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800 Days in Panama Part II
800 Days in Panamá – Part II
Day 657: New House, New Water, New Experience
Story & Photos by Eric Rosenfield

need to start this post off with a photo. Little bit of background: I have officially moved into my new house. And so now I'm living about a 35-40 minutes hike up from the road down below/my old house, which means that... things are super chill. Up where my new house is, no one really bothers me, I have very few (and very quiet) neighbors, and there's some beautiful views and tons of great nature, including lots of birds! Toucans, hawks, finches, hummingbirds, birds bright yellow and bright red! Everything. Which means that at 6 in the morning, I am UP. But this leads me to the photo – I woke up yesterday at 5:49am because of the birds, looked outside, and saw this:

sunrise in Bocas del Toro over the Caribbean Sea
The sunrise in Bocas del Toro over the Caribbean Sea. Epic.

So so so, hello! Sorry for the long delay of an update, but things have been busy! Thanks to family and friends, and the non-profit organization Waterlines, I got my most recent project fully funded - $9,313.10 to construct three (slash it's kind of four) new aqueducts in three (slash four) different areas within my Quebrada Pastor community.

It's truly an amazing thing – most of these people have never bathed under a stream of water (unless they searched for a waterfall, somewhere in the jungle). To the people of the United States, it is completely normal. From a young age, we start taking showers (though some of us are a bit fearful at first... mom and dad, was I afraid to take showers at first? I can't remember.). But imagine, for a second, being a mother in the campo with five kids, all under 10: they are constantly playing in the house, under the house in the dirt, chasing chickens, trying to kill birds with sling shots, picking up rocks, playing bootleg baseball with balls made out of plastic bags... how do you keep them clean? Well, before, you would send them down to the quebrada, which is sometimes a three-minute walk away, sometimes a ten-minute walk away, sometimes a fifteen-minute walk away. Sometimes there are snakes, bullet ants, lots of mud, kids fall, kids play, kids get dirty on the way back from bathing. And sometimes, after heavy rainfall, the water in which you and your kids bathe is brown with sediment, so rinsing your hair out after rubbing dollar soap through it doesn't really make it much cleaner: dirt just stays in there.

Well, I was that little child (not really, though at times I felt small and helpless) living without running water. And though my mother didn't send me to the quebrada to bathe (at least not directly - but a Jewish mothers' voice is always in your head), I used to have to hike down a very steep, often muddy path to get clean. And then on the hike back up, one sweats, sometimes slips, sometimes your one sandal hits the calf of the other leg to get things dirty once again. It was tough. And I can't even imagine having to maintain and control a family under those circumstances, or at least a well-groomed and hygienically healthy family. This is the reality for many people living in the campo, where infrastructure is underdeveloped slash non-existant. But not anymore. Not for the 17 families included in my current project.

And my current project actually includes myself, for my new house is connected to one of the three new aqueduct systems (well, two are completely built and the third one should be done within this month). And I can't even begin to tell you guys how much of a relief it is to have secure, clean, reliable running water in my new home.

kitchen area of writer's house, Panama
The kitchen area in my new house. Note the faucet hanging over the dish-washing area on the right.

An example to compare: before, as I lived along the road for the first year and a half of my Peace Corps service, I hated when the water was out (for whatever reason) and I had to wash my dishes. Readers: I URGE YOU TO TRY THIS AT HOME. Take a measuring cup, or a large-ish container, fill it with water, and use that to wash your dirty dishes. Ugh, washing plates was the worst! Too much surface area! It's a huge challenge, especially to use under a quart of water, because you never want to waste the precious drinking/cooking water you have stored in the house. So let's compare that feeling to now where I freely (but not too freely – let's not be wasteful now) let the water pour over my dirty dishes, and I can use both hands to scrub and rinse. So good!

And now let's talk about how utterly defeating it was to have a hard workday, let's say carrying sand and gravel an hour up the mountainside, multiple times. Hiking back down to my old house, I would be covered in dirt, have muddy water in my boots, sand in my hair, scratches on my back from rocks digging into my skin, and then getting back home along the road and opening up the faucet and… ddsifjFHSDOIGHFhdsfDFKDSFHdghoi.

Are you joking? What am I supposed to do now? Well, my old options: Take three gallons out of the usually-stored ten gallons of rain water that I kept in my house and use that to bathe, knowing full well that it might not rain for another few days (therefore I couldn't refill my five-gallon buckets with new rainwater) nor may the water in the shady-aqueduct return. Or I could, once again, put on my rubber boots and make the trek to the quebrada, hiking down for eight minutes, then hiking back up, getting sweaty, dirty, tired...

It wasn't fun. And, embarrassingly, I often went to bed dirtier than I would like to admit. But now... damn! Having a secure water source to shower any time of the day? I'm no longer afraid to just clean things up around the house, because I know that I could get clean in my new shower.

shower area at writer's house
My shower area, behind/to the side of my house

Okay, I will not complain anymore/I will not compare how things were before to how things are now in terms of my living situation. Wait wait wait – not true, one more thing. In my old house, I went to the bathroom in a covered latrine (though filled with mosquitos) in a flush-toilet that ran into a septic side, buried in the ground to the side of the house. Now... well let's just say I don't do that. To make it as appealing as possible, I use a bucket latrine. Sooooooo I poop in a bucket. Before you judge, I must state that many Peace Corps Volunteers do this – at least many from the Environmental Health sector, where members of the community often don't have latrines and they use the quebradas or just poop in the woods. But with that said, this new bathroom situation sucks. I sit on a bucket, go to the bathroom, throw a bunch of wood chips on top of my poop, and shut tight the bucket lid. However, unfortunately, my bucket lid is not closing tightly enough, because flies are getting in, and maggots are taking over. I need to buy a better bucket (a new one, perhaps) especially before I have any more visitors come over...

So let me share some more pictures, because I think I'm done with typing (I can't look at computers for too long nowadays without my eyes starting to stinggggg).

workers hauling 1,250 gallon tank up the mountain
Hauling the 1,250 plastic gallon tank up the mountain. There were two of them...

workers running aqueduct line through a tunnel underneath a road
Running the aqueduct line through the tunnel to cross underneath the road

writer installing faucet
Part of my job was to install faucets

water flows from new aqueduct
There's water! Sanji was scared!

rest area at writer's house with hammock, clothes line and writer's dog
New house - my chill area, with my hammock and clothes line. Sanji looking out, guarding the house

view of surrounding area from writer's kitchen
View from my house

view from back of writer's house
View from the back of my house. Yes, the thing to the left is a "staircase" to get
into my front porch/kitchen area. It is more like a ladder...
but 90% of the time I use the wooden plank

workers posing after pouring concrete for water tank foundation
We poured the water tank foundation

writer posing with friend at just-completed springbox
Spring box photoooooo with my friend Dario (please take note of my $2 Snoop Dogg shirt, k thanks)

Alright, that's all for now. Thanks for the read – and thanks to all of you for the support!

Related Articles:
800 Days in Panama, Part I; Costa Rica; Magical Aruba; Mayan Ruins, Riviera Maya, Mexico; Inside Cozumel, Mexico; Playa del Carmen; La Paz, Baja California Sur

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FEEDBACK FOR PATTI

I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK

FEEDBACK FOR JULIO

The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.

Julio

* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!

Julio

FEEDBACK FOR WENDY

For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!

Cheers

--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in responding...you had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy

FEEDBACK FOR NINO

I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA

FEEDBACK FOR RUSH & CHUCK

Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA



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