Tuesday, September 7, 2021

David, Panama 1999

Panama's third largest city lies in the north of the country deep inland but still available to passing sailors via the Rio Pedregal. It is a boom town and even 20 years ago was an economic powerhouse for Panama. Weirdly enough it's named for the Biblical King David and was founded in 1602 by those delightful administrators, the Spanish. The two founders of the city were converted Jews and the speculation now is that Panama City refused to give official recognition to the new administrative center for that reason! I don't think anyone in the city cares and they never mentioned it when we were there getting our teeth cleaned and going to watch Star Wars with Spanish subtitles at the movies.
I also came across some rather spiffing fruit called pifa which are like chestnuts, dry and not sweet, supposedly known as peach palm fruit in English but we didn't know that before the internet.  I would buy a bunch for twenty five cents and eat them walking everywhere peeling off the skin and discarding the pits like a Panamanian. I want to go back to Panama to eat pixbae as they are known.
I hear modern travelers to Panama complain bitterly about paying $230  to get their dogs through customs into the country. In the dark ages when we arrived at David and met the customs officer there was a four month quarantine to land animals in the country. Panama is trying to keep foot and mouth disease in South America and so it is a road through the Dairen Gap to Colombia has never been built even though the quarantine seems to have been forgotten.
However the Customs official told us our dogs had been seen as we had incautiously walked them into town but he was not in his office before 9 and he went home promptly at five. We took the hint. The dogs lounged on the boat during those hours in full view of the Pedregal Marina onlookers...but morning and evening the marina compound was theirs.
I am not a river rat as I find fast flowing bodies of water to be more awkward than the open ocean. Rivers are unpredictable and filled with debris and currents push branches and logs into your boat. Then there are the cows:
We drove the boat up the river everyday and landed at a jungle trail well out of sight of any onlookers. There the dogs ran and explored and had a real walk until they were exhausted. Then we drove back to the anchorage. In the midst of it all we got a taxi ride back to the marina after spending a  morning in town doing chores and the driver Edgar invited us to go inland with him and his wife for a road trip. 
We left the dogs on the boat which isn't as awful as it sounds as the door was open and they could stroll in and out of the patio-like cockpit on the catamaran at will. To keep them comfortable we risked some rain getting into the boat and they did fine while we were away for much of the day. I got to see my first rodeo:
We drove high onto the mountains into a  cool region of Alpine fields and buildings with strangely peaked roofs as though heavy snow were a possibility. We bought root vegetables, the kinds that grow in temperate climates under the direction of Demaris, Edgar's wife and his mother Doris.
Doris and Demaris joined me in some foolishness as Doris expressed a wonderment about the US. I remember in particular Doris thought of America as a clean place and that view colored the rest of our journey through Latin America.
Americans who think about these countries tend to like Costa Rica, the country with no Army. I like Panama a country with numerous national parks, vibrant Indian cultures totally absent from Costa Rica, the whole Canal system which has infused the country with money and an international outlook that is quite surprising. Panama was a vital link in the transfer of wealth from South America to Spain and that inhumane trade in people and coin has left a trail of astonishing physical ruins. There is a sense of history, for good or ill, in Panama that Costa Rica completely lacks. 
I never got to stand in a freezing cold stream in Costa Rica though I have to say I never expected to find one therefore I never looked. These experiences in and around Boquete in Panama gave me a sensation of confusion at Eight degrees north of the Equator the closest I had ever been to the middle of the globe. 
It was an interesting enjoyable day and I expect that if we do drive to Panama in the van a tour of Boquete will be on the cards and we will ooh and ahh with the memories. This time Rusty will be with us to enjoy the cold, not left at sea level. 
But of course when we got back to the boat the dogs needed walking so we moved the boat up the river to our landing and this time we showed the cab driver and his family how it's done on the water.  Happily after this stop to check into Panama the dog quarantine was never mentioned again and our dogs were free. We just had to negotiate the canal and that was no easy thing.