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Friday, December 27, 2013

Guru, Flowers, Sun Finally Beam on Piriapolis

©2013, story and photos, Carol C. Reuben

The Guru of Piriapolis resurrects himself when the sun finally shines with warmth on Uruguay’s Rio de la Plata.
He times his annual resuscitation by the sea with the arrival of hordes of vacationers at the end of spring (December in the Southern Hemisphere.)
The guru also introduces himself as a pai de santo, priest of an Afro-Brazilian spiritualism sect. The white pai offers African-based healing to Uruguayans, who are also mostly white (85 to 90%).
He sets up his table for business by the boardwalk as Piriapolis emerges from a gray, rainy winter and spring.
Some vacationers dressed in sweaters walk past him. Others, wearing swimsuits or shorts, sit on lawn chairs, toasting their skin from white to pink and sipping tea from yerba mate pots (photos, top of story.)
Street vendors crop up for the season. “Pop, pop caramelado,” chants a woman carrying a load of candy coated popcorn.
Most of the vendors hawk their wares politely, Uruguayan style. They say, “Buendia (good day.) Excuse me, senora, I am selling these little cakes.”

Vendors from neighboring countries join them. Belen and “Rod Ro” from Argentina sell bead jewelry as well as purses made from recycled materials, such as candy wrappers (photo right.) Two brown-skinned youths from Bahia in northeastern Brazil hoist racks of hammocks on their shoulders.  

Meanwhile, drivers in cars with loud speakers ride past them. Their booming voices announce outdoor festivals, such as La Fiesta de la Paella Gigante (the party of the giant paella), the festival that kicks off the summer season. 

Several cooks prepare the paella in a pot that stretches across the width of a street (photo above.) The dish feeds 3000 or more people, who line up for several blocks to purchase their portions. Dinner is finally ready as TV cameras focus on the bulldozer that dumps mussels, clams, and scallops on top of the dish (photo below).

By the time the 17th annual paella fiesta comes around, the salty air in Piriapolis is infused with the aroma of blossoms from Persian lilac trees, jasmine, gardenias, flor de la selva and tilo.
The town has turned into a flower garden. The pinks and reds of hibiscus blend with the violet of wisteria and the purple, blue and pink shades of hydrangea (photo below).
In that flowery aura, the guru and pai (father in Portuguese) introduces himself in Spanish as Itar Nere, a messenger of faith and light, who has special powers because he was born in India.
According to the story he tells, he was a year old when his Russian father and French mother vacationed with him in Piriapolis in 1933. His parents were struck dead by lightening on the beach, and a local family raised him.
Eventually he roamed around the world for 30 years with circuses as a juggler and trapeze artist, but he returned to Piriapolis, where he makes a home with his five dogs in a tent outside town.

Itar places bead necklaces on his table, green, red, yellow, blue, white (photo below.) He explains the beads are spiritual guides; each color represents a different orixa (deity) of umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian spiritualism sect.
A Jesus nailed to a cross sways on a chain on his chest; to umbanda followers, Jesus is also the deity Oxala. Each umbanda deity corresponds to a Catholic saint and has two names, including one that originated in the Yoruba language.
Practitioners of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism sects in Uruguay support several temples in the capital, Montevideo, as well as Radio America 1450 AM. They also leave offerings on beaches for the goddess of the water, Iemanja: blue and white flowers and beads, candles, cakes, sometimes a sacrificed chicken.
Itar is not just a pai; he also calls himself a curandero and psychic, tells fortunes with shells and tarot cards, and imparts energy from rocks. He offers all of those services in one session for 200 pesos (about $9.30).
He contends there are “tremendous energies” in Piriapolis between the sea and the circle of hills around it. (More than 100 years ago, the founder of Piriapolis, a mystic, said he chose the location to create a resort because of that energy. See upcoming story on Earthy Reporter.)

Itar ends his session with blessings in the names of the Holy Spirit and Pai Ogum. He gazes directly at a client with his green eyes and a third green “eye” made of stone that he wears on his forehead.
“Be happy,” he urges. “Even when you are unhappy, be happy.”
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, copyright 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Buzz on the Street, Piriapolis, Uruguay: Comments on Historic Plan for Legalization of Marijuana

As Uruguay is poised to approve a historic plan to legalize marijuana, several Uruguayans were interviewed at random in the coastal town of Piriapolis. I translated their summarized responses from Spanish to English. They were asked, “Do you agree or disagree with the legalization of marijuana?”

Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben
Nicolas Ruetalo, 31, looks forward to growing marijuana and joining cannabis clubs if Uruguay becomes the first country to regulate the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana. Users would be permitted to cultivate up to six plants at home.
He was interviewed while rolling a marijuana cigarette, sitting on a bench on the Piriapolis boardwalk just before the sun set on Rio de la Plata (photo above ).
Although he favors legalization, he said he has misgivings about the plan. For example, he fears Monsanto’s possible involvement with the production of marijuana because, he charges, the agri-chemical corporation lacks  “ecological sensitivity.”   
Ruetalo, a “bio-builder” of homes made with natural materials, said another negative would be registering as a marijuana user, a requirement to buy the substance from a pharmacy. Buyers registered in a database would be able to buy up to 40 grams (1.4 ounces ) per month, according to the plan.
“What if you are rejected from a job ( because of being on the list )?” Ruetalo asked. “What if there is a change of government ?” The current president, Jose Mujica, backs the measure.
Baglivo: ¨Marijuana is not a necessity¨

Moral Dilemma VS. Business Interest

Carlos Baglivo could reap profits if the Senate approves the plan that has already passed the country’s House of Representatives.   
However, Baglivo, 53, said he wonders if his family-owned pharmacy, La Sierra, should sell marijuana. Some pharmacies would be licensed to sell marijuana to registered users, according to the measure.
Baglivo, who also runs a real estate agency, described his reluctance to sell it. “Marijuana is not a necessity or a medication; drugs are escapist.” At the root of marijuana usage is a societal problem of families who have lost control over their youths, he contends.
Still, he said, his mind was opened to advantages of legalization after he heard a politician’s comments: any illegal substance that involves  large sums of money is detrimental to the country.
Meanwhile before making a decision, Baglivo (photo above ) said he must learn more about the bureaucratic end of selling it.

Plan Could Be Global Blemish

J. Gonzalez (right): " Ojo ! Watch out !" 
Julio Gonzalez says “no” to Uruguay’s legalization plan. “Ojo! Watch out !” 
Gonzalez, 44, who teaches high school chemistry as well as computer skills to adults, said legalization works in some European countries, where public consumption is limited to cafes and driving under the influence is illegal.
However, the Uruguayan plan is far more encompassing. He has doubts about adequate controls. For example, he expects there will still be marijuana robberies under a legalized system. 
Uruguay’s historic experiment may put the country on the world map, but if the plan is not successful, the country will end up as a stain on the map, he contends.

Benitez: "A Matter of Business and Politics"
Marcelo Benitez, 34, owner of the ATP gym (photo above), said legalization does not matter to him. Anyway, he cannot influence the plan, he said. “I imagine it has to do with commercial and political interests.”
In general, Benitez contends that what he says does not matter. “To me, what I project with my feelings matters more than what I say.”

B.D. Gonzalez: Wants Government to Profit 

Blanca Daisy Gonzalez, 71, retired worker of cleaning and cooking services (photo above), said, “it seems like a good thing if it stops drug traffickers. Instead of letting them make money, the money would go to the government.”
According to the plan, only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana. The measure aims to divert marijuana users from patronizing drug dealers, who may eventually sell them harder drugs. Buyers must be over 18.

Fernandez: "The forbidden is worse""

Carlos Fernandez, 30, employee of the bookstore, Los Libros (photo right), also said it could be a good source of income for the government. However,  the plan “must be very well controlled and organized by the government.”
“Marijuana use has become so common,” he continued. “People can get it anywhere…All the young people smoke it.” According to Uruguay’s National Drugs Committee, about 22 tons per year are sold in the country with a population of about 3.5 million.  
In addition, Fernandez favors legalization because “the  forbidden is always worse.”
Copyright, 2013, Earthy Reporter, Carola C. Reuben

Sunday, August 4, 2013

From Gringo Serial Killer to Mahjong Players: Expats Stranded in Paradise, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Boating, waterfront lifestyle lured Judy to Bocas
Story, photos by
Carola C. Reuben
Security may stop me from boarding a plane with the chunk of heavy metal in my carry-on suitcase, I was fretting as I entered the airport in Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA.
I was taking a boat part to my friend in Panama who needed it to get her boat fixed. She depends on her boat whenever she leaves home, whether to see another human or to buy groceries.

My luggage cleared security, after all. However, relief did not last. Soon I met a Panamanian couple who warned me about the American serial killer who used to lurk where I was heading.

Beware of the Gringo Serial Killer

Ten cuidado con el Loco Bill ( Beware of Wild Bill ),” Kira and Dino Tejada exclaimed in unison. Panamanians say that whenever someone mentions a trip to Bocas del Toro, they laughed. The couple was returning to Panama City after a Bahamas cruise.   
As it turns out, though, the, gringo mass murderer, William D. Holbert, is no longer a threat. He has been jailed in Panama since July 30, 2010.
He confessed to killing five US expatriates in Bocas; he was also a suspect in the murder of two Panamanians. With the help of his wife, Laura M. Reese, he befriended the expats, killed them, then stole their money and properties.
I landed in Wild Bill’s killing fields two flights later.

Outside the tiny airport in Isla Colon, the most developed island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, I looked for my friend, Judy Chisholm. 

Mario led me out of touristy Isla Colon

 Instead, Dan Evers, a US native
and veterinarian, appeared in the steamy heat to tell me Judy’s substitute boat had also broken down. So, she had arranged for Mario the boat mechanic to give me a ride to her house.
Later Mario arrived to deliver me from the tourist-packed island, infested with motels and bars, where taxi rides are 60 cents for locals, $2 for gringos (photo above.)

We sped away on the Chriqui Lagoon in a small power boat.

Stranded on a Wild Green Island
About 20 minutes later Judy’s house appeared, a solitary square of white on top of water, rising on stilts in front of a green horizon (photo, top of story.) 
Behind the house there were no roads, just mangrove jungle; in front, only water. We were marooned there until a boat could be repaired.
Meanwhile we were connected to a wider world via internet, TV from a satellite dish, two cell phones, and in case of emergency, a horn, loud enough to be heard if boaters are passing by.
Also, there were appliances that worked with electricity from a solar system. However, Judy said, “this is a rainy day, not a day to use the vacuum cleaner, washing machine or microwave.”
I was visiting the end of June to escape the tedium of trying to sell or rent out my property in Boca Raton, FL, USA.
Judy used to live in Boca Raton. She left three plus years ago, drawn by a waterfront lifestyle and lower cost of living. 
Now her new house is up for sale. “The simplest things are so complicated. It finally got to me,” she said.

The next morning Judy exclaimed, "We can get out !"

Mario the mechanic had delivered a repaired boat, but then we could not leave because of the pouring rain.
Meanwhile to keep the boat from filling up with water, Judy ran into the rain every two hours to switch the boat’s water pump on and off.      
The rain finally stopped by late afternoon, but the weather had discouraged some expats from attending a weekly mahjong gathering.
On the now tranquil water, Ngobe and Bugle Indian children paddled by in dugout canoes, wearing elementary school uniforms (photo below.)

They are among the inhabitants of three sparsely populated islands in Judy’s San Cristobal neighborhood. Unlike the foreign residents, the Indians live in shacks without electricity. 
* * * 
The next day the weather was tranquil enough for an excursion to buy supplies.
The closest place to shop is touristy Isla Colon, but it is also the most expensive. So, Judy chose to drive the boat 30 to 40 minutes to Almirante on the mainland, then ride inland another 40 minutes in a public van to a big town, Changuinola (population 18,000).
Both towns are still at the center of banana empires.   

From Banana Pioneers to Expat Adventurers

In the 1890s foreign banana barons started buying huge tracts of land in Bocas del Toro province, according to “Outline of History of the Province of Bocas del Toro, Panama” by Clyde S. Stephens.  
Today Chiquita Brands International warehouses still stand on the waterfront in Almirante (photo below), and the dark-skinned descendents of banana workers sit at a table on a dock, playing cards and drinking beer. Their ancestors were imported from Caribbean islands, starting in the early 1900s.

We returned from the banana capital with a boatload of supplies, including imported Pringles potato chips, Betty Crocker’s brownie fudge mix, and food for Judy’s sick old cat, young cat, and dog. 
A big tomato fell into the water as we unloaded the boat. Judy twisted her body under the dock and plunged her arm into the water to retrieve it. “I am not giving it up,” she declared, considering the long shopping trip.  

Days rolled by as we savored the salty wind in Judy’s home. She played solitaire on the computer and took calls from potential home buyers on I went swimming in water shoes to avoid contact with the sea urchins.   

Finally, it was social Sunday at Rana Azul. Twice a week the restaurant opens in an Austrian couple’s yard; some Sundays as many as 40 neighborhood expats arrive on their boats.
That day a man who put his “whole life on sale” on Ebay was among the expats nibbling on pizza or weiner schnitzel.
In 2008 Ian Usher auctioned off his “life,” including a house in a suburb of Perth, Australia, all its contents, a car, and an introduction to friends.
He became “homeless,” traveled, and wrote a book, “A Life Sold.” He self-published it and sold only 2000 copies, but then Walt Disney bought the rights to the story. So, he decided to buy his own island.       
Now the challenge of living in a watery wilderness is over, and Ian, 50, is about to sell his house and travel again, he recounted.
Other expats who embraced the challenge range in age from their 20s to 70s.

Belgians Lazare Roels and fiancee are caretakers of property with room rentals

However, to US expat Linda Peimann, the adjustment was easy. For one thing, she and her husband continue to live among Americans, and she enjoys the weather, she said. 
Some expats make a living from providing services for foreigners. For example, Ken Chester installs solar panels and plumbing.
Others make a living from tourists who seek a trip on the wild side. For instance, a family from France and Martinique is building bungalows to rent out on their muddy, remote hilltop
with an expansive water view. At the end of a day’s work, they set a tablet in their wilderness. They linger over appetizers and wine, lasagna seasoned just so, salad, spiced baked apple, and icy banana-cream.
Chez Bernard: A table set in the wilderness

Meanwhile at Rana Azul, the buzz was about the recent burglaries at expat homes in the neighborhood. The police stationed in touristy Isla Colon do not come out to the remote islands, Judy explained.
Even Wild Bill was not caught in Bocas del Toro, but on the lam in Costa Rica. In fact for three years Wild Bill lived in an expat paradise isolated enough to get away with murder.
Copyright, Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Amish 'Snowbirds' Migrate to Florida Village

Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, copyright, 2013
Two Amish women sit in the sunshine of a warm winter’s day at Lido Beach in Sarasota, Florida, USA. White bonnets frame their tanned faces as they tilt their heads towards the sun.
Another Amish woman steps in and out of the turquoise-colored sea, wetting the purple hem of her long dress. Her companion prances into the Gulf Sea, lifting her dress all the way up to the knees.
They are among the beachgoers from the Amish “snowbird” village of Pinecraft at the eastern edge of Sarasota.
Pinecraft is year round home to a mix of some 3000 Amish, Mennonites, and Plain Sects, both traditional and reformed. Each winter thousands more join them, arriving on chartered buses from Ohio, Indiana, and other snowy, northern states.

In that Disneyland for the Amish, the Amish ride on tricycles past a display of themselves. The only horse and buggy in the village stand still. Other wooden figures on urban Bahia Vista Street depict a rural Amish lifestyle (photo below).  

The first time I saw the Amish on exhibit I was at Yoder’s restaurant to sample “Amish home-cooking” from a menu with a psalm printed on it, “Oh, taste and see the Lord is good…”
I noticed the Amish in 2011 during my winter stay in the Sarasota area; then I watched them in 2012 and on short visits through March, 2013.
One day I met Vera Overholt, due to “Divine Providence,“ as she put it.
We were reading notices on the outer wall of Pinecraft’s tiny post office. There was a red tricycle for sale, an “Amish lady” seeking work as an elderly aide, rentals, homes for sale. Vera ( photo above ) was looking for garage sales.
She lives across the street from the post office in a little house that has been her full-time home for more than 20 years.
Before that, Vera and her late husband migrated seasonally since 1967 from Ohio to Pinecraft. More than 30 years ago, they set up a produce stand in front of their house.
They also created a company, The Christian Hymnary Publishers. They published a collection of more than 1000 hymns as well as other Anabaptist books, such as “The Heroic True Story of a Pioneer Amish family during the French and Indian War, 1754-1763.”
Like Vera, the Anabaptists in Pinecraft don’t work on farms. Year round residents might work in construction or at jobs in village establishments, or own businesses, such as gift shops and produce markets; others are retirees.
They trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, where their practice of adult baptism, or “believer’s baptism,” was an offense punishable by death in Switzerland.
Some of them fled from persecution in Switzerland, Holland, and Germany in the 1700s, and settled in Pennsylvania.
In the 1920s some of their descendants stayed in the Florida winter haven when it was the Sarasota National Tourist Camp. Later houses sprouted in the 1940s and 1950s, and now some 500 houses, closely packed together, fill the village.

Villagers say good-bye to their friends as they leave on buses.
Today many Anabaptists of different persuasions still yield to church rules and what they perceive to be God’s will, rather than pledging allegiance to the state. They stand against consumerism, violence, and competition.
They tend to choose a simple lifestyle and reject technological advances. However in their winter getaway, standards are more relaxed. For instance, Vera said, “everyone” in the village uses electricity.

Dawn Szantyr, one of a few non-Amish residents of Pinecraft,  identifies with her neighbors’ values, such as nonviolence and a pursuit of a simple lifestyle. After all, she describes herself as an “old hippy love child.”
Dawn, a massage therapist who has Amish clients, contends, “I like to hang my clothes out to dry.” Rather than driving, she enjoys walking to stores in the village, like Earth Origins and CVS Pharmacy. She prefers to go to the park in the evening instead of watching TV or being on a computer.

Amish and non-Amish mix in downtown Pinecraft
As the Amish mix with the general population, they can be seen driving their tricycles to supermarkets outside the village or riding on public buses to the beach.
Meanwhile the sunny day at Lido Beach draws to an end.
At a picnic table two bearded men and two women in bonnets clasp their hands in prayer in front of hamburgers and a stack of fried onion rings from a fast food stand.
Nearby on the beach four women are dressed in the modest attire decreed by God, according to their beliefs.
One of them holds up a cell phone toward the sky streaked with pink (photo, top of post). She tucks her long dress under her as she sits on the sand, then she uses the modern device to snap a photo of the sunset.
Copyright 2013,  Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter