Panama – Drive to South America Photo Journal

30 Jun 07

The other day, I saw an entire cargo ship get lifted out of the sea. It was more amazing than I could ever describe.

I am currently in Colon, Panama. This particular town, which has got to be 2nd or 3rd largest in Panama according to the map, is a dump. So far, I´ve been thoroughly disappointed by Panama. There is absolutely nothing here.

Driving in Panama City was one of the scariest things I´ve ever done. Some people in Panama have been nice, but most people have been more than rude. It was also the first country where I had to bribe the cops at the border. They told me to unload everything in my car and take it upstairs for inspection, when there is clearly nothing hazardous in the car and an empty courtyard right next to the car. I bought my way out for $10 and they inspected the car themselves without taking anything out. I am waiting to ship my car on Thursday, and I need to book a flight to rendezvous with it. I can´t wait to get out of Panama. But the next country I am heading to seems to be very, very promising. The city I am shipping my car to, I´ve heard, is one of the most beautiful in the world, rich in culture, history, and scenery. I will let you know where that city is if-when I get there (note: that city was Cartagena, Colombia, one of my personal must-visit cities in Latin America).

I hit 11300 feet the other day with my 1980 Mercedes in Costa Rica. Andes, if you would have me, I am ready.

The ride down from Costa Rica to Panama is quite possibly the most scenic route I’ve ever taken, perhaps second only to the ride from Colorado Springs to Aspen.

I bought a Sony T100 today to solve worry number 2. I am currently working on worry number 1, getting my car shipped successfully to South America. The sought after destination may surprise some people. Colombia. I’m surprised, too; the fact that I don’t even have a map of Colombia will help prove that to anyone.

28 Jun 07 – Panama City, Panama to Miraflores Locks to Colon

Drive to Panama Photo. This is one of the first pictures I've taken with a new camera, a Sony T100. I was unable to take pictures in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, because they sell $100 digital cameras for about $300. I had to wait until I got to Panama City to buy a camera. And I'm happy to say that it's a good one, and I don't feel too jipped by the price considering the crap I would have paid much more for in either Nicaragua or Costa Rica. I will probably go back to Costa Rica someday. It's got beautiful beaches, and I need to see one of the volcanoes. Besides, GAP there.  This is the Panama Canal, the feat of American engineering of the 20th Century that made and continues to define the country Panama. This particular set of locks is called Miraflores Locks, on the Pacific side of the canal. I don't particularly love this picture, but it's fun: several tugboats are literally pulling the ship sideways into position of the nearest set of locks.  I've been pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the Canal. It's a welcome change from the confusion of the Panama City. In fact, this entire country seems very confused. Besides the Canal that is clearly not their own invention, they have not much else to offer. More on that in later pictures.  Driving in Panama City is insane. Sure, Tegucigalpa, Honduras was worse in terms of traffic, but at least the drivers there are much less aggressive.

This is one of the first pictures I’ve taken with a new camera, a Sony T100. I was unable to take pictures in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, because they sell $100 digital cameras for about $300. I had to wait until I got to Panama City to buy a camera. And I’m happy to say that it’s a good one, and I don’t feel too jipped by the price considering the crap I would have paid much more for in either Nicaragua or Costa Rica. I will probably go back to Costa Rica someday. It’s got beautiful beaches, and I need to see one of the volcanoes. Besides, GAP there.
This is the Panama Canal, the feat of American engineering of the 20th Century that made and continues to define the country Panama. This particular set of locks is called Miraflores Locks, on the Pacific side of the canal. I don’t particularly love this picture, but it’s fun: several tugboats are literally pulling the ship sideways into position of the nearest set of locks.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the Canal. It’s a welcome change from the confusion of the Panama City. In fact, this entire country seems very confused. Besides the Canal that is clearly not their own invention, they have not much else to offer. More on that in later pictures.
Driving in Panama City is insane. Sure, Tegucigalpa, Honduras was worse in terms of traffic, but at least the drivers there are much less aggressive.

Drive to Panama Photo. Around the corner from my current hotel in Colon, Panama is this view.  If you think I had to search very hard for this picture, I can send you many other neighborhoods in this small city that look the same.  This represents the dirtiest part of Colon, about 15-20% of which is similar to this picture.

Around the corner from my current hotel in Colon, Panama is this view. If you think I had to search very hard for this picture, I can send you many other neighborhoods in this small city that look the same. This represents the dirtiest part of Colon, about 15-20% of which is similar to this picture.

Drive to Panama Photo. This is actually taken at a 90 degree angle from the preceding picture.  Most of the city looks like this.  Dirty, to be sure, with roads that are actually in fairly good shape.  The city's falling apart, and seems to be in a hurry to do so.

This is actually taken at a 90 degree angle from the preceding picture. Most of the city looks like this. Dirty, to be sure, with roads that are actually in fairly good shape. The city’s falling apart, and seems to be in a hurry to do so.

Drive to Panama Photo. Here's a church.  Next to the McDonald's (both physically and sequentially), it's the cleanest building in Colon.  However, there is absolutely nothing but random objects inside.  They use it for some sort of storage space, which was very disappointing since I went to the 11 O Clock service on a Sunday and it wasn't in there.

Here’s a church. Next to the McDonald’s (both physically and sequentially), it’s the cleanest building in Colon. However, there is absolutely nothing but random objects inside. They use it for some sort of storage space, which was very disappointing since I went to the 11 O Clock service on a Sunday and it wasn’t in there.

Drive to Panama Photo. Here's a picture of my car in the hotel's 'parking space.'  It's marked with some effort to prohibit parking on the street so I can exit, but clearly nobody cares.  I can't really blame them, that thing's impossible to see unless you look carefully.

Here’s a picture of my car in the hotel’s ‘parking space.’ It’s marked with some effort to prohibit parking on the street so I can exit, but clearly nobody cares. I can’t really blame them, that thing’s impossible to see unless you look carefully.

Drive to Panama Photo. This is Avenida Central, the Central Avenue of Colon.  I don't know what people do here.  They're always here, just chilling in the little 'park' running down the street.  Cars are parked on either side of the street, with no signal lights whatsoever in any part of Colon.  Just a horrible place to drive or live or visit .

This is Avenida Central, the Central Avenue of Colon. I don’t know what people do here. They’re always here, just chilling in the little ‘park’ running down the street. Cars are parked on either side of the street, with no signal lights whatsoever in any part of Colon. Just a horrible place to drive or live or visit .

Drive to Panama Photo. Gatun locks is on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.  One of the good things about waiting for the ship to take my car to Colombia is that I get to take my time and see the sights I'm interested in.  Here you can see that the container ship running behind the center building is clearly below the water level in front of it.

Gatun locks is on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. One of the good things about waiting for the ship to take my car to Colombia is that I get to take my time and see the sights I’m interested in. Here you can see that the container ship running behind the center building is clearly below the water level in front of it.

Drive to Panama Photo. This is a picture that's been stitched together with 8 different pictures, 4 on top and 4 on the bottom.  I like how it turned out despite my reservations about stitching a picture in such a way.

This is a picture that’s been stitched together with 8 different pictures, 4 on top and 4 on the bottom. I like how it turned out despite my reservations about stitching a picture in such a way.

Drive to Panama Photo. Two 'Panamax' ships both approaching the Atlantic coast, clearly on two different heights.  A Panamax ship is one that represents the maximum dimensions of a ship that can pass through the canal, either by width, length, or depth.

Two ‘Panamax’ ships both approaching the Atlantic coast, clearly on two different heights. A Panamax ship is one that represents the maximum dimensions of a ship that can pass through the canal, either by width, length, or depth.

Drive to Panama Photo. If you haven't noticed, I really, really liked the Panama Canal.  The process all happens fairly slowly, but if you take the time to see a few pass by, it actually is a really fulfilling and exciting experience.  Here's a picture of the Stuttgart Express before the water is drained to lower the vessel.

If you haven’t noticed, I really, really liked the Panama Canal. The process all happens fairly slowly, but if you take the time to see a few pass by, it actually is a really fulfilling and exciting experience. Here’s a picture of the Stuttgart Express before the water is drained to lower the vessel.

Drive to Panama Photo. Here's the after picture.  Each lock here (there's 3 on both Gatun, Atlantic Ocean and Miraflores, Pacific Ocean Locks) lowers or raises a ship by 28 feet, which takes about 8 minutes to do.

Here’s the after picture. Each lock here (there’s 3 on both Gatun, Atlantic Ocean and Miraflores, Pacific Ocean Locks) lowers or raises a ship by 28 feet, which takes about 8 minutes to do.

Drive to Panama Photo. There's exactly 2 feet of clearance on either side of these 'Panamax' ships.  The little trolleys you see on the far right hand side have steel tied to the ship to help it navigate through the locks without hitting the sides.  They don't pull the ship forward, the ship itself provides the thrust.  I still have no idea how it works.  A few steel cables are supposed to guide an entire container ship through that narrow passageway?

There’s exactly 2 feet of clearance on either side of these ‘Panamax’ ships. The little trolleys you see on the far right hand side have steel tied to the ship to help it navigate through the locks without hitting the sides. They don’t pull the ship forward, the ship itself provides the thrust. I still have no idea how it works. A few steel cables are supposed to guide an entire container ship through that narrow passageway?

Drive to Panama Photo. I like this picture because you can now definitely tell the ship has been lowered another 28 feet, low enough for me to take a picture from almost atop the vessel.  Also, this particular ship from this view reminds me of a rear view of a Star Destroyer.

I like this picture because you can now definitely tell the ship has been lowered another 28 feet, low enough for me to take a picture from almost atop the vessel. Also, this particular ship from this view reminds me of a rear view of a Star Destroyer.

Drive to Panama Photo. Back at Colon, Panama.  This is near the beach of Colon.  Parque Chino.  Chinese Park.  Absolutely nothing here.  A half assed effort at recognizing the apparent contributions of the Chinese people that are much more numerous in number than I expected.  It's something else, running into Spanish speaking Chinese owners of 'mini supermarkets' as they call it, or little grocery stores.  But it's also bad because everyone here thinks I'm Chinese and expects me to speak Spanish.

Back at Colon, Panama. This is near the beach of Colon. Parque Chino. Chinese Park. Absolutely nothing here. A half assed effort at recognizing the apparent contributions of the Chinese people that are much more numerous in number than I expected. It’s something else, running into Spanish speaking Chinese owners of ‘mini supermarkets’ as they call it, or little grocery stores. But it’s also bad because everyone here thinks I’m Chinese and expects me to speak Spanish.

Drive to Panama Photo. Just maybe 300 meters to the right of the preceding picture is this ship, run aground apparently.  It reminded me of a scene in a game called Farcry.

Just maybe 300 meters to the right of the preceding picture is this ship, run aground apparently. It reminded me of a scene in a game called Farcry.

Drive to Panama Photo. This is the entrance to the Duty Free zone in Colon.  I wouldn't post it up, except this just happens to be the 2nd largest duty free zone in the world.  It would be a woman's paradise.  I went into a couple places for guys and they sold nothing but cheap quality stuff for not that low of a price.  I did, however, like their choice of shoes and I might go back to see if they got any quality watches.

This is the entrance to the Duty Free zone in Colon. I wouldn’t post it up, except this just happens to be the 2nd largest duty free zone in the world. It would be a woman’s paradise. I went into a couple places for guys and they sold nothing but cheap quality stuff for not that low of a price. I did, however, like their choice of shoes and I might go back to see if they got any quality watches.

Drive to Panama Photo. I had to take this picture because I really like her.... clothes.

I had to take this picture because I really like her…. clothes.

Drive to Panama Photo. And this is what it looks like in the Duty Free zone. It looks like a big mess, but some of the stores, man... They're in great shape and is almost shocking in the quality of its infrastructure. New ones are being built as well. It leaves you wondering why they can't build buildings like some of them in the neighborhoods of Panama, when these people clearly have the know how to do it. That's it from Central America! Don't know when the next update will be, I'm waiting for the flight from Panama City, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia.

And this is what it looks like in the Duty Free zone. It looks like a big mess, but some of the stores, man… They’re in great shape and is almost shocking in the quality of its infrastructure. New ones are being built as well. It leaves you wondering why they can’t build buildings like some of them in the neighborhoods of Panama, when these people clearly have the know how to do it.
That’s it from Central America! Don’t know when the next update will be, I’m waiting for the flight from Panama City, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia.

4 Jul 07 – Colon

So much has happened… as soon as you think things are gonna slow down and nothing will happen for a bit, it comes back at you with more.

You know, I almost don’t want to do these picture updates anymore. I think you’d understand how I’m feeling if you’ve traveled 10000 miles in some of the crappiest roads you can ever imagine, through several countries whose language you don’t understand, going through several mechanical problems (CV boots breaking, brake pads burning out, broken O rings, worn out brake master cylinder, brake vacuum failing, accelerator sticking, engine stopping), spending 11 days shipping a car 300 miles east, having to bribe 2 cops in 2 countries, and often times just feeling bad because the food doesn’t agree with me here (I’m not having diarrhea attack or anything, it just somehow doesn’t taste very good and makes me nauseous, although that could very well be because I was 500 below 10000 feet in Ipiales, Colombia and Quito, Ecuador). Coupled with the general feeling and actual incidents of lack of safety. Hell, people in Colombia even just tell you it’s dangerous. They say, just don’t go to Medellin, Cali, Bogota…. Well, that’s all the major cities, all of which are stopping points for sights of interest and all of which you have to at least drive through. Where the hell am I supposed to go, then?

But, since no one is telling me to stop these updates, I will take that to mean that you actually enjoy them. So without further ado…

…I know I said that’s all from Panama, but I had shipped my USB adapter for my camera in the car, which was in a container at the time. So I couldn’t update with these final pictures.

Drive to Panama Photo. Because my car was shipping with gas still in the tank, I had to buy this sign to post on the container.  Edmond is in charge of handling containers in Cristobal (port right next to Colon, Panama).  He spoke great English, having studied it at a university level.

Because my car was shipping with gas still in the tank, I had to buy this sign to post on the container. Edmond is in charge of handling containers in Cristobal (port right next to Colon, Panama). He spoke great English, having studied it at a university level.

Drive to Panama Photo. The guy is trying to get my car lined up to go up the ramp into my assigned container.  The container would be loaded into a Seaboard Marine vessel named Polaris.

The guy is trying to get my car lined up to go up the ramp into my assigned container. The container would be loaded into a Seaboard Marine vessel named Polaris.

Drive to Panama Photo. I'm posting more of these pictures because you gotta understand, this was one of my milestones.  The shipping process was very, very hard.  Very hard.  VERY VERY HARD.  It took me 11 days for the entire process, having to go learn how to ship a car in a container on the go while trying to understand a language I would never completely understand.  Learning how to ship stuff is hard enough in English.  In Spanish, why...

I’m posting more of these pictures because you gotta understand, this was one of my milestones. The shipping process was very, very hard. Very hard. VERY VERY HARD. It took me 11 days for the entire process, having to go learn how to ship a car in a container on the go while trying to understand a language I would never completely understand. Learning how to ship stuff is hard enough in English. In Spanish, why…

Drive to Panama Photo. Edmond tells the driver, 'You're too fat and the car's too wide, have him drive the car himself!' So I did, driving my car into this container because the loader was too fat.  "The shipping phase of the car to Colombia is the second milestone I have for myself. It requires a lot of money, and even more patience. First milestone was entering Mexico and totally committing to the journey, and the third and final milestone, obviously, is achieving the goal by getting to Tierra del Fuego in their winter time."

Edmond tells the driver, ‘You’re too fat and the car’s too wide, have him drive the car himself!’ So I did, driving my car into this container because the loader was too fat.
“The shipping phase of the car to Colombia is the second milestone I have for myself. It requires a lot of money, and even more patience. First milestone was entering Mexico and totally committing to the journey, and the third and final milestone, obviously, is achieving the goal by getting to Tierra del Fuego in their winter time.”

Drive to Panama Photo. Family and close friends will recognize these names. Edgar on the left and Juan on the right. Keep in mind that I had to at least pretend to be happy, although in some sense, I was overjoyed in a very, very weird way. What a way to spend a 4th of July.

Family and close friends will recognize these names. Edgar on the left and Juan on the right. Keep in mind that I had to at least pretend to be happy, although in some sense, I was overjoyed in a very, very weird way. What a way to spend a 4th of July.

5 Jul 07 – Colon, Panama

Drive to Panama Photo. They sell candy by pieces and cigarettes as well.  I smoked a cigarette for 5 cents, the day after the preceding picture.  I think I earned it.

They sell candy by pieces and cigarettes as well. I smoked a cigarette for 5 cents, the day after the preceding picture. I think I earned it.

Drive to Panama Photo. The guy on the left is a former cop.  After Van (right, eating pineapple), explains to him about what happened to me the day before, he says, "See, now he will never come back to Colon or Panama!"  And he's right.  Unless I really want to see the third set of locks to be completed by 2014 or sit at a particular Atlantic beach resort, I will never go back to Panama.  The cop had gotten into an accident, so with his one good leg ended up selling fresh fruits and vegetables on the street.

The guy on the left is a former cop. After Van (right, eating pineapple), explains to him about what happened to me the day before, he says, “See, now he will never come back to Colon or Panama!” And he’s right. Unless I really want to see the third set of locks to be completed by 2014 or sit at a particular Atlantic beach resort, I will never go back to Panama. The cop had gotten into an accident, so with his one good leg ended up selling fresh fruits and vegetables on the street.

Drive to Panama Photo. I never got his name, but this man was quite a character.  He's a simple self employed worker, with a stash of old furniture you see stacked up in his workshop.  He buys the old furniture from people, breaks them down and puts them together to build up a brand new furniture piece, such as a bookcase, an entertainment center, chairs, tables and the sorts.

I never got his name, but this man was quite a character. He’s a simple self employed worker, with a stash of old furniture you see stacked up in his workshop. He buys the old furniture from people, breaks them down and puts them together to build up a brand new furniture piece, such as a bookcase, an entertainment center, chairs, tables and the sorts.

6 Jul 07 – PTY Tocumen Airport (Panama City) to Cartagena, Colombia

Drive to Panama Photo. Tocumen International Airport, Panama City. Saying it's in Panama City is like saying LAX is in Orange County, since it takes a full 2 hours just to get there from downtown Panama City. But this was a very welcome change of scenery for me. I felt very safe in this airport, and got there early morning at 9 AM for a 3PM flight and I was never bored or scared.

Tocumen International Airport, Panama City. Saying it’s in Panama City is like saying LAX is in Orange County, since it takes a full 2 hours just to get there from downtown Panama City. But this was a very welcome change of scenery for me. I felt very safe in this airport, and got there early morning at 9 AM for a 3PM flight and I was never bored or scared.

Drive to Panama Photo. Back by popular demand (Matt), here is my GPS reading through Central America. 6761.4 miles total. About 1600 of that is in the states (will figure exactly how much later when I have more time). This took me a long, long time to do, because GPS cuts out when I'm in the mountains. And I try and save the battery when I go somewhere to eat, use the bathroom, fill up, eat and such. So I have to join quite a few tracks from a day's travels together. Do that for all 30 days and join those 30 days worth of tracks together, and this is the end result.  By the way, I should mention that driving in Panama is actually quite confusing. The Atlantic is on the north side and the Pacific is on the south side. It only takes an hour to get from one ocean to the next, which actually should only take 30 minutes if the roads were any better.

Back by popular demand (Matt), here is my GPS reading through Central America. 6761.4 miles total. About 1600 of that is in the states (will figure exactly how much later when I have more time). This took me a long, long time to do, because GPS cuts out when I’m in the mountains. And I try and save the battery when I go somewhere to eat, use the bathroom, fill up, eat and such. So I have to join quite a few tracks from a day’s travels together. Do that for all 30 days and join those 30 days worth of tracks together, and this is the end result.
By the way, I should mention that driving in Panama is actually quite confusing. The Atlantic is on the north side and the Pacific is on the south side. It only takes an hour to get from one ocean to the next, which actually should only take 30 minutes if the roads were any better.

Drive to Panama Photo. It all looks like a simple drive, but it's really not. This shows the elevation by distance traveled, and you can see that it's quite a drive. Plus the fact that the roads here are just really, really bad... I can't wait to get to Peru. Peru, Chile, and Argentina are known for their quality of roads.  So that's really it from Central America!!

It all looks like a simple drive, but it’s really not. This shows the elevation by distance traveled, and you can see that it’s quite a drive. Plus the fact that the roads here are just really, really bad… I can’t wait to get to Peru. Peru, Chile, and Argentina are known for their quality of roads.
So that’s really it from Central America!!

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