so two muffins are hanging out in a hot oven, as muffins often do. one of the muffins turns to the other and says, "man! it's hot in here." and the other muffin says, "holy shit. a talking muffin." which was the first of many bad punes, or plays on words, with which we filled the long bus rides.

as always, there is far too much to write about. events pile up and then become overwhelmingly voluminous.

every country has a unique characteristic (some have more than one) which is completely mundane to long-time residents but completely and charmingly peculiar to visitors. like every tropical country with access to mayonnaise, panamanians have an obsession with putting it in the most unsuitable foods that remains completely impenetrable. sandwiches intended to be carried around for hours in tropical heat and humidity are liberally smeared with mayonnaise and filled with partially-cooked fried eggs, salads in roadside food stands are napped with mayonnaise diluted with cream, and fried dough is (sometimes) served with a dipping sauce of mayonnaise and nothing else. in some parts of the hot, humid, mosquito and fly-ridden interior, it is supposedly traditional to honour visitors with fried smashed plantain slices smothered in a mayonnaise and tomato sauce mixture.

these patacones were the most delightful of the many guises in which plantains show up in daily cookery. we only had them twice, after our visit to a genuine chiquita banana packing plant, where the manager showing us around was so charmed by our interest in his plant and in the enormous bunches and piles of hard green bananas hanging and lying in every possible place that he gifted us with an enormous box of them. since these bananas were designed to ripen over the course of a 25-day sea voyage to europe, we were momentarily nonplussed. fortunately, our next visit was to an oil palm refinery and processing plant, where everyone in the party developed a deep and abiding loathing for the scent of palm oil and palm fruit. the manager, charmed by the box of gringos, gifted us with 24 litre-bottles of "pinky," his plant's finest quality palm oil. we kept the windows open on the 2-hour bus ride back to our montane franciscan monastery redoubt, where resident cooks edy and gina, presented with the green bananas and the oil, first collapsed in laughter and then fried up some patacones. the bananas were unfortunately not ripe enough to prepare them in the style of tentacion - broiled with butter, sugar, and cinnamon - which would leave us reeling and in paroxysms of ecstasy.

panama is also a country of unlikely beverages. the japanese supermarket contains a stunning variety of canned and bottled drinks of odd and improbable flavour and texture; the panamanian equivalent appears to be dessert drinks: chichas, refrescos, jugos, batidos. our contact person in panama city introduced us to chicheme early in the programme, a blended drink made from the cooked kernels of young corn, milk, cream, and sugar. it turns out that the legacy of milk-drinking spanish colonists mixes with the unusual starch culture of central america in the form of blended or cooked drinks that span the continuum from mashes and decoctions to milkshakes. tart fruit like zarzamora - which appears to be an indiscriminate common name for raspberries, blackberries, and mulberries - seems to appear most often in diluted mash form, while the cereals and starches plantain, oat, wheat, corn, and rice frequently are served as smooth or chunky creams. sweet fruits like melons and mangoes incline in either direction, but more frequently are added to milk and cream in the panamanian milkshake. the extensive use of milk in a hot climate makes no sense to me, but we had no fatal casualties from spoiled milk (13th year without fatality) so something is going right. cattle farming for both meat and dairy has consumed a large part of the rainforests in panama, so my conclusions about this are mixed at best. nonetheless, if ever in panama city and in the calidonia area, there is a marvellous stand that sells superb chichas of peach and corn right next to the hospital on avenida 2 sur (i think): it may be called don carlos, or it may not.

the dulcerias and kioscos that sell these beverages are as ubiquitous as bubble tea outfits along orchard road, although frequently much more imaginative in construction. less than 200 metres away from the centro franciscano where we stayed in boquete was a combination dulceria/heladeria featuring a giant ant in the forecourt, a giant inverted strawberry dispensing drinks, and a giant tree tomato dispensing ice cream. while in panama city, i also successfully tracked down fried plantain chips by heading for the giant rotating plantain chip on top of the stand, visible from 4 blocks away on the via espana. the panamanian predilection for giant food and drink also finds expression in 2- (and, in one case, 4-) storey-high beer bottles mounted atop bars, restaurants, beer gardens, and arts and crafts centres.

in other news, minz brought denis ferhatovic over for tea tonight after i got back from casual superbowl watching in mather at which tiffany showed me the dragostea din tei music video by a fat guy from RIT. denis f speaks 19 languages fluently and idiomatically. i wish that i too spoke 19 languages fluently and idiomatically. at 10, magali and mervin showed up to commandeer the tv for desperate housewives, which is pretty damn cunning.