Thursday, December 4, 2008

From the Ground on Upwards

Look closely at those leaves. They're being carried by ants. This whole path, with no grass, has been eaten and worn away by these ants. If you click on the picture you can get a closer look.

I've seen these ants in every park or forest I've been to from Mexico on south, and they still kind of amaze me. There's always just this little highway of moving bits of leaves crossing my path.

This time it was in Panama city's Parque Metropolitano, a national park within the city limits of the nation's capital. It´s five minutes walk from a huge mall, bus station and domestic airport. I went from shopping in a department store for a fake Nalgene to using it for a three hour hike without needing to sit down once in between.

Surprisingly the park seems pretty tranquil. You can hear the cars go by when you´re near the entrance, but I saw a ton of birds, lizards, turtles, and even six White Nosed Coati. And of course the ants.

It was sort of the last thing I had planned in Central America. The next day, a couple friends of mine and I went to the airport for our 11:00 flight to Cartagena.

The buses took longer than we expected, so we arrived at the flight counter a bit later than expected. We asked for our tickets. They refused to give them to us. They said they were supposed to stop giving out tickets at 10:00. I looked up at the clock. It was 10:06.

I argued it, went to other airlines, tried the airline office, but no luck. Even if the flying time was less than one hour, it was an international flight, and despite not saying this anywhere on their website, our ticket, our confirmation email, or the airport's website, we were supposed to know to be there exactly an hour in advance. We couldn't budge them on this. We missed the flight.

Fortunately there was another flight. At 9 pm. We changed tickets and spent the next nine hours upstairs in a hyper-air-conditioned cafeteria, talking eating, playing cards, watching the Simpsons in Spanish, playing cards, sleeping, staring at the walls, and I think, maybe... yeah, playing cards.

We finally got our boarding passes, through security, wandered around duty free a while, and then boarded our plane. By which me mean boarding a bus which took all ten or so passengers to a Dash 8, a twin-engine, turboprop plane with nine rows of seats. By far the smallest thing I'd ever flown on in my life.

And it was so much fun.

I was not expecting that at all, but I'm used to jets where you sit in an apparently immobile metal tube that suffers an earthquake every few minutes. I'm not a big fan of turbulence and expected to have a lot more of it in this little thing. But it was just a different experience entirely. It was really flying. Yes there were bumps but you could really feel the wind behind them. Looking out the window an seeing the propellers roaring over the shrinking ground was a real trip. It was the old-fashioned kind of travel, the kind you picture on all those vintage posters when you think travel. It probably changed how I look at planes for the rest of my life.

So I'm in South America now. Even since before we touched down, I've been feeling good about this leg. It's as if Central America was just the warm up for this. I'm in the walled city of Cartagena, Colombia. I've been exploring the biggest Spanish fortress in the Americas, with a flashlight, creeping through underground tunnels filled with puddles (impressive acoustics-- if you sing the right note down there you can see the sound waves ripple on the water). I've also been browsing the Naval History Museum of the Caribbean, mostly focused on how many times the poor city has been sacked by so many people despite how intricate and massive the defenses were.

Later I ended up invited to and registered at a conference on combating Hunger and Poverty (Babelfish Translation), with groups like Accion Social, the World Food Program, and the UN in attendance, along with the governor, several local NGOs, and interestingly enough, the national petroleum company present (the petroleum company was showcasing how it was using its profits for environmental and social justice campaigns). All the people I talked to at the conference were hopeful and excited about what they were doing, especially in terms of helping impoverished families become self-sufficient and more prosperous. Everybody was talking about how much success they'd seen recently and how much more they were going to have. It was great getting to meet all these people working to make other people's lives better. Plus there was free food. I like free food.

Ending post bad news (I really hope this doesn't become a tradition) my camera's condition continues to worsen. Now any photos I take have a blurry lower third with the colors screwed up. I've posted a couple passable ones, but I'm starting to get worried. The vast majority of my shots in Colombia so far simply didn't come out, which I´m kinda bummed out about. Especially when it comes to the sunset shots over the Caribbean I took from the city's 400 year old walls...

I'm heading south today, up to the mountains. After being cooped up on an island and then wandering in Panama city looking for a way onward, It feels very good to be somewhere that I can leave just by hopping on a bus.

Check out this entry's Photos


  1. I'm sorry you keep having trouble with the camera. I know what you mean about the Dash 8. The turboprops are stable...although somewhat noisy. They do tend to fly at a lower altitude so you get to see more. Ant picture was cool. Glad you described it though or it would have been easy to miss the detail.

  2. Hi Joel,

    I'm having so much fun following your dream trip. Your descriptions are so good, I can almost feel what it's like where- ever you are. Thanks for including me in your travels.

    Keep on truckin' cousin,
    Ann N

  3. M-- I didn't know that about turboprops. Also unfortunately I was flying at night so I didn't see much until we got into town, but now that I know, maybe I'll be seeking more of those out in the future. Thanks!

    Ann-- Thank you very much! I glad you're getting to read it. Say hello to the Nechodom clan for me!