Panamerican Proceeding

Lend me an ear and you will hear the rants and raves of this volunteer. "Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer" says Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle (parden the pun), but perhaps no one is crazier either. Why do we care so much? Herein lies a glimpse of my Pan-American experience.

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Location: Bocas Del Toro, Panama Este, Panama

The proceeding 'Panamerican' is a Master's International Student and Peace Corps Volunteer. Disclaimer: Contents are the author's viewpoints only, (need to stress only), and many may have been written on particularly poor days.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Cell Phone Number

Yup, that's right, I think I'm on my 4th or 5th cell phone number now. But the good news is that I finally have reception in my site (if I go outside, face north, and pat my head and rub my belly at the same time).


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hiking Cerro Hoya

So we decided to spend a few days hiking in Cerro Hoya National Park. Not one person I've run into knows this park even exists, in fact, neither did I until Freddie ask me to kill a few days and a few calories bumming around. Sure, what the hell...

Gearing up in the hotel before we left on the 4 hour bus ride.
We got to the last town on the road and left around 6pm with our guide Juan to hike to his parent's house about 2 hours away.
We got there around 8ish and were treated to a tour where they showed us their wild boars. They smell horrible but apparently the meat is pretty decent. We slept for a few hours and woke up around 1am and were treated to a nice big breakfast of rice, the said wild boar (tastes like bacon), and river shrimp. We put their 6 dogs in the house and were on the trail by 2:30am. We were told it was mostly uphill and we could take a nice long rest at the summit and watch the sun rise.
Well it was mostly uphill, in fact, it was ALL uphill. About 5 hours of straight uphill! I was pooped and obviously the weakest link. I had to stop and re-catch my breath every couple of minutes. The incline was probably the steepest one could hike without using arms to pull one's self. But we finally got to "Corn Flake Point" as the locals call it (seriously) and took some time to contemplate why we thought this was a good idea.

I have no clue how this picture showed up on my camera. At some point I must've given my camera to somebody and they took a picture of me from behind. My pack was about 20-25lbs I guess which isn't bad, but not necessarily light either. I had one change of clothes, a two man tent, food for 3 days, a bed sheet, water filter, sleeping mat, rain fly for my pack, rain jacket, and 2 liters of water.

Our guide Juan plucking the Pava that he shot with his 16 gauge. Later his brother shot another one. Pava (this was the first time I've ever heard of them) are like a big pheasant or a small turkey. Around this same time 3 of Juan's dogs showed up. His parents let them out of the house a few hours after we left and they tracked us only taking a few hours compared to our 5 or 6. We didn't realize that the dogs showing up was going to be a problem, but Juan was pissed. The next day was found out why.

I have no idea how I mustered the strength to smile...ha ha.

Around 9am we reached the summit but couldn't see anything because we were in a cloud and it was pouring. We didn't stay. We hiked a few more hours mostly downhill to their pre-arranged campsite. They sometimes stay here when they go out hunting. They had tarps and pots and pans, and there was a little creek nearby for water. We later learned that what was thought was the summit wasn't even it, somehow we had gotten a little lost or something.


Adam and Freddie chowing down.

The view from our campsite. The goal was to wake up early and follow the creek until it formed into a river until it formed into an ocean. We really didn't know how far it was going to be nor did the guides. We figured about 6 or 7 hours, we were wrong. At the beach that was supposed to be there, we were going to meet the boat that was supposed to be there, supposedly at 6am.

Adam and Adam. There were four of us in total with 2 guides and now 3 dogs. I was the least in shape of the 9. At some point during the second day, maybe it was after we saw our 3rd poisonous snake, or fell for the billionth time, or kicked up rocks at the guys steeply descending in front of us that we realized we'd really be screwed if something happened. We were at least a day and a half hike to the nearest public phone (which wasn't working when we passed it) and even from there probably another 4 hours in a car to the nearest hospital.

We diverted from the river a few times to avoid cliffs and found this tree. It was about 20' in diameter and there was a hole underneath one of it's roots. We figured maybe a jaguar or ocelot lived there or something. Shockingly to us, the other guide starts crawling into it! "Ah...hmmm...ah....maybe that isn't such a great idea man...." About a minute later without a sound he finally yells, "Hey guys, you gotta come in here and check this out!"
Sure enough, he was inside the tree! So the four of us crawled in and easily stood inside the tree. It was completely hollow, maybe 18' in diameter on the inside. Crazy! We joked that this tree would be a better house than where we are all currently living.

We got back on the river route, then we'd backtrack because we get to a waterfall and we'd have to find a way to get down. As the day wore on, we even jumped a few times to save time. Hence the problem with the dogs. We must have crossed that river 50 times that day, many times with a dog on our shoulder.

So the rock jumping continued for the next several hours. We kept thinking we'd see the ocean around any one of the bends. Several times we thought we saw the ocean. Since the first sighting to the last real one, was probably about 5 hours of hiking.
We finally got to the sea around 9pm (we left camp at 7am) in the pitch black darkness. I think that was the tiredest I've ever been in my life. I bathed in a nearby creek (the tide was up and the sea was much to dangerous in the dark). We ate the last of our food and tossed and turned ourselves to sleep.
Well we had plenty of time to take group pictures waiting for the boat. Here is Adam, Freddie, Adam and I. We got up at 4am to start a fire as a signal and to filter water for the day. By 6am we had our water, we had our bags packed, and we had sunlight. The only thing we didn't have was our boat. The guides hoped the driver would let the dogs on...if he came. And somehow we forgot to mention there'd be guides with us when we paid the boat guy $200 to make the 4 hour drive he'd never done before. Then to top that off, Freddie found a crumbled up $20 in his pocket that the boat man never got. Does he think we are trying to short change him? We decided that at 9am we would start talking about Plan B. Not many choices though - go back the way we came or try to find a new route out heading east rather than north. We were out of food and had 3 dogs, all of our gear was wet adding probably another 5-10 pounds, and I had at least 5 blisters on each foot.

Well the boat guy showed up around 8:30 and we all giggled like school girls. We were a little nervous getting past the breakers (remember Tom Hanks in Castaway?) but after a few tries we finally got it. We settled in for the 4 hour cruise back to the road. Well the guides realized before we did that they couldn't take the dogs on the buses, so they had to get off at some random beach and hike back to their house. Freddie figured it was maybe another half-day of hiking but there were plenty of houses on the way.

We didn't smell very good as we all piled into a minivan (aka Bus) with all our stinky gear. We asked ourselves if we'd every do the hike again. Nobody wanted to say no, so I finally did, and the general agreement was that we wouldn't recommend it to others. But we all admitted that we were happy we did it.

Isla Grande and Portobelo

An old fort in Portobelo. A lot of the gold and silver that came from South America came thru this port on it's way to Spain. Every so often you heard stories of some local finding some artifact or treasure.
The Catholic Church in Portobelo where the famous Black Christ Festival is held every year invoking pilgrimages from all parts.
Max and Krista, former PCVs from Honduras (friends from Madison), and Loyda and I headed out to Isla Grande.
The view of the backside of the island from the lighthouse. This also shows the rock point we had to hike around as we kinda took a wrong turn back from the lighthouse. About a 2 hour detour, no water, high noon, fond memories.
Model of the Black Christ at low tide.
Loyda and I from the lighthouse.
This is a random pic of an AIDS vigil I participated in a few days earlier. Has nothing to do with this particular trip. I accidentally downloaded it and Blogger wouldn't let me delete it for some reason. There were about a dozen PCVs there.
Mmmmm.....fried fish, coleslaw, and fried plantains. Washed down with a few Balboas.
Max and Krista on the beach. I went to school with Max and we were both involved in Engineers Without Borders.
Hiking around the rock point. Good thing the tide wasn't up!