Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Semillas Semillas Semillas

I just came back from another seed collecting mission in the isolated mountain kingdom of Las Alturas de Cotón. If you havent read my previous blogs about it, you should to understand the wierd politics and history of this company town turned sustainable ¿utopian? society.

This trip, I had two Panamanian Indian guides, Carlos and Javier. We took an old Toyota Landcruiser up the dirt roads to the boundary of Amistad International Park. We hiked up past the old dillapidated biological research station, up the trail to Cerro Chai.

Cerro Chai

The Biological Research Center (Las Alturas)

The seeds we collected were Chicarrás, Quiuras, and Jira Colorados. Chicarrás and Jira Colorados are both very large canopy trees with extremely valuable timber. I believe that it is now illegal to harvest these woods because of the threat of extinction. The Quiras are a smaller tree (still quite large) that produce a tomato like fruit that is eaten by birds and other small animals.


Big Trees

While we were in the rainforest it started pouring. There was nothing to do but get wet and cold. We were nearing 5000 feet, so it gets cold. I tried to ask Javier what group of indiginous people he is a part of. He laughed. "Somos Indios." He told me. I said I know, but what kind. Like in the US we have Cherokees, Navajo, etc. There used to be Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans. He said the Aztecs are from Mexico, we are from Panama. Cristopher Colombus came over and called us "Indios" so we are "Indios". You know like "Indigenes". I asked him which he preferred, he looked at me like I was rediculus, "Indios" he said.

Javier is 17. He came from the Bocas Del Torro region of Panama. Indios can pass freely from Panama to Costa Rica without a passport. Many come as seasonal workers to work with coffee or to towns like Las Alturas (if there are towns like this anywhere else). Javier didnt finish high school. He didnt like the options that that type of education would lead to. When he was in Davíd, he found an advertisement to work in Las Alturas. Now he is a sort of apprentice to their reforestation project.

Reforestation Nursery at Las Alturas

Javier asked me if I was married. I said I was too young still, people in the States dont get married till theyre older. He asked me when I plan on getting married. I said, probably when Im in my 30s. He said that if people wait that long here, everyone will think that they are gay. He is only 17, and people give him a hard time for not being married yet. Most indios get married when they are 15. He doesnt want people to think he is gay. He needs to find a wife. He told me there is a guy in Las Alturas that isnt married and everyone says hes gay. The town doesnt have much to do but gossip.

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