Thursday, February 19, 2009


Not the Van Halen song...the country.

I was blessed with the business opportunity to spend all of last week in Panama. Although I spent 75% of all the available daylight time in meetings, the 25% was really nice, and my wife was able to come along...100% of her time unscripted.

Highlights included dinner at one of the Canal locks overlooking the Canal operations, some group volleyball in the pool, lots of quality time with my wife...

but by far the coolest takeaway was a tour we took into the Rain Forest.

It was 6.5 hours long tip to tip. We arrived a boat launch by way of a nice ride with our tour guide in his car. At the boat launch were several dug out canoes. And when I say dug out, I mean hand dug out from a large tree, approximately 4 feet in diameter and 30 feet long. Each canoe had a 30 hourse outboard and a driver. Up front was kind of a mate...he helped people in and out and worked this long pole to get us out of tight spots.

Did I mention that neither had any clothes on, except what appeared to be a home made thong with a washcloth hanging in front? These guys looked the part...tribal ink everywhere, chisled bodies...had they spoken english, I may have felt my marriage may be in jeopardy.

Anyway, the scantally clad hosts took us upriver to a waterfall to go swimming. Once we beached the canoe, we hiked about a 1/4 mile inland to this beautiful 50' waterfall with a lagoon at the bottom. Since the natives set the tone for attire, figuring out where to change for a swim wasn't a problem. Needless to say, our modesty found us finding a nice large, smooth rock to set a spell and watch nature at its finest. A few minutes into our stay, almost as if staged, 5 9-10 year old Indian boys, dressed like Dad, hike up and proceed to start diving off cliffs and playing king of the mountain on this fallen log. It was just fun watching them have fun.

After water sport, we hiked back to the canoe and set off for their villiage.

They took us up to a large hut, elevated 5' off the ground (to protect from animals). No water, no power, no heavy problem. These folks had it wired. This hut was masterful, and all of the others were too. The chief proceeded to explain to us how they live, how they get their materials, what they do to earn money (host tours and sell their wares - carvings, baskets, beads, etc.). As he is talking they fed us lunch...fried fish and plantains (a native banana)...very tasty.

This chief has been in charge for 12 years...he runs unopposed and the tribe loves him. He's 48 years old and early in his tenure he went into Panama City for a month to learn Spanish. Once he knew Spanish, he went to America to figure out how to host tour groups. Then came back and taught his tribe with the goal of being totally self sufficient from the Govn't. They charge $25 per person for the tour, and they price their wares based upon how long it takes to make - the going rate is $1 per day.

We bought a basket for $40 and a carving for $35. Our guide says that you can negotiate...but it felt kind of crappy telling someone their time was worth $0.83 per day, not a dollar. So we paid list price.

The lessons were countless. Lots of thinking goes on in 6 hours in the rain forrest. I'm sure those Indians are plenty wise too...they get to think all day.

I would be happy to answer any questions...


Blogger Brent said...

Man, that waterfall trip sounds AWESOME!

One time, when I was in Haiti at the missionary camp who hosted us, a street kid offered me a shoeshine. He asked for $3. It seemed fair. He went to work.

The missionary came over to ask me how much I was paying. I told him. He went into his home and brought out 5 more pair of shoes. Said the kid would just take the $3 and then not work for the rest of the week. I learned then that sometimes the most loving thing I can do is listen to those who know the culture better than I do.

Sometimes I wonder how come haggling isn't a standard practice in the U.S. except for cars and houses.

8:00 AM


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