Tag Archives: living abroad

Panama Canal 100 Years Later

Ask anyone in the world what the first thing is they think of when they hear the word “Panama,” and the nearly universal response would have to be CANAL! One Hundred years ago the opening of the Panama Canal literally changed how the world worked. Shipping no longer had to make the treacherous voyage around Cape Horn, one of the worst places for shipping on the face of the globe.

Eventually, though shipping outgrew the size of the Canal’s locks. The lock chambers are 110 ft (33.53 m) wide by 1,050 ft (320 m) long, with a usable length of 1,000 ft (305 m). These dimensions determine the maximum size of ships that can use the canal; this size is known as Panamax. For years many new ships have been referred to as Postpanamax because they wouldn’t fit. Now, though, the country has been on a construction project unlike any other ever attempted. They’ve been building new locks to accommodate the larger ships. The new lock chambers will be 427 m (1,400.92 ft) long, 55 m (180.45 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60.04 ft) deep. They will use rolling gates instead of miter gates, which are used by the existing locks.

To give you some idea of the immensity of this project take a look at these two videos updating the progress of the new lock system. Work is close to 90% completed. Income from the Canal today, and what will come from increased traffic (though it will take decades to pay off the several BILLION dollars the project will cost) is what makes Panama the most prosperous country in Central America and much of South America as well. Not only had the Canal project been a boon here ports all over the United States and Europe have been on a building boom, too, to match the anticipated volume of large shipping that will be coming their way with the completion of the Canal.

One thing worries me, though. This project has been a boon to construction workers in the country, and people don’t often think of all the businesses that support such a project…concrete companies, the drivers who haul the concrete and the land that’s being excavated. The mechanics who maintain those trucks. And it gets right down to the little corner “Super Minis” of “Chinos”, Panama’s answer to convenience stores where the workers spend their pay checks. What happens to all those people when the project is finished. What will they do for work then? Will it cause social unrest and massive unemployment? Time will tell, of course.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Dog Gets A Painful Lesson

You may notice that I said “The” dog, not “My” dog. That’s only because she’s only “my” dog by virtue of the fact that I feed her. And even then, it’s not every day. She’ll disappear for a couple or three days every now and then. She kind of accepts that her name is “Dirt Dog” though she’ll only come to that name when I call her if she feels like it. The reason I call her that is because she’s mostly white with a couple of BIG black spots and one of her favorite things to do is to go down to the river, take a dip and then lay around in dirt giving her a coating of mud sometimes.

She came limping into my life a couple of years ago with a broken leg. Naturally I took her to the vet and got her fixed up. Who wouldn’t? And I took her to one of the spay and neuter clinics that are held around the area monthly. Chiriquí doesn’t need anymore dogs.

Anyway, this morning when I went to feed her I noticed there were a couple of things hanging from her lower lip. It looked like a couple of pieces of dried grass. She does spend a lot of time roaming around in the brush, and right now towards the end (hopefully) of the “dry” season most of the grass and weeds around are the color of straw. But when I was able to get up close to her I saw it wasn’t grass. It was a couple of what looked like porcupine quills.

I was able to pull them out of her lip. She shook her head and walked off without touching her breakfast. I wondered if there were, in fact, porcupines in Panama and this is what I discovered…

It’s Rothschild’s porcupine (wouldn’t you know those rich bastards would have an animal named after them?).

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

According to Wikipedia, Coendou rothschildi, is a species of rodent in the family Erethizontidae.  It is usually considered endemic to Panama. This species can be found in lowland deciduous and evergreen forest. It is nocturnal and arboreal; it sleeps during the day in vine tangles near the tops of trees. The diet includes fruit and leaves. Well, I had a cantaloup that was going bad and threw out in the back yard the other day. I noticed yesterday morning that one large part of it had been dragged off to another spot and it was probably one of these guys, and last night the dog decided to tangle with it and got a surprise.

I tried to get a photo of the quills but they didn’t come out. They’re about an inch and an eight long, black on the barbed end and about two thirds of them are straw colored.

That’s your lesson for the day, kids. And your new vocabulary word is endemic. There’s probably never going to be a time in your life when there’ll be a chance to use the word Erethizontidae but you might be able to work endemic in somewhere. Endemism is the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous  to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere. Huh, I didn’t know that until this morning, did you? You would, of course score HUGE points if you could work Erethizontidae into a conversation some day.

big words

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Trip To The Bocas (Chica and Brava)

My friends, Kris and Joel Cunningham, and a neighbor of theirs, Lauren, made a trip over to the Boca Chica/Boca Brava area today, with Joel driving.

Boca Chica Sat view

The Interamerican Highway is under construction the whole way from David to Santiago in the middle of the country though traveling over to where we turned off to Hoconcitos was pretty easy going. The road from Horconcitos to Boca Chica, which is on the mainland was a different story. We passed a lot of houses that gringos would definitely consider hovels, some made of split bamboo and others that looked as though they were made of discarded lumber picked up along the highway somewhere. But as we discussed, at least these people have places to live. They have homes and aren’t living under bridges which, to our group’s way of thinking is a huge step up from being homeless in America.

The road from Horconcitos ends at the waterfront in Boca Chica…

IMG_0692

One of the biggest lies found in travel guides, anywhere, is the phrase, “English is widely spoken.” Well, sort of…

IMG_0691

We caught a water taxi from Boca Chica…

IMG_0693

 

Over to the Hotel Boca Brava where I promptly fell in love wit the girl who works at the restaurant there. As usual I didn’t take nearly enough photos of the whole event. But to access the hotel you have to walk up about eighteen hundred gazillion stairs. I found it to be a challenge, but the views when we got up to the top were worth the pain…

Looking out towards the Pacific Ocean.

IMG_0695IMG_0702

Looking back towards the mainland.

IMG_0703IMG_0704

I don’t know how drunk the driver had to be to pile this truck up at the Boca Brava Hotel maybe 75 feet above the water and with no road…

IMG_0697

We had lunch at the hotel with huge, surprisingly tasty hamburgers and fries while Lauren opted for the “fish fingers.” I never realized fish had hands, let alone fingers…

Back on the mainland I asked one of the fishermen if he knew of anyone who had a boat they wanted to sell. He said he did, but it needed work and pointed down the shoreline and wanted to take me there, forthwith, as they say, and it was all I could do to get him to stop trying to get me to go along with him. He said the owner wanted about $2,500. I’d seen the boat, I’m sure, from the water taxi, and if this isn’t it, the color scheme is the same, then it’s pretty close. Yellow and red. On the way out of town we took a peek at where the boat was. These boats are very narrow, with a beam of about six feet which, if you go look back at my post about the narrow boats of England, can make quite tidy homes. This hull, rather roughly finished fiberglass, is about 30 feet long.

108503-boca-chica-fishing-boats-isla-boca-brava-panama

Before heading for home, we swung off the road to Horconcitos onto a horrible road that took up to the Seagull Cove Lodge where Kris and Joel have stayed several times. They were very warmly greeted by the manager, Marcelo. Joel took this picture of Marcelo, Kris, Lauren in the background and myself, standing out at the edge of the dining room.

At Seagull Cove Lodge

The views from where we were standing were gorgeous. In fact, they all were.

IMG_0705IMG_0706

On the road back to the Interamerican Highway there are some spectacular vistas. It’s a shame a two-dimensional camera can’t capture the depth of the scenery.

IMG_0708IMG_0709

Traffic was much heavier on the way back into the city but Joel and Kris dropped me off at the bus terminal around 4 o’clock or so and I was home, dead tired but happy by 5.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

What Good Are Plans If You Can’t Change Them?

I’ve had problems sleeping, lately. I get up in the middle of the night to take a whiz and can’t get back to sleep because variations of the shanty boat build whirl around in my mind.

I thought about filling milk crates with empty 2-liter plastic bottles and then found out there’s only one dairy in the whole country that uses them and they won’t sell them. Using other kinds of containers to hold the bottles are no real answer to the problem, either. In any case, I would have built a plywood pontoon around them.

So I got to thinking about using foam flotation. I found a place that sells open-cell foam ceiling tiles and could buy enough of them to provide, literally, tons of buoyancy. The problem with them is each 2’X4′ panel is only 1/2″ thick. Also, open-cell foam, I discovered from rummaging around on line when I couldn’t get back to sleep, will absorb water over time. I’d also have to  find a way to keep the 35 sheets that came in a bundle together.

Closed-cell foam doesn’t absorb water. There’s only one place in all of Panama that sells closed-foam sheets. The sheets are 4’X8′ and 4″ thick. They cost $100 each. I’d need 24 sheets to get the size and amount of buoyancy required for what I have in mind. I’m NOT spending $2,400 for floatation.

So, I’m looking at a site that shows some people building pontoons and stuffing it with foam.

Foam filling

DCFC0100.JPG

As you can see in the bottom pic they’re using a combination of bottles, 5-gallon pails and foam. They also mentioned in their story that they weren’t making the pontoons water-tight because they were making a single river trip and the shanty wasn’t for long-term use.

The foam isn’t providing any buoyancy of its own. None at all. What it’s doing is providing potential buoyancy should the pontoons be breached.

Well, I intend on making my pontoons watertight using a combination of glues, epoxy filets, and glass over wood. I also plan on building the pontoons in separate 2’X2’X4′ sections. They’d be easy for an old geezer like me to build and move around than building two long 20′ or 24′ pontoons. These segments would, of course, each have closed ends so that a breach in one wouldn’t flood the whole pontoon. Then I would fill them, like seen above, with a collection of discarded bottles.

So, we’ll see if sorting this out in the daylight will help me sleep through the night.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Advantages of a Shanty Boat vs. Sail or Powerboat

I have a very dear friend in Florida who is always trying to convince me to give up the shanty boat idea. “Come up here,” he says, “and get a REAL boat. Then you can sail it back down to Panama if you want.”

Well, there are a lot of reasons I don’t want to do that. One, I don’t really want to go back to the States even to visit. People around here often ask me if I don’t miss my family and friends up north. Well, sure. But if I travel some place I want to go to somewhere I’ve never been before. I don’t need to go visit those people up there. I KNOW what it looks like where they live. They should come down HERE and take part in the adventure of a different country and culture.

But getting back to the theme of this post. One of the big disadvantages of powerboats and sailboats as live aboards is the DRAFT. My lovely Nancy Dawson which I lived on for nearly six years drew 4′ feet.

kaiser-page-2-goodjpeg

That meant that I needed to be in AT LEAST four and a half feet of water and also take into account the tidal range. For instance, over here around Boca Chica where I’d like to be, the tidal range is as much as 19 feet! Take a gander of these sport fishing boats at Boca Chica…(By the way, there are MANY world record catches off the shores in this area).

 

Jolie Aire-Golfe Juan

The boat I ran over in France, after we changed the old, short-weighted wing keel which made the boat dangerously unstable for a spade-type keel drew over TEN FEET!!!

 

DSC08468-sport-fish-weight-station

Because of this great tidal range (it’s only about 3′ over in the Bocas del Toro area) if you’re in a sailboat with a keel or a power boat where the props and rudders hang below the level of the keel, you have to be anchored quite a way from the beach in order to stay afloat or pay an outrageous fee for a dock at a marina.

With a shanty boat you can choose from a couple of options. You could hang around, see where the low tide line is and anchor yourself just off it and walk ashore since your boat will only have a draft of a foot or so. Of course, six hours after you left it will be high tide and you’ll either have to wait for the tide to fall or swim out to your home. OR, if you’ve built your boat sturdy enough, you can go inshore as far as possible and “take the ground” as they say if you’ve found a nice protected spot where there isn’t much wave action to bounce you around as the tide drops.

In either case you’re going to want/need to have a dinghy. I wrote this several years ago…http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2009/04/29/the-boaters-car-of-pickup-truck/

My choice for a dinghy is the Puddle Duck Racer. I’ve written about it before on this blog. http://pdracer.com

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

Nutty Idea # ???

Lately my idea of building a shanty “boat” has shifted to building a shanty “raft.” As a Canadian member of my Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/427634977405622/ calls them, “Float Shacks.”  One of the main reasons for this recent focus is the building process would be a lot easier. I have also been thinking about how to keep the costs down and one way would be by using recyclable materials.

One of the very few things that disappoint me about Panama, and there are really only two, is that so many people treat this beautiful country as a trash can. Sometimes you can almost imagine dad telling the family, “Okay, everybody in the car. We’re going to drive around for a while and throw shit out the windows.” (The other thing I don’t like is the loud music all over the place. It doesn’t have to be GOOD music but it does have to be LOUD!) I got into it with a woman one time on the bus. When she finished drinking her soda she opened the window and tossed the empty out onto the Interamerican Highway. I admonished her in my horrible Spanish and a couple of nearby Panamanian riders backed me up. One of the most egregious things I’ve seen, and this is the absolute truth, one trash day the garbage truck was stopped outside my gate. One of the workers was drinking from a two liter bottle of water. When he polished it off, what do you think he did? Did he throw the empty into the truck? Of course not, the idiot threw it into the grass. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Anyway, I’m thinking about the possibility of using plastic bottles as flotation. I like the idea of 55-gal plastic drums, and I need to investigate that further. The only place I asked for pricing wanted $35/each for used barrels. In one plan good plan I saw online I’d need 14 of them which is $490! But I see a hardware company distribution yard when I take the bus into David (Dah VEED) and they always seem to have a lot of those drums. The reason it might not be able to get them cheaply here unlike in the States is that water service is often sporadic here and outages are a way of life, so many, many houses have these barrels as a reserve water supply.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the framing required to make something like this is made out of 2X6 and 2X10 lumber and lag bolts and it’s HEAVY. Here’s an example of what I mean…

gaps

 

But as far as using bottles I saw this on my last trip over to Bocas del Toro in July… It wasn’t very big, but it’s all a matter of just working things out, right?

bocas bottles 2

 

There are LOTS of discarded bottles lying around down here. One thought that crossed my mind would be to approach the schools in the area and tell the kids that I’d pay them, say, 5 cents for each two liter bottle that was clean, no label and a cap. That doesn’t seem like much to gringos like us (I use the word “gringo” all the time and I use it to mean anyone here whose native language isn‘t Spanish.), but you have to realize what it is to the local people, especially the indigenous kids who live around here. The owner of the house I rent wants to have it painted and one guy that came to bid the job said he works for $15 A DAY!!! So picking up 300 bottles other people have thrown away would be a fortune to a bunch of young indian kids. But down here it’s what’s called “Summer” and school doesn’t start until March 2nd, so I need to wait a few weeks before I can make my pitch.

I could also get some free radio publicity. A nearby neighbor, and friend, is a reporter for one of the local radio stations. We’ve often talked about how awful the mind set of people is who throw trash around. I’d be willing to bet if I approached him with my idea of using discarded bottles I’d be able to get some free air-time. After all, when the town I live in, Boqueron, had their feast day celebration for their patron saint last October, they put out a small magazine and half of one page was devoted to the only gringo that lives in their pueblo…ME!

But this morning, over my morning cup of locally-grown coffee, I stumbled across THIS and I think this could be the deal. Milk crates filled with 2-liter bottles. As you can see in the video it’s sagging where the guy is sitting but that’s because the thing is held together with plastic wire ties. Certainly not designed for strength and durability. A couple of ways of overcoming that that instantly pop to mind would be to somehow through-bolt the crates together, or build a simple 2X4 frame around the top and bottom edges to keep it rigid. Another possibility might be to screw 1/4″ plywood with fiberglass sheathing to the outside, or perhaps just paint it. I’m not building a yacht here, and I’m nearly 73 years old with COPD and three stents in my arteries. How many years do I have to figure on being on the thing, anyway? There are 9 bottles per crate, so I need to go measure a crate and see how many I’ll need to put together something around 10’X24′ . I might have to double up on the crates to get enough clearance for the deck above water.

Where would I get the crates? You won’t find those along the side of the road. Not a problem. Chiriqui province is the bread basket of Panama, and on the short trip over to Bugaba, to the west of Boqueron, there are THREE dairies: Estrella, Nevada and La Chiricana. I’ll have to stop in and see if I can buy a bunch from them. I bet if I explain what I plan to do they’ll go along with it.

Anyway, this is the thing that’s got my willie tingling this morning.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Meds in Panama

One of the things that suck about getting older is the medications you have to take. I take a mess of them which is one of the reasons I’m a strong advocate of going out and accomplishing your dreams while you’re still young and healthy.

I went to the pharmacy this week, and this is what it cost here in Panama. I don’t know what it would be in the States, but I have a feeling I’d have to take out a loan to finance the order.

To keep my blood pressure in check, and it’s absolutely perfect these days, I take two meds. One is Zestril (10mg). This is also known as Lisonopril. One caja (box) contains a two-month supply. The list price here in Panama is $58.80, so that’s $24.40/month. Then I also take Cardiotal (Atenolol) 100mg. It’s cheap with a list price of $16.80 or $8.40/month. And since I carry three stents in my arteries I take Clopidogrel which is generic Plavix which sets me back $22.25/month.

Actually none of the meds are really a two month supply. The Zestril has 56 tablets to a box and the Cardiotal has 48. The Clopidogrel comes in 24 pills to a box. It’s all sort of like how companies package 10 hot dogs in a package and the bread people sell you 8 rolls.

Now, since I have COPD I take a couple of other meds for which, unfortunately, I can find no generic equivalent and they’re expensive. Both of them are powders that are inhaled with little plastic doo dads. One is Spiriva and it sets me back $59.69 for 20 tiny little capsules. The other is called Onbrize and it costs $83.70 for 30 caps which is the closest to a month’s supply I get.

So, adding it all together, though I didn’t buy the Clopidogrel this last visit because I still had a month supply on the shelf, the bill came to $218.99! BUT WAIT!!! If you’re a “Jubilado” (old fart, I like to say) you receive a 20% discount on meds so they lopped of $43.80 and I ended up paying $175.19. That happens to be how much I pay to rent my fully-furnished, air-conditioned house.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized