Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Panama Canal Trip Journal - Mom & Me

Monday 3/7


Left Marshfield 4:45am in pouring rain-crowded but good flight to Miami-great flight to Panama City-plane about 1/2 full. Nice Hotel Amador on the entrance to the canal so can see ships entering and leaving the canal. Drove from airport thru Panama city and terrible poverty at the base of elegant high rise buildings. Hovels next to 50 story buildings of condos and banks. Swam a few lengths in hotel pool-felt good. Ate my supper from home and waited for J.


Stayed with E at hotel near San Francisco Airport Sunday night in anticipation of early flight. Got up 4:15am to swim before heading to airport 5:15am for 7:35am flight thru Houston. Extra space for that flight but not for next leg to Panama City. Met 3 other Road Scholars in Houston (from Wisconsin) and found 2 other Road Scholars, Tom & Barbara (from San Carlos, CA – near San Francisco), from same flight when arrived in Panama City – shared shuttle to hotel. I’d gotten a cold a few days before leaving, so was very congested and tired. Got room key, said hi to Mom, unpacked, in bed by 9:30pm.

Tuesday 3/8


J swam at 6:30am-nice breakfast-orientation 8:15am and off by 9:15am. Very hot .Went to Administration Building of Canal & Goethals Monument. J climbed VERY steep stairs in front of Monument. Drove thru Colonial Panama, Ancon Hill, which used to be dwellings of high ranking military officers. Now private homes-$million dollars. To Las Pencas Restaurant for lunch-nice buffet-still hot. 57 people in our group. Traveled this day in 3 small buses. Everything closed -schools, shops, banks etc. since Friday thru Wed due to Carnivale before Lent which shuts the city down. Streets deserted. From top of Ancon Hill before lunch wonderful view of high rises in Panama City. After lunch drove thru areas of restoration. Presidential house, churches. Wonderful restoration of old buildings. Went by a lot of poverty which our guide tried to explain by mentioning no rents, support by social security. Very winding streets and due to Carnivale, were easy to navigate. At hotel, excellent lecture about past, present and future of canal. Before supper I swam and J napped -buffet supper at hotel out by pool. After supper, video of Panama from Discovery Channel and then to bed.


Early swim was great – nice long pool and no one else in it! Lovely fresh fruit at breakfast (and at most meals). Met primary guide, Archie (Archibaldo), and others in group during orientation. A few other mother/daughter pairs (slightly older), several engineers, one former military who’d been stationed in Panama in the 70s. Learned that Tom (from same flight the day before) worked for HP and has written books on project management, one of which uses Panama Canal as case study – working on revised/new edition to include canal expansion. Split into groups for 3 smaller buses and met other primary guide, Wendell. Archie from Panama City (Pacific side), Wendell from Colon (Atlantic side), so got benefit of both expertise. View from Canal Administration Building showed Bridge of Americas on one side, golden arches of McDonald’s & municipal airport on other side. Lunch at restaurant overlooking Bay of Panama. Major downpour in afternoon while driving thru Colonial Panama. Afternoon lecture back at hotel by Jaime, who works for Canal Administration at Miraflores Locks (saw him again next day for video). Post-dinner video on canal expansion – due to be completed August 2014 and supposedly ahead of schedule. Building new larger locks on both Pacific and Atlantic side but will continue use of existing locks for smaller ships.

Wednesday 3/9


Swam in AM. Breakfast. On big bus with 60 people. Ugh! To old YMCA building which is a market where local artisans set up stalls to sell wares. Many beautiful carvings, handwork, paintings, clothing. Drove and drove along roads with heavy vegetation and lowland rain forest. Our guide was excellent for whole trip. Went over Chagres River Bridge to Chagres River. Lunch at Los Lagartos, on bank of river and with an old crocodile just looking at us. Turtles sitting on his back and sunning themselves along branches. Drove to French Cemetery - no bodies in this cemetery, but many crosses representing 30,000 people killed when French tried to build the sea-level canal across isthmus and found it was an impossible task. De Lesseps, Frenchman who had designed and build Suez Canal with great success, thought this would be a similar construction, but after 5 years was bankrupt and had to quit. That was when USA took over in early 1900's and canal opened in 1914. Saw Pedro Miguel locks and Miraflores museum. Great video about indigenous people making dugouts canoes from scratch to reach 4 of 7 hydrostations along river which send information about weather to main station every 15 minutes so Lock Master will know if the ships can proceed thru locks. Boat makers use traditional ways of making craft and only modern thing is outboard motor rather than paddles. Video was about 3 generations in one family who make dugout and get it to river by dragging and pushing it. Dinner on 4th floor of Miraflores Lock Museum, right on canal so we could watch ships going thru canal as we ate. Back to hotel by 7:30. J swam and then to bed.


Went for 5-mile run from hotel along causeway to Naos island (1 of 3 small islands near mouth of canal). Passed new Biodiversity Museum under construction, designed by Gehry – typical funky angles and planes. Humid & warm but a bit cloudy so bearable. At YWCA, learned from Archie about "real" Panama hats worn by Panamanians with symbolism about how brim is worn up or down and about white "Panama" hats worn by higher-level administrative workers; also learned about carvings, basket weaving. Mom bought postcards & magnets but I decided to wait ‘til later (mistake… more on that at end…). Drove over Maddem dam/spillway & stopped at viewpoint for photos. Canal has several dams and man-made lakes to store & control water used for boat transit – each transit requires 50 million gallons of fresh water. New locks built for expansion will recycle about 60% of that with new detention basins. Arrived late for lunch and thus late for video at Miraflores Locks visitor’s center. Guides suggested we tour exhibits that closed in 30 minutes but group of us decided we’d rather watch the cruise ship currently going through locks, so up to 4th floor observation deck with cameras in hand! Dinner with a view, then return to hotel & pack in anticipation of early departure the next day.

Thursday 3/10


Up early to leave by 6:45 AM to get to boat "Islamorada", a tour boat with only us on it. Edwin was our leader along with our regular guide, Archie. Pilot came aboard after we left. All boats have to have a pilot to guide them thru canal and they board after ship is in mouth of canal. Training for this is often 15 yrs as a person learns how to guide larger and larger ships. We were accompanied by a yacht from Catalina and a huge PanaMax cargo vessel ahead of us. It cost our boat $1,000 to go thru and panamax ship over $200,000. Reservations have to be made and exact time ship goes thru depends on number of ships waiting to go thru and weather. "People" ships and military get priority over cargo. Lock master controls those decisions. We came thru about 1.5 hrs. before we thought so got to Colon early. Went thru 6 locks and saw many large and small ships along the way – took us about 8.5 hrs. Breakfast and lunch on boat. We could touch walls of canal and saw humongous machinery along shore used to build ships & complete ongoing dredging. Ships go thru hitched up to electric engines (like a train engine) which run along sides of lock chamber and are hitched to ships by cables. Lock chamber is 110 feet wide and large Panamax ships are 106 feet wide so cables keep ship in middle of lock. Docked in Colon. To Hotel-not a very nice Hotel-big and empty and not too clean. Had supper and then to bed. I swam.


Bags to lobby by 6:15am. Up at 5am to work out in fitness room (had to towel dry freshly mopped floor & elliptical machine!). Grabbed coffee. Ready to board bus at 6:45am to get to boat for 7:30am departure. Archie counted passengers… and counted again.. and again… 2 people missing. Mom & I had seen 2 women get on elevator when already on the bus. Sure enough, they’d misunderstood time schedule and finally came out at 7:10am. Luckily, boat dock was on island at end of causeway, just a few miles from hotel, so we kept to schedule. Escorted by Santa Catharina container ship thru Miraflores and San Miguel Locks, along with small yacht. Panamax ships are largest that can fit thru current canal. Great information from Edwin as we cruised. Touched lock walls – so amazing to be down at that water level and gradually rise. Saw remnants of French canal excavation – much narrower – would have outgrown cargo ships very quickly. Arrived early at Gatun Locks on Atlantic side so tagged along with another cargo ship that got VERY close behind us in first lock chamber! Bus through Colon (warehouses, lots of people in streets, seemed dirty & seedy, not very appealing) to Hotel Melia Colon, former military base. Lots of buildings but felt deserted & rundown. Minimal hot water. Large room, lots of tiles. Very humid, jungle very close on all sides. Tried to swim but pool was too dirty – picked out drinking straw when doing a lap (Mom was braver and stuck it out). Checked out "Health Center" to find only old, dilapidated, broken equipment – very disappointing. Nice little gift shop, however. No room number on our door – walked to end of hall & thought we were in wrong place but eventually figured it out!

Friday 3/11


J had to work out in room since workout machinery was broken! Off for boat ride on Chagres River-three 20 person boats. Our guides again were great. Goal was to see anything moving-birds, monkeys, sloths, croc. etc. Great trip and very hot still. We saw toucans, monkeys, frigate birds, blue herons, sloths, parrot. Our guide, Wendell, could make bird calls so we could see more as wildlife responded. J and I ended up in separate boats. We got off at a very primitive dock-hand made. Boats were obviously not owned by a big company nor was dock. Small buses met us at dock and we drove to ruins of Fort San Lorenzo, up on a high hill overlooking river. Heard a brief history of the fort, then back to Hotel for lunch and about 1 hr. free time. Went to R.R. station. 1 hr. ride to Panama City. Comfortable train and good windows to look out. To Hotel Crowne Plaza. J swam in lovely pool, outside on 4th floor so she could see sky and skyscrapers around hotel. Farewell dinner outside by pool. We were entertained by troupe of Panamanian musicians and dancers. Very colorful and interesting. Watched TV for 1st time since we’re there and saw the Tsunami in Japan.


Up at 6am to work out – Mom very patient with me – room large enough to move. Also got 2 unexpected/unwanted wake-up calls around same time – just another weird thing about this hotel! Down to buses by 7:30am. Grabbed some coffee & fruit for later. Hadn’t arranged with Mom about meeting up at buses, so ended up with different groups & separate boats – oops! Slight delay driving to boats as we had to wait at Gatun Locks for cargo ship to move thru – no big bridge to cross locks here, just small bridge in 2 parts that rotates out over water at base of lock chamber. So we’ve now sailed thru the Canal and driven over it at water level! 2 porta-potties available by river bank before boat ride – both locked – I used tip of a pen to jimmy ‘em open, and very glad since boat ride lasted longer than predicted (i.e. "real" restroom stop delayed by about 2 hours). Saw several types of birds, sloths ("perosozo" in Spanish – same word as "lazy"), howler monkeys, and butterflies during boat ride on Chagres River. Ended near mouth of river at Caribbean (Atlantic) Ocean. Stopped to see howler monkeys on way to Fort San Lorenzo. Wendell provided info at Fort. Explored some of ruins. Restroom stop at Ranger Station – TV on with news of tsunami. Lunch at hotel and a few purchases at gift shop. Train to Panama City for final evening. Got little snack pack when leaving train (made good breakfast snacks for next day). Crowne Plaza had scale in bathroom – odd! Also remarked then that all hotels had tile floors – makes sense for hot climate as well as easier cleaning. Tried to buy magnets at hotel gift shop but closed. Planned to try again in morning.

Saturday 3/12


Got up and left at 5:30am and J had to leave at 7:00am. Uneventful trip back on crowded planes. Easy to get thru customs. Wonderful interesting and busy trip. Best part was being with J.


Saw Mom off and got up a bit later to work out. Went to Fitness Center but machines not working so back to room instead. Grabbed quick fruit and coffee at restaurant. Gift shop still closed. Figured I’d get souvenirs at airport. Ha! Quick and easy check-in and security, only to find all duty-free, high-end shopping and not a single souvenir shop in sight!!! Wandered around, chatted with other Road Scholars on same flight (trio from Wisconsin, couple from San Carlos). Full but fine flight to Houston and to San Francisco. E picked me up & we drove back to Sac – I talked the whole way about the trip – made time fly by! Home by about 7pm to hug the kitties, unpack, and settle back in. Fabulous trip. Best Elderhostel with Mom so far. So wonderful to share this experience with Mom!!!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds fantastic!!! I'm so jealous! I would love to see Panama. I took a look at your pics as well..awesome! I haven't fallen off the face of the earth... :) love you! Arielle

5:11 PM  

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