Monday, October 28, 2013


No, we didn't get naked to clean up a beach in Panama's stunning San Blas Islands. But a little helper named Christopher, seen here, did.  

We shouldn't have been surprised--the kid rarely wore clothes both times we stayed on his island, a tiny teardrop of sand not much larger than a city block. Of course, considering he lives a Blue Lagoon-like lifestyle surrounded by swaying palms and clear blue waters, who could blame him. 

While the San Blas Islands look and feel close to paradise, the Kuna people who live there are facing critical problems with clean water, sanitation, and trash.

Thanks to the steady stream of tourists and a growing local population, there isn't enough potable water to go around. In addition, all those people are producing lots of waste, which isn't being disposed of properly, leading to polluted oceans, contaminated drinking water, and trash in the water, wrapped around starfish, and dotting the beaches, which we did our best to eradicate with the help of little naked Christopher. 

We even convinced some fellow travelers to join us on the clean up. Together,we walked the beaches, crisscrossed the island, and snorkeled the surrounding waters picking up trash. 

If you do visit the San Blas, make sure to carry out everything you carry in (and more if you have room), and before you book, ask if the island you're on has properly-functioning toilet facilities. If it doesn't, stay elsewhere.

And of course, if you see garbage on the beach, recruit some fellow travelers, and take the time to clean it up. You'll be glad you did, and you might make some new friends in the process.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


A cargo ship passes beneath the Bridge of the Americas as it exits the canal en route to the Pacific Ocean.

Historian David McCullough in his book The Path Between the Seas wrote this about the Panama Canal:

"The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time, the culmination of a heroic dream of over 400 years and of more than 20 years of phenomenal effort and sacrifice. The 50 miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished." 

As McCullough writes, mere statistics don't do justice to the marvel that is the Panama Canal. 

But let's give it a shot anyway, shall we? 

By the time the United States bought the rights to the canal from the French in 1904 following their decade-long failed attempt to build the waterway, $287 million had been spent and thousands of workers (20,000+) had died, mostly from yellow fever and malaria.

After 10 more years, millions of dollars, and thousands more lives lost, the canal finally opened to commercial traffic under U.S. control. 

A few stats:
  • Construction cost in 1914: $375,000,000 (not counting the French attempt)
  • Cost in 2007 dollars: $7.4 billion
  • Number of workers to build: 56,000+
  • Lowest toll paid: 36 cents paid by Richard Haliburton, who swam through in 1928
  • Highest toll paid: $375,600 by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl in 2010
  • Time to cross: 1-2 days, depending on traffic; if a boat enters on time for her early morning appointment, she can make the passage in 8-10 hours, typically
  • Boats per year: 1,000 (1915); 14,000+ (2010)

One of the canal's 3,000-ton, five-story tall gates closes behind a cargo ship.
For more stats, check out this page or the official page of the Canal de Panama. 

The Canal truly is a wonder of the modern world. If you ever get to Panama, you gotta head out to the Miraflores Locks and Visitors' Center and watch this feat of engineering in operation. 

It's so worth it. 
Liz on the radio in the control tower of a ship passing through the canal.
OK, maybe it's a simulator in the Canal Visitor's Center.
View from the visitor center.
The view from the bar of the Balboa Yacht Club. Great place to enjoy a sunset.

Monday, October 21, 2013


OK, so the animal is called a coatimundi, and it's not actually alive. But Kip couldn't pass up a photo opp with this larger than life mural on a concrete wall in Panama City's Casco Viejo. 

(No animals were harmed or fed in the taking of this photo.)

Friday, October 18, 2013


Bridge Crossing in Burma
Since it's Friday and last night was the opening reception of our first-ever photo show, Faces and Places, above is the first print that sold--a shot of two novice monks crossing a handmade bridge near Lake Inle in Burma. 

Thanks to everyone who made it out and helped us open the show, which will be running through Dec 1 at the upstairs gallery in Shaw's Tavern in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


We have a confession to make--we're a few weeks behind on the blog, geographically speaking. 

In reality, we just got back to Washington, DC, and we're having our first ever photo exhibit, Faces & Places, showcasing a few of our favorite shots from the trip. 

You're all invited to the opening reception on Thursday, October 17, at the upstairs gallery of Shaw's Tavern (520 Florida Avenue NW), an awesome neighborhood spot about three blocks from our house.

Since we left Panama, we made a quick stop off in Colorado to see Liz's folks (and volunteer!) before coming back to Washington to move back into our house and also continue volunteering. It's been an entertaining, if not always easy, transition to the non-traveling life. More on that later. 

For now, we're going to continue updating the site with stories and photos from Panama City, the San Blas Islands, more Panama City and then back to the U.S.A via Colorado. 

Planning is underway for what's going to happen after we finally get caught up, but keep reading and stay tuned. We promise it's going to be a fun ride. 

And if you're in Washington, DC, anytime soon, look us up and/or drop by Shaw's Tavern and check out Faces & Places! 

Friday, October 11, 2013


Central America's modern capital, Panama City and its towering skyline offer a striking contrast to every other part of the country. One of most dramatic examples lies just across a shallow bay and along the cobblestone streets of Casco Viejo, the city's colonial heart and former city center whose construction began in the 17th century. 

Though the old city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, modern Panama and its vertical architecture are edging their way across the water, particularly with the help of a new ring highway built over open ocean and surrounding Casco Viejo, seen under construction above. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Some of Liz's little helpers, who gave her a hand (and a smile) separating recyclables at the Pedasi town cleanup.
In case you missed our last post, we'll sum it up: we love this place.

A quaint town of 2,500 of some of the friendliest people you'll meet in Panama, Pedasi is a place where city folks go to slow down and old folks go to die, slowly and happily.

Quiet streets, gorgeous views, quality bakeries and restaurants, a short bike ride to wide, empty beaches--no wonder U.S. News recently named it one of the top places in the world to retire.

Who knows. Maybe we'll be back in a few years...
If you see trash, pick it up--that's what the mayor said.
Hanging with Pedasi's Mayor Ricardo Barrios
While many of the people who live there take pride in keeping their community clean, a few holdovers and passers-through haven't gotten the message, as noted by the cans, bottles, food wrappers and other kinds of trash littering the ditches and empty pastures along the roads. 

But, this being a great community with very active citizens, they were doing something about it. A local Spanish school, together with the mayor's office and the local Girl and Boy Scout troops, was holding a volunteer town clean up while we were there (we found out by googling "volunteer Pedasi," as outlined in our Tips for Volunteering).  And of course, we were only too happy to join in and happily demonstrate our expertise in the area of trash clean-up. Plus, we got to meet the mayor!

Perfect opportunity for a little 1 of 7. 
The entire Pedasi clean up crew.

Monday, October 7, 2013


There are certain places in the world that just feel right. 

Maybe it's a deserted beach, sometimes a tiny town, or maybe even someone's backyard. On our way down the Azuero Peninsula to sleep in the jungle at Eco Venao, we passed through one such place. Unfortunately, we were on the last bus of the day and couldn't hop off to explore, but something about Pedasi made us want to return.

Kip walks in front of one of the pretty painted buildings along Pedasi's main street.
And return we did, just a few days later.

We somehow missed the giant billboard paying homage to Mireya Moscoso, Panama's first female President, who was in office from 1999-2004. She was also born in Pedasi, a fact that local residents mention often, and which explains why nearly every street bears her name.
Mireya Moscoso still watches over her hometown of Pedasi.
Politics aside, there are so many reasons to love this small town. We liked it so much, that we came for one night and stayed for a week.

Not only are the surrounding waters full of tuna, making this area a game fishing mecca, you can also see whales breaching from the beach, or take a short boat ride to Isla Iguana to snorkel in the wildlife refuge or relax on the white sandy beach.
Kip bikes on a deserted beach in Pedasi.
As if that wasn't enough, the beaches are pristine, and seem to go on forever. At least that's how Liz felt when we rode our bikes through the sand. What was supposed to be a 15-minute ride turned into 45. But another great thing about Pedasi is the friendly town folk. 

This family was only too happy to throw our bikes on the roof, take us for a spin around town (which oddly enough involved a poker game with a seven year old) and drop us off at our hotel.
Our heroes!
They even took Kip surfing with them the next day, and kindly returned Liz's purse that she'd irresponsibly left in the car the day before.

Like we said. Beaches, whales, and strangers taking care of us. What's not to like?

Friday, October 4, 2013


The rain forest cabana where we slept for two nights at Playa Venao.
If ever you wanted to wake up to the sound of howling monkeys, chirping crickets and exotic bird calls, Playa Venao is for you. 

In addition to being home to one of Panama's best beach surf breaks, Venao is surrounded by shrinking swath of lush jungle irrigated by streams that gurgle just outside the door of your hut. Thanks to increasing development, the forest is disappearing, but a few conservation-minded folks, particularly from the jungle lodge at Eco Venao, are doing what they can to protect what's left, including providing visitors the opportunity to spend hours swinging in their private hammock (that's ours above!) surrounded by the soundtrack of the rain forest. Not a bad way to spend a few days, particularly as the end of our trip nears...