Canada and the USA,      Mexico,      Belize,      Guatemala,      El Salvador,      Honduras,      Nicaragua,      Costa Rica,      Panama,      USA, again,       Thailand,       Lao,       Vietnam,       Cambodia,       Thailand, again,      

Journal Index

New as of May 3rd, 2005 (Bocas de Toro, Panama)

New as of May 24th, 2005 (Panama City, Panama)

Welcome in the May-O or how to get into the Panama.

May 2, 2005

Bocas de Toro, Panama

New country. Old currency. (They use the US dollar but call it the Balbo and the change is a mix of US coins and local ones that are the same size and metal.) This will be my second night and so far it’s OK. I can’t really tell as I am in a bit of a tourest area so it feels a lot like Costa Rica, or they Bay Islands in Honduras, or Belize. Actualy now that I am back on the Carbeian side I again relize how much being on the Caribean makes a difference culturaly. I am back to wooden houses on stilts with slats and even thatch roofs. (I haven’t seen a thatch roof in mounths.) It’s odd as I have more or less just come from the same climate on the Pacific coast and everything seams to have changed.

The Panama boarder corssing is probably the bigues mess of anywhere I have seen. I ended up having a helper get me through it and thought for a change he was well worth the tip. First you had to find the exit from Costa Rica. Well from where the bus drops you, you have to head back along the road. Then comes the real fun. Now that you are in the grey area of having left one country but not admited to the other tou head towards Panama. The guide took me past the new Panama imigration building that isn’t open yet, over a ditch, through a bus station, out the back gate, over a pile of rubble and garbage to the imigration office. The office consists of a man behind a window with one of the horzontal panes of glass removed. You stand in the street on a rubble pile with a bit of broaken sidewalk. To get you hand with your pasport into the guy, you have to twist you hand around the decrative bars then carefully through the missing slat in in the window. This is only to have him check your paperwork and get a little note so you can get your tourest card.

The tourest card requires you to cross the street, skirt around a bunch of parked semi-trucks, climb up a loading dock and into a dark room with a woman behind a desk behind a proper ticket window. Of course her desk was set so she couldn’t actualy reach the window so you have to stick your entire arm through the hole to pass her you passport so you she fill out the tourest card and take your five dollors. Upon that you return to standing in line in the street outside the broken window to have the guy actualy stamp your passport. I am not kidding about the rubble piles and lineing up in the street. As I said the guide was worth it.

This also marked another first in my Central American boarder crossings as it was the first one that involved giving a “tipEto make it across the boarder. There is an onward ticket requirment to enter Panama. There was also one for Costa Rica so that time I dutifully bought an expensive San Jose to Panama City international bus ticket and was never asked for it at the boarder and I won’t use the ticket. So this time I figured I would try to see if they really check and the guide book said there was a ticket office at the border just incase. Well this boarder crossing being on a Sunday of a holiday (May 1st) the offices wern’t open. (Or so said my guide. Now I wonder a bit if he gets a cut off the “tipEso it is to his advantage to take me through the other process.) Either way it ment staying a day in the border town to wait for the offices to open or to insert a ten dollor bill in my pasport along with the tourest card. I figure it was cheeper than the twenty-six dollor fee to leave Costa Rica I was expecting to pay and didn’t have to.

While traversing the ideling trucks and going through lines twice dogging traffic I met a couple of Americans who have bought some land down in Costa Rica and are reforesting part of it and planting an orchard as part of it. They were off for their three mounth visa renewal. (In Costa Rica it is easer to leave and re-enter the country every three mounths than get a visa extention, and it takes more than a year to establish and get a residency permit. Personaly I would take the fact that your are reforesting part of the country and planting an orchard as proof enough that you intend to be here for the long haul, but I’m not a Central American buearcrat, fortunatly.)

As you can guess they were interesting people. If I end up back in Costa Rica I will try to look them up. We traded bussness cards, his listed him as “Rance HandEAnd my lists my occupation as “TravelerE a fitting swap. (To see pictures of their project you can go to El Barucito, As is I hope things go well. They were a neat couple, not to mention his name was Andy.

For the little time I have been here in Bocas de Toro it’s been good. If there was any May pole dancing it was yesterday, but I didn’t really expect to pull that one off.

As is I had an OK May day. Not as fun as I would have had at home, but then again looking at Ted Mann’s schedule I probably would have had to work atleast part of the day and that would have made me grumpy so maybe I am happer to miss it down here. (This is not to speek ill of Ted Mann’s scheduling. The closing day of the University’s Opera production is a time they realy do need everybody. Even if Sari had felt sorry enough to give me the whole day off she shouldn’t have, and I would have, right fully, felt guilty that I wasn’t pulling my share.)

I made up before the sun rise and went down to the nearest bit of green with trees, in this case the parque central or town square. They have a couple of nice big rocks so I climbed one and watched the sun come up and sang Hal and Tow. Not quite the same and I figured you really can’t Morris dance by yourself without even a musican. (The rims of errupting volcanos excepted although if I had another Morris dancer it would have been better.) When I get the Braggarts to do their Central American tour we can dance in all the squares and confuse the locals. (Not that we don’t confuse the locals in the US.)

After the sun was up I picked up a little breakfast at a bakery and then went back to the hotel for a nap before my bus to the boarder. Oh well next year.

Snorkelling at the end of Central America

May 6, 2005

Bocas de Toro, Panama

Let's see what is up... Oh before I forget, Donna L. I wrote to you at your AOL account and it said it didn't know who you were. Drop me a line or have someone else do so. If you need an e-mail account I can make you one here at

I haven't really done much here. The big accomplishment was posting the last batch of journal entries and photos. To some extent I let myself get stuck. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I would like to move a bit.

I think part of the problem is a conflict on wanting to move on and travel and not knowing where next is. Or to some extent as I see this trip coming to an end, where home is. (Don't worry Mom and Dad I do plan to visit you when I get 'back'.) I guess I should expect this as this isn't the first 'where is home' crisis I have had but it will be annoying once again. Past experience also tells me it will last for about two years. Yeh.

Half the time I find myself chatting with travellers who have been on the road for a long time about what their plans are for their return and chatting with people who are just starting out to see the adventure back from the beginning. (There is a guy here who has been out for only a week and has three months to get to Mexico city. The whole trip is ahead. I am envious of the journey he has ahead. (Now -I- am sounding like my parents.))

Let's see, here on the island I went to the beach yesterday. Not all the great, a bunch of weed near the shore, but nice to get out of the big surf that I had on the Pacific.

Today I went on a snorkelling tour that wasn't quite as exciting as I had hoped. It's not that the snorkelling wasn't good. (Although as I have stated before I gotten a bit spoiled by some of the snorkelling I have done with my parents on their boat.) It was the lack of time in the water. Part of it was that it was a four stop trip. First stop we didn't get in the water as it was to watch the dolphins.

Now I have seen dolphins before. I have had them swim along side of the boat with me. I have even been in the water with them albeit they were penned and I was just at the fence like patting the noses of cows except with snorkel gear and a lot more water. So I was not quite so enamoured with the experience as some of the others on the trip. I wanted to get going and do some snorkelling. (Although I did enjoy watching everybody else get to see their first dolphin. I wonder if you took someone who had lived their entire life in Tibet who had never heard or seen a dolphin a chance to see them would they be as excited by them as we are? Or is it just a function of the educational shows, Sea World, Flipper, and Free Willy that we find theses animals so inviting. On the reverse if you could find a person who has never had contact with a cockroach and gave them a line-up of creepy bugs which would they pick as the worst?

The cockroach question has be of recent discussion. We are all quite able to explain or reasons for despising the mosquito above all other flying insects, but we are having problems pinning down exactly what is so malevolent about the cockroach.

After the dolphins we headed to the first snorkelling spot and then to the overpriced restaurant for lunch. (We had been warned of the overpriced aspect and all but a few had brought lunch. Never expect to be able to get money out of Backpackers: it's their fulltime job to be cheep.)

Following lunch we went to Red Frog (Rana Roja) beach to see the red frogs. They are cute, small and poisonous. After some discussions of wither these were the licking kind or the kissing kind of frogs our guide found one and many photos were taken. I wish I had gotten out my camera out faster as there was a great picture of someone using a really big, nice camera taking a picture of a frog one fiftieth of the size of the camera. Awww the ones that got away... This was followed by a little too much time just haning around on the beach and playing in the surf. Of course no one else had just arrived from the Pacific coast with all the swells and surf so they were excited to go play in the waves.

The last stop was one I had heard about and wasn't too bad. I have been getting more and more comfortable in the water and am now to the point I can take shallow dives down to see things and feeling comfortable clearing my mask and snorkel when I come back up. Next step being able to equalize the pressure in my ears. Before you know it I will have half the confined water skills for Scuba down before I take a course. (I did take the course in High School from Mr. Gibbons, but it's not really the same.)

The bummer at the last sight was since the boat was off doing a scuba dive with three others from the group we ended up waiting a bunch for it's return. All in all that was the big complaint, that I spent more time waiting than anything else. In this last case we were already into assigning roles in Giligan's Island to our group; much to the confusion of the non-Americans present. Apparently Giligan's Island didn't make it over seas.

Tomorrow I -think- I am off to the highlands to get out of the heat a bit. I am down to where everything is beach as there isn't much land left. The idea of swimming in both the Atlantic and the Pacific in the same day is sounding quite tempting if I can work it. (I think I have heard that this is a New Years day tradition here, but I think it is a good way to honour being here anytime.)

To the hills on the double.

May 7, 2005

Boquete, Panama

Well I actually made it here on the day I though I was going to. I'm surprised. I had planned on getting up early and trying for the 7:00am boat but as is I didn't get going and took a nice late 11:00am boat. Probably just as well.

It is nice to get up away from the heat of the coast back into the highlands. It's not quite as chilly and foggy as Monteverde in Costa Rica was but it is quite pleasant. Unfortunately the bus ride from Almirante to David was in an air conditioned bus and now I think I may be fighting off a cold. Fortunately the David to here bus was a good old US school bus. (The number of school busses down here does make me wonder about the frequency that American schools must replace their busses.)

David has probably the best bus terminal I have seen. It is like the perfect cross between the Guatemalan dirt lot and a fancy Greyhound station. All the busses come to one place and everybody knows where they are and is helpful, but unlike a Guatemalan dirt lot it is cleaner and they have little bays for each bus with signs saying where the busses go. Not a bad place. I will see what the rest of Panama's busses hold out to be.

This area should be good for a little hiking. They even have a volcano (sadly inactive) to climb if I so desire. My knee has been happy for sometime now so if I am favouring it is now out of form rather than immediate need.

Not much else is up. I did one of my classic things of meeting a fellow traveller on the bus (actually we had first met on the snorkelling trip yesterday but...) and ending up sharing a room at the place we are staying and only after checking in bothering to figure out what each other’s names were.

Actually we had an interesting communication problem when we were looking at the room. We were checking the price and we asked if it was “por dobleE for double i.e. both of us. The girl helping us made a slightly shocked expression and then said that yes she did have a double if we wanted it. Afterwards we figured the odd expression was because here “dobleEmust mean a double bed rather than a room with two beds. Up until now a double bed has been a “cama matrimonialE a married bed. It explained her shocked expression, but it was nice to know it's a place to would offer a double bed to two guys if asked.

OK, while brushing my teeth I came up with two other things of note about Boquete. First is it is the first place I have been able to flush toilet paper since October 30th 2004. The other thing was when I was looking around town before dinner I stuck my head in a hardware store to see what was local stuff. It was mostly like one back in the 'States, except for the machete selection was probably better. The thing that I realized I haven't seen much of are pet supplies. And not just cat and dog stuff but this place had tropical fish stuff. You could buy fish, a tank, and all the toys and goo-gaas to go with it. I must be in an affluent country if they can spend money on pets that don't have a secondary function of keeping rodents in check or buglers away.

Yards and Two Liters of Coke

May 8, 2005

Boquete, Panama

I think one of the reasons I am liking some of these highland towns is not just the cooler weather but also how it changes the houses and the people. Walking around town I noticed that the houses are more sturdily built. It makes sense because up here you are going to spend more time in them so you better like it better. You live in your house rather than just in front of it. Also they have yards. This isn't a colonial city where the houses are built right up to the sidewalk with the yard space being a courtyard behind the walls. Here the houses sit with green space around them. And it is even tended and taken care of. They garden, flower garden. Anyway it makes the place feel a bit more homelike as well as giving a feel that the people care about their soundings beyond a practical sense.

Two Liters of Coke: On an unrelated note, back on the snorkelling trip I learned a new cure for intestinal parasites. Two liters of Coke. One of the guys on the trip had been having a problem with ongoing runny stools and someone had recommended that he drink two liters of flat Coke. He did and it had been three days since he had any problems. If you think about it your stomach probably only holds a litre or so, so if you drink two liters of flat Coke over the course of a few hours your entire digestive track is entirely flooded with the stuff.

The sugar would dehydrate the buggers, the caffeine would mess with their system, and the acid would strip away what is left of them. And although I don't recommend drinking Coke on a regular basis it can't be too much harder on your system then some of the stuff they prescribe for those kinds of things. Either way it's a cheep thing to try. Although I hope it will be a long time before I get the chance to.

Bottled water: I was in a store today looking to grab a snack and a quick drink. I looked over the bottles of water and discovered something a bit odd. Of the four brands of water they had out none were made in Panama, or even Central America. There was water from France, Spain, and two from the US, but none from down here. Now it has occurred to me that due to the Panama Canal it makes perfect sense that there are a lot of imported goods here. One guide books said Panama City is a good place for shopping where you can often get goods for cheaper than at their point of origin. But bottled water!?!? Really we have better things to be spending our money hauling around than water from Spain and France.

Quiet Rivers

May 10, 2005

On the bus to Divisa, Panama

I liked Boquete. I'm not sure if it was just the climate or what. It is in a beautiful setting in a valley right next to the contential divide. Maybe the best part are all the streams flowing with a river going through town. I like rivers and streams. My first full day in town I took off walking one of the tourist bureau’s scenic drives.

At first I didn't realized that they meant to drive the route. I have been so foot oriented and been doing enough trekking that I just assumed when they had a scenic route they meant for you to WALK it. (I haven't been behind the wheel of a car since July 16th or so....) Oh well, it wasn't a busy road so it was a nice loop. About halfway through I saw a little side path that for some reason didn't look like it was just gong to lead off to someone's house so I followed it. It turned out to be a path for coffee plantation workers to get to the fields and up the valley. I took an hour or two and hiked through the coffee fields and made it up to the forest preserve. If I was more sure of where I was I may have made it to the contential divide. On the way back down I got a little off my chosen path but being back in the land of valleys I knew as long as I went down hill I would end up back in Boquete as it was on the river.

I wasn't lost for long although my knee did start acting up a bit again. (I knew I shouldn't have said anything in that earlier post.) Oh well, I got a knee brace from the pharmacy and we will see if that helps. It can't hurt and cost less than three bucks.

One other thing that has made this trip pleasant has been my roommate Matt. He started his Central American trip about a month latter than I did back in Baja. He has done a lot of the same things and it is surprising I haven't run into him before now. Part of what makes him a great roommate is he is quiet and is just as interested in going off on his own as doing things together. It has been a long time since I have been in a situation of companionable silence. Silence because I have been along, yes. Awkward silence because none knows what to say, yes. But Silence that is simply because there isn't anything that needs to be said, rarely.

As conversation had with one traveller went: "It was great. I was the only one there." Said I. He responded, "I should have come." "But then I wouldn't have been the only one there," replied I. Not quite the same thing but some people don't know the joy of solitude.

Off Book

May 12, 2005


I feel a bit bad I haven't been keeping this up-to-date for the last couple days, but I was enjoying myself. (Also for the last two nights the places I have been staying have had a TV in my room. It is amazing how you can louse your time to that tube.)

After taking the Panama City bus with Matt to Divisa I took a smaller bus to the Chitr頢us terminal. (I nearly missed my stop at Divisa because they started showing a movie and they were just about to pull out when I noticed the restaurant was called the Divisa something-or-other. I would help if they called the stops. I also have this complaint about Greyhound in the US and Canada.) At the bus terminal I decided I didn't really want to walk into town so I grabbed the bus I thought would get me to town. Nope. It took me to the neighbouring town of Villa de Los Santos.

Now my original idea when I was thinking about coming down to the Penʳula de Azuero was to go to Villa de Los Santos but the guide didn't list any hotels and recommended Chitr頡s a base of operations for the area. Well I figured fate said I should go there after all. I walked to the main square put my head in the IPAT office (Panama's tourist organisation who sold me my tourist card at the border for five bucks) and asked for a map and a hotel recommendation. They gave me a brochure with a map of the region with a couple hotels listed on the back with their phone numbers. Figuring it was a waste of my dime to call only to have to walk there I got walking directions (which surprised the office staff) and head off. I ended up staying at the first place because after they showed me the twenty dollar room and the twenty-five dollar room and I started walking off they ran after me to give me the fifteen dollar room. I had been hoping for ten, but it wasn't bad.

I went off to see the town for which there is not much. The Museo de la Nacionalidad was closed by then time I got there but the church was nice.

Actually one thing I noticed about the church was it's retable was much more like the Columbian ones then the rest I have seen in Central America. I guess after all the modern church’s in Costa Rica it would fit to have it change. Unfortunately I think my picture is gong to come out all blurry.

Dinner was at a little corner place where they guy running the places sits out front chatting with friends until there is actually a customer to tend to. One thing I have been likening about this area is when you get a meal they bring a picture of cold water and a glass with it. The tap water is drinkable and the weather is hot so I am liking this nicety. Over dinner I also talked a bit with a local who I then saw again the next day ridding his bike. At first I was surprised I recognized him but he was wearing the same bright orange shirt he had on the day before. I was also wearing the same shirt and shorts I had on the day before, so I figured all was right in the world. The next morning I went to see the museum, packed my bag, and off to catch a bus to the town of Guarar鮁Elt;p> Guarar頩sn't much of a tourist trap. According to the guide book it sounds like a place to skip entirely but it did mention a Folkarts Museum that I though would be interesting. I really liked the museum. Manuel F ZᲡte, a Professor of Chemistry, was a local boy who did got and even got his chemistry degree from a school in Paris but seams to have made is mark in his work as a folklorist. The museum is a simple two room place. But the things that they show are really neat and well labelled (in Spanish.) ZᲡte started the Festival de la Majorana to keep some traditions alive. The building itself is traditional constructions and they have pictures of it being built.

Building a house here is a community effort. After a basic beam frame is put up to support the roof the walls are filled in with horizontal strips of wood lashed every eight inches or so. Then the fun began. A large pile of dirt would be put in the cleared yard. They would add lots of water and start stomping and mixing it with their feet. (Think of stomping grapes without the barrel or the grapes.) Eventually the mud pit would be thirty feet or more across and the men would line up shoulder to shoulder and put arms around each other and work back and forth through the mud. All the pictures showed kids in another part of the mud having a mud fight or trying to line up the adults were doing. In one picture it looks a bit like they had some kind of musician and I wonder if they have folk dance that they used when churning the mud. (Line dancing with an end product.) After the mud was mud they would cover the area with straw and then go at it again. Once thoroughly mixed it was packed into the walls and they had a house. I like the idea of a community building a house. My dad may have almost built the garage by himself, but neighbours helped him raise the roof.

Since there really wasn't that much else to do in town I grabbed a bus and headed back towards my original destination Chitr鮁Elt;p> Chitr頩s the capital of the province and it's largest. But by most standards it is still a small town. This morning I was off to see the local museum. The Museo de Herrera is nice. It has bits about flora and fauna, local history, folk traditions, a bit of everything. It is well labelled but in some ways lacked the energy of the Folk museum in Guarar鮠 After the museum I headed off to the little town of Oc򠴯wards the center of the peninsula.

The guide book doesn't say anything about Oc򠥸cept that it is one of the places they make Panama hats. (Which I read somewhere originally came from Ecuador.) I figured since I am looking at buying a Panama hat and I want to see a little town in the interior it would be as good as any.

In the end there isn't that much in Oc򮠠I didn't even see any hats for sale. It is a nice little town, with a nice little graveyard, but that is about it. I think I may have spent more time in the bus than in the town as I also came back to Chitr頦or the night, but I'm glad I did it. Part of what has made these last few days nice is that I am mostly not following what the guide book says. Sometimes you get to listening to the book too much and this is a refreshing change. Also until this afternoon I haven't seen another Gringo and few people have had any English. A change from Costa Rica. Also I figure I should store this up as tomorrow I expect to go to Panama city and stay in the hostel where I fully expect to see half the people I have met in the last five mounts in a sort of "This is Your Life" scenario. I figure we have all been moving south and it doesn't get any narrower that this.

Panama City

May 16, 2005

Panama City, Panama

Oh what have I been up to. Well, I have read two books...

Actually I haven't just been spending my time reading and hanging out, just the first day here. Yesterday I got going and headed down to the colonial part of town called Casco Antiguo and wandered around and got rained on. Actually it was pretty fun. This part of town has been described by a lot of people as being like Cuba. What I have determined that this means is a lot of old, possibly historic buildings that are crumbling with lots of empty shells. Actually it gets quite picturesque but also tends to look like sort of squalid living conditions. Some of the buildings have been reclaimed and restored but they alternate with simple walls with windows open to the sky.

I think it is still a bit of a chance to recover without it simply being torn down. If they restore the historic downtown it will be beautiful, if...

I took a local bus down to the a major bus hub and then walked down the shopping district to the old city. One I made it to the Plaza de la Independencia I spent the next three hours in the Panama Canal museum. Nice museum and I did the audio tour so it took me forever to finish. Not that it is bad to take a long time. In this case it is good. It is probably one reason I should probably never go to a museum with someone else because they would get fed up waiting for me.

When I cam out it had clouded over and was just starting to do a light sprinkle. Unfortunately my next plan was to take a walk along the old city wall and see a bit more of the town. I put on my waterproof hat and figured I would still see how far I could get. By the time I got out on the city wall overlooking the Pacific it turned to a total down pour. I found some shelter under a building waiting and practiced my tin whistle until it let up to just rain and continued on my walk.

I have learned that I don't really mind being out in the rain as long as my head stays try and my glasses aren't getting all spotted. I am likening having a waterproof hat.

I walked along the bay and saw the ruins of the Club de Clases y Tropas where Manual Noriega used to hang out and it started down pouring again. This time while find shelter I ran into a guy who is down here doing business for Dell computers who was out looking for sovenieers to take back. We chatted as the rain fell and then he headed off to the shops and I off the peak at the Teatro Nacional. There was some kind of talent show going on so I didn't get to peak in but I may try again later. I had hopped to walk by the presidential palace but apparently they close the streets around it after a certain hour so I was turned away by the national police.

A walk back up the shopping district and a bus home. I am a bit impressed that I am pulling off the busses. I am never quite sure if I am going to make it where I am going or just end up on a wild goose chase when I get on one of the local busses.

Today was off to see the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal. After a false start on one local bus I made it there and spent about four hours watching boats and going through the museum they have there. (Also good.) I got to see some big boats as well as three smaller sailboats go through. It's impressive to watch and I would love it if they had a "back stage" tour where you get to see the control room and things like that. I would also really love to see the original mechanical computer that they used to run the locks. There were a couple bad photos of it which only teased me for wanting to see how it worked. Oh well...

I'm not sure if Panama City will rank too highly on my list of favourite places. It's not bad. I think part of it is just that the hostel is in the middle of the banking district. I can see six banks from the balcony of the hostel. The hostel is also weird as it is two floors (floor 3 and 8) of a fancy residential building. The remaining apartments each have their own floor. How in the world a hostel took over two floors in such a fancy building I have no idea. I walked right past it when I first got here. It ends up with a weird vibe and the management although fun doesn't really know what we need and want. The kitchen closes at 7:30pm which is way too early and even if you are sitting in the lounge reading they will come by and turn off the lights. There are worst things, but it could be so much better.

The ups and downs of the Panama Canal

May 23, 2005

Panama Canal, Panama

Oh boy, what hasn't been up. Let's go back a few days and see where we get. Back when I first got to the hostel in Panama City I saw a notice on the bulletin board about a boat looking for line handlers going through and sent off a note. We made contact and they said yes come they would be heading off on Thursday and to come down the day before. So I checked out of the hostel and headed down to Colon to meet the boat.

A little back ground here on the canal passage. The Panama canal really is set up for big boats. They sort of tolerate us little boats going through as handlines but you get the feeling they sort of squeeze them in where they can. To be allowed through you have to meet certain requirements and pay a bunch of money. One of the requirements is that you have five people on board. One helmsman to steer the boat and four line handlers. As most small sail boats only have two people on board that leaves them to find three more people.

If you have more money than you know what to do with you hire the crew at US$55 per day per person. Small boats are generally started off in the afternoon so it takes two days that makes 3 hands X 2 days = US$330 for crew. Or you can find other boaters that want a chance to practice before they take their own boat thru or try to dig up backpackers like me who want the experience.

So I go to Colon to meet my captain and finally let myself get excited about crossing the canal. Unfortunately when I got there they said that they had been saying yes to everybody who e-mailed them and so they weren't going to need me after all.

This was a little disappointing. I wouldn't have felt quite so bad had I know it wasn't a sure thing and they told me they were overbooking but I had gotten my hopes up. I understand that backpackers aren't necessarily the most reliable group of people and why they did it so I can't get really mad at them but it would have been nice to know it wasn't for sure.

They said it probably wouldn't be a problem to try to get on a boat and paid for most of my hotel room that night. (The captain was feeling pretty guilty about it I think as they had a couple very disappointed backpackers that were trying to do them a favour.) Since I had all my stuff and nothing to loose I figured I would come back to the yacht club and see what I could get on. Well after an afternoon of ups and downs I still hadn't found a boat although three people had found boats and it was time to be heading back to Panama City. Before I left I was chatting with come of the captains that had their crew and left my business card with them in case something came up they could e-mail me.

I was sort of low. Annoyed with the boat that said yes and then said no and frustrated with missing three chances to get on a boat by either being in the wrong place or just not being fast enough. That morning before going off to the yacht I had also checked my e-mail and had decided to try to make it back to the US for the Midwest Morris Ale. Half of it was that I was getting a bit tired of travelling in Central America and that I am out of Central America. Peru is going into high tourist season and the southern end of South America is in local winter. All the other trips I had in mind routed me through the US anyway so I might as well catch one of the events I would be thinking about and missing. (And reading about how fun it was in Steven's journal.) So I send of a bit, and probably surprising e-mail checking in with my Morris side and starting the plans needed for it to work.

Between the ups and downs in the of getting on a boat and having made a decision as to what to do next that I had been putting off and worrying about for a month or two, I was pretty wired by the time I made it to the hostel. I expect I was talking off the ears of almost anyone who would listen. While I was sitting in the lounge waiting for a computer to check my e-mail one of the guys who got a boat earlier in the day came up to me and asked if I could take his spot as he realized that he would rather go out and party and take a couple nice easy days before his girl friend arrived and they started off on the road. So I was excited, then I got on my e-mail to hear from a different boat captain who also needed crew. From no boats to two boats in about ten minuets.

I had met the captain I was going to substitute for and I liked him, so I asked around the hostel and found a guy for the one who had e-mail and sent a note back to him and then went to bed happy and excited.

In the morning after getting up much earlier than normal I met up with the other girl on the boat and we went to check on the guy who had signed up for the other boat. He was not to be roused so I dropped the captain an e-mail so he could have an extra three hours to come up with someone while we were in route. In the end it worked out well as the boat that needed the extra crew had it’s time pushed back until the next day so all worked out.

Our boat the Desire was schedule for a noon start. When we arrived we discovered it was put off until 5:15pm, then moved to 4:45pm then to 5:30pm with the advisor finally arriving at 6:00pm. (Can you tell they just put us in where they can?)

Desire is a 35 foot fibreglass sloop captained by a German named David with a woman from Florida playing the role of cook named Virginia. We actually had six so Virginia did have to line handle which was nice to have the extra person at times. (She kept us well fed and watered.) There was a Dutch girl from the hostel and two people from Quebec who were going to take a boat thru in two days and me.

Going into the trip I was worried I wouldn't know what I should do or not do a good job, but from what I can tell I did well. The first Advisor (provided and required by the Canal) assumed I had my own boat and the guy who was going to take his own boat thru in a couple of days asked me to come and help him as well. (Which I took up and it is where I am now.)

Helping the boats thru the canal is nice. They feed you well give you a place to sleep for the night and possibly the night before as well and you get to see the canal from the inside. Coming from the Atlantic you start in the afternoon and spend the night in Gatun Lake and wake to the howler monkeys. On this second transit I even took the helm thru most of the Monkey Cut up until Gamboa. I think the captain would have let me keep the helm thru the Gaillard Cut but I would rather not have that responsibility.

All in all the Canal (twice) has been a good experience. While hanging out at the yacht club I met a few of the captains and chatted a while. Talked with one of the hired crew on a very fancy yacht and got to see how his world is so different. I think it will be a nice cap to my trip.

Now I am thinking about Thursday and flying off to Detroit. (The Ale is near there. It's even a cheaper airline ticket so that pays for about half of the Ale fee right there.) Of course the new question is what to do after Memorial day weekend. As usual I don't know. I may see if I can catch a ride back to Minneapolis with a Morris person or maybe I will work my way back there slowly and tour a bit of the US on the way. I am hopping to get back by June 16th and 17th to see, if help out with, the One Voice concert, the chorus I normally sing with. And beyond that I don't know. Technically I will have a return ticket back to Panama City because a round trip was cheaper than a one-way. I doubt I will actually do that, but you never know....

Other options are to go to Australia, the UK, SE Asia, more US travel, India, New York. Who knows? For that matter when I get back to Minneapolis I don't know where I will be sleeping.

I'm going to try not to worry. For now I have two full days left here in Panama and I have to decide what to do. Maybe the Beach, a national park or just go and see if I can buy shoes to replace the ones I have been wearing constantly since Canada.

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Canada and the USA,      Mexico,      Belize,      Guatemala,      El Salvador,      Honduras,      Nicaragua,      Costa Rica,      Panama,      USA, again,       Thailand,       Lao,       Vietnam,       Cambodia,       Thailand, again,      

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