Wow, what a first few weeks. In the very limited free time we´ve had, I´ve been reading Harry Potter 5 (Order of the Phoenix) in prep for the movie and to re-read HP6 before the final book comes out. And I realized that Peace Corps Pre Service Training (PST) is just like going to Hogwarts (the wizard school, if somehow you haven´t read them nor know someone who has). Tons of new words we´ve never heard before, tons of homework just piling up in Spanish class (read this, write this, discuss this with your host family, all in Spanish) and in Technical Sessions (here are fifty new trees you need to be able to identify, all presented in thirty minutes walking around the finca - farm; here is a nivel - level - that you need to be able to build from two 2-meter long sticks, some twine, a tape measure, and a few nails; here is a recipe for bocachi - japanese name for organic compost - that requires 200 lbs of chicken poo amongst other items; and an amazing overload of other new trainings and information). Add to that the new foods we´re eating, plus the ones we don´t think we want to eat (no kidding, on our first day trip to a finca, we saw - and some of us more adventurous ones tried - a fruit that reminded me of mibelus mimbeltona - a blistery plant from HP5 - and smelled and tasted like stale vomit - again, no kidding! And the reason there are lots of these around is because they juice this stuff and sell it in gyms and healthfood stores in the states - obviously with some taste modifiers - so everyone planted one because they were selling for a lot, but then everyone planted one, so the price dropped.) and it is very similar to Hogwarts.
We even ride an equivalent to the Knight Bus, called Diablo Rojo (or, Red Devil) when we travel around Panamá City - they are old school buses from the US, painted up inside and out in crazy, but very artistic, designs, the door is generally bungee corded open so it never closes, and the seats PACK in when people get on. The first one we road to Panamá City for a day of locating points of interest actually got condemned (or something, we weren´t sure what) when we arrived there, but luckily another person on the bus took us to another one to finish the ride.
So that has been wonderful, if at times overwhelming. But we´ve managed (by us, I mean both April and I together, as well as working with our other Group mates) to get through it all.
This weekend (April and I are currently sitting in Santiago, provicinial capital of Veraguez, west of Panamá City, before finishing our trip back to our PST site), we went on a Volunteer Visit to spend time with current volunteers and see how they live, deal with work, food, people, etc. Luckily, another volunteer from the area was going as well, because we might not have made it. The ride required a four hour chiva drive - pickup truck with benches and a top in the back, where we rode with gear strapped to the top - from Santiago. The last two hours were off the pavement, but it hadn´t rained much lately, so the roads weren´t too muddy and we only had to walk once. But the chivas are scheduled to leave the Santiago terminal at 4am and 6am, but sometimes the 6am doesn´t go, so don´t count on it, and sometimes the 4am leaves early, so we had to get there at 3:15am. So it was good to talk to Bryan, who guided us through the trek. The mud road was almost easier - they drive fast on the pavement, but it is so potholed, they swerve all the time and straighten the curves - since it was slower - I just had to worry about bouncing my head off the ceiling - everyone else pretty much could sit upstraight. :) Luckily, Bryan got me a set at the back end, so I didn´t get carsick, but dad would never make it.
Once we got to Noah and Karinne´s, it was beautiful, if only 8am!! We ate great all weekend, talked Peace Corps and Panamá, work, the states, the future, hiked, swam in some waterfall pools, saw the BIGGEST fireflies I´ve ever encountered (practically small hummingbirds!), and even got to attend a charla - talk - they held on Saturday to talk about coffee - the main local product - with the local campesinos (farmers). I could follow their Spanish, but not the locals yet. And we got to de-husk some coffee beans by hand - a small batch Noah had, just while we were sitting around on the porch talking. It was a wonderful time and we were really lucky with our visit, since we had so many experienced PCVs to talk to, such great food, and beautiful view. (I´d post some pictures, but we didn´t bring the cord to the camera, so hopefully next time.) We had electricity the last half day, after someone fixed the local hydrogenerator finally (we had a teasing false alarm Friday evening) and had running (but unpotable) water most of the time. This morning, we got up at 4am for the 5ish chiva ride down, but it didn´t come by the house until after 6, so we got breakfast, chatting, and a beautiful dawn (we did get on before the sun crested the mountains). The ride down was mostly uneventful, and it was a surprise to get here feeling the day should be half gone and realize it is only 10 or 10:30am. We still have about a three hour ride back to our PST site, then back into homework, talking in Spanish with our host family, and local food.
Sorry I haven´t posted more before, we seem to get about an hour online a week so far, and the computers (or maybe the network connections) here aren´t quite as fast as home, so it takes longer than I expect (of course, if you look at the posts about my estimates for packign the house and moving, you´ll see my expectations are frequently off :) to read emails, do some responding, and try to post. I´ll keep trying to give updates with more about classes, abono (fertilizer), Spanish, food, beautiful sites, and etc. In about two weeks, we should know our site; I won´t be able to post the name, but I should be able to indicate how beautiful it will be. :)
As always, thanks to everyone for their support!! We are really looking forward to getting through PST and into our site, doing some work and having some down time as well. This weekend was practically a great, and much needed, Hogsmeade weekend.