multiple verdant skylights are striking. I kept thinking that if I had the right camera and knew how to use it pictures of this place could be in National Geographic. The caves were teaming with bats. In one sunny chamber I found a poison arrow frog and on the edge of the lake we saw various birds including large herons and a kingfisher.

We got together for a barbecue at one of the other volunteers houses that evening and early the next morning caught a bus to Torti. In Torti we translated for a group of evangelical doctors from the US. They had come down for a week to provide cataract and pterygium surgeries along with general medicine and other medical services.


Day 635 - Peace Corps Service - Diablo Rojo

The diablo rojos (red devils) days are numbered. These mobile cultural billboards of Panama are on the way out. If you want to learn how to use the Diablos Rojos to get around Panama look here.

The infamous Osama Bin Laden Diablo Rojo. Who knew Bin Laden was a Barcelona Soccer team fan?

The revamped old school buses are the public transportation for Panama City and much of the country. Each bus is privately owned and the owner purchases a bus route from the government of Panama. The owner of each bus takes great pride in decorating his bus.

Four factors are influencing the demise of bright paintings on the buses. Rising gas prices are making the profit margins very small so there isn't extra capitol to pay for fancy works of art. To increase profit, some are selling advertising space on their buses. Ads for grocery stores and politicians are becoming almost as common as scenes of Jesus on the cross and movie heroes.

A diablo rojo advertising for the Super Xtra grocery chain

Another influenceing factor was a fire on a bus in October of 2006 that killed 18 passengers, in part because it didn't have an emergency exit. Now all buses must have a working back door with a usable window. The eye catching rear door portraits are disappearing and being replaced by functional boring white. I asked around to see if I could buy an old door, but it sounds like they are simply scraping the window and painting the rest white.

A diablo rojo with a functioning back door

This year the Panamanian government opened bidding on a contract to bring in 420 new buses. These so called diablos chinos (Chinese devils), will be owned and managed by the government. The government probably won't be interested in paying for fancy paint jobs.

Very soon, before the next presidential election (May 2009), the first new buses will hit the streets of Panama. Currently the government is buying the routes back, for $25, 000 each, effectively taking these buses off the roads. What will become of these buses? I don't know, but Panama won't be the same with out them.

Day 635 - Peace Corps Service - Plant Project Update

Jeff and I met with Nathan on January 25th and had a meeting with the women of El Valle on January 29th. All the pots have been distributed as of January 29th. The 9'80 article will be written in February.

Kids helping make compost at the school.

Meeting with Nathan
On January 25th-26th Jeff and I walked up to Earth Train's Centro de Madrono. We talked with Nathan about ensuring that if the women make quality pots they will be bought. Then we discussed what to plant in them. Nathan choose low growing plants such as begonias, African violets, and ferns to be planted in groups of three. Also high value plants can be planted alone such as shrimp tail fern, and iron cross begonia. The goal is to have 50 pots ready for the opening of the gallery at the end of March. The pots will be bought from the women for $7 a piece.

Nathan once again talked about having geologically significant rocks as artifacts and focal points in the pots to add story and interest. He also brought up again the sculptural found wood that could be incorporated into the pot. These are things that would require brochures and signage. The woman are not responsible for these added elements.

Nathan did not seem to realize that we are using 6" deep and 14" round pots. He thought we were using the turkey pots. He seemed disappointed that we weren't using oval shaped pots. If the money is there we can start turkey sized pots, but we will need to order the terracotta finished pots as well. Five or so would be a good number to start with. Farinoz will buy those for us and have them sent up.

Transportation was not discussed.

Nathan also mentioned what other things will be sold in the gallery. There will be oil paintings by a Panamanian Carlos Wheel. Sculptures of some sort maybe. He also said he would fill out the gallery with his personal art collection that wouldn't be for sale.

At the end I emphasized the importance of Nathan and Earth Train people going personally to El Valle to give feed back to the women and generally showing their support. Nathan agreed to come at least once before mid March.

Plastic Pots
We got the black plastic pots that Nathan and Farinoz brought up to Centro Madrono. Jeff and I cut off the black plastic pots and mixed soil enough to fill 35 pots. We only received 41 pots. We were supposed to get 48. So 7 got lost some where, my guess is they were never delivered to Casa Arias.

Llani and her family received their pots.

Meeting with Women
On January 28th we visited all the women and delivered their first two pots with soil. We mixed the soil for them because I was worried about our limited time frame. Compost takes weeks to make and we already had some compost ready.

On January 29th at 4:00pm we had a short 45 minute meeting. I was impressed by the turn out. Only the women came, no men. I have six very interested women to work with. We explained the plates and plastic liners of the pots to facilitate transplanting. Then we did examples of plants and how to pot them up. The women were most concerned about which types to plants to use. I tried to impress on them the need for them to be ready for mid March. We also talked about the gallery and its purpose. It was a good meeting.

Espiscia cupreata.or flame violet

Plant Identification
I also just received an email from Alicia, a botanist I met up at Earth Train. She helped identify that African violet looking plant. It is Espiscia cupreata. The books say it´s not native to Panama, but it is to Columbia. I think her book might be wrong. It looks very native to Panama, I don´t think anyone planted it in the jungle, nor that it is an escaped potted plant. I bet it is a native to Panama as well. It is commonly known as a flame violet, or in Spanish as cirtodeira.

9´80 Article
I received an email from Farinoz about writing the article for 9'80 about the project. The article is due February 20th. I will be writing it February 11-15, when I am in Panama City. I´m not sure when it will be published.

Our Plans
I´ll check in with the women and work with them on nice full pots. We´ll be back out in March. If you guys need anything, information photos or what not let me know soon so I have time to respond.