Galapagos Is. Ecuador
Puerto Ayoro Galapagos
Machu Picchu Peru
Machu Picchu Photos
Lake Titicaca Peru
Lake Titicaca Photos
La Paz Bolivia
Santiago Chile 1
Santiago Chile 2
Easter Island Chile
Santiago Chile 3
Puerto Montt Chile
Puerto Chacabuco Chile
Punta Arenas Chile
Puerto Natales Chile
Punta Arenas Chile
Puerto Williams Chile
Buenos Aires Argentina
Puerto Iguazu Argentina
Ciudad Bolivar Venezuela
Puerto Ordaz Venezuela
Cayenne French Guiana
Pointa A Pitre Guadaloupe
Back Home in California
Hello from the Panama Canal,
Orange Walk early by bus I reached the
road for the Belize City airport an hour later that morning. The flight
didn't leave until 17:15 so I waited. The
flight stops in San Salvador and San Jose Costa Rica stretching the total
travel time to eight hours. Panama immigration formalities were
simple and quick. I learned that Panamanian Balboas are exchanged one for
one for dollars, but imagine my surprise when I selected
$200 worth of Balboas and the ATM machine spit out $200 U.S. dollars! That is the only currency I ever saw used in Panama. Panamanian
coins parallel their U.S. counterparts and are used interchangeably.
at the Panama
City airport after midnight; all public transport had
stopped running. My experience in Tegucigalpa
suggested all Intercontinental Hotels might offer an affordable weekend
rate... and one of their courtesy vans sat at the curb waiting for
arriving passengers with reservations. So, I hitched a ride into town
hoping to find a deal at the Intercontinental.
delightful young receptionist quoted a $150 rate in response to my
questions. "And, how about the special weekend rate?" I asked.
"That IS the special weekend rate; the regular rate is
$200." she replied with a smile. To my next question about more
affordable nearby alternatives she pointed me to the
El Panama directly across the way where I negotiated my way
down to $85 from the first quoted rack rate of $140.
back on all of my hotel shopping expeditions it is now obvious that less
expensive hotels can usually be found in the immediate vicinity
of major international five star hotels... and the receptionists at the
former are eager to encourage scruffy characters like me to try one
Looking back on all of my hotel shopping expeditions it is now obvious that less expensive hotels can usually be found in the immediate vicinity of major international five star hotels... and the receptionists at the former are eager to encourage scruffy characters like me to try one of them.
is a first class hotel with another full buffet breakfast included...
and the business office in the lobby has five Internet terminals for
guests at a dollar an hour (the street rate is half that). Located in one of the several city centers,
city buses pass the hotel
going everywhere. Next to the hotel is a convenient Mc
Donald's restaurant, a KFC across the boulevard and a modern Chinese
restaurant around the corner.
Better hotels regularly display excellent tasteful art and floral displays in their lobbies. I know because I enjoy taking picture of them. Clothes washed in hotel shampoo smell good... and they dry shiny and easy to manage. Rarely do I use the hotel laundry services.
is a comfortable country and
boasts of agreeable weather with no
hurricanes or major earthquakes. Many people speak English and enjoy
an affluent life style.
Estate prices are on the rise like everywhere else in the world, but
are still at bargain levels compared to California. I see no obvious
signs of racial discrimination, though every conceivable ethnicity is
represented in the racially mixed population.
majority of the city buses are decorated with garish paintings and
psychedelic designs. Fascinated, I took lots of pictures. They remind me
of the decorations on the private buses in Nairobi Kenya (see
my Nairobi pictures). My little camera is attracting
less attention this time. Of course, Latin America is not Africa or
India. The end of the line for many city buses is the central bus
terminal which serves both local and long distance transportation. One
of the largest shopping malls is attached to this transportation hub.
While walking the mall one day I heard a deafening explosion and later
realized the metal roof had taken a direct hit from lightening as that
event heralded five minutes more of rolling thunder and fifteen minutes
of white noise produced by the downpour that followed.
The day I bussed over to the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal started off sunny. This is the main location along the canal where tourists may view the canal operations. There are several levels of viewing stands and an excellent gourmet restaurant with prime canal watching tables on the second floor. As the next large ship arrival would not occur for over hour I elected to wait it out in the restaurant. The $24 buffet lunch complete with my medicinal single beer made waiting a joy.
In the interim several small boats carrying tourists
on Canal Tours allowed us to see the locks in action. Amazingly, filling
and lowering any one of the locks takes less than ten minutes. The ships
take ten hours to traverse the entire canal, but with lock operations
they can expect to be somewhere in the fifty mile long canal for a full
24 hours. At our location two sets of locks operated independently
side-by-side, making it possible to accommodate traffic in both
directions at the same time. As the huge container ship approached our
location the sky opened up dumping gallons of water in minutes before
stopping as abruptly as it had begun.
Spectators out in the open scurried for shelter under one of the viewing
Spectators out in the open scurried for shelter under one of the viewing stands.
a friend in Santa Barbara asked; "What it is like in real
of the time my days go much the same as being at home, you know: sleep
and eat and walk around, frequently pausing to play with the Internet.
However, occasionally something out of the ordinary will cross my path
and give me an excuse to take photographs and write. I'm afraid if I
wrote about the ordinary mundane I'd get fewer wonderful letters from
postcard readers and I love hearing tales of happenings back home. In many ways,
traveling alone and occasionally contacting folks back home on the
Internet is the best of both worlds. I have total freedom to do any
crazy thing that comes into my head and still have people with whom to
share the adventures. No sane person would join me in this voyage of
serendipity... though several have hinted they might until I
spelled out the realities of regularly jumping off into black holes.
in every other adventure I am loosing weight and girth... at least four
inches so far. It is so predictable someone really should write a book
about The Traveler's Amazing Quick Weight Loss Diet. Eat all you want,
carry a twenty-five pound pack between hotels, walk a
lot and remove boredom from your life; what could be easier?
Hurricane Katrina hit the area around New Orleans the day after I
arrived in Panama and news of destruction and the horrific
aftermath continues to make the TV reports down here. All of the
hotels I've used lately have had only Spanish CNN, however. The disaster has been
the occasion for my pondering just how near civilization still is to the
ages of barbarism. Some big segment of every generation is genetically
programmed to take all they can get, anyway they can get it. Hell, maybe
we are all programmed that way and only the social institutions keep the
majority of us in check. For example, for years I looked for every legal
tax loophole and tactic to avoid paying too many taxes. Is taking money through cleverness any less
reprehensible than naked looting? Of course we have evolved social
contracts that lauds the one and condemns the other, but are they really
that much different?
not suggesting everyone should expect to get an equal share of the pie.
However, it is an accident of nature that some of us are genetically endowed with
traits that make it easier to for us to engage in economically valuable
activities while others languish in relative poverty without the
intellectual, motivational or physical resources to do otherwise.
am still fascinated by the possibility that one day we will use our
vastly improved knowledge of genetics to identify every infant's
performance potentials in order to design custom educational tracks that
will maximize it's chances for success. Already we can identify at
birth individuals likely to become violently aggressive later in
life. A whole catalog of personality traits correlated with genetic
markers in the genome is being assembled as I write this. The cost of identifying
those markers is approaching the means of average individuals and
already could be justified on a national basis were an honest
cost-benefit analysis conducted and the political will evolved. Of
course, unpredictable social and physical environments will always play
a big role in the course of an individuals life, but we have so far
greatly underestimated the role our ancestry plays in determining future
see a day, perhaps 20 years hence when every child will enter school accompanied by an accurate inventory of his/her genetically
predetermined strengths and weaknesses... and when every educator will
have at least completed courses teaching effective ways for helping
children capitalize on their strengths and ameliorating the impact of
their weaknesses. What we do now with crude intelligence and aptitude tests
is anemic compared to what I believe should soon be possible. How many
more Mozart's or Einstein's might be discovered in the dung heaps of our
hands is the Trojan Horse of social greetings, something that custom
encourages us to do to show friendly feelings toward one another, but
something that guarantees a frequent transmission of disease causing
pathogens! I have been trying to limit this form of social contact with
strangers, but it is often so awkward I just go ahead and comply... and
then try to find a convenient place to wash my hands. Each time a
hand is extended in friendly greeting I seriously consider coughing into my right
hand as an excuse for declining the gesture... and as an
educational tactic. Who wants to shake hands with a sick person?
two hour comfortable bus ride took me the sixty miles north to the
Atlantic side of the canal and the coastal city of
Colon is an interesting mix of old colonial and early industrial
era structures with a pleasant hustle-bustle air of commercial activity.
The main section of the city center covers no more than five blocks by
four and is easily walked in a half hour. A pleasant park-like median
separates the one-way streets running through town. Old folks sat
on park benches watching the pedestrians ambling down the sidewalks. I
debated shifting my base of operation to Colon
for a few days, but the only hotel I could find must have been built
about the time of the canal, elegant but dated. At $35 per night it
could definitely be considered an authentic Panamanian experience, but I
passed on that one.
For three hours I wandered the smelly waterfront looking for rumored fishing boats that carry passengers down to Venezuela... and frequently carry
contraband of one kind or another. I didn't find any. At the the luxury cruise
ship port I learned love boats never board new passengers during their stops in
For three hours I wandered the smelly waterfront looking for rumored fishing boats that carry passengers down to Venezuela... and frequently carry contraband of one kind or another. I didn't find any. At the the luxury cruise ship port I learned love boats never board new passengers during their stops in Panama.
Panama has been slow to
complete the Pan American Highway through the
Gap jungles in the eastern extremities of the country, citing
formidable engineering barriers and political instability along the
border with Colombia as the principal reasons. This decision effectively
isolates Central America from South America, to the economic detriment
of both I suspect. After
unsuccessfully searching for either land or sea transport south to one
of the northern countries in South America, I gave up and booked a
flight to Cali Colombia by way of Bogota.
pre-flight airport security check again resulted in an unexpected
confiscation; this time my little bottle of super glue! I am trying to
imagine how would-be hijackers might take over a plane with super glue.
Perhaps gluing all the toilet doors closed in the economy section and
all but one in the first class section would do it. Hey, those guys in
first class paid a lot of money for their privileges! If anyone can think of
other original and practical strategies, let me know.
our 12:30 Avianca
Flight 059 MD83 taxied out for take off on its first leg to Cali
something didn't seem normal; we were taking way too long to get to the
head of the runway and the air conditioning failed to cool the hot
passenger cabin. The stewardesses were neglecting strict
adherence to pre-flight safety procedures - the passenger in front of me
was allowed to continue with his seat reclined and a guy across the isle
still had his tray table down. At the point when planes usually power up
their engines in preparation for the takeoff run, our plane sat for five
minutes with the engines intermittently testing itself. Eventually
starting with less than full power and moving way too slowly down the
runway, finally veering off and returning to the departure lobby.
In response to my question a member of the cockpit crew said they had detected a problem with one of the landing gears and would need to fix it, a procedure not expected to take more than 20 minutes. Back in the lobby passengers loitered around waiting for the eminent order to re-plane. An hour and a half later announcements told us the problem could not be fixed anytime soon and another plane would be available in a few hours. Those of us with connecting flights hounded the ground personnel and learned everyone would be connected one way or another... or Avianca Airline would put us up in a hotel in Bogota until a satisfactory onward flight could be arranged. My new "satisfactory" connecting flight arrived in Cali at 23:30. With expected immigration formalities and transport into town I could not expect to be at a hotel until well after midnight.
The harassed airline agent holding a handful of new
plane reservations for those of us with connecting flights, showed no
sympathy for my plight. Instead, with an exasperated expression she
informed me that finding ANY replacement flight ended Avianca's
obligation to delayed passengers and proceeded to deal with other
anxious people. Another Avianca employee listened to my concerns and
informed me that passengers facing any kind of hardship as a result of
the delayed flight would be given hotel accommodations and meals in
Bogota and that I should not worry. Never the less, I prepared myself for a night trying to sleep in a Bogota transit lounge.
Our scheduled 12:30 flight from Panama
City airport to Bogota finally took off at 18:20 arriving about 21:00 in
Bogota. All of us had to pass through the immigration procedures even if
we had immediate connecting flights. The Avianca agents desk had a mob
of passengers crowded around it. Fortunately, no arguments were required to reschedule my
connecting flight to the next morning and the accommodating agent
immediately agreed to getting me into a hotel with some real food as
quickly as possible. Three of us facing the same problem waited about a
half hour for transportation to an unknown hotel. That unknown hotel
turned out to be the Bogota Intercontinental. What a delight! In
addition to our more than adequate room, Avianca arranged for anyone who
needed to do so to make one international phone call and
gave us two hotel meal vouchers. I'll save the rest of the tale for the next
postcard from somewhere in Colombia.
PS: All of my postcards are now available on my website. Take a look here. F