Domino Champ

Ian and I had a domino lesson with Edgar Wong, one of the world´s top pro domino champs. He lives few blocks away from where our little apartment was, and we spent the morning with him and learned domino secrets directly from the master.
Watch out, friends. Ian and I are apprenticing with our Domino Sensei, and his name is Edgar Wong.

Best Birthday Party EVER

Gentle readers,
You missed one hell of a birthday party down here! For my birthday, the whole town showed up to party in the street all day, and all night. We had a parade, fireworks, 3 or 4 drum bands, ladies in costumes seriously shakin what their mamas gave em, a float with mermaids on it, lots and lots of dancing, and later on the police even showed up and shut the party down.
Ok, ok, ok, so it was the last day of Carnival, but it was coincidentally my birthday, too.
Everyone comes out for Carnival. Kids stay up late. Grannies come out to dance in the street. Everybody dances and sings and makes merry, and it is so joyful and celebratory. It doesn´t feel like a horrible drunk fest, like ACL or Mardi Gras in the Quarter, it feels like a huge, happy, kind of crazy, small town party.
In the evening, the bands start making their way up the main street. They move really slowly, so it might take an hour or more to walk the 3/4 mile length of main street.
In front of the bands are the dancers, arranged by age. The tiniest gals are in the front, the grown ladies are in the back right up by the band. The front row was little kids about 3 or 4 years old, dancing and having tons of fun!! Then some bigger kids, then teenage girls, then the adults. Everyone was dancing and shakin their tail feathers. These gals could DANCE.
Behind the ladies was the band. They wore matching outfits that coordinated with the dancing ladies, and had feathers and ornaments decorating their drums. This was serious drumming, folks. They were tight. These guys do not take their task lightly; they have been practicing nightly at least for a month, and kept playing, nonstop, for hours and hours on parade night.
Behind the band was a drove of folks singing and clapping and dancing.
Behind that, there was a float with the Carnival beauty queens on it, in costume, waving and dancing.
Following the float were a bunch of kids shooting water guns, and twirling bandanas.
Repeat that formula 3 or 4 more times, and you have the Carnival parade!
Add on some fireworks in the park, on the sidestreets, and from balconies.
Now, imagine everyone as really happy and joyful, and dancing, dancing, dancing. Yay! So fun!
What was so fantastic about this, in addition to the dancing and the drumming and the fireworks, was that it was not for the tourists. It was all about the folks in the town doing this for themselves, because this is how families here do Carnival. It was great!
It was the best birthday party EVER.
I am lobbying for next year´s Birthday Birthday Week Week to happen here in Panama. Start saving your money now and come down with me!
Here are some video clips. . .same old crappy hand-held cinematography, same old horrible audio, but you´ll love it. . .I promise.


What surfing is all about



Impermanence/ All good things come to an end

Yesterday we had a lovely morning surf. It was possibly the best ever! -unless you count those perfect days at Wizard beach. Or those other perfect days at Red Frog beach. Or those 12 other perfect days at Carinero. . .

We took the water taxi over to Carinero at high tide, and our usual surf spot was really really perfect!!!! The waves were chest high to occasionally overhead; they were sturdy and glassy and breaking gorgeously, predictably, and regularly. There was a nice channel where the waves were not breaking that was absolutely perfect for paddling out to the good waves without getting pummelled.

The sun was shining, but there was the occasional high, crepey thin cloud passing over the sun to pleasantly cut the glare. The little fingerling fish were jumping and playing and darting magically silver-green-blue in the clear turqoise Caribbean water. There were so many sunbathers and vacationers out on the dock lounging around and napping it was like a gas attack had struck, but maybe happy nitrous gas like at the dentist´s office instead of something deadly. There were only 2 other folks surfing, and they were happy, fun and great to share the waves with.

We caught a few good waves, then our surfing days here in Panama came to a close.

My leash (a sturdy plastic-covered cord that connects your board to a strong velcro strap that goes around your ankle) broke. Yes, it broke. Leashes rarely break. We got ours used and all, but they still rarely break. The leash broke.

The board was recovered, a little worse for the wear.

The paint has been chipping off The Manx for a while, and is now in fairly mediocre condition. Well, it started out in mediocre condition. It is now in poor condition. Check out that pic. What a beauty!

Ian caught a few great waves, was standing up like a pro surfer dude, looking quite stylie, and when we came in, we found that The Lone Star has expired. The front tip, which is mostly constructed of patch repair anyway, needs more patching and repair.

Our boards are done with us.

We´ve had a hell of a run with our $20 boards, and we head back to Panama City in a few days, and back to the US on Saturday. It is time for us and our boards to part ways.

We are going out today to see if we sell them for $20. Some sucker tourist from Texas or Colorado or Connecticut will be stoked to spend money on their own piece-of-rubbish board instead of a rental.

All good things come to an end.


The fishes of the sea

In the Caribbean, there are many fishes (different species of fish) as well as many fish (different individual animals). Here is a list of some of the fishes you might find there; on our trip to Hospital Point we actually encountered these and these and these and many others. As it turns out, one of us (Ian) did about half a PhD on fish pigmentation, and is in a minor position to make various pronouncements about these animals. While zebrafish and their relatives were the subjects of Ian´s work (if you´re dying to read it, you can see it here and here. Drink some coffee first), some of the rules still apply. For example, in several individuals we saw at Hospital Point, we saw a classic sexual dimorphism in their pigment patterns. This is a fancy way of saying that the boys and the girls look different. Zebrafish boys are a little skinnier than the girls, and they also typically have a brighter, yellowish tail, anal fin, and the whole bottom of the animal. Take a look at the image to the right: the zebrafish on the top is a female, and the one on the bottom is a male. See the yellow tinge? Here´s another picture to help you out.

Why would males and females look different? Indeed, the mere existence of fancy-looking adornments on other males, such as peacocks, was something that bugged Charles Darwin enough to write much of a book about it. He proposed that while individuals are struggling against the elements to survive, individual males are also struggling against one another to get access to mates. That males look different from females is largely a result of such a struggle, particularly because the females themselves don´t have to struggle in that manner at all. Smart guy, that Darwin.

In the lab, the sperm produced by really yellow males seemed to be the best, and there is quite a venerable evolutionary argument that claims prettier, brighter males are better mates and healthier somehow. This is the so-called "good genes hypothesis", where the line of thinking is that if you´re a brightly colored male, you must have all sorts of energy to blow on pretty adornments, so you must be healthy and tough.

However, there is mounting evidence for a slightly different take: brighter colors and the like might have more to do with how the female nervous system (or perhaps the sensory organs themselves) is wired to perceive external signals than as true indicators of how tough the male bearing them might be. Ian´s friend Mike Ryan at the University of Texas has been breaking ground in this field for decades now, starting, interestingly enough, with a frog he found in Panamanian ditches, the Tungara frog (we haven´t seen any, but we really haven´t been looking, either). Mike´s former student and Ian´s good buddy Ray Engeszer then found that male and female zebrafish actually perceive the same things quite differently, giving a potential window into how female choice might influence what the males would look like. If the females see yellow brighter than other colors, for example, then males lucky enough to be more yellow would tend to have more mates. Moreover, Ray found that it is impossible to correlate what the fish are seeing and what humans can see, which makes designing future studies tricky and the findings of prior studies suspect. It turns out that trying to see what other animals see can be very, very hard.

Intracacies of why the males look different from the females aside, we´ve been noticing several strong examples of really bright individuals with the same sort of yellowish or reddish tinge one sees in the boy zebrafish and other individuals that are much more drab. We bet the brighter ones here in the Caribbean are boys, too.


Kayak Trip

Yesterday, Ian and I kayaked from Bocas del Toro on Isla Colon, (where we live in an amazingly cute, clean, quiet and cheap little apartment) across the little bay to Hospital Point to go snorkelling, and I actually took the camera! I didn´t drop it, lose it, or destroy it. How about them apples?

Check this link out for a map of where we are, and where we were hanging out. . . we live in Bocas Town, we surf on the far side of Carinero, or on the near NE side of Bastimentos, or at Paunch or Bluff, our friend´s farm is on Bastimentos, we swim and snorkle and watch fish at Hospital Point, Shark Hole, or Macca.

The land of Hospital Point is privately owned by an expat American, who undoubtedly has the best view in the region. The point used to be the site of the yellow fever and malaria hospital for United Fruit Company. The hospital is gone now, and all that is left are some foundation stones and a few collapsed stone benches. The current owner has a beautiful chunk of land, a very pretty house, and lots of "Private Property - KEEP OUT!" signs.

From Hospital Point we went to Carinero to check the surf at our usual spot. The surf was crummy at best. The trip, however was awesome!!

The pics that include the dock are from the beach at Carinero, looking out onto our usual surf spot. The surf was so not happenning when we were out there yesterday, hence the afternoon kayak trip instead of a surfing excursion.

The video is taken from half way between Carinero and Hospital Point. It is, as most of our little videos are, not the highest quality or best cinematography, but fun nonetheless. Don´t watch it if you are prone to motion sickness. My little kayak was bobbing around on the waves and so the movie is full of motion.

The other day we kayaked all the way around Carinero, stopped at the "Cosmic Crab Cafe" (terrible name, amazing seafood and cocktails) for a snack and refreshments, and then kayaked home. Not a bad afternoon, eh?

Kirsti - please email us!

Howdy, friend!

We hope you read the blog at some point. . .please email us!! It would be such a shame to lose touch with you.



The daily grind

Ian and I have our noses to the vacation grindstone. Here is our daily routine:

7:00 get up
7:30 tea and breakfast
8:00-12:00 surf
12:30 shower
1:30 lunch, cookies, and a round or two of dominos at the German Bakery. You can get a huge salami sandwich big enough for Ian and I to share for $2, and a fantastic shortbread and caramel galleta for $.50. As for the domino game, I am currently 300 points ahead of Ian.
2:00 nap or sit on the balcony and read
3:30 go surf again, or kayak, or snorkel, or any combination of the above
5:30 shower and clean up
7:00 dinner and hang out

It is gruelling, but we manage to keep it up day in and day out. You know why? Because we are committed, that´s why. Some things are worth the work, the fight, the sweat and the tears. We are following this project through to the end, no matter what.

We don´t have any surfing or kayaking pics, as we never take our camera to the beach. We don´t want to leave it there while we are in the water. We don´t take it in the water with us because it doesn´t float and we don´t have a little life vest for it yet. If I dropped it, which I probably would, then we would have to kiss our fun toy goodbye for good.

In other news, the sun has been mostly out for a few days in a row, and all the flowers are going bonkers. In these pictures, the white flowers are a huge mess of orchids. Notice that they are in a vacant rubbish pile right next to the gutter. Orchids are everywhere here! We see them growing out of the rain gutters on houses, adorning dead trees, in rubbish piles, and everywhere in the jungle. Amazing.

As an update to our ¨Plants and Animals¨post, the little lizard who hangs out by our table managed to get into an empty coke bottle to do a little spelunking. I set the bottle on its side, and he crawled out, totally unperturbed and ran up into his favourite spot in the light fixture.


After Dinner Devils

Everybody is gearing up for Carnival/Mardi Gras!

Here is the game we see almost nightly now. . .After dinner, everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY!) heads out to the main street and town plaza for a stroll. About a dozen teenage boys in black and red devil costumes covered lots of little bells, spiky fringe down their arms and legs, big anklets of bells, and topped with a black hood or an elaborate paper mache mask, run around cracking little whips, stomping their feet, and roaring. Everyone cheers and eggs them on.

Dozens of other little grade school aged boys, not dressed like devils, but also brandishing homemade rope-on-a-stick whips, will sneak up behind one of the devils, and try to crack their whip around the devil´s heels, then run like hell.

The devils´ job is to stomp, roar, and chase down all the little boys who just snuck up on them, and then try to snap their own devil whips around the offending non-devil boys´ heels. It is a big game of chase all around the plaza, and everyone cheers for the little boys, and eggs on the older devils. If one of the little boys gets caught, the devils yell and roar at him, and he has to grovel, and sometimes do push-ups for the older boy or even give up his little whip. This, of course, leads to a game of trying to steal the whip back from the devil. It is so fun!

Around 8 pm, one of the two town Mardi Gras bands practices for an hour or so in front of the fire station. A bunch of kids gather around to dance and goof off, or play with fake snakes they drag around by a string to try to scare the white tourist ladies. Said tourist ladies are not expecting to see a snake (ask me how I know). A few other neighbors pull up plastic lawn chairs, bring a big glass of something cold to drink, and enjoy the music. The video below is crummy, and the audio is even worse, but it least gives you a little bit of an idea of how fun band practice is. I drag Ian there every evening I can for the nightly neighborhood dance party.


Kirstie - where are you??

Kirstie! Where are you??

Ian and I don´t have your email (I thought he got it from you, and he thought I got it. . . oops!). We can´t get in touch with you through your blog. If you are reading our blog, please please please drop us a line!

Hope you got to CR in time to connect with your friend, and didn´t get caught in mudslide or a flood.

Please get in touch! Brilliant!


Jessica and Ian


Dangers and Annoyances

In our guidebook for Panama, each section describes a town or region, and each of these sections contain several standard headings such as ¨where to eat¨, ¨where to sleep¨, ¨local festivals and holidays¨, and, my personal favourite, ¨dangers and annoyances¨. What an excellent name for a section in a travel guide! Dangers and Annoyances!

For this posting of FFDH, we are stealing their section name, and bringing you some of our favourite Panamanian Dangers and Annoyances.

Annoyance: Jungle Rot.
It never really dries out here. EVER. You thought Houston was humid? Try Panama. This picture is of our black backpack that was sitting in the corner of our room. It is covered in a dusty white mildew. Mold is growning on my backpack! That is just so wrong.

Danger: Malaria
Malaria is a nasty disease that is transmitted by mosquitos, aka a vector born protozoan parasite. The anopheles mosquito bites an infected person, and now the mosquito is carrying the malaria bug. This mosquito then bites an uninfected person, and voila! The person is now infected! The parasites multiply within the red blood cells and cause horrible flu-like symptoms that could worsen into a coma and then death.

As described by David McCulough in his awesome history of the making of the Panama Canal, _The Path Between the Seas_, ¨Malaria, the most common of tropical diseases and the one endemic diseas at Panama, takes many forms and went by many differnt names on the Isthmus: calentura, miasma, the chills, paludisme, ague, pernicious fever, putrid fever, intermittent fever, and in its virulent form, Chagres fever.

"Historcally, malaria was the world´s greates killer and it was confined to no one geographical area. . . .there had been a serious epidemic in New England. But in places such as Panam, malaria never went away. . .The typical malarial attack began with terrible chills, uncontrollable shivering, and chattering teeth, the spell lasting perhaps fifteen minutes, sometimes more. Often the shivering of the patients in a malaria ward would be so violent that the room could actually be felt to tremble; a single bed would move on the floor.

¨The chills would be followed by a high fever and burning thirst. As the fever fell off, the patient would break out in a drenching sweat. For those who survived, the experience was unforgettable.

¨There is no such thing as an immunity to malaria¨(pp139).

We are taking anti-malarial drugs. Go science! Go modern medicine!

Annoyance: Bruises on legs.
Where do they come from? Who knows. -But they sure are common.

Danger: Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever is another really nasty tropical disease. It is a virus, also transmitted via mosquitos. The mosquito bites an infected person, carries the nasty virus around in their yucky little mosquito body, then passes it on to the next person they bite.

Here is another wonderful passage from my light vacation reading, _Path Between the Seas_ by McCullough:
¨. . .in the tropics, malaria was taken as an inevitable fact of life, part of teh landscape. Yellow fever, by contrast, came and went in vicious waves. . .wherever or whenver it struck, it spreat panic of a kind that could all but paralyze a community. It was a far more violent and hideaous thing to see; a gruesome way to die.

" As with malaria, the patient was seized first by fits of shivering, high fever, and insatiable thirst. But there wer savage headaches as well, and severe pains in teh back and the legs. The patient would become desperately restless. Then, in another day or so, the trouble would appear to subside and the patient would begin to turn yellow, noticeably in the face and in the eyes.

"In the terminal stages the patient would spit up mouthfuls of dark blood- the infamous, terrifying vomito negro, black vomit. The end usually came swiftly after that. The body temperature would drop, the pulse fade. THe flesh would become cold to the touch. Then, as a rule, in about eight to ten hours, the patient would die"(pp 140).

We got our yellow fever immunization before we left Texas.

Annoyance: Surf bruises
This awesome bruise is on our awesome friend, Kirstie. Yes, she is making super-model face.
The photo, sadly, is quite blurry, but you can still see some nice blue and purple bruise action. Seriously, check out that amazing bruise on the inside of her left upper arm. That is not a shadow! Brilliant!! She wins the Best Bruise In Show award.

Annoyance: Herds of surfer dudes. All attitude, no manners.

Danger: Abrasions from the reef that are slow to heal
These are some really nice cuts and scrapes from bumping into rocks when trying to get out of the surf on rough days, or bumping coral when snorkeling. I advise against both those things. For some reason, these abrasions are really slow to heal here.

As an important aside, Jenny K gets a trophy from us for the best going away present EVER. She sent us on our way with 2 packages of waterproof bandaids, and a tube of neosporin. If I had to choose between my toothbrush, and my bandaids and neosporin, I would really really have a hard time deciding.

Annoyance: Surfboard Rash
Apparently, dudes with hairy chests get all rashy from the wax on the surfboard tangling up in their manly man hair. I, fortunately, don´t have that problem. I think Ian will end up with calluses by the end of the trip. Gross.

Danger: Leishmaniasis
This one is a totally gross flesh eating parasite contracted the bite of the sand fly. Wikepedia has an awesome leish page you should check out. It is actually not terribly uncommon here.

We are all about the bug spray, and staying away from sand flies.

The tropics are fascinating, because unlike most of the US, it is not the elements that will do in the careless, it is the microbes. The diseases and microbes and crazy gross pathogens are what take people out.

Sweet dreams!

Our next post is all about the plants and animals we are seeing here.


Plants and Animals

Here are some pics of plants and animals we see here. We see a lot of birds and butterflies in addition to the critters we have shown here, but all our pics of said birds and butterflies are lousy at best. A far better camera, complete with fancy lenses and special parts and camera bits would be necessary, and there is no way we are carrying that much stuff around. A camera the size of a deck of cards it about what we are willing to do. **

We see tons of Heliconius butterflies, and lots of other butterflies of varying types and styles. Imagine seeing a mobile, fluttering bouquet every time you go outside.

In the bird department, we have seen tons of wild parrots, seagulls, pelicans, weird pointy looking sea birds that look like teradactyls, orioles, and birds with very very red bellies that look like they are wearing black suit jackets over red vests. The hummingbirds here are as common as pigeons in New York.

We also see loads and loads and loads of oropendula birds. Luckily, we have been able to view several different specific varieties of oropendulas, and they are really cute and have lovely songs! They make very interesting tear-drop shaped nests that hang down like a woven grocery bag from the branches of trees. Check this link for pics of their neat nests.

Last night we saw 2 caymen gators in the swamp. They look like a chunk of tree root or drift wood with orange eyes. They stay incredibly still, and were not interested in us in the least. Caymens eat bugs, and fish, and little birds if they can get them, and ill-behaved children as well as the elderly or infirm.

In the swamp, we also saw a possum-like guy in the trees. He looked like a cross between a rat and a cat.

Yesterday Ian spotted and watched a group of white-faced capuchin monkeys in the jungle. I was taking a nap on the beach, so I unfortunately missed it. He said they were just hanging out up in the trees eating fruit and picking bugs off each other. How awesome!

We also have become very used to sharing space with lots of lizards, including this little gecko who hangs out in the light fixture over our table, and this big lizard that goes to work each afternoon eating bugs on the fence below our balcony. The guy on the fence is about 9" long from tip of nose to tip of tail.

We also learned that many of the bats here will put a notch in the underside mid-spine of the fan-palm leaves so the huge leaf bends over. The fan-palm leaves are about the size of the hood of VW Bug. The bats then use their little custom-made fan-palm tent as a shelter during the day. What clever little guys!

In the pics below, the star fruit is fruit from Jared´s eco orgo veggie wonderland. The handsome kitty is Hansi, a very special and wonderfully sweet cat who lives at the hostel where we rent a little apartment. I don´t know what the other plants are, but they are lovely.

Here´s the scoop- let´s have a DHFF trivia contest! Whoever can properly identify the most plant species wins a pie. All runners-up get a batch of cookies. Email me your entries, I will post them on this blog so our droves of readers will know what these plants are, and you will get a pie or cookies. I´ll send you your cookies once we get back to the States.

**We LOVE our travel camera. After doing some research (which for us means calling Charlie and asking him what he thinks we should get, then ordering it), Ian and I got an Olympus Stylus 790 SW that is both shockproof and waterproof. It is the perfect camera for us.