Sailboat, from Bo Keely

December 17, 2012 |

 I'm sitting in a Panama City Youth Hostel next to a sailing board with departure times for Columbia. There are twenty sailings in as many days but most are filled by an assortment of backpack travelers from ten countries speaking five languages. It's musical chairs around the board for a $400 berth on a boat that takes four days to Cartagena, Columbia with a stopover at the San Blas Island. Every fifteen minutes a seat fills or opens and the standbys frown or cheer.

I arrived a week ago to help an American ex-pat on a Philosopher's stone land quest, a list of some 600 properties of which he has bought and sold five in the past year at perhaps ten times his dollar cost and two months research and surveying each to get the titles. I accompanied him a few days ago to seven hectares on the Caribbean Coast that sold for $250,000 on the spot to a Mexican developer, and viewed others on Lake Gatun within and Tobacco Island at the inlet of the Canal.

The primary reason for arriving in Panama, however, was to hike the Darien gap, a 90 mile jungle locked strip that is the only break in the Pan American Highway from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. This is my third attempt to hike and canoe this gap and I flew in on the promise of a Darien village chief to guide me through to Columbia, but yesterday he backed out saying he couldn't be paid enough to risk his family's lives with recent increased activity of the Columbia rebel FARC throughout the region.
So, I set about alternatives and earlier today sat in Manual Noriega's Paymaster House eating a hamburger in a converted restaurant in Santa Clara, Panama that was one of his power centers with troops wearing boa constrictors around their necks to intimidate the locals and guarding the nearby airport. In December 1989 the sky filled with U.S. paratroopers who landed at the airport, asked the locals for an English speaker who pointed a Major and company of 30 Marines to where I bunked the previous night at an American ex-pat's home. He led them to the Paymaster House that was captured by the U.S.

I returned to Panama City and even as I write a space opened on the December 20th sailing of the Mars De Gato sloop and I grabbed a seat.

Tomorrow there's a 30th anniversary racquetball clinic at the Fort Clayton Gym where in the 1980's I led the racquetball invasion of Central and South America with clinics throughout Latin America, that was also the first failed attempt at the Darien Gap.
After the clinic and sailing I'll alight in Columbia and work south to climb 14,000' Ecuador mountains, and then ply rivers down to Peru where I was hired hours ago via Internet as a Butterfly hunter. I'll capture only five exotic species that an amigo collector sells on EBay for $500 to $1200 each. He has provided me with a net, glassine envelopes and mothballs, and will pay $50 for each rare species that I hope to net to finance my passage home in a few months.


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