The Crab and the Deer

Hello again! Thanks for reading my blog. This is the third installment of my blog, in which I'm chronicling my adventures (and misadventures) here in Panama. To date, I've been here for almost four months. I'd say that I've gotten pretty well-oriented here both in terms of where stuff is and where to go to gather the data that I need. After getting off to somewhat of a rocky start (see blog posts #1 and #2), things have been going very well for me. I've finally gotten (almost) everything sorted out with my apartment and I've gotten to know my neighborhood quite well. I live in a neighborhood called El Cangrejo (which means "the crab"), which is one of Panama's few walkable neighborhoods. Being an urban geographer, this is something that is very important to me! After having lived in the 'burbs of State College, its nice to be able to walk to normal amenities such as restaurants, drug stores, mini-marts, coffee shops, dry cleaners, and even Panama's only bagel shop (owned by an American ex-Peace Corps volunteer). There are also the not-so-normal amenities such as the two casinos on my block or the Lebanese hookah (i.e. tobacco water pipe) bars which are certainly a lively addition to the 'hood! Needless to say, I'm very content here and happy to be living in El Cangrejo.

My research has also been going very well. I've conducted a handful of interviews with various important public figures and business people, and obtained a lot of the statistical data that I'll need for my analysis. I won't bore you with the details, but its been interesting. There have definitely been some challenges, but again, overall its been going pretty well. I've continued working closely with a Panamanian professor, and we're actually getting fairly close to being able to finish our analysis of outward urban growth (as opposed to upward growth, i.e. high rises) over time. On another note, just today I met with a professor who teaches urban geography at the University of Panama. She's interested in me giving a few lectures in her classes on urban growth and development in the US, so this is yet another neat opportunity I'll have while I'm here.

Last but not least, I've managed to see quite a bit of the country and experience Panamanian culture. This weekend I'm headed to a 'fiesta patronal' with some friends who work in the countryside, east of the city. This would be the equivalent of a county fair, except replace country music acts with cumbia or ballenato music and relpace fried zucchini with empanadas.  Last week I had a friend visiting from the US, and since it was Semana Santa (Easter week), we headed out of town for a weekend. We ended up going to Playa Venao, a remote beach town about six hours from Panama City. Venao is a really nice little surfing town on the Azuero Peninsula (southwest of here) and is growing rapidly in popularity. While we were there, there was an international surf competition and people came from miles away to watch some of the best surfing I've ever seen. We had a great time, and thanks to a friend's recommendation, we had the nicest place in town to stay (at a great price)! Here are two pictures from Playa Venao, one of me "doing work", and another of the yoga area they had right on the beach. Considering the only place I had ever done yoga previously was the White Building at PSU, it was such a nice place to do yoga!

Now for a short cultural geography lesson.  Playa Venao should actually be written as Playa Venado. Note the extra "d". In Spanish, venado means deer, thus the town is called Deer Beach. However, since we're in Panama, Venado becomes Venao, just as pescado (fish) becomes pecao. Panamanians almost never pronounce consonants before o's and they rarely pronounce s's unless they're at the beginning of sentences. Some maps have the town as "Venado"and some have it as "Venao". I think its kind of an interesting cultural artifact. It would be like if we changed "Pittsburgh" to "Pixberg", but only on some maps and not on others. I've actually started speaking Spanish this way, and I'm interested to see what happens if I go to Spain and try to order some fish!

Stay tuned for my next post...