Panama

Author Q & A on Chat About Books

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I stopped by Chat About Books with Kerry Parsons and answered a few questions about my writing process, naming characters, and other ramblings. Please check it out and subscribe to Chat About Books. If you’re an author or publisher who would like her to review a book or feature you on Chat About Books, I’ll leave all her links at the bottom of this post.

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Hiking Goodies: Piedra de Lino

Christa Wojo Piedra de Lino hike

Sitting in a tree about halfway up.

When we were moving into our new house, we were told there was a hiking trail nearby. We couldn’t wait to explore it, so as soon as we were settled in, we packed up some water and headed to the trailhead about a half a kilometer up our road. I didn’t bother to Google any information about. The Hubs and I are very familiar with the area. Boy, were we surprised when it turned out to be one of the most difficult and beautiful hikes we ever went on!

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Hiking Goodies: The Pipeline Trail

There are many gorgeous places to hike in the highlands of Chiriqui near Volcán Barú. One of the easiest and most rewarding hikes is called The Pipeline hike, which runs along a water line through the cloud forest to a hidden waterfall. It takes less than a few hours to go in and out, and is relatively easy, but there is much to see! My husband and I like to go for a quick bit of fresh air and exercise when we don’t want to commit to something long and strenuous. I’d like to share a few bits from our last excursion. Enjoy!

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Off we go!

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Boquete Birding: Identifying the “Bee” Hummingbird

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Twinkle the Snowy Bellied Hummingbird

Some of you may know that I live in the bonafide paradise of Boquete, Panama. I mentioned the flowers in my yard a few weeks ago, but I don’t think I told you about my other garden companions–the whimsical hummingbirds.

The most common hummingbirds in my area are the Rufous-tailed and the Snowy-bellied. I’ve spotted the majestic Violet Sabrewing once in my yard, but that was the only time. The Rufous-tails are friendly enough, but the Snowy Bellies are the gang that monopolize our feeder. 

If you think hummingbirds are delicate, timid creatures, you’re wrong. The Snowy Bellies are loud and exuberant. They perform aerial dogfights where they swerve and dive at each other, their wings and beaks colliding, to keep intruders away from their food.

They are so intelligent and bold that whenever the feeder is empty, they look through all the windows of the house to see where I am and cheep-cheep at me until I come out. They will find me wherever I am in the yard and buzz inches from my face to tell me they’re hungry. Honestly, these tiny birds, weighing ounces, boss me around.

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#Writers Blooming Everywhere

Writing Quotes Christa Wojo

I’m now on Instagram! @christawojo

I live in the Chiriquí highlands, a land of eternal spring that bursts with flowers all year long. My yard is full of countless colors and species. There are pinks, yellow, blues, reds, purples, fiery oranges, and blazing whites. There are orchids, daffodils, roses, hibiscus, and many kinds of plants that I can’t identify.

I try to make sure I crawl out of my writing/working cave for a few minutes a day to appreciate the flowers. Not only is it soothing to get away from the glowing screens of my electronics, but I do it for the plant life too. I feel it’s a shame to ignore them as they strain upward to bloom as brightly as they can. I know that all too quickly they will wilt and die. Someone should be there to watch their performance.

On hikes through the cloud forest, I often notice a lone, exotic flower in the mist. It waits there in silence, sparkling with dew, and trembles in the breeze like it’s excited to see me. I think of how easily I might not have been in that spot at that moment to witness it in its pinnacle of existence. What a pity for those countless hidden beauties who go through the trouble of making a such a performance only to be missed!

But I realize that whether I was there or not, the flower would’ve opened in the darkness of the jungle anyway. It would have raised its petals to the moon and folded back into itself again, a marvel never to be seen.

I think of artists like flowers – painters, dancers, singers, and writers. We are designed to bloom and can’t help ourselves from doing so. It doesn’t matter if anyone is there to witness it or appreciate it. It doesn’t matter if it’s practical or not. It’s what we were made to do, and we must do it or we’ll be miserable.

We may get trampled on or devoured by insects. We may be clipped short and put in a vase to be put on a brief display for others and then shrivel before our time. We may be watered and nurtured so that we thrive and mature to our fullest potential, blooming season after season, becoming an attraction for bees and butterflies and hummingbirds.

On the other hand, we may never be noticed or acknowledged by a single soul. We might throw all our energies, passions, and resources into becoming the most spectacular blossom, only to crumple back into the ground without attracting the slightest notice.

The point is this. Don’t write to be seen. Write to become yourself.

No matter what, we must break from the soil, unfurl with determination, and reach for the sun. As flowers bloom, so we must write. We must write. We must write!

So go write!

What are your goals as a writer?

Would you still write if you knew no one would ever read it?

What are you working on right now?

Writing Advice from The Hands of God

Artist quotes

Sculptor, Antoni Azarov

I love to nag people for interviews, and annoying as I may be, some very famous people occasionally indulge me.

This was the case with world renowned sculptor, Antoni Azarov. Even though the press dub him, and I quote, an “asshole,” I’ve discovered once you get used to his intensity, he’s kind of funny in his own dry way.

Let me first tell you, I admire Azarov’s work with the gushing of a sixteen-year-old at a boyband concert. This man’s hands can make clay into a sculpture so striking that you feel uncomfortable being in the same room with it; as if it were a vessel that held a ghost, one that might want to escape its ceramic shell to jump into your living skin.

Not to say Azarov’s a realist. His sculptures are minutely distorted, just slightly exaggerated–preventing them from being exact human replicas. But the distortion is what gives the sculptures souls, their naked bodies adorned by the invisible cloth of their psyches.

Azarov arrived on his Ducati, a big, black machine whose vibrating engine shook my porte cochere, flooding my house with its throbbing sound. He wore dark, indigo jeans and a black racing jacket. His dark hair was overgrown, past his jaw, and blew in tangles around his face after he removed his helmet.

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Am I a Scrooge?

Originally published on Medium.

Indigenous children of El Salto Boquete Panama

How do you differentiate selfishness from self-preservation?

I grew up in the United States, where Christmas is a mishmash of many traditions old and new. In my family, we always looked forward to the presents and the food, of course, and even though we weren’t religious, Christmas was a time to honor and celebrate our family.

I’ve spent many Christmases in Panama, but it still never feels quite like home. Cooking during the holidays is my way of curing homesickness. This year I baked a crap load of cookies and cooked enough food for an army.

The problem was that Christmas Eve dinner would only include me and my husband, who are trying to cut down, and the Mother-in-Law, who is allergic to everything and on a very restricted diet. We had a feast, just the three of us, leaving piles of cookies untouched and a metric ton of leftover ham.

On Christmas morning, I decided to walk my dogs to enjoy the blustery weather and process the previous night’s champagne. I’ve been practicing awareness and “living in the now,” and I tried to soak up everything and enjoy my little piece of life as I walked.

My road runs about fifteen kilometers along the edge of a valley and ends at Volcán Barú. The morning was glorious. A misty plasma covered the volcano, and the shimmer of a rainbow occasionally appeared. The wind rushed through the towering pines lining the roadside as songbirds crisscrossed between them. Butterflies flitted about my head and hummingbirds zoomed through the flowers. I pictured my family in the US at that moment. They would be getting up and getting ready to open presents. I took an inventory of my blessings and felt a melancholy sort of peace.

As I approached the end of my walk, I passed the house two lots from mine; it’s a small home with several indigenous families living inside and is surrounded with rowdy dogs, ponies, and chickens. A group of young girls skipped from the driveway and passed me on their way up the steep road. The smallest one asked me for a regalo. I said that I didn’t have any gifts. Then four more children piled onto the driveway: two grimy-faced boys and two stringy-haired girls who held bundled-up infants. They slung the babies from arm to arm as if they were dolls, making me anxious that one of them would drop. One of the boys asked excitedly if I had any regalos. I said no.

I thought, What? Do I look like Santa Claus? Then he asked if there were presents down the road, referring to my house. I said no, and Feliz Navi and then made a quick and awkward getaway. They didn’t seemed surprised or disappointed. I think they were expecting a no but figured it was worth a shot to ask the gringa.

As I walked away, I thought about the pile of cookies, the leftover ham, the shiny new gadgets I got for Christmas, the ridiculous amount of delicious human food my dogs consumed, and I felt like running back to ask the poor children if they liked galletas. I thought I might bring a bag of cookies down and maybe some hand-me-downs. God knows I have a lot of stuff I need to giveaway.

Christmas is supposed to be a time of goodwill, kindness, and generosity. Spread good cheer. Love thy neighbor, etc. And just the thought of doing this flooded me with the warm, Christmassy feeling one is supposed to have. Yes! I thought. I will give to the little ones! God bless us everyone!

But with every step closer to my house, the rush of generosity wore off. What if I gave them food and they showed up on my doorstep the next morning? And every morning after that?

Indigenous children walking down a road El Salto Boquete Panama

I know, it sounds terrible, but we’ve been in certain situations like that before. My husband is very generous and will lend anyone money or grant a favor if they ask for it. In the past, this has led to a perpetual lending of money to those who would never (or could never) pay us back.

Once our previous neighbors left their four children alone for days and days. They ran out of food, and we ended up going to the supermarket to buy the kids a full grocery order. The life of the native people is hard, and if they find someone to lean on, they will. I don’t blame them, but I didn’t want to invite another situation like that.

So WWJD? This was his birthday. Of course, he would welcome the children and the who-knows-how-many people squished in that house and offer them all the food and regalos he had. But me?

I don’t consider myself a Christian. However, I believe in Jesus as a great man, one who was able to realize his highest self, one who was capable of truly giving his heart to God. I believe we are all sons of God (or whatever you like to call him/her/it), and every one of us has the potential to be like Jesus, Buddha, and all the other great ones, if only we could put aside our fear, selfishness, and ignorance. Every day, in every situation, we get a choice. We decide whether to serve ourselves or serve a higher purpose.

But no. I didn’t want to give any cookies away and risk starting a relationship with the neighbors that might result in me becoming their patron. Does this make me a Scrooge?

Yes, I think it does.

I think we should be willing to give all year long and unconditionally. But I don’t live in a country where I feel safe helping strangers, and being the idealist I am, this makes me hate myself just a little more every time I compromise one of my beliefs for the sake of practicality. I feel guilty about enjoying myself while other people are struggling, but I don’t think that means I can be considered a good person. I believe a good person does something about suffering.

Am I a coward because I don’t feel secure enough to give and without allowing people take advantage of me? Or am I just too lazy and self-centered to be bothered with the plight of others? How do you differentiate selfishness from self-preservation? I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me.

 

What do you think?

Does altruism exist?

What would you do?

Am I a scrooge?

 

Edited by Change It Up Edit

Hotter than what???

Holiday Greetings from Panama

Warmest Holiday Greetings from Panama

I know many of you are a bit chilly right now, but just be grateful you’re not in Panama. Here it’s hot… and I mean hot.

Here we have a saying that it’s mas caliente que tres pares de cajones.

In other words,

it’s hotter than three pairs of balls.

Not just one.

Nor two.

It’s hotter than three.

Three pairs.

Just imagine the environment. Yes, that is how hot it is.

Its hard getting into the Christmas spirit when your all hot and sweaty, but the weather here in sweltering Panama reminded me a video that I think you all will enjoy.

Feliz navidad.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

My Shameless Ecuadorian Pig-Out

Ecuador Food

As I confessed in my first post about Guayaquil, I had developed a crush on Ecuador and a big part of the romance was the food. OMG! Why didn’t anyone tell me about it?

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Airport Mascara: How Do You Say Goodbye?

Waterproof mascara

Waterproof mascara: A traveling girl’s best friend.

When I moved to Panama, I had no idea I’d be staying this long. I told my family I’d be back in a year or so.

But eight years later, I’m still here. Panama is my home now, and I love it, but that doesn’t make it easy.

We are a very close family—my dad, mom, and two sisters. The advent of Skype has helped tremendously. It’s like a portal bridging space/time. If I let the world around me blur, I can almost pretend I am sitting in my parents’ living room or playing on the carpet with my nephew.

But I feel guilty. As the firstborn, I often feel like my family needs my help. My grandmother is grieving the loss of her last sister; my parents need help with technology; my middle sister, Gina, needs help with my nephew; my baby sister, Tia, needs help becoming a writer. These are all things I could readily give them if I were there with them in Florida.

When I visit, I try my best to squeeze in all the help I can and still enjoy the time I spend with them, but I have a problem enjoying the whole situation at all. Even after following the same visiting schedule for years, it’s still an emotional struggle. I get anxious about The Big Good-byes. I start worrying weeks in advance. I dread leaving Panama, my dog-children, and my husband. Then the whole time I’m in the US, I dread leaving my family. I only go for two weeks at the most, but The Hubs and I are so used to being together that it is hard to imagine that an ocean will be between us. It’s crazy. Why do I have to be so melodramatic?

And then there is the scene at the airport.

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