Culture (Cont'd) - OK, so the partying...Last weekend was my first weekend here and it happened to fall on the annual Boquete Flower Festival. This is Boquete's busiest weekend and it attracts dozens of food, beer and merchandise vendors from around Panama. They all set up in or around the town's municipal gardens which are on the east side of town. This festival has been known to attract as many as 100,000 people. So, imagine your quaint little hamlet overrun with a boisterous multitude fit for a Michigan-Ohio State game.
The music at the festival is the big attraction. At the north end of the gardens is what they referred to as a 'travelling disco'. It's a series of musical stages, dance floors and DJ booths set up especially for the feria. When the sun goes down that's when the party really begins. They play their music unfathomably loud.
Everything was loud. People. Music. Motors. Whistling. Shouting. Fireworks. At all hours of the night. The parties wouldn't end until 4, 5 or 6 in the morning. The fair was probably a quarter to a half mile away from our house and it literally sounded like a raucous party going on in the party upstairs. The volunteers had to wear ear plugs when they slept because the walls were so thin and there was so much noise coming from the street.
By Monday night, the town was back to normal and was almost disturbingly quiet. It's pretty much been that way ever since.
Panamanians don't party all the time but when they do, they do it right. I went to another party last night at the English school and they did it up big time. Panamaniacs.
Economy- It's hard to tell what drives the economy here. Most of the poorer people here work the land picking fruit or coffee or they are artisans and merchants and sell their wares on the streets. Despite the rockiness of the soil, it must be packed with nutrients because they grow all sorts of stuff here; carrots, corn, onions, potatoes, plantains, and even strawberries and oranges. The people also dabble in a bit animal husbandry as there are a lot of horses, cows, goats and sheep and a ton of chickens that cock-a-doodle-doo all day long. There is an established service economy in Boquete and there also seems to be a decent amount of construction going on. There are a lot of poor people (mostly the indigenous) here but the area is not impoverished. Every once in a while you'll see a flashy SUV cruise down the street. Also, some of the properties in the hills go for $300,000+ (Boquete is also traditionally the vacation area for rich folks from Panama City).
Gringos - There is a significant expatriate community in the are surrounding Boquete. The other day I met a nice woman named Penny who was from the UP of all places and graduated from U of M and the Law School (she said there is another prominent alum in the area as well). You'll see a lot of old white hairs around here because it is a good area to retire because it is so cheap. Supposedly, there are some unions in the States that encourage their workers to move here after retiring. It is kind of disheartening though, to see decent, hard-working, middle class Americans and Canadians having to retire down here because they can't afford it back home.
Food - The food in Boquete is OK. It won't knock your socks off but I like it plenty good. Some of the other volunteers had complained that the food here was bland. However, its mostly chicken or pork and rice and beans which is right in my culinary and gustatory wheelhouse. It's all I ever make or eat at home. You can get a nice big heap of food here with some sweet platanos to boot and it will set you back $3.00.
Beer - Panama has about 5 nacional beers: Atlas, Balboa and Panama (clever name) are the most popular. I prefer Balboa; it tastes like Heineken if Heineken didn't taste like shit. Atlases, Balboas and Panamas are all $1. Beer is literally cheaper than water. One of the newspapers in Panama City conducted a study last year that showed Panamanians drink about 5-6 times more beer than water.
Coffee- It's a shame I don't drink it because Boquete is supposed to have amazing coffee. The agricultural and atmospheric conditions in Boquete make it the best place in the world for growing coffee. Up in the hills the coffee plants are all over the place and even grow on the side of the road. The beans themselves come two in a red, filmy pod. It takes roughly 45 beans to make a single cup of coffee and all the beans have to be picked by hand. The indigenous men pick them all day, load them into gigantic bushels and then walk them an hour into town. So, as you can imagine it might not be lucrative of a career. But, if you want some coffee I'll see if I can send some to ya.
That about does it for life in Boquete. I'll be back soon with a special blog devoted entirely to my fondness for the bus. And I'll post a run down of what I actually do here.
On a side note: Can someone please tell me what the hell the Jets are doing in the AFC Championship Game? Are they really gonna go to the Super Bowl when I am in freaking Panama of all places? There's really no doubt in my or anyone's mind that they are gonna win the whole thing now. You've got to be kididng me.