The tropical odyssey comes to an end...

Trip Start May 07, 2003
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Trip End Sep 05, 2005


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Thursday, December 18, 2003

What a way to finish off my adventure in Nueva Espana. I just got back from Kuna Yala, an archipelagos of 365 tiny islands, stretching from el Golfo de San Blas all the way down to Colombia. The islands, either little villages of palm huts, crammed into the tiniest cay of sand, some of them rising from the sea with hardly room to move,

or astonishingly beautiful deserted islets bristling with coco palms, fringed with the starkest white beaches, the clearest seas and brightest coral reef I have seen yet.

The Kuna indians themselves are equally as impressive, with a fascinating ancient culture, perhaps the most successful in all of the Americas at having guarded their traditional way of life. They actually fought against the Spanish Conquistadors, the Panamanian military and even against the allies with the Nazis during WWII to control the infamous canal waters. After all that they seem to have come out on top and now enjoy complete autonomy from the government of Panama. They have their own language, economics, strict laws and of-course dress, legends, music and dance. The women especially look stunning in brilliantly coloured dresses and headscarfs, blouses and pattered molas, with golden rings thru their noses, painted faces and thousands of tiny sparkling beads tightly wrapped round their shins and wrists.

We shared our island with a hundred or so of these friendly Indians and quickly got to know and learn so much about them. Still very poor and some of them dreadfully thin or with bulging worm filled stomachs, they seem to be very happy and passionately protect their unique way of life, living mainly off coconuts and fish, with some supplies from their also independently owned strip of land running along the mainland coast. I felt though that just with our presence there we were somehow corroding away their fragile culture. Until recently, you had to get special permission from the Kuna cheif to visit the islands, now cruise ships visit and missionaries are imposing the church upon them, it won't be as it is now for long I fear.

For now, I find myself back in the towering megalopolis of Panama City. With gleaming skyscrapers and a Manhattanesque skyline, it's hard to believe I'm still in Central America.
Indeed the whole country of Panama has been very different from those previous. Last week I visited the 'Big Ditch', undoubtedly one of the (if not THE) greatest engineering marvel of our time.

Connecting two of our greatest oceans and essentially crossing a whole continent, the Panama Canal is quite something and has made Panama what it is today. From the first attempt by the French in the 1800's till when the Americans completed it in 1914, over 20,000 people lost their lives in it's construcution. You know how I am for my useless facts, so here goes: the excavated material from digging the ditch would build the Great Wall of China, then half it's distance again, or put another way could build 63 pyramids of the same size of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, the boreholes could have drilled a whole the entire way thru the earths crust to the other side of the planet. Anyway I watched a few HUGE container ships pass thru the Miraflores locks, with only inches to spare at each side, they have plans actually to widen the canal next year. This ship had travelled 50 miles thru the jungle from the Carribean and been raised over the continetal divide 80ft. With that and every ship that passes apparently so do 52 million gallons of water.

I feel a tinge of sadness on this the last day on the first leg of my trip. I've spent nearly 7 and a half months travelling 1000's of miles down this seismically active spine of mountains. Travelling by all manner of dodgy transport from chicken buses and clapped out pickups to dugouts and powerboats, thru some of the craziest countries on the planet. The Central American countries so small and so close are surprisingly different but more often than not, quite troubled. They have suffered much with hurricanes, earthquakes, at the hands of the Spanish and more recently with various dictatorships and the callous hand of the US, which has caused so many catastrophic wars and still creates many troubles. But with the incredible recent and ancient history, the beautiful cultures, the spectacular scenery, the glorious beaches and islands, the vibrant jungles and of-course my favourite, the smouldering volcanoes, they are places I've come to love and almost seem like home I've been here so long! In every country and in almost every place I've been from Mexico City to Panama City, the people, all you guys, have been feckin' ABSOLUTELY MARVELLOUS, it woulda been sh!te with oot ya s!! I only hope I shall see some or most of you again. Along with so many other things, I've learnt a new language and come into contact with so many others, this land has treated me so well and has exceeded all my expectations.

So tomorrow morning, south I go, down to Peru. My father unfortunately informed me that if I went to Colombia, he'd feckin' disinherit me!! Ha ha!! I guess he's got a point, what wi all the sh!te they show you about that place on the news over there. I know different though, and one day I'll make it down there.

Well folks, if I don't speak to you before Chrimbo - Feliz Navidad y Alegre Ano Nuevo. For Chrimbo I'll be hopefully up Machu Pichu, if not Cuzco, then maybe La Paz for New Year...

Tom
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