Update: 350 Photos Are Now Up

AlejandraI want to bring everyone up to date.

I spent a good part of the day scribbling, in between surfing, of course.

Tomorrow is a travel day so I’ll spent some time in the airport polishing up my notes and hopefully get a blog post up about Nicaragua and the ride from Nicaragua to El Salvador, which obviously was fascinating.

But it might take another day.

In the meantime, the full set of Central America photos is now up to about 350 photos, so click on the link and enjoy the full set.

More soon . . .

Across The Isthmus At The Speed of Light

The Panamanian accent is a rapid fire Caribbean and if you think that Mexican Spanish is fast—holy shit!—Panamanian Spanish is super fast, quite possibly speed of light rapidity. Words come out of their mouths so fast that five have already passed me by and I’m still trying to untangle the first one. The city, Panama City, that is, clings to a narrow ribbon of cultivable land between the water and the mountains—the Cordillera of hard, black, sharp volcanic rocks. When the tide is out you can see the land just below the water is igneous and the mountains are green and misty.Miraflores Locks

The old town, Casco Antiguo, is tipico Spanish colonial. Looks colonial. Feels colonial. Reminds me of Singapore a bit, except more hills in PC—Panama City. Not many hills in Singapore, a place that will sadly drown, mostly, once the ice caps and Greenland melts. But PC has a touch of the decadent, French Quarter, iron railing, long communal balconies, curved buildings with rounded corners, few hard angles. Easy on the eyes. Whereas new Panama City is just another global agglomeration of rebar, concrete and blue glass.

True to Mann’s “1493” thesis there is a Chinatown in Casco Antiguo. This surprises me more than it should. It’s a confirmation of Mann’s entire “1493” work—especially in the creation of the world’s first truly global trading matrix. The silver was shipped up the South American coast to Panama from Lima. In Panama it either crossed to the Caribbean or was shipped East, bound for the China trade and the China fleet based in the Philippines. Hence, Chinatown in Casco Antiguo.

The people—the people are a mix. They run from white as day Spaniards, hardy from the Estremadura to black Africans from the the Ivory or Gold Coast. The big bulge in a common distribution curve would lean heavily towards African however. It’s the most Africanized place in Central America I’ve yet seen. My guess is the income distribution would be in inverse proportion to skin color, as it pretty much is everywhere, sadly.

Few American cars on the road. This, for all intents and purposes, a former American colony, with no American cars on the road. Let that sink in for a moment.

There are lots of feral cats in the old town. Why do I always notice cats? Trolley tracks from the late nineteenth century or early twentieth run in front of the Ministerio de Gobierno, and they’re building a subway here. Why can’t we get subways in Texas? Panama can do it but America can’t? Christ.

Clearly an enormous amount of money flooded into Panama—the entire country as I would find out later on the drive across it—during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lots of it from Columbia. Some from America.

I saw the canal. It’s fascinating, but I’ve sailed a container ship from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Chennai, India and ships and ports and canal-type engineering marvels, while fascinating, I don’t find terribly compelling. I’m glad I saw it. I can see why Teddy Roosevelt made such a big whoop-de-doo about it. Big stick, soft voice and all. Too bad he got followed up by Woodrow Wilson, pretty much the first loud mouth American.

Anyhow, strange digression there. Our driver from the canal was an interesting man. A large, powerful man of African descent who had lived in Jersey for many years with the last name of MacKenzie took us to the canal and answered all our questions. He was kind and patient and what is always wonderful in a driver: he didn’t talk too much. Nothing worse than being cooped up in a car with someone and your don’t want to talk, just want to let the road roll by and see country.
Homero y mi Papa en la frontera de Panama y Costa Rica

We got lucky in David, where the bus dropped us too, with Homero, a kind father of two and part time photographer, who drove us to La Frontera: the border with Costa Rica.

The country side was beautiful and moderately prosperous. The golden arches of globalization were everywhere. Mostly new cars on the roads and a seemingly abundant source of energy from the vocal chords of the entire country moving at the speed of light until we hit the border at ten at night and crossed into Costa Rica. Things slowed down very quickly then.

Nota bene: The full set of photos can be found here. Newest photos start here and move forward. 

(Consider a tip if the mood strikes you.)


Panama SunsetMoving around feels good, I confess. Not staying in one place for long, feels good, I confess.

Being out here in the crazy, uncontrollable world where only one thing can ruin my day, my expectations, is the best.

It’s just been too long.

It’s just been too long cooped up, unable to pick up and leave a place simply because I feel like it.

It’s been too long.

Don’t you ever feel that way? Doesn’t everyone? Aren’t we all nomads at heart?

Panama City

Driving in from AirportOn my way to the old town, the old touristy part of Panama City, not the new flashy side where Donal Trump built his phallic-sailing ship monstrosity to post-modernity I saw a Chinatown in Casco Antiguo, which is the original old town of Panama and was reminded of the book “1493” and the Spanish fleet that sailed to the Philippines every year from Panama loaded with silver for the China trade. That is one massive run-on sentence, ain’t it?

You known this whole “China trade” thing has been going on for quite some time. It doesn’t seem to be working out the way most folks think it should. Whatever. I’m tired, hungry and grumpy and don’t really give a fuck about politics right now. Except to note that when you arrive in Panama you are given a certificate that gives you 30 days of free health insurance while you are in Panama. Can you imagine the monkey hoots and howl of jackals in Congress if we were to give furriner, freeloaders free fucking healthcare? They might shut down the government or something. Can’t have that in the best country in the world. Can’t have that in the richest country in the world now, can we? America, fuck yeah!

I’ll have some more thoughts when I get some light on the notes I took. More soon, in the meantime I’ve posted a dozen and a half photos from today. Tomorrow I go see the Canal and begin my pilgrimage north to Tikal.

On The Road Again

For far too long this blog has been without any kind of real adventure. The last one ended abruptly with a shattered collar-bone in the jungles of Sumatra and a grueling six day return trip to America and surgery.

There were a few excursions here and there: out to West Texas a few times, a magnificent road trip from Tahoe to Yosemite and then Yosemite to San Francisco. But those places have been tame, calm, where one can sip fine wines and sleep on posh beds. It has been a long time since I strung a back pack on, landed in an airport and wondered, “where the hell am I going now and what language are they speaking?”
Descent on Yavin IV
That day has almost arrived.

No one is holding me back any more.

On Tuesday December 10th I will fly into Panama City, Panama and over the next two weeks make my way up the Isthmus to Guatemala City to fly home on the 23rd of December. This is all mostly terra incognita to me. I won’t spend any time in Costa Rica, but I do plan to revisit a day in a canoe in the Lago de Nicaragua and maybe catch a baseball game in Granada. After that: who knows? Maybe an eco-resort in El Salvador, maybe a trip up to Honduras to see family friends. But one thing you can be assured of, I am going to watch the Millennium Falcon land at Tikal during the Winter Solstice, December 21st!

Now, on to a bit of logistics: I’ll be doing some writing for Centro y Sur, a magazine dedicated to Latin American travel. So be sure and subscribe online, as it’s free.

But that hardly pays the bills. Therefore, I will not hesitate to ask (now that I am no longer in sales, but still a former salesman) for you to pitch into the tip jar only if you liked the blog post, or the story as it develops. Grad school is expensive and this travel, while I stay in $5 a night rat and roach infested places and the flight is covered by old accumulated air-miles, still isn’t cheap.

You will also get a daily dose of large amounts of photographs at Flickr. 

And as always, if YOU have suggestions, tell them to me and I will see if I can accommodate you, as you are the reader and an equal partner in this endeavor of ours.

So, y’all, how does it feel to be back on the road with me? It’s been far, far too long, hasn’t it?