Friday, February 22, 2008


Everyone has their strengths, and everyone has their weaknesses. Sometimes, these pluses and minuses are mental. Other times, they are spiritual. Sometimes (perhaps those most visible) they are even physical. For example, although I’ve never been the biggest or strongest guy around (perceived weakness for some), I do seem to possess certain abilities in the “aerobic” department (perceived strength for others). And, although the ol' lungs probably won’t do much for my placing in the 2008 WORLD Strongman Competition, they DID help significantly in the VAIL 100 (100 mile mountain bike race) a few years back.
Another, more subtle physical strength I seem to possess is what I call “the iron stomach”. Again, it’s not going to win me any accolades, and you certainly won’t find any trophies or plaques on the wall with small, yet very detailed, bowels etched ever so delicately into the cheap gold-colored plastic. But that’s OK, because when I eat strange foods at exotic restaurants, I NEVER have a problem. When I get sick with a bacterial infection, virus, etc., I NEVER get any of the “GI symptoms” that commonly accompany such illnesses. In fact, until that fateful “costal cruise” in Hawaii a few years ago, I even had Jerry Seinfeld BEAT—HANDS DOWN!!!--with my 14-year “NO-VOMIT” streak (anyone out there able beat THAT record?)! And finally, whether it be Latin America, Europe, Middle East, or even Africa, I’ve NEVER gotten sick after sampling the local fare…….never, that is, until last night.
It could have been the octopus. That’s my FIRST theory. But the octopus had only been in the refrigerator for a couple of days. And it was SO good in that pasta dish prepared by the Argentineans (remember, I’m living in a hostel…….people come….people go) the other night. It also could have been the tamale. That’s my SECOND theory. And even though the tamale was a couple of weeks old, I’m pretty sure it was frozen for most of that time. It looked OK. It smelled OK. It even tasted OK. And it just seemed so cute and perfect wrapped in that banana leaf with the string tied into a bow. So innocent……so harmless……so inviting…… difficult to pass up.
Maybe it was one. Maybe it was the other. Maybe it was a combination of the two. Maybe it was something different altogether. We’ll just never know. Whatever it was though, it fought back with a vengence!
After my big meal, I felt pretty good….full…..but good. You see, in addition to the octopus pasta and the tamale, there had been the salad, the three bowls of cereal (that would be the dessert), AND the high-quality Swiss chocolate (uh….second dessert). In fact who WOULDN’T feel full (a little rumbling in the stomach, a little gas… big deal) after such a dining experience? But after an hour or two, things began to change.

In the beginning, I thought I would just take a small break from my reading in order to to “lie down for a moment”. “I’m sure I’ll feel fine in a couple of minutes”, I said, as I placed the book to the side, cleared a space on the bed, and attempted the “left lateral recumbent” position to relieve a little pressure down below. That was about 8PM. Around 8:30PM, I had another thought. “hmmmm…..this increasingly uncomfortable feeling doesn’t seem to be going away”. “In fact, I’m feeling a bit WORSE than before…….better try a different position before getting back to the rest of the evening”.

9PM—“Something could be slightly amiss……I really don’t feel so good”.

9:30PM--I think I’ll skip the lunar eclipse outside……I ‘m not sure I possess the ability to get up at this point in my life…….besides those eclipses happen all the time, don’t they?”.

10PM—“Oh Sweet Maria!……that “something that could be slightly amiss” is now officially “something that HAS GONE HORRIBLY AWRY”!!!!!”

11PM—“Holy Cow! I had no idea that the human stomach could actually swell to 76 times its normal size!.........I mean seriously!……one way or another, something has GOT TO GIVE!”

12AM—“Please God….I’ll do anything!......ANYTHING!…..JUST MAKE IT STOP! TAKE AWAY THE PAIN!!!”

1AM—“I wonder how long I’ve been…..AAAAOOOOOUUUUUUUHHHHHH………..lying in bed now?” “Maybe I…….OOHHHHH…..could turn this………HHHHHEEEEEEEE……….into a……….OOOOO MYYYYYYY………..Blog entry”…………………and by the way, this lamas stuff doesn’t work!!!!!

1:30AM—“Wait a minute! The pharmacy at Romero is open 24 hours…..maybe there is way…a light at the end of the tunnel….there could be HOPE!!!!.....if I could only extricate myself from the fetal position!!!

2AM—“You know, I can honestly say that I’ve NEVER actually fantasized about diarrhea before this very moment……..but sure enough, there’s the beach, there’s the crystal blue water, there are the palm trees swaying ever so gently in the Southern breezes……..and there I am, right there in the shade of the palm trees…..pooping my brains out. It’s all just so beautiful! (may have actually cried at that point)

3AM—“I’m SO COLD!”

0-Dark-30—“Hey, I just remembered that I have some ibuprofen in my bag! At this point, I’ll try ANYTHING!”

……….and with that, except for the faint memory of hearing the rooster’s crow in the early morning hours, I don’t remember much after the Vitamin I.
The good news was that at 10AM, when I awoke, I found that my stomach was only swollen to 7 or 8 times its normal size. The bad news was that my stomach was still 7 to 8 times its normal size. So I pretty much took the day off……from food, that is. I had a little coffee in the AM, a banana around noon, and a couple of small pieces of bread later in the day. Other than that, it’s been a day of fasting (hey, can I still get spiritual credit for that?). I also ventured out to the local pharmacy and picked up a common pink cocktail.
Right now, as I type this entry, it’s about 10PM, just 24 hours from the early stages of the big event. I’m back in my room, I haven’t taken the pink stuff, and the stomach is only feeling “uncomfortable”. Maybe it’s not fair to associate my last 24 hours with any specific country or “local fare”. Maybe I just happened to be in Panama when this gastronomical event took place. Perhaps it was just coincidence, as ALL THINGS MUST COME TO AN END. At this point though, that’s neither here nor there. At THIS point, I’m banking on another old cliché, because like all things, THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

………and with any luck, this shall “pass” in the morning.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


For the most part, I’m a pretty conservative guy. I don’t mean to say that I’m “A conservative” in the political arena or “socially conservative” with ideologies, beliefs, etc. In fact, some would argue quite the contrary. What I mean is that I’m conservative in the “not particularly spontaneous…….steady…….even-keeled……at times slow to make decisions……….make too many lists…..disciplined…….introverted……..hopefully not TOO boring (for you ladies)” sort of way. For example, as you may have picked up on from my previous Blog entries, it was a stretch for me to share a tiny living space with 14 strangers partying like rock stars for 5 days. Another example? Well, if I have plans to do something for an evening (or life in general), it can be difficult for me to change these plans spontaneously at the last minute and head off in a different direction altogether.
As you can imagine, this can be a real strength. I weigh the options, I plan, I stay out of trouble, and I generally have NO regrets when all is said and done. It also comes in particularly handy when setting and accomplishing goals. On the other hand though, this particular lifestyle can work in the opposite direction, as I can come out on the short end of experience, relationship, and/or LIVING in general. SO, these days, in order to avoid spending TOO much time in the category of the latter, I’ve been consciously trying to LIVE IN THE MOMENT. OR, to be more accurate, I should probably say that I’m consistently searching for the proper balance between the two.
Now I DO understand that some of you may be saying something along the lines of “what’s this guy talking about? He just sold his house, left his job, and moved to Nicaragua to hang out with a bunch of poor people in a garbage dump, all the while getting himself into various less-than-comfortable situations involving popcorn, busses, and angry border officials……..all with a seemingly significant amount of regularity!” OK…point taken….and there may be some truth in that. BUT, I’m also still the guy that, prior to making ANY type of purchase, researches EXTENSIVELY everything from computers to underwear. And don’t even get me started on the coupons!

TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF: After a long afternoon in my Spanish class, I was experiencing the usual feeling of “man, that was WAY more Spanish than my poor brain can process…..I need to lie down”. But as I was walking out the door of the school, one of the teachers answered the phone and did something I had NEVER witnessed prior to that moment. “It’s for you”, she said, while handing the phone to me.


Now, you have to understand that for me to receive a phone call in Panama is an EXTREMELY unusual event. In fact, this was certainly a first. So with that in mind, I greeted this unexpected turn of events with a healthy dose of skepticism and apprehension.



UV—Hey Jason! What are you doing? Catch a taxi to Alto Boquete! Hurry up!


You see, not only did I not recognize this unidentified voice on the other end of the line, but the voice was speaking in Spanish, (of course) so I didn’t actually understand ALL of what it was saying.

J—Who is this?

UV—It’s Janeth! Come on up to Alto Boquete…….to the high school……I’ll meet you there!

My mind was suddenly flooded with thoughts of “meet me on the playground after school” type of activities. Did she want to fight? Smoke cigarettes? Make-out? I had NO idea.


NOW IDENTIFIED VOICE---Don’t worry about it!! Come on!!! VAMOS! VAMOS!

So there I was….holding the phone, suddenly faced with a very important and pressing decision. Do I remain in the comfort of my plans for the evening (i.e. make dinner……read……hang out with the folks at the hostel….email……relax)? OR do I, “in a moment’s notice”, catch a taxi into an evening of question marks and unknowns?
I know what you're thinking. In fact, I'm actually thinking the same thing myself. I know what I SHOULD have done. I know what I WANTED to do. I even know what I WISHED I had done. But as I look back from today, I can only say this......."I'm sorry". Really, I am. I DO wish I could say that I acted spontaneously and had this amazing experience doing something phenomenal etc. etc. etc. Unfortunately, I have to report that I chose to head home and …………..WAIT! WAIT!!! I’m KIDDING! I’M KIDDING! Of COURSE I TOOK THE PATH INTO THE UNKNOWN. I’ve turned this into a Blog entry, haven't I?

NIV—So what are you waiting for? Let’s go! I’ll see you there in a few minute!

J—But I don’t even know where the high school is!

NIV—Don’t worry about it……the taxi driver will know. I’ll see you there in 5!!!!!

And with that, I flagged the taxi, agreed on a price, and arrived at the high school a few minutes later.

WHO? I suppose one of the questions you may be asking right about now is this……who exactly is Janeth? Well, Janeth is one of the teachers at the school. In fact, she was my teacher for a month last year when I studied here in Boquete. As for the “other suspicion” you may have, I’ll just say this……..we’re friends.

So where were we? Where were we? Ah! So within a few minutes, I was de-boarding the taxi and meeting Janeth and her daughter in the parking lot of the local high school. After the usual greetings, along with my lingering question of “so I still don’t know why I am here……what are we doing?”, we began walking from the school. (uhh, so does this mean we’re NOT going to make-out on the playground?) Eventually, we arrived at the house of one of her relatives. A few minutes after THAT, I was showing photos of my travels (happened to be carrying the computer when I left the school) to a VERY captive audience of mesmerized individuals, most of whom had never traveled outside of Panama. In fact, several of the photos were even met with spontaneous cheering and applause from the audience! As for rest of the night? Well, after attempting to teach Janeth’s sister how to drive HER OWN CAR, I found myself chopping vegetables in the kitchen, while listening to another of her relatives singing Mexican Opera in the living room (and HE was actually pretty good!). In the end, the dinner, the company, and the entire evening were all pretty terrific……certainly a memorable occasion.

Oh, and as for the rest of my life? Well, recently, for the first time in years, I went dancing (i.e. ACTUAL dancing......not stand around “amongst” dancing while chatting with the other non-dancers). AND, not only that, but a few days ago I spontaneously bought a new pair of flip-flops from the FIRST store I entered (i.e. NO research)!
You know, I think I could certainly be onto something with this “living in the moment” thing.

…….now if I could just do something about all these lists.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's Carnevales!!!....Part II

THE STORY CONTINUES: The GOOD news was that after scurrying off into the darkness, my new friend was never to return. The bad news is that I’ll never know what he or she actually was. My money is on “enormous cockroach”.
Anyway, after getting oriented in Pedasi, grabbing a quick bite to eat, and experiencing my first brush with the weekend’s festivities, I decided to call it a night. After all, it was 2AM and it had been a really long day of travel. Unfortunately, I was seemingly the ONLY person in the entire town with that particular goal in mind (good think I packed those earplugs).
By the next morning, the rest of the gang had shown up from Panama City, and as I mentioned before, we were about 15 strong. Since most of them had been out until around 5AM, it was certainly a slow morning around the ol’ homestead. By early afternoon though, a plan came together to check out a nearby island called Isla Iguana…..or Iguana Island. After a five minute drive to the nearest beach and a successful attempt at locating a guy with a small boat, we were braving the high seas on our way to visit the famous reptiles.

THE SEA WAS ANGRY THAT DAY, MY FRIEND: Now when I say “high seas”, I’m not exactly exaggerating. I mean I’m certainly not one who is even remotely experienced in ANYTHING nautical. But this was a pretty small boat (maybe 12 feet in length), and it was a REALLY windy day! I just kept asking the other folks in the boat……”so is there any expression in Spanish that says THE SEA WAS ANGRY THAT DAY, MY FRIEND?”… I tried desperately to stay IN the boat (oh, and did anyone else besides me NOT know that the bow of the boat was the roughest place ON the boat?) But alas, after about 30 minutes of fighting our way through the “mala mar”, we found ourselves upon a truly spectacular landscape. The island was relatively small, with a BEAUTIFUL stretch of beach. The sand was white.....the water crystal blue……the bay protected……and people, well, absent…….REALLY amazing! We spent the day swimming, lying in the sun (or shall I say “shade” for SOME of us pigmentally challenged individuals), snorkeling, and exploring the rest of the island. Other than a small structure that housed a couple of park rangers, the island was uninhabited. Uninhabited, that is, by species of the human variety. On the beach, there were crabs……LOTS of them….like the sand was TEEMING with them! In the air, we found FLOCKS of shore birds (not sure what kind…..large black birds with enormous red “inflatable sacs” on their necks). In the trees? Yep, you guessed it. Iguanas. In addition to the main beach where we arrived, there was a small trail through the bamboo that lead to the OTHER beach on the OTHER side of the island (5 minute walk). It was certainly smaller and unprotected, but equally beautiful nonetheless. Finally, located on the high point of the island, there was climbable tower that supported a “lighthouse” of sorts (i.e. large flashing light….no house). Because the rungs of the exterior iron ladder were almost completely rusted out, it became quite the adventure to climb this thing (whatever you do….don’t put any weight on the middle…..and don’t look down!!!!) Fortunately, everyone survived the climb, and we were rewarded with a perfect panoramic view of the island.
All in all, it was a pretty terrific day…….beautiful…..peaceful…..relaxing. And as the sun was setting on our small slice of paradise, the boat “captain” even showed up for our return trip. “AAAHHHHHH…….maybe this Carnevales thing is going to be OK after all”.

THEN AGAIN…..MAYBE NOT: The next few days? Hmmmmmm……what to say about the next few days? Well, I’ll sum it up with a few descriptive words. Crowded……loud……sleepless……bad food….intense heat……the usual run of the mill shenanigans and debauchery. By the time Monday rolled around, I was feeling….well……how about a few more descriptive words…….READY TO GO HOME!!! I mean a night or two of this was one thing. Four days straight was a whole different ballgame. Again, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with any of these folks. They’re great people. It just wasn’t my scene. It’s not how I roll. As they say here in this part of the world, I’m “TRANQUILO”.

PARADISE LOST: Unfortunately, we still had another day before heading back to the mountains surrounding Boquete. I say “unfortunately” because our rental agreement for the house had run out and we still had one day remaining. What to do? “Hey, I’ve got an idea”, someone said, “let’s go back and spend the night on Isla Iguana!” Now judging from my previous description of this little piece of paradise, that actually sounded like a pretty great idea. I mean I LOVE to camp, I can get away from the loud music and fireworks, and perhaps I can even get a good night’s rest. I mean who WOULDN’T want another taste of such beauty and tranquility? Who WOULDN’T want another taste of the Blue Lagoon? Well, here’s how things turned out:
The first challenge to overcome was that of food and water. As I mentioned before, the island was uninhabited. That meant that outside of the occasional coconut or slow iguana, there was no food OR fresh water to be found. To get around this, we made a quick trip to the local supermarket to pick up a few necessities. Problem solved. The next challenge involved the details of sleeping arrangements. In other words, did we plan to just sleep in the sand……on a rock…..maybe make a bamboo raft on which to float around the lagoon? Well, although this “problem” was really never addressed, I had fortunately brought along a “sleeping pad” that I had rented in Boquete. “I don’t know what those guys are going to do, but I think I’m good”, I thought. And with that……we were off.
The first sign of a potential “change in the air” came upon our initial arrival to the parking area (i.e. first beach). When he had arrived to this same lot a few days earlier, there was ONE other vehicle in sight. Upon our return trip, there were what seemed like HUNDREDS! Uh oh. Also, when we headed down the beach to hitch a ride to the island, in addition to locating the same boat captain that we used before, we incidentally located about 50 of his friends with THEIR perspective boats. Hmmmm…….how could ONE beach with ONE island support so many boat taxis? ”Yes, something could certainly be amiss”. And when we finally arrived at the perfectly secluded, tranquil, peaceful, uninhabited beach we had experienced before, we were met with…..well, a different scene. You see, since we had left the island a few days earlier, I’m pretty sure that everyone in all of Panama had suddenly been struck with the idea of visiting this nice little “isla”. AND, to top things off, there was even a cruise ship docked a ways offshore. Of course, I didn’t mind the cruise ship so much as the endless line of motorized rubber boats leading FROM the ship! HAY CARUMBA!!!! It was like Venice Beach on the 4th of July!!!!!
Fortunately for us, in addition to the departure of the cruise ship, most of the crowd had left by the time the sun was setting. Number of overnight guests? Probably only 20-30. Again, compared with the scene we had just faced, this didn’t seem so bad. I watched the sun set over the mainland of Panama, we had a nice campfire, and eventually we decided to find a place in the sand to call a bed for the night. The GOOD news was that the inflatable mattress I had rented was going to REALLY come in handy! Bad news? I KNEW I should have tested that thing before leaving! Oh well, the sand was relatively soft. NO problem. But as I tried to settle in for the night, I discovered that there WAS one small problem……OK several. First off, I realized that the comfortable offshore breeze I had found so enjoyable just a few hours earlier had suddenly turned into a Category 4 hurricane! Again, this wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that I was sleeping out under the stars. So every five minutes of so, I was feeling like the LOST CITY OF PETRA (i.e. BURIED in the sand…….literally!) AND, as hard as I tried to provide “refuge for my face” (and 7 open orifices in my head) behind this seemingly microscopic palm tree, I was also EATING a large percentage of the beach! “Oh man….this really isn’t feeling like a tropical paradise”.
Good news! The wind finally died down sometime after midnight, and I was finally able to remove the towel from around my head. AAAHHHHHH…….finally a bit of serenity. But just as I was beginning to dream of the tropical beauties arriving to visit my sweet island paradise, I was struck with yet another stark realization. Remember my earlier description of the island’s select fauna? Remember the sandy landscape teeming with the billions of crabs? Well, I realized that I was suddenly PART of the landscape! Not only that, but remember the iguanas perched so comfortably in the trees? UH, apparently they enjoy a little tour of the island after the sun sets. WHWHOOOOAAAAAA…….get off me man!!!!! I’m NOT A ROCK!!!! AAAHHHHH…….. CAN YOU AT LEAST AVOID PERCHING UPON ANYTHING ABOVE THE NECK?!!!!!! DUDE!!!! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD……DON’T YOU GUYS EVER SLEEP?!!!!! It was as if I had suddenly become the local jungle-gym for the native population!
And with that, my imaginary bubble had officially burst. I was no longer in the “Blue Lagoon”. I was in “Dante’s Inferno”.

CALLING IT A DAY: After this final sleepless night, this time compliments of the elements, I was officially ready to throw in the preverbial towel (yes, yes..the same one I was once again unwrapping from around my head). So after catching a 1PM boat taxi back to the mainland and a quick shower at a hostel in Pedasi, the moment had finally arrived. We said our goodbye’s to the rest of the crew, found another one of those “pack approximately 30 people into a space designed for 10” taxi-buses, and began the reverse trip BACK to Boquete. The only real difference was that this time, those with whom we were sharing these infinitely tight spaces looked a bit worse for wear……and smelled about the same way.
Around 11PM that same evening, after the buses, vans, taxis, etc. etc. etc., we were greeted by the cool mountain air of Boquete. Later that night I became reacquainted with my old friend, the river. At last........serenity.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

It's Carnevales!!!.......Part I

THE EVENT.......The actual EVENT was a thing called “CARNEVALES”, or carnivals. For those of you who have never heard of it, it’s a pretty big deal down here in Latin America. I still don’t understand EXACTLY what they are celebrating (possibly “pre-Lent celebration” like Mardi Gras), but it is CERTAINLY a celebration nonetheless. For a comparison, I think I would just say that it’s like a mixture of spring break and Mardi Gras….latin style, of course. Although it is celebrated to some extent all across Latin America, I have heard that the biggest celebration, next to Brazil, is right here in Panama. So, beginning on Friday (Feb. 1 this year), the whole country takes a vacation until the following Thursday to participate in the festivities.
Not every town has a carnevales celebration, but those that do seem to take great pride in their unique festival. There is a “queen” that rides around on these floats throughout the weekend, apparently changing her outfit (think Vegas show girl meets the village shaman) each day of the festival. There are also other “floats” with various people riding in front of or behind the queen. AND, instead of a traditional marching band to aid in the fiesta, the band simply rides in their own “cart…of sorts” behind the “queen”. In order to witness this big procession, THOUSANDS of people come from all around. SO, you have the queen, you have the band, you have the thousands of people lining the streets to watch the procession, AND you have this spontaneous “mob” that forms behind the floats, singing, dancing, and chanting as they follow along. It’s really quite a scene.
For the rest of the weekend, people pretty much just hang around in the town square, eating various “meats on a stick”, listening to unbelievably loud music, dancing, and drinking….A LOT (i.e. around the clock........or maybe I should say "clocks" since it goes on for DAYS!). Oh, and I should also mention that because it’s so hot out, there are these big water trucks that constantly go around spraying water on the people (in addition to every kid in the area spraying everyone in sight with their personal water guns). Finally, to top it all off, there are the never-ending fireworks (don’t these people EVER sleep?), LOTS of traffic, and the “straight off the cover of LOW RIDER magazine” trucks aiding the street party with their music being played at absolutely incredible decibel levels. Like I said…’s really quite the scene.

THE PLAN…….Since the whole country was taking a few days off, the school was going to be closed from Friday afternoon until Wednesday AM. Also, since Boquete doesn’t actually do a carnevales celebration, I told Carlos (guy who runs the school) that I would head South with him to meet up with a group of his friends from Panama City. Although I’m really not much of a “party-er”, I’m feeling a little too old for Spring Break, AND I do enjoy my space (14 people in a very small house could get a little tight), I was really excited to see some other parts of the country. And besides, how bad could it be? The actual plan was to head to a town near the beach called Pedasi. It’s located in the central part of the country, on the Pacific side, and is known for being a beautiful part of the country with plenty of terrific beaches. Again, THAT doesn’t sound so bad, right?

THE JOURNEY…..For about a week before the day of departure, I continued to ask Carlos the same question. “So, have you checked the bus schedule from here to Pedasi?” For that same amount of time, the answer remained unchanging….”oh….don’t worry….it’s all under control” (or in other words…..NO). So as Friday afternoon rolled around and we hopped on the first bus leading out of Boquete, I told Carlos that he was the navigator and that I would just trust his local senses. Fortunately, as we arrived in the next town of David, we were just in time to catch the bus to “Divisa” (about 5 hours away). My favorite moment of the day came when I threw my bags under the bus and was instructed to hop on as quickly as possible. The only problem was that Carlos had suddenly disappeared and I didn’t actually have a ticket to be on this particular bus. Suddenly the ticket lady came down the aisle asking me for my ticket, etc. “Uh, well, actually I don’t have one yet”, I tell her. “Oh, no problem, where are you going?”, she asks. hmmmmm……now THAT’S an interesting question. Because once again, since Carlos had been the actual mastermind behind this little journey, I for one had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA of the name of our ultimate destination, let alone where this particular bus was going. As you can imagine, it made for a pretty hilarious exchange.
J….. “uh….well…..I’m not exactly sure”
Ticket Lady…..with a very puzzled look on her face……”you don’t know where you are going?”
J……”not exactly.”
Ticket Lady…….”ummmmm……are you going to Panama City (ultimate destination of that particular bus)?”
TL……”well, are you going to”…………………she then proceeded to name approximately 3, 837 small towns across Panama, not one of which I had ever heard of.
J……”nope…not that one……….not that one either…….that one? Nope, I don’t think it’s that one”
TL……..she’s now becoming very confused at the fact that not only does this guy NOT have a ticket to be on this bus…..he also has no idea where he wants to go. “So where are you going?”
J…..”again, I actually have NO idea. “ “but I think my friend”………………..

About this time, a very “helpful” older gentleman sitting nearby decided to intervene. Assuming the obvious thing (that I simply didn’t understand the language), he began to try to help with what my friend calls “Tarzan language”. In other words, VERY slow-VERY loud-VERY simple language.
J…..”no no, I know it sounds crazy, but my friend……..”
OG…..”PA-NA-MA”! “PA-NA-MA CI-TY”! “YOU GO-ING”!!!!! “WHERE!” “YOU”!
TL…..”I need to know where you are going”.
J…….”I know, I know” “I understand the question, I just don’t know the”…………

Finally, another guy we were traveling with (guy from the school who speaks VERY little Spanish) figures he’ll give it a shot. Although his intentions were good (to tell the lady that our friend was buying the tickets inside), all he could get out was “my friend”. But in reality, that’s not entirely true. Because he is just beginning to learn the language, so what he ACTUALLY said to the ticket lady was “YOUR friend”, while pointing out the window emphatically. As you can imagine the scene was deteriorating VERY quickly…….

TL…..”again, I need to know where you are”……..
OG…..”GO-ING!” “GO-ING!” “CI-TY!!!!!!”
Jesse….”YOUR FRIEND!” “YOUR FRIEND” (pointing out of bus window)
Jason……”my friend is buying the tick”………
Jason…..oh man, I’ve got to get off this bus.

Well, eventually Carlos showed up (from the bathroom) and we purchased our tickets for the correct destination without additional problems. AND FINALLY, after the two buses, two more taxis (one of which was so crowded that I had some guy from New Zealand sitting on my lap), and one ride from a kid that was either completely drunk or simply did NOT know how to drive, we arrived at some random gas station to meet some random guy who had a key for our rental house. And with that, my “Carnevales” adventure had begun.

MI CASA ES SU CASA: I remember when I was in Atlanta for the Olympic game. For a brief couple of weeks, the eyes of the world were on MY city. I also remember the dollar signs present in the eyes of most of the locals around that time. It was as if everyone’s first thought was “wow…this is so cool! The world is watching and coming to MY home!”. Interestingly enough though, the second thought seemed to be “wow, I think there might be some real potential to make some extra cash!!!” (or, as I like to think……”wow, I can really rip some people off on an international level!”. Apparently, around Carvevales, things operate pretty much the same way. I’ve learned that it’s not uncommon for the locals to simply leave town for a few days and rent their houses out for ungodly amounts of money. Case in point? The place where we were staying. When we arrived, we were met by the owner, a very nice older woman who I believe lives alone. The house was EXTREMELY simple (concrete floors, couple of rooms, toilet and shower (i.e. elevated spicket with primitive floor drain) behind the house. The other thing that I found a bit peculiar was that the lady pretty much cleared that place out. I mean she took the soap, she took the clothes, she took the food, the sheets……everything……EVEN THE TOILET PAPER! The price? Well, I’ll just say that we were paying a rental price for a house “on the beach in the US”……..we were about a half hour FROM the beach, and a bit further from the US.
Anyway, after a long day of travel, I decided to grab a quick shower to wake and freshen up a bit. “hmmmmm….so how does this thing work?”. “Oh yes…..I see”….”oooooo a bit cold, but not TOO bad” But just as I was rinsing the shampoo from my hair, I felt something against my foot. “hey…what’s that?”, I say while trying to clear the shampoo from my eyes. WHOOOOAAAAA!!!.. ….whatever it was, it was now running OVER my foot………”SWEET MARIA!!!” And because it was so dark outside, all I could see was that something quite large, maybe a small mouse, maybe an enormous cockroach, was now running OVER my foot! Again…..this was going to be an interesting weekend.

Friday, February 1, 2008


As I mentioned at the end of my last posting, I have safely arrived in Boquete. The obvious question though has to be the one of……WHERE or WHAT is Boquete? Excellent question……I’ll answer it with this, a bit of history.
In 2007, I decided to take a month of vacation and travel to Central America for one of those “immersion” type language programs (that’s Spanish in case there was any doubt). After a bit of internet time and three or four phone calls, I was packing my bags for Panama. In the end, I spent four weeks in a town called Boquete, a tourist (local AND international) town known for its terrific mountain location, its world renowned coffee (currently #1 in the world…..three years running), its perfect climate, and its numerous recreational opportunities. I spent my days in class (4-6 hours per day), I lived with a host family (OK I know…..actually TWO), and met some great people.
This year, prior to completely immersing myself in the volunteer project in Nicaragua, I thought it would be a good idea to brush up (i.e. WAY up) on the ol’ Spanish. Where to go? Back to Boquete, of course! After all, it’s a great area, I learned a LOT of Spanish at the school, and I’ll even get to see some old friends. I’m IN!!!
The GREAT thing about being in Boquete this year is that I have successfully avoided the RAINY SEASON! In other words, the weather is absolutely PERFECT this time of year. OK, so there’s a bit of wind here and there. But the way I look at it, it’s…….Wind schmind! Hold onto your hat and stop your whining! It’s warm and sunny during the day, and the nights are perfectly cool (i.e. the be-all-end-all in sleeping weather).
The other great thing about Boquete is the small town atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong……it’s actually not THAT small. I mean there is certainly a “central….downtown…..commercial…..urban” area with way more stores and restaurants than I have the time or energy to visit. But it’s small enough that I can walk to school in about two minutes or any one of three local markets within five. It’s also small enough that I generally run into “someone” I know just about every time I leave my front door……….definitely a new experience for me, being an urban/suburban dweller.

Hey! Remember Me?: Like I said before, in the month I stayed here in 2007, I was able to make some great friends in the area. Although a few have moved on in the last 6 months (no no…they didn’t die……they just moved on to other things), it’s been really great to get reacquainted with the “stick-arounders”. Of course there are also the new folks in town, so I’ve enjoyed hangin’ with a new crowd as well. All in all, there remains plenty of social opportunity to go around.

A PLACE TO HANG MY HAT: Although I did enjoy my stay with the host families last year, I thought it might be nice to have a little more space this year. Oh, and a “less than arctic cold” shower sounded pretty good as well. The first Hostel I checked into was called Hostel Boquete. The room was small (converted attic space….couldn’t actually stand up in most of it), the coffee was absolutely horrible (and this is a town KNOWN AROUND THE WORLD for their amazing coffee), and there was this ever-circulating bathroom aroma that made me feel like I was sleeping in the toilet. BUT, all in all, it really wasn’t that bad. My favorite part about it was dealing with the “manager”, Paul. “Uh…OK.....uh… this is your room?….uhhh….I mean…… if there’s like anything…….uh……well…….you know…….like……you know…..that you need? know…..just……..dude……hey……..uh……can we?……..I mean…… you?……..ummmm……..I mean…… you have that cash?.........dude? Yep, this could seriously go on for hours like this, but I enjoyed the interactions nonetheless. Besides, he was actually a pretty good ultimate-Frisbee layer (more on that later) and his girlfriend made GREAT biscotti.
After a few days of living in the toilet (or BATTIC (bathroom in the attic) as I now refer to it), I moved to my own little piece of paradise. It’s my new home for the next month, and it’s called “The Refuge of the River”. Oh man, this place is SO SWEET!!!!! It’s an old house that someone bought and turned into a hostel. To be more accurate though, I should say that’s it’s a truly spectacular house. And when I say “OLD”, I mean……well, it’s really not old at all. So I am staying in my own room with my own bathroom with my own window that opens up to my own river and my own door that opens up to my own laundry room that leads into my own gigantic kitchen complete with my own refrigerator, etc. that leads out to my own living room with my own satellite TV which happens to be located next to my own terrace next to my own…….OK OK OK…….you get the idea. AND, of course, nothing is actually my “own” except for the bedroom and bathroom. But since I have been the only guest here for the last week, it actually IS my own!!!!! Oh, and did I mention that the river is just a few feet outside my window? Man, I LOVE going to sleep every night to the sound of the river…………aaaaahhhhhh…….life is good in Boquete.
Of course, in all fairness to the Battic (and Paul the manager), I have to mention…..well…..Armando. Just who is this Armando? Excellent question. Armando is kind of like the caretaker of the hostel for the afternoon/evening hours (i.e. brother of the owner). On the outside, Armando looks to be a perfectly normal Panamanian guy who works at the hostel. After a few minutes with Armando though, one realizes that all is not exactly as it appeared upon first glance. At first, I thought it was simply another case of confusion resulting from the language barrier. But after a couple of days of having the same conversations over and over, I started to suspect that it wasn’t quite that simple. To illustrate my point, I’ll just share a typical conversation between me and my new friend Armando. Before I begin, just keep in mind that this conversation would take place “completely in Spanish”.
J—Hey Armando, how are things going?
A—Hey Jason! Great! How are you? Wait, do you speak Spanish?
J—yea, a little. I mean I’m taking classes over at the language school.
A—Oh yea….great. I will now talk to you in Spanish!
J---So what are you up to this afternoon?
A—Oh…well…I’m just watching some TV.
J—Oh yea, I see. So what movie are you watching?
A—Wait a minute… you speak Spanish?
A—Hey, I didn’t know you spoke Spanish!
Again, I could go on, but I’ll end it there. Do you remember the “short-term memory guy” from the old Saturday Night Live episodes? That’s what it’s like talking to Armando! Seriously! It’s just like the SNL guy………………
Hi, I’m Armando, what’s your name?
Hello Armando, my name is Jason. Nice to meet you.
What’s your name?
Hi Jason, I’m Armando, what’s your name?
What’s your name? I’m Armando!
In all seriousness though, I’m not trying to be critical of Armando OR the fact that he truly does have a head injury from some type of accident years ago. I mean sure the conversations can be a little repetitive, and sure he does some “totally off the wall” things (yesterday repeatedly demonstrated to me how well his cartwheels were coming along…….he’s 42), and sure he’s driven off a few female guests for acting completely inappropriate, and sure he lets the local teens (i.e. teen GIRLS)come over and drink beer until they vomit outside my door, but he really IS a likeable guy…….and he’s GREAT about getting rid of the vomit smell in the laundry room! Besides that, he’s a great person with whom to practice my Spanish. If I make an embarrassing error, I always have a clean slate within 5-15 minutes:) Oh, and that window he broke today? He really WAS trying to knock the oranges out of the tree “for me”.

TICK TOCK GOES THE CLOCK: Another thing people have been asking me is this……..”So just what DO you do all day?” Believe it or not, I’m somehow staying amazingly busy around here. For one thing, I’m in class for four hours per day, so between the actual class time and the homework/study time outside of class, I’m devoting a fair amount of time to my Spanish studies. Beyond that, I’m hanging out with my new/old friends, running errands, going to the grocery store, cooking in my SWEET kitchen, relaxing by the river, staying in touch with the world electronically (i.e. emailing), and of course, recreating. As far as the recreation goes, it has involved anything from the usual jogging to ultimate Frisbee to rock climbing. And although I won’t bore you with the details of the running and climbing (both of which regularly generate plenty of “what is that stupid gringo doing now” questions), I have to mention the ultimate Frisbee game. The UF game is something that apparently takes place once a week at a nearby “stadium” (definitely a relative term). The guys around town spend much of the week talking about, bragging about, and anticipating the upcoming Saturday’s game of UF! And after hearing all of the build-up, I was pretty excited. I mean these guys were REALLY into this thing, so I figured it was going to be GREAT! That is, assuming I was good enough to play with them. In fact, they were SO into this game, I even learned a new Spanish expression for how they were going to come to the game on Saturday……..with “blood in the eyes”. Whew….sounds a little intimidating.
Finally, game day rolled around and we all headed up to the stadium for the big game. There was the usual warming up, stretching, and pre-game hype. We picked teams. We marked the boundaries. We even re-defined the rules, just in case anyone had forgotten how to play amidst all of the mid-week banter. And then? The moment came…….GAME ON!!!! The initial “kick off” was up, the Frisbee was caught, and the offensive team began working the Frisbee down the field with more enthusiasm and determination than you could ever imagine. I mean it was nothing short of extraordinary. And for the first three and a half minutes, these guys were the most in shape, finely tuned, elite athletes you have ever seen. Unfortunately though, it’s generally a pretty long game. And in addition to the fact that there really isn’t such a thing as physical fitness down here (just what IS that crazy gringo up to now?), the a VERY popular pastime is smoking. So in the end, although there really WAS a great amount of heart and determination out on the field last Saturday, the hacking black lungs on the sidelines seemed to demand most of the attention. Needless to say, I had no trouble surviving the 10 minutes that passed before someone eventually uttered the first “hey, are we done yet? Let’s go get some beers!”

And with that, I’ll bring this entry to a close. I’ve been in Boquete for about two weeks now, and I really am having a great time. I’m learning LOTS of Spanish, I have a GREAT place to live, the weather is PERFECT, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the community. I should probably call it a night. Besides, I think I hear the river calling. AAAAAHHHHHHh