Thursday, August 03, 2006



Ernesto dropped me off at the Zona Libre, the Free Zone, yesterday. The Free is freedom from import tax. The Zona Libre is as big as Colon. A wall surrounds it, guards at every gate. Within the wall is street after street of back-to-back shops and warehouses. What do you need? Five dozen pairs of pants in assorted sizes and colors? Two dozen Dior sports shirts? A five thousand dollar Longines watch? Cooking pots, table china, tools, outboard motors - what ever is manufactured can be found right here in the Zona Libre ready for onward shipping to where ever.
Much of it is manufactured in China by workers on near slave wages.
China's low wages guaranty umemployment for workforces in other developing economies (Socialist togetherness). Forget multi-nationals as the big beast criminals of the Liberal establishment. Chinese wages are the monster. We must forbid imports from any nation without a reasonable minimum wage and we must have inspecters checking factories.
Why was I in the Zona Libre?
To buy a fishing rod for the voyage thru the San Blas islands on the good ship Don Sebas.


I had a few beers with a retired Governer of Colon Province - he drank Margeritas for the first hour. He believes that termination of the criminals is the only solution to crime in Colon. He gives The Black Hand in Brasil as an example. I am a liberal. I am against popping people without trial. I might feel differently if forced to live in Colon. Riding thru on my bike is sufficiently scary.
I was over at Ernesto's house (ex US military) for coffee. Ernesto is from Porto Rico and married to a Panamanian. He was ambivalent as to the Governer's belief. Shooting the mini gangsters wouldn't solve the problem long term. Nor would employment nor better education. Essential is personal responsibility.
"About every man I know here has a wife and three women on the side, all with kids. The men sit around in new shirts and pants and trainers. The kids go hungry."
And not only the men, the women get pregnant in hope of getting something out of the man. Three kids by three different men is common. The kids have inadequate and irresponsible fathers as role models and worse role models in the music industry.
Panamanian rap shocks and offends Ernesto. Rap has become less brutal in the US while, in Panama, it has become more vicious. Role models rap vile sexual obscenities and glorify violence...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I have a boat, the DON SEBAS, a small trading vessel, maybe 60 feet long. It leaves from the 5th Street Wharf. When? Today, tomorrow, the day after...
How much? $200. The captain buys copra in the San Blas islands and the voyage takes around five days. Food is included - fried fish. Maybe a lobster!
Me and the bike by air to Medelin would be $800.
Shipping the bike to Cartagena by container is $350.
A German yacht, is $500 plus $50 for a dugout canoe out to Porto Vinir in the San Blas islands.
Colon is dangerous. Even the local cops say so. I am at a hotel out in what was the US Canal Zone, The Harbor Inn right next to the luxury Melia. I pay $17 for a big room with bath, a great bed, hot water, a/c. It is safe and the staff are friendly - a real life jacket in these dangerous seas. I ride up the road to the canal. I watch pilot vessels whiz across the lake to huge ships and watch the ships ease thru the lake to the locks. Locals are used to the sight. I never tire of watching. Construction of the canal was the US at its absolute best. Now Panamanians run the canal. They run it equally well.

Monday, July 31, 2006



I have met with three Americans over the past few days. The first I talked with is ex-military on a disability pension. A staff-sergeant, he lost his left forearm in a parachute accident while serving a second tour of duty in the Canal Zone. He has bought a house in the Canal Zone from the Panamanian Government and lives here with his second wife, Panamanian, and their baby girl. He is Spanish-speaking, a small, thin man, grey haired. He talks indignantly of America's handover of the canal. In the old days Panamanians working in the Zone were paid American wages, so were the many employees of the American Zoners. The Panamanian Government boasted of taking over the canal for the benefit of the Panamanian people.
Who live now in the Zone?
Foreigners employed in the Free Trade Zone. Their Panamanian employess are paid the minimum wage: aproximately $280 a month.
Ernesto finds this ironic and is bitter at the treatment of the working class. As to the Iraq war, he believes that the US had to do something after the attack on the twin towers.
He is a keen angler, fishing from a dugout canoe. He holds the hand line in his right hand and loops the slack round his left stump. He catches good-sized fish and his half-arm bares thin red burn marks from the line. He suggests that I am courageous in riding a bike thru Latin America. He asks how I feel on the bad days. I am ashamed to have bad days. This man is an expert on bad. He is an every-day hero.

My youngest son, Jed, is a hero too. He has a passion for extreme sports. His particular sport is mountain-boarding and he is on first-name terms with many an ambulance crew. Jed sent me a photograph today. He is upside-down. Mad. He and the one-armed American would enjoy each other and enjoy fishing together. I am priviledged by their company.


MONDAY, July 31
The second of the three Americans I talked with over the past few days is a teacher of History at the American School in Honduras. He is from New England (I can't spell Connecticutt). In his early thirties, he is a tall, quiet, thoughtful man. We discussed history and Central America and the war in Iraq. His father, a middle-road Republican, was against the war and believes that the US should withdraw immediately; the teacher votes Democrat and is also against. However, he believes that he would have enjoyed the army, the comradeship and being part of a team. He sent me an e-mail yesterday. I thank him.

I met the third of the American threesome in Portobelo. He has a yacht and was sitting with a Polish electronics engineer and the engineer´s English girlfriend, also with a yacht, at the restaurant where I eat my dinner. The American is a small man, pugnacious and opinionated - not much of a listner. He has read Tad Sculk's biography of Fidel Castro and spent a week in the Havanah marina with his son and his son's friend. The son speaks Spanish. The Yachtie doesn't. Yet he is an expert on Cuba. He suffered a painful (to him) divorce which he blames on the confrontational system of justice the US inherited from we Brits. He blames the same confrontational system for most of the world's woes. He is obsessive on the subject. He harbours a hatred for authority of any kind. He warns me of Colombia, that the Immigration and Customs officers will let me thru only for the cops to shake me down. I was around yachts in my early thirties, skippering in the Mediteranean. This American reminds me of the worst aspect of that life, the presumption amongst other yachtsman that we shared opinions and had common interests. This American reminded me of too many evenings trapped and bored and wanting to scream and I have sympathy for the engineer, an intelligent man, and for his bright, funny, English girlfriend. The freedom of the seas isn't that free once you enter port.