Extreme contrast ~ From Cuba to Panama!

 
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The book ends of our Cuba trip was Panama. This part of the trip was bamboo-centric as we wanted to gain a sense of what is the current state of bamboo in Panama. Thanks to Gib, Co2 Bambu’s Director of Bamboo Science, and an unexhaustable source of contacts in bamboo world, we were soon meeting with several bambuseros and getting a crash course in Panama bamboo.
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Here is what we found out: There are pockets of native bamboo species, but no large scale bamboo forests like those that can be found in Nicaragua. The Smithsonian Institute is running a bamboo conservation effort and we met the botanist in the search and collection of endemic bamboo species. There is one project building bamboo housing for indigenous communities, but it seems to be handicapped by quality and design shortcomings.
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A bit about Panama: The Panama Canal is the major driver to the economy, creating the fastest growing economy in Central America, with a slew of services, from logistics to insurance to a strong financial services industry. It was a bit of a culture shock after Cuba, as consumerism is rampant. We visited a couple of malls, enormous and filled with US retail shops and it was a non-stop mass of consumers filling every floor, every shop. The US influence is very strong and it felt like being in the U.S., but Spanish speaking.
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Let’s talk about the four major take aways from our trip to Panama…
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Futuristic skyscrapers: the skyline is chockfull of thin, tall skyscrapers overlooking the bay. The most recent addition to the skyline is a screw-driver, curly fries structure, towering over small sky scrapers.
 
 
 
 
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Historic Casco Viejo: we stayed in the Colonial historic heart of the city, which strangely is only at an early stage of restoration. One might expect that with the wealth of Panama, the restoration of of Casco Viejo would have been further along, but perhaps the delay is related to constraints having to do with its being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We stayed in Casco Viejo thanks to Peta’s organization of a home exchange. Very well located, swanky after Cuba.
 
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The indigenous people of Panama have amongst several attributes a tradition of beading calf-jewelry. The other is having a gold ring in their nose, which Peta wasn’t keen to experience, so she opted for the leg bracelet.
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Beautiful Isla Iguana: After a five hour bus ride to the tiny town of Pedasi on the Pacific, we found ourselves on a small boat bumping over the ocean like a roller coaster ride towards the little island of Isla Iguana in order to see the nesting grounds of the red-throated frigate bird. As we got closer to the green island which is a protected reserve, we could see scores of black winged frigots hovering above, dotting the blue sky with their pterodaptyl looking shapes. We got off the boat onto a beach that had powder white sand and turquoise waters. We walked across the tiny island (in five minutes) on a path that went through tall ratan plants and had iguanas which darted here and there, to the other side.
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What a sight!
Black rocks, more powder white sand and clear bright turquoise waters. We lay in the sea on our backs and watched as the birds swooped above and around us, some of them with the large red characteristic pouch that these birds exhibit when mating. We walked across the rocks to get closer to the nesting location, the calls of the birds got louder and eventually we could even hear the baby birds crying out. The experience of having these huge birds (which usually in Nicaragua are very high in the sky) fly very low over our heads and get so close to them that we could see them sitting on their nests in the scrub near us, was truly exceptional and unforgettable.
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Why Pedasi? Because this is near to the winter residence of Prince Max of Liechtenstein (see next blog entry on his investment in CO2 Bambu). As HSH Prince Max was in the region, he suggested we meet, so he could put a face on the investment his bank had recently completed. It was truly a pleasure (and honor) to meet him and have an opportunity to add depth to his understanding of CO2 Bambu.

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