Sunday, 27 April 2008

Still in Panama

I'm still in Panama. So I've pretty much deviated off any plan I had with respect to where I'm going and how long I´ll spend everywhere. Currently I'm looking at going to Colombia in a few days and spending a few weeks there before heading home via the states. The rest of Central America can wait for another time.

I´m back in Boquete, having returned from San Blas via the lovely little town of Santa Fe. There's not much to it, but its got a great location in the mountains, which lots of friendly locals on horseback and little or no tourists.
The plan was to head via Costa Rica to Nicaragua, but I got wrapped up in the daily events of Boquete and Paradise Garden, so that never quite materialised. And anyway, I hate rushing around too much. It all blurs into one after a while.

Since returning, Macie has been moved close to the wild howler monkeys, and has already met some of them, and will be fully released soon. We also got rid of Heney, the biting Capuchin, who seems to have attached himself to the wild howlers rather than his own species. He was always a bit odd. We've got a new Caracara with a broken leg, and briefly had a wounded Anteater which we took to the vet, but who died later, probably from smoke inhalation rather than his machete wound. And it looks like were going to have an injured female ocelot joining in a few days. And the puppies now have electric dog collars, after their repeated escapes. It´s all go.

For a bit of R&R, I headed with Greg (and his recently broken arm) to Bocas del Toro, the main party islands in Panama. It seems like everyone I ever met in Panama was there, and it's definitely a great place for a pissup. Though there are just too many gringos there for my liking. Despite the hordes it can still be a really nice place to visit. But a couple of nights there were enough for my liver. Off soon for a delicious red snapper dinner courtesy of Michael and Donna, who we know from Paradise Garden. Its going to be hard to leave all behind here, but Shakira´s birthplace beckons...

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Metropolis, Canal and attempted robbery

My first day in Panama city had it all, a skyline to match many great cities, a canal which is one of the worlds recent architectural marvels and an encounter with a local who fancied a new camera for himself.
The city itself is unlike any other Central American capital, with high rises towering over the beaches making it reminiscent of Miami, but with more English spoken (according to the book) . It's also got some really brightly painted public buses (mostly old US school buses) that whiz around at pretty breakneck speed.

Apart from the growing number of glitzy modern buildings (there are more cranes around than anywhere else I've been) there is also Casco Viejo, the older part of the city, left in a state of disrepair, but now the focus of a big urban renewal program. It's a nice place to wander around, with pretty colonial buildings and some good restaurants and bars. But not too far away the city deteriorates, as we found out while trying to shoot some of the more colourful buses in a less salubrious spot. A local kid tried to help himself to one of the guys cameras, but couldn't quite manage to get it out of his pocket.
Maybe best stick to the tourist spots.

The canal itself was actually pretty interesting. We timed it so as to see a couple of fairly big ships pass through (otherwise I guess it would have been a little dull). There was a lot of info and displays on the canal, both historical and on the current expansion plans, and you even got to pretend to navigate a ship through. I hadn't realised that 20000 French had died in an earlier attempt to build the canal, before the US showed them how. The ship shown paid $120,000 to go through, so it just shows the effect the canal has on the economy, and how big a deal the handover back from the US at the end of 1999 was.

But all this western culture was taking its toll, so I headed via an extremely bumpy and fun 4WD track and a short boat trip to the islands of San Blas. These are administered autonomously by the Kuna, and they certainly have got some beautiful islands to call home. The first couple of nights I spent with the locals, which was a real highlight, playing football and learning Spanish with the kids. Although they live in pretty confined areas, the camaraderie between the families is evident and everyone seems really happy.

And it's a lot less touristy than one might imagine. Most of the 400 plus islands are uninhabited, and it's on these we spent most of our days, swimming snorkelling and eating on paradise beaches. I think if this were any other country, San Blas would be famous the world over, but Panama doesn't really do tourism. Which is all the better, IMHO.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

leaving boquete

Well, after over three weeks it was finally time to move on from Boquete. Even though I´m probably going to stop there on my way back for a bit, it was pretty hard leaving, as I´d made a lot of friends there, both animal and human. Working in Paradise Garden was a fantastic experience and something I wont forget. Tom, my indian looking english sounding norwegian mate headed towards Cuba, so we left P.G. in the hands of Neimis, my Dora the explorer lookalike guide to all things boquete. Hopefully Macie and friends wont miss us too much.

Apart from working in P.G. I also took a few much needed spanish lessons, though I´m still strugling to understand the locals. ¨Dora¨also very kindly took me along the Quetzal trail, where we spotted 5 of the elusive beasts, along with loads of other birds including hawks and woodpeckers, sloths, lizzards and a very recent Jaguar footprint.
We also went horseback riding, which included the chance to get up on some less convential modes of transport, and camped at the local hotsprings which is a great way to consume copious amounts of cerveza balboa.

As well as all the tea we could drink, we were also treated to some of Boquete´s finest dining by owners Paul and Jenny, and Paul took us on an excurison to Lost and Found, an eco resort where you stay in the cloud forest and get to see Kinkajous, Olingos, Cacomistles and all kinds of other animals you never heard of before, as well as some pretty nice sunsets.

Before leaving, we took part in a days documentary about P.G., which was good fun even if at times some of the stars were a bit of a handful. The Geoffroy's Tamarins, in particular, were very hard to direct. How do I get that monkey off my back?
So now its on to Panama city, where I think theres some sort of canal that people have heard of...