Life out of the fast lane
or strange encounters on a
rural Panamanian road

Sydney Tremayne, founder of

You never quite know what to expect in rural Panama.

Today, I walked a mile up and down my driveway for the first time. That's four trips. No big deal until you try it up my very steep incline, and in the condition to which I have allowed my fitness to sink after far too many hours at a computer.

But this story isn't about my fitness or walking up and down my driveway, something I have been doing with increasing frequency for the past month. It's about a mini country (as in rural) adventure.

There's more news: It hasn't rained today – and this is smack dab in the middle of the heaviest rainy season of the year, September and October.

But back to the rural news.

walking up the driveway

The sun was shining for my first trip of the day as I ambled quarter of a mile down to the gate and back. Then I had breakfast and decided I'd take another walk. I'd been slacking and only made one trip a day in recent days.

I got about two-thirds of the way down the driveway the second time, from where I could see the gate, and standing calmly at the end was what I thought was a horse, complete with saddle. (It turned out to be a mule – at least, I think that's what it was – but it looked quite a bit like a horse and was about the same size.)

He (she?) just stood calmly watching my approach, but I couldn't see anyone around. I looked into the trees on my property, thinking that the people who own a farm somewhere over the next hill, and who get water via a pipe on my property, had sent someone to check it out. A connection was broken the other day, but I knew it had been fixed. Maybe there was more trouble?

I got close to the animal and noticed it wasn't even tethered; the reins were simply looped across its neck. Curious! I also noticed a black shape, deep in the long grass in the ditch beside the road, 20 feet away – about the size of a black bear, I thought.

Encounter with something big and black
Next, there was an explosion at the 'horse's' feet and a small light-brown dog sprang into view with a warning bark. Immediately following that, and behind me, at the other side of the gate, a native-Indian man got to his feet and said something unintelligible, pointing to the black shape in the ditch. I told him: "No habla español," which received a non-committal grunt. I don't even know if he had spoken in Spanish or in his own tribal language. But at least he was harmless.

So back up the driveway I trotted. I didn't even sit down at the top, as I usually do to catch my breath. The man who does odd jobs around my place was there and, in a mixture of Spanglish and sign language, I indicated there was something unusual at the gate. After a few minutes, we headed back down together; I was curious to know if my visitor needed help in some way, though he had a cell phone with him.

On trip three I discovered that the black shape in the ditch was a jet-black heifer (or large calf), that I was seeing from the boney haunches end. (I think it's the first jet-black one I have seen in this country.) Apparently, the man at my gate (and, I assume, others) had been driving a herd from a distant pasture across the road and over at least one hill, but the calf had become tired and decided somewhere near the end of my driveway that enough was enough.

I have to fill in gaps in my knowledge, but here people are mostly considerate of animals. I imagine the herders talking among themselves and deciding that if the little fella was tired he should be allowed to rest. And so one of the herders dismounted and decided to rest along with him (or her). And that's when I had discovered the little group, complete with dog.

Later, from the house, I heard the sound of a truck and shouts of encouragement and, when I went back down to the driveway for the fourth time, I found my guests had departed.

If your calf gets tired here, just call a taxi!

I was quite willing later to walk down a fifth time; it seems to get easier. But David Dell, my successor on this website, has been without Internet for four days and came to use mine.

Breaking into the cable business
That's a switch. He is on a phone line, and that service is almost never out. He tells me that most of Volcan (those who are not on my type of wireless service) is without Internet, and he's been told a tree is down (and presumably has damaged the line). I don't know if that's the true story; it seems unlikely they would leave the banks and other businesses without Internet for four days while they repair a break in the cable.

Editor: The problem was caused when a truck cut through the thick overhead telephone cable. Before the repair crews arrived, some enterprising thief, seeing all that valuable copper laying on the ground, severed the other end of the cable and disappeared with it. It took a almost a week before a drum of replacement cable arrived in Volcan.

But this is Panama.

Sydney Tremayne
Rural Volcan,