Apologies for falling off the map there for a minute. I won't even bother making excuses, suffice it to say that the adventures have been numerous, and I will relate them to you presently. I'll begin where I left off and give you the highlights of the last three months.
In December I went home for christmas and had a lovely time wearing my precious union suit and lots of plaid while chilling with my family and some good friends. One highlight was a stocking full of cheese, which has been fun trying to describe to my people ("I hung up a sock and an elf in a red suit was supposed to fill it with gifts, but really it was my dad and he filled my sock with cheese..."). We also found a beaver dam, so I have been explaining beavers and ice to everyone. They are very interested in hearing about wildlife, but are puzzled as to why we eat so few of them. Beavers, for example, they think would be both delicious and big enough to feed a fair number of people. Anyway, it was a fun visit, nice to see everyone. I was surprised at how much I missed Panama though, even the loud noisy city full of cloying sticky humid heat.
I got back to Panama right before New Years and went to Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro. In Bocas I visited my friend Elsie's site, which was a lot of fun. We hung out playing music, pasearing, building a magic circle, and checking out some cacao farms. I saw some cool frogs. Elsie's people were wonderful. She lives in an indigenous Ngobe site. They enjoyed teaching me useful Ngoberi phrases such as "I'm going to wash my underwear" and "how are your balls?" They found it hilarious and frankly so did I. We had a great time.
On the way home I had another ridiculous chiva ride, this one involving a truck packed to the brim with 22 passengers slogging up what should be described as one very long mudpit rather than a road. One lady from Catherine's town (Santa Rosa) started right off the bat with expounding to us the imminance of Jesus's return in a rather abrassive manner, peppering her sentences with exclamations of "hallelujia!" and "jesus viene!" This prompted some of the more irreverent passengers to start cracking dirty religiou-themed jokes, which caused even the proselytizing lady to stop shouting religious exclamations long enough to snicker a little. Then the chiva started sliding all over the place in the mud, causing the woman next to me to burst into hysterical tears. The Santa Rosa lady patted her knee and assured her that whatever happened was the will of God. This only made the girl cry harder. So everyone took off their sombreros and started fanning her. As this point several passengers became concerned that I would also fall into hysteria. My counterpart assured them, "don't worry about her, she's an adventurer." Oh and lest I forget, this entire trip was spent trying to avoid the gaze of the "incourageable winkster," an old man who sat conveniently catty-corner to me and winked at me once every 2 to 5 minutes. He never spoke to me, he just winked like clockwork for the entirety of the 2 hour trip.
Other notable events in January included helping out at a children's art camp and making some nun friends, and the sad sad day when I learned that my dear friends Carmen and Jake went home.
February was another interesting month. It's extremely dry now, no rain at all, and no mud either! Though its very very very hot, the road is dry as a bone as easy to walk on. The summer (jan through april) is the time for "vacunaderas." These are great fun. Farmers herd all their coaws into a corral. Then a few people on horseback go into one side of the corral where all the cows are and lasso cows, then drag them into the other side of the corral where people physically wrestle the cows to the ground. Then they vaccinate them, brand them, and cut off their horns with a saw. The cow is then understandably quite angry, so as soon as they let the cow up they run as fast as they can up the side of the corral to escape the enraged rampage that follows the cow's release. This whole enterprise is of course accompanied by copious amounts of "chicha fuerte" (homemade fermented corn drink) and seco. I have been learning all sorts of useful skills - my cow wrestling is improving every day, and I have successfully lassoed three cows from the back of a horse. My branding skills leave something to be desired though, as I accidently branded several of Esteban's cows upside down. The vacunaderas are rowdy, but lots of fun, and I've got the people saying "what's up cowboy" and "she is cowgirl."
I still don't have a pet in the normal sense of the word, but I have had some interesting additions to my household. The first was a spider named Betsy (pronounced "beksi" in campo spanish). Betsy is one of those huge spiders that have a picture of a skull on their backs. She guarded my door for a good month before she ran off for other more exciting propects. The whole town misses her - they used to come by just to look at her. Now every time anyone sees one of those spiders they come running to my house saying "molly! come look! I found a beksi!" My other pet was a gift from my neighbor's daughter. It is a chicken which I am supposed to be raising to make a arroz con pollo when my family comes to visit. I named her Tasty, and she is an escape artist. She spent most of her first week on the lam from the law (the law being me and zach). For this reason Zach calls her Tasty the Bandit.
In the end of February I went on a two day trek to the Kuna Yala. It was by far my best experience so far in Panama and one of the best in my life. If you have a minute you should look up the Kuna, they are a very interesting indigenous group who live in an autonomous and inaccessible province of Panama bordering Darien to the north and Columbia to the south east. They fought the Panamanian government for independance in 1925 and have since maintained their autonomy. They have their own system of governmnet of the traditional headman and a council. We planned teh hike to coincide with their annual celebration of the revolution they fought to gain their independance. There were 11 of us - 11 guys and me and Catherine. It was a really fun group. We started from Mateo's old site, Pigandi. From there we hiked through the jungle for about 4 hours to a Kuna village called Nurra (well actually we accidently went to Wala and had to pay a little kid 5 dollars to take us to Nurra, about 45 minutes away). In Nurra we met our guide (who had tattoos of a T Rex and a naked lady on his arm) and had a deliciously cold soda, a soak in the river, and some peanut butter sandwiches before heading off into the jungle again. We hiked the rest of the day, then made camp on a river bank in the middle of the woods with total wilderness stretching off in every direction. We rested our poor aching limbs in the water, washed our clothes, made a fire and strung up our hammocks. We spent the evening chatting by the campfire, making smores, playing cards, and resting our poor aching bodies. We slept in hammocks strung up between the trees, looking up at the stars through the rainforest canopy.
In the morning we headed off again on the trail. It was intense. Huge portions of the trail had been washed away in the December rains, and we found ourselves clinging to the sides of steep embankments and pulling ourselves along using our arms. It was increadibly steep going up the cordillera, and even steeper coming down the other side. We hiked for about 10 hours and finally straggled out into a trash-strewn inlet where we collapsed amid heaps of rusting cans and trash, too tired to move. We were a mess. A boat came and picked us up and took us to the island of Ustupu.
On Ustupu we stayed with a lovely family who gave us the whole upstairs of their house to stay in. That evening it was all we could do to eat and collapse into our hammocks and a few grimy mattresses on the floor. In the morning, feeling slightly refreshed but still limping noticeably, we explored. The independance celebration involved daily reenactments of the fight for independance, including intense portrayals of the capture and torture of kuna fighters. We spent the day exploring the island. It is densely populated with houses of thin bamboo and palm thatch roofs with narrow alleys between them. During independance women are required to wear traditional clothing for a whole month, which was very picturesque. Considering everything I had heard from Latinos and gringos alike, I was surprised to find how welcoming and friendly everyone was. They were excited to talk about traveling, politics, history, literature, and teach us phrases in Kuna. For meals members of teh community all gathered in the main community building and then divvied up to eat at different houses all over town. They invited us along, and at breakfast and lunch time we were taken in small groups of a few gringos and a few kuna to eat in people's homes. In the afternoon we joined a volleyball tournament in which many tall gringo men were thoroughly defeated by some tiny, fierce, kuna ladies in full traditional outfits.
The next day was the main celebration and we were awakened at 4:37 AM by a parade through the streets. We again spent the day wandering, meeting people, and exploring. In teh afternoon there was a big parade. Everyone wore red and marched, including us. It culminated in the square and then there were reenactments of the defeat of the Panamanian army. At the end, as the kuna fighters flew their flag as the panamanians retreated, i saw men and women crying and embracing and shouting "we're free! we're free!" It was a very highly charged atmosphere. Afterwards we played with a whole gang of children until nightfall, and then sat around chatting with some neighbors who were playing pan pipes and dancing until all hours of the morning.
Getting out of the Kuna Yala was a bit of a challenge. We went by boat between islands all morning, which was beautiful. The area is a tropical paradise. When we arrived, after 7 hours, at the only road out they told us they were only letting kuna leave. We wound up hiking for nearly three hours before we could get a ride. We finally got to Meteti at 11 PM exhausted, filthy, smelly, and sore but very very happy. It was an increadible experience.
This week was another exciting one. I went to celebrate Carnaval in Las Tablas. It was a crazy week of mobs being hosed down in the streets, elaborate floats, and all night dancing. I thought I would be totally overwhelmed because it's not really my normal scene, but even though it was a little crazy I really enjoyed it.
So those are my major highlights of my recent life. I will try to not let so much time lapse before my next post. Much love to all of you!