¡Bienvenidos a Nuestra Aventura!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ahhhh, Boquete

We also were blessed to have recently visited an animal sanctuary during a weekend getaway in Boquete, one of the cool and verdant highland towns that draw us every now and again. In addition to the amazing birds found here, Amanda and I were set upon by monkeys (don't worry, they were friendly monkeys), which was uh, surprising at first.

Attica! Attica! Attica!

Why so blue, bird?

Brian with a white-faced capuchin monkey. (Brian is on the right)

Amanda with...drum roll please...a monkey on her back!

A beautiful ocelot.

Just takin' a nap like monkeys do.

I don't remember what the name of this creature is, but I do remember that it eats fruit and kisses women.

A toucan. All but disapeared from our area, the sanctuary has several and here their beauty may be examined up close.

Amanda in bliss-world.

April fools

In addition to a few very successful health seminars put on by Amanda & me at the ol' homestead, we've been continually plugging away at our latrine project, having almost reached our goal of 50. Community latrine coverage now stands at around 40%, a happy and distant cry from the 4% that we encountered upon arrival in 2006. Every latrine, built by and sweated for by each family that has one, takes several people out of the "crapping in the woods/streams" equation that so spoils the areas potable water supply. This alone makes our jobs here worthwhile.

Three of the local kids who love to come around occasionally for a visit.

This is our first foray into adding video clips to our blog, so sorry that it's facing sideways. I believe that an updated version of Quicktime is needed, but I'm really not too sure on that. Anyway, this is a shot of a young girl who comes and stays with the family every now and then named Hoga Montezuma. Our host father, Felix, offered here 5 cents to dance for the family which she did. Let's hope she's not still dancing for money 20 years from now.

Monday, April 07, 2008

And then...

After enjoying ourselves immensely up in Cerro Punta, we headed to our site in Cerro Brisa for a day of "rustic" living.

Amanda, standing in the doorway of our home. Notice the crawling vine on the door frame. It's one of the few that we can keep alive (it's painted on).

Not sure if Alice is looking at the dog, or deciding whether or not she wants to enter the humble abode.

Dad, chillin on the front porch.

A few of the local kids and us spent an hour roasting "pepita de maranjon," which are fresh cashews harvested from local trees.

Our time here must be over soon as the cows look to be finally coming home...


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dad n Alice

March was a whirlwind, and a much-appreciated one at that. During the month we built several more latrines, organized and held a kid's health fair, and enjoyed a spectacular visit by my Dad and step-mom, Alice. While their visit only lasted four days before they flew off to see Catie in Guatemala, we had a wonderful time hanging out with them in Panama's highland jungles after so much time apart.

Making coffee at the Cerro Punta cabin we rented with the fam. This is actually the same one we stayed at when Mike came to visit as well. That's our friend Casey (from Kansas) to the left.

Alice and Amanda, enjoying a bit o shade underneath some kind of giant tropical plant.

Alica and my Dad, taking a breather from the taxing nature of vacationing in Panama's beautiful tropical highlands.

The dynamic duo, hiking the "tres cascadas" (three waterfalls) loop trail in the amazing Parque Nacional de Amistad.

In front of the cabin.

Just one of the many bucolic views offered to the Cerro Punta visitor.

On the Tres Cascadas hike with our guide.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Kid's Day

After we said goodbye and dropped Mike off at the airport, Amanda and I took the 7 hour bus ride back to Cerro Brisa and immediately started planning for Amanda's latest initiative, "Kid's Day."

Just in case there remains any doubt as to which demographic this idea targeted, it was for kids, specifically local kids between the ages of 5 and 12. The event's themes were hand-washing and teeth-brushing, two routine practices that I can't even remember formally learning as a child, but which I often take for granted as two of those "common sense" operations that people just "do." The sad reality is that many people hardly do either one, and the evidence is readily seen in the blackened, rotted teeth of most Cerro Brisa children, and the alarmingly high incidence of intestinal/stomach ailments. Knowing this, Amanda put together a fun-filled day of interactive learning for about 40 local mini-hellions (uh, I mean "darling children") that I really think planted some important seeds.

This chaotic game involves rings of children circling around a balloon and then racing towards a finish line while keeping the balloon from touching the ground. While the game was fun, our restriction that no hands were to touch the balloon while all circles were to be maintained posed some problems. The pile of latrine rock in the picture's right hand corner created some interesting and memorable "challenges" as well.

After the warm-up game, Amanda and I split up and attended to our different age groups. I had the older kids and Amanda the younger. Here I am explaining the latest in cutting edge hand-washing theory.

Amanda, practicing a hand-washing jingle with her group that they continually reference when they come visit us. The idea is that, if remembered, the song will reinforce the lessons taught to them longer and better than through a mere presentation.

The "jabón (soap)/bactería" battle which Amanda scripted and we then staged in front of the uproarious crowd.

At the end of the day, we had all of the participants line up and wash their hands before eating lunch. It was great watching them all try and outdo one another by washing "better" than the one before them.

Wrapping up the day with a little face painting (a la Amanda) and lunch eating. We provided the rice n beans to the group as an extra incentive for them to attend.

Enjoying da grub!

As you can see, the teeth-brushing seminar (at least half of our day) is absent from the above post. All of our pictures from this portion came out either blurry or dark, so you'll just have to take our word for it. During that part we played games including "pin the brush on the mouth," and held extensive question and answer sessions. The kids seemed to already be well informed, with most even claiming to already have their own toothbrush at home. Regardless, through the generosity of Amanda's mom, we were able to provide those who answered a post-seminar quiz correctly with new brushes. And as consolation prizes for those who faltered in the final moment, we gave...candy!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Since January...

Since January we've been busy. Busy plugging away at the Cerro Brisa latrine project, busy holding health seminars for local kids, busy escaping the amazingly suffocating heat of a tropical isthmus, and busy having a wonderful time hosting Mike, Alice and my dad during their respective visits to our steamy home. But through all the busyness we've also been having a great time getting closer to our host family each day, improving our Spanish, and exploring parts of Panama that make us swoon.

Mike came to visit us in February, and stayed with us for ten days total. We picked him up from the airport in Panama City and whisked him immediately back to our site for three days and nights of beans n rice, sweaty hiking, and generally (very) simple living.

Mike and Aron by the river, showing the rest of us why they are generally regarded as the toughest punks on the block.

Mike, enjoying a "pipa" (green coconut which locals often cut open to drink the sweet water within) with a latrine project family. Yes, yes, we know they don't look happy at all. But they are and I can assure you that once the photo was taken, everyone relaxed into the amiable expressions that they usually carry. There's just something about photos that makes 'em so serious...

Being with Mike in Cerro Brisa was great, and we're really glad that he was able to make it out to visit us. After three days of hiking, visiting, eating (and being eaten by insects), we stole away to the cool, lush Panama highlands at Cerro Punta. Cerro Punta remains one of our favorite Panama destinations due to its cleanliness, altitude (around 6,000 ft!), crisp and dry weather, and location in an amazing tropical cloud forest.

Mike and I during a short hike into the Parque Internacional La Amistad, which is a jungle preserve shared by both Panama and Costa Rica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and remains breathtakingly primeval.

Mike, lookin' suave against the backdrop of Cerro Punta. This shot was taken at the beginning of an amazing 6-hour hike to the world famous coffee growing region of Boquete.

Towards the end of our hike.

Myself, Amanda and Casey on the last mile into Boquete.


After Cerro Punta we spent a night eating well and sipping on 25-year port in Boquete to celebrate my birthday. A little rest of this sort was just what we needed after the six-hour journey. We then woke early and headed back down to the lowlands where we met our host family in San Felix, a typical local Panamanian town with a great swimming river nearby. The next five hours were spent jumping off rocks and swimming in the deep river, eating local-made bollos (chicken and corn filled tamale-like things), and waiting out a torrential downpour for our taxi to come and take us back to the house at which we stayed.

Ñata, Polo, and Bebé, sharing a laugh of some kind down by the Río San Felix.

The Río San Felix.

If you've ever sat and wondered where cashews come from, wonder no more. This is the cashew fruit, from which you can see hanging a cashew seed. The seed is removed from its fruit (which is usually then eaten or made into juice), toasted in an open fire, and then opened to reveal its yummy cashew inside. Delicious!

Well soaked and well rested from our highland trip and subsequent river-swim, we made our way back to Panama City and spent a few days at the famous Miraflores Locks (where ships are raised and lowered to navigate canal elevation differences), ate well in "Casco Viejo" (the Old Quarter, filled with beautifully well-preserved French Victorian apartments), and enjoyed the last of Mike.

We look forward to seeing him again this June when we all head off to Ireland for a few weeks. That's right, Ireland. We'll be flying there with the rest of the family this June for a few days of seeing the motherland. While we still don't have specifics, the trip sounds absolutely amazing and we can hardly wait!

Monday, January 28, 2008

And now back to reality.

Well, we had a wonderful time in California hanging out with Amanda's (and now my) friends and family. But we DID eventually return to Panama and here's what we've been up to the past few weeks.

Enjoying tea with our breakfast at a sidewalk cafe.

Drinking good (but warmish) beer in the wilds of where we live. These Newcastles were a gift from Amanda's brothers, Chris and Eliot. Thanks, they went down great!

The Montero family, happy to see us back at the shack.

We've also been wearing flowers behind our ears!

And cutting zinc roofing for local latrine beneficiaries. I'd like to give a shout-out to "Palacho," the helper to my left.

Amanda, painting the nails of some locals girls who absolutely LOVE coming over for this treat.

Showing off the final makeover.

Here we attended a birthday party for a young girl where a pinata filled with flour was beaten open. As you can see in the leftmost part of this picture, participating in the rush for flour-covered candy afterwards was a man in his mid twenties with an armfull of the goods. Hmm...

And of course, no return to the bliss of domestic routine would be complete without dish-washing, even if it IS on a bamboo platform two hours from electricity.