Here’s the video our team created during our WHYY Young Journalist Spring Break Camp. We had a blast. The best part was working with other kids that enjoyed it as much as I did! Great new friends!
As you might recall, we recently got new guppies that we named Moby and Ishmael/Peridot/Ish/Perry, along with a cleaner shrimp named Sewey.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out. As it turned out, Moby had worms. I’ll spare you the details, but basically this meant that the entire tank had to be disinfected. Long story short, we had to get rid of both fish and Sewey. Ariana and I were upset, but the fish store claimed that they would try to treat them. Still, we needed to start the ENTIRE tank over, and that is a process that takes weeks.
So now, we find ourselves back at square one. Again. It has been a long process, but the tank finally had the right balance of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate today to support fish. So, we went out to the fish store that received raving reviews online.
It was a really awesome store. A gigantic fluffy dog greeted us as soon as we walked through the door. We were allowed to pet him, and he was really soft. But, that wasn’t even the best part! The entire store was filled with breathtaking (albeit expensive) fish and corals. Some were brilliantly colored, and others were unbelievably big. They had eels, cleaner fish, crabs, and even a neon sting ray.
Since there were so many great options, Ariana and I were rather indecisive about which fish we wanted. There were some really beautiful fish that were very small and traveled in schools. (It was really cute when they got spooked– they all moved together.) They were a metallic, electric blue with red tails. They moved in a group, and it was really beautiful. The problem was that Ariana wanted fish that we could distinguish from each other, and all of the blue fish looked virtually identical. So, Ariana preferred some other fish called mollies that looked more different from each other. They were mostly a yellow-orange color with black spots. (They were a similar size to guppies.)
We wanted to get a mixture of the two typed of fish, but our mom advised us against it. If we did that, then we would had to have had about three of the blue fish, and that would have made them lonely, since they were school fish. In the end, we got three mollies and a cleaning fish called a cory.
We had a bit of a debate over what to name them, too. They cory had two antennae that looked like a mustache, so we decided to name him after someone with an impressive mustache: Salvador Dali. Also, the name Dali was perfect because Ariana and I love art.
The fish were a bit more tricky. We knew we wanted to name them after figures in music, science, and literature. We decided on Fermata for the fish that was mostly black, Suess for the one that was speckled, and Di Vinci for the one that was mostly orange. Here of some pictures of our fish in their new home:
This Christmas, Ariana and I received a “chi” fish tank. It was about 5 gallons and in the shape of a cube. It seemed more like a fountain than a fish tank- the filter was like a little waterfall with rocks. Still, we were delighted to get it. We’d only ever had a goldfish in the second grade, and it died after about one day! So, were determined to keep our new pets alive.
Throughout winter break, we began to condition the tank (we needed to establish a natural cycle to give the fish a better chance at survival). We filled the tank with a plastic log (it looked pretty real) and a hornwart plant. As it turned out, we got more than we bargained for when we bought the hornwart. We soon realized that the plant was filled with over a dozen snails!
At first, we didn’t think it would be a big deal. After all, the snails were barely visible at about 1 mm. What harm could they do? we thought. Mom seemed to think they would die anyway. Upon further research, however, we found that we had an infestation of pond snails.
Basically, pond snails reproduce really fast, so the dozen we had were going to become hundreds if we didn’t act quickly. This turned out to be a problem. Ariana and I didn’t want to kill innocent creatures, but if we didn’t somehow get rid of the snails, fish would be unable to live in the tank.
We were left with several options. First, we could completely trash the tank and leave the snails somewhere to die. Ariana wouldn’t here a word of it, though, so we moved on. Another option was to remove all the snails, hornwart, and the small shrimp we had found and release them in a local pond. That’s what we ended up doing.
After that, we had to completely restart the process of setting up the tank. We bought a kit to test ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH levels in the water. When the ammonia and nitrite fell to zero and the nitrate spiked, we knew we were ready to buy some fish.
So, on January 29 (2017), we bought two new male guppies and a cleaning shrimp. Male guppies tend to be more colorful than the females, so we ended up with two very colorful guppies. They both had wide fins (sort of like a beta, but smaller), but they were different colors. One of them was mostly a blueish purple with hints of green. His tail was mostly blue but fringed in black. The other was lavender, blue, green, and even a little orange and yellow. His tail looked like a rainbow in the light. It was fringed in black but the black was less concentrated- it looked a lot like ink when you drop it into water. They were both about 1 1/2 inches long. The shrimp, meanwhile, was about one inch long and clear, It had spots on its side an long antennae. It was almost clear, so we thought we could make out its brain. The main purpose of the shrimp was not to look pretty, but mostly to clean the tank and eat the algae.
We had no trouble coming up with a name for the shrimp- we called it Sewey, after the electronic mop that our family dubbed “Doo-Hickey”, or Dewey. (The “s” was because he was a shrimp.) We had a bit more difficulty naming the guppies. We compiled a list of names. Here were some of the favorites:
- Miso (soup)
- Marsh mellow
- Peek and Boo
- Tic and Tack
- Splish and Splash
- One Fish Two Fish
- Raspberry (Raz)
- blueberry muffin (muffy)
- fro and yo
- ambrosia dumpling
- cherry and pie
- jello and jelly
We ended up going with Moby (as in Moby Dick) for the multicolored one, and Ishmael (Ish for short, after “Call me Ishmael”) for the blueish one. We also gave Ish the middle name of Peridot.
Moby and Ish have been getting along pretty well- they are following each other around the tank. Sewey has also done a good job cleaning. When he entered the tank, the heater was covered in algae. By the time we got home from school on the 30th, the filter was mostly clean!
As exciting as having the new fish is, it comes with a lot of responsibility. The fish are on a strict light and feeding schedule. Ariana and I have been saddled with the responsibility of cleaning the tank, too. Still, I have a feeling it will all be worth it.
This is our Christmas Concert as part of the South Jersey Homeschool Choir. We aren’t homeschooled but we started in this choir when we didn’t have a school choir. We have a solo in the first video (Daniela starts then I come in). In the last video Daniela is playing a piano solo of a song she had recently learned. (She plays it better now!)
Let us know what you think!
Daniela’s Piano Solo
Imagine having so much power that your word is law. Such was the power of emperors in the Roman Empire. Roman emperors had command of 26 legions, as well as the authority to veto the actions of the magistrates and control the imperial patronage. They even influenced the religion of the empire. The emperor could rebuild decaying temples and resurrect old religious ceremonies. In short, he could do just about anything. This resulted in both good and bad changes in Rome. While some great rulers benefited the Roman people, others did nothing but harm. Specifically, Commodus left the empire worse for wear, while Hadrian and Trajan had positive impacts on Rome.
Regrettably, the years Commodus spent in power were not good ones for the empire. Although his accession to the throne was initially greeted with general approval, it was met eventually with hostility as Commodus began to engage in self-indulgent and ego-maniacal behaviors. He was especially fond of gladiator fights. He enjoyed them so much, in fact, that he participated in them himself. However, Commodus was known to cheat by blunting his opponents’ swords. In addition, Commodus devalued Rome’s currency significantly by reducing the weight of the denarius and the purity of silver. It was the biggest reduction since Nero’s, and a huge blow to the empire. Not only that, but he lacked concern for political matters altogether. That, combined with a thirst for leisure, brought about what some consider a reign of terror. In fact, Commodus’ rule is regarded as the start of the fall of the Roman Empire. In the famous words of noted historian Dio Cassius, his lack of interest in political affairs was the starting point for the decline of the empire, leaving Commodus responsible for initiating Rome’s plunge “from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust.”
On the other hand, Trajan was one of the best emperors Rome ever saw. He was a good soldier and a man of talent, tolerance, and courtesy. During his nineteen years of rule, Trajan improved the empire’s roads and harbors as well as provided support for the children of Rome’s poor. Furthermore, he conquered the area of Mesopotamia and started a healthcare-like system for the Plebeians. Although the Senate had little power, Trajan treated them with respect, consulted them, and maintained the Senate’s good will. Some historians say that by doing this, he brought back the “old spirit” of Rome. So, with all of these good deeds under his belt, it’s no wonder that Trajan was the second of Rome’s 5 Good Emperors.
Similarly, Hadrian was considered one of Rome’s Good Emperors as well. Like Trajan, he was a soldier and a strong man. His goal was to give Rome a good start for the future. Hadrian oversaw many building projects and built Hadrian’s Wall, which strengthened the Roman frontier and still exists today. Another one of his building projects was repairing the Pantheon, which had been destroyed in a fire. It, too, still stands. Hadrian also traveled across the empire and stabilized local governments, as well as added to the beautification of Rome. He established cities in Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece, too. Even better, Hadrian penalized those who mistreated their slaves. Finally, he kept the army in peak condition through constant training and surprise inspections. However, though Hadrian was a brilliant emperor, some may point out that he ordered a public burning of the Torah, and was therefore closed-minded. However, while other emperors persecuted Christians, Hadrian respected their beliefs. So, in that way, he was one of the more open-minded emperors. In the end, Hadrian was a remarkable emperor who made a lasting good impact on Rome as a whole.
Ultimately, while Commodus’s rule led to the decline of Rome, Trajan and Hadrian changed the empire for the better. During his reign, Commodus was brutal and lazy. Eventually, he led a reign of terror that initiated the fall of Rome. Meanwhile, Trajan brought back some of the old ways of Rome through his treatment of the Senate. He contributed to the beautification of the empire and to the welfare of the commoners. Hadrian was much the same. He led numerous successful building projects, and strengthened the empire through his training of the army and cities he established. But while emperors like Hadrian and Trajan had positive influences, the overall system of the empire was not a good one, as it eventually collapsed. Hopefully, though, we can learn from the mistakes of the Romans and use them to make better choices for our future.
In class we read the story All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury. Our assignment was to continue the story from the perspective of one the characters. I chose Margot. Here’s the my story.
In the closet, it was utterly black. Trying to see through the gloom was as hopeless as trying to peer through a brick wall. Not even the tiniest ray of light slipped under the door. By the second, the walls seemed to close in around me, and my throat constricted. I needed to escape the grip of the darkness, and quickly.
No matter how vigorously I pounded, though, the door stoutly refused to open. I kicked. I pummeled. I pleaded with it, crying and howling as as vehemently as I could. The stubborn door refused to budge.
I was going to miss the sun.
There was no getting around it. Already, the constant pitter-patter of rain on the rooftop was lessening. The sun would show its face soon enough, and I wouldn’t be there to greet it.
I felt a hatred for my classmates swelling in my chest. They would prance about in the glorious bloom of the sun, not even giving me a second thought. But I would still be here, caged in the stifling darkness, even as the sun drew on a robe of clouds and the sky began to weep.
Finally, after what felt like several small eternities, I was liberated. I squinted into the blinding, light, barely able to make out the ashamed faces of my peers. They twisted their toes into the concrete floor, unable to meet my eyes. No one apologized.
That night when I got home, I made a beeline for my bedroom. I flopped onto my stiff mattress, letting myself get tangled in the mountain of woolen blankets on top. Meanwhile, the rain continued to play its incessant ra ta tat on the roof above. The fat raindrops outside the window seemed to mock me.
So, I turned to where I always turned when things got gray: poetry.
For me, words seemed to have personalities of their own. They were my companions. So, when things went wrong, I turned to poetry.
I had piles and piles of crumpled verses stashed beneath my bed, and even more tucked in my closet. Most of them were about the sun. The sun that had shone while I was trapped in suffocating darkness.
Brimming with anguish, I snatched a gnawed pencil from my bedstand and a sheet of lined paper from under my bed.
Before I knew it, my pencil had scribbled out 7 poems, and the thrumming of the rain had faded into the background. I was just beginning to sag into sleep when my mother crept into my room. “Margot?” she whispered.
I jolted awake. “I’m here,” I groaned.
Mother heaved a sigh and settled onto the end of my bed.
“What’s this?” she asked with concern, holding one of my poems aloft.
Mother arched her neatly plucked eyebrows and squinted down at the paper, reading my piece, Sun Rays, aloud.
“‘I remember how you were
grasping me in your rays
for I was desperate for a searching light
to glisten in my darkness*’”
She was silent for a moment. Then: “Are all of these about the sun?” she asked incredulously, noticing the poems that littered my bed.
I nodded, nibbling nervously on my lip. “I really miss Earth,” I admitted, tears welling in my eyes. A lump the size of a grape swelled painfully in my throat. “I miss the sun.”
A small puff of air escaped her. “Margot,” she breathed. “I didn’t realize how important the sun is to you. How important it is to us. I didn’t recognize it until I read your poem, but… I miss the sun as much as you do.”
“Of course. Your happiness, our happiness, is more important than any job. Even if it means a handsome salary.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Was mother really saying what I thought she was saying?
“If you really miss the sun that much…” she took a deep, shaky breath. “We should go back home.”
I could hardly believe it. After all of these years of writing and sobbing and dreaming, my fondest wish was finally coming true!
“So?” my mother prompted.
“Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” I crowed, lit up like a Christmas tree.
As I wrapped my pale arms around my mother’s waist, I realized that all I’d had to do was ask. I’d been so upset about the sun, I never thought to tell my parents about my feelings. The second I did, though, my problem had been solved. Maybe it would help to open up once in awhile.
The next days seemed to blur together and become a mass of packing and folding and planning. As the the hours dragged on, I became more and more impatient, but I also became more excited. The prospect of seeing the sun left me energized and hopeful- a contrast to my usual moodiness. Even my poems were beginning to take on a brighter tone. Hopefully, it was a permanent change.
Finally, four days post-sun, we hopped on the rocket back to Earth, my true home, and the place where I belonged.
As we sped away from the drenched prison that was Venus, I peered through the window and watched as it shrunk to the size of a soccer ball, then a golf ball… and then it was gone.
What if the book thief’s story ended differently?
Picture yourself walking down Himmel Street in the dark. Your hair is getting wet and the air pressure is on the verge of drastic change.
The sky is stained a tomato soup red, boiling and stirring. Burnt crumbs and pepper streak the heavens. Ash rains down onto baked pavement. Himmel Street is burning.
The sirens began to howl.
“Too late now,” I thought, “for that little exercise.” For everyone had been fooled, and fooled again.
***A SOMBER REALIZATION ***
The book thief’s world was about to end.
The sky had unfolded its infernal reds and charcoal blacks above Himmel Street, and the radio began to release its cuckoo shrieks.
Hans Hubermann lay, cocooned in rough woolen sheets. Charred cigarettes slouched, disfigured, on his ashtray. Next to him, Rosa lay snoring, cardboard face creased, arms splayed out across the bed. Hearing the wails, they stirred.
Liesel Meminger wrote.
She was perched on a rusty paint can, The Book Theif open in one palm, a pencil clutched in the other.
***THE BOOK THIEF’S FINAL PROCLAMATION***
I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.
Satisfied that she had said all she wanted to say, the book thief snapped the little black book closed.
That’s when she heard the sirens.
The deafening noise pounded in her ears, a panicky chorus. Through a flurry of hysteria, Liesel noticed Mama and Papa descending into the basement, worried looks etched onto their faces.
“Liesel.” Hans Hubermann set leathery, paint dyed hands on his daughter’s shoulders. “We missed our chance. The bombs are here.”
The book thief’s breath caught in her throat. The world went quiet, as if someone had stuffed cotton in her ears. Liesel forced herself to nod, and let herself drown in the accepting embrace of her parents.
When I arrived, I found them huddled in the center of the cold basement.
Hans’ soul sat up to meet me, like the best souls always did. This one was sent out by the breath of an accordion, the odd taste of champagne in the summer, and the art of promise-keeping. He lay in my arms and rested.
Rosa let out a final shuddering breath as I scooped up her soul. If she had seen me, I’m sure she would have called me a Saurkerl, though I would not have taken it badly.
***A REGRETFUL ANNOUNCEMENT***
I picked up one more soul that night.
As I gathered Liesel’s soul in my arms, she looked up at the others that I had collected. She looked sadly at Ilsa Hermann, at Rudy, and at her Mama and Papa.
“I love you,” she said softly, and I whisked her away.
***A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR***
It kills me sometimes, how people die.
The first day of 7th grade is just around the corner, and I’ve been doing some thinking. I didn’t actually post about the first day of middle school, or much about middle school in general, for that matter. So, I decided to take this chance to update you on my middle school experiences.
Let me be the first to say that middle school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Now, don’t get me wrong , I loved my teachers and I love to learn. When it came down to homework, though, I wasn’t so thrilled. The work load almost doubled from elementary school! There was constant stress at our house, and Ariana and I fought more than ever.
However, middle school wasn’t all bad. The amazing teachers and clubs at my middle school managed to make my year pretty good. I really liked all of my classes, but as you know, I love to read and write, so Language Arts was probably my favorite. My Language Arts teacher, who also turned out to be my homeroom teacher, was fun and supportive. We had a nice Educational Assistant in our class, too. The Assistant was helpful and willing to answer all of my questions. My Humanities teacher was kind, and she gave us a lot of hands-on experience. Unfortunately, she was the main culprit of my homework problem, and this didn’t make my parents too fond of her. Meanwhile, my math teacher was funny and had great lesson plans, but she was rather strict. My science teacher was organized and kind. She doubled as Ariana’s homeroom teacher. Ariana and I had the same gym/health teacher, who was a strict joker, as strange as that sounds.
At our middle school, there were numerous clubs and activities after school, too. The clubs we attended included art, chorus, and track and field. At track and field, Ariana and I did discus, high jump, long jump, and shot put. It came as no surprise that we were not very good at any of them. We also tried out for the school play, Xanadu, and got the roles of “featured singers.” In the end, though, we decided not to do it, as we had too many other things on our schedule.
All of this started on September 1, 2015, the first day of school. I wanted to make every aspect of the day perfect, which obviously wasn’t going to happen. This resulted in a lot of frustration in the morning. By the time we got to school, though, things were starting to look up. We got lost on our way to homeroom, yes, but along the way we met up with some old friends.
Homeroom was a different story. My teacher was funny and relaxed, but I didn’t know a single person in the room (save a boy from elementary school who I’d said a total of 5 words to previously.) I awkwardly introduced myself to a few girls, per my mother’s advice. However, it looked to me like they were a tightly knit group of old friends from elementary school.
I had better luck through the rest of the day. It was really cool to get a locker (I had been looking forward to it for a while), and it was fun to switch classes. I made a friend in science class, whose name was also Daniela, but spelled with two ls. She went by Izzy, though. At lunch, we sat with a couple of girls from our classes (Ariana and I didn’t have any classes together except art and gym, which alternated spots for second period.)
All in all though, middle school was by no means what I expected. I was really scared I wouldn’t make any friends, and I ended up with more friends than I could’ve dreamed of having (even in homeroom!). I was super excited to have a locker and switch classes, but those things quickly got old. The just lost their novelty within the first week of school. I can’t wait to see what this year brings, though!
On August 5, our family set out to Volcan, our next destination in Panama. Volcan was a small town in the mountains, near the dormant volcano Volcan Baru. Although we were to stay in Volcan, we were going to do most of our activities in Boquete, a more developed city that was an hour away from Volcan. It was a 5 hour long car ride to Volcan, during which we stuffed our faces with ice cream, Oreos, Ritz crackers, and a bunch of other junk food.
As we were nearing our rental house, we had to navigate through the town of Volcan. It was quite difficult, as it was foggy and raining. To make matters worse, there seemed to be some horse celebration going on. The streets were crowded with horses and riders of all shapes, colors, and sizes. It was an amazing spectacle, but the horses made it really hard to drive.
When we finally burst out of the town, however, we faced yet another obstacle. By now it was dark out, and the steep mountain roads had many twists and turns. At one point, we got to a particularly sharp hairpin turn which left our mom trembling and scared out of her wits.
After a couple more scares, we reached the house, safe and sound. We rumbled up a long, grassy driveway, and finally came to the front porch. We were greeted by the barking of four dogs, as well as our host.
Once we had heaved all of our bags up the curving stairs (the entrance to the rental section of the house was upstairs), Ariana and I got a chance to look around. The place was made almost entirely of wood, and it was absolutely beautiful. As soon as you entered the space, there was a bathroom door to your left, and beyond that, a kitchen. To your right was a dining table, some black leather reclining chairs, and a day bed. Just beyond the kitchen was a tight, winding spiral staircase (also wooden), which lead to a downstairs bedroom and bathroom. Next to the staircase was a sliding door, which lead out to a balcony. The entire space shared a grand round ceiling, which was held up by a support beam down the center.
Ariana and I were giddy with excitement. We just knew we were going to have a good time here.
Every day of the week we stayed in Volcan was amazing. On the first day, we visited a carpenter. He was amazing with wood, and demonstrated how he could write with his chisel. The speed and accuracy he could write with on the wood was better that mine on paper! We were so impressed that we bought an owl he carved, which he signed before out eye. He also turned out to be a poet, so he recited some of his works for us.
On another day, we went on a hike. We walked by several ice-cold streams. At one point, we walked past a little farm, where a hen was crossing the trail with her fluffy little chicks.
One morning, we went horse-back riding. Our mom couldn’t make it, but Ariana and I went with our dad. We went to a farm called Finca Guardia. While there, I saw a giant ox carrying a load of sacks. It had a ring through its nose and everything! We also saw donkeys, cows, and a baby horse. There were even some Shepard dogs running around!
The animals weren’t being treated very well, though. There was some welding going on in the stables, and no one bothered to move the donkeys and horses away from the sparks. In addition, all of the animals appeared to have been branded with the same symbol. I tried not to let it distract me from the amazing ride, though.
Riding on a snowy horse I privately named Nieva (snow), we rode up the mountains. Some of the Shepard dogs trailed behind us. We rose higher and higher, until we were at the top of a large hill. I could see trees for miles around, and the sky was a bright blue. It was one of the best views I had seen so far.
We also went on Jansons’ coffee tour. It was a really good tour. They explained the rich history of their farm, and the process of making the best coffee, which is grown at the perfect altitude. In fact, Panama is recognized for making the best coffee in the world! We got to look at the nurseries, and got to sample the coffee and tea. I’m not a coffee person, but even I could tell that the coffee was high quality. The tea was also very good.
Since we started planning our Boquete trip, one thing we decided we wanted to do was do zip lining. We hit quite a few bumps in the road, however. First, we couldn’t find a space. Then, when we finally found one, medical issues got in the way, and we had to reschedule. On that date, we got a flat tire. We finally went the next day.
Upon arriving at the tourism center in Boquete, Ariana and I were very excited. By the time the bus left for the mountains, we were practically screaming. Finally, we arrived at the zip lining center. We got strapped in, and were ready to go. Then, out of the blue, one of the guides pulled us aside. He measured us, and determined that we would not be able to zip line alone! We would have to be strapped to a guide.
I’m not going to lie, Ariana and I were both really upset. But, all of my reservations were forgotten once I started rushing down the cord. It felt like flying! (Even though my guide was singing something in Spanish.) We did several cords, but I kept having to stop, since my guide needed to help other people along. It was fine, though. By the time we reached the zip lining center again, I was as happy as could be.
At the center. we watched a slide show of pictures, which were kind of funny. Luckily, we got to keep them! On our way out, the guides gave us a flash drive with the pictures on it.
(On the bus ride back, a guy decided the bus was going too slow, so he actually got up and jogged the rest of the way to the station!)
We went to some hot springs, too. We had a little trouble finding them, but it was completely worth it. The spring was owned by an older woman, who made us pay $5 to see the springs. I couldn’t help noticing that she had a lot of exotic pets. She had a horse, some ducks, and even a monkey walking around her property. The day we went was a really hot day, so we weren’t really keen to go into the near boiling spring. We tried it out anyway, though. When it got to be too much, we went to a nearby (5 minutes walk) river. It was really cool and refreshing, but we eventually got really cold. So, we moved back to the hot springs were we took a (sort-of) nap.
One of the main things I enjoyed about Boquete was the Spanish lessons we took there. We used a school called Spanish by the River. I have to say, our teacher was really good. She was funny, multilingual (Spanish, French, and English). We watched movies in Spanish, and learned the grammar for the simple future and past. Not only that, but Spanish by the River was outdoors. They had 9 chickens and two billy goats! There was even a relaxation area, where they provided hammocks, tea, coffee, and pastries. (There was a really good brownie/cookie with walnuts and caramel.) One lesson, the French director made us crepes, and put some locally grown oranges on top!
We even had fun when we were at home. Our host had 2 hectares of property, which she let her four dogs roam freely. I spent a lot of time snuggling with Loki, Zeus (who was disabled), Juno, and Tucker. Our host was also really nice. She gave us some of her home made Greek yogurt, which was very good.
Eventually, though we had to leave Boquete behind. After a week there, we left for Penonome, where we would spend the week at our grandma’s house. Her house has no AC, so it was sweltering. Even worse, the WiFi was incredibly slow. During that week, we mostly just worked on math. We did purchase hammocks for the house, though, so we chilled in those a bit. We even slept in them for the majority of the nights, as they were surprisingly comfortable.
Pretty much every night at our grandma’s house, we had a game night. We played Uno, Farkle, and Spanish Scrabble Dash. Our mom won every time, I always lost miserably.
(I also broke my glasses one night, which was a bummer, since those were the only pair I had brought with me. Luckily, we were able to super glue them back together for the remainder of the trip.)
One night (we were sleeping on the hammocks), my eyes were just drooping shut when Ariana shook me awake. She said she had seen a “weird boar rat creature” and was freaked out. She told me it had gone up a tree. Now, we were both very creeped out, but I managed to fall asleep. In the morning, Ariana told me that she had seen it go over to the mango tree and pick at on of the fallen, rotting mangoes. She also told me that she had had the strangest dream, where she had seen an “Armadillo Xing” sign. We also found that a critter had gone through our trash. Ariana looked up the traits of an armadillo, and sure enough, we had a match. The 9-banded Armadillo sometimes goes through trash, can climb, is nocturnal, and eats insects and fruit. Not only that, but it matched exactly what Ariana had seen! It appeared as if Ariana had known what it was all along.
One day, we decided to go to the beach. This wasn’t the first time we had gone, but it was one of the most memorable. For one thing, we got a sweet little tiki hut, which had hammocks and everything. Next to our hut was another family, who happened to have two adorable puppies, which we got to pet.
We also got a bit of a fright when we couldn’t find Ariana. In Panama, the waves are a lot higher and stronger, which means strong riptides. One of our favorite beach activities was getting washed up by the waves. But when Ariana went down to the beach to rinse her bathing suit, it took her an awfully long rime to come back. Our mom was scared that Ariana had been pulled out by a riptide! Luckily, we found her sitting back at the tiki hut, wondering where we were!
One of the most enjoyable days in Penonome was the day we visited El Valle. The road there had a lot of twists, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle. Once we got there, we got a chance to look around the artisan market. People were selling all kinds of exotic fruits, but that isn’t what interested me the most. On the other side of the market, people were selling all kinds of crafts and jewelry. Some of the most common crafts were wooden animal carvings, paintings on bird feathers, and switchblades with carved clay handles. Ariana and I bought matching leather bracelets with our names on them. I wore the the one with Ariana’s name on it, and she wore the one with my name on it. That way, we said, we could always be together.
After the market, we decided to go on a bike ride around the town. We didn’t just ride any old bikes, however. Our family rented a four-person bike. It looked like two tandem bikes side by side, with a steering wheel and a little roof. We rode around for a bit, eating pastries we had purchased at a local panaderia. Finally, our dad decided that he would let Ariana and I drive for a little. It was actually really scary, because we were on a road with actual cars. It was really hard for me to drive in a straight line, especially with a ditch on the right and cars on the left. My parents (especially mom) were not happy. They didn’t think we were doing that bad, but they still got scared, especially when it began to rain.
Our dad quickly took over the wheel. As he drove, water collected in our roof, which we were now very grateful for. Soon enough, though, a bump in the road dumped the water all over us, and we were dripping wet. When we finally got back to our car, we had to wait out the rain before we could move on to our next activity: A hike up La India Dormida, or the Sleeping Indian, which was a nearby mountain. (Before we set off, we bought a bracelet at the market for Ariana’s friend.)
La India Dormida looks like the profile of a sleeping woman, complete with arms, hair, and a nose. You can read the legend behind why here. In order to climb the mountain, though, we needed to hire a guide. We drove with the guide to the mountain, where we began our journey.
It was a rather steep climb uphill, but it was completely worth it to see the beautiful waterfalls. Eventually, we reached the tip of La India’s nose. It was a beautiful view. We could the the entire town of El Valle spread in front of us, and a mountain vista behind. (Our mom scolded us when we leaned off the side of a cliff, however!)
As soon as our week in Penonome was over, we were off to Panama City. I was a little nervous about going there, because we were giving up our rental car (We got a new one for every section of our trip.) Instead, we were going to rely on taxis, uber, and other public transportation methods.
When we arrived at our new rental house, it was still around noon time, so I was awake enough to look around. We were staying in a condo-type space, which was attached to other cookie cutter condos down the street. Our space had no yard space whatsoever, but it had three bedrooms, along with WiFi and AC. We didn’t spend much time there throughout the week, though.
On our first day, we just looked around the city a bit. We found an old theater that was absolutely stunning. It had a high, circular ceiling, which depicted angels and flowers. A large crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. The stage itself was very large. It was framed in “gold” carvings, similarly to the walls, which had balconies hanging off of them. A worker told us that the place was being refurbished, so there weren’t any shows going on. That was okay with me, though, because just seeing the theater was a treat.
Something else we had planned for Panama City was visiting the nature monument Barro Colorado. I learned a lot there. (I talk about my findings in Its a Jungle out There: An Exploration of Panama’s rainforests.) In this post, I just want to talk about the actual experience. The jungle itself was really beautiful, but a couple of things disappointed me. First of all, they had put concrete blocks in the ground to mark the trail. Also, aside from spiders, Ariana and I didn’t see all that much wildlife. Yes, we saw a toucan, some bats, leaf cutter ants, a frog, an agouti, and some tadpoles, but based on all the articles I read, I felt like I would see a little more. Something we really wanted to see were monkeys or sloths, but whenever our guide smelled them (yes, monkeys have a sweaty/fruity odor) she would yell “venga! Venga! Donde estas, chicos?” (Come, come! Where are you boys?) I’m pretty sure that scared any monkeys away.
Luckily, we got a chance to see some sloths at an urban park we went to. They were really slow, and barely moved, but they were really adorable. We learned why at Barro Colorado. Apparently, sloths live on a diet of leaves, with provide minimal energy. So, sloths hardly ever have enough energy to move a quickly as some other animals.
We got another glimpse of a sloth at another STRI sanctuary, but that wasn’t the main attraction. We got to look at some 5 year old sea turtles, and some nurse sharks. We also got to examine aquarium with all kinds of exotic fish in it There was even a place to look at frogs. Some of them were really brightly colored, like the neon green and black poison dart frog. Others blended in with the dirt and leaves. One frog I found to be particularly interesting was the crystal frog. The crystal frog is a transparent green. It is so transparent, in fact, that you can see its internal organs!
As I mentioned in a previous post, we visited the Biomuseo, too. It was recommended to us by a young woman who we met at Barro Colorado. The Biomuseo was colorful, and designed to symbolize the creation of Panama. We went on a wonderful journey, were we learned about how Panama rose from the ocean, and what affect the land bridge had on our world. One exhibit that really touched our mom was a virtual reality exhibit, where you were surrounded by screens and speakers that were trying to imitate the sights and sounds of a real rainforest. It was really beautiful and a special experience.
Something else I really enjoyed was watching traditional Panamanian dancing at La Tinajas restaurant. There was live music, which included an accordion, singer, and professional drummer (he treated us to a lengthy drum solo). They explained the different parts of a tradional Panamanian dancing dress. For example, they told us about how the skirt alone could cost up to 8000 dollars! Not only that, but the gold necklaces worn around the dancer’s necks were passed down through generations, and were a symbol of family wealth. In another dance, two men wore diablico, or devil masks. Originally, these masks were used by the Spanish to scare the Panamanian natives into the Christian belief system, which most of Panama still follows today.
Of course, the dancers themselves were also amazing. They all seemed to enjoy themselves the whole time. The women performed complicated twists of their fan-like dresses, while the men moved their feet in an impressively rapid dance.
One of the last things we did was take a bike ride on the Causeway. Ariana and I wanted to rent a tandem bike, but unfortunately, such a bicycle was not available. Instead, we road regular bikes down the causway. It was a spectaclar view, and we got to see all of the boats drifting around in the water. There was some construction going on, though, and I acciedently got caught up in some netting!
The day after that, our family went to Panama Viejo, or Old Panama. It is the ruins of an old city. It was a short trip, but it was still interesting. We got to climb up an old bell tower and read about the history.
One thing I want to always remember about this trip was the times we talked with our 96-year-old paternal grandfather, Papi Homero. Before the trip, we had only met him once, but we talked with him three separate times during our visit this summer. First, we talked to him briefly at a funeral. While we were in Panama City, we had dinner with him at the mall. Ariana and I had Subway, our parents had sushi, and Papi Homero had a food from a Panamanian fast food chain. ( “He’s 98, he can eat whatever he wants,” said my dad.)
Papi Homero gave us a travel book. We leafed through it, and found it really interesting. On one page, there was a map. Without looking, Ariana and I pointed to destinations on the map, and said we were going to visit them some day in honor of Papi. I landed on several oceans before finally landing on Bolivia. Ariana landed on Lithuania. We also sang “The Girl I Mean to Be” for him, and he sang a song for us, too.
We met for a second time at his apartment. The building was rather nice, but the elevator had just broken (it had fallen down from the 7th floor!) , so we had to take many flights of stairs up to the apartment. (This wasn’t very good for Papi’s health.)
Papi Homero had just moved in with his wife, so a lot of things were still boxed up. His wife, Lali, had four dogs. They were everywhere, and Papi Homero didn’t seem to like it. Luckily, Lali’s eight cats were kept in a seperate back room.
When we got a chance to see Papi Homero, he showed us pictures from his time as an ambassador, and some others of his time as governor of the providence of Panama. There was even pictures of him playing pool with one president, and standing with another! On every picture, he would point at each person, saying “He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead. He got assassinated. He’s dead.”
At the end of our visit, we took a picture with Papi Homero, and hugged and kissed him good-bye. As we exited, I whispered “Te quiero mucho, I love you.”
These memories are precious ones that I will cherish forever.