The Rants of Issachar

Friday, March 25, 2005

We went out to watch a surf competition on the island today. Not much of an event really. There was some good surfing when the waves were up, but it didn't seem much different than just going to a popular surf beach and taking it in. The competition wraps up tomorow, so I assume that at some point they'll have anouncements and judging, but there was no sign of that today. One funny thing is that the whole thing was sponsored by Red Bull and they had their logo everywhere, but strangely enough there didn't seem to be anywhere to actually buy any Red Bull. Odd. I did see one guy selling drinks and food out of the back of his pickup when I left, but that was about it. There probably was somewhere to buy drinks on the beach, but not that I could see.

Had the competition been in Hawaii, I'm guessing that there would be more people flogging drinks than there would have been surfers. And probably some music.

But it was a very nice day at the beach. I'm still feeling a bit off, but if you have to be a bit ill there's not many places better than a beach to get over it. (and some of the surfers were very good...) I did get a tiny bit of sunburn on my legs, but nothing too major. They're going to cure skin cancer before I get it right?

On a random note, I never realized just how political Tom Clancy was. Well, not too random, I was reading Red Rabbit on the beach. Still a very fun vacation read though.

I don't know if I'll post again before I get home. We fly out of Bocas tomorrow at 4 in the afternoon then catch an early morning flight out of Panama City the day after. I'll be in Seattle by Sunday night. See you all soon. :)

:: posted by issachar, 6:20 PM | Permalink | 3 comments | Links to this post

Thursday, March 24, 2005

What a day yesterday was...

We woke up at 4:30am thanks to the alarm on Dad's watch. The hotel didn't actually bother calling us with our 4:30 wakeup call. I wonder if they called some other room...

We took the bus out to the local airport with the same taxi driver as the day before. Taxi's outside the hotel are way too expensive, but you really don't want to be wandering around looking for the cheapest deal when you've got a plane to catch. It turned out that the airport people are not as anal about luggage weight as we'd heard. You're apparently limited to 25lbs weight including your carry-on and some they don't let you share the weight between you. But no eyebrows raised when Dad was half a pound over and I was a pound and a half under...

The flight was one one of those rectangular planes with only 3 seats across, and it was pretty noisy. We arrived at the airport and weren't mobbed by taxi drivers, which has to be a first. We opted to walk the three blocks to Hotel Angela and checked ourselves in and had breakfast. Right after breakfast we headed out for a boat tour of the islands with stops for snorkling and a stop at red frog beach. (Yes they have little red frogs there). It was hot & sunny and exactly what you want in the Carribean. Back to the hotel for a break and then out to a place that had happy hour with the other two people on our boat tour. One was a New Yorker and the other was from San Jose in Costa Rica.

Unfortunately something hit me part way through the evening. (No, it wasn't too much booze). I don't know if I ate something bad (can't think what it could have been) or if it was just heatstroke, but I was up more than a few times in the night feeling lousy. I don't have a thermometer, but I'm pretty sure I had a fever or something. I shouldn't go from sweating to shivering and back that fast. I'm still feeling drained today, but fortunately it's nothing like the 3 days of torment I had in Indonesia a few years ago. It's also clouded over today, so Dad didn't go on another boat tour. It looks like most of the tourists around here are just walking around town looking at souvenirs or sitting in bars or internet cafes. Today has not been a good day so far. I'm hoping I'll be good to go by tomorow because it's our last full day here. Hopefully we'll have the sun back too.

I guess we'll see. Love you all...

:: posted by issachar, 12:18 PM | Permalink | 1 comments | Links to this post

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Dad and I went up the the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal today. We woke up at 6 to catch the taxi up to the boat launch just past the Mira Flores docks. (About a 45 minute drive). The boat was another half hour on top of that.

The research station is pretty much what you'd expect with a bunch of scientists out studying the jungle and it's creatures. One funny thing is that it strangely reminds me of SFU. I don't know if they use the same cleaning solvents or if they just have the same mold growing in the stairwell, but the smell is identical. Weird...

Our guide Sonja (local Panamanian despite the name) took us out on a walk through the forest that lasted a few hours. Then lunch, then a shorter walk, then boat back to shore. That's pretty much the day. The important part is obviously seeing the forest and the animals. I was hoping to see a Puma or an Ocelot, but in daylight that would be more than a little unlikely. We saw many leaf-cutter ant colonies and I find them fascinating. IIRC they're actually using a shortest-path algorithm when creating their trails from their home to the place they're harvesting leaves. I think that's what I learned in my algorithms class at SFU... Quite a cool part of nature I think. Sort of like Fibonnaci numbers and the golden mean showing up all over the natural world.

We also saw an owl, some bats, (roosting because it's day obviously), an ant-eater, army ants, water filled trees that sound hollow, termites and a lot of other cools stuff. Oh, and did i mention that there are a couple of crocs making nests right near the boat dock? They were cool obviously, but I didn't get a very good look at either of them, and I wasn't about to walk up to them. They have fencing that doesn´t look much stronger than chicken wire to keep the crocs from wandering up, but it does apparently work. Obviously pictures are what this story calls for, but I still can't do that. I'll post some when I get back.

One thing I don't have a picture of is the ticks. I do know what they look like though. Despite tucking my pants into my socks as instructed they were still getting on to me. I picked close to a dozen off after the last hike. And a couple more off my arms after the shower back at the hotel. Annoyingly hard to kill, but they don't actually seem to have bitten me. And they don't carry lime disease here, so I guess they're just annoying the way mosquitos are back home. (Our ticks carry lime disease in Canada I believe and they're a lot harder to get off).

The bus wasn't there when we got back to the shore, so we walked a short stretch into town. Well almost into town, the bus came part way out. Then the long drive back to Panama. And that's the end of the day. I'm going out for dinner. I've got an early flight to Bocas Del Toro tomorow. (I have to get up at 4:30am).

I miss you all. Thanks to the people commenting, it keeps me feeling connected. :)

:: posted by issachar, 7:22 PM | Permalink | 5 comments | Links to this post

Monday, March 21, 2005

It turns out we´ll have a place to stay in Bocas Del Toro after all. Dad got inspired to start calling around after talking with the grandson of the guy who owns Los Capitanes and we got lucky. We don´t know what it will cost yet, but we do have a roof over our heads. Flying up there without that would have been downright stupid. It would have been a shame to have to cancel out of that part of the trip. But we didn´t find that out until we were out our way back to Panama city and we stopped at the side of the road to use a phone. So it made for a stressful evening.

The drive back to Panama City was uneventful, and we drove out to the causeway near the city. Completely quiet. Interesting to see, but I wouldn't travel the world for it.

But... While the drive back to Panama City was fine, the drive in Panama City to return the car was chaotic. The maps we had are detailed, but not 100% accurate. There seem to be streets in Panama that don't appear on the maps. And there are a lot of one way streets and two way streets that become one way streets without warning. And there are very few street signs. And there's a lot of honking. No one pays attention to the honking, but they sure seem to enjoy doing it. So with Dad driving and me navigating with an eye out for signs and the other on the map, we we're pretty sure where we were most of the time, but we couldn't get to where we wanted to be. Unfortunately while we were driving around Dad managed to go through a yellow light. So did the guy next to him too, and Dad's not sure it didn't turn yellow while we were in the intersection. But a traffic cop did pull us over. Adding to the insult was the fact that we'd circled the block once already because we'd seen him and weren't sure if u-turns were legal. Oh, and he insisted that we went through a red light, but we're not dumb enough to argue. And it turns out at least one cop in Panama is crooked and looking for a payout. "No one see money". Yeah... I wonder why. I have now have the distinction of knowing that I definitely can palm some money to an officer with the instruction "no one see money". Aren't I special... So $30 later we're on the road again. And thinking we're almost there. But the road turns becomes one way against us and we have to turn off. Perfect...

We eventually stopped at National Car rental, where I got a better map and our exact location. The woman there was kind enough to give me great directions back to Budget car rental, but her directions did involve going the wrong way down a one way street, so back to the map. Dad was obviously frustrated at this point and tired of all the honking and I was probably sounding like a condescending sob. (I don't really think so, but you'd have to ask Dad). But we came out of it okay, and the National Car rental map was good enough to get us to our destination.

I didn't mind the whole experience that much, but then I wasn't the one having to worry about pushy Panamanian drivers putting a dent in the rental car.

Back to the Plaza Patilla hotel for a relaxing shower and a burger across the road. Dad went off the explore the old city again and I sat down to read C.S. Friedman's "This Alien Shore". I just started it, but it seems like a very good book. (Thanks Caleb).

Still no joy with pictures. I can upload them, but without scaling them down they're a bit big to put on the website. And the mp3 player is fine when I hook it up to a computer, but it still won't play. Maybe something with the batteries...

I'm missing all you people back home. See you in a week.

:: posted by issachar, 7:00 PM | Permalink | 5 comments | Links to this post

Sunday, March 20, 2005

So I finally got back on the net again. I updated my last aborted post, and I'll be able to bring this blog up to date. It's pretty dull without pictures, but with the slow net connections in Panama, that's just the way it has to be.

Anyway... After Dad & I left Boquete we drove down to the town of Los Santos. The town of Los Santos is on the way back to Panama city and it's in Los Santos Province. (Or do they have states in Panama), on what I'd call a peninsula on the southern coast. (I really should bring a map with me when I post). Los Santos in the most heavily deforested province in Panama and it's hot there. We checked into Hotel La Villa in Los Santos and then drove down an hour or so to Pedasi where there are some surf beaches. It's hot there obviously, but walking on the beach was nice after all that time in the car. Even though it was Saturday, there was pretty very few Panamanians on the beach and no tourists. Los Santos Province doesn't seem to be much of a tourist destination. It's more of a low cost vacation spot for locals if it gets any tourism at all.

We stopped for Pizza in one of the towns on the way back to our Hotel. Every town here has a centre square and there was something going on in the Church adjacent. I would have liked to go in, but we were both dressed in shorts and that probably wouldn't have been that polite.

Anyway, I'm going on in far too much details. Back to the Hotel for a dip in the pool. A 5 minute drive North to Chiriqui for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Every other restaurant was completely dead and this was the only one that had any life in it at all. A walk around the square in Chiriqui and a glance in the Church on the square. (Which was completely packed out for the service). Holy week is big in Panama apparently.

So we stayed that night in Los Santos and drove up to El Valle to stay at Los Capitanes where we stayed before. El Valle is much busier on the weekends. It's obviously a week-end destination for Panama City residents. We looked around the market which was full of the same mass produced "ethnic" goods you see everywhere. We hiked up to the rim of the volcano again and walked farther. Definately a good day. The only downside is that my mp3 player is giving me trouble. It's like the file system got corrupted or something. I'll plug it in when I get to a computer with a USB port and see if I can figure it out. It better not be broken it's not even a month old.

So that brings us up to date. We're in El Valle tonight and in Panama City for the next three nights after that. We've got a reservation at the Smithsonian the day after tomorow. I'm a litte worried about our time after that though. We just got an e-mail from the place we were hoping to stay in Bocas Del Toro. (On the Carribean coast). They're completely full and they think everyone else is too. We may be in trouble... :( I guess we'll find out...

Till later...

:: posted by issachar, 9:01 PM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post

Friday, March 18, 2005

Dad and I are in Boquete now. We decided to skip the coastal peninsula entirely and think about checking it out on the way down. It's the most heavily deforested area in Panama and it's almost entirely surfing beaches according to the other travellers we've met. So we decided to do a long drive past David and into Boquete.

As it turns out we should have planned better (yes, you were very right Mum), but when I travel it all seems to work out okay anyway. Our first choice to stay (Isla Verde) at was full, but the German lady who owns the place was very helpful in finding us a place to stay. She directed us up to a place called Villa Marita which was very nice and was next to a castle. Yes, a Castle. The guy who lives there is Dutch but his wife is English which would explain the style and the fact that it's called Kent. Very strange thing to see in Panama. I'm pretty sure that third picture off the Villa Marita link is the room we stayed in.

Here's a picture of the view of "Kent" from just outside our cabin.
Okay, so I can't read the error message that Blogger gave me in Spanish. I'll figure it out later. So still no photos.. :(

Update: (After I got back home) Here's "Kent":

So we looked around the town, went back and chatted about everything over a glass of wine looking at the view, then went out to a very nice restaurant (Bistro Boquete) run by a lady from California that served wonderful steaks.

We're back there tonight in about 10 minutes, because Dad's just arrived back from phoning Mum. More on today later.

Update: March 18th
Okay... Finally back on the net.

Well after the first night in Boquete we had to find a place the next morning. Unfortunately, Isla Verde was booked, but the German owner set us up with some Canadian friends of hers who just built a house in the hills and rent out a room and a cottage. They're very nice people from BC. The place was lovely and I do have pictures, but no joy on this net connection. (I can't even get MSN to work from here).

We ended up driving up the valley looking for some hiking, and went walking part way down the trail around the Volcano to Punte Cerro. We also went up the road to the volcano, but didn't drive the whole way up. (Apparently you can drive to the summit in a 4x4 with a winch).

As I said, we stayed at the Canadians place that night then drove out the next day for Los Santos. That's the subject of the next post...

:: posted by issachar, 9:11 PM | Permalink | 2 comments | Links to this post

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

We´re out of Panama City now. Dad and I rented a car and drove up the coast the coast to El Valle in Cocle Province. El Valle is a village in the crater of an extinct volcano and it´s pretty beautiful up here. No pictures unfortunately as this net cafe doesn´t have computers with USB ports. So no hooking up my camera. But you can read about El Valle here and here. The second link is to PEX the adventure tour operating out of here. That´s not where we´re staying but we´re just down the road. The petroglyphs were cool and we got some fresh mandarins from our guide who is very good at climbing trees. I´m pretty sure 13 year olds are supposed to go to school here, but he didn´t seem to do that. Actually kids seem to be walking to school all the time here. And I do mean all the time. You don´t just see them walking down the streets in their uniforms in the morning and afternoon. Sometimes it looks like they just walk around in their school uniforms all day. Maybe they get a lot of breaks, who knows...

After the petroglyphs we went back went on another hike up to the crater rim. Great view and I´ll post the pictures when I get the chance. Walking the rim all day would be nice as there´s a great view and a fantastic breeze, but it would be a long walk around... More meeting Canadians though. The Quebecois accent is a bit hard to miss. :P

Then it´s back for a late lunch followed by soaking in thermal pools. After the pools I really had to take a shower though.

I think I´m going to head back to the place we´re staying and read in the shade. Either Searching for God Knows What or the book on learning Spanish. (The first book is really really good).

Tough life...

:: posted by issachar, 5:16 PM | Permalink | 1 comments | Links to this post
It´s a small world after all...

The first foreign english speakers we talk to, (and I mean the very first) turn out to be from Canada. And not just Canada. From Kelowna. The guy´s lives on Richter. (His girlfriend is from Vernon).

All the way down in Panama City in a park and we meet people who live in my hometown...

:: posted by issachar, 4:50 PM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post

Monday, March 14, 2005

So this is Panama...

For those of you who don´t know, I´m on vacation in Panama for the next couple of weeks. It´s sunny and warm here and I´ll try to get some photos up when I´ve got more than a couple of minutes on the net.

I still find it funny that I can go so far from home, but my online life could continue pretty much the same if I wanted it to. (But I´m off to the beach).


:: posted by issachar, 9:25 AM | Permalink | 4 comments | Links to this post

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Where do I stand on the political spectrum and why am I there?

I'm on the right. I may be some kind of libertarian. Why?

The short answer is that I'm not there because I don't care about people. I'm there because I do care. Popular wisdom says that if you care about the poor, single mothers, drug addicts, the plight of native people in Canada, the third world, education, the environment etc. you should support the left. Like a good bulk of popular wisdom, I think this is rubbish. I do care about all those things, but the leftist answers to those problems don't work. They sound nice on the surface, but if you follow them through and see where they lead, they don't pass the only test that matters: efficacy. Bill Clinton said "I feel your pain". That's nice, but I'm sure people would rather that you also did something that actually alleviated that pain.

This isn't to say that the left hasn't done some very good work. They woke us up to many of those problems. Who was talking about the environment before Greenpeace starting pulling fire alarms? Who gave us the idea that essential medical care should come to everyone, not just the wealthy? The left. They did good work. So what went wrong?

Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of Greenpeace quit the organization some time ago and founded Greenspirit saying that they had abandoned science and were reflexively opposing everything that had any impact at all on the environment. According to Moore, Greenpeace woke everyone up but never realized that when they'd made everyone take the environment seriously, you had to come up with working solutions, not keeping pulling the fire alarm. To Moore that meant sustainable development in the forest industry rather than simply stopping as much logging as possible. Moore noticed that forest companies have a self-interest in healthy forests and that countries that use the most wood products reforest the most because forests then have an economic value. Moore concluded that we should encourage sustainable logging that is both ecologically and economically sound. In short, "more trees are the answer". Greenpeace by contrast continues to villify any logging as an attack on the environment. The facts back Moore not Greenpeace, so why is Greenpeace still seen as the best friend of the environment?

Let's talk health care. Government funded medical care. An incredible idea that has done wonders. Unfortunately, the system is about to break under increasing financial strain. What's the only solution that the left will tolerate? More money. The debate has become so unhealthy that most Canadians are unable to see the distinction between government provided health care and government funded health care. The important part that everyone has rapid access to necessary medical care. Since medical care is expensive that means that the only way to achieve that is with government funding. But does it matter how the care is delivered or who delivers it? No it doesn't. It only matters that it is delivered. But the left got in bed with organized labour and is busily destroying and villifying anyone who proposes solutions to the health care problem if that solution doesn't mesh with the demands of organized labour. "We're not interested in a solution that works unless it helps unions". How much sense does that make? As the health system collapses who do you think is going to get shoddy care? The wealthy? When waiting lists become so long that quality of care is seriously reduced is it the poor who simply trot down to the US to buy the life-saving care they need?

What about education? I favour school vouchers. (I know, big suprise, I work in an independent school). But wait a second... Why doesn't the left support school vouchers? Does the lack of school vouchers stop the rich from sending their children to the excellent school of their choice? It's just the poor that can't afford independent schools. So you get educational choice for your children if you're rich, but if you're poor, just forget about it. I thought this society was a meritocracy. Apparently not. The first thing determining if you can go to an elite school isn't your talent or if you work hard. It's your parents ability to write cheques every month.

What about the third world? Canadians are under the delusion that we spend a lot on foreign aid. It's a nice bit of propoganda, but it has all the reality of a potemkin village. I've forgotten the exact numbers, but according to Andrew Cohen's book, (read it), we spend less than 0.3% of our GDP on foreign aid. And much of that is so-called "tied-aid". (You can have the money if and only if you buy stuff from us with it). This is a bit less than the 0.7% target we've had since the days of Pearson and less than many other countries in the world including the USA. Why is that? The left's been in control of Canada's foreign policy throughout most of our history. The Liberal party is occaisionally referred to as the "natural governing party" after all. So why isn't foreign aid at a level that Pearson proposed? The answer is choices. The money available to the government isn't unlimited. If you spend something on one thing you're making a choice not to spend it on something else. This is why I'm against social programs that don't deliver maximum return. Because if we fund something that doesn't work or works badly because it sounds good, something else much more important can't get funded...

Well I just read back through what I wrote... It's pretty all over the place. Mostly because this is an all over the place set of ideas. I should probably be more coherent before I publish this, but this is my rants page so I'm going to publish it anyway. Also, I'm leaving for church, so I can't re-write this at the moment.

Feel free to comment or make suggestions.

:: posted by issachar, 9:05 AM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sad news today...

It's all over most of the papers, but if you haven't heard, four RCMP officers were shot & killed by a guy running a marijuana grow-up on an Alberta farm. The killer died at the scene as well. Here's to the brave officers of the RCMP and the jobs they do every day to keep us safe.

Buried in the article I read were a couple of interesting facts. This is the first time since 1985 that more than one officer has been killed in action in the same incident. Amazing. Also, apparently Mayerthorpe, (the town where it happened), is also considered the Crystal Meth capital of Alberta.

:: posted by issachar, 3:15 PM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post