Tuesday, May 31, 2011


This morning several of us from the garden club went to visit a private bromeliad garden above Boquete.  The American owner raises and hybridizes thousands of them.  Here are some glimpses of his greenhouses and specimen plants growing outside:

Huge sun-loving specimens greeted us on arrival.
We saw three greenhouses chock full of bromeliads and a few orchids:

Notice the row of bougainvilleas behind the back wall -
an added benefit.

Here's a close-up of a giant specimen in the greenhouse just above:

While the others were exploring the greenhouses I walked about the grounds with my camera and found these amazing specimens:

Here are just a few of the plants my friends bought:

And here are the ones I brought home to my little house.  Most of them will go in an empty shaded bed next to the side of the house:

At $17, this one was by far the most expensive.
The others were in the $5 - $8 range.

Here's a similar one just starting out.
I love the purple next to the green foliage.
Note the different patterns on the leaves between
these two.  
Thinking ahead to colors that will
complement the heliconias to be bought next month.

This little fellow doesn't fit in with the others in the side bed.  It may find a shady spot out back:

Finally, my very favorite one will have a special spot by the front door:

Wish me luck in growing them.  I'll give you a report in a few weeks on how they're doing.


Friday, May 27, 2011


Some time ago I told you about my friend Cora Kent's garden.  Now, several months later, the heliconias are in full bloom.  I'd never heard of heliconias before moving to Panama, and now they are my favorite flower.  Actually they are many kinds of flowers, with over 100 species and many more varieties.

Yesterday I visited Carla Black's garden in Volcan, one of the largest heliconia collections in the world.  It will take me a few days to sift through the more than 100 images I took there.  In the meantime, here are some of Cora's heliconias:

H. rostrata -
The bracts can be 2-3 feet long,
the foliage 10-20 feet high.

Here is a different species - not sure of the name - I think the common name is "Parrot Head".  These blooms are much smaller, only a few inches across.  Don't the orange flowers look spectacular against that purple?  Not sure what the purple plant is - will have to find out:

Cora and her husband David have spectacular grounds with their house, including this little Mexican-inspired chapel filled with art:

If you are very lucky, you might visit Boquete at a time when one of their charming casitas is available to rent. Then you can enjoy these fabulous sights for yourself.


Sunday, May 22, 2011


Sunday, May 22, a.m.:

Driving back to Volcan for the second day of the art show, I saw this fellow down by the side of the road:

I couldn't tell if he was injured or just resting.  Some of his harem was just inside the fence:

When I arrived at the spot where the loose water buffalo had been the day before, there were two men in a pickup truck waiting.  Hopefully they were the owners, alerted to their strays.  The two cows from the day before were nowhere to be seen.

At the end of the day I spotted this herd on the way back to Boquete:

They all seemed content.  The fellow from the morning was gone, hopefully inside the fence with the others. No carcasses by the side of the road to be found.  So from all appearances this story had a happy ending.

Upon further reflection, it should be obvious that the ones that are alive are the survivors with enough road skills to avoid being road kill.


Saturday, May 21, 2011


Today I drove the new Ruta Sur to and from Volcan.  Volcan was settled by Californians and Swiss and German farmers. It is highly agricultural but still has large tracts of unspoiled cloud forest.  It's quite a bit higher in elevation than Boquete - about 3,000 meters (8,000 feet).  It sits right in the shadow of Volcan Baru, the dormant volcano which is the highest point in the country.

Here are some scenes from the drive there:

Golden-tipped trees filling a valley.

The first of many dairy herds I saw

And here are some views from the Casa Grande hotel where art show was:
Looking up one direction
across the river from the hotel.
Tremendous biodiversity

View of the river from the hotel.
Reminiscent of Evergreen, Colorado

Looking the other direction up the hill
and across the river.  An afternoon shower.

This was all very nice, but the highlight of the day was being stopped by water buffalo in the middle of the road on the way back.  No, that was not a typo:

Warning:  Water Buffalo Crossing
I had seen these two on the way up, loose in an orange grove.  They are evidently strays from the main herd, which I also saw safely behind the fence a couple of miles up the road.  A friend had told me about the water buffalo on the Volcan road.  Rumor has it they are leftover from Noriega's regime, when he had them imported for possible military purposes.  (Yes, I know this sounds far-fetched, but hey, this is Panama where anything goes.)

I rolled down the window and gave them a stern lecture:  "You'd better get back home!"

One of them gave me a quizzical look, but then they seemed to do just that:

Headin' back home down the highway.

I am very worried about these two.  I flashed my lights at the oncoming traffic to give them a warning.  Twilight was rapidly approaching, and with their dark skin they would not be visible at night.  If they got hit, they will still be there in the morning when I have to drive back.

I hope they made it.


Friday, May 20, 2011


This weekend I'll be in another art show, in the town of Volcan. Volcan is on the other side of Volcan Baru from Boquete, about ten miles as the crow flies, but you have to drive around the mountain for an hour to get there. Fortunately there is a new highway, the Ruta Sur (Southern Route), with spectacular scenery on the way.

Volcan is the heart of the agricultural region of Chiriquí, and our province/district/county (not sure which) is known as the breadbasket of Panamá. You can smell the pesticides from the heavy applications as you drive on the highway.

Here are two images from the Volcan area that I'll use in the show. This first one shows the patchwork fields on the slopes of Volcan Baru near the village of Guadalupe. I think Guadalupe is the highest occupied place in the country, for it is above Cerro Punta, which bills itself as the highest place.  It is the stopping-off point for Finca Dracula, site of over 2,500 species of orchids. And it's the gateway to the nesting area for the rare Resplendent Quetzal, the royal bird of the Aztecs and the national bird of Guatemala.

If you look closely, you can see the indigenous people's huts right in the fields where the pesticides are applied.  My speciality is children's environmental health.  I've seen the indigenous children coming home from school.  It's difficult not to get involved in this issue, but as an extrañera I must not. Raising a stink over this issue could put the entire agricultural industry of the country at risk.  I am torn up about this:  are sick children a reasonable price to pay for their families to have jobs?  While the easy solution would be to move the families' huts away from the fields, this is not necessarily the best because the indigenous people don't have their own transportation.  As it is now, they must walk up and down the hills. Moving their huts would make them have to walk even more.

I'll continue to think about this issue, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy the image just for its esthetic value:

Here is another recent image for the show.  I've been looking for a good shot of a calla lily, a flower so important to Georgia O'Keeffe and Imogene Cunningham (a pioneer of fine art photography).  This image of a purple one at Finca Dracula finally caught my eye after working up all the other images from the trip.  I love how the curve of the leaf in the left background plays off the curve at the bottom of the bloom, and the tip of a leaf on the right echoes the bottom of the flower.  Hope you like it too:

Finca Dracula: Purple Calla Lily

May your days be blessed, as mine have been.  Blessings are like beauty:  they are always there.  You just need to see them.


Thursday, May 19, 2011


Working hard for an art show in Volcan this weekend.  Here are some new images for that show.  After years of rejecting flash photography because it "washes out" details in daylight, I've discovered how rich it is for nighttime photography.  Here are some images from my garden taken at night.  The series is called "Night Garden", of course.

Hope you like them!

Heliconia - I didn't even know what a heliconia was
until I moved to Boquete.  This is the one
I've been blogging about.  It's finally open.
Another species of heliconia -
from my back yard

Spathyphyllum - Peace Lily



Today I came to the realization that I truly love living in Boquete. We are in the rainy season now, the six or more months of the year when one can count on rain in the afternoon and night. I have quickly become used to it, for it nurtures the luxuriant growth here and provides a new cadence for the days.

We will see if I still love the rain six months from now.

Great joys come from small things. This is one of the life lessons I've learned since coming to Panama. This week a road grader appeared on our little mountain road. I've written about this road, about how rough it is with its rocks and boulders. Last week the potholes in the paved part of the lower road, which had been marked with orange spray paint about a month ago, were finally filled. The filling is not heavy-duty, and I expect it to give way before long. But for the time being all of us who use this road are enjoying being pot hole-free, even if we have a few more bumps in the road instead.

Now the grader is working on the upper road. Gravel trucks have mysteriously appeared and disappeared without unloading. But the grader is still there, and I am harboring hopes that it will make it up as far as my little house.

A friend who lives farther up the road and who usually takes the shortcut into town on the side of the mountain told me this week that our road now has a name: Avenida San Anselmo.

Avenida San Anselmo!

It sounds so romantic. And it is. Who knows - we may even have house numbers someday. But for the time being, I would prefer to think of the houses by their names.

I need to find a name for my house. Even though I'm renting it, it is home for now and for the indefinite future. I've thought about calling it "Casa de las Flores" (House of the Flowers) because the burglar bars on the windows are in the shape of flowers.

But there is already another "Casa de las Flores" in Boquete. I don't know if duplicate names are allowed, but to be on the safe side I'd better not use that name.

So I've decided to call it "Casa de Felicidad"  (House of Happiness). Because that's what it is.

This afternoon the shower was brief, and afterward we were enveloped in a fog. It quickly lifted, and I decided it must have been a cloud instead. Now, as I write this, another rain shower is coming. And I am grateful for it, and for the life here in Boquete.


Sunday, May 15, 2011


Ever since arriving in Boquete, I've noticed how good the children are here.  This refers to both Panamanian and indigenous children.  There aren't enough ex-pat children here to make a comparison, so I'm comparing them to children in the U.S.

First of all, this really refers to Chiriquí children here in the province where I live, but most outsiders don't know what or where Chiriquí is.  These descriptions may not apply to children elsewhere in Panama, especially in Panama City, which is for all intents and purposes like the U.S.  I will call them Panamanian children, with the understanding that I am referring to children in Chiriquí, especially those in Boquete and its environs.

Panamanian children are extremely well-behaved.  I have yet to see one that would be labeled "hyper-active".  They sit and stand still, they hold their parent's or sibling's hands when walking, and they follow directions the first time they are asked.

In other words, they are like U.S. children of two or more generations ago.

Why is this?

I doubt if I could get a research grant to do a full-blown epidemiological study on this question, nor am I interested in spending a lot of time doing that.  However, I can posit a few observations that may or may not be pertinent.  Some of these ideas were proposed by my friends, but I honestly can't remember who said what:

  • Panamanians do not use baby strollers.  Instead, the mothers CARRY their children until they are old enough to walk and hold their mother's hand while walking.  This means the babies learn to be still.  It also promotes mother-child bonding.  It's impossible to push a stroller down these rough unpaved mountain roads.  And it's impossible for a mother to talk on a cell phone while carrying a child in her arms.  I've seen U.S. mothers talking on cell phones, virtually ignoring their babies in strollers.  This is one of the saddest things, for a baby to feel ignored.  Perhaps these ignored babies act out as they get older, in desperate attempts to get attention, if not love, from those around them.
  • Panamanian children do not seem to eat fast foods or even a lot of prepared foods.  The nearest McDonald's is an hour away, and there are no fast-food restaurants in Boquete unless you count Milquiburger.   There are a few local cafeterias serving local food consisting mainly of chicken or some meat, rice, beans or lentils, vegetables and salad.  No bread.  No dessert.  
The other day I passed a group of indigenous children on their way home from school, throwing rocks into the trees by the road.  I thought they were trying to hit birds and nearly stopped to admonish them.  Then I realized they were knocking down guavas and taking them home to their families to eat.  And they seemed to be having fun doing it.
  • I doubt that many Panamanians drink sodas.  With an average daily wage of about $10 and sodas at U.S. prices, they are cost prohibitive to most average Panamanians.
  • Panamanians walk.  A lot.  Many of them don't own cars, and I have yet to see any indigenous people in private cars.  Instead of hopping into their car to go to the corner store, they walk down the rough unpaved mountain road, sometimes at all hours of the dark night, to the nearest bus stop on the main highway.  This walk may be several miles each way.  Today, Sunday, I saw an indigenous teenaged boy walking down the road in front of my house.  He had the muscle definition of a professional athlete.  And he was whistling, as if he were happy.
Surely he must have seen glimpses of the materialistic lifestyle of luxury cars and unnecessary material goods, for there are rare BMWs and Mercedes in Boquete, mostly belonging to wealthy people from Panama City here on weekends.  I've even seen a few Hummers.  But does that indigenous teenager look at these cars and the fancy-dressed people in them with envy?  I doubt it.  I would love to know.

It seems to me that the bad behavior of children (and their parents) seems to increase in direct proportion to the parents' adoption of the U.S. materialistic lifestyle.  Yes, this is a value judgement.  I am calling the behavior and lifestyle bad because they do not seem to be directly related to happiness.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Shortly after moving to Boquete, I reported that everyone in my neighborhood except Señor Lara waves to me when I pass by.  Now I know why:  Señor Lara is mostly blind.  He hasn't been able to see me - or anyone else.

The other day I saw him standing by the road as he is accustomed to do, and stopped to introduce myself.  He is a charming man, older and with a big white mustache.  He called his grandson, who was still asleep, to come out of the house to translate for us.  His grandson is a certified translator, so I had exceptional service.

I told his grandson to tell Señor Lara how distinguished he looks.  He seemed to be flattered.  Then I promised to make him some cookies, and that made him laugh.  I'd actually been thinking about the cookie thing for a long time.

A few days later he was there again, and I stopped to visit - this time without a translator.  I told him I would use a system so that he would know when I was passing by:  four toots on the horn - SEE - ÑOR -- LA - RA.

This morning I got to use the tooting system.  He waved like crazy and shouted something out to me.  I don't know exactly what he said, but I know it was good.

Now I need to go make those cookies.


Monday, May 2, 2011


It was an otherwise normal Sunday afternoon when the mounted throng descended on my road.  This is but the "tail end" of the group (sorry about that), after I grabbed my camera and ran outside:

Notice the two little girls doubled up on one mount.
They teach them early here.
Men bringing up the rear, in case there is trouble ahead.

One of my friends, who had just been on
the outing to Finca Dracula (see previous)
explaining that this is the Sunday Riding Group.

And off they go, after bringing
a lot of excitement to an otherwise dull day.

Ride on!


Sunday, May 1, 2011


The previous post was about our visit to Finca Dracula, one of the largest collections of orchids in the Americas. In addition to the orchids, there are extensive landscaped grounds.  Here are some glimpses of them.