Author Archives: Sam

Geography Report: Honduras and the Bay Islands

Basic Facts

Capital: Tegucigalpa is the capital and largest city of Honduras. Roatan is the capital of the Department called Las Islas de la Bahia which includes the Swan Islands, Guanaja, Roatan, Utila, and the Cayos Cochinos.

People/Customs: The population of Honduras is 9,112,867 while the Bay Islands’ population is 65,932. There are many different people groups living in Honduras, such as the indigenous Chortí, the Copán, the Lenca, the Jicaque, the Pech, the Tawahka, and the Miskitos of the coast, which have a mixed heritage including British and African. There are the mestizos, of mixed Spanish and Indian descent, and the Garifuna, descendants of a tribe of black Caribs from St. Vincent which was transported here 200 years ago. Most of the population practices Catholicism, but several protestant denominations can also be found in Honduras and the Bay Islands, including Anglican, Pentecostal, and Seventh-Day Adventist.

Language: The official language of Honduras is Spanish, although English is spoken in the Bay Islands, because they once belonged to Great Britain. An English Creole is also spoken in the islands.

Climate: Honduras is both tropical and mountainous, and has a wet and dry season. Wet season coincides with hurricane season (June 1-November 30). The Bay Islands enjoy the cooling effects of the trade-winds.

Food/Farming: Typical Honduran food consists of rice and beans, corn tortillas, chicken, beef, pork, or fish, cabbage, and Conch soup. Many tropical fruits are grown in Honduras for consumption and export: bananas, mangoes, melons, pineapples, papayas, and citrus fruits. Coffee is grown at high altitudes on the mainland.

Government: Honduras has a democratic republic with three branches of government, many political parties, and an elected president.

Currency: The currency is Lempira. 1 USD=23 Lempira. The currency “Lempira” is named after one of the native heroes. When the Spanish found that they could not defeat the Indian chief Lempira, they raised the white flag, and invited him to sign a peace treaty, but when he entered the conference room the Spanish leader shot him, which led to the defeat of the native armies.

Art/Music/Culture: The culture of Honduras and the Bay Islands is influenced not only by the native and Latino peoples, but also by the African slaves, Spanish rulers, British invaders, Cayman fishermen, and American fruit companies. Popular music consists of merengue, calypso, salsa, punta, and Mexican ranchero. Hondurans love to play and watch soccer, or “futbol.”

History

Honduras was found by Christopher Columbus whose first stop was Guanaja (in the Bay Islands) in 1504. When Columbus ventured out of Guanaja he came to Punta Caxinas on the mainland, which he named Honduras, or “depths” in Spanish, for the deep water he found off-shore. In 1524, Gil Gonzalez Davila came to Honduras and Guatemala to make a small community near the mouth of the Rio Dulce. The next year, the Spanish settled on the northern coast of Trujillo and started to explore the central highlands where Comayagua was established. In 1570, the Spanish found gold and silver, and began shipping their treasure back to Spain; the treasure also drew pirates to the area, who were using a bay they called “Port Royal” (after the famous pirate port in Jamaica) to stage raids on passing ships. The Spanish also used Roatan as a shipping base.

Although the Spanish held the interior of Honduras, in 1572, after an appeal was made by the chiefs in the Miskito region, the British more or less took the coastal waters of Honduras, and a British protectorate was declared over the Bay Islands until 1859, when they were relinquished to Honduran control.

On the 15th of September 1821, Honduras declared its independence from Spain, and in 1822 Honduras declared loyalty to the Emperor of Mexico, Augustin de Iturbide. Later that same year, he was deposed and the five central American nations: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, joined into the United Provinces of Central America. But in 1838, after many quarrels between the five nations ended the Federation, Honduras became a separate republic. Thus began a series of political changes which resulted in decades of instability. Between 1853 and 1860, an American named William Walker hired an army and made several attempts to take control over territory in Central America and lower California. He had a few successes, declaring himself President of Sonora, Mexico and Emperor of Nicaragua, but was always driven out and he was eventually caught by the British and executed in Trujillo, Honduras.

In 1888, the first rail-road was built in Honduras; it ran from the Caribbean coast to a town named San Pedro Sula which grew to be the second-largest city and main industrial center of Honduras. At the beginning of the 1900s, three large American fruit companies (United Fruit, Standard Fruit, and Cuyamel Fruit) bought up about 75 percent of Honduras’s banana plantations and exported fruit back to the United States. The remaining 25 percent, smaller plantations, were either bought out or forced out of business. Because 60 percent of the exports were bananas, this gave great economic and political power to a few foreign “invaders” and Honduras became known as the “Banana Republic.”

Honduras in the 20th century has been characterized by violence due to government corruption, political unrest, border disputes, crime, and gang warfare. For example, in 1969, El Salvador invaded Honduras during a border dispute which is now known as the Football War, because the conflict became violent during the World Cup qualifying matches between the two countries. Honduras was a staging area for the United States during their involvement in Nicaragua during the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s. While violence and crime on the mainland made it unsafe for tourists, the Bay Islands enjoyed relative safety, and developed their diving industry and built beach resorts so that today they are a popular tourist destination.

In October of 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras and the Bay Islands. Three days of torrential rain caused continuous landslides and floods that buried several towns and destroyed about 100 bridges throughout the country. Mitch was said to have killed 13,000 people in the whole of central America. Today, you can still see evidence of Mitch’s destructive forces on the landscape, though the country has largely recovered.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Honduras has several habitat zones, including mangrove islands along the coast, rain forests,  cloud forests, and tropical dry forests. There are many colorful bird species, including parrots and macaws (guacamaya). Animals such as jaguars, panthers, many species of monkeys, tapirs, and reptiles like snakes and iguanas can be found in Honduras. Underwater one will find coral reefs with many varieties of tropical fish, reef sharks, nurse sharks, and rays, and just offshore whale sharks can be spotted feeding on plankton.

Things to Do

Here is a list of fun things to do in Honduras: white-water rafting in the Rio Cangrejal, ziplining in La Campa, camping or hiking on Pico Bonito (the tallest peak in Honduras), and horseback riding in the forests. In the Bay Islands, there are beaches, coral reefs, hiking to waterfalls in Guanaja, scuba diving or fishing in Roatan, and freediving or swimming with whale sharks in Utila.

Bibliography    

Pavlidis, Stephen J. “Honduras.” A Cruising Guide to the Northwestern Caribbean. Seaworthy Publications, Cocoa Beach Florida, 2014.

“Honduras.”  www.CentralAmerica.com . May 2018.

“The Culture of Honduras” from Countries and Their Cultures. http://www.everyculture.com/Ge-It/Honduras.html . May 2018.

 

Geography Report: Cayman Islands

Basic Facts

Capital: George Town, Grand Cayman.

People/Customs: The population is about 61,000.  At the beginning of the 19th century, the Cayman Islands had a population of only 900 people, most of which were slaves. Today, there are still many descendants of those slaves, as well as an international community brought here by the banking and tourism industries.

Language: The official language is English.

Climate: There is a dry season (winter/spring) and a wet season (summer/fall) and is in the hurricane belt (hurricane season is June 1 to November 30). Temperatures average in the mid-80s (Fahrenheit) all year.

Food/Farming: The Cayman Islands’ traditional foods are fish and other seafood, turtle meat, goat stew, a fish stew called “rundown,” rice-and-beans, and gingerbread. They grow many topical fruits and vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, squash, callaloo, bananas, pineapples, breadfruit, papaya, and mango.

Government: The Cayman Islands have a Governor appointed by Great Britain and a local government of elected lawmakers. They are a British Overseas Territory under the rule of the Crown.

Currency: The currency is the CI Dollar, about 20 cents more than a U.S. Dollar.

Art/Music/Culture: The Cayman culture is always changing because of the influx of people from all around the world, however, one thing remains constant: everyone spends time in and around the water. On Easter weekend it’s traditional to camp on the beach, on November 8th the Caymanians celebrate Pirates’ Week to commemorate the pirates in their history, and there are many fishing tournaments throughout the year. On the Island there are Baptist, Catholic, Church of God, Presbyterian and Seventh-Day Adventist churches. Everything is closed on Sunday in observance of the Sabbath. Local artisans carve jewelry out of a special stone called Caymanite, which is only found in the Cayman Islands. The music has both African and European roots, with heavy influence from Jamaica and Cuba.

History

The Cayman Islands were found by Christopher Columbus in 1503 on his way to Hispaniola from Panama. His ships were blown off course and landed in the Cayman Islands. For centuries, the Cayman Islands were used as a supply-stop for Spanish sailors, explorers, and English privateers (and other pirates), looking for fresh water and turtle meat. The islands went through many name changes, but finally came to be known for the crocodiles which lived there, called “caymanas” by the Caribs. The Cayman Islands were not largely inhabited until the 17th   century, when they came under British control. In 1655, Jamaica was taken from the Spanish by Oliver Cromwell’s army, but the Caymans were not officially British until a treaty was signed in 1670. Slaves were imported and settlements thrived. In the 1700s, Sir Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and other pirates are said to have buried Spanish gold on the islands, but it has not been found.

By the beginning of the 19th century, sailors started to venture to Jamaica for trading in Cayman-built ships. After the slaves were freed by the English in 1834, they settled in Grand Cayman and fished and turtled for a living. For the next one hundred years the islands stayed relatively isolated, though annexed to Jamaica. By the 20th century, the Cayman Islands were mostly settled, and the first cruise ship came to Grand Cayman in 1937, the same year the first booklet for tourists was published. In the 1950s and 60s, the first major hotels, resorts, and an airport were built, and the islands became known as a diving and beach destination. Jamaica became independent in 1962, but the Cayman Islands decided to remain a Crown Colony.

Throughout Cayman’s history, the islands have experienced many tropical storms, but on September 11, 2004, when hurricane Ivan hit the Cayman Islands, it was devastating. The winds gusted up to 200 mph and created a storm surge of 30 feet. Much of Grand Cayman was submerged, but Cayman Brac and Little Cayman escaped with little damage. The islands have recovered, and they are still known as an international banking center and a beautiful vacation destination.

 Land forms/Flora and Fauna

The Cayman Islands are made of coral limestone, part of the Cayman ridge at the edge of the Cayman trench, located in the northwest Caribbean just south of Cuba. Cayman also has two sister islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, both of which are made of coral and are mostly flat other than Cayman Brac’s east bluff which rises to 141 feet. The total land area is about 100 square miles. Plants on the island include tropical hardwoods, fruit trees, orchids, thatch palms, coconut palms, casuarina pines, tropical flowers, and mangroves. Blue iguanas and the Grand Cayman parrots are indigenous to the islands. They also have green iguanas, sea turtles, tropical fish, and sting rays. Despite the name of the islands, the caimans that once lived here were hunted to extinction.

 Things to Do

Swim with stingrays at Stingray Ciity, dive the Kittiwake wreck, go horseback riding on the beach,  skate at the Black Pearl (the largest skate park in the Western Hemisphere), go to Star Fish Beach or Seven Mile Beach, hike the Mastic Trail, walk around the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Garden and see the blue iguanas, snorkel with turtles at the Cayman Turtle Center, go deep-sea fishing, and take a night kayak tour in bioluminescent bays.

Bibliography:

Boxall, Joanna and Charles Grover, editors. Explore Cayman. Acorn Publishing, 2018.

Pavlidis, Stephen J.  A Cruising Guide to The Northwest Caribbean. Seaworthy Publications, 2014.

More Information about the Cayman Islands can be found at https://www.cayman.com.ky

 

 

 

 

A Trip to Panama City

Panama City, Panama

We had been planning to go to Panama City for a long time, and we were finally able to make the trip in November. We took a taxi to the train station in Colón, but it turned out that it was a Panamanian holiday and the train did not run that day, so we had to take the bus. When I heard this news, I imagined a “chicken bus,” crammed full of people and animals, speeding down winding mountain roads. But the bus was not at all what I had imagined. It was big, with comfortable, spacious seats, so that even though the bus filled up, you couldn’t really tell. It was air-conditioned—a little too air-conditioned, actually, and the road and driver were reasonably good. It took about 2 1/2 hours to get to Le Meridien, our hotel, including traffic and taxi rides. When we checked in it was about 6:00 p.m. and already dark. We went up to our adjoining rooms on the fourth floor and decided to have Papa John’s deliver pizza. After we ate the pizza on the sixth-floor terrace, we went back to our rooms, called the day a success (other than the not-train-ride) and went to bed.

Casco Antiguo

The next morning, we decided to go downstairs and across the street to a small café for breakfast. After we ate, a taxi driver named Ariel took us to the museum of the History of the Panama Canal in Casco Antiguo, the old city. When we left the museum, it was about 11:00 or 12:00 o’clock, so we walked around town to just look around and see what’s what. We stopped for cold drinks, then found the Iglesia de La Merced, a 17th century Catholic church which had been moved stone by stone to its present location (it had not been burned when the pirate Henry Morgan set fire to Panama City). Then we walked around for another half hour or so, and found a restaurant called Pip’s. The food was good, but the service was not great (as in not getting exactly what we ordered). We called Ariel to take us back to the hotel. It was about 5:30 when we got back. Mom and Dad went out on a date while we kids watched a movie and went to bed.

Casco Antiguo

The next morning, we called a driver named Luis (a very nice guy) to take us in his van on a city tour. He took us to breakfast at a local place, called El Trapiche, then to see the canal locks, Ancon Hill, Flamenco Island, and the Baha’i Temple. At the Mira Flores Locks, we went to the visitor’s center and the observation deck to see a container ship exit the locks on the Pacific side. In the visitor’s center, there are exhibits and artifacts about the history of the canal.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal

Ancon Hill was the site of the old Canal Hospital, but now it is a nature hike with a great view. It was a 45-minute hike to the top, but the view was more than worth it.

Panama Canal

As we were walking down, we found an injured sloth that had fallen out of a tree. Luis picked it up and carried it, until a family with a toddler let us borrow their stroller. The little boy gladly gave up his stroller to save the sloth! At the bottom of the hill, we loaded the sloth into the van and gave the stroller back to the family. Next, Luis drove to the Smithsonian Institute on Flamenco Island to see if they could take care of the sloth. They sent us to the National Park, where we dropped it off.

Sloth Rescue Squad

We stopped for lunch, then Luis took us to the Ba’hai temple outside of the city on a tall hill, where we got another great view of the city. We returned to the hotel around 5 o’clock to rest before dinner. We then took two taxis to Pomodoro, an Italian restaurant. We had been told to watch out for Panamanian taxi drivers because they always get lost, and both drivers had to stop for directions to find our restaurant! It all ended well, and the next day would be our last in the city.

We all woke up the next morning to the sun shining through the big glass windows around 7:00 a.m. We called Luis to take us to the mall to do some shopping before we left the city. We were planning to stay for several hours to find what we needed, so we wandered around until we found a Conway department store. We spent a couple of hours there, looking for clothes and shoes, then headed toward the food court. We found a music store, then had some lunch (Wendy’s and Subway). After lunch, Dad, Rachel, and I took a taxi back to the hotel because we had what we needed and didn’t want to wander around all day.

I cannot tell you about any of the other events that day because I was not there, so I will skip right to dinner. We walked around the city near our hotel (in the rain) until we found a restaurant called “The Ozone Café,” which served dishes from many countries of the world. It was very interesting and delicious. When we got back to the hotel, we packed our bags and prepared for the return trip in the morning.

Panama Canal Railway

The next morning, we got up at 5:30 a.m. to meet Luis, who drove us to the train station and we got there just in time for the morning train to Colón. We boarded the train and were on our way. We sat in the observation car, which had a glass dome, and had snacks. As the train moved along, we got glimpses of the canal locks, and ships in Lake Gatun. When we got back to Colón we took a taxi back to the marina and got there around 9 o’clock. I think the trip was a success and that we made some good memories.

Panama Canal Railway

Geography Report: Costa Rica

Basic Facts

Capital: San Jose

People/Customs: Population is about 4.9 million. Most Costa Ricans, or “Ticos,” are mestizo, descended from Spanish settlers and natives, but Costa Rica is a multi-ethnic country. There are still some indigenous tribes living in Costa Rica.

Language: Spanish is the official language; local dialects are also spoken, like Bribri, Patois, and Mekatelyu.

Climate: Costa Rica has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons: dry season (December to April), and rainy season (May to November), temperature and precipitation are affected by elevation and two bodies of water, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Food/Farming: Costa Rica’s most important crop is coffee. There are also large rice, banana, and sugarcane plantations. Costa Rica also produces cattle for beef and dairy, poultry and eggs, teak wood, beans, palm oil, oranges, mangoes, pineapples, and other fruits and vegetables. A typical Costa Rican meal, or “casada tipica,” consists of meat or chicken, rice and beans, tortillas, salad or roasted vegetable, and fried plantains.

Government: Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a constitution defining three branches of government. The current president is Luis Guillermo Solis.

Currency: Costa Rican Colόn, or CRC. It takes 573 CRCs to make $1 USD.

Art/Music/Culture: Costa Ricans usually learn to dance at an early age. Merengue, salsa, cumbia and dub are the four main Costa Rican dances in addition to traditional folk dancing with costumes. Over time, Spanish beats mixed with the indigenous tunes and made a new kind of music special to Costa Rica. Local artisans produce crafts like decorative oxcarts, wooden carvings, pottery, leather work, and jewelry. Holidays celebrated in Costa Rica include: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter and Holy Week, Fiesta de Los Diablitos, Independence Day on September 15, and Labor Day on May 1.

History

Before Christopher Columbus came to Costa Rica in 1502, there were hundreds of thousands of natives from different tribes. There is archaeological evidence that they traded with other tribes in the lands of North Central America and South America. When Columbus “discovered” Costa Rica, he was on his fourth trip to the New World. He confronted a hurricane, was blown off course, and landed in Costa Rica. He traded with the natives and claimed to see more gold in 2 days than he had in 4 years on Hispaniola–that is how Costa Rica, or “Rich Coast,” got is lasting name. It became a Spanish Colony in the 1560s, but San Jose was not established until 1737. By then, the Indian population had been all but destroyed by disease and hard labor, and only a few tribes survived in the jungle.

For the Spanish, Costa Rica did not live up to its name because its wealth is in the cultivation of the rich volcanic soil and not in mined minerals. Costa Rica’s history is also unique in the Caribbean because it never had a slave-based economy. Instead, smaller self-sufficient farms of the Central Valley became the precursor to a rural democracy. However, as in all the other Spanish colonies, society was ruled by men, with power being held by white landowners and the Catholic Church.

Spain ruled Costa Rica until September 15, 1821, when they became independent. Costa Rica separated from Spain peacefully, but without Spanish control, conflicts inside the country arose, leading to a short civil war. The Liberals gained control, moved the capital to San Jose, and joined the CAF, Central American Federation. In 1824, the Nicoya-Guanacaste province left Nicaragua and joined Costa Rica. While other Central American countries struggled with long, bloody civil wars, Costa Rica remained relatively peaceful and was able to focus on agriculture and infrastructure.

When it was discovered that the highlands of the Central Valley were perfect for growing coffee, the government subsidized the planting of saplings. By the mid-1800s, Costa Rica was growing and processing coffee for European markets. By the century’s end, coffee represented 90% of the country’s exports. The coffee processors, rather than plantation owners, became the country’s ruling elite.

In 1890, the first railroad was completed by an American railroad man, Minor Keith, in order to transport coffee to the coast. He planted banana plants along the tracks, which he eventually began export to the United States. The fruit became so popular that by the end of the 1900s, banana exports surpassed coffee, and Costa Rica became the world’s top banana producer. Banana money bought power—the United Fruit company controlled local politics and communications. But in 1913 a disease struck the banana plantations and ended the powerful monopoly.

Despite following the normal Central American pattern of dictatorship and civil war in the first half of the 20th century, Costa Rican leader Jose Figueres Ferrar established the world’s first unarmed democracy (meaning Costa Rica has no military) in 1949. Costa Rica got dragged into the conflicts with the United States and Nicaragua in the 1970s, but the elections of 1984 reaffirmed their commitment to peace. President Oscar Arias later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a peace plan which ended the conflicts.

After the rise and fall of coffee and bananas, the most valuable resource of Costa Rica turned out to be the wilderness itself. Starting with a nature conservation area in 1963, the “Green Economic Revolution” began with a few tourists coming to see the rainforest, but now about one-third of Costa Rica’s land is preserved as nature reserves, wildlife refuges, and national parks. It has a successful tourism-based economy, with people coming from all around the world to enjoy the natural beauty the country has to offer.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Costa Rica has 51,060 square kilometers (19,714 square miles). It has cloud forests, mangrove wetland, rain forests, desert, beaches, pastureland, volcanic mountains, and coastal farmland (banana and pineapple plantations). It is known for its diverse flora and fauna. Native birds include: the Scarlet Macaw, toucans, hummingbirds, Magpie Jays, Quetzals, Blue-crowned Motmots, and Northern Jacanas. Some of the mammals are Spider monkeys, Howler monkeys, Squirrel monkeys, sloths, Pacific Spotted Dolphins, Pumas, Margays, Pygmy Anteaters, Capuchin monkeys, Tapirs, Jaguars, many species of bats, Humpback whales, and Coati. There are also Caimans, Jesus Lizards, Leatherback turtles, Eyelash Viper snakes, boa constrictors, and many species of frogs, as well as insects and arachnids like scorpions, tarantulas, Blue Morpho butterflies, stick bugs, and fireflies, to name a few.

Things to do

Surfing on the Pacific side (Guanacaste Province), ficus tree climbing in Monteverde, night walk in Monteverde Cloud Forest (Curicancha Reserve), white water rafting, kayaking in rivers or mangroves, coffee tour in the mountains, Arenal Volcano National Park (hanging bridges, hot springs, and ziplining), Bat Jungle in Monteverde, waterfall tours, horseback riding, nature hikes in Manuel Antonio National Park or Corcorvado National Park, and other wildlife tours and refuges.

Bibliography

McCarthy, Carolyn, and G. Benchwich, J. S. Brown, J. Hecht, T. Spurling, I. Stewart, L.Vidgen, and M. Voorhees. “Costa Rica,” Central America on a Shoestring. Lonely Planet Publications, 2013.

For more information, look at these websites:

https://www.costarica.com/travel/geography-of-costa-rica/

https://www.govisitcostarica.com/travelInfo/floraFauna.asp

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/costa-rica/history

Geography Report: Panamá

Editor’s Note: We welcome Sam as the new author of the Take Two Sailing Geography Reports!

Basic Facts

Capital: Panamá City

People/Customs: Population is 4.1 million, made up of mostly Mestizo and Native people groups, also some Afro-Panamanians, Mulattos, and Whites. Most people are Catholic, with some Protestants and a few indigenous religions.

Language: Spanish

Climate: Tropical, with a wet and dry season. The rainy season is in between May and December, and the Caribbean side gets twice as much rain as the Pacific side. Panamá lies outside of the hurricane belt. Average temperatures are between 75°F and 86°F, though it is significantly cooler in the mountains.

Food/Farming: Fish, Beef, Pork, Chicken and Eggs are produced here. Corn, rice, and bread are popular staples, and a large variety of tropical fruits and vegetables, such as mangoes, citrus, passion fruit, pineapples, bananas, and plantains are grown in Panamá.

Government: Constitutional Republic with a President and a National Assembly.

Currency: the Balboa, equivalent to, and interchangeable with, the U.S. Dollar

Art/Music/Culture: The music and culture is influenced by a mixture of Indigenous, Spanish, and African traditions. The Guna people sew a kind of colorful quilted art called molas. A Christmas parade is held in the capital every December 25th with people dancing in traditional costumes, and Carnival is held in February with loud music, elaborate costumes, and parades.

History

In 1501, Panamá was discovered by a Spanish explorer named Rodrigo de Bastides. Until his death in 1506, Christopher Colombus governed the area stretching from Panama to Honduras. In 1513, the Spanish conquistador, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. In 1519, a Spaniard named Pedro Arias de Avila founded the city of Panamá on the Pacific side. The Spanish used the isthmus for transporting gold looted from South America to ships headed for Spain.  In 1572, English privateer and explorer, Francis Drake, destroyed one of the first towns built in Panamá, and after he did this he sailed away with Spanish gold. In 1671, the buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan sailed up the Chagres River, looted, and destroyed the city of Panamá. The city was rebuilt, but there was no way to stop pirates from taking Spanish gold. In 1739, Admiral Edward Vernon destroyed the fortress of Portobelo, so the Spanish decided to sail all the way around South America rather than carrying their gold across the isthmus.

Spain lost nearly all of its colonial possessions in the 18th century in the Napoleonic Wars, and Panama won its independence from Spain in 1821 as part of Gran Colombia, liberated by Simón Bolivar. In 1846, the U.S. was granted permission to build a railroad across Panamá, which grew wealthy from people traveling across the isthmus. In 1881, the French tried to build a sea-level canal across Panamá, but the mosquitos and rainy season made this impossible.

The United States, in a bid to get control of the project, helped Panamá fight against Colombia for its independence in 1903. In exchange, they would build the canal. They tried a new strategy, building locks, damming a river, and using a lake to get across. In 1914, the Panamá Canal was finished, and the first ship sailed through—they had succeeded in building a passage that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, making trade and shipping much easier. The United States controlled the Canal completely until the 1970’s, collecting concessions and using the strip of land on either side as a military base.

After the death of the leader General Omar Torrijos in 1981, military leader Manuel Antonio Noriega took control of the Panamanian government and formed a dictatorship, declaring himself president and growing the military. He was accused of corruption and doing business with Colombian cocaine cartels, killing his opponents, and rigging elections. In 1989, he re-elected himself, and the first thing he did was to declare war on the U.S., who had imposed economic sanctions and refused to pay canal fees. Of course, the U.S. won in a very short time, and Noriega was captured, tried, and sentenced on conspiracy charges. He was flown to Florida to spend decades in jail.

Meanwhile, resistance to U.S. control of the canal had grown, and the conflicts sometimes grew violent. After a series of treaties in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the United States ceded complete control of the Canal to the Panamanians in 1999. Also, in 1999, the first female Panamanian president, Mireya Moscoso was elected. Noriega did not return to Panamá until 2011.

Today, Panamá is exporting tropical fruit and building its tourism industry, attracting people from all over the world to its beautiful islands, beaches, mountains, and national parks, and is continuing to profit from the ships that transit the Panamá Canal. A new set of larger locks were finished in 2016.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Panamá is an isthmus, a land bridge that connects North America to South America. There is a 50-mile canal across the middle section. Panamá is about 35 miles wide at its narrowest point. Tropical forest covers fifty percent of Panamá. Mangrove swamps line the coasts, and the interior has mountains, the tallest of which is Volcan Barú at 11,4oo feet. Aside from tropical plants like palm, mangrove, banyan/fig, banana, papaya, and breadfruit, the mountains have deciduous trees like oak and elm, many varieties of epiphyte, fern, and moss. Animals you might find in Panamá include pumas, jaguars, tapirs, anteaters, agoutis (and other large rodents), coatis, peccaries, armadillos, sloths, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and capuchins, poison dart frogs, boa constrictors, and tropical birds like the three-wattled bellbirds, quetzals, toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and sea birds like tropicbirds and frigates.

Things to do

White-water rafting, climbing, going to beaches, ziplining, surfing, hiking in the mountains, visiting the Panamá Canal, snorkeling and SCUBA diving, fishing, taking a helicopter tour, horseback riding, and sailing to the San Blas Islands.

Bibliography

“Panama.” Random House World Atlas and Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Random House Reference, 2007.

“Panamá History.” Lonely Planet Travel Information,  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/panama/history, March 27, 2017.

 

 

Fun in Bonaire

On December 5th, our new friend Cliff took us to explore some caves on Bonaire to celebrate Sky’s 11th birthday (s/v Abby Singer). For the first cave, we had to climb down a ladder, crawl through a tunnel, and then we could stand up. It was hot, and the oxygen was low because it was so far back in the cave. You could go back even further, but we were not allowed to. When we turned all the lights off it felt like we were blind, then when we climbed out, it seemed so bright!

Caving in Bonaire

Before we got in the truck, we saw a wild parrot; it was very pretty. The next cave was a tunnel with bats and a very small exit.

Caving in Bonaire

The third cave was the cave with the swimming. We climbed down into the cave, but when we got to the water we could barely see it, it was so still and clear. We snorkeled into the first chamber using dive flashlights to see, but to get to the other chamber in the cave, we had to swim about 4 ft. down and 12 ft. forward. When we got to the other side, there were more rocks and stalactites, and there was an underwater pit that we could swim down into.

Caving in Bonaire

After the caves, we went to the windsurfing beach at Lac Bay. We got burgers at the beach bar, then rented windsurf boards.

Windsurfing in Bonaire

The day ended with panini and gelato at Luciano’s. It was a lot of fun and I had a great day.

Big Papa with Sky

Cliff “Big Papa” with Sky

Catch of the Day: Fresh Tuna

 

Blackfin Tuna

We caught a barracuda on the way to Carriacou, but it was too small to keep so we had to throw it back. A few days later, we caught a blackfin tuna on the way to Bequia. I think he was about 12 pounds. He fed all 7 of us—tuna steak for lunch! We grilled it and served it with lemon and an Asian aioli that Mom made. In our fish-catching history, we have caught two Mahi, several barracuda, and now, finally, a tuna. It is almost as good as swordfish, in my opinion.

Tuna Steaks by Sam

Grenada Taxi Tour 

Last week we went on a taxi tour of Grenada. The first stop was Concord Falls. It was a waterfall about 55 feet high. There were stepping stones across the pool below, and then there was another waterfall below that. I am looking forward to swimming there another time.

Concord Falls

Then we went to the nutmeg factory. They process and prepare nutmeg for shipping all over the world.

Nutmeg Processing Plant

Next, we went to the Jouvay Chocolate company. We saw how they sort, roast, grind, melt, and mix chocolate. We got free samples; my favorite was the 60% dark chocolate. We also stopped at Carib’s Leap where the natives jumped off a cliff rather than becoming captives of the French.

Carib's Leap

Last, we saw how they make rum the traditional way at Rivers Rum Distillery. The vats of fermenting cane juice were disgusting!

Antique Equipment

Vats of Fermenting Cane Juice

Rivers Rum Distillery

Finally, we drove back to St. George’s through the Grand Etang Rain Forest, but we did not see any of the Mona Monkeys that live there. It was a long day!

The Hike Up Gros Piton

In St. Lucia, Mom, Dad, Sarah, Rachel, and I hiked up Gros Piton (peak on the right) while Eli and Aaron climbed Petit Piton (peak on the left).

The Pitons, St Lucia

It was maybe the longest and steepest hike in Sam history. It was steeper than the Quill, but took about the same amount of time. Also this hike had log stairs, which made it harder.

Gros Piton Hike, St Lucia

At the halfway point, we stopped for granola bars. Meanwhile, I saw a bird spying on us in case we dropped any food, so I held out my hand with some granola crumbs in it and the bird hopped down and ate out of my hand.

Bird in the Hand, Gros Piton Hike, St Lucia

It took about two and a half hours to get to the top of the mountain, but getting down was the hard part, because it was raining and the stairs were slippery. I was pretty sore from the hike, but the view was well worth it.

Gros Piton Hike, St Lucia

Ti Piton, Gros Piton Hike, St Lucia

Nudey Booty

We anchored in Pond Bay in Virgin Gorda. Fortunately, it had nice beaches. Unfortunately, there were nudists on the beach in front of us. Fortunately, there were two beaches. Unfortunately, we had to dinghy past the nudists on the way to the other beach. Fortunately, they were behind a bush. Unfortunately, the bush was small. Fortunately they were far away, and fortunately I had a great time at the beach. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), we didn’t take any pictures that day.