02 November 2014 | Chiriqui Highlands, Panama
Darkness has enveloped the Chiriqui Highlands. We travel down the road with friends Don and Karna to George’s place. As we near the entrance George, a sturdy man, greets us with an outstretched hand, beckoning us beyond the low, stone wall to enter. The rustic structure of his place, with open stone and bamboo walls, keeps the mountains, river and gardens as an integral part of the ambience.
There are a half dozen thick handmade wooden tables and a stone fireplace that vents out of the high-pitched ceiling. A light smell of wood smoke and a heavier fragrance of grilled meats and peppery sauces fill the air as we settle in.
Seven people sit at a table in the far corner. They smile and nod as we greet them with a brief “Buenas.” The youngest daughter of perhaps 18 or 20 has beautiful thick black hair plaited in a long ponytail that reaches the full length of her back. Sitting next to her is her mother, slightly plump with weathered brown skin. She gives her daughter hugs throughout the evening and the young woman falls into each caress like a beloved child.
We order steaks a bottle of Chilean red. As Dennis pours the wine there is a slight shuffle in the far corner. Two of the men bring out guitars and adjust chairs to begin to play. Soon the place is awash in song. The third man has a deep strong voice and while we don’t know much Spanish, we can make out the word "corazon” …heart. As he sings, he looks across to the slightly plump woman and places his hand across his chest. With song after song the three men serenade their loved ones.
Soon our steaks arrive cooked to perfection and smothered in a red wine, butter and rosemary reduction. I savor each bite as I savor each note. The flavors are rich. The music is luscious. Some of the songs have a lively beat and I clap my hands while Dennis drums the rhythm on our wooden table.
During a break in the music, George offers us pineapple cake. It arrives with a zesty sauce made with cinnamon and piled high with vanilla ice cream. It is bountiful and tempting. We want to express our gratitude to the musicians, and ask George to make a plate for them as a small gift. When it arrives, they smile broadly
As the evening winds down the musicians stop by our table to shake hands and wish us well. The plump woman looks in my eyes, places both hands on my shoulder and offers a nod and a broad smile. She is under five feet tall and soft spoken, yet she has a large, strong and warm presence. One musician talks in Spanish to Dennis and George, while the other kisses me lightly and with respect on the cheek. What they have given us this evening is more then a few songs, it is a human connection, and a lasting memory.
(Photo courtesy Karna; For more on the Chiriqui Highlands see blog entry below)