Friday, December 30, 2016

Dinner at the Canal

Okay. One of the best kept secrets I know is the Visitors Center at the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal. It is four stories with observation platforms on the second and fourth floors, a fantastic interactive museum and a lovely restaurant on the second floor with dining on the observation deck. I'm just going to post up the photos and narrate as we go.

This is Robinson. He was our waiter last year and it was s delightful surprise to see him again. There is really something nice about re-encountering someone you met far away and never expect to see again and remembering each other (poor sentence structure, yeah, I know).

The sheer size of the canal and the ships that pass through it is difficult to comprehend. Photos do not do it justice. The operation for locking a ship through is unbelievably complicated and yet proceeds ever so smoothly.

This is a photo of the escape vehicle (think "lifeboat") for the crew in the event of catastrophic ship failure. Again, think of the scale here.

The restaurant is really lovely and is a surreal juxtaposition of an upscale eatery with an engineering marvel.

Yeah. That IS a ship in the Panama Canal outside the restaurant window.

And the food is actually very good. Tonight was a buffet which included Sancocho, the traditional Panamanian soup, various salads, numerous entrees (I had the tamal de oalla, a chicken tamale served en casserole) and, yes, plantains!

They have added new exhibits to the museum detailing the third channel and locks. We didn't have time to see it all but here are a few highlights.

The new channel currently transits about 6 ships per day and unfortunately cannot be easily sen from the visitors center. However, you can see a ship in the lock in a long-distance shot I took.

Oh. And here's a flower for color.


Panama - It's Like Coming Home.

We left yesterday at 10:30 am from a lovely snowstorm which had pretty much turned to rain by the time we hit the Thruway. No problem boarding or at the gate but the flight down itself left quite a bit to be desired. Across the aisle from me, not one but two guys with some of the worst sleep apnea I have ever had the privilege to be party to. It was like they were playing "snore volleyball"; one guy would go at it for a couple of honks before going somnolent then the other would start up from his side of the court. Adding to the merriment was a little old demented lady, traveling by herself, who would get up every 15 or 20 minutes to inform the flight attendant that she wanted to get off the plane. (They were really lovely in gently re-directing her back to her seat and comforting her). And just for good measure there was an infant or two somewhere toward the back adding to the din. Now, I could have managed this better by pulling my Bose QC noise cancelling headphones on, but I was just too lazy and kept hoping it would eventually quiet down. Thus, the price of inaction.

Aside from that it really was unremarkable. We arrived in Panama City a bit late (8:30 pm), got a cab out to Gamboa and made it to the Hotel in time to check on and catch the last 15 minutes of their dinner buffet. This really was nice as we were tired and hungry. Went straight to bed and slept like the dead. And here is my morning view - early morning view of the Chagres River Valley,the grounds of The Gamboa Rainforest Resort and our room. Not sure what the agenda is bu I would love to go down to the visitors center at Mirflores this afternoon, watch the ships transit, shop in the gift shop (pick up my annual Panama Canal calendar) and have dinner at their restaurant, "The Atlantic and Pacific". We shall see. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Chac Mool...He's Cool

Just to pug the slide show yet again:

But wait - check this out - not only have I found YucaPuca in Nicaragua, I think I have located his brother here in Ulster County.

I had to leave the one on the left where I found it but the one on the right will be presented at the slide show where for $5 a whack you can hit it with a stick to see what is inside.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Slide Show Nov. 2nd - Leftovers

Now, I suppose this is really corny but, when I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was a travelogue called "Journey to Adventure - With Gunther Less". To prepare for this I entry I looked up some stuff about it and it turns out that it was the second longest running show in American TV history on air for 39 years. Pretty impressive. Old Gunther died in Sarasota, Florida in 2011 at the age of 90. Not too bad. So what does this have to do with anything? Well, in sort of the spirit of that show I will host a slide show of my trip to Nicaragua on Wednesday, November 2nd at 6:00 at the Hickory BBQ on Rt. 28 in Kingston.

I figure it will run 45 minutes or so then we can hang out and socialize for a bit. Engineers Without Borders students will be there and we will also try to have some affiliated stuff from Aquasphere Water Group (the Panama Water project). Maybe even some amusements. Oh, and by the way, I am trying to figure out what culture made the statue up in the photo and both the Aztecs and the Maya were present in the pre-Columbian Nicaraguan central highlands. If you know about this, show up and tell us.

If you cannot attend but wish to contribute to EWB here is the link:

Anything you can do will help - we are currently managing two projects - closing out Panama water and preliminary assessment of Nicaragua - so costs mount quickly.

Thanks for the support - See you in a few weeks!

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Last Word

Natural History magazine used to feature a one page essay on its last page called "The Last Word". Very often it was authored by the late Stephen Jay Gould who had a profound influence on my thinking as a scientist and as a human. So in a sense, at least a part of how and what I do today is because of him. So here, for this trip, is "The Last Word".

I leave tomorrow morning on a 7:30 am flight that will have me back home, hopefully, by 8:00 pm tomorrow evening. I have done all of my gift shopping and am pretty much packed. I have redistributed things to shift small, dense items to my backpack and lighter but bulkier things to my main duffel. $100 charge for being 3 pounds over is just plain rude. But that is a trivial complaint, to be sure. I have started writing my preliminary report for the trip and I hope to have it complete by Sunday. My trip was fascinating, informative, productive and fun. I could not have asked for more. It is in this sense of satisfaction that I am filled with gratitude for so many things that I feel it only proper to share a few of them here, in the form of a "Gratitude List"'

I am grateful for:
1. Having the health, both physical and mental, as well as the stamina, to be able to do these kinds of things. Many do not or cannot.
2. The love and support of so many people, family and friends, too numerous to count, who encourage and believe in me and what I try to do.
3. The amazing education I have received all along the trajectory of my life, and especially, my most recent academic experiences in engineering, and my high school Spanish instruction.
4. The kindness and hospitality of virtually everyone I have met here in Nicaragua. At times, it was almost embarrassing.
5. All of you who have cared enough to follow this adventure with me. I hope I have informed and entertained without being dull or preachy.
6. The smarts to know when to keep a list short. No one likes those long, drawn out acceptance speeches at the Oscars. You get the point.

After I get back home I already have a long list of "next projects" to set to work on. I will not be idle but if possible, I would like to do some slide shows with this material, perhaps at a local restaurant with some appetizers and drinks, ask some of the students to join me. I much prefer writing in this venue than on Facebook, but I will post that idea there and see, via the "Like" button if anyone is interested. It would be kind of lame to sit by myself at a table with my computer and a couple of disinterested diners.

Lastly, a special note of thanks to my cigar-smoking buddy, Rich Maletta, who has always gone the extra mile to support me. He is the faithful Sancho Panza to my idealistic Don Quixote. Thank you my faithful page, as well as to the beautiful Dulcinea, for helping me Dream the Impossible Dream.

Odds & Ends - 5

This is just a photo of a papaya. A very big papaya. Like a papaya raised on growth hormone.

Hydraulic Luxury (Things Taken for Granted)

A small thing to be noted about Jinotega. While there is good municipal water, it is not present 24 hours a day. To conserve water and to repressurize the system service is shut off between 10 AM and 4 PM. Locals know this and work their day around it. it. As a visitor I was unaware of this until yesterday. After my long days hike on Wednesday up and down mountains on stone paved trails my ankles and knees were quite sore. Before heading back on my 3 1/2 hour drive to Managua I thought it might be nice to take a hot shower and run the water over my ankles and knees for a while. I climbed into the shower and turned open the faucet only to hear distant gurgling in the pipes and the hiss of air. No shower today. ( Don't forget, that means the toilets don't flush either ).
 A series of slides that I show in one of my presentations outlines the four cardinal features of our home hydraulic systems that I find defines the luxury that we enjoy. These are:
1. Point of use
2. Pressurized
3. Potable
4. Hot and cold
 It looks like I now need to add a fifth feature, continuous availability.
 It is really like they say: you never know what you have until it is taken away.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Buy These Photos!

Now, for a limited time only, you can buy any or all of these photos. Just donate to the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) online fundraiser.

Here's the link:

Just tell them you're an "FOP" (Friend of Pags) and you will receive the special "FOP Discount". You will be able to view all of these photos.

Oh... you already can. Hmmm. Need to think of something else. Seriously, please consider donating. Either way, here are some of the better shots taken over the past three days, either in Sasle, Jinotega, or on the drive back to Managua.
El Tico - My Preferred Dinner Eatery

Street Table with Jochote (bags of green stuff)

and Fried Banana Chips

Side Street in Jinotega Facing East

Yucapuca - Mountain Between Jinotega and Sasle - Supposedly Where General Sandino Bivouacked

Lake Apanas - Man Made Lake, Part of a Hydroelectric Facility

One of Those Damned Barb Wire Fences

Me with Barb Wire Fence in Background

Bulls**t - Can Actually Be Added to Biodigester to Improve Gas Production

More Bulls**t
Juan Carlos

High Mountain Meadow - Elev. 3740'

Francisca, Me, Racquel

Totally Unexpected

You Find the Neatest Stuff When You Look for Latrines

Highest Point on our Trek - 3900'
Tree Covered with Epiphytes

Juan Carlos Sanchez
Misty Mountain Forests - 4800' Elev.

Misty Mountain Forests - 4800' Elev.

Coffee Bushes on Mountain Side - elev. 5140'

At About 5100' Elevation - Highway Outside Jinotega - Volcano in Distance

Just Beneath Summit (5150') - Outside Jinotega

Just Beneath Summit (5150') - Outside Jinotega

Just Beneath Summit (5150') - Outside Jinotega

Descending Summit Outside Jinotega

Descending Summit Outside Jinotega

Descending Summit Outside Jinotega

Heading Back to Managua - Mountain Peak Between Jinotega and Sebaco