15 May 2009

4 weeks in Cocobolo

The day after flying back to Panama City I went back up to Cocobolo and ended up staying for about 4 weeks. We just got back to the city today and it's quite the shock after spending 4 weeks in the field. I've been keeping busy working with my farmers, teaching English, and working on our farm. In the four months that I've been here our demonstration farm on the reserve has really developed. We're constantly expanding the number of beds and have been experimenting with new crops. We've been eating a lot of arugula recently which is a really welcome change from most of the carbs we eat. Hopefully we'll have summer squash, zuchinni, and mustard greens to compliment our never ending harvests of culantro, spring onion, and yucca. We've started to collect saplings for reforestation projects and will hopefully build a cage for iguanas when we come back up. The eggs are still incubating but should hatch sometime end of May/beginning of June so we've got to be ready. Other random projects include building a clay oven. We've got the base made and have been working on the structure of the oven using vines which we'll then cover in clay. We're looking forward to pizzas, foccacias, and smoky breads in the future.

In the last couple weeks they finished construction on the first health post for the community (I got to paint the lettering!) so there is lots of excitement in the village.

Everyone is now awaiting for it's inauguration so there's an excuse for a party. We actually did go to a party in the village up river recently. It was a day of rodeo followed by a night of dancing to 'tipico' music (the music of Panama's countryside). The three of us stuck out like crazy in the see of beautifully bronzed Panamanians and were probably asked to dance by every guy in the village. It was quite the experience and walking home through the mountains in the dark at 1 am for one and a half hours sure left us exhausted when we got home.

One of the volunteers, Roslyn, actually left last week after finishing her planned 4 months so it's just been Sabine and I up at the reserve along with Jose Luis who works on the farm, Joel who does everything and lives across the river and Iglesias, the field manager, who comes up weekly from the city. It's been a really fun environment and we've been spending a lot of evenings with Joel's family across the river chatting and watching Columbian dramas. They have a generator and tons of pirated DVDs. Not only do we get to watch TV but they also always send us home with buckets of fruit from their farm.

Looks like I'll be in the city now for a week and then back up to Cocobolo for 3 weeks or so. I'm flying back to the US for 3 weeks on June 16th so I'm getting really excited for that. We just met CREA's new projects manager, she came up this week to the reserve, and also just found out that we'll have two new volunteers starting NEXT week. One guy's coming from Canada to stay up on the reserve with us and the other guy is French and is going to work primarily in the office but also come up to Cocobolo part of the time. Should be interesting in the next few weeks with all these changes.

Costa Rica/Bocas Vacation

I had a fun week-long vacation the week of April the 13th, spending my required 72 hours in Costa Rica and then heading back over the border to the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama for 3 nights. I had no problems crossing the border to Costa Rica luckily, although the 11 hour bus ride to get there definitely wasn't fun. Once getting stamped out of Panama at the tiny immigrations window, I walked across the rickety old train bridge separating the two countries and got stamped into Costa Rica. You can watch all of the locals just walking back and forth between the two countries to go to school, conduct business, etc with apparently no acknowledgment that they're crossing a border.

From there I hopped a bus 2 hours up the Caribbean coast to the Rasta beach side town of Puerto Viejo. I met two girls (French and Italian) who were headed the same direction and we ended up finding a hostel together and hanging out for the next couple of days. They are both working in really rural indigenous communities in Costa Rica and were trying to make the most of their vacation from work. The hostel was huge and located right on the beach, so I didn't leave much except for trips to the internet café in town and to buy the paper in the morning. Two guys (British and Australian) who my new friends had met in Bocas del Toro in Panama the days before, ended up joining us and we spent one night cook up a really impressive barbecue. They left the next day for San Jose, Costa Rica and I spent one more night before leaving early the next morning to cross the border again. Back on the Panama side I found a ride to the water taxi port for the islands and thought I was golden. Of course little did we know that the retirees would be protesting on the bridge that leads to the water taxi and would have it blocked off for 5 hours. I ended up hanging out with our driver and a German guy while we were waiting for the bridge to open and had all sorts of hilarious conversations. When I finally made it to Isla Colon I was exhausted but so excited because I was staying with my host family from study abroad when I studied mangroves. I was welcomed into their home like I had never left and spent 3 packed days visiting people and enjoying the beach and biking around the island. I stopped by the Smithsonian research station where I did my mangrove study and went out on the water with my project adviser as their boat hand as he and another scientist I know did some diving for lobster larvae. It was a really great visit, too short, but I got to spend some good bonding time with my host family there and hope I get to go back and visit them soon. As a treat, I capped of my vacation week by flying back to Panama City..one hour on a plane definitely beats 12 hours on a bus.