Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Sloth; The Favor; The Traffic

I made a trip to Panama yesterday to run some errands, thinking I would dash into town and return by mid afternoon.

No such luck.


The first delay occurred before I even climbed out of the valley. As I drove up out of El Valle, I spotted what looked like a dead dog on the road. This happens occasionally, though not usually on the El Valle road. It's also not unusual to see dead possums, and recently I saw a belly up possum and a dead buzzard right next to it. The buzzard had tried to pick up a quick meal and ended up on the roadkill menu himself.

This time, however, as I neared the creature in the road I saw that it was moving slowly, and that it was not a dog at all but a sloth. It wasn't injured: it was simply trying to cross the road.

Sloths, as the name implies, are indolent, sluggish creatures. They subsist exclusively on tree leaves, which provide very few calories, so their metabolism is super slow. They are also helpless on the ground, being built for tree climbing, with huge hooked claws on each foot for holding onto branches. This sloth was on his belly, moving across the road with a swimming motion, but at a snail's pace, so that it might take 45 minutes to cross a narrow road.

There's a fellow named Mike Hinton who lives on a large forested finca out by Cerro Cama, and he often posts messages on the Panama Forum about his idyllic life. He has many sloths on this property and I remembered his account of helping them across the road so they wouldn't get run over. I thought I'd give it a shot.

The road out of El Valle is narrow and winding, but I pulled over at the next turnout and walked back to the sloth, having decided to help him cross the road but not quite sure how to do it. As I walked down a pickup truck passed me going into El Valle, and when they spotted the sloth they stopped and a woman got out.

"Were you going to move it?" she asked.

"Go ahead," I said, waving my arm magnanimously.

She approached the sloth, saying "Hola bebe," then grasped it firmly under its arms and lifted it up. It was a large, shaggy gray creature with long arms and legs, big hooks on its paws, and a black face. I noticed a rectangular area on its back where the fur had been flattened. Since then I've looked at a few photos of sloths and seen the same, though I don't know what it is.

The sloth turned its head to see the woman, but put up no protest as she carried it across the road and hung it on the branches of a bush on the side of the hill.

So next time I know just how to do it.


I'd barely gotten down to the highway when I spotted Mark, a shaggy haired Tennesseean who owns several properties in El Valle. He rents ATVs and golf carts to tourists, while his Colombian wife recently opened a restaurant. Mark was sitting on the bumper of his white SUV at the side of the road. I stopped and backed up. He had a flat tire, and though he had a jack it was bolted to the car and he lacked the tools to remove it. I gave him a ride to the nearest hardware store in San Carlos where he bought a pack of tools, then I returned him to his car.


I'd forgotten what a mob scene Panama is in December. The roads are congested with traffic, and the stores massed with people doing their holiday shopping. These are not only Panamanians: Latin Americans fly in from all over the region - Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia - to spend Christmas here or simply to shop. Because of the Free Trade Zone and generally low import duties, Panama is a shopper's dream compared to much of Latin America. On our trip to Cartagena, Colombia last year I was struck by the dearth of imported products in the stores. And I remember Costa Rica being very much the same. Not a place you'd go to buy a new stereo, or the latest game machine. Panama, on the other hand, has it all.

I made as quick a tour as I could manage of the bank, the post office, the drug store, the sandwich shop and Price Smart.

On the way home I stopped at Tracy's house to exchange the first season of "24" for the second. I've built up a pretty good collection of DVDs, so rather I try to exchange with other ex-pats when I can.

I got home hours after dark.

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