|At Finca Lerida|
I read in Wikipedia that it may mean a place of good fishing or a place of beautiful flowers, but that the accepted meaning is “a place of beautiful flowers and fishes.” To us, of course, it has always meant that narrow isthmus connecting Central America to South America. Oh, and with a canal running through its middle allowing ships to pass through from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or the other way ‘round.
The language we hear most here is Spanish, of course, an echo of the conquest of this and neighboring lands by Spain when it was still a nation of strength and influence. They left behind their language and their genes before fading from significance and both are evident in the people on the streets and in the shops of Boquete and David, the only parts of the country we’ve seen so far. Dark-haired and handsome, the mixing of European and aboriginal stock over centuries has produced a people not quite like either strain, and yet not unlike them either.
The only comparison that comes to my mind would be the Metis of Canada.
The dwellings suggest a wide spread in the fortunes of Panama’s citizens. Our temporary home is solid, modern, set in acres of tended greenery. In Boquete, the climate is a non-issue; furnaces and air conditioners would be totally superfluous. I’m told there are really only two seasons: the wet extending from May through November and the dry from December through April. Throughout, the temperature hovers around the mid-twenties mark. The 1000-metre descent from Boquete to the Pacific coast is a one-hour car trip, but with a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius and a sharp rise in relative humidity.
Ascending up the mountain from Boquete takes you through another reality. Among the coffee plantations and vegetable farms the very poor cling to life sheltered in patched together dwellings of dirt and tin and whatever can be found to keep out the rain. Our Western, Christian impulse is to give them stuff—clothes, food, soaps and pencils—a reflex of guilt for having been dealt an undeserved, large share of the earth’s bounty. The children we see along the roadsides laughing and playing, balancing with arms outstretched on the sewage pipe that runs down the mountain probably don’t know they’re poor--except when they take the bus down into town.
I remember that as a child, we were too poor to have bicycles. It was only the fact that our neighbours had them that grew the need in us to own one. I need to think some more about the definition of wealth as the ownership of stuff, and the definition of poverty that relates to material goods and not to spirit. Hmmm.
Boquete lies near the highest mountain in Panama, the Volcan Baru which, we’ve been promised, erupts only in intervals of hundreds of years. A few hours drive across the Cordillera that forms the backbone of Panama, and we’ll be on the Caribbean side, the coastal archipelago they call Bocas del Toro where we’ll renew a friendship rooted, almost unbelievably, in La Ronge, Saskatchewan.
Facebook is marvelous. Through it’s “gossip column” we know that Rosthern is blanketed in snow and that last night’s temperature dipped to -25 C. No doubt, we would come to miss the snow and the crisp cold of the Canadian winter eventually.
Today, that’s hard to imagine.