Monday, June 16, 2008


Today was the first chance I had to hang out in town and explore a bit of Boquete.

I started the day with my Spanish lesson at Habla Ya. I’m taking private lessons two hours per day, five days this week. My teacher’s name is Nora and I was very happy with her. I learned quite a bit of vocabulary, which is what I need most, and she kept the lesson interesting enough that the two hours went by quickly She teaches classes almost back to back though, with a one hour break for lunch. I don’t know how she manages by the time she gets to the afternoon.

We managed to fit in some discussion in between our tasks. I learned that she is married and the mother of two – a six year old and a 12-year old. She told me that machismo is strong here and that her husband didn’t help at all after the birth of the children. She had her last child by caesarean and the baby would sometimes scream all night. She thinks it’s because of the stress of having to take care of him herself that her wounds from the Cesarean didn’t heal well.

He did eventually begin to help out at home, but only after she began to work for pay. “When I was dependent on him financially, he expected me to do everything,” she said. “But once I got a job and was gone all day, he began to help.”

She told me that her 12-year-old is obese and that the children laugh at him at school. Sometimes he comes to her and tells her he doesn’t want to go to school because of the teasing. She told me that she used to make and sell pastries and sweets and would always keep a portion around the house. That made her fat as well, though she lost a lot of the weight when she ended that profession. Her husband though continues to eat an unhealthy diet and continues to remain overweight. When she asks him to set a good example for their son, and not eat junk food in the house, he tells her, “It’s my house, I can eat French fries here if I want to.”

Though this place is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef and even home-grown chickens (sold on Sundays), the local diet is heavy in carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, plantains, bread) and fried foods.

After class, I finally had some quiet time to work. Then I strolled through town. It’s such a pleasant place. The residential streets are lined with single-story bungalows, many with patios out front. The main streets are compact and filled with stores selling agricultural equipment, tours, food, coffee, art, souvenirs, videos, second-hand clothing and pharmaceutical goods. I noticed how some of the stop signs had ads on the reverse side, in gratitude to the sponsor of the stop-sign. I noticed a few Indians walking in town. The women wear a distinctive, bright one-piece dress. I’ve also noticed what seems to be a fairly negative attitude toward the Indians by people in town and I’ve learned that they are mostly relegated to working as laborers on the coffee farms and that they have a problem with alcoholism. And of course I noticed the foreigners. Upon leaving the house and walking to school for the first time, I passed foreigners before I even came across a Panamanian.

I had lunch at the Panamonte Inn, which I’d read was the best in town. It was a fancy restaurant, with white tablecloths ad polished glasses. I didn’t find the food all that exciting, though it was nice to have a green salad to balance out all the carbs. The premises of the hotel were beautiful though, with a lush garden, pale blue and yellow buildings and a colonial feel. It certainly does have a long history. I read that Charles Lindbergh stayed there, as did Admiral Richard Byrd, who rested there while writing an article for National Geographic about his Arctic explorations. The Inn also has a spa, so I treated myself to a facial. The prices aren’t much less than in the states, but the quality was good and after night upon night of interrupted sleep, it was a luxurious relaxation. I don’t think I opened my eyes the entire time.

In the evening, the church bells played a beautiful melody at 5:20. The owner of the café where I was working told me it was the Novena de San Juan. San Juan is the patron saint of Boquete. His day is the 24th of this month and the church counts down for the nine days leading up to the event.

When I came home, Lorena was standing with River in the street, looking up at the trees. Later, while I was eating dinner, Magdalena rocked with him on the patio, looking out at the forested mountain. They both commented on how he appreciated grass and trees. So I followed their example and rocked him to sleep out on the patio in the cool night air. He fell asleep and is still in bed two hours later (yay!). And I’ve been able to enjoy a relaxing evening.

So far I really like this place a lot. I know I won’t be able to do everything I’d like to in the time we have left. So I guess I’ll just have to come back.

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