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Treehouse in Washington

Photo by Peter Nelson
"This Washington state treehouse is called "Temple of the Blue Moon." It was built by author and treehouse enthusiast Peter Nelson. It is part of Treehouse Point, the Snoqualmie Valley retreat where Nelson and his wife, Judy, host private events and overnight guests. " -From the Denver Post

"Something draws us to nature, into the woods and up into the trees," says Peter Nelson, author of numerous books on the topic including "Treehouses of the World" (Abrams, $35). He is a partner in the Seattle construction company TreeHouse Workshop. "Since the days we were hunting and gathering, it's always been a natural response to retreat into the trees for protection," he says. "When you get right up against that bark, it's very comforting, rejuvenating, and you get a new perspective."

Squatter Shacks in Manila: 11 Million People Live Thusly in Greater Manila

In many years shooting photos of buildings, I've developed an appreciation of shacks in squatter settlements. Considering that they're built out of trash by people with no money, some are remarkable. Talk about recycling! I've always been too shy (or scared) to shoot in the slums. There's a settlement in Tijuana on the banks of a toxic-looking gulch I've always admired.

Kevin Kelly just sent me link to a website in Frankfurt of the L.A. Galerie, which is having an exhibition of the photos of Peter Bialobrzeski and Oliver Boberg. The exhibit opens today and runs for 2 months. Here are some of Bialobrzeski's photos.

The following description is from art-in.de website:
Peter Bialobrzeski shot the Case Study Homes series at the Baseco compound (“Bataan Shipyard Corporation Compound”), a squatter camp located at the mouth of the River Pasig near the Port of Manila, in February 2008. This neighbourhood, 300 ha of unsafe, unstable subsoil of a former dump site, is home to an estimated 70,000 people. Around 45 per cent of the more than 11 million inhabitants of Greater Manila currently live in such squatter camps and slums. ... The pictures of this photographic investigation follow a strict composition. The self-made shacks of old slats and posts, covers, roofing cardboard, corrugated metal and all kinds of cloth fill out each picture in its entirety, like in a portrait. In many cases the photographer chose a slanted front view, displaying both the front and one side wall of the house. Pure front perspectives are rare, as are two or more buildings in one picture. ...

Playing For Change: Song Around the World "Stand By Me"

"If you're a fan of world music, then you're in for a treat with Mark Johnson and Jonathan Walls' Playing for Change: Peace Through Music, a film that premiered at the 7th Annual Tribeca Film Festival. It isn't really a documentary as much as a global concert film, recorded on the streets of New Orleans, Barcelona, South Africa, Tibet and elsewhere, as the filmmakers (Johnson being an award-winning engineer and producer) traveled across the globe, finding musicians to record tracks on versions of "Stand By Me" and Bob Marley's "One World" without any of the individual musicians ever having met each other. The purpose of the project which led to the formation of a foundation to help impoverished people in the areas visited is to show how music brings people together regardless of their cultural differences. The project had the duo recording and filming these diverse musicians guerilla style, then editing the film together to create an amazing never-before-seen "music video" of these amazing musicians playing together on these inspirational songs, as well as playing their own music." Above excerpt from flixxy.com: the best videos on the net
Movie sent me by Lew.

Cajun Food in San Francisco

Spotted this place while skateboarding in SF Tuesday morning. This is a wall next to the entrance of The Cajun Pacific Cafe, which is at 4542 Irving. It's received good reviews, good seafood. Subtitle on the sign is "Po Boys and New Orleans Kitchen." I'm going to try it out. I'm a sucker for good graphics.

Robert Harvey Oshatz, Architect

This seems to be my week of far-out architecture. This is the Gibson boathouse/studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon, designed: in 1993, completed: in 1995, by Oregon architect Robert Harvey Oshatz.

Rotating Domes From France

I have many objections to domes, but this French company makes some well-crafted, and (they say), solar powered, revolving domes. They are not geodesic (i.e. polyhedral), so have smooth, rather than multi-faceted shells. They also produce non-revolving prefabricated dome shells. See http://design.spotcoolstuff.com/

Another House in San Francisco

House by beach in SF yesterday morning

3 Houses By The Beach, San Francisco

Caribbean colors near my favorite SF beachside espreswso/wi-fi cafe. Am I glad to be home!

In retrospect, my trip was pretty tough at times. I'm off-balance when I travel anyway, and traveling like I did, too much backpack weight, stress in the cities…there were occasions when I would get depressed being alone and…hey, am I whining?

The trip was actually a rich experience:and it's thrilling to be back; the tough times sharpen perspective at home.

I'm printing out contacts (thumbnails) of all 2500 photos, I swear I have enough for a book: people, places, ocean, jungle, waves, animals, fish, cities, Chilon ajnd Guitar Shorty, Costa Rican Celtic rock and roll, but it will probably end up as a chapter on a book I'll do some year called Trips.

Quote From Obama's Op-Ed of March 24

Today, some 30 newspapers around the world ran an op-ed by Obama, worth reading at Huffingtonpost, short quote: "… we cannot settle for a return to the status quo. We must put an end to the reckless speculation and spending beyond our means; to the bad credit, over-leveraged banks and absence of oversight that condemns us to bubbles that inevitably bust."

Puhleeze don't tell me this guy ain't different. (An American ex-pat solemnly declared to me in a bar in Panama, it didn't matter, the corporations are running the show, it was all rotten, Obama was no different from Bush…I changed the subject to fishing.)

Driftwood Creature Sculpture

Sculpture on Northern California Beach by Bob Demmerle, Zim Croselli and friends

Sculptural Ferro-Cement Seashell House in Mexico City

Sent to us by David Wills. Designed by Senosiain Arquitectos of Mexico City

Small Oregon Town Wins Septic Battle

"…our story of how the 6,500 people living in an unincorporated area in the poorest county of Oregon brought down the special interests won a battle for the little guy."

I wrote an article for the Mother Earth News about a year ago, with my assessment of a huge scam being presently perpetrated on homeowners: that they need to "upgrade" gravity-powered septic systems with high-tech, expensive systems. Article here.
A few days ago I got this letter from people in a small town in Oregon about the article helping them turn things in a more practical (and ecological) direction. I hope the ball keeps rolling and small towns, as well as individual homeowners, push forward with sensible and workable solutions.
Note: An experienced engineer working on a national level with high-tech systems recently told me he estimates that conventional gravity-fed septic systems work in 80% of the soils in America.


Dear Lloyd Kahn,

I just wrote the following letter to the Mother Earth News and I want to send a copy to you as well. Your article was instrumental in our victorious 2 1/2 year battle with Deschutes County in central Oregon. It was a dog fight, but we finally won.!!

Dear Editor,

I am writing as a representative from our Citizens Action Group in La Pine, OR. La Pine is one of four federal Demonstration Project sites that was chosen to study nitrogen in our water supply, and to encourage the installation of complicated, expensive, and for the most part, unnecessary treatment systems. A year ago in your Feb./March 2008 issue, you featured a very informative article entitled "The Truth About Septic Systems" by Lloyd Kahn. Our citizens group had been objecting to these systems for over a year by then. That article helped us to understand the dynamics of the push to mandate the studies and installation of these systems as a money making venture on the part of county staffs and installers of these systems. You very kindly sent us some extra copies of your magazine and gave us permission to quote the article in our organizing efforts. Despite the almost 100% objection of the citizens, the County passed a law they called "Local Rule" to mandate the installation of these systems.
We did not give up. We collected 2,400 valid signatures on a petition to recall the Local Rule and forced it to be a ballot measure to be voted on March 10, 2009. The county staff, the local newspapers, and the big money interests all united against us. We found it impossible to get them to acknowledge the truths so clearly detailed in the Mother Earth article, or even to publish information from the USGS study that countered their arguments. So, we went to meeting after meeting of just about every organization or group we could think of who has an interest in water and the environment.
The votes were counted on March 10 - and we won by a wide margin! The Local Rule was repealed. Now we will be able to work with the Department of Environmental Quality to create a comprehensive sustainable plan to insure the quality of our drinking water in Central Oregon. Mr Kahn's article was very empowering for our grassroots organization, and we are very grateful to him and to your magazine for your support.
Since this recall could have national implications, we are wondering if Mr. Kahn or one of your writers would be interested in telling our story of how the 6,500 people living in an unincorporated area in the poorest county of Oregon brought down the special interests won a battle for the little guy.

If so, just let me know, and we will be as helpful as we can.

Thank you so much.

Pamela Cosmo, secretary of CAG, La Pine, OR.

Green Apartment House in Costa Rica

In San Jose, Costa Rica

I Smell A Rat!

I hadn't been home 24 hours from a 6-week trip before I was made aware of a country homeowner's nightmare: the smell of a dead, rotting animal in the house. It happened about 6 months ago and turned out to be a disintegrating possum under the floor. I won't tell you how much fun it was to remove this object. So this time I again donned my crawl-under-house coveralls, scarf and headlight and went under the house looking. I should add that I so wish I'd followed the Uniform Building Code requirement of 18" crawl apace because I have to wiggle like a worm on my belly to attend to wiring, plumbing or dead animals under the floor. So here I am working my way to the area of the smell and wham! I've hit the 1/2" copper pipe "t" to the kitchen sink and knocked it off and water is gushing out. Shit! I wiggle my way out, turn off the main water line, go back underneath, only to see it's still dripping. Back out, turn off another valve, get my copper plumbing tools, propane torch, white bread to block water while soldering, big flashlight, wiggle in…there's more, but just say I was ecstatic that the joint worked.
Now for the main problem: I couldn't find anything under there, so went to the living room where the smell (getting worse) was strongest, and pried off wood trim so I could start removing the ceiling boards. When I got the first board off, here was a big rotting rat. Yahoo! Way better than if it had been in the middle of the ceiling — lord have mercy! I was thrilled, no kidding, Scrubbed off boards, swept up rat shit, vacuumed dust, burned incense, Hallelujah!

Three-dot Stuff At End of Trip

I'm at the San José airport, just about ready to get a flight to Houston, then back to Calif.…yesterday went out to the Univ. of Costa Rica to see the Insect Museum (Museo de Insectos), which is hard to find (in basement of music bldg.) and wonderful. There are some 14,000 species of butterflies in Costa Rica. Was hungry so went into student cafeteria and had a pretty good meal for $2.50, surrounded by maybe 200 college kids, talk about noise…I've shot about 2500 photos in 6 weeks…One big problem with my super duper little Cannon Powershot G10 is shutter lag; it means I never know what I'm going to get when shooting people or action…one sure pays a penalty in weight by lugging around a laptop and accoutrements, but it's the only way I can prepare photos to post on the blog…I wore out a copy of HOME WORK dragging it around and showing to people; reaction was great, especially the carpenters I showed it to, they invariably went through every page, even when they didn't understand English…sitting at a bar one night in Bocas, I met Steve, a 31-yr-old pilot from Seattle, who had just been laid off by Continental (he flew 737s), said he was getting into fishing, as the airlines jobs were not coming back…I asked all the cabbies about number of tourists and all said there are way less, maybe 50% less Americans than last year…I went underwater sightseeing with mask and snorkel in Bocas del Toro, the reef had coral that was purple, yellow, green, blue, all pulsing with life…much as I love warm water and the relaxation of balmy weather, I'm happy to getting back to my home base's cooler climate. Nothing like San Francisco fog to get brain cells energized.

The Dichotomy of San José

It's such a wonderful city in so many ways, but there's the pervasive threat of violence. It's got worse in the last 10 years, a cabbie told me this morning. Ticos attribute a lot of it to Columbian and Nicaraguan immigrants. Every house or store has bars on every window and door and usually steel spike-topped (or rolls of razor-sharp barbed wire) fences. It's extraordinary. You may have to enter 3 locked doorways to get into a building. A lot of people carry guns; there are gun stores in SJ with dozens of pistols on display in the windows. It seems to be the same in many big cities in Central and South America, the non-patrolled areas are like war zones, and it's getting worse with deepening poverty.

One Restaurant, One Bakery, One Espresso Cafe in San José, Costa Rica

Left: Flan de café (coffee-flavored flan) at Pestaurante Whapin. Wow, was this good!
If you find yourself in San José, capital city of Costa Rica, here are three places I highly recommend.
Latte etc. and pastry: Cafe de Correo in the Correo Central (Central Post Office) Fresh-roasted, barista-skilled coffee drinks and good pastry. Old building, high ceilings, elegant place.
Soulful bakery: Pincho Pan, corner of Calle 3, Ave. 5. Good coffee, wonderful donuts, empenadas, artisanal bread. Strictly locals.
Caribbean Food: Restaurante Whapin, reggae-calypso-themed restaurant in quiet neighborhood. (200 m. north of El Farolito in Barrio Escalante (About $2 cab ride from downtown). Walls lit-up orange and green, chef is from Puerto Limon, best meal I've had entire trip. All patrons were Costariccense the night I was there. John Lee Hooker record playing. Wonderful ambience. A little stoplight flashing red/yellow/green; hey, I never realized that stoplights have Jamacian colors!

Basket Case Harley

Spotted this on my way home this afternoon. How about the craftsmanship!

Back In The Big City, Oh Boy!

I'm a bi-polar traveler. After 5 or so days in a big city I need to flee to cleaner air and less pavement. Then when I get out away from it all, a week or at most two, I want to connect with both more people and yep, the internet. After 6 days in Bocas de Toro and environs (I'll try to give you an updated take on this very beautiful and wonderful, but, but…) I got a Natureair flight from Bocas back to San Jose, from where I fly home. I was pretty lethargic from the tropical heat in Panama, but getting to this 3000' elevation, mountain-surrounded city gave me a jolt. Wake up, dude! Checked into the unique little jungle-in-the-city hotel, Los Cinco Hermigas Rojas (The Five Red Ants) and ventured out for dinner, after which I stumbled into some kind of cultural festival in a downtown park. Right away it felt good.

Thousands of mostly young Costariccenses, lots of children, fire-jugglers, gymnasts, and best of all a band I was sure was Irish — fiddler, bagpipes, guitar, drummer and a guy who clogged as additional percussion. They were sensational. Here and there young people were dancing like Irish jigs. They turned out to be a Costa Rica band, Perigrino Gris, The Celtic Band from Costa Rica.
Not known outside the country. I'm not kidding, these guys would knock them out in New York, or London, or San Francisco. People were all jumping and dancing and yelling. I tried to get one of their CDs at 3 stores today, but they were sold out.

THEN, as I walked back to the hotel and passed the Escuela Metallica, the 100-year old beautiful prefabricated steel building (shown here in the daytime), there was a stage in front, and a small orchestra. An organ started playing Bach, and a spectacular MacIntosh-generated light show started bathing the building in light. I've never seen anything like it. The crowd would gasp or go ooooh! Children were transfixed. It went on, with different music for maybe 45 minutes. When it was over, there was about 20 minutes of world-class fireworks. I shot maybe 30 pics.

On my way home I wandered into a patio where a group of avante-garde dancers were whirling and twirling and moving graceful and artistic (and flexible) ways. It makes me think there may be some kind of cultural revolution going on in Costa Rica, a blending of world cultures. Pura vida!

Mark Morford: the Best Columnist Around

The best columns I'm reading these days are those of Mark Morford. He writes perceptively about anything that catches his eye. He is brilliantly articulate and wickedly funny. Trust me; if you have sensibilities at all like mine, check him out. The San Francisco Chronicle has dropped his weekly column, so you can only see it on SFGate.com. (Click here.)
A recent excerpt:
By Obama's own insistence that he be held accountable for it all, no one knows for sure if all of these spectacular, historic moves -- the bailouts, the massive recovery program, the jobs, housing, overhauls in health care and education and etcetera -- if any of it, will actually work.
It is, by every estimation, the biggest political and fiscal gamble in a generation, maybe five. It is dicey and dangerous and wildly progressive in scope and ambition, and you know this is true because many bitter, unloved Republicans are seething and whining and tearing into every Obama idea they can find, simply because said plans don't do enough to fellate the wealthy and worship oil companies and ignore children.
Maybe longtime pundit David Gergen said it best when he noted that Obama's agenda is more than merely a stack of dramatic, expensive proposals. It's actually more akin to FDR's New Deal rolled into Lyndon Johnson's Great Society; the grand sum of what Obama is attempting to do just so happens to be "the greatest political drama in our lifetime.
This, then, is our grand takeaway. If Obama can pull it off, if he can follow through with even half of these massive, historic overhauls, it will result in one of the most profound transformations and redefinitions of American ideals in history. And I gotta say, it's damn nice to write that sentence and not be referring to warmongering and torture and God-sanctioned homophobia. What a thing."

See interview of Morford by Steve Outing on Pointer Online.

L.L. Bean Backpack, PacSafe Fanny Pack, Sanuk Flip-flops

While I'm still on the road, I want to recommend three totally-tested-out pieces of travel gear.

1. L.L. Bean Deluxe Book Pack. I have probably gone through 7-8 of these (same model) over a 20 year period. I carry a lot of stuff on my back, usually including books, and this one has pockets, and compartments, places for pens. I've even put a tent and light sleeping bag in it. It seems to hold limitless stuff.( Ignore the red color of the one shown on Bean's website, I like the black.)
Click here

2. The StashSafe 100 Hip Pack. The best fanny pack I've had (been wearing fanny packs for many years). This one is especially geared to prevent theft, like someone cutting the strap with a knife and running off with it (the strap has stainless wire embedded), or a thief unbuckling the strap (the catch is hidden). You can also lock the zippers shut, It's also got lots of compartments and pockets inside for wallet, camera(s), pens, penlight, pocket knife, etc. Click here

3. Sanuk "Summit" Flip-flops. I bought these the night I left and have worn them every day for over 5 weeks. (I gave away a pair of running shoes as I just didn't need them (or the weight). I'm amazed at how comfortable these things are. I went for a 6 mile hike in the jungle, hiked up a canyon to a waterfall, have worn them in San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City. http://www.sanuk.com/ (Click on "Men's Sandals," then "Summit." Sanuk also makes the most comfortable shoes I've ever had. Look for them in surf shops or outdoor stores like REI.

Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline

Two French photographers immortalize the remains of the motor city on film. Photographs by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. (I just picked this up on boingboingfrom Time Mag.

Roberto Duran's Sparring Partner, Basi and His Boat, and Backpackers and Island-Hoppers' Paradise

Roberto Duran's Sparring Partner. I was sitting on this bench in the park this morning and a guy walked over and sat next to me. "Hello, I'm Simon," he said, and we shook hands. He had a genuine smile, was built like an athlete, had on nice shirt, slacks, shined shoes. I had my own agenda, was going through photos I'd shot earlier this morning, of waterside houses, shacks, and hotels on nearby Bastamiento Island. But there was something about Simon that drew me in. He lived on a farm about a day's bus journey from Bocas del Toro and had come here looking for construction work, but there wouldn't be work for another week. He said he had been a boxer and was Roberto Duran's sparring partner for 8 years, that he had worked with Duran for one of his bouts with Sugar Ray. I believed him. He was broke, needed money to get back to the farm… I slipped him $5. We talked for 15-20 minutes, I'm having conversations in Spanish where I get maybe 30% of what they're saying. That's OK. Simon was a really good guy. I can see his face as I write this. Sometimes it's good to not get out the camera.

The Skinny on Bocas del Toro The wooden stilt houses of Bocas town were built about a 100 years ago by the United Fruit Co., the banana conglomerate (Chiquita). They aslo built "…schools, homes, restaurants and clinics for its workers. French speaking canal workers from Martinique and Guadalupe as well as West Indian railroad workers from Jamaica, Barbados, and Antigua moved to Bocas Del Toro Panama to work on the Banana plantations." ((Reference for quote)) A Banana fungus wilt, latter called Panama Disease, wiped out most of the banana industry in the '20s and '30s, and the thriving place got to be not-so-thriving, and it was pretty relaxed and wonderful until tourism hit big time. I had people diss it as "…backpackers, real estate brokers, condos, too many people." But here's what I found: This is a lovely archipelago of islands, with lush forests and white sand beaches and yes, surf. On the streets of Bocas town at any time are 100's of milling visitors, over half backpackers. It's almost like a theme park, of boat trip operators, rentals of bikes, motorscooters, kayaks, and surfboards, scuba diving tours, and many other adventures and trips available. Tons of restaurants and bars. A Caribbean Reggae beat in spots. It's artificial, but it's also OK. Interesting people here, from many countries. Boats are continually zipping all over. You can go to nearby Bastamiento Island for a few dollars. There is a huge range of hotels. Many hostels. A bunch of internet cafés. You can also stay on outlying islands. Many buildings and houses painted in vivid colors of the Caribbean.

To Bastamiento With Basi. A 22' fiberglas panga with a 70 hp Evinrude, Basi picked me up at my hotel's dock at 8 this morning, then he picked up 4 passengers and we headed across to Bastamiento town. Basi ran along the waterfront so I could shoot photos of houses built on the water. Turns out he was was born on the island, as were his parents and grandparents. He spoke pretty good English; he'd worked on cruise ships and would go into port in the U.S. Basi's websiteis a good place to check out not only boat tours, but hotels in Bocas.

"Killin Me Man" Caribbean Pepper Sauce

"Hot like the Caribbean to wake up your passion"

Pink Window Trim, Banana Leaves

Fixed-up Old Buildings, Bocas del Toro Town

View From the Deck

This is the first blue sky I've seen in maybe 10 days. Come to think of it, Isla Grande, the little island I was on for 3 days, was battered by a tropical storm. Not strong enough to knock down buildings, but everything got knocked around a bit. The first night I was here, it started pouring when I was walking back to the hotel and I ducked under the porch of a restaurant with three young guys. Did I want ganja? Nope. At least in Costa Rica, there's real low grade Columbian weed g,oing around. I'm staying at Hotel Las Olas, really nice, polished wooden floors, a breeze off the water, killer breakfasts included, good wi-fi. Owned by Israelis.

Had dinner last night at El Refugio, dimly lit entrance, you'd never know it was there without being told, the place was packed, good vibes, 100% gringo, two guitar players, '60s music, good food. I'm going out later today to see if I can get a small boat to take me to outer islands. There's a lot to do around here.

Bocas del Toro Islands, Panama

When I came to Costa Rica 18 years ago, I intended to visit both coasts, but when I saw the black sand beaches and the acquamarine-colored Caribbean, I never made it over to the Pacific side. On that trip I remember someone telling me about Bocas del Toro, the main town had 100-year old buildings on stilts and there was surf, and it was fairly deserted. Well, of course, since then, the world has discovered this place and it's a heavy tourist destination. But it still has its charm, and is gateway to dozens of small islands, villages, reefs, and beaches by boat. It reminds me of Hong Kong, there is a continual stream of boats ferrying people in all directions. It's got a reggae vibe. You want ganja, man?

I'm once again glad to be back in internet land and will post photos when I can.

There are lots of traveling sailboats anchored here (Bocas del Toro Town). There are lots of great old boats, along with the fiberglas pangas. There must be at least 50 restaurants, all competing, some very good. It's got the Panama tranquilo (trahn-kee-low) feeling.

The older guys were pushing the little ones and they were improving by the minute.

Blog Layout

I'm continually frustrated by the limitations of blog layout. It'd be different if I were devoting all my time to it, but as an extracurricular activity that I need to do rapidly, I have to use Blogger photo tools, and never quite know how things will line up or look. All the below photos and text would look way better if done as pages in a book.

Isla Grande, Small Island off Coast of Panama

I was on Isla Grande, a very small island off the Caribbean coast of Panama without an internet connection for 4 days, wrote the below from the island, and am posting these from Bocas del Toro (a Panamanian island close to the Costa Rica border on Monday (on which, more to come):

Thursday — I love the good big cities — exciting and inspiring, but after about 5 days I need country air. (Surfer Stu, who doesn't love cities, told me the other day that he's a "country slicker.") I got up at 5 this morning and caught the trans-Panana train, which runs from the Pacific {Panama City) to the Caribbean (Colon). From there I got two buses way out to a little port town and then 20-foot-long fiberglas boat like a Mexican panga) powered by 15 hp outboard to a small island off the coast, Isla Grande.

Left, the Sister Moon hotel in Isla Grande
Below, view from my deck hammock

Below that, one of the many island boats for ferrying passengers back and forth. Nada es Etorno (Nothing is Eternal). So true.

I found a funky room in a quirky hotel with deck and hammock practically hanging out over crashing waves. I'm absolutely in heaven. I'm going back and forth from the hammock to wandering with camera. There are 300 black people on the island, English-speaking West Indies descendants like Jamacians and Triniadians. There's a Bob Marley open air nightclub, and the place is full of whimsical architecture and gardens. A bunch of Watts Towers type seashell and tile mosaics. The island is filled with tall coconut trees.

Friday — Dinner last night at the Congo Cafe, a bar/restaurant with thatched roof and beachcomber deco set on a pier over the water. Squid cooked in creole coconut milk, rice, a Balboa beer. 5 locals were there watching grainy TV show from Mexico. I was the only customer.

It started blowing last night and by this morning a full-blown storm hit. Sheets of water. Ocean has gone from green to grey, big waves, wind howling. Air is warm! I'd forgotten about the Caribbean. It's green and lusty and exotic, beaches with black sand, waves that come out of nowhere. It's more passionate than the Pacific, more gutsy, soulful.
Sunday — Isla Grande is about a mile across by maybe 2 miles long. No roads, not one motor vehicle. There's a slippery rocky path along the shore from my hotel into town, and it's been getting battered by waves the last few days. By now a certain amount of reality has set in. There's a fair amount of garbage on the beaches and trails. And with many of the black people, there's an edge. They're not jumping through hoops for tourists. Like the Kuna Indians of nearby islands who have been resisting the exploitative incursions of gringos for 500 years. No video cameras; you pay them for each photo you shoot. My friend Leo told me that over 40 years ago, when he landed on the San Blas Islands, the Indians wouldn't let him and others get off their boat.

Right, below: chapel on the ocean in Isla Grande. Now here's a church I can go for. No priests, no sermons, no dogma, no guilt. Hallowed be thy essence, oh mighty Ocean

I found an immaculate little restaurant on the edge of town, El Nido Postre, and the chef, Olga Ehrens, is a native Tica who studied cooking in France and Spain. I had breakfast once and two dinners there and they were extraordinary. The kind of cook where you say, bring me whatever you want.

From where I live, it's 3000 miles to get from one ocean to another. In Panama it's less than 50 miles. Found a white-sand beach at sunset last night, went swimming. In the warm water I'm relaxed and swimming with more power. The foam was like whipped cream.

A Not-So-Nice Touch

The old town in Panama was the original town and from its remnants, it must have been stunning. But as the city grew and built out, the old town was abandoned and became a slum. These days it's being fixed up, but the side streets are still ragged and dirty. I started down a street today and an old black guy shook his head and said, "No, no," and put both his hands on his throat like he was being strangled. So I reversed course. It's like the city is under siege, cops on every corner, tough guys, a menacing presence. One cop slapping his baton in the palm of his hand, another with his hand on his pistol. Today an armored truck drove up to one of the big markets. Two armed guys got out to pick up the money while a third stood outside the truck, looking in all directions and holding a wicked-looking shotgun at the ready.

A Nice Touch

I asked a lady in a store today if she had a battery for my travel alarm clock. She said, "Ah no, pa-pá." When Chilón and I had dinner at a busy diner in San José after the soccer game a few weeks back, the waitress brought him his dinner, and said, "Aquí, mi amor." He thought it was so great, that she would say "my love." People touch you, like on the arm when you ask directions. It's warm and friendly.

Vegetable Market in Panama City

Busses operate like jitneys. People hail them to get picked up.
Yesterday morning I had breakfast at the Cafe Coca Cola, French toast and cafe au lait (and sneakily poured a shot of mescal from a half-pint of same purchased for $1.40, into the coffee, heh-heh). Bkfst was $2.
In any major city south of (and including) LA, I head for the mercado. Yesterday I explained to a cabbie that I wanted to go to the biggest mercado (there are generally a number of them). First we went to a meat market, where there was more poultry, beef, goat, pork, and who knows, than I've ever seen. Next we went to the vegetable market and it was spectacular. More wholesale than retail, mountains of fruit and vegetables. In the outdoor area there were flatbed trucks converted into booths with mounds of bananas, coconuts, plantains, pineapples. A stand with 2-300 papayas. Watermelons cut open to show sparkling pink insides, huge piles of potatoes and dozens of other root vegetables, tons of tomatoes. A beatup black Toyota 4x4 with an 8-foot-high pile of bananas, A room inside with nothing but parsley and cilantro, smelled like parsley incense.Little restaurants serving the freshest of food, and packed with people. I got a glass of fresh-squeezed ice-cold cane sugar juice for 25 cents, it was green and So good. I can't bring myself to shoot photos at real places like this. I just don't want to engender that vibe, so I turn on the camera in my head.

Last night after dinner I got an ice cream cone (2 scoops, 50 cents) and sat on a park bench for about half an hour, opposite this diner run by a Chinese family, watching people walk by. The weather is balmy and perfect, and there's usually a nice breeze from the Pacific, I imagine it can be hot and steamy, but I've hit it right.

Another Photo From This Morning

Casita in the Jungle by Colorado Chris

I'm going back and picking out a few photos from past weeks, so the blog won't be linear time-wise. I have a really lot of good pix!

Super Steve/Super Bamboo

Back to the jungle (linear this is not): Super Steve and his wife (a Tica architect), have designed and built a bunch of fascinating, meticulously-crafted bamboo structures in the seaside jungle. Here's what Steve told me about the bamboo he uses, imported from Columbia:
• It's cut with machetes in the 1/2-waning moon — when the moon is on the opposite side of the earth, and it is drawing the sugars and starches out of the canes and into the roots. This is a 3-day window once a month.
• It's cut between midnight and 4 AM.
• It's left standing in the grove 30-90 days so moisture wicks out slowly; then it's air dried in the sun.
• If it's getting exported (like to Costa Rica, it's immersed in a borate and boric acid solution (natural bug killer).
I have a bunch of photos of these wonderfully-constructed (and designed!) structures.

Tuesday Morning in Panama City

It's dirty, dangerous, and difficult, but it's also exotic, exciting, and soulful. I love the place, and the people. We are all Americanos, verdad?


The Zonas Rojas (Red Zones) of Panama City

About 3-4 times I've started to follow my I-am-a-camera instincts into the lesser-travelled streets and each time I've been warned of the danger. The red zones are where there are no police, and many many robberies. Panama City has a even more sinister edge than San José, Costa Rica, it's like the back side of its charm. The cops are like SWAT team guys, there are cops on mountain bikes that are chingon.

Panamanians are wonderful. Speaking what Spanish I can opens doors, and leads to conversations. The young backpackers are great ambassadors, they make their own way on the cheap, and blend in. Each time I step out of the hotel, I have this feeling of joy and adventure, it's that kind of a city. I said to a streetside tailor, who sewed two buttons on my shirt for $1 this morning, that P.C. was, like San Francisco, a city with soul. Con alma…

I booked this room (with good wi-fi!) for 2 nights, this morning I extended it another two days. Total hotel bill for 4 days: $60.