Home About Portfolio ♐ Shop ♐

Category: travel

Boro at Somerset House

Boro at Somerset House

Yesterday, a beautiful sunny spring day, Michelle and I went down to Somerset House to check out the Boro exhibition. To quote the website:

Translated to ‘rags’ in English, boro is the collective name for items – usually clothing and bed covers – made by the poor, rural population of Japan who could not afford to buy new when need required and had to literally make ends meet by piecing and patching discarded cotton onto existing sets, forming something slightly different each time they did so. Generations of Japanese families repaired and recycled fishermen’s jackets to futon covers, handing them down to the next and weaving their own sagas and stories through the threads.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Cotton was an expensive and sought-after material in rural Japan, so worn-out clothing was passed along and used as futon/bed coverings, the worn-out parts re-worked and replaced with new patches as necessary. The pieces are beautiful and mesmerising to look at, so have been appropriated as highly collectible artworks in Western countries. As a sewist, I was particularly fascinated to get up close and see the various woven patterns, fabric combinations, dyeing and embroidery techniques used to create such a richly textured surface.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Varying lengths and patterns of hand-stitches for decorative texture.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

I love these dense rows of stitches: nothing is measured or straight, and it doesn’t matter. It seems to tie into the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: imperfect beauty.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Some of these patch-pieced ones look like English fields seen from an aeroplane.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Look close and you’ll see layer upon layer of patterns and textures. Woven patterns remind me of ikat, one of my favourite types of fabric, and some pieces seemed to have had patterns created by resist-dyeing and shibori-stle knotting and folding techniques.

Boro at Somerset House

You can see why the pieces are compared to art works: some have the Cubist arrangement of a Picasso or Mondrian, where others seem freely expressive like a Pollock or late Matisse.

Boro at Somerset House

This was my favourite, the decorative embroidery looks like mystical cave symbols, and the tan corduroy with the shades of indigo is gorgeous. It was very inspiring to look at a different way of combining and manipulating materials, and really makes me want to create an abstract hand-pieced and -embroidered quilt. The free exhibition runs until 26th April, daily 10.00-18.00. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.

Panama type

Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type

Panama type

Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type

Panama type

Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type

Panama type

Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type

Panama type
Panama type

Panama type
Panama type
Panama type
Panama type

Panama type

Panama Day 5: Panama City, Casco Viejo

Panama: Pacific beach

Our last day in Panama with Air France and Enjoy Panama UK! Despite packing so much in that it felt like the trip had been five times longer than it was, the last day still came around too fast. We packed up one final time and said goodbye to the lovely Marriott and the Pacific Ocean.

Panama Coffee
Panama Coffee

Today’s itinerary was a leisurely sightseeing and shopping day in Panama City’s old town (Casco Viejo), but first we stopped to stock up on coffee. Kotowa is a gourmet local coffee brand and they grow their beans in the town of Boquete in the west of the country. (Boquete sounds worth a visit in itself, at least according to our tour guide whose father is the major!) I bought a bag of rare Geisha coffee, so named for Gesha in Ethiopia where it was developed, but also coincidentally this coffee is popular in Japan because it has a mild flavour more like tea. Kotowa run tours of their plantation which sounds like a fun activity for another trip.

Panama: view
Panama: view

Heading into the city, a quick stop to admire the views. The marked difference between Panama’s old and new towns is quite remarkable – skyscrapers that way, charming colonial decay this way.

Panama City
Panama City
Panama City

We took a wander of the streets, admiring the pretty squares, spotting some cool looking restaurants and ducking into shops for souvenirs.

Panama City

You can spot shaved-ice sellers in the squares; they have a super cool little cart with a large block of ice on top, with a little machine that quickly shaves and cups the ice all one. It’s then topped with flavoured syrups and condensed milk, for 75 cents or so.

Panama City
Panama City
Panama City

It’s a very pretty area to wander around, and I could have easily spent a few more days discovering all it has to offer.

Panama City
Panama City
Panama City

Along the bay is a pretty covered street lined with market stalls selling local handcrafts and souvenirs. I love the traditional embroidered textiles called Mola that the Guna Indians make and sell; I brought a couple home.

Panama City
Panama City
Panama City

Finally, we had a quick peek into the American Trade Hotel, a brand new hotel from the Ace group housed in an old department store building. It’s absolutely beautiful and I’d certainly try to stay there for a few nights if I was visiting Panama again.

Panama City

After one final beer pit stop, we packed into our bus for the last time and headed to the airport. We were lucky enough to be upgraded by Air France again, and I slept for nearly the whole flight back. Once again thanks loads to Air France and Enjoy Panama UK for sending me on this trip. What do you think, would you consider Panama as a holiday destination? I can’t wait to go back.

Panama Day 4: El Valle de Antón + Buenaventura

Panama

We woke up at the Miramar Intercontinental on day 4 of our trip, feeling glad that the heavy travelling and sightseeing part of the trip was mostly over and the next few days would almost be a ‘holiday at the end of this holiday’ – a bit slower paced and more relaxing. I could actually admire my room’s view over the bay in daylight rather than weak dawn light!

Panama
Panama

We set off on a mini road trip to the Antón Valley, a volcanic area about an hour west of Panama City. On the way we made a couple of cool stops: first to a little roadside farm shop, where we stocked up on local food treats to take home: papaya jam, dried cashew flowers and pots of duche de leche. They also sold a delicious array of fresh soft drinks; I had a tamarind flavour.

Panama

We stopped to check out a cashew tree: the nuts are so expensive because each fruit only bears one seed and they need a lot of processing to get rid of the highly toxic shell. We tried the fruit too, it tastes really odd – like a very dry, sour apple.

Panama
Panama

The second stop was to a typical Panamanian fast food place, where I was overjoyed to find tamales (I think I was the only one who liked them) amongst some other fried delicacies. The Yorkshire pudding type thing was declared the winner.

Panama
Panama

This Antón Valley is famed for its beauty and diverse wildlife, and lots of people come to hike, cycle or ride horseback.

Panama
Panama
We stopped for lunch at a really pretty resort called Los Mandarinos, where we had great tapas.

Panama

We drove on a little further to the El Nispero Zoo. The tour guide ‘surprised’ us with this stop, which was unfortunate as several of the group were of the anti-zoo mindset. This one didn’t really help matters as it was quite small and unkempt, with several of the animals in what seemed to be too small cages. However I think they rescue and rehabilitate sick animals here too (some allegedly seized from the drug-trafficking ex-Panamaniam dictator Manuel Noriega) as well as researching sickness and diseases in frog populations, so it’s not all bad.

Panama
Panama
Panama

It originally started as plant nursery, and it was nice to see the orchids and other flowers that they cultivate.

Panama
Panama
Panama

Though I did enjoy seeing the frogs, white peacocks, a chatty cockatoo and a beautiful little tigrillo which, sweetly curled up for a nap in the shade, reminded me of my cats. I’d give this a miss if you’re generally anti-zoo though. It was also a shame that we came here instead of the local daily artisan market, which I was looking forward to seeing.

Panama
Panama
Panama
Panama

We then took a little rainforest walk nearby and found the El Chorro Macho waterfall. There’s also a pretty natural pool you can swim in.

Panama: Anton Valley springs
Panama: Anton Valley springs

Nearby is a park containing pools of natural hot springs. The water looked kind of sulphuric yellow so we gave that a miss but had fun applying the local clay to our faces, with youth-defying and/or hilarious results.

Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura
Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura
Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura

In jovial frame of mind, we rocked up to our final hotel, the JW Marriot in Buenaventura, located on the southern Pacific coast in the Gulf of Panama. Our jaws all collectively dropped at how gorgeous and luxurious it was – I’ve never stayed anywhere like it before. (I’m already planning how soon to go back – you can get two weeks all inclusive for about £1200, so I’ll start saving.)

Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura
Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura

We all made for the pool straight away. There’s a family pool near the hotel and a bigger one a few minutes walk away on the coast.

Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura
Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura

The beach is less picture-perfect than the Caribbean side, but the water is still clear and calm.

Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura
Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura
Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura

As the sun set, we enjoyed a few poolside (or in-pool) cocktails…

Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura
Panama: JW Marriott, Buenaventura

… and star-spotted. It was such a clear night you could see thousands, and even a few shooting stars. We ate in one of the hotel’s restaurants, which was OK but not really to my taste, then tuckered down in the beautiful guest rooms.

One day left, where we’d get an actual (10am!) lie in and see some of Panama City itself…

Panama Day 3: San Blas / Guna Yala

Panama: Guna Yala

After two long days with lots of travelling and sightseeing, this was the day of the trip I’d been looking forward to the most. The Guna Yala (previously San Blas) Islands lie off Panama’s northern coat in the Caribbean Sea and looked like a little slice of paradise: the archetypal tropical islands of white sand, palm tees and turquoise waters. The day got off to a slightly wobbly start when our 4.30am 4×4 pickup vehicle didn’t arrive due to a traffic accident. Being a little sleep deprived from such a busy few days, this didn’t go down well in the group. But it all got sorted and we were on the road by 6.30 – and at least it meant we got a bit of hotel breakfast in.

Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala

I may have to come to regret the breakfast though, as the journey to paradise does not run smoothly. The islands and province surrounding them are under control of the indigenous Guna people, and the only way in is via an extremely precipitous drive along a twisty, turny, up and down road through dense forest. Despite the road being only a few years old (previously you had to take a flight and then a boat) it’s already pitted and potholed, so is distinctively uncomfortable and feels much longer than its 37km. I tried to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and not just count down the km markers! You also must remember to bring your passport as the Guna insist on checking it as you enter the port. You really wouldn’t want to turn back for it.

Panama: Guna Yala

One last hurdle is the boat ride out to the islands, made by speedboat. This was a little choppy but not that bad, and the memories of the 4×4 ride was already fading as we started to spy island after tiny paradise island on the horizon.

Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala

There are about 300 islands in the group, which are in the ownership of Guna families and get passed down through the generations. Every time you dock on an island a Guna will spot you and ask for a dollar or two to use the beach. Some islands are more built up – by which I mean they may have a little hut for selling snacks or handicraft souvenirs – but the feeling really is of being amongst desert islands.

Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala

Our first stop was Elefante, where we had a bite of lunch and a beer.

Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala

We then did a bit of island hopping – Dog Island, Pelican Island, one which was barely a hump of sand out of the ocean but had the most amazing crystal clear shallow waters, perfect for paddling and having a beer.

Panama: Guna Yala

I swear I didn’t Photoshop this: the colour of the water was incredible.

Panama: Guna Yala
Panama: Guna Yala

We reluctantly tore ourselves away in the late afternoon: the gate out shuts at 6pm sharp so if you’re not out, you’ll need to stay the night. The ride back didn’t feel so bad as coming in, and there was a lovely sunset.

Panama: Tantalo
Panama: Tantalo
Panama: Tantalo

Buoyed by a relaxing day and the thought of a lie in (to the lofty time of 8.30am) in the morning, once back in Panama City we headed to the old town for a bit of nightlife and dinner. It was nice to be amongst young locals and start to see what the city side of life here is like. We had some lovely cocktails on the roof of the Tantalo hotel, with views of the modern city over the rooftops…

Panama: Tantalo

… and a brilliant tapas dinner in its restaurant. Lots of veggie things, from fried queso fresco with lime to aubergine sashimi and sublime macaroni cheese. We then bar hopped to a couple more before turning in for the night, sunburned and happy.