Monthly Archives: February 2012

Samy Y Sandra Sandoval

As my faithful readers know I love music and I’ve developed a real love for the Panamanian “Tipica” or “La Cumbia” songs. One of the biggest draw in Panama is the brother/sister act of Sammy y Sandra Sandoval. The following song is one of my favorites and as my comprehension of Spanish grows I understand more and more of the lyrics. The title of this song is “Si se Va que se Vaya.” It means, “If you’re going to go, GO!”

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They play just down the street at El Jardin del Cruce de Boquerón quite frequently. I have to make it down there the next time they’re in town so I can see a show like this…

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My 500th Post

I live by a small river in Boquerón. Everyone uses it. Kids spend most of the day behind the house diving into a deep pool they created by building a dam from the rocks in the river. Women come down and do their laundry in the river when there’s no water pressure in our houses. Others come down to take a bath. Sometimes it’s because the water in their home is off and some just like bathing in the cool waters of the river.

A little while ago one of my neighbors and his son came down the path headed to the river. I asked the boy if he was ready for school tomorrow and he said he was. But dad said, “We’ll see. Depends on what happens with the Indians.”

In an earlier post I wrote about how the Ngabe-Bugle Indians had blocked the Interamerican Highway for days in protest over plans for foreign companies to start open-pit mining for copper on their Comarca (a semi-autonomous region) and the building of hydro-electric dams. The government entered into talks with the Indians with the Catholic Church acting as moderators. The blockages were removed at the start of the talks. But the Cacica, (the feminine spelling for Cacique which means “Chief) Silvia Carrera set February 27th, tomorrow, as a deadline for the talks.

Silvia Carrera

(BTW, the position is an elected one)

In my little barrio of about 20 families I’m the only gringo. I’ve asked nearly all of them what their take on the Indian’s blockade of the roads is and 100% of them support the Indians and support the blockades. Since none of my neighbors speak any English over the past year my comprehension of the Chiricano version of Spanish has risen to the level where I understand about 75 to 80% of everything they say which is sufficient to follow a conversation.

Just a short while ago as I was sitting out on the front porch enjoying a locally hand-rolled cigar and a fine cup of Finca Ruiz coffee I got a chance to talk to this man who will be on the front line of any skirmishes that are likely to take place. He’s a sergeant in the National Police.

I asked him what he thought of the whole problem. He supports the Indian cause completely, and he’s worried about his job since he said he wouldn’t use force to break up the demonstrations.

“These people are right,” he said. “They have no other way of getting the nation’s attention. The government has lied to them for generations. Told them one thing and then done whatever the government wanted to do.” Then he rubbed his thumb and his forefingers together in the universal sign. “It’s all about money,” he said. “And most of the money is going to foreigners and corrupt politicians. Not much goes to the Panamanians.”

I asked him about the hydro projects. “You see how the river is now?” he said pointing to the mere trickle of water running through the rocks now at the height of the “dry” season. “That’s what the rivers will look like all year if they build all the hydro projects. And for what? To sell the electricity to other countries while our cost in Panama goes up all the time?” Again he rubbed his fingers together. “Es para plata.” It’s all about the money!

“It’s not about me or you,” he said. “It’s about him,” he said pointing to his son. “It’s about him and his children, and the Indians children and their children.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “No sé.” “I don’t know. I’ll go to work and hope for the best,” he said. “I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know.”


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Creepy Crawlers

In Panama, unless you live in a highrise condominium, your house probably has one of these…

In the States we’d call it a “utility sink.” Here in Panama it’s called a “lavadero.” They’re as common as a plate of rice and beans at a fonda.

Yesterday afternoon while I was out trying to get a shot of the little bird who was the first to leave the nest I noticed something odd on the left-hand leg of the lavadero. At first I thought it was something that a large bird might have dropped by accident while trying to build a nest somewhere. A lot bigger bird than the ones I’ve already shown.

At first I didn’t pay it any attention. That is until I went to brush it away and it moved!

It was a stick creature. The name is absolutely accurate. Overall, from the tip of its antennae to the bottom of its abdomen it was at least 10″ long. (That’s 25.4 centimeters for you people who are challenged counting in units other than base 10.)

Totally cool once you get over the shock. I just left it alone. It wasn’t bothering anyone and it was way too big for momma bird to feed to her babies.


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Homemade Wildlife Cinematography

I have sort of an open door policy here for certain creatures. There are a couple of common house geckos that live with me and in peaceful co-existence with some anole chameleons . I don’t know if that violates the “no pets” policy of my lease but they’re harmless, cute, funny, don’t crawl over me in the dark and they eat insects so they’re welcome.

There is also a small, brown bird about the size of those colorful finches you see for sale in pet stores. In the mornings I usually have the front and back doors of the house open allowing for wonderful cross ventilation. I’ve seen this little wren, for lack of a better or more accurate ornithological classification, come into the kitchen from time to time either out of curiosity or looking for something to eat. Once or twice I actually saw the bird grab an insect and fly back out the door.

Recently, though, I’ve heard squawking noises out back and discovered that, hidden away in one of the metal beams that supports the second story back porch, is a tiny nest of which the little wren is the major-domo. From first light until dark the little bird works tirelessly collecting bugs and bringing them to her brood. I’m not sure whether she’s a single mom or if pop has stuck around to help but not more than a minute passes between one feeding and the next. If it’s just mom then she’s a real work horse. If pop’s around they’re a good team.

In the last couple of days the squawks have become louder and more persistent. I sat out on the steps leading to the second floor and finally caught the little wren with a large bug in her mouth and found where the nest is. Today I was able to capture several short videos of this feeding frenzy. And at the last minute after each feeding one of the trio of chicks turns around, presents it’s hind quarters to mom or dad and defecates and the fecal matter is taken off somewhere. Disgusting, to be sure, but can you imagine how befouled the nest would be if this wasn’t done?

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A Tale of Three Cities

Rio de Janiero, Brazil

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New Orleans, Louisiana

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Las Tablas, Panama

The difference between day

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And Night

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And to the rest of you poor slobs in the world it’s just another Tuesday

Happy Mardi Gras/ Carnaval!


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Time Travel Via The Stars

Last night the lights went out around 8 o’clock. That’s not a major news item. Happens around here quite often. People adjust. I have a battery-powered LED lantern, so I read for a bit and listened to one of my audio books on my iPod. Flashlight beams winked off and on around the neighborhood like fireflies in the darkness. Usually the electricity is off for just a short time but last night it stayed dark for several hours.

Without lights to cause pollution the starry canopy of the sky was in its glory. I took a chair out into the middle of the front lawn and just stared up at the wonder of it all as I did back as a youngster during the summers at Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod. Even then I could see the folly of believing that in the vastness of the universe it was the height of human conceit to believe that we were the only place where life existed.

Up there in the state park it was easy to pick out the Big and Little Dippers and Polaris, the North Star. And it doesn’t take a genius to recognize Orion. But down here in Boquerón, Panama, 8 degrees, 30 minutes north of the equator

Orion is still as easy to spot as ever. But so is the great constellation of the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross.

It’s so distinctive that it adorns the flags of Australia and New Zealand.

And as I gazed up at it, not knowing at the time the names of the stars that make up the constellation, I wondered what was happening then the light left those distant stars.

Light travels at a speed of 186,372 miles per second (299,937 kilometers) or some 700 million (1126.54) miles per hour. (Steven Wright, the comedian asks “We know what the speed of light is, but what is the speed of dark?”)

My regular readers know my mind gets off on some weird tangents at times. For example a few months ago when disastrous rains caused raging torrents in rivers so strong it wiped out three bridges in the area I calculated that enough rain fell in that storm to fill 84,460 Olympic swimming pools.

So, naturally, staring at the stars in the Southern Cross, I got to wondering what was going on when the light from those stars first started their journey from their point of origin to my retinas last night.

Acrux, or Alpha Crucis, the bottom of the cross is 370 light years away. The light from that star started traveling in 1642. In that year King Charles I with 400 soldiers attacked the English parliament; Georgeana (York) Maine became the 1st incorporated American city; Abel Tasman became the 1st European to step foot in New Zealand; Montreal Canada was founded; the 1st compulsory education law in America passed by Massachusetts; and Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass, held its 1st commencement.

Beta Crucis (Mimosa), the brightest star of the group is 490 light years away and in 1522, Spanish navigator Juan de Elcano returns to Spain, completes the 1st circumnavigation of globe from the expedition begun under Ferdinand Magellan and Emperor Karel I named Hernan Cortes governor of Mexico.

Gamma Crucis (Gacrux), which forms the top of the cross is about 220 light years away. In 1792 the U. S. Postal Service was formed; oranges were introduced to Hawaii, the U.S. Congress established the Philadelphia mint; George Washington cast 1st presidential veto; Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle composed the French National Anthem “La Marseillaise,”  highwayman Nicolas J Pelletier became the first person executed by the Guillotine and the 1st French Republic was formed; Kentucky was admitted as the 15th State; mobs in Paris attack palace of Louis XVI;the  English warship Royal George capsized in Spithead killing 900; Farmer’s Almanac was first published and George Washington was re-elected US president.

Delta Crucis, the western arm of the cross, is some 570 light years away. 1442 was a pretty dull year, historically. Edward IV was twice king of England, winning the struggle against the Lancastrians to establish the House of York on the English throne was born Rouen, France, King Alfonso V of Aragon became king of Naples. Other than that people that year mainly sat around staring at each other and scratching their flea bites totally unaware of the light starting its journey from Delta Crucis to my eye in Boquerón.

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Vintage Shantyboat Photos -1938

Sometimes there are things that are just so good I have to cross post them on both my blogs. This is one of them. Thanks, once again, to Duckworks for providing the link to these wonderful photos Photos by Marion Post Walcott.… This is just one of seven.

See the rest here:


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Déjà Vu All Over Again – Sorta

The past 10 days or so have seen Panama in turmoil. The largest indigenous tribe in the country, the Ngabe-Buglé (there seem to be a dozen different ways of writing the name of the tribe) have been protesting against the selling of mineral rights to a Canadian company and calling for halt to hydroelectric damming of the  on their Comarca lands. It’s all quite complicated, but a local blogger, Richard Detrich, who I read faithfully, has done a great job of explaining the background of what’s been going on and I’ll let him sort it out for you. One note, though, at the end of his post he quotes a guy named Don Winner who hosts a blog called Panama-Guide. Winner fancies himself to be a “Journalist” but in my opinion Winner is to journalism what McDonald’s is to haute-cuisine:

What started out here in Chiriqui Province, about an hour’s drive from my home in Boquerón, has spread throughout the entire country. There have been demonstrations the last couple of days in the Capitol. The Embera Wounaan Indians of the Darien, at the opposite end of the country from Chiriqui have declared themselves “In A State Of ‘Civil Disobedience'” in solidarity with the Ngabe and the Kuna, the native tribe most commonly associated with Panama through their “molas” have done the same.

A couple of days ago one young Indian was shot and killed and last night in the town of Volcan, about a half hour drive from my home, the Indians blocked the road

and others set fire to the police station there and the offices of the Justice of the Peace.The following photos were taken off of the Boquete.ning site and I don’t know who to attribute them to.

The president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli is the owner of the biggest chain of supermarkets in the country…Super 99, and riot police have been dispatched to guard the stores after the door of the Super 99 supermarket in Calidonia (Panama City) was battered by indigenous protesters.

(I downloaded this photo from Don Winner’s Panama-guide but there’s no telling where he stole it from. He’s a photo thief. When my late friend, Frank Hilson, gave a huge donation to the VFW here in Panama City Winner stole my photo of Frank that I’d posted on my blog. Winner always says on his stories, “Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source.” But somehow he doesn’t feel the same need to credit things. I had some correspondence with Winner and he finally did credit me with Frank’s photo.)

A poll a couple of days ago showed that 83% of the Panamanian population support the Indian protest despite the inconvenience.

Quite naturally the expat community has been following all of this quite closely and the opinions are a bit mixed. When the roads were blocked gas was running low and many stations were closed because they’d run out of gas and diesel. Some of the expats in the Gringo ghetto of Boquete were furious because they were running low on beer. These, I have to say, are the people who left the States because it was being turned into a “socialist” country. They are also the people I had hoped never to run into down here but, unfortunately they also have access to passports like I do. If you’re interested in seeing what the expat community down here thinks you can find out here:

Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 8th, is supposed to be a day of “mass escalation” throughout the country as the various groups coalesce to support the indigenous cause. Naturally that makes a lot of people very nervous. Me, too, a little bit. So today I took the bus into town (no problems) to do some grocery shopping.

Here’s where the title of the post comes into play.

In February of 1989 I landed in Nice,m, France, to take over command of the Jolie Aire, an 85′ ketch and to supervise the replacement of the boat’s keel for reasons I won’t get into here. France has a huge Arabic population, and a lot of them live on the Riviera where the boat was located. You would see the Arabs everywhere. They were a part of the passing scene.

In January of 1991 Tom Luther, who I called the bosses “Real Captain” because Tom worked for the old man for over 25 years and was running the boss’s 96′ ketch in the States (why he had two large sailboats is also something we won’t get into here), the Chief Engineer (whose name escapes me after 21 years) for Sparkman and Stevens, a highly respected yacht company, and I were sitting around the table in Jolie Aire’s saloon. (Technically it’s a “saloon” and not a “salon”) waiting for my French girlfriend, Florence, to bring up the breakfast coffee from the galley.

It was Wednesday, February 13th. I turned on the television and tuned into Canal+ which rebroadcast the CBS Evening News every morning the day after it aired. The first thing we saw were bombs and rockets dropping on Baghdad. Operation Desert Storm had started while we had been sleeping! Let me tell you, it’s a VERY odd feeling to be in a foreign country when your country goes to war. Especially when you’re in a country with a large Arabic population all around you. The boat had recently been painted and there was no name and hailing port on the transom, but the American flag was prominently displayed at the taffrail. Just as Florence was coming up from the galley with the coffee I went outside and took the flag down as a precaution.

The odd thing, though, was that when we went in to town later, and for the next few days afterwards, there wasn’t an Arab to be seen. They just disappeared. Like they’d never been there in the first place. Of course the Frogs went nuts and stripped the grocery store shelves of sugar, coffee and pasta in a panic mode fearing the worst because France was also a part of the coalition in the battle. It was a couple of weeks before any of those staples were available again.

Those of you who are familiar with this blog know one of my favorite spots in the City of David is the bus terminal. Daily it’s literally teeming with Ngabe-Buglé women and their colorful dresses. Like the Arabs on the Riviera they were everywhere. Except today. I bet I didn’t see a dozen Indians there. They were just gone.

P.S. IMMEDIATELY AFTER hitting the “Publish” button I went back to the Boquete ning site and found this update:

Telemetro (television station) is reporting that the govt has agreed to take up the debate in the assembly tomorrow to make sure that the rights of the Ngobe are respected with regard to BOTH mining and Hidroelectricos.


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Positive Reaction To A Negative Image

This is cool. You need to have a blank piece of paper handy or a blank white screen you can switch to rapidly…

Stare at the red dot on the woman’s nose for thirty seconds or so then look at the white blank. You’ll see, briefly, a positive color image of the same picture.

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