Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Puente Centenario is Closed for Repairs

Puente Centario, one of two bridges over the Panama Canal

The Puente Centenario, which is the newer of the two bridges over the Panama Canal and was opened in 2004, is closed for repairs. Apparently large sections of the approach to the bridge were washed out during the heavy rains of the recent rainy season. No word yet on how long repairs will take. A while, probably.

Traffic was always heavy on the older bridge, the Bridge of the Americas, and will now be heavier. If you are a visitor to Panama and are planning a trip to the interior (for example El Valle, the Pacific beaches, or anywhere further), allow extra time for bridge traffic.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's Fer-de-Lance season, Watch Out!

Fer-de-lance snake in the grass. The fer-de-lance is a venomous species of pit viper. Notice the characteristic diagonal stripes and diamond pattern. Bites MUST be treated with anti-venom, not merely antibiotics.

Dr. Charlie Garcia cautioned recently (on the El Valle forum) that it is snake season now in El Valle. He wrote:

"Be very careful walking your dog. The heavy rains are bringing out the snakes, and it is the breeding season for snakes as well. This past week I know of one Cuidador (gardener) that got bitten by a Fer-de-lance, and several dogs that got bitten. If anyone gets bitten by a Fer-de-Lance you need to get the anti-venon ASAP. Dr. Greco has some with him most of the time. In the past month I have seen several large snakes crossing the street near Greco's home and on the road near our homes, and they are referred to as X's. Be careful."

The fer-de-lance is a highly venomous species of pit viper, and bites must be treated with anti-venom. Antibiotics are not sufficient or proper treatment. This snake is also sometimes known as terciopelo (velvet), or in Guatemala as barba amarilla (yellow beard). Adults generally have a length between 1.2 meters and 1.8 meters. The color pattern consists of diagonal stripes and diamonds in various shades of brown, with pale yellow underneath the head.

The fer-de-lance is mostly a nocturnal species. During the day it hides among tree roots or leaf litter. But the snake may seek refuge in the shade of a home; many bites occur indoors as well. They can be very excitable and unpredictable when disturbed. They may choose to flee, but may turn suddenly and attack.

The fer-de-lance is the most dangerous snake in Central America, responsible for half or more of all snake bites, with a fatality rate of about 5%. So be careful! Don't walk in tall grass unless you're wearing long pants and boots; and steer clear of anything that looks like a large stick. If you see a fer-de-lance don't try to handle it yourself. Stay away and call the local authorities.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cassava Corn

Posted by: "ReinhildG" in Yahoo's PanamaForum:

Brown, hairy and ill formed is an apt description of the ubiquitous cassava corn. You can learn more about this foundation food that supports almost one third of the world's population at the Three Sisters next Saturday the twelfth of June in El Valle.

For more info contact:


Cassava is very common in Panamanian grocery stores and farmer's markets. Here's a recipe by Panama's "Cooking Diva" for cassava chocolate cake with coconut milk and vanilla ice cream. If that doesn't get you interested in cassava, I don't know what will.

Cassava, from the Taino (Arawak) casavi meaning flour, has 5000 wild and cultigenic varieties world-wide, each adapted to a different environment and ecological niche, comprising 30% of the annual reported global tuber harvest.

This perennial root crop is the most prolific calorie producer on the globe and harvesting cassava is highly labor intensive providing jobs for its many small-scale producers. Its breadth of applications and high perishability allows farmers to participate in the marketing chain by rudimentary processing methods.

There are two major classifications: bitter and the sweet, although in truth the bitter is not bitter and the sweet is not sweet, with the distinction relating more to size and toxicity then any palate values.

Low herb like or branched shrubs are usually of the sweet, smaller cormed, less toxic variety while the slender unbranched tree type, usually producing a single corm, represents the bitter. The bitter variety is a higher elevation drier cultivar while the sweet version prefers the lowlands and more irrigation.

Cassava and cheese empanadas from Peru:

Never eat cassava raw! Both varieties contain sharp oxalic acid crystals that can damage the stomach lining and hydocyanogenic toxins that can prove fatal if not removed by either processing or cooking. Most processed products are made from the bitter variety while the sweet type is what is sold in local and stateside markets so don't overreact.

Cassava requires three months of wet conditions to establish itself and then takes 6 to 12 months to mature and the bitter variety can remain in the ground for an amazing 4 years before harvesting!

Bitter cassava usually has a larger, often singular, tuber with 50 times more toxin then the smaller multiple corms of the sweet cultivar. The freshly harvested cooked leaves of the sweet variety are eaten as pot greens or challoos and the raw unprocessed corm can be used for livestock fodder.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Predicting an Expatriate's Level of Happiness Over Time

Ashok, in his fascinating, informative, and occasionally hilarious blog about life in India, has charted the average level of contentment of freshly arrived expatriates in India. I think his findings are applicable to Panama as well:

"There has been enough expatriate evidence acquired to actually predict and plot an expatriate's happiness or contentment over time.

Because of the excitement of the adventure, you start at a 10. The first month is culture shock. Drop to 7. The second month is honeymoon. Jump to 9. Then real life starts to smother you and you lose your elasticity to novel situations. By the end of the sixth month you are at a 3,but then you begin to understand the situation and what you need to do to succeed. A plateau occurs at the 12th month when you’re at 6.

Three. Today is three..."

Monday, January 11, 2010

El Valle Annual Concert by National Symphony Orchestra on January 30th

Although El Valle is a small town with a largely indigenous population, it also has a significant population of "weekenders" - rich Panamanians who keep vacation homes in the cool climate of El Valle, as a getaway from the heat of Panama City. There are many palatial homes in El Valle, especially along the circumference of the town, at the feet of the foothills. Some of them have vast, manicured grounds with gardens, streams, ponds and horse stables.

Because of this, things happen in El Valle that you would not normally expect in a little mountain town. Among those is the annual pilgrimage of Panama's National Symphony Orchestra to play in El Valle's little church. The streets outside the church fill up with SUV's as well dressed families fill every pew in the church. Less affluent residents who cannot afford the tickets stand outside the door and peer in the windows to benefit from this special event.

I went once with Laura and Salma, and Salma was initially entranced, but as the evening progressed and we were well past her bedtime she became cranky. I tried taking her outside and rocking her in my arms, but she would not settle down and eventually we had to take her home to sleep.

This year's concert is coming up and will be the 19th annual concert. Here is the official flyer for this year's event:

XIX Festival Musical de El Valle
Saturday, the 30th of January, 2010 at 8:00 pm
Iglesia San Jose in El Valle de Antón, Coclé, Rep. de Panamá
La Asociación del Festival Musical de El Valle
y el Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INAC)

Director, Maestro Jorge Ledezma

Guest Soloist: JINGJING WANG
First Prize winner of Panama's 2008 International Piano Competition


1. Astor Piazzola The Death of the Angel
(for string orchestra , soloist Juan Castillo)

2. Georges Bizet Suite from "Carmen"


3. Robert Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54
Guest Soloist: JingJing Wang

TICKETS are available for $15.00:
In El Valle: at Centro Comercial de El Valle or at the entrance of the Church the night of the performance
In Panama City: at Ingeniería R-M or at Joyería Barakat
Email: festivaldelvalle@gmail.com