Yesterday my friend Bob and I decided to take a short day trip into the interior of Panama, as it is so often referred to. I had never visited this town, La Pintada, but I had heard of it before and knew the general area of where it was located. We had heard there was a factory where they make the famous Panama hats as well as a cigar rolling factory located in La Pintada. Usually when we plan a trip and since I am driving, I always look up any directions or other valuable information before we set sail but since Bob had been there before and I knew the general area, it didn’t cross my mind do any research until Friday morning after I had arrived at Bob’s apartment. I told him I had not researched directions at which point he assures me it’s very simple and he’s been there before, no worries right? There are a few things that instantly piss me off, getting lost while driving and not knowing exactly where I am going is definitely one of them, especially if I am sitting in traffic. However this rule doesn’t seem to always apply in Panama, if we are out exploring in the countryside and I have a sufficient amount of gas, I have no issue with driving and no destination in sight. After arriving in Penonome, the closest and largest town to La Pintada that is on the main highway, we drove around in circles and asked directions about 3 different times before we managed to find the right road. Panamanians do not give the best directions in the world, in fact they are always very vague. The 3 or 4 times we asked someone for directions, they all started out the same, “directo directo directo”. I’m thinking, “straight straight straight? Ok then what?” They usually fail to mention a few small details, like a turn or two, or they never really bother giving you a time frame or distance to measure. They will say something like, “straight straight straight, very far, way way down there, almost until the end….there you will see a small road you turn on, that will take you there”. You have no idea what their definition of far really is, could be 6 blocks or it could mean 6 miles. Now once you get off the main highway in Panama they are not many other streets other than a few residential streets, it’s not easy to get lost. So after the 3rd tour of Penonome and asking directions a few times, we noticed that everyone was saying the same thing and once we found the correct road and everything they mentioned to be true, it is now me that feels like an incompetent fool.
After arriving in La Pintada we learned that there is no factory so to speak, where they make the famous Panama hats but rather just individual artisans who make and sell them. Next stop? Cigar factory. We pulled into the cigar factory and were immediately greeted by a gentleman that apparently runs the place, and of course the expectation is that we buy something. I have smoked cigars in the past but it has been a long time and I don’t really have the desire to smoke them anymore either, so needless to say I have no plans to buy any cigars (plus I also have about $4 in my pocket). We weren’t inside the factory more than about 3 minutes when the gentleman hands me fat stogie, a cutter and a lighter. I oblige and start puffing on this fresh hand rolled cigar in the middle of factory amongst the workers, nobody takes a second glance as I’m sure they are used to it. After speaking with the guy for a few minutes outside, I figure out that he thinks I have been there before and that I previously brought other people to see the factory and buy cigars. Ah the benefits of a mistaken identity. For the record Bob did buy a package of cigars, so I didn’t look like a complete freeloader, in fact it probably confirmed my mistaken identity even more. I bring people to see the factory and buy cigars, they hand me one for free to smoke! After walking around taking photos and speaking to the workers for a few minutes, we decide to continue our journey elsewhere. I must add that the cigar was quite tasty and enjoyable. In fact I could not put it down, I puffed and smoked on that thing to my heart’s delight for what seemed like hours. Next stop? Coclecito.
Coclecito is mainly known for its association with General Omar Torrijos, who used to fly there often to relax, and on the last occasion was killed when his plane crashed into a nearby mountain. There was a statue and small park dedicated to him that caught my attention, so I pulled over to take a few photos. After a few minutes we noticed a place across the street that looked interesting so we wondered over to take a closer look. We stumbled upon a restaurant, small spiritual\meditation hotel, meeting place, and organic garden. The owner of the foundation (http://fundacionalternativa.org/), Humberto, was previously the Panamanian ambassador to Portugal and Spain. The placed is called Granja Alternativa (Alternative farm), from what I gathered is a nonprofit organization committed to assisting and educating organic farming and self sustainability amongst the locals. We got the full tour of the place, which in my ignorant mind could be classified as a rustic Buddhist spiritual getaway. We also ate lunch which was very good, especially these homegrown organic peppers he is growing, the name of the plant is called ‘bala de fuego’ or ball of fire. After lunch we continued walking around, looking at all the different plants, many of them were medicinal plants. Humberto explained them all to us and their medicinal uses, the man likes to talk but I like to listen and learn so no complaints. About the time we were ready to leave and accidentally stumble upon on next destination, we are introduced to Humberto’s right hand man, Victor who insists we go see another part of their property down by the river. So we all pile into the car and head down the road a kilometer or two, and this my friends is where the road ends. They are in the process of building and extending this road across the mountains and down into the Caribbean side of Panama (Colon), but for now it ends at the river in Coclecito. I always like to hear about the new roads being constructed because it opens up a part of the country that wasn’t previously accessible. I have been down 5 of these major dead end roads that either just stop at some point and cease to exist or simply come to an end because of the national border. Once we arrived to the river we get out and walked down the banks and out on to the rocks before we stop to admire the raging river. Actually we haven’t had near as much rain as we should normally so the river was low and slow, comparatively. Victor looks at me says, “go for it, get yourself in there” talking about the river. I thought he was just kidding and giving me a hard time, so I said, “ok, you first”. Well he wasn’t kidding, he jumps in with clothes and shoes on and doesn’t resurface for about 10 seconds and 30 meters down river. A deal is a deal I guess, I strip down to boxers and jump in right behind him. This is by far the best I have felt all day with it being so humid and hot, refreshing! In order to save my friend Bob from embarrassment, I will edit the next chain of events. Let’s just say Bob followed suit and jumped in as well and was lucky to have left Coclesito with his life on this day. Once we swam and sunbathed for a while, we got dressed and went back to the farm. Humberto was kind enough to give me a jar of the little balls of fire, I think it was because he was impressed I ate 3 of them with my lunch, as he normally eats 3 of them with his meals too. After we said our goodbyes we packed up our things and headed back to Panama City, not a bad accidental day trip if you ask me!
The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration. Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere. The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble. Nature, to be controlled, must be obeyed.