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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

THE INTERIOR OF PANAMA

THE INTERIOR OF PANAMA

My regular readers know that I write a lot about politics and financial market matters. I am the first to admit that these topics are not real. I guess politicians are needed to run the world, at least, they think so. But being the dreamer that I am I wonder what the world would be like without them. Why cannot each individual be sovereign into himself free to be what he wants to be without some political entity dictating their ownership of us, our families, and our assets. This is what the Sovereign Society teaches, and it make a lot of sense to me. But, dream all I want, any change in the status quo will almost never happen. As far as the financial markets are concerned that is yet another matter.

Today I would like to share with my readers something that is real. I was fortunate the past two long weekends to travel into a part of Panama the locals refer to as “The Interior.” I spent the better part of 4 days in each of two trips into the state of Herrera deep into the Azuera Peninsular. I was told to expect to be reminded of Tuscany, Italy, but my experience can best be described as spectacular. Just miles, or here it is kilometers, and miles of rolling hills and mountains. The difference between The Interior and Tuscany is that The Interior had considerably more vegetation. After all, September is in the middle or the rainy season with an expected shower or heavy rainfall almost every day for an hour or so – the rainy season is from April to mid December.

The most remarkable thing about where I went was the freshness of the air – pure, clean, and fresh air not seen in the cities of either Panama or the US. In Panama City where the traffic can be pretty heavy, the pollution is not that noticeable, probably because at that point in the Isthmus the Atlantic and Pacific oceans is separated by only a small amount of land and the breezes one way and another keep the city’s air quite clean. But the air in the mountains of Herrera is something else. I came to Panama partly because I have experienced mild to moderate bronchitis almost my entire life. Moving to Panama, even though it is hot at times, my bronchial health has improved considerably to the point that it gives me no problems. Living my entire life in the North East and Middle Atlantic States of the US has not been good for my health.

In the area of Maryland where I lived and practiced Pediatrics, I often referred to the area as Maryland’s bronchitis belt. It did great for my pediatric practice but not very good for the children who also lived in the area. Well, here in Panama it is much better. But in Herrera, I experienced breathing air of a quality not experienced, at least by me, before.

I stayed in a home 30 by 30 feet, consisting of three rooms: two bedrooms and a larger kitchen and living area. Cooking was by a butane gas stove and there was no electricity. So you got up in the morning when the sun rose and went to bed when the sun went down. Well, at least, I did. The rest of the household stayed up later and talked by candlelight and listen to a battery radio.

At 3:30 in the morning the rooster began his “Cock-a-ru-koo” as he communicated with another rooster in the next house about 100 yards away. Our rooster was just outside my bedroom and was he loud. I guess it was nice that he heralded the rising of the sun each morning – but 4 hours before! I was talking about the rooster to my hosts and maybe they thought I was complaining, but I was not. I thought the rooster quite charming and after the first day I got used to him. Perhaps, my Spanish needs improving because they thought I was complaining about the rooster. On my second visit the following weekend, I was eating Sancocho soup, a traditional chicken soup made here in Panama. As I was eating a piece of chicken they ask me if I liked the rooster. I told them I really liked the rooster. They said they hoped I would for I was eating him as we spoke. I was aghast. I surely did not intend to complain about the rooster to get him in hot water, really hot water, if you know what I mean.

That day I took my host to a nearby town and bought another rooster and two laying hens. They had chickens running about but none of them produced eggs. I told them I would never have chickens which did not lay eggs. Even chickens need to pay their way. I told my host that while he was away from the car the rooster spoke to me: “Hefe, please make sure they do not put me in sancocho. If they want a chicken for sancocho, I offer one of my two sisters – hefe is the word for master or chief. I promised the rooster I would do what he desired and told my host who also promised. So I left feeling this rooster was secure. But was I surprised in the morning. This rooster, the one I gave a new lease on life began his Cock-a-ru-koo at 1:30 in the morning, two hours before the previous rooster. Well, some days one cannot win for losing.

My host insisted I stay and sleep on one of their two beds in the smaller bedroom. Now this bed had coiled springs with a sheet on top. Sleeping was not the most comfortable experience with the coiled springs digging into my body. I will admit I longed for my bed back in Panama City.

As I already said the mountains were just spectacular. The family wanted to visit the grandfather of the young lady who took me to Herrera. He lived about one hour drive up and very deep into the mountains. The road was very primitive. On three occasions I had to cross a stream. How I got across them I still do not know. I just put my trusty Toyota Hilux, a car not found in the US, in four wheel drive and gunned it. On the other side of one stream was a deep 8+ inches of mud, but my Hilux made it through. The Hilux is a four cylinder diesel pickup which has been very good to me. The car is not imported into the US, probably because it is diesel. In the US diesel fuel is almost as expensive as high test gasoline, thanks to the Irak war, but here in Panama diesel is the least expensive fuel which accounts for the Hilux being one of he most popular car/pick ups here in Panama.

High up in the mountains I ate fresh oranges picked from a tree. There were little pigs running everywhere, and I got an idea while I was up there. I will tell you of that later.

On my first weekend visit there was a festival in the very small town nearby – the festival of La Reina, the queen, who was somehow the patron saint of the town. I did not stay late at night for I did not like the crowd. Almost every male had a bottle of rum in one hand. If they were not staggering and bumping into everyone, they were just standing there looking into space just absolutely stone drunk. I returned to the house but most of the family stayed. My young lady friend promised to be back at the house by 9:30, but she did not return until 12:30 with a tale which was quite believable. One of her cousins got into a fight with another man. After the dust settled with the police having to use their mace, he was put in prison for the night. The family, including an 80 year old grandmother were unable to get a taxi so they walked home, about 5 miles away. It was quite a night for them anyway. At least I was sleeping in the coiled spring bed. The following morning they wanted me to go to the jail early to get their cousin. I went but the jail was not yet opened. They asked me again two hours later and I refused. I said to them let him stew in jail for a day, perhaps he will learn his lesson not to be so hot headed. Later he arrived on his own. The police released him.

The following night one of the other cousins got so drunk, he hooked up with a girl who before the night was over rolled him for his sombrero (hat), a beautiful diamond/onyx ring, a watch, and two gold neck chains. Not bad for the girl for one night’s work. The cousin felt like a fool the following morning, as he should have. These people do not realize that among such a crowd there are people who are not drunk. They are the predators who look for the right person and at the right time, roll them for their jewelry. At least, they did not take his shoes.

All of these life events did not detract me from feasting upon the magnificence of the natural scenery. I vowed to purchase some land there and build a house in the midst of such beauty and peace. I will keep away from the town during festival time.

On my second trip, besides buying the family the rooster and two chickens, I went into the town on the last morning of my second trip there. I spoke with a very helpful lady in the municipal building about buying a pig which I eventually did and brought it home. At harvest time, I do not know what they will do with all that meat considering they have no electricity or refrigerator. Perhaps curing with salt as they did in earlier times might be the way to go.

I hope I have been able to give you a glimpse of life in The Interior. I should, at least, close by saying something about the people who were so kind and simple. They were not complicated. Although they might not have the problems experienced by the fast-paced city folks, I am sure they have their own set of challenges. They do not seem to worry about lacking the amenities we who live in more developed areas enjoy. They think nothing of walking 5 miles because there was no taxi. They did not complain. They just walked.

I thoroughly enjoyed my two visits there and will return because I have to. Her entire family lives there. Need I say more!

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.

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