We went to the Caribbean – to Bocas del Toro on Isla Colón to be exact. One of the best parts of the trip from Boquete to Bocas was the water taxi from Almirante; we practically flew over the emerald water. Bocas is known for its laid back atmosphere and water adventures.
Image from: <http://geology.com/world/panama-map.gif>.
You can see some of the highlights.
Aloha & Amor y Luz, Renée
“Should someone point out a “bull’s horn acacia” to you, stop and have a close look at this thorny shrub. Between 4 and 10 feet tall, this acacia has branches along which are pairs of reddish spines that look like miniature replicas of a Texas steer’s horns. Hence its name.
Of the many relationships which have evolved between tropical ants and plants, that of the bull’s horn acacia and its stinging ants is one of the most curious. It is also one of the most dramatic examples of tropical co-evolution between species.
With some caution, shake the end of a branch. Ants burrow into the end of the spines (sot ice the tiny hole), excavate the inside of the branch, and set up a colony where they rear their young and go about the business of being ants. When the plant is disturbed, as in the case of your shaking the branch, the pugnacious ants charge aggressively from the spines, stingers armed and ready to defend their acacia host. It would only take one nasty sting to convince you that this unusual defense system works. [The sting feels like a “staple to the cheek”].
In addition to repelling would-be grazers, ranging in size from caterpillars to cattle, the ants manicure the ground around the acacia, keeping it clear of sprouts from other plants which might deprive their host for living space in a tropical forest containing 1,200 species of trees and countless other plants.
And the acacia is appreciative. Not only does it shelter its guardian ants, it also feeds them. Tiny, sausage-shaped bodies hang from the ends of the leaflets. Loaded with sugar and protein, they are harvested by the ants.
[You’ll see other ants in a tropical jungle]
On the forest floor you’re almost sure to spot trails carved by leaf cutter ants as they march throughout he jungle in search of tender leaves to attack. Their trails are veritable highways of activity. Imagine thousands of people walking home on the highway, each rushing along, carrying a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of green plywood overhead, and you have the concept of these ants. Leafcutters are amazingly industrious insects. They can completely denude a full-grown mango tree overnight, carving circular slabs of leaf about half an inch in diameter, hoisting them overhead and marching down the tree trunk back to the hive, which may be perhaps a half mile away or more.
Several highways lead to their hive – often around the buttress roots of a large tree. Hives of over 100 square meters, 2 meters deep in the forest floor are not uncommon. In these hives, millions, perhaps billions, of ants chew the leaf fragments, mixing them with nutrient-rich saliva, into a gruel. From this gruel the ants grow and harvest mushrooms which provide their food source.
Large ant colonies can cut and process nearly one hundred pounds of leaves per day. During the decades long life span of an ant colony, tons of vegetation decompose and are worked back into the forest floor. Constant rain and heat rapidly degrade tropical soils, and so the vast storehouse of nutrients and compost from the ant mounds create a rich oasis in the soil, who, without the busy ants would be nearly sterile” (257).
Essay from: Insight Guides Costa Rica, ed. Dona & Harvey Haber, London: Houghton Mifflin.
Nature is amazing! What are ants doing where you live? Aloha, Amor y Luz, Renée
Boquete is known as the Napa Valley of Panamá’s coffee region and is a top destination for adventure lovers – climb the volcano to watch sunrise, go white-water rafting, hike, bird-watch, rock climb, and enjoy coffee tours.
In the highlands of Chiriqui Provence in western Panamá, Boquete is where Barry and I spent much of our time in January. With a population of 19,000, Boquete has about 14% North American and European retirees. That fact is probably why we met people who had time to talk. Also a result of all the ex-pats is the number of Boquete interest groups: hiking groups – at least two, a bird-watching group, bridge players, and bocce ball players; these are just the ones we discovered in the 10 days or so that we were in Boquete.
The Ngäbe-Buglé (actually two groups of indigenous peoples whose languages are mutually unintelligible) have exclusive land rights and considerable administrative autonomy in their region. The Ngäbe (also spelled Ngöbe), the larger group, speaks Ngäbere, and the Buglé speaks Buglére, both members of the Chibchan language family. Collectively, they make up the largest indigenous population in Panamá of about 200,000.
According to Lonely Planet: Panamá, “Like other indigenous groups in Panama, the Ngäbe-Buglé are struggling to maintain their cultural identity, especially as foreign pressures continue to descent on the comarca (autonomous region). They predominately survive on subsistence agriculture, but they have been more successful than other groups . . . in maintaining their cultural identity and resisting the drive to modernize” (166). From what I saw, this means they are very poor and not well respected. :( But some Panamanians realize the importance of having traditional cultures, so hopefully the Ngäbe-Buglé opportunities will improve. Walking eight hours to pick coffee is not a good opportunity!
Our favorite places to eat in Boquete (in alphabetical order) include: Big Daddy’s, La Casona Mexicana, Mike’s International Grill, Retrograde, and Sugar & Spice. All had fresh produce, vegetarian choices for me, and wonderful cooks.
We loved the cool weather, the fair, the friendly people – local, ex-pat, and at our hostel, the travelers and Mamallena staff, the yoga and Pilates classes, the great hikes, the organized Take-a-Hike group, and good food.
We would visit again. We recommend that you go to Boquete too.
Aloha and Adios, Renée
Oliver Sacks, M.D. (b. 1933) was a neurologist, professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine, and author of many books including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, and An Anthropologist on Mars. Sacks felt that the brain was the “most incredible thing in the universe” and, therefore, important to study.
After learning in 2015 that he had terminal cancer, Sacks wrote:
“When people die, they cannot be replaced.
They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”
(The New York Times Magazine, 12/27/2015, p. 23).
Image from: https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/290752627/SMALL_Sacks_orange_Seibert_400x400.jpg&imgrefurl=https://twitter.com/oliversacks&h=40
One of the reasons to spend time in Boquete, Panamá is for the wonderful hiking. If you walk on almost any road that intersects with the main street, up you go and soon have great views of the town, coffee plantations, and green mountains.
One path we took is about an hour walk from the center of town – up a steep hill to the Lonely Planet Panama recommended site: El Explorador – “The gardens are designed to look like something out of Alice in Wonderland, with no shortage of quirky eye-catching displays, including fanciful suspension bridges, koi ponds and playful sculptures” (165).
It’s $5.00 each for foreigners to enter this private garden. At first, I thought “ridículo!” – but the place grew on me. The figures and garden decorations often included sayings – many of them inspiring.
Here are some of my favorite:
As you can see, my translations aren’t quite right. Let me know your better versions.
When you are in Boquete, spend an afternoon climbing to El Explorador and enjoying the quirky, peaceful spot. Vaya con Dios, Renée
The Flower and Coffee Fair in Boquete, a mountain town in the western province of Chiriqui, is a ten-day celebration. It has taken place on the banks of the Caldera River for the last 66 years. Barry and I got to experience the fair this year:
The fair includes flowers from the United States and Europe, coffee tasting, two zip lines crossing the fair, and a pavilion with artisans from all over Panamá and abroad showing and selling their wares. Folkloric groups from Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and, of course, Panamá perform on the main stage. Popular musicians and singers show off their skills. Dancing and music go into the early morning hours. More than 150,000 visitors attended this year from January 14-24, 2016. La Feria de las Flores y del Café started in 1950 as a coffee festival organized by the community for the community. It has grown.
La Feria includes –
A major part of the fair is to showcase entertainers –
According to El Visitante Enero 14-20, 2016, “The Pollera is the national female costume of Panama. There are different variations, according to the region. They are also classified based on their use such as the Pollera de Gala for formal occasions and the Montuna which is the simple country version for everyday us use.
A single pollera can cost from several hundred to several thousands of dollars and take up to a year to create. The gold and pearl mosquetetas and tembleques, [the headdresses,] that accessorize pollera are generally passed down as heirlooms through generations” (4). They can also be made of wire and imitation pearls.
At night, the fair has much entertainment and action too.
The performances on this stage when on until about midnight. However, there was still much to experience at the fair. Two sections had dancing late into the night.
We could eat again too:
And what about us? We ran into our Boquete friends, Suzie and Russ. We hung out with them talking late – until 3a.m. to be exact! The fair makes you want to stay up and have fun. Maybe you will attend La Feria de las Flores y Café next year.
Traveling always offers surprises. Tonight when we came in at about 11 after a great evening here in Boquete, Panamá, Barry told me to go look in the kitchen of our Mamallena Hostel. He wouldn’t tell me why.
Ten hostellers were crowded around – not making any food, but sitting on the cabinets and gathered around the big central island. I saw why –
A big, black, hairy spider sat motionless in the middle of the table – a Goliath Bird-Eating spider, I learned – the Theraphosa blondi is largest spider in the world by mass. It can eat small birds but more often eats earthworms and toads.
A traveling scientist from the U.K. had caught her near the Costa Rican border. He’s taking her back home to study how long she lives in optimal conditions.
According to Extreme Science, the goliath bird-eating spider is – as are most tarantulas – not really harmful to humans. They can bite but usually only in self-defense; the result feels similar to a wasp sting. This spider does have urticating hairs that it can flick from its body when it feels threatened. They are tiny, almost invisible hairs that are extremely irritating to skin especially if they get into the mucus membranes of the eyes or mouth. Unlike most spiders, this species can make noise, stridulation – a hissing sound caused by rubbing bristles on its legs together.
The biggest one on record was a little more than 11 inches (27.94 cm) across. Females mature in 3 to 6 years – and have an average life span of 15 to 20 years! Males live 3 to 6 years, dying soon after reaching maturity. The female Goliath Bird-Eating Spider does not eat the males during mating as do other species of tarantulas.
The one in the kitchen seemed harmless.
The scientist said the spider was afraid of the light since it’s nocturnal and lives in burrows. He feeds it cockroaches, other insects, and sometimes chunks of steak. Will this one live for 20 + years?
I’m off to sleep. Will I dream of spiders? What surprises will we have tomorrow?
Aloha and Adiós, Renée
“I should have stopped doing the laundry and looked at him and listened,” says Kathleen Blanchard, mom of J.P., a student from Gunn High in Silicon Valley.
Her son is one of the several teenage suicides from this elite area. “There is so much you don’t know and you are never going to know. . . We are not going to have ‘the answer.’ We will just do our best.”
Talk with and listen to those you meet and those you love.
“In order to create an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe” – Carl Sagan
Of course, Carl Sagan would say that.
Quotation in – Soul Pancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions by Rainn Wilson
Barry and I are here in Panamá and have had several experiences, including: 1) seeing the Panamá Canal – which is a huge, impressive engineering feat, 2) learning of one intriguing indigenous people, the Guna Yala, and 3) traveling with locals on a most luxurious bus, a double decker, quiet – even the infants – for the eight-hour ride between Panamá City and David (“DawVeed”), Panamá.
But what has surprised me the most so far is an animal I’ve never seen before – the coatímundí or coatí. One is here where we are staying in David at Bambú Hostel: http://www.bambuhostel.com
Image from: http://www.garlynzoo.com/coatimundi.gif
Coatís are found all over Central and South America – some even in Texas and New Mexico. The story at Bambú Hostel is that a few years ago, someone staying here saw a coatí in the road, got a sheet, threw it over her, and brought her to the hostel. She has been here ever since, which shows she is smart. I’m calling her Anna, the coatí. So far, she has taken the bread, mixed nuts (only a few), bananas, apples, hard-boiled egg, and almond/coconut milk that I’ve given her. It’s probably a wonder that she isn’t fat. I’ve heard she loves raw warm chicken eggs too.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
coatimundi (kōät´ēmŭn´dē, –mŏŏn´–) or coati (kōät´ē), omnivore of North and South America related to the raccoon. The coatimundi has a long snout, an elongated body, and a long bushy tail banded with dark rings. The coat color varies from yellowish brown or reddish brown to black. The males are significantly larger than the females and may be more than 50 in. (127 cm) long and may weigh up to 25 lb (11 kg). Active both day and night, the coati is a forest dweller and an agile tree climber. It eats lizards, birds, and fruit and uses its long mobile snout to grub for insects and roots. On the ground, its short forelegs give it a bearlike gait as it lumbers along with its tail erect. Females and their young travel in bands, but males are solitary (known as “coatimundis” ) and join the band only in the mating season. The young, typically four to six in number, are born following a gestation period of about seventy-seven days. The species Nasua narica is native to SW United States. N. nasua, the ring-tailed coatimundi, is a related species that ranges from Mexico to Peru. Coatis are often raised as pets in Mexico. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Procyonidae.
Another traveler at Bambú Hostel, Beth, a young U.S. marine biologist who is working in Costa Rica for turtle research and preservation, said that she thought Anna might be actually an Andy since she/he is big and alone. So I consulted, http://www.zoo-zoom.com/Coatimundi.htm. That source says, “The females average between 9 to 14 pounds with the males attaining weights somewhat larger about 12 to 17 pounds.” So although Anna could just be a bit overweight (and we can guess why), this coatí is probably a male since he seems quite happy to be by himself.
The source, http://www.zoo, says,”Because of their intelligence they can become bored if not kept adequately occupied. Although the coati will remain lovable and friendly after reaching adult age they may have infrequent rebellious outbursts at between age 6 months to 1 year (similar to human teenage years).”
Places like Janda Exotics sell them as pets: http://www.jandaexotics.com/Coatimundi.html
However, coatímuntí are wild animals. It’s probably better to let one adopt you, and let it come and go as it will – as Andy, the coati, does here at the Bambú Hostel, in David, Panamá.
Barry just came into our room to tell me that Andy knocked over the aluminum coffee urn, spilling hot liquid and coffee grinds all over the floor of the outdoor kitchen.
Coatís are curious, intelligent, active animals. I’m glad I can interact with Andy here. You may want to look for them in the wild too.