Adventures in Panama

Costa Rica is a nation of hippies compared to Panama.  The contrast is hysterical.  Where Costa Rica prides itself on literacy, conservation, being a non-military state, and wresting power from the United Fruit Company, Panama boasts mostly about how goddamn awesome the nation is for its Canal.  The country backs up its bragging with the Canal pulling in $4 million dollars on a bad day and averaging $7 million a day.  And let’s face it.  How many people make it their business to lift boats over mountains?  Watching a ship move through a lock is remarkable.  Even the sight at the port in Colon, Panama was pretty awesome with dozens of vessels waiting in line in order to cut 21 days off their journey to the Pacific.

Port Colon, Panama--The Caribbean side of the Panama Canal

Panama gets 10 feet of rain annually.  The rainy season lasts nine months.   And we were there for rainy season.  We boarded a bus at the port and entered the bustling city of Colon.  THERE ARE NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN THIS MAJOR CITY!!!  Yes, I was terrified, and my terror was exacerbated by the tour guide explaining the rules of the road:

You have the right of way if you don’t make eye contact with other drivers.  You lose the right of way once you make eye contact.”

He wasn’t kidding.  It’s exactly how our driver maneuvered through traffic.

No Traffic Lights in Colon, Panama

The driver and tour guides (all sporting perma-smirk) regarded fear in passenger faces as pretty fucking funny.  While we all saw our lives flash before our eyes and tried not to pee ourselves, the guide touted the machismo of Teddy Roosevelt, the genius of the canal, the contentious to cozy relationship between America and Panama, then he mocked imprisoned drug monkey Manuel Noriega, and scoffed at the country’s new interstate which has no exit ramp for 45 miles.   There was a familiarity to the cockiness that I couldn’t quite place.  As we passed an affluent subdivision one of the guides said, “You can see these beautiful homes on the left.  We believe in freedom of religion in Panama; so, the Jews, Arabs, and Hindus make the other half of the money in our country.  They live there and own the banks.”  Then it hit me!  Panamanians are assholes!  Like Americans.  I say that because I was wishing in retaliation I had a t-shirt that said “Super Jew” with a sparkly Star of David to flash in the guy’s face.

The Scary Bridge to Gamboa

Just to lend more weight to my asshole theory, the guide mentioned the crocodiles, caiman, and snakes we might see while we kayaked…which scared the hell out of the lady sitting next to me.  I whispered, “He’s teasing us.”    This same lady later asked if the water level was higher on the Pacific side than the Caribbean side.      The guide said, “Both bodies of water are called ‘sea level’.”

Panama Canal near Gamboa

Big Ass Ship on the Panama Canal

Picton Castle voyaging to the Galapagos

I took a picture of this ship, the Picton Castle, simply because it’s beautiful.  Can you believe I just found the Captain’s log online?  This is the vessel’s 5th voyage around the world…small world.

Beautiful Alexa kayaking the Panama Canal

No cracks about my huge nostril. It helps me take in air. A lot of air. 🙂

Something was obviously wrong with my camera.  My nose is not that big.  Alexa got her tiny cheerleader nose from her Scandinavian grandma…thank God!   Kayaking was listed as a 3 out of possible 4 for strenuous activity.  That’s a dirty lie.  It was a total cakewalk.

Watershed of the Panama Canal near Gamboa

You can see pictures of the monkey I shot in my Central American Critters story, but I thought I’d show you this:  a big nasty bag of termites in the canopy of the Panamanian rain forest.  Ewwww.

Blah, blah, blah, termites are part of the delicate cycle of life in the Rain Forest

Funny story.  My glasses reside now at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.  They blew off my face while I was leaning on a railing and looking out at the water.  (Note to self: eye doctor appointment.)  I took a photo of this disgusting sack of grossness thinking it was the howler monkey.  But no.  It’s a bag of filthy termites.   I’m shooting from at least 300 feet away.  This is like one of those moments where something stinks, and you’re all, “Ewwww, smell this!” to your friend.  So  just savor the ickiness with me.

Lily pads on the Panama Canal

We were returning to dock the kayaks, and the guide claimed he saw a baby crocodile dive under a patch of lily pads.  Alexa and I rushed right up behind him to look but the other kayakers stroked furiously toward the dock.  So, I’m a little skeptical.  I think he was trying to keep us on schedule with Panamanian flare. 🙂


27 thoughts on “Kayaking the Panama Canal

  1. i’d really love to see the panama canal, but i don’t think i want to go to panama if the people are nasty and the drivers suck. i wonder how fascinating the erie canal is.

    • The peeps were definitely edgy. It’s like they were all possessed by the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt. A lot of bravado. It was mostly funny.

      The driving was scary. Period. You could always visit the Pacific side of Panama. There might be lights there.

      But the Canal was extraordinary, well worth the nuttiness. Massive ships are literally carried over the mountains. For me it was as cool as the Grand Canyon.

      • a while back, a friend and i were discussing the erie canal, and i had found a bunch of really interesting youtubes about it. they made me want to go up there and see it one of these days.

        • If you live near DC, there’s (or at least was) 30 or 40 miles of the C&O canal you can walk; it comes right into Georgetown.

          There’s a mule-drawn canal boat ride, too, but it’s kinda…boring. *Looking* at the boat is cool, though, as well as the downtown locks and the backs of the buildings and such.

        • I’ve got a load of bricks and hay; and I know every step of the way from Albany to Buffalo-oh….
          Low bridge, everybody down, low bridge, cuz we’re coming to a town…

          Yeah, I sing that all the time too. Poorly. But loud.

        • that’s exactly what we were talking about! i learned all about how each mule was good for about 15 miles, and then a new one would take over. if i’m ever on jeopardy, and they have a question about how long mules are good for when you’re building a canal, i’ll be the first to buzz in! 🙂

          it really is interesting to read the details of how the canal was built. there were no civil engineers in the u.s. at the time, so the whole thing was started by a couple of judges, an amateur engineer, and a math teacher.

  2. Hi! LMAO! and the pics are great-well, except for the termites! Wow, 10 feet of rain a year, and I suppose alot of humidity to boot. That could explain some of the reason for the sarcastic Panamanian humor. The driving sounds like what my sister’s boss put up with when he visited his relatives in Italy. He said, They drive like maniacs and make a road out of anywhere and park anywhere!

    • Thanks, 0whole1. 🙂 I’ve read the tides are opposite between P&A but never thought of that as a sea level issue.

      Just learned a whole lot here.

  3. Melissa’s excellent adventure! I’ve heard they never have revolution in Costa Rica because of the fear of harming the national treasure, the Opera House. Back when the French started the project, everybody invested all their money in canal bonds. When they failed, it wiped out the savings of most of the country. And historically, Panama has always had the reputation of one of the nastiest, infected, and infestated places on earth. But I’m glad you enjoyed the trip!

  4. Even if you think your nostril looks big in that photo (which I don’t), your hair looks fabulous 🙂 And Alexa looks great too in her lifejacket shot. It’s funny I got to see you just before you went off on this really cool travel adventure. I should have snuck into your suitcase 🙂


    • Thanks, TW! You know how to pick cuisine, too. Awesome food. 🙂

      I keep wondering where I’ll go next year. Haven’t decided yet.

      So, are you still way up yonder?

  5. > Thanks, TW! You know how to pick cuisine, too.

    Well, you can’t go wrong with a dockside seafood restaurant with no decor that’s been around for fifty years 🙂

    > So, are you still way up yonder?

    Don’t make it sound like I’m north of Canada. Wait, technically I am: I’m north of Detroit, which is north of Windsor, Ontario for some quirk of river geography…


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