Central America - SouthoftheBorder travel blog



























Got up to catch taxi to train by 7:15. We were told to get to train station one hour early so caught taxi just past 6! Well, it only took 10 minutes to arr and we found several others also waiting due to same info. They opened the doors to ticket sales at 6:30 and anticipating an economical trip (LP said tickets were $5), we were shocked to find the price was $22 one way ($44 round trip)! Unable to think what to do and being first in line - many others had tickets due to being on tours and filing in - we took the plunge and got round trip tickets. We had heard that there was an old, observation car available so thinking it was 1st come 1st served we hustled down the platform where the train personnel were directing us. Yes, it was a very nice glass-windows-over-top observation car. Still, $22 vs $5 seemed a great difference. By days end we determined that to get a cheap commuter ticket you need to by it a day ahead - we guessed. All the foreigners on board had paid the $22, no one seemed upset. What we discovered later was that you can go for $22 by train & return via bus for just $2.50! With a round trip already in our hands and the only people to rectify out situation back in Panama City, we were dead in the water! At any rate, we were joined as had been planned the day before to save $$$ on taxis, by a lady (Judi/retired PO worker from Michigan) so when we got off the train and were approached by a 'Guide' who was selling tours she was anxious to take his tour. This fellow, Dino, was a fast talking NYer (but born in Panama to Army dad and Panama mom) who 'convinced' Judi it was not safe to travel even to the bus station 2 blocks away where we intended to get the bus to the Gatun Locks. We ended up agreeing to his $10 each tour to the locks and back. Dino, the driver and guide, is perhaps the most aggressive, macho/sexist (he put down his window at least twice to make suggestive remarks to girls on the street - quite unwelcome from the reactions he got), NYC/Black/Latino I have ever met. He is married to a Panamanian, has 4 sons ages 3 to 21, born in Panama to a US Army drill sargent/jungle warfare trainer who met and married HIS Panamanian wife here where Dino was born. Dino lived his first 4 years and his last 8 here in Panama, the rest in the US. He is a BIG (and overweight) man, could be in his late 30's or even late 40's, it's difficult to tell. He drove us thru the 'hood' where he seemingly know lots of guys-on-the-street since we stopped numerous times when he greeted them or made some comments to them regarding some future deal or getting together. However, as much as he is the antithesis of someone I could ever call a friend, I must say I learned more during our tour about Panama/Colon than I think I could have in any other way!

Gatun Locks: Visit Locks

The visit is very much like the Miraflores Locks so we really were here just to see the ships come thru again...of course, Judi and Mari had never seen this so it was new to them. I was impressed once again with the shear size of the project and the immensity of what it accomplishes, each day! Instead of taking 21 days to go around the Cape, the journey thru the canal takes 8-10 hours and a ship can make 4 journeys from ocean to ocean/coast to coast in the same time it would take to go around the cape. Thus, it is not surprising that the ave. price per vessel is $360,000 and the largest vessel pays $409,000. They are charged by their capacity i.e. how many containers/beds they can handle (cargo/cruise). Each vessel uses/discharges 52 million gallons of fresh water into the ocean on each passage and an average of 36 vessels go thru each day! You do the numbers...no wonder they had to create a huge lake/reservoir to provide the water necessary, and the reservoir holds an 8 month supply capacity! This will no doubt change as years go by if for no other reason than the expansion of the canal to accommodate wider vessels (going from 106' to 160' wide).

After our canal tour Dino put the screws to us again, reminding us that we still had 6+ hours to wait for the return train! We finally gave in to his reasoning and now the $10 each tour turned into a $25 each tour so on we went thru San Lorenzo Park and the fort Fort San Lorenzo. Some interesting asides of our visit to the fort included a view of Chagres River Chagres River

River of Gold & Bird/Animal Habitat

Rio Chagres History & Info

Likewise, I learned about the Chestnut-headed Oropendola The Bird w/ nests as long as 56cm - and the Noni, a commercially exported fruit Eco-Friendly Sustainable Fruit.

We also met a fellow who was a perfect example of what the economy of US has been up to for the past 25+ years. He worked for HP (Hewlett Packard) for 27 years and was 'let go' 4 months ago...his last job was to help the company move his part of the operation in Sacramento to Singapore! He's happy to be away from it, but does not believe the products that are to come will be of the same quality that he has overseen while at HP...of course, not biased but still!

We continued on to what once had been the School of the Americas, CIA site for training Latin American military operatives. It is now Melia Panama Canal Melia Hotel where we saw several huge trees we've seen before but did not know their names...Silk Cotton Tree - Pseudobombax septanatum Silk Cotton Tree; Wild Cashew - Anacardium excelsum Wild Cashew; and Traveler's Palm - Ravenala madagascarensis Traveler's Palm. Our final stop/pass thru was the Free Zone where there are over 3000 'stores' which supply goods to most of L. America and Carribean, being really wholesale house crammed into a commercial only 'city within a city', simply amazing!

On our train journey back we talked w/ two Canadians from New Brunswick, Peter and Kathlene. He is a fish scientist (specializing in salmon), she a math teacher. We had a number of very interesting discussions, especially with Peter who is quite optimistic. They have a missionary bent (Episcopalian) and apparently their 4 children are also quite into the plight of poor and environmental issues. Peter says his optimism stems from the fact that he believes his children are smarter (read, more informed re: the world) than he is/was at their age.

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