Mud packs and beer multiplication tables

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
Trip End Jun 25, 2008

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Flag of Panama  ,
Monday, November 26, 2007

It was a beautiful bus ride back from Boquete to David. The sun was streaming in the windows of the relatively empty chicken bus and the lush green hills all around.

Next we took a bus from David to the turn off to El Valle, our next stop.

Then began the only awful  experience of our trip so far. The bus pulled over to the bus stop and just as we were walking down the aisle, the bus shuddered forward. At first I thought it was a bunny hop but then I realised we had been hit. A man in a SUV had driven into the back of us.

 We got out of the bus and people including the two German nurses rushed to his aide(noticeably it was only the foreigners who rushed to help.)

The grey vehicle was up on the curb. At first I thought he must have been just pulling out from the angle of the car, so didn't think it was that serious, but then I realised the car had only got into that position because it had spun.

The others were monitoring the pulse of the man from the car, holding his head up.

When his pulse started to drop they decided to move him onto the concrete by the bus stop. We had to scream at the people from the bus who had gathered to watch to move to make a space. We were shocked by their blank and 'how inconvenient' expressions.

Still no sign of an ambulance, Linda, one of the German nurses was getting really worried as his pulse was so weak. "He's going to die, we need the ambulance, we need special equipment to help him breath."

A sedate policeman arrived and then the ambulance, but it was too late. His lips and fingertips were already blue, his head in a pool of blood.

We were horrified that the ambulance didn't even seem to have raced or have sirens on. Plus, it looked so sparse, we doubted they had any resuscitation equipment anyway.

I couldn't believe it had happened. I've never seen anyone die in front of me. He looked like a regular guy in jeans and a grey tee-shirt, a heavy silver watch taken off to search for his pulse. A small suitcase had been flung from the back seat. Where had he been off to?

We were all really shaken up, both because we felt partly responsible as we were the reason the bus had stopped there and because we learned that the car had been hurtling towards two members of our group who had already gotten off the bus, and only the barrier fence had stopped the car ploughing into them.

Our leader told us rightly that there was nothing more we could do, so feeling numb, we got our bags and walked across the pedestrian over path. We could then see that the whole drivers' side of the car had been smashed in.

We crammed into local vans for a somber trip to El Valle.


El Valle is a small place in the basin of an old volcano. The main attractions are the weekend markets and the range that looks like a sleeping Indian girl (India Dormida) that you can climb. Put off, wrongly, by the idea of another hike to see a view of clouds (the girls who went had a great view of the Atlantic) Mark and I went off in search of the arboles cuadratas, or square trees.

Walking there I was amazed by the number of luxurious residences with huge gardened properties around. Possibly they are owned by rich Panamanians or Americans who have bought up large swathes of Costa Rica and Panama.

The path to the trees was from the large pretty campsite at the base of large hills. We stopped off to ask for directions and admired the rare golden frogs in the aquarium that the area is famous for.

The trees took some finding, especially as they were not, hit-you-in-the-face obvious.  We were looking for a path on from them not realising we had past them. I went back to the last (and only) sign and noticed that, the bottom of the tree in front of me was square-ish.

The buttress roots formed the outline of a plus symbol and then the trunk of the tree had angles close to 90 degrees.

After poking around the market and learning about 'vegetable ivory' which looks like shell but is carve-able, I decided to go off alone to check out the thermal pools.

It was a pleasant walk past more nice residences and behind a bridge over a river.

Entry was US$1 which included a mud face mask. I rinsed in the thermal warm shower and caked my face, taking a ladle from the pot with a mirror set up behind it.

Then I dangled my feet in the foot bath while I waited for the tight feeling on my face, to confirm the mud was dry and ready to be rinsed off in the warm shower.

After rinsing and showering I was allowed to enter the main pool.

It was a deep pool with straight sides and no steps so after coming in on the ladder you had to stand.

The sign said it was 36 degrees but I think it was cooler, or I prefer my baths hotter. Still it was pleasant standing there with the water inlet pouring warm water down my neck, watching birds fly around the surrounding woods. 

It is true that most people are encouraging when we try and speak Spanish, but at dinner I asked our African-skinned waiter for an ice tea without ice and it came out like 'hilo'(thread) not 'hielo' (ice).  The man scrunched up his face and  said 'your Spanish is awful' explaining my mistake.

Later I felt like telling him 'his comprehension is horrible' when my drink came out with ice and our pizza without the basil he promised. I left a smaller tip than was  expected.

After dinner we  drank some wine at  the hotel, playing with the candles our tour leader had bought, and then he encouraged us to go and check out the local cantina.

It was an experience. We walked in and it looked like a huge basement or prison: all concrete and dim. Push bikes were everywhere, with some  men sitting on them still. Everyone looked bleary eyed.

Inside the actual bar bit, which oddly was no smoking, were more men with baseball caps on and tee shirts like a uniform.   One man was  slumped asleep on his chair.

All the benches and shelves behind the bar looked like they were sloping and they had what looked like a beer multiplication table on the wall. One cervesa 60c, two cervesa $1.20 and so on up to 20 or so. It wasn't cheaper the more you bought but it obviously stopped the barman, who seemed a bit smashed himself, from having to do calculations in his head.

There were six of us, Mark and our tour leader and four girls: me, the two Germans and a girl from Finland.  The only other women there were two that worked there, so we were totally out of place.

There was a topless girl on the television when we walked in and all the guys at the bar next to us looked at us like all their Christmases had come at once: two women with blonde hair and blue eyes, one with black hair and blue eyes and one with very curly light brown hair and brown eyes.

Free drinks and questions about 'novios' (boyfriends) flew. They were all nice enough and Mark had a fun time translating the attempted pick-up lines and compliments. 

We left after a couple of beers, no doubt seeming like a mirage to the men, and went back to the hotel discussing  how many years it has been in our home countries since women stopped staying at home and went to the pub. It was another reminder after the slow ambulance that we weren't in the 'first' world.
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