Monday, January 31, 2011


This weekend was the big Nosara Fiesta, held once a year and much anticipated by everyone. Carnival rides, horse parade, the crowning of the Fiesta Queen, music, food, and, most importantly, bulls. A giant wooden bullring was constructed in a large field just for the event, which attracts folks from all over the region. This is when the BIG bulls are brought in.

We went to the Fiesta twice but both times opted to avoid the bullring. Having been to a smaller version last month, we already had our fill of watching men try to ride bulls and fall off, at which point other men (mostly inebriated) jump into the ring to "distract" the bull from the fallen rider. Sadie was absolutely petrified, didn't understand the point, and hated the whole thing. I felt sorry for the bull and decided I didn't need to see any more (though the cowboys at the end who actually rope the bull were definitely cool). As a consequence we missed lots of exciting moments at this year's Fiesta such as this:

And this:

But we had our own exciting moments.

The Fiesta included several carnival rides, trucked in on the dusty roads from who-knows-where. They were standard issue carni, circa 1970. A little rough around the edges, if you know what I mean.

Plus in what other decade would you name a ride the "Hustler"?

Naturally, the Hustler was exactly the ride the kids were drawn to.

Sadie and her friend Ella desperately wanted to go, as did Ella's younger brother, Lucas. Trouper that she is, Ella's mom, Maggie, gamely accompanied the three vulnerable small children on the spinning nightmare while the other adults watched grimly from a safe distance. At the conclusion of the ride, the kids hopped off excited as could be, followed by Maggie who mouthed "that was not fun" as she stepped gingerly to safe ground.

The thrill of danger coursing through their blood, the kids raced back to the gate to ride again. "Maggie," says Scott, her helpful husband, "they can't go alone!" So off to the Hustler again went Maggie. This time they were joined by two other people in their car, which seemed to greatly increase the velocity of the spin. Once again, when the ride stopped the kids jumped off with huge smiles. Maggie followed them slowly, looking a bit pale. She smiled gamely at us all, walked around to the side of the ride, and...puked. Way to go, Maggie, thanks for taking one for the team!

(No one rode this one. Gorgeous though, isn't she?)

After the Hustler, the kids desperately wanted to ride the bumper cars. Sadie and Ella were beyond excited for this important carnival rite of passage.

They climbed in a car together all smiles and waves and then...BAM!!

Shock and disbelief covered their faces and Ella's hand went protectively to her neck. Not to be dissuaded, however, the girls gritted their teeth, grabbed the steering wheel, and slammed on the gas. They meant business.

BAM!! Suddenly Sadie was gone! I stared, horrified, thinking that she toppled out of the car (seat belts in Costa Rica? Come on, now!) and was lying unconscious on the bumper car floor. Suddenly I saw her head poking up from under the steering wheel. She hauled herself up from the floor of the car and quickly gave us a big grin and a thumbs up. Pedal to the metal again and they were off. I stopped looking.

After the rides, the adults were all a little unhinged so we sent the children off for a beer run. That's right. We sent three small children by themselves to the beer tent with some money and they brought us back bottles of beer with absolutely no trouble. Gotta love this country.

In addition to being able to send your children for beer runs, you could also get a tattoo at the fiesta. A real one. Just like you used to be able to do at carnival midways back in the day. Probably about the time when that bumper car ride was first built.

Our last day at the fair was Sunday and we went specifically to see the "parade of dancers" which we knew nothing about. The parade was to start at 3, so we arrived at 3:30 in an effort to account for "Costa Rica time." At 6:00 it finally began. As it turned out, the event consisted of two Comparsa groups - a smaller (probably high school) troup, and a larger, fancier professional one. Wikipedia told me today that a Comparsa is a parade of dancers and musicians (drums and horns) associated with Latin American carnivals. It was loud and colorful and fun.

After the parade, we made our way back to the car to go home and wash off the dust and cotton candy and try to get a good night's sleep after an exciting weekend.

And that, my friends, was the Nosara Fiesta. Fun for everyone (except maybe the bulls).

Monday, January 24, 2011


No, no, not mambo, I'm talking about

Yes, Ian has managed to turn his hobby/obsession into an actual full fledged business (with a little help from me and Sadie - the official tasters). !Que Rico! Helado is booming!

I think I mentioned a few posts back that it is for sale in handy "to go" size containers at the Beach Dog Cafe. Ian now sometimes makes several deliveries there a week and discussions regarding possible expansion ideas are in the works. The Beach Dog Cafe is in a perfect spot, within walking distance of the beach. Remember that in Nosara there are no businesses right on the beach, so the Beach Dog is actually in a prime location, a mere "block" up the road, to entice weary sunbathers and surfers to stop and get some ice cream. In addition, it happens to be a place we, ourselves, love. They have great food and delicious smoothies, prices are good, the folks that work there are great, as is the ambiance. We couldn't ask for a better primary client.

To help promote the business we created a Facebook Fan Page ("!Que Rico! Helado") and are proud to have 23 "likes" (and 4 of those people even live in Nosara!).

In addition to the Beach Dog, we decided to try our hand at selling ice cream at the local Farmer's Market, held every Saturday in the parking lot of a hotel/restaurant. We spent the week prepping - getting both small and large containers, making labels and signs, making lots of ice cream, buying a cooler, etc. - and on Saturday morning at 7:00 am, we all packed the car and headed down the hill to set up.

Though it was initially challenging to get people to taste or buy ice cream at 7:30 in the morning, business soon picked up. We offered two sizes for sale of Mango, Strawberry, Salted Caramel and Peppermint Oreo, and by 9:30 we were almost completely sold out of everything. We gave away the dregs of the samples and a couple of small size containers and called it a day.

In addition to the profit we made, I think the Farmer's Market also helped build up !Que Rico!'s fan base. Many folks had already had the ice cream at the Beach Dog and were thrilled to be able to buy a larger container of their favorite flavor. Others came and tasted for the first time and many of those will hopefully head to the Beach Dog for more.

Okay, so we're not quite in the same league as the cheese guy, but it's a start.

On a more personal note, though Ian was not totally comfortable in the vendor role, I found the whole social aspect of selling at the market to be quite fun. I told him he is more than welcome to stick to making the ice cream and send me to the market to sell it.

All in all, a successful venture for !Que Rico!

This week !Que Rico! is experimenting with new flavors. Anyone care for a chocolate covered strawberry? If so, come see me next week at the Farmer's Market. I'll be at the small rickety table next to the cheese guy with the refrigerator and the huge tent.

Monday, January 17, 2011


It's Monday and the couple of post topics I had in mind are still, well, in my mind and not fully formed, nor do I have the appropriate photo accompaniments. So, in lieu of a fully formed idea with a beginning, middle and end, I am resorting to some half formed musings. Some pros and cons of life here (or "opportunities and challenges" as the policy wonks like to say).

1. Health Care
A big pro on the health care front is that it is of high quality and wildly affordable, at least in comparison to our less than perfect system in the US. I hear tell of week-long hospital stays for $2000, of mammograms for $30 (complete with immediate results). The con for us in Nosara is that we are no where near all that high quality medical care. We are an hour away from the nearest hospital (in Nicoya) and word on the street is that you may want to bypass that particular hospital and get yourself to San Jose should you find yourself dealing with something major (except snake bites. Nicoya is known for their antivenoms).

On the other hand, we do have a couple of doctors here, at least one of which is usually in town at any given time. Just recently we found ourselves in the position of knocking on the clinic door, our child in my arms, covered in blood with a towel on her head. Seems she had a nasty run in with a cement tunnel at school. The doctor was pleasant and efficient. He cleaned her up and told us that the wound wasn't too serious and would likely heal fine. However, he cautioned us, if we can't wake her up the next morning we should probably go to Nicoya. He didn't charge us a thing. You see why my feelings are a bit mixed.

Here's another example. I've recently been dealing with a minor but annoying urinary tract infection. I haven't been able to fight it off myself so was resigned to getting some drugs. Not too long ago Ian was sick and we learned the helpful trick (when we couldn't reach a doctor) of going directly to the pharmacy and getting medicine with a diagnosis from the pharmacist. This seemed like another good candidate for that option so off to the pharmacy I went today. After explaining my symptoms briefly (very briefly, since it was in Spanish and I had only looked up a few key words in the dictionary), the woman behind the counter conferred with the pharmacist over the phone, got out a box, handed me a sheet of 12 pills and told me to take 2 every 12 hours. It took 5 minutes and cost $8.

The pills came with no information but did have the name of the drug stamped on the sheet. When I got home I took two and then Googled the drug. The drug is not available in the US so all the websites with critical information are in Spanish. I used Google Translate and learned that you should never take the drug if you are nursing or epileptic. I'm neither, not that anyone at the pharmacy asked. In addition I learned that I should take it on an empty stomach (good information) and that it will turn my urine orange (huh. Sounds like just the type of critical information I should know before I go to the bathroom for the first time and freak out and make Ian drive me to Nicoya). I also should stay out of the sun (a bit of a challenge here). I'm thankful I have access to Google but quite concerned for those who do not. In addition, Google Translate is very good, but not perfect. I am now deeply concerned with the potential for "subjective and reversible visual disturbances without objective findings" (do I see spots or do I just think I'm seeing spots because of my spot-seeing history?) and maybe even "cartilage erosions joints and other signs of arthropathy." Oh my god!

But I avoided the middleman completely and have utter faith in the ability of the pharmacist to treat something so common. Five minutes and $8....

2. The Weather
I'm obsessed with weather. Not because of how it is an amazing and complex scientific phenomenon, but because of how it affects me personally. My relationship with weather is completely self-centered. Mostly because I hate to be cold. I love always being warm here. I love never thinking about taking a sweater anywhere (even if I'll be out past dark), I love getting up in the morning and being as warm as I was when I went to bed at night. I love never wearing socks and never shivering.

But.... In Costa Rica there are two seasons - the rainy season and the dry season. In many areas of the Country, the dry season just means less rain than the rainy season. Here in the Guanacaste region, however, rainy means rainy and dry means dry. I loved the rain but I also already complained about the rainy season months ago, so I won't repeat myself.

Now we are in the dry season. As in, not a drop of rain for months and months. The weather is lovely. The mold is gone, you can go to the beach every day, each night we sit on the deck and are treated to amazing sunsets.'s hot. And I hear we have no idea what hot is yet. But not only is it hot, it is dusty. So very very dusty. No paved roads, lots of vehicles (it's high season for tourism), bad combination. In many areas of town they pour some sort of molasses product on the dirt roads, which hardens and dries and helps keep the dust down. But still it pervades. Folks wear goggles and tie bandanas around their noses when they travel by foot or motorcycle. Despite never rolling the car windows down when we go through town, I feel the dust in my nose and throat. Sadie coughs at night frequently and I worry about her and all the other children in Nosara. It's hot. We wait for rain but likely won't see any until April. I didn't realize how extreme the seasons were here. It's a challenge, but does give me ample fodder for my obsession.

3. The Language
Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country. Yes, it is. That's one of the reasons we chose it. If you live in the beaches area of Nosara, however, you'll hear mostly English. It is the language of tourism, of an expatriate community, of the service industry that serves both. It is relatively easy to live here and get by with speaking very little Spanish. A plus if you are like me and don't speak Spanish and maybe even have a block about learning Spanish that you can't seem to get over but still like living in a Spanish speaking country. A shame (and an easy way out) if you are like me in all of the above ways and end up living in Costa Rica for a year and learning very little Spanish. A challenge if you are like Ian and came here specifically to work on your Spanish and are forced to actively seek out ways to do so.

Ian is dedicated and determined. In addition to taking actual Spanish lessons, he continues to find creative ways to practice and learn more - taking cooking lessons, volunteering at the library, making friends with the owners of the farm he buys milk and eggs from, reading Junie B. in Spanish every night with Sadie. For me, I pin all my hopes on Spanish by osmosis. I alternate between being relieved and disappointed that I am not forced to learn and speak the language. In situations when I am forced to try, I am left feeling frustrated and isolated, with an occasional slight urge to do something about it. In the meantime, thank goodness for Google Translate (as long as my vision problems clear up).

4. Surfing
I can't surf, I'm too old to learn, I'm going to hurt myself, I'll never get it, lessons are too expensive, I'm going to get water in my ear.

I love surfing, it's so fun, I love the ocean, I'm sure I can learn, I'm in good shape, friends will teach me, I'll be great, I just need to get out there and do it.

Until next week...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Danza de los Diablitos

We needed a place to stay for a night on our way back to Nosara from Panama and so, before we left for the trip, we found ourselves searching our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook for something interesting. We came across a small section on the indigenous reserve of the Boruka (Boruca, Brunka) people. The one page on the reserve mentioned a yearly three-day festival, called the Fiesta (or Danza) de los Diablitos, symbolizing the struggle between the Spanish and the indigenous populations. As luck would have it, the festival was going on right during the time we were driving back. How could we miss that? As there are no hotels in the village, we arranged a homestay through a gallery in San Jose.

The Borukan reservation is a collection of several small villages rising into the mountains from the beautiful valley of the Rio Grande de Terraba. We drove up and up along small dirt roads until we came to the small village of Boruka, itself. As instructed, we asked for Doña Margarita at the local pulperia (corner store) and were directed to our homestay. Boruka looks pretty much like any rural Costa Rican town. Modest houses made of cinder block and tin (many with outdoor kitchens), a church, a school, a couple of little stores selling ice cream and beer. The Borukan residents wear the same type of clothing as Costa Ricans elsewhere (in fact, the guidebook's admonishment to "dress modestly" when visiting only serves to make you look like even more of a gringo - the dress code in Costa Rica is basically tight, low, short). Because of the festival, however, there were many tourists (mostly ticos) wandering around the dusty streets, going in and out of various homes to buy crafts.

View of the village from the porch of our homestay

We were given a small room off of the porch with a keyed lock, and shown the bathroom inside the house. Doña Margarita was holding court on the porch, explaining the festival to some students visiting from San Jose. As she explained it, the festival celebrates the fact that the Boruka fought hard against the Spanish conquistadors and, unlike many other native populations that were in the path of the Spanish, the Borukan were not entirely obliterated (only about 1% of Costa Rica's current population are indiginous). In addition, the Doña explained that the festival also celebrates the Boruka people's continued efforts to retain and promote their culture. She explained that during the rest of the year, outsiders are not particularly welcome in Boruka, but for three days they are welcomed, during which the Borukans share their culture as a "gift."

There are around 2000 Borukans in Costa Rica. In 2006, only 5 people were semi-fluent in the native language and the Borukans were suffering the common challenge of how to live in the modern world while encouraging their children to stay in the villages and retain their culture and traditional way of life. Once small-scale agriculturists, the Borukans have turned mainly to their art and handicrafts as a way to sustain themselves economically. Hand carved balsa masks and textiles (woven on pre-columbian looms using natural dyes) are sold to tourists all over Costa Rica. There is now a strong effort to teach the kids how to speak the language in the schools and the population is apparently expanding.

Examples of some of the beautiful hand-carved masks for sale

But back to the Festival. For three days, beginning each afternoon, the men of the village don costumes of burlap and banana leaves and wooden masks. One man wears a bull mask, symbolizing the Spanish conquistadors, and the others wear elaborately carved devil masks symbolizing the native people. There is a "battle" and the bull loses.

Sure enough, at about 3:00 pm, we began hearing lots of commotion. While men dressed as abuelas (grandmothers) played flutes and drums, the devils faced the bull linked together in pairs or trios. Much mayhem ensued and the bull eventually collapsed to the sound of a giant firecracker.

After each battle, the men gathered around the nearest house and asked for chicha, the local moonshine made from fermented corn. Once they had their fill, a new bull came forward, the masks were put back on, and they continued down the street for another battle. In fact, the whole town seemed to be drinking chicha, and our house was apparently ground zero for chicha production. There was a steady stream of folks coming through our porch into the kitchen to fill up mason jars and old Fanta bottles with chicha, as the group of increasingly drunk devils and bulls slowly progressed along the dusty streets of the town. (Upon hearing my explanation of the festival later, a friend astutely commented, "oh, I see. It was a pub crawl!")

Amidst the mayhem of chicha and fireworks and stumbling men, suddenly a large semi came plowing along the small road and pulled up to a tented area across from our house. We watched with growing unease as men began unloading piece after piece of what looked to be a gigantic sound system. Oh yes, says the Doña, there is a dance party tonight. Really? In the middle of this remote indigenous mountain town, there was going to be a party with enough sound equipment for a 30,000-seat stadium concert? A mere one hundred feet away from where we were supposed to be sleeping? This was going to be an interesting night.

The porch where we sat for hours and hours watching the village world go by

Two more trucks arrived. There will be two bands we hear. One all the way from Mexico. Sure enough the first band began playing at around 9:30 pm. Very loud. While Sadie slept in the room, Ian and I sat on the porch and listened and took turns going to peek at the tent. Very few people were dancing, most were standing around the edges of the tent or outside, apparently waiting for the party to really pick up. Eventually we got tired and decided to try to sleep.

We couldn't sleep of course. There was a band playing. And then another. It was loud. Very loud.

But we didn't know loud.

Somewhere around midnight, the last band stopped and the DJ took over.

Oh. My. God. Now I got what all that sound equipment was for. The tin roof on our house pounded and rattled to the beat while the DJ hollered into a microphone ("Let's hear it for the Indigenous Festival 2011!!") over the sounds of sirens and explosions. For hours. And hours.

Okay, okay, since you asked, here's a little sample of the some of the music (though you must imagine it with the bass turned waaaay up and some guy hollering every 40 seconds and lots of sound effects):

Of course we also had to hear the most popular song in Central America. Though there are many many remixes (and we were treated to a particularly loud and bass-heavy one that night), I like this one.

(Just for kicks, here is the original of that song from the 1950s for those of you who might be interested):

But back to the dance party. My skull was shaking, my heart was thumping, it was loud enough to break glass and I'm pretty sure it did, and it seemed it would never end. I kept thinking about how the United States invaded Panama and drove Noriega out of the house he was holed up in by blasting Metallica and Slayer. I thought my head might explode or that I really truly might go crazy.

At 3:30 am, it finally stopped, to be quickly replaced by the sound of every single rooster in all the neighboring villages who must have been really confused by the party and so, just to cover their bases, began crowing at 3:30 am and didn't let up until 6:00 am.

Sadie slept through the entire night and woke up the next morning refreshed and hungry (she had won over Doña Margarita the night before by asking for multiple servings of her beans). We stumbled into the kitchen, downed the delicious gallo pinto that Doña Margarita cooked up for us, packed the car, and headed back to the peace and quiet of Nosara. Phew.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!

Well, you'll be relieved to know that we made it back safe and sound from our Panamanian adventure. Tired and dusty, like the many roads we traveled, but back. But let's rewind to the beginning, shall we?

The trip to Panama was mostly about exactly that. Getting to, then around, then of course back from, Panama. We began by driving south along the Pacific coastal road of Costa Rica, a stunningly beautiful part of the country. We stayed one night in Costa Rica to break up the trip, then headed to the border, la frontera. We parked at the border (oh, did I make that part sound easy? Perhaps you should reread that sentence another 2o times or so), gathered our bags and crossed the border by foot. Okay, it wasn't that easy, but it wasn't Nicaragua either. It took probably close to 2 hours of mostly standing in line, the time increased by a few surprises such as the fact that Panama requires you to have a bus ticket out of the country to get in the country, car parked at the border be darned. Three tickets from Panama City to San Jose later we were able to cross the border. Oops, then we asked someone if it was okay to cross. Bad idea. Ask questions and you get sent back for a bag inspection. Okay, now we can cross. Really.

Once across, we took a mini bus to David, the second largest city in Panama, about a 90 minute ride from the border. David is a loud, crowded, dusty city full of shopping. At least that was my impression from the small bit of it we saw. Sadie, however, was in heaven. Santa gave her 20 dollars to spend in Panama (I'm guessing because he didn't get her the make-your-own-gum and make-your-own-jawbreaker kits that she really wanted and was trying to make it up to her). Let me tell you, 20 dollars can buy you lots of nail polish and cheap jewelry in David. Speaking of dollars, interestingly, that is the currency in Panama. They don't print any paper currency but instead use US dollars, US coins, and a smattering of their own coins the same size and denominations as US coins. I guess 82 years of US control of the Panama Canal did have some effect on the country.... At any rate it definitely makes the exchange rate easy to calculate.

As for the parents, our favorite part of David was the Lebanese meal we ate. With the exception of some great fresh fish we've had in Costa Rica (and my side trip to the Osa with my mom) our Lebanese dinner was probably the best dinner we've had since we moved. Well worth the trip to David.

The next morning we woke early and hopped on a bus to Panama City. Again, throw in lots of misinformation, running around to various areas of the bus station, and the last minute jumping on a waiting bus without food or coffee and you get the real picture. The good news was that we had seats. The bad news was that our seats were in the back of the bus by the bathroom. Enough said. The 7 hour bus ride was a good 6 hours too long and we were ready to kiss the ground of the Panama City bus station when we finally arrived. As a side note, and a common theme for the transportation aspects of our trip, Sadie was terrific. Thank goodness for some 20 hours worth of Avatar on her ipod and a copy of The Lightening Thief - she spent the entire time reading or watching videos and never complained. Except maybe a bit about the smell, but really, who wouldn't?

Panama City is huge. Over 3 million people, sprawling, packed with cars and buildings. The number of high rises rivals that of San Francisco and a good 15 more are currently under construction. Development seemed rampant and money seemed to be flowing, though poverty was also obvious, of course.

The city is a collection of several distinct areas, including the old part, Casco Viejo, the ancient part, Panama Viejo, and the modern areas.

Casco Viejo was very interesting. Once the entirety of modern Panama City, then as the city grew the area of the poorest inhabitants, and now undergoing rapid gentrification, Casco Veijo looks a bit like a grittier version of the French Quarter of New Orleans, or parts of what I imagine Havana to look like. Narrow brick streets and old colonial building in various states of disintegration or renovation.

It is a gem of an area for Panama City's growing tourism market, and I can only imagine how it might look in 10 years. In the meantime, it retains a fascinating mix of rich and poor, of crumbling and fully restored, of hole-in-the-wall old school salsa clubs and upscale restaurants and galleries. Somehow Sadie can withstand a 7 hour stinky bus ride with nary a complaint, but wandering around looking at "old falling down buildings" is akin to torture for her. Thankfully the area also had a fantastic ice cream parlor which we visited several times.

We had some good food in Panama City, but not too much great food. The highlight was a restaurant upstairs in the gigantic fish market. Whole fried fish, fish soup and ceviche, topped off with a pisco sour.

The ancient part of Panama City, Panama Viejo, was also interesting. More so than the ruins themselves, was the juxtaposition of the ruins against the backdrop of skyscrapers, and how the ruins themselves exist along the edges of one of the poorest areas of the City, and themselves are poorly maintained and poorly signed.

Here's what Sadie thought of wandering around ruins. Clearly we have not yet reached the artisan market at the end of the pathway.

Like Casco Viejo, there is an effort underway to make the ruins more accessible and the journey more interesting and educational for the tourists. The pathway to the ruins along the waterfront has several areas with benches and interpretive signage about the ecology of the area (the vast mudflats and occasional mangroves that border the City). However, maintenance is an issue (of course) and trash is a city-wide problem. Here's a picture for you policy wonks out there.

Then...there was the canal.

The Panama Canal! The whole reason we suffered through that 7 hour bus ride to get to Panama City. They have recently built a visitor's center at the Miraflores locks, which are a convenient 15 minute cab ride out of the city. Seeing the Canal in person was awesome in the sense that I loved having to get my mind wrapped around the idea that I was actually seeing THE Panama Canal! Not unlike how I felt when I first saw the Mississippi River. However, it does not inspire the actual physical awe that other marvels of the world, like, say, the Pyramids of Egypt, do. The locks are big, but not BIG, the ships going through were big, but not GIGANTIC. Still, it was very cool to see. The visitor center included several large outdoor viewing areas that are situated very close to the locks and we got to witness a couple of container ships go through, assisted by groovy little motorized trains.

Here's a link to a webcam at the Miraflores locks so that you, too, can be sufficiently awed. This is THE Panama Canal!:

(Note: most ships pass through from 9-11 am and 2-4 pm, east coast time)

The visitor center had some good exhibits about the past, current and future of the canal, including a nice section on the watershed surrounding the canal, water management, and the surrounding environment. There was a definite emphasis on the future. As in expansion. The glory of the planned expansion project was described in great detail, including the benefits to the people and the environment of Panama (and the world of course), the expansion plans themselves (two additional locks on each side of the Canal, adjacent to the existing locks, and deepening of the majority the rest of the Canal), a date for the grand opening of the completed expanded canal (2014), the price tag (I forget, or blocked it out), and the expansion work already underway. Here's the expansion webcam:

Finally, although the people of Panama approved the expansion project via a referendum in 2006, the actual financing of the entire project was a bit unclear. Hmmm....

(Another interesting side note I learned by a later google is that the US-based CH2M Hill is actively involved in the Canal expansion project as the "program management services consultant")

Really, the Canal is endlessly fascinating. The history of the initial construction, the past and current management of it (managed exclusively by Panama only since 1999), the expansion project, etc. I won't take up any more room on this week's post with more details, but I do encourage you to do some googling yourselves when you have some free time.

And that, my friends, was Panama City. Huge, loud, busy, crazy, Panama City. Interesting, but I don't need to go back.

We did need to go back to David, however. This time we chose the unfortunate day of New Year's Eve to travel. The bus station was a chaotic pulsing mass of bodies, all trying to get somewhere important. Long lines, few signs, lots of complaining people. With little hope for getting out of Panama City we got in a line and lo and behold the stars aligned for us as a random man came to the line and gathered anyone who was headed to David and the border and urged us onto his express bus leaving immediately. So we all got on to a mini bus (this one with no bathroom) and we would have left immediately as described but apparently we had to wait so that we could pile in as many more people as physically possible.

I'm determined to live a life free of sin because I know what is in store for me for my eternal damnation. A crowded mini bus. I actively worked to stave off a panic attack, breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, as more and more people crammed in. I convinced myself that if I really did literally freak out, the bus driver would surely stop the bus and let me out, darned if I cared where, and settled in for a very long 7 hours. Again, while I tried desperately to block out reality and go to my happy place and not have a heart attack or throw up or start speaking in tongues, Sadie did great. Not a complaint from her.

We stopped once to eat and use the bathroom, and eventually arrived back in David to be greeted by a city preparing madly for midnight. The streets were more crowded than ever, fireworks were for sale everywhere. Once settled back into our hotel, we managed to elbow through the crowd to make another trip to the cheap jewelry store, then headed back to the Lebanese restaurant for another (expensive) stellar dinner.

I don't really need to explain our night's sleep, do I? Suffice it to say it was New Year's Eve. Naturally Sadie slept through the whole thing.

The next morning we squished onto yet another mini bus. This time Ian got to be scrunched up on the seat with the wheel well next to Panama's tallest man, while Sadie and I enjoyed the two seats opposite to ourselves, though we suffered the glares of a few folks who apparently thought it would be more polite if Sadie sat on my lap with all our bags on the wheel well so as to free up another seat. A mere 90 minutes later we were back at the border. Once through (easy peasy, less than an hour), Ian got the car.

OUR CAR! At that moment, there was no better sight than our stinky, dirty, rattling, transmission fluid leaking, jalopy. No squishing up with strangers, no terrible smells, no blaring half tuned in radio station, no beholding to someone else's schedule. By god, we could pull over and pee on the side of the road any time we wanted to!

Five minutes later we were on the open road in Costa Rica. Thankful to be back in "our" country.

We had one more adventure on the way home (involving the Borukan tribe, devils, bulls, and dancing) but I'll have to save that for the next post as I'm pretty sure I've used up my allotted space on this one.

Feliz Año Nuevo!