I Saw It Happen

When Christopher Columbus was on his fourth voyage to the “New World” his small fleet was anchored in a river in Panama when near disaster struck. I wrote about it in my book: http://www.amazon.com/Adversitys-Wake-Calamitous-Christopher-ebook/dp/B007XTYMXW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1371742365&sr=1-1&keywords=richard+philbrick

“One morning after a night of heavier than usual drenching rains we heard, far up the river, the low, rumbling sound of huge rocks crashing and grinding against each other and of giant trees falling into the water. The noise rapidly rose to a crescendo and everyone stood frozen in terror as a solid wall of water  in the form of a  wave about six feet high swept around the bend in the river and came barreling down upon our hapless fleet. It hit so fast there was no time to prepare for the impact by running a hawser ashore.

“Almost instantly one of our two anchor cables parted with a sound like a cannon shot and our remaining anchor began dragging through the muddy river bottom like a plow tilling a field. In no time at all our ship slammed into the Gallega which lay behind is with such force that her bowsprit ran through the rigging of our Bonaventure mizzen and it came crashing down over the side in a roar of splintering wood. The stout ropes of the rigging snapped as if made of nothing more substantial than darning thread.”

As my regular readers know, I live beside a small river here in Panama. Normally it looks like this:

That big rock is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

I don’t have to see the river to know its state. I can generally tell that simply by the way it sounds. Naturally, when there’s been a heavy rain the river rises and even sitting inside the house playing around on the computer I can tell the water level is higher because the noise is louder. And I can also tell when it has been raining harder in the mountains to the north while the rain down here has been relatively light by the noise the river makes. Sometimes the river gets extremely high in a short time but I only know about it after it has happened, alerted by the sound. We’re in the rainy season, now, so the volume of river noise rises and falls daily, sometimes hourly.

Yesterday afternoon (6/19) I was sitting out in the shade of the back porch reading a book on my tablet. Looking up from my chair I have a clear view of the river. It was pretty much like you see in the video above. We’d had some rain, but not a lot here at the house. Thunder, though, rolled down from the mountains for over an hour. Then, like in the book excerpt, I heard a roaring sound approaching, getting louder by the second. When I looked up I saw a wall of water easily six feet high or more coming down the river like a freight train. It didn’t just sound angry, it looked angry. Trees that had been swept off the banks from somewhere way up in the hills rode the crest like lunatic surfers. Roots and branches clawed at the sky as if trying to escape their rush towards the Pacific Ocean below. In seconds that car-sized boulder disappeared. Huge spumes of spray shot skyward as the river swept over the rocks. The water rose so high, so fast, that it overflowed the banks up stream and cut a new path across the field on the other side. The noise was so loud as the river crested that neighbors two blocks away were drawn down to watch.

This is a video from two years ago that gives a pretty good idea of what it was like yesterday:

Here you can see how some of it has overflowed to the field on the other side:






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3 responses to “I Saw It Happen

  1. Wow, impressive! I notice the river here sounds louder too. Yesterday I could see that it had been a bit higher than it was at the time we were there, but nothing that suggested a 6 foot wall of water. I have a feeling things like this have happened in the past though.

    I’ve noticed in your pics of your river it’s a lot wider than mine, so you wouldn’t notice such a huge rise as I described. But even the larger ones here can change in a short time. Take a look at Rio Piedra that took out that large bridge on the InterAmericana on the way to Gringos Restaurant. Normally it’s a kind of trickle through a large rock bed…UNTIL.

    My river rises up six to eight feet quite a few times a year and I hear when that happens after the fact. But the other day is the first time I actually SAW that wall screaming down the gorge. Incredible. There are people who live over on the other bank and wade across the river to get to the bus stop at the end of my street. If anyone had been trying to cross the river before that wall came down would certainly have been killed. There would be no escape.

  2. Capt Dan

    Does the noise of the river cover up the noise of your neighbor’s chickens?
    It sounds like it’s louder there than Ft. Lauderdale during rush hour! I can’t hear a thing 24/7 outside my new joint in Jupiter – it’s quite. But of course everyone says that I need a hearing aid. I suspect that they’re correct.

    When the river rages like it did the other day, and it does that several times a year, it’s a low rumble that can be heard several blocks away. Whether it covers up the roosters or not I don’t know. They’re on a different wave length. But as I’ve said before, the roosters don’t bother me. As I sit here right now I hear them crowing away, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s background noise, and unless you live in Panama city you’re going to hear roosters everywhere in the Republic. Chickens are the unofficial national birds of Panama.

    There are a lot of other noises I hear that I find a LOT more annoying than the roosters. There’s the guy over a block away who blasts his gawd-awful disco music way into the night and the thumping bass is WORSE than the roosters. I don’t know how his closest neighbors haven’t offed him yet. The screeching of the parrot flocks that fly overhead each morning and afternoon are worse than the roosters by many decibels. I can hear the rat-a-tat-tat of Jake Brakes as they slow down for the intersection at El Cruce more than half a mile away, or when the big trucks slow down for the speed bump two blocks away. (Speed bumps here are called “Policia Muertos” – Dead Policemen)

    My lease expires at the end of October. Then the house will be put up for sale although the landlord, who lives in Texas, wants me to stay until it’s sold with a downward adjustment in the rent. Hell, I only pay $175/month now, lol. I know when I first came to look at renting the place nearly three years ago I thought the roosters might drive me nuts, but then I was only going to be renting for six months and I figured I could live through nearly anything for six months. Well now I’ve been living here for a total of two years. But the roosters might be a deal killer for gringos who might be interested in buying the house. I can understand that they might bother people if people focus on their constant crowing through the daylight hours. But once more, they don’t really bother me. Background noise.

  3. Capt Dan

    OK, if you can’t fix it, feature it. I think that we’ve already established that you’re more tolerant than most (gringos) could ever be to local Panamanian noise. (And by your own admission, you live way out it the sticks – what must it be like to live noise-wize even closer to “civilization” – a boom box on every corner?) Maybe your landlord would sell you the house on a “land contract” or lease/rent to own deal. Give him some token cash (a few thousand bucks) and double your monthly payment? (You’ve claimed you have a monthly surplus on your SS income)

    Richard, you can’t be a gypsy forever – or perhaps you are indeed Peter Pan incarnate. I’ve finally realized that I’m not and am doing everything I can to make sure that my recent move would indeed my last. I’m a ’44 model to your ’42.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the subject of parrots as obnoxious, filthy creatures. It was one of the (many) issues with my ex that lead to divorce.
    Bird dandruff gives me the hives and severe breathing problems and I’m a light and difficult sleeper. Her bringing home a noisy parrot that crapped all over the place when it wasn’t making a horrible mess eating seeds and throwing them everywhere was the last straw. Your parrots are at least living where they belong and are free. They were there long before we were. We are the interlopers – not them. However, this doesn’t change the fact that they’re obnoxious bastards!

    Richard, I wish you well. I also wish that you would find a Panamanian partner to help you through the inevitable problems that await both of us as we age. From what you’ve written about the cost of living there, apparently two could live as cheaply as one. Perhaps you could trade the training wheels on your scooter in on a side car?