My mother said there would be cannibals
31.01.2005 - 31.01.2005 30 °C
Day 4. We awoke to the soft strains of a Del Castillo song humming into ours ears......... Bajo del rio, estas llamando...... The music was in our heads, as we were fondly remembering our day at the Rio Muluba. There are few things in life more satisfying than waking to gentle music in your ears. Unless you count a brimming cup of freshly made Panamanian coffee....that's pretty good too. Alas, we had no room service, certainly not for $13 a night, but we woke with smiles on our faces nonetheless. We had braved the river of doom and were saved by the countless blessings of the gasoline woman and her 300 children. Life was good. Breakfast, my dear? Certainly, but first we must dress. Damned civilization, insisting on people being dressed for breakfast. Splashing a very waking bit of cold water on the face, and a bit of teeth brushing, we made our way to the restaurant, ready for another day. We sat at our usual table, which was quite simple as we were the only people in the place. But it felt like our usual table, we had grown fond of that table in the few short hours we had been here. Cafe, si gracias, y tambien jueves y jabon. There comes a time in one's life where one simply must butcher the local language enough to ask for Thursdays and soap. The waitress was considerably amused, but understood that we wanted eggs and ham. It's an icebreaker, this butchering of language. She was so amused that we got double helpings of eggs and ham. Sure, we paid for it, but it was the thought that counted. And the coffee was superb, with a dash of whole fresh milk to top it off. Senores, hoy es La Feria. Verdad? Si, La Feria. Sweet, there was a fair in town, and this we must see. Well bloated from a sumptuous breakfast (soap can do that to you), we ambled back toward our room, but were intercepted by the New York woman. "We're going horse-back riding today", she said with a sort of glee usually reserved for cheerleaders ready for Homecoming. How nice for you. "That's nice, let us know later how that turns out". We tried to contain our sarcasm and smiled, giving her the thumbs up sign. Her boyfriend seemed less enthused, his expression mutely saying "kill me now". We waved as they left, their guide having finally arrived to take them on their tour, quietly muttering "have fun storming the castle". These were not true adventurers these children, more apparent when we saw the poor nags the guide brought with him. These horses had expressions that could easily be read, much like the boyfriend......."kill me now, make glue out of me, I have no will to live". We thought about those poor horses as we strolled back to the room to prepare to visit the fair. "Maybe the one will trip and knock New York over a steep precipice".
And so it was back down the road toward town.
Oh look dear, the vacas are guarding the steep precipice. Little amused, Gretchen pointed out the path ahead.....up there, and to the right (of course - it's always to the right). 18 seconds later, we were again driving through the suburbs of Santa Fe, guided by the music wafting from the fairgrounds and the vaguely familiar smell of domestic animal droppings. We found a nifty parking space alongside other fair-goers and proceeded to make our way to the center of activity. Wow, now that's a view.
Along either side of the main avenue were multiple stalls of vendors proffering everything from handmade jewelry to beer and sodas to information on the latest techniques in modern Panamanian agronomy. This was a county fair after all. We visited with some of the folks, each eager in a sense to ask where we were from. The locals were not wearing shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and flip-flops, so we kind of stuck out from the crowd. A couple of beers, and some concerted efforts at explaining that we were from Illinois and we soon blended in.......not. Still, the locals were extraordinarily friendly, not at all the cannibals we were warned of. Several young boys quickly noticed that there were fresh fish in the sea, and clamored over Gretchen showing her their bracelets and sundry jewelry. Si, joven, es bueno, uno por favor......no, solamente uno, gracias. The boys were thrilled to have made a sale of a very nice handwoven bracelet. Further ahead, we found the sugar cane hawkers......using an old hand cranked cane press to make juice for sale. This looks promising. The grizzled old veterans of the cane juice trade immediately took to Gretchen. Ah rubia, quiere jugo? Que es esto?, she replied in her finest Spanish. The men were beside themselves trying to be the one who taught the blond gringa about old fashioned sugar cane pressing. Senora, mira aqui....como esta.....they were insisting that she turn the crank of the press as had their ancestors, though their ancestors likely never wore orange Hawaiian style dresses. The men were smitten, while Gretchen smiled and did her best to understand what they said. What little I could gather, not too many Americans were at the fair, and they were happy to show some of their lives to a willing participant. Plus, it seems the men found her considerably more attractive than anyone else at the fair.
$0.25 for fresh pressed cane mixed with orange juice. Not bad, so we had two each. We pressed on, though the men were sad to see us leave. Well, maybe not "us" leave.
Up ahead was a novel setting of agricultural marvel. One doesn't ordinarily think of other countries and what they do to grow food, so this was quite interesting. There were a number of different displays ranging from basic vegetable crops to aquaculture. Corn, beans, cabbages, and fish. Fish? Yes, the Extension Agents were working on bringing aquaculture to Panama. We chatted with several of them on the latest techniques in aquaculture, as best we could in present-tense Spanish. They were quite enthused that we had heard of their ideas, and we exchanged some information that could be useful to them. Using agricultural waste to feed the fish could provide a dual cropping system to the people and provide several times the food as a traditional system. This was refreshing to see, as we both have a fair knowledge of the benefits of multi-use agriculture. Still, I liked the cabbage display, even though it seemed that the beetles had already wreaked some havoc on the poor crucifers.
We continued to stroll along, stopping only occasionally for another beer and to chat with a horse or two, even a few goats. The fair was easily the rival of any to be had in the States, albeit somewhat smaller in scale.
Hours passed, and when we had seen it all. It was time to return to the hotel. We took our time returning, savoring the sights and sounds and smells around us. 38 seconds later, we pulled into at the hotel. It seemed to be cocktail hour, so we splashed a bit more cold water on our faces and made once again for the restaurant. We considered dressing for the occasion, much as William Powell and Myrna Loy would in the Thin Man movies, but decided against it as we had left our tuxedos and floor-length gowns back in Illinois. Another cold beer, plus a heaping helping of chicken with something (that Panamanian specialty), and we were set for the evening. All we had to do was wait for the floor show, and it appeared before we ever expected. First to arrive was Doctor Gary, who we regaled with our tales of the fair. Gary was quite fascinated with our adventure - oooh, fresh fish my dear. We told him of the fair, and he in turn told us of his adventures wandering the countryside. Several beers later, the New Yorkers returned, walking somewhat gingerly. They (she) told us of their horseback riding tour. We tried to listen interestedly, to no avail, until the woman told us that the surrounding hills were so steep that she felt sorry for her horse and dismounted so as to walk the horse and not be a burden. We could only imagine this horse laughing itself silly that it got to walk, unburdened for a change, while being led by someone who quite possibly would have been devoured by tigers in another time. Perhaps the mall would have been more of a challenge, though to be fair, she was here after all, well out of her normal climate. Her boyfriend downright devoured several beers in a row, perhaps grateful that tomorrow would bring something different. Next in the show were the two botanists, fresh from an adventure afield. They proudly told of the various orchids they had captured, and noticing that we had the same make of vehicle as they, asked if we had tried to drive up the treacherous mountain they tried. No, but it looks like you picked up some mud along the way. They had tried to negotiate a particularly steep hill and were unsuccessful. To their good fortune, several locals in a robust pickup truck rescued them and towed them back down the hill. Leaving their SUV behind, they went with the locals back up the big hill and found more specimens than they had seen previously. The walk back down the hill was truly an adventure unto its own for them, but they had their bounty.
Once again, hotel management was quite pleased with the consumptive abilities of their guests, and late into the evening, we stumbled back to our room. Sleep would have been a fine option, but alas, it was only that, an option. The fair was rolling into a high timbre, and the music levels had grown increasingly loud. There had to be 5 different bands striving for supremacy in the "can we be louder than you?" category. Granted, the music was nice, but it soon took on the urgency and decibel level of twenty million cicadas hell bent on mating. Still, sleep eventually came as the music died down to a low rumble, somewhere around 4am. And so endeth Day 4 of our adventures.
Stay tuned for the riveting forthcomings as we try to decide whether to head for Bocas Del Toro or Boquete....really, it's riveting. Really riveting. Honest. Would I kid you about a thing like this? No, not much. Maybe a little.