I went paragliding over the Andes today. Instead of soiling this truly sublime experience by trying to describe it with a bunch of impotent words I’m just going to post pictures. The pictures will only do a slightly better job than the words of conveying the majesty of what I experienced. I’ve already written too much. Enjoy.
I’m starting a charity and I need your help!
While walking around Cartagena today I was exposed to the horrors of the third world. The day started off as a lovely Sunday. We had completely explored the old city, which is the touristy part of town, so Phil and I decided to see some of the real Cartagena. It was a decision that would change both of our lives forever. We walked outside of the old city walls and for the first few blocks everything was fine. Then we turned a corner and came face to face with the crushing poverty of this uncivilized nation.
Hundreds of children were packed into a large grass field. Because of their extreme poverty they were forced to spend their Sunday afternoon, with their families, outside, running around while they attempted to fly brightly colored handmade kites into the air on the breeze that swept across the field from the nearby sea. These impoverished youths obviously didn’t even have enough money for the basic necessities of life like Xboxes, Nintendo DS’s and iPhones so they were forced to spend this sunny afternoon in such a pathetic way. There were literally hundreds of children running around this primitive field next to a four hundred year old castle. They were laughing, smiling, interacting with each other and tiring out their tiny muscles. The worst part is that they clearly thought that their behavior was normal. They thought they were happy, but the sad reality is that they had never played Angry Birds and had never been on Facebook so they had never known true happiness. At that moment I realized why God had sent me to this country. I must make a difference and that is why I am starting my charity, The Xboxes for Colombia Foundation.
I spent about an hour quietly crying and watching Colombia’s youth waste their lives and then I realized that the situation was actually much worse than I originally thought. It dawned on me that every single child was pathetically malnourished. As I watched them sprint around the warm Colombian afternoon with their rainbow colored kites floating aloft in the bright blue sky I could see that none of them had the healthy pot bellies or double chins that are common in children from the civilized parts of the world. At this point I decided that Xboxes are not enough to save the youth of Colombia. They also need bacon double cheese burgers. It is a truly herculean undertaking but the goal of my charity, The Xboxes and Double Bacon Cheese Burgers for Colombia Foundation, is to get every child in Colombia an Xbox and at least two double bacon cheese burgers a day. I doubt that this will be enough to make the children of Colombia as healthy as those in America, but it is a start.
As you can see there is much work to be done down here. I spent another hour crying, praying and watching the terrible scene and then once again I noticed yet another awful condition affecting these poor young souls. As they ran around shouting, jumping and laughing it became painfully clear that they all had severe cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They never sat still for even a second. The ones that were not flying kites covered in bright metallic streamers were chasing some type of ball around the field. They would catch up to this ball and then kick it and run after it again. Undoubtedly some horrible tropical madness, most likely brought on by over exposure to the sun and Caribbean air, had possessed them. I realized that the problems of this primitive nation were much greater than I originally thought and that I would have to expand my foundation’s mission again. Please donate now to The Xboxes, Double Bacon Cheese Burgers and Adderall for Colombia Foundation.
Unfortunately a prescription medication as cutting edge and effective as Adderall is very expensive; thankfully the good people at Shire Pharmaceuticals have decided to help. For every new prescription of Adderall that is filled in the United States, Shire Pharmaceuticals will donate one to the children of Colombia. I realize that times are tough in America so if you can’t donate money to The Xboxes, Double Bacon Cheese Burgers and Adderall for Colombia Foundation, the least you can do is take your children to the doctor and get them a prescription for Adderall. You will be helping your children and also the deprived children down here.
It has been a long hard day and our work has just begun. The memory of those poor souls running and laughing with their family and friends in the bright tropical sun as their pastel kites floated into the crystal blue sky on the Caribbean breeze will haunt my dreams forever, but with your help we can bring this type of barbarism to an end once and for all. Please donate today.
The San Blas Islands
As I lay in the beanbag chair on the deck of the Wild Card I looked up at the mast that gracefully danced in front of the backdrop of the Milky Way. The bow was pointed at the grayish yellow glow of Cartagena, some forty nautical miles in the distance, as it sliced through the moderate swells sending white sheets of spray into the air. I watched the shooting stars and savored the rocking of the boat but the perfection of my surroundings was disturbed by all the things I’d seen over the last six days.
We left Portobello, a shabby but charming old Panamanian port, in the evening on the twenty fifth of August. We sailed all night and I was awoken early in the morning by what sounded like a hundred horse shoes in a dryer as the anchor dropped into the water on the other side of the hull. I walked up onto the deck and surveyed my surroundings. It was a calm, grey morning. The boat was surrounded by dark silver water, that looked like a sea of mercury and many small islands, some of which were covered in simple buildings. We had arrived in the fabled San Blas Islands. As the sun rose the clouds disappeared and the true beauty of the place was revealed. The water exploded into an array of blue, turquois and emerald.
After breakfast we took the dingy to a small Kuna Yala village that covered every inch of a tiny island. Antonio, a man of the village with whom our captain, John, had a working relationship with, met us at the shore. His family was there and they were ready to sell us coconuts and molas, a traditional style of Kuna embroidery. We wandered around the village for an hour. We met different people from the village, took pictures and bought extremely cold and overpriced beer. Some in our group made friends with the children of the village and spent the morning chasing them around in the heat in an impromptu game of tag that had very few rules.
The village was a strange clash of new and old. The villagers had a pipe that brought in fresh water but their bathrooms were primitive outhouses over the Caribbean. Some of them wore traditional dress and others gaudy western t-shirts. Their huts were simple wood construction but they had some way of keeping the beer they sold us cold. They spoke only their traditional language and Spanish until the business negotiations became heated and then suddenly they were almost fluent in English.
Once we had finished in the village we sailed East toward Dog Island. On the way we passed by many beautiful islands. Some had no people on them, others only a hut or two and others still had full size villages. At Dog Island we snorkeled around a sunken barge that attracted many beautiful tropical fish. After an hour of snorkeling we got back on the boat and departed for another beautiful pair of islands where we snorkeled some more and then dropped anchor for the night.
Over the next few days we would wake up and snorkel, partly to see the fish and partly to get in the water so we could wake up and wash off. Then we would get breakfast and hang out on the deck of the boat. Next it was back in the water for more snorkeling followed by lunch and a warm beer. Later in the afternoon we would take the dingy to a tiny island to hang out on the beach or to the outer reef to look for sharks that we could snorkel with. In the evening we would sail to a new group of islands that looked just as beautiful as the last and then we would have dinner. Usually, just before dinner we would throw our ration of ice into the cooler and get our beers and rum and cokes relatively cold for an hour. After a good dinner we would lie on the deck, drink our rapidly warming drinks and watch meteors blast across the star filled sky until it was time for bed.
This idyllic existence was marred by several experiences. While snorkeling one of the most beautiful islands I kept seeing pieces of plastic garbage on the bottom of the sea. Later on we took a trip in the dingy to an island that literally had two palm trees on it. It’s remote and lonely beauty will stay with me forever. It was so small that I walked around it in less than a minute. It was surrounded by crystal blue water and was one of the most amazing places I have ever set foot on. It also had a perfect halo of plastic garbage at the waterline. It was like looking at a Monet panting that someone had smeared feces on.
Before we headed out into the open seas to Cartagena we stopped at Rio Azucar, an island near the main land that is relatively developed. The people were nice but it was one of the most disgusting and sad places I have ever been. The water around the island was filled with garbage. In places I could see to the bottom of the shallow water but I couldn’t see the sand because the layer of trash was so thick. We walked around the village and spoke with a friendly and intelligent man. He told us that in the village malnutrition was a problem with many of the children, but they had an internet connection in the school. Many of the huts were made of a very basic construction but I also saw many satellite dishes.
One of my favorite maxims is “Don’t shit where you eat.” This gem of wisdom apparently has not made it to the San Blas Islands where the Kuna not only shit onto the fish that they will eat, they also throw their garbage in the water for good measure. Using the ocean as a waste disposal system has been part of the Kuna culture for centuries and it worked just fine when it was only small amounts of human waste and a few coconut shells going into the water, but now that they are becoming a consumer culture and everything they buy comes in a plastic wrapper there is a serious problem. Really, the Kuna are just like Americans and Europeans; they want shiny cool stuff and they also want their garbage to magically disappear.
Lying on the deck of the Wild Card as we approached Cartagena the night sky gave me the clarity to come to some hard revelations. I heard that the San Blas Islands were one of the last unspoiled paradises. They certainly were remote and stunning but they were spoiled. I never thought that seeing such a striking place could be so sad.
I realized that it is over. We have pasted the tipping point and the world is going to get a lot uglier and dirtier in our lifetime. We will be the last generation to see traces of the majesty that this world once held. Now that I know this, my desire to see the wonders of this world has been replaced by a much stronger feeling; a sense of moral obligation. I must be a witness of all this world’s greatness before it is tainted or destroyed. It is a heavy and fantastic burden, but it is one that I lift with enthusiasm. I think that maybe, you should pick it up too.
Photos of the real Panama
Last weekend in Bocas
“If you are going to do something, do it right.” is a phrase that was drilled into my head when I was growing up. Maybe it took thirty three years and coming to an island on the bottom of the Caribbean but I think I finally got it. My last weekend in Bocas was done right.
We got things going with a barbeque to celebrate our friend’s birthday. Then we headed to La Iguana which had become my favorite bar in Bocas because of its seaside deck, close proximity to the Spanish school and slightly less terrible music. We had a big group because we were saying good bye to three students who were leaving the next day. Unfortunately for me the three that left were the only three that did not speak German which meant that for rest of the weekend I got to listen to a lot of German. To all my new German speaking friends; you guys are awesome and a lot of fun, but seriously that language is rough on the ears.
At some point I got tired of La Iguana and headed back to the school to see what everyone else was doing. I found a bunch of the students playing a drinking game that they were calling “Truth or Duty”. It’s an interesting combination of spin the bottle and truth or dare.
After a few incredibly interesting rounds, during which I learned some things about my fellow student that I wish I could forget, we headed to Barco Hundido to attempt to dance to the worst DJ in the Caribbean. At one point the slightly boring German girl who never went to the bars climbed onto the rickety rafters and proceeded to hang upside down while do her best cirque du soleil imitation. No, wait, she did that twice. Finally, long after Trash 64’s show time (really late for you non-Raiders and non-Sumos), we were forced to leave the bar. A few people in the group tried to get into another bar but thankfully it was closing so we went home.
After a solid four hours of sleep I was awaked by the powerful Panamanian sun and the even more powerful desire to surf. I felt like a million bucks as I checked the notoriously inaccurate surf report. It promised four to five feet so I prayed that we would actually get some rideable three footers. After consulting the local surf shop, several boat rides and a swim to shore with our backpacks held above our heads, my two friends and I found ourselves on a nearly deserted beach. In reality the waves were not great but after days of waiting for a swell they looked wonderful as they rolled through the crystal clear water. It was my first time in the water since April and my friends had about twelve surf outings between them so we didn’t exactly put on a surf clinic, but the warm water and nearly empty break was glorious.
After two hours I climbed out of the water with my old rental board and settled down in the small patch of shade at the edge of the jungle. Normally I don’t like to just sit on a beach. I get bored if I’m not surfing, but the remote beauty of this beach, with its jungle covered shores and rocky islands, was overwhelming. While I had a snack I listened to the chorus of birds and insects in the jungle a few feet away. The hum of the jungle, heat of the day and the sound of the waves had a wonderful hypnotic effect that my friends quickly succumbed to, but for me the draw of the waves was to strong so I grabbed the longer of the two boards and headed back in to the tropical water. I was rusty and tired but I still caught several nice waves. The last wave of the day was the best. I rode it almost all the way to shore.
As the sun dipped low in the sky we tiredly strolled down the beach to meet our boat. The driver was right on time but anchored too far out which made for an in interesting swim back to the boat with our gear held out of the water with one arm while the other arm and both legs churned madly. As we pulled away from the beach we could see a dark wall of rain descending on our destination in the distance. Once we motored around the island the power of the storm in the distance became apparent. It felt as if we were sliding down the dark blue water into the grey abyss that had swallowed Isla Colon. In a matter of minutes the wispy white clouds and tropical sun gave way to cold pelting rain, low heavy clouds and choppy seas. The driver slowed down to reduce the force of the waves on the boat but occasionally the spray of a wave blasted us with sea water that felt like hot bath watered compared to the frigid rain. As one of my friends sat shivering and looking like a drowned rat I marveled at the power of the storm that could not penetrate my sense of pure contentment. I thought to myself, I was just surfing in Panama.
The rain stopped right after we got home. I was cold, exhausted and starving. The cold shower at the hostel did little to improve my condition. Once we had showered and dressed I recommended that we eat at my favorite restaurant in Bocas, El Pecado. I had an amazing steak and a Balboa which transformed my sense of exhaustion into one of happy relaxation. After dinner we walked up the street to the wine bar and sat on the porch and for a few glasses. It had been a near perfect day so I headed to bed relatively early with a smile on my face.
The next day I woke up and met my friend for a sailboat tour. We took a catamaran from Caranero Island to Dolphin bay. On the trip we discovered one of the great joys in life, lying in the net between the two hulls while the emerald waters of the Caribbean flowed beneath us. It was a combination of two of my favorite things in the world, being in a hammock and surfing. We saw a few grey dolphins and then dropped anchor near a mangrove for some snorkeling. At the first spot the fish were small and plain but the coral was amazing. A garden of green, purple, yellow, orange and silver drifted below us as we floated around the mangrove island.
After snorkeling we climbed back on the boat and had a sandwich for lunch. Then it was back into the net while we sailed to the next snorkeling spot. I stared up into the blue sky and watched the thin white clouds drift over us. The quiet lapping of the water on the hulls and rocking of the net made my eyelids heavy. I began to drift away, I was on the edge of a beautiful oblivion, when something woke me up. No, I thought, it would be wonderful to sleep here, but I’m not going to because I don’t want to miss a second of this. I hoped we would never arrive at the second snorkeling sight but eventually we stopped and I had to crawl out of my little paradise and get back in the water.
The second snorkeling site was deeper and had more fish. I spent half an hour chasing them around with my waterproof camera doing my best Jacque Cousteau impersonation. Right before it was time to get back on the boat I found my favorite type of fish. They were small with iridescent blackish blue skin and spots that shimmer and change color from dark blue to light green to silvery white. We climbed aboard the catamaran one last time and had some pineapple. After the pineapple I got back into the net but it wasn’t the same. I could see our destination in the distance and the perfect sense of tranquility that I had felt before was gone.
After we got back to Bocas we got cleaned up and headed to the sushi place for their martini happy hour. I have never tried a martini, I do not like olives, gin or vermouth but in the spirit of trying new things I got one. With no point of reference I thought it was not that bad. But my friend who knows about martinis tells me they were terrible. So if I ever get a good martini I might actually like it.
After the martinis we went to get dinner and then listened to Bob play at the local India restaurant. Once he was done playing we headed to the bars. Of course the only proper way to end such a good weekend was on the deck of the La Iguana until last call.
It was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time. It was full of the things that make life worth living, sailing, snorkeling, beaches, food, drink and surfing. These are the things that I came to Panama for and they have not disappointed me. What has surprised me are the people. Doing all these amazing things with people who were complete strangers but are now friends is a truly powerful experience. But now it’s time for me to go. I’m off to see new things and make new friends. Hopefully some of them will actually speak Spanish, or just anything but German.
The other night we were walking to dinner with Bob, the owner of our bed and breakfast, when we ran into an older black man. He was walking in the opposite direction with a worn acoustic guitar. Bob stopped and talked to this guy for a few minutes and then introduced him to us as “Calypso Joe”. Joe was tall and thin with leathery cheeks that sat below bright, kind eyes. Bob and Calypso Joe had known each other for many years and occasionally played music together. After the brief introductions we turned up the dark, quiet street towards the restaurant and Joe came with us. As we walked Joe began to gently strum his guitar and sing in a pleasant accent that would have sounded more at home in Jamaica than Panama.
Most of the amazing experiences in my life have been accompanied by a sense that maybe they weren’t real. They usually felt intense but surreal. As if a screen had descended in front of my eyes and suddenly I was only watching a movie about my life. I expected that same surreal feeling to descend on me as I walked down the street feeling completely content. It did not. But two simple ideas started to cycle through my mind.
This is real. This is awesome.
After a relaxing stroll we arrived at the restaurant. We were the only ones on the large deck and we sat by the water. The fans on the high ceiling above us created just enough of a breeze to wash away the heat of the day. We ordered drinks and I looked out onto the dark water. The lights of the other islands floated on the surface of the black water creating a shimmering alternate world.
This is awesome. This is real.
After a few sips from his rum and coke Joe began to sing and play his guitar again. He played Bob Marley but he added just enough of his own style to make it feel fresh. After each song we talked and joked around. Joe told us stories about his life on the islands. We ordered our food and then Joe sang a Beatles song.
My cold Balboa was quickly covered in condensation which rolled onto the table and created a round puddle. I’ll have to drink this before it gets warm I thought. As I looked out into the night I smiled at the magnitude of my problem.
We got another round of drinks before our food came. I had a delicious steak. Despite the tranquil setting and quality food, in Bocas there are several other restaurants that I liked better. For less than thirteen dollars I had some of the best meals of my life in this place. Many of the meals that I’ve had here are not available in some parts America and if they were they would cost three times more.
Joe sang a Harry Belafonte song followed by an original song that made us all laugh. Joe had to catch a boat back to his house on another island so he finished his drink, we gave him a couple of well-deserved dollars, and he bid us good night. We finished our meals, paid our tab and with full bellies and the beginning of a buzz, headed out into the peaceful streets to see which bar was going off.
This is real. This is awesome.
Bocas del Toro
Like many other parts of Panama, Bocas del Toro is a mixture of old and new, rich and poor, Panamanians and foreigners. The cultural, economic and social waters of Panama have been churning for hundreds of years. I am just seeing the latest composition in a small beautiful corner of the country. The lines are constantly being blurred, erased and redrawn. The descendants of Spanish conquistadores are now Panamanians. The descendants of black West Indians, who were the descendants of West African slaves, are now Panamanians. The indigenous people that flowed into the deserted Caribbean islands hundreds of years after the Spanish arrived are now Panamanians. The white American and European entrepreneurs who have come here to open hotels and dive shops seem to be slowly accepted into the community and if they stay long enough they also may become Panamanians. This is a very American phenomenon. Of course this experience is pervasive in this country that bridges the two Americans, but also allows the flow of trade that makes the new world prosperous. Panama is in the eye of the cultural hurricane that is the two great American continents.
Of course with all change there is motion, resistance and conflict. There will always be those that are left out, those that cheat to get a head, and those that fight the change. In Bocas the natural beauty and the tourist dollars have lubricated the situation so that most can get along.
Bocas is at the lovely tipping point where there is so much to do; there are several dive shops, water taxis, tour companies, many excellent restaurants, several rowdy bars and hostels and one bank. But the all-inclusive resorts, water front high rises and inflated prices are still years away. If you go a block over from the main street the shabby Caribbean houses and trash dotted vacant lots remind you that this is Central America. In some strange way it is these features that make me love this place the most. These elements remind me that this place is genuine.
It is the searcher’s dilemma; if you find paradise do you tell someone else about it or keep it for yourself? If you are alone in paradise is it really paradise? Can you make paradise just a little bit better if you open a bar that will attract beautiful women from all over the world? Without a dive shop and a few boats you can’t fully explore and enjoy the beauty around you. After a few years of carefully planned improvements paradise looks a lot different. It is louder, more crowded and there are too many beer cans on the ocean floor. After a while you might not even recognize it. At that point you might find yourself disgusted and ready to move on. So you leave and if you are very luck you will find a real paradise and this time you won’t tell anyone about it. At least not for a few months and then you will think; I wish there was a place to get a beer around here.
Double scuba divers, sea aliens and accents
Yesterday morning we did our last two re-certification dives. They were pretty similar to the first two dives with ten minutes of exercises followed by thirty minutes of exploration. The first dive was at a the wreck of a barge that was sunk on purpose eleven years ago to create a habitat for fish and coral. Now it is covered in marine life. Unfortunately the giant nurse shark, George, who lives under the barge wasn’t home. After our two dives we had completed the fun part of the course but still had to spend the afternoon doing more classes, quizzes and the final test. One of us barely passed her test by three percent but I’m not going to say who. Mom has now been certified twice as a scuba diver and I have been certified by two different agencies. We are now double scuba divers, which is way cooler than a double lawyer but not quite as cool as a double forward air controller.
Today we put our newly minted certifications to work on a pair morning dives. We saw the most marine life today by far. We saw an eel, two sting rays, a couple of cow fish, a trumpet fish but the coolest animal was easily the cuttlefish. The cuttlefish is in the same family as the squid and octopus but I’m pretty sure that they are actually alien spies that are collecting information and telepathically sending it back to the mother ship. They have tentacles in the front of their bodies which they hold together so they look like a single spike. The back half of their body is an almond shaped pod that has two opaque appendages that aren’t quite wings and aren’t quite fins. The whole time we looked at the cuttlefish it’s appendages were undulating. It looked perfectly comfortable hovering, swimming backward and forward. In fact I’m still not sure which way a cuttlefish would consider forward or backward. Every other fish that we looked at would make a panicked dash for the nearest coral and then stare out at us with glassy unintelligent eyes but not the cuttlefish. Even though it was only a foot long and it was surrounded by seven loud giant creatures, it confidently hovered in place, moving backward and forward or was it forward and backward, looking back at us with large intelligent eyes. As it was watching us watching it, it changed colors from purple and grey to white, purple and tan. It was one of the coolest sea creatures I have ever seen.
Cuttlefish are among the most intelligent invertebrates. They have one of the highest ratios of brain to body size. They have excellent eye sight and can communicate to each other by changing the color of their body. Their blood is blueish green because they use copper instead of iron to transport oxygen. Once again, they are aliens.
One of the many great things about meeting people from all over the world is hearing a wide variety of accents. Australian accents are great but if you ask an Australian to say “Throw another shrimp on the barbie.” They will tell you that it should actually be “Throw another prawn on the barbie.” Because nobody calls them shrimp in Australia. Then they will get a little self conscious about their accent. Asking them to say “That’s not a knife, this is a knife.” doesn’t help the situation.
We also met a French girl who had been working in Panama city. Her English was excellent and she also spoke Spanish. She told us that she worked with a guy from Mississippi who had never left the state until he came to Panama. Apparently he stuck out like a sore thumb and had a hard time doing anything. Also she couldn’t understand anything he said because his accent was so thick. I love that making fun of Mississippians is not just an American hobby; it is an international one.
Scuba, the coolest basketball court in the world and monkeys
The last few days have been pretty busy but also pretty great. On Sunday we went to the Parque Natural Metropolitano, which is this giant rain forest that is in the city limits of Panama City. Kind of like central park except bigger. We hiked around the park for several hours and at first didn’t see much wild life. Apparently all the birds are in Cleveland right now. No seriously, they are in Cleveland, look it up. Near the end of Titi Monkey trail we finally saw some Titi Monkeys. They are pretty small and insanely fast. We were standing there and they came out of nowhere bounding through the trees above us. They attempted suicide with every leap but somehow always failed and just landed on the tiniest twig on the next tree. They chased each other around in circles from tree to tree and the whole time they were chirping and tweeting like a bunch of birds. After a few minutes they got tired of mocking us ground dwellers and leaped and chirped off into the woods. I tried to take some pictures but they refused to hold still so most of the pictures are pretty bad.
The next day we had to catch our flight to Bocas Del Toro. We had a few hours to kill so we went to Casco Viejo which is where the Spanish moved Panama City to after Captain Morgan sacked and destroyed the original city to the East of modern Panama City. Captain Morgan was a baaaaad man. Casco Viejo is on a peninsula to the west of Panama City and East of the entrance to the Canal. It is the most beautiful colonial city I have ever seen. It is in the middle of being renovated so it is a strange mix of beautifully restored colonial buildings with expats living in them and then two buildings away there is another one that is deserted and has plants growing out of the roof. It is kind of like a shabbier Grenada Nicaragua but on a peninsula in the Pacific. I realize that only two or three of you will get that reference. Casco Viejo made Panama City my favorite Central America capital that I have visited. Of course beating San Jose and Managua is not all that difficult.
Last night we took the one hour flight North West to Bocas Del Toro which is on an island in the Caribbean. Today we took some scuba classes and then did two dives. The water was eighty five degrees and the visibility was about thirty feet or nine thousand one hundred fourteen point four centimeters for my international relatives. Mom wants to get re-certified so we are doing the whole course which would be kind of boring back home but it is fun here. Since they don’t have a pool here we go straight into the Caribbean. After practicing some “skillz” we then go swim around a coral reef for half an hour. Mom only had a mild freak out once when she couldn’t get down to the bottom but after some help from our really good instructor she was fine. We didn’t see anything too crazy today; just a ton of tropical fish and coral that seemed to glow with impossible colors. It felt great to be peacefully floating forty feet or twelve thousand one hundred ninety two millimeters under the Caribbean. As I was down there I thought to myself, yeah this seems about right.
El día de los canales
Today we explored two great marvels of modern technology; the Panama Canal and the Panama heath care system. We planned on going to a National Park just outside of the city that has all kinds of birds, iguanas, deer and most importantly monkeys. If looking at a monkey doesn’t put you in a good mood then there is something seriously wrong with you. After breakfast Mom decided that her ear, which had been bothering her since the flight yesterday, needed medical attention. Amazingly enough there is 30 days of free emergency medical insurance for all tourists in Panama so Mom called the number and was told that since it started on the plane it was not covered by the insurance. It turns out that Panamanian insurance is a lot like American insurance. We got a recommendation for a private hospital that was within walking distance. Twenty minutes after walking in we saw a doctor who told us that Mom was suffering from a case of malignant ear wax. It was trapping the pressure in her ear and causing pain. Since we are flying again soon and then scuba diving this could be a problem. The doctor gave her a prescription for some ear drops and she paid her sixty dollar bill. Having taken care of one canal we jumped in a cab and headed for another.
A few things I learned today. The most expensive toll paid by a ship to transit the Canal was $400,000. The toll is based on weight, but there are different ways of assessing the toll for different types of ships. Balboa discovered the Pacific. The French started the canal in 1880 but surrendered after getting a few mosquito bites. The Americans, with the help of a lot of Barbadians, finished the canal in 1914. The massive tankers and container ships only have two feet of space on either side while moving through the locks.
As the taxi turned the corner and drove the last half mile to the canal we saw a massive white cruise ship that looked like it had fallen from the sky and landed in the middle of the jungle. Once we entered the visitor center and climbed to the observation deck we were able to watch the cruise ship lowered in the last lock to sea level and then sail out toward the Pacific. We watched two more ships enter and leave the locks. The whole time they had an announcer who explained in English and Spanish exactly what was happening, what the ships were carrying, where they were coming from and why they were flying certain flags. Later we hit the gift shop, checked out the small but nice museum and then watch a dated but interesting video about the construction of the Canal.
I really wasn’t that excited about seeing the canal. It sounded kind of boring but it also seemed like one of those things you are supposed to see when visiting certain places; like the Coliseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the, um Walmart in West Chester, Ohio. I really enjoyed it, the Canal, every Walmart is the same. It is pretty amazing hat human beings were able to cut a continent in half and the fact that they did it with some pretty basic equipment nearly a hundred years ago makes it even more impressive.