This was a Friday morning in the dry season. Saturday and Sunday mornings draw more customers, and there will be more things on sale at the El Valle public market. Plus, it’s plague time, which has reduced the population in or visiting El Valle in general, and keeping people from going out. Nevertheless, this market always seems to have vegetables and fruits that are hard to find anywhere else. This and other photos on this page by Eric Jackson.
A weekday morning trip to El Valle
by Eric Jackson
Internet connectivity issues and an overslept morning put this excursion off for a few days. The main shopping aim was to find a new chacara, preferably one of the huge ones meant for long haul carries to be worn on the head, but short of that at least a better and more Panamanian shopping bag that I had, one with a sufficiently long carrying strap. It’s not about being decorative, nor authentic.
I don’t actually carry mine as traditional in the Ngabe and Bugle cultures. I tie a knot to shorten the strap and carry it over one shoulder, and not with the strap crossing my chest. Urban muggers don’t get to easily grab and strangle with the strap.
But as adapted to my way of using it, a chacara is a spacious, expansive, durable bag, better than the great majority of the shopping bags you get in the supermarkets. For rainy times, and to hide things, you put them in waterproof opaque smaller bags and put those in the chacara.
Do you want to help the poorest of Panama’s poor? Don’t give your money to some white socialite or holy man. Buy indigenous products. Carry a chacara rather than a nylon knapsack imported from Asia.
Part of the arts and handicrafts section of the El Valle public market. Up and down the street from the market you will find other places that sell various hand made in Panama items. I found and bought a useful chacara at one of those stores. The ones at the market were smaller than what I wanted this time. Perhaps in one of the stalls that were closed for the day they had what I was looking for in stock.
Just finding a bag was not the whole mission, though. I was working as a reporter, taking notice, with my Rust Belt informed but knowing of Panama urban policy eyes all the way there and back by bus.
Do I want to get into lurid scandal mode? The road is new, but has some divots in it. Look carefully at the little holes that have yet to be patched and you will notice how thin the layer of asphalt is. This was a late Varela administration contract with the Spanish company FCC. At the time the company was in the process of being sold to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. But sometimes in public works contracting, the people get rather precisely what they paid for. Let me note the construction standard without spinning a conspiracy theory.
Along the road uphill to the rim of the ancient volcanic crater that’s El Valle, there is the economic devastation of plague times. At a glance, I categorize certain businesses I pass as closed, out of business or abandoned. I categorize certain project in the works as advertised but not underway, started but paused or abandoned. It’s very imprecise without getting out and making inquiries, and even then there is a lot of wishful thinking out there. On the road up, so many businesses from the little informal stands to the stores and restaurants and bars were not open on this day. A lot of the smaller enterprises appeared as if they would never again open for business. There were many for sale signs on the real estate. There were a bunch of green MiAmbiente signs advising of environmental permits for projects that are not visibly underway. Hard times drive, but all hope isn’t abandoned and it seems that in every village along the way at least one of two tiny holdouts were open to sell fonda food or handicrafts, and most of the mini-supers were going concerns. There was some small-scale home construction here and there.
Go over the rim and down into the town, and the visible signs of economic activity were brighter. A few places abandoned, some things out of business, a bunch of establishments closed — but mostly a town open for business, even if there were few customers.
Moreover, during these difficult days El Valle has been investing in its people and its future. Bicycle paths, not only for the tourists but to make it so much easier and cheaper to live and work nearby. Renovations to the public market. Young artists decorating the benches around town. Somebody tending the plants in the public planters. Not much litter. It pleases the bureaucratic eyes.
Yes, El Valle has things going for it that other corregimientos of Anton don’t. We on the poor sides of town should still pay attention to what they are doing right.
This reporter has some serious tree and shrub replacements to do on his finca in El Bajito. The market is far from the only place to go, but it’s one of the places to go to see the offerings of the area’s plant nursery industry.
So, what did this budget-conscious guy buy?
- A chacara, measuring 13 inches wide by 16 inches deep when laid flat, but these things expand with use.
- A small bunch of finger bananas, the sweet little primitivos.
- Risking death by chocolate overdose and getting goo all over myself, a wonderful brownie.
- AND, as my bath towels are getting ratty, a kitschy towel meant more for lying on a beach, but which will do: “Godzilla vs Kong — one will fall!” (My bet is on the Japanese lizard with radioactive breath.)
- Plus, the cost of getting there and back — $3.75 each way, a $1.50 bus ride from Las Uvas to El Valle. Not a bad way to blow $7.50 and add to the photo archive.
If you know about the Thousand Days War, El Valle was not quite the epicenter, but things did happen around it. Cocle was a terrible war zone, and it was not just Liberals versus Conservatives, but the latter representing those who wanted Catholicism to be the official religion and the former opposed to having any official religion. So on the same side of the street as the market in one direction, there is the town’s beautiful Catholic Church, with its museum. Go the other way on the same side and you will find the museum and shrine to Victoriano Lorenzo, El Cholo Guerrillero, the martyred Liberal general who won Cocle but was betrayed and executed in Panama City’s Plaza Francia.
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