A Travellerspoint blog

Fishing = Trabajo Duro


We have spent the past few days at a beach area in northern Cartagena, just beyond the encroaching big-buck hotels/resorts. The barrio is not wealthy, and consists of small, modest homes interspersed with shacks with walls that allow glimpses of the lives inside them. As usual, most of the folks were very friendly, especially in response to a smile and "buenos dias." I also sensed animosity from some. It makes us wonder if the big white motels down the way pushed these people out of their homes, causing them to move further and further down the beach. At any rate, over the course of a few days of smiles and of course, the pups, the residents have warmed up to us.
Fishing seems to be the primary occupation, most commonly with nets--langostinos y pescado. Yesterday while we were on a long walk up the beach, we came across a group of young men hauling, reportedly, a net in from a long ways out in the sea. Since we were looking for exercise, we jumped in the line and helped. Starting hip-deep in the water, taking a place on the taught rope, we would walk and pull until we got to the end of the line on the beach, and then return to water. The dudes shook their heads at us, but welcomed us. Muy loco gringos. I asked one if the net was in Venezuela, and he chuckled.
After pulling for approximately an hour (no joke), we realized our line was just half of the operation. Starting further down the beach, there was another line of guys pulling another rope. As we got closer and closer together, the net appeared! The other group took their boat out and started emptying the net. We watched at that point, trying not to be a nuisance and trying not to get tangled in the net. It seemed like a lot of work for a modest amount of langostinos and fish large enough for eating. But, this is their daily life.
A dispute arose, perhaps regarding payment of the guys on our rope by the guys in the boat. When we got to shore, it came to fisticuffs between two strapping young men. The guy on our rope got the other guy on the ground, at which point his amigos pulled him off. Not sure if that settled things, but they went on about their work. Later, we saw the dudes from our side of the rope walking back along the road, and they smiled and shook our hands.
Today, we move into the Getsemaní section of Cartagena. It is Carnival time, and although the big place for Carnival in Colombia is Barranquilla, just 2 hours down the road, there surely will be something happening in Cartagena, too.
¡Feliz fin de semana!

Posted by ceastburn 07:12 Archived in Colombia Comments (2)

New friends, Panamanian Stamps, Ironman, and more Stamps


I apologize for the length of this installment.
This is a catch-all entry, combining several experiences over the past week.
First, back to Portobelo, the funky town on the Caribbean. One of the regulars at our hotel bar was a Colombian man who lived down the road. Jairo Montoya Núñez. We became friends, and Jairo graciously invited us to his home. He met us at the hotel the next afternoon, and we all (including the pups) walked the kilometer or two or three to his home. Walking is a major form of transportation for many folks in Central America, especially the rural areas. Besides being a form of exercise, it is a very friendly practice. Everyone greets each other, keeps up with one another's news, etc. Jairo is well-known, and should perhaps consider running for mayor.
Jairo has a painting business--furniture, doors, floors, cars, boats. You name it, he paints it. His home is a simple, comfortable, open-air structure. He and his 14-year-old son, Wilson, live there.
Jairo served us ice-cold cervezas and prepared arroz, patacones, and pescado entero frito for dinner. Patacones are plantains (the green ones) that are pan fried just until they are soft enough to smash. Then they are removed from the pan, flattened (Jairo did it with the bottom of a plate) and returned to the frying pan. Yum! Not sure they are any healthier than fries, but they taste more interesting.
Fried whole fish is a common meal here, and it is one of our favorites. I'm still not sure whether the fish are gutted by the fishermen, or whether Jairo did that. We were drinking cervezas during that step. But anyway, diagonal cuts are made down the sides of the fish, and they are then pan-fried. No breading. Fantastic! The three of us munched away happily.
Stuffed, we walked back to the hotel and provided Jairo with a few cervezas. The next day, we gave him a lift to Panama City, and his girlfriend prepared lunch for us in her apartment. We consider ourselves fortunate to have been invited into both their homes.
Jairo speaks little English, so our times together were great practice for us. Jairo's español is very clear, confirming what we have been told regarding Colombiano español. We look forward to hearing a lot more of it!
Back in Panama City, it was time to start the process of shipping the Jeep to Cartagena, Colombia (South America-a new continent, for me). First, we needed to find the inspection station, located at a confluence of several closed and one open street. Once there, we found several other vehicles geared for overland travel. Since this reported extensive inspection HAD to be performed on vehicles with "cold" engines, we all stood around for an hour or so with hoods raised. In 90+F degree heat. We met some more fun folks from several different locales. Switzerland, Czech Republic, etc. Finally, a man with an ID tag hanging around his neck came out and walked around the cars, announcing that he would not, under any circumstances, speak English. He told most of us to return to an office across the highway after 2:30 pm to receive some document. He told us, through the Czech Republic folks that, since the Panamanian border folks had not filled in our engine number, we had to go to another office to get this rectified. Off we went, negotiating more closed and one-way streets. We handed the paperwork to a gruff man who seemed to understand what we needed. He indicated with a brisk wave to sit down and wait. Since we were in a government building, I occupied myself with reading (in español) pamphlets about proper use of antibiotics, and high blood pressure treatment. Muy importante.
Finally, a smiling woman returned with our "corrected" vehicle permit. Lo and behold, they determined (without laying an eye on our Jeep) that the engine number was identical to the VIN. Todo bien. No problema.
Back to the other building at 2:30, more waiting (brought my Spanish Grammar book this time), and bingo! We had the form that we need for shipping.
In the meantime, the second annual Ironman 70.4, Latin American Pro Championship, was held in Panama City on Sunday, February 3. Last year, Lance competed in the inaugural event. Remarkably, he didn't show this year. We drug (hehe) ourselves out of bed at 6 am, me not missing this part of racing at all, and made our way to the start.
Latin American style, the start was 30 minutes late. So, we watched the helicopter make its rounds, and one of the big container ships headed to the Miraflores locks blew its horn at the waiting competitors.
The swim was in the Panama Canal. Later, a competitor from Brooklyn told us the water was unusually, alarmingly cold. As in, take your breath away cold. Apparently, even the Panamanians were really surprised. We saw only tank-top, shortie wetsuits, at most. We watched and walked along with the swimmers (pro men) to the transition. Those poor folks had to run barefoot on concrete at least 100 meters to their bikes. After we cheered for a lot of the non-pros, we called it a morning and caught a cab back to the hotel.
Monday, we drove to beautiful Colón (armpit of most armpits) and went through the process of putting the Jeep on a ship to Colombia. Panamanians love their stamps. As in, rubber stamps. After we received our Bill of Lading from the shipping company, we were told to go to the Aduana (customs) just down the way. Simple! The woman at the Aduana window with bright pink lipstick told me we needed to go to ANOTHER Aduana, down the road. We went back to the shipping company office, they explained which driveway to pull into, and we set off on this step. Found the office. Now, we were a few copies short of what this nice woman needed. Always with the copies. They sent me down the way to the post office. I entered the post office, and while reading a notice about the procedure for copies on one of the windows, I absentmindedly said, "¿copias?" The woman behind the window gave me a deadpan, attitude-filled gaze and said, "buenos." Well, excuse me. Por fa-fucking-vor. You'd think we were back in North Carolina, and I forgot to say, "How y'all doin? Can y'uns please make me some copies?". Yes, I came across as an uptight, impolite gringo. The ONE time I forget to say por favor. Lo siento. But give me a break. I just need a few copies. "¡No!" from the attitudinal bee-atch. She instructed me to go to someplace to do with Chile. Hmmm . . .
After wandering around for a bit and exchanging greetings with a few Panamanian dudes who had not a clue where in this hemisphere one could make copies, I went back to the government office next to the Aduana we were dealing with presently, and spotted a Xerox machine. This time, I remembered my manners, and asked for copies, please. This bee-oh excuse me, government employee, had her own set of issues. But I waited, stifling the urge to leap over the counter and shout, "for the love of Buddha, WHEN are you going to lift your ass from that chair and ambulate yourself to the copy machine and make 4. Freakin. Copies?" I stifled. And she did lift her ass.
Copies in hand, I marched back to the present Aduana office, where Douglas announced THAT official finally relented and made copies in that office. Super. More copies for us. Most importantly, that official STAMP, STAMP, STAMPED and scribbled on several packets of apparently crucial documentation.
Back to the first Aduana, to the window with the bright pink lipstick woman. She too, happily stamped away.
Next, to the RORO (roll on, roll off gate) to deliver the vehicle. We pulled into a gate that looked like the right place, and the official dudes blew gaskets. We were NOT supposed to be there. One came to the window and shouted directions. We pulled away, Douglas was not clear on the directions, and so he pulled BACK up to the ballistic dudes, despite my observation that this was going to REALLY piss them off. Sure enough . . . The Jeep got parked and Douglas was directed through a new gate. I opted to stay in the vehicle.
Douglas returned with the news that we needed yet more STAMPS. Back to the Aduana, this time at the window next to the pink lipstick lady. This one's window was nearly opaque, and communication was through a speaker that sounded like the teacher's voice in Peanuts. In Spanish. Back to the pink lipstick lady. More stamps (BAM! BAM! BAM!). Back to the Spanish Peanuts-voice window. BAM! BAM! More stamps. And a few scribbles. Oh, and money.
Back to the loading gate. I waited in the Jeep while Douglas did whatever. Then . . . he claimed we had the OK to enter the gate, with ballistic dudes. Hoo-boy. This was going to be good. Sure enough, whistles blowing, fingers pointing, no guns drawn, yet. Then, they got the radio message that we were ok. Except "señora" could not come inside the gate. Fine with me. I got the stuff we needed from the Jeep, and trotted around to wait outside the gate. I watched the equivalent of the Panamanian DEA zoom up with his dog. I will say, that official treated his German Shepherd very well. He walked him before the test, and gave him a hug and kiss after. The pup sniffed the car, and was most excited by our pups' scents, and probably their food. Passed.
Douglas dealt with some other hoops, and then we were outta there! Hope we see the Jeep again!
Tomorrow, we all fly to Cartagena. Very exciting!
As always, thanks for reading.

Posted by ceastburn 18:38 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Ticks=muy malo


Our sweet Sunny has been seriously sick. I noticed that she was subdued and a bit less active over the course of a few days, and thought it was due to the heat. But then she showed signs of serious fatigue, and lost her appetite. She gave me a look with her sweet, earnest eyes and I could tell she was saying, "Mommy, please help me feel better." I checked her temperature, and it was 105+! Into a taxi, with a big Panama City phone book, searching for a recommended clinic that was open on Saturday evening.
We were the only clients when we arrived, and the receptionist called the doc, who apparently lives next to the clinic. She arrived immediately.
No habla inglés, so my Spanish skills were called into action. She took Sunny's temp and confirmed my finding. Then she drew some blood and analyzed it, diagnosing Sunny's condition as Erlichia. This is an infection caused by exposure to ticks. Sunny's platelet count was nearly non-existent, and her red blood count, hemoglobin, and hematocrit were all low. The MCHC--mean cell hemoglobin concentration--was also drastically low.
The vet explained that she would give Sunny injections (antibiotic and anti-inflammatory), and then we would need to return with Sunny the next day (to their other clinic, which is open Sundays) for repeat injections, and then give Sunny antibiotics for 21 days and anti-inflammatories for 5. After 21 days, her blood count will need to be checked again. I can only hope that the infection did not progress to the chronic stage, which involves a compromise of the bone marrow. Sunday's good news was that her temperature was back to normal.
We reviewed the anti-parasite medications that I diligently give to the pups, which already double some protections. Trifexis and Vectra. Apparently, these are not enough for tropical ticks. So, now the pups are sporting tick collars. We have pulled a few ticks off of Sunny over the course of our trip. Obviously, those demons pack a punch.
Most importantly, Sunny seems to be feeling better. There is nothing better than seeing her smiling, happy face! Her appetite has returned, she comes to greet us at the door, and wants to go for walks. I do notice that she tires more quickly, which is no wonder, given her anemic state. I happily carry her when she slows down.
So far, Cricket is her usual crazy self.
This is why you have not heard from us for a few days. I will try to update you on our other adventures later today.

Posted by ceastburn 06:21 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Beach day, Panama Style!


We are in a bit of a holding pattern right now, waiting for our Jeep to ship to Cartagena, Colombia. I have come to the realization that I need to dial back the making-progress part of my brain and just. chill. Not that I feel particularly goal-oriented on this adventure, but we have become accustomed to movin' on down the road on a fairly regular basis, and a pause can feel, initially, like a screeching halt.
But we are REALLY good at making the best of just about any situation (travelers must possess this trait), and are enjoying our time in Panama. Spent a few days in Panama City last week hooking up with Iowa friends, doing laundry, seeing a movie (The Impossible), and now, escaping to the Caribbean in a funky village called Portobelo. No mushrooms, to my knowledge. We are staying at a place called Octopus Gardens. It is a little hostel/b&b/boarding house that caters to divers. Nice bar/restaurant ON the water . . . we hear the surf clearly from our room, friendly folks, not much English spoken . . . just like we like it. We don't SCUBA dive, but it is interesting to watch all the processes involved in going out on and returning from a dive. Wet suits, oxygen tanks, regulators, masks, flippers. Not unlike my prior days of ultra-distance cycling. Right now, it's nice to watch all the hustle bustle while sipping coffee in the morning and drinking rum as they return in the afternoon.
Today (Sunday) we checked out a nearby beach. We were warned that it was crowded with Panamanians on the weekends. Guess what?! The warnings were correct--it was PACKED! Awesome! The parking lot was full of diablas rojas (awesome-cool decorated schoolbuses), taxis, and other vehicles. This is an example of what makes Douglas and I great partners--travel-wise and life-wise--we had a great afternoon. No whining about, "ooh, it's so crowded! the music is so loud! the people are so loud! there aren't any chaise lounges!". And on and on. Our only whine is about the trash . . . The two of us, and maybe a dude selling candy apples, were the only gringos present. And I know that other possible gringo speaks fluent, beautiful español, unlike us.
Back to the scene. This being the Caribbean side of Panama, the African influence is big. Many things are big. Most of the folks at the beach looked more like brothas and sistahs than the Panamanians of, say, Panama City or Boquete. Families are big, bootays are big (ginormous), some boobays are big, attitudes (especially sistahs') are big, stereo speakers are big . . . you get the picture.
The sand was smooth, the water was (fairly) clear, plus refreshing. What more to ask for? We set up our REI camp chairs amongst all the happy mayhem, took a few dips, read, and felt welcome. These folks knowh how to have a beach day! Ample food and beer. And ron. And seco. We ate some pescado entero (our favorite) and fried plantains. ¡Nos gusta plantainas! Is it possible to call a food that one has not experienced (on a regular basis) until age 50 a comfort food? 'Cause that's sure what plantains feel like to me.
Oh, back to the beach. We had a couple cervezas, too. The people-watching was better than many movies I have seen. As a woman, it is refreshing to see all body types having a BLAST, in all sorts of swimwear, and not being uptight about not looking like Kate Moss, Beyonce, or Daniel Craig. At what age can women have baggies of silicone/saline stuffed under their boobs? yeah . . . I don't think that applies here . . . There was a cool-dude gang of some sort that cruised up and down the beach. Backwards ball caps, soccer (futbol) jerseys, swaggers, a few chosen babes tagging along. And there were these three women in smurf-blue Lycra outfits. Refer to the above paragraph re: big. And the children. Love the comfortable-in-my-own-skin confidence that is innately instilled in them here.
Most of this comes back to what Douglas and I value and love so much about Latinos. They are open, honest (unguarded), friendly, non-judgmental, and welcoming. Stated another way, Latinos are not uptight.
Life is good.
Buenas noches.

Posted by ceastburn 16:12 Archived in Panama Comments (2)

Panamaaahhh . . .


It is true, we spent only 3 nights in Costa Rica. We could not bear anymore time amongst republican gringos, and certainly did not want to give them anymore money. And there were a lot of them, demanding a LOT of money. We went to a bar that displayed photos of Reagan (seriously, in Costa Rica?!), Bush 1 & 2, McCain and Palin . . . frightening.
The pseudo-hippie backpackers are only slightly less obnoxious. Sadly, parts of Costa Rica have become spring break fodder, and a place for disgruntled republicans to come and bitch about Obama ("dictator," I believe is their name for him) and demand all their comforts of home. Didn't Rush threaten to move to Costa Rica?
The Ticos are nice, extremely hard-working folks who are very patient with the gringos who don't bother to learn a lick of Spanish. I can only imagine how they laugh and roll their eyes as the gringos stumble off in their orthopedic shoes and safari hats.
We know our experience is not representative of all of Costa Rica, and look forward to hitting other parts of this beautiful country on our return trip. We will stick to campgrounds, where the cranky folks would never go!
So we hightailed it to Panama. The border crossing was actually smooth, but time-consuming. This is the one crossing where all the preparation for the pups' requirements paid off.
First, we need to give a shout-out to experienced overlanders, Life Remotely, who have compiled specific directions for every Central American border crossing. Their website, liferemotely.com is extraordinarily helpful and required reading for anyone driving through Mexico, Central America, and South America. ¡Gracias, amigos!
Next, we must give a shout-out to our veterinarian, Lyn Bedsaul at All Pets Asheville. Thanks to her thorough documentation of Sunny and Cricket's health histories, vaccinations, etc, the Panamanian vet had everything he needed to give us official permits for the pups. ¡Gracias, amiga!
We rolled into Boquete, Panama in the midst of their largest festival of the year: Feria de las Flores y del Café. Boquete is a beautiful mountain town in the shadow of Volcán Barú, the highest point in Panama at 11,000 feet. Everything grows well here: vegetables, flowers, trees, and most importantly, cacao and coffee. We have spent quite a lot of time here in that past, and have great friends who we look forward to seeing every time we return.
Since there is a ginormous festival going on, finding places to stay has been tricky, but we have managed to land on our feet. We will be here a few more days and then head towards Panama City to meet friends from Iowa. We have also made arrangements to have the vehicle shipped and ourselves flown to Cartagena, Colombia February 6.

Posted by ceastburn 10:07 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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