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…..like this is your room?.......so….uhhh….I mean……..so if there’s like anything…….uh……well…….you know…….like……you know…..that you need?........you know…..just……..dude……hey……..uh……can we?……..I mean……..do you?……..ummmm……..I mean……..do 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…..do 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