Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dana's little corner of Panama

After entry to Panama, we headed over to El Rincón, a small town in the province of Herrera. Jill´s friend from grad school, Dana, is in the Peace Corps there. She was originally supposed to be working with an NGO, but that fell through, so now she is mainly helping teach English in the school. We ended up spending about 3 weeks with Dana in El Rincón and really enjoyed ourselves. The people seemed genuinely happy, Dana was very well liked and respected, and the kids were way too cute (even the annoying ones).

(all bikes in Panama have to have a license plate.  Some still don't, of course.)

We didn´t do a whole lot while we were in the community. Mainly just hung out with Dana, ate lots of spaghetti, tuna, and eggs (there were two small "chinos" in town, the name Panamanians give to the small convenience stores since they are almost entirely run by Chinese immigrants), and watched movies and Arrested Development. And we sweat. A lot.  It was supposed to be rainy season, but the first week or two we were there, there was no rain and it was incredibly hot. The kind of heat that makes you incapable of doing anything other than sitting in a chair and sweating. Luckily for us, the weather changed and became a lot cooler during the second half of our stay.

We also tried to motivate to run every morning with Dana. But she wakes up way too early for us, so we usually just slept instead ("snooze....need more snooze...."). The path that she runs goes through several rice fields and you often pass the farmers working or riding on their horses. The path leads to the wetlands reserve. All in all, a pretty beautiful run, if we could just make ourselves wake up.

The World Cup of Baseball was going on in Panama and some of the games were played in Chitré, the nearest big town. We went to the Dominican Republic vs. Cuba game and took Dana´s landlord´s kids. The game was pretty boring, with Cuba winning 3-0, but we had a good time anyway.

(Mike, Jill, Dana and the two kids)

During our stay, another Peace Corps volunteer came and had a meeting with the womens agricultural group about fish ponds. The concept is to raise fish in ponds and use those fish for food or to sell. The women seemed to be very interested and thought it a great idea.  It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

(Klaus discussing the tanks)

(The group attending the meeting)

(The only man in the group also turned 70 the day of the meeting)

One of the definite highlights of our stay was Dana´s dog Tigressa. Dana has effectively become the dog whisperer of the community, leading a spay and neuter campaign in town that led to 140 animals being sterilized. Most dogs are treated fairly poorly, left to fend for themselves for food and are often abused. Dana makes sure the worst ones are fed, and also deworms and demanges the dogs. Unsurprisingly, Tigressa is neither mistreated nor underfed and is a very well behaved puppy.

About a week before we were supposed to go back to the city, we decided to ride into Chitré. When we tried to start the motorcycle, it had no juice whatsoever. So, we took the bus to Chitré to get some materials needed to fix the bike, including a multimeter, a 12V testlight (which we used to have on us, and should have replaced sooner), some extra wire and a cheap soldering iron just in case. Mike quickly discovered that the battery had no charge, as in zero volts.  And the battery was completely dry.  That ain't right.  Especially since it was topped up in San Jose. But we figured adding battery acid and giving it a charge may serve to get moving again.

After learning that there was no battery charger in El Rincón, we caught a ride with the battery to the nearest town with a charger, Santa María. Once there we learned that the battery was not taking a charge, so we needed to buy a new battery.  Back on the bus to the next biggest town that had batteries, Aguadulce. Once in Aguadulce, we found a nice little bike shop, Motores Extremos.  The owners were extremely nice and did everything they could to help us through the process.  Sadly, though, they did not have the right battery, but could order it for us and it should be there that afternoon. So we waited for the battery and walked around town, which was setting up for a streetfair. When we went back in the afternoon, we found out that the battery would not be there until the next day.

On our return to El Rincón, there was a parade going on.

Since we were all feeling so festive, we went with Dana to the bar and we all had probably too good of a time. Mike ended up going back to Aguadulce the next morning for the battery, but the wrong battery came in.  It was an honest mistake.  The size was perfect, the specs all matched, but the poles and vent tube were reversed (this brand's "A" designation was Yuasa's "B" designation...). We then had to wait until Tuesday to get what we hoped was the correct battery. Fortunately, when we went back to Aguadulce on Tuesday, the battery was waiting for us and was in fact the right one.

Back in El Rincón, Mike fixed the TA electrical issues.  It involved undoing most of the work that Luis "the expert" performed in San José.  Mike cut the "temporary" jumper wire giving power to the ignition modules, pulled the direct charging circuit from the regulator to the battery (the TA is basically wired like that anyways so this modification was about useless), and set about troubleshooting the original problem.  All it turned out to be was a fouled connection in a wire connection in the ignition circuit.  About 15 minutes with the multimeter, some WD-40, a good cleaning, and a slight flex to the metal was all it took.   EDIT: (Even though Mike swore 2 days ago that he would stop dwelling on this (see below) he can't.) In fact, one of the major problems with the electrical system was that Luis "the expert" also decided to mess with the accessory relay that Mike had installed to improve the headlight output. Luis took the wire that controls the relay itself from the switched, low amp taillight wire and installed it on an unswitched wire attached directly to the battery positive terminal. Aaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhh!!! At some point, the power draw blew the 30 amp relay before it blew any of the fuses past the relay, and the relay was easy to replace, but still, why the hell did that "fix" happen?!?!?!? END OF EDIT Mike is still furious about the rip off in San José, but has now told enough of the story and will stop dwelling on it.  He swears.

While this was going on, the kids were all fascinated with the bike and enjoyed watching him work on it.

And once it was working again, we had to give rides.

(all rides performed at passengers own risk.  And at very low speed around the block.)

Dana got an idea from the internet to make purses out of potato chip bags. She set up a meeting with the women´s organization to demonstrate how to make the purses on Saturday. We spent the whole week trying to figure the damn things out. In the end, we never were able to make a purse, but not from lack of trying.

(the crown looking thing in the middle of the table gives an idea of what the finished product would be)

On another day, Dana and Jill played basketball at the park. Both Dana and Jill thought they could beat each other, based on their glory days in high school, but in the end they just played street ball with a bunch of 12 year olds.

(picking teams)

All in all, we had a great time at Dana´s, living the Peace Corps life, playing with kids, and getting lots of reading done.  We are grateful to Dana for putting up with us for 3 whole weeks.

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