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Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Hemingway Experience: The Kindness of Strangers

I awoke early so that I might get a jump on the day and be back before the afternoon rains. I found a taxi, and headed to Miraflores Visitor’s centre, the first of three docks in the Panama canal. 

Guys, I found the taxi.

Alexis Zamorano owns a special taxi service, that runs on the premise of tour guiding. The man himself, and I happened to flag down his car.  This guy gave me a verbal tour all of his own volition. He not only drove me to the Visitor’s centre, he also arranged with me to drive me home again. Thinking it was just a nice thing to do, to take the 15 minute drive to help out a stranger, of course I agreed. On the way there we stopped at the administration building so he could take my picture. This dude is awesome.

I do the tourist thing, it was interesting. History, economy, business, and just the sheer “holy shit” factor of what the human race can do.

A ship was just completing the Miraflores lock as I got there. See that locomotive on the other side of the canal, above the people? $2mil each. The canal has 16 of them.

The difference in water level - 54m.
Sure enough, Alexis is there just as I get to the taxi loop. Instead of driving me straight home, he brought me to the next set of locks, Pedro Miguel.  He tells me that the Canal is the only place in the world where a shop's captain recids control of their vessel to a Panama Canal specialist, who steers the boat through the passage. It can take up to 10 years to complete this schooling - and the average salary is 3 million dollars per year.

I saw the barracks where the Americans were set up while they built the bridge, now a university I believe. And over the Centennial bridge to see El Corte de Culebra (Snake Cut). I even saw the cemetery where the French buried their workers while they held the contract for the Panama Canal before they ran out of money.

The bridge. Not my photo obviously.

Excuse the fuzziness: it was a moving car on bad asphalt.

Then it was time for a tour of the surrounding American houses - where all the money is. This one lane road that's decrepit and on either side - rainforest. Through the American expat zone. Martyrs avenue, where in 1964 a student protest turned bloody when Panamanian students protested against American control of the area.

This is all out of the goodness of his heart. His passion is evident, and all in I gave him just 25 for over 2 hours of his day. He gave me his card, and he will be picking me up for the airport on Wednesday morning. 

The best part? His entire commentary was in Spanish. I understood about 75%. 
You guys, I think I understand Spanish.

I take the afternoon - generally the hottest part - to organise any writing, usually this blog. Then I tried round 2 of zaza. Success this time, although I notice every table around me had a reserved sign on it - this place must be good. Whatever, I ate around four and it was 8ish so I only needed an app or two. Beef carpaccio and a mushroom gnocchi, both excellent, and an old fashioned as advertised in their menu. Stellar drink; I made sure to tell the bartender on the way out. Another early morning tomorrow so I headed home to get some sleep.

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