February 03, 2010

Vacation, Day 11 - Colon, Panama

We docked In Panama at 8am and had paid for a tour at 8:30.    To meet this, Beau set up a wake-up call for 6:30 to give us time to eat breakfast and arrive in the designated spot, early.    We were rounded into a group of about 40 and assigned a bus.   Our guide, Archie was humorous and knowledge and led us on a great tour.   First bit of trivea is there are no stop signs or traffic signals.   The law of the land is 'whoever is the largest gets the right-of-way'.   Although a bit frightening to us stricken U.S. folks, it appears to work just fine; we saw nary an accident.

We traveled into the countryside, receiving whimsical history each mile.   The bars on the windows in the countryside are to keep out animals (mainly monkeys and extremely large reptiles), versus bad guys.   The countryside is beauiful, housing ranges from very nice (in US retirement areas) to third world in appearance. 

Other interesting trivea:
  • Average income is around $450/month.  Property taxes are very little,
  • 1st two children are educated (through college) free of charge,
  • Medical & prescriptions are free.
  • Prison costs 50 cents/day to cover food.   If you don't have the money, your family can bring you food each day   If you don't have family (or they won't bring you food), you starve.  There is a cemetary next door.  
1st stop was Portbello (yes, just like the mushroom).   We visited a very old church, town area and fort ruins.   We learned that Captain Morgan (you know, the rum guy) was a very bad man (he kidnapped nuns and made them walk in front of the prirates through the mountains so natives would not kill them, then, killed them himself when they were no longer needed ... See if I ever buy his rum again !).

2nd stop was the Panama Canal, and the reason that we went on this tour.   Several years back we took a cruise that went through the Panama Canal, where we saw the operation from the inside, out.   We wanted to also watch it from the outside in.   I'll not bore you with all the details, but absolutely fascinating. 

Panama is working on building a second canal for ship passage.   Ships are growing larger every year and the super tankers are becoming such a size that they cannot pass through the locks.    The number one commodity here, is actually a natural resource ... water.   Panama is largely a rain forest.    The water from the rain forest is required to run the locks in the canal and they are take all steps needed to maintain the forest as their growth, population and economy depend on it. 

Then, back to the ship for more of the usual ... sit in the hottub, read by the pool, dinner, a comedy show, a little time in the casino and actually, went to bed early.    All this fresh air is wearing me out.

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