Thursday, May 6, 2010

Road Trip! (Chapter 2: Driving the Backroads)

After visiting the mercado in Penonome and making a few purchases, we drove into the countryside. The elevation is slightly higher, and the verdant terrain is remarkably scenic.

We saw a few cattle ranches, a few farms, a good number of small villages, and a lot of peaceful-looking little habitations with a half-acre to several acres of land surrounding them. Typical for much of Latin America, one must drive slowly and be alert for dogs, chickens, and pedestrians in and alongside the country roads.

Several times (maybe 5) Arturo or Saturnino told Marco to stop and pull over to the side of the road, or pull into a dirt driveway, where one or both of them knew the residents. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Arturo and Saturnino would walk off into the forest out of sight to harvest a large stalk or two of bananas. David, Marco and I were instructed to look at the pajaros while waiting for them to return.

We picked up a few pedestrians along the way, most of them known to Arturo and Saturnino. We slowed to chat many times at various houses and shops - this adventure was not one that involved rushing. Chatting and exchanging pleasantries at some length seems to be a way of life here - nearly everyone has time for it. Impromptu visits to a friend's house is also standard. They almost always invite you in (at least onto the terrace) to sit down and usually offer beverages and snacks. We have easily adapted to this friendly custom.

Our last stop was at a finca where Saturnino's elderly sister lives with other family members. One of the structures there had a penca, or palm-thatched roof, typical of the Cocle province, we were told by Berta. The thatching is intricate and beautiful as well as functional in offering protection from rain and sun.

After conversation and a short rest beneath the penca, the guys loaded up still more bananas into the back of our truck. These fruits are thick-skinned and squarish in cross section. We wonder if they are plantains, although the plantains sold in the markets are much longer and slimmer. Elia, who is Panamanian and one of our Cerro Azul neighbors, calls them "Chinese Plantains." In any case, the birds love them just as much as bananas (guineos), and they have had an abundant feast this week.

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