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BellaDonna (10) - April 21, 2007

We got word late yesterday that we will transit the canal tomorrow afternoon. The scheduler can still bump us, though. We do not know how much of the transit will be in daylight or at night.

Late yesterday afternoon, we walked about in the jungle just across the road from the marina. You are immediately swallowed up in a Rambo type of experience. The marina disappears in a heartbeat. The jungle is so dense you must stay on the path; someone cut through the growth so thick you would have to work hard to penetrate just a few feet.

This jungle is dotted with forts, big cannon emplacements, underground tunnels, cannon placements, ammunition dumps, and living quarters. This area was Fort Sherman. Don did internet research, and it was constructed in 1911 to defend the Panama Canal that was completed in 1914. 1951 it became the US military's Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTC).

The Panamanians took over the canal from the US as part of the canal turnover from 1998 to 1999. My Panama Canal Marine Traffic Control System software I developed in 1972 as an independent consultant for Boeing, was designed on a 16-bit mini-computer from Digital Equipment Corporation, which could only store the critical date-time important for scheduling for 38 years, i.e., the feared year-2000 glitch which would fail to function beyond 2000; I wonder if this was always part of the plan, planned obsolescence. 1973 I disclosed to Boeing that my design would cease working in 2000. Boeing said they were unconcerned because my software would not last 38 years.

Walking the trail, we notice miniature trail systems following along, crossing and branching often into the jungle. Upon closer examination, the little trail is full of ants hurrying in both directions. In one direction, ants carry pieces of green leaves several times their body weight. We pick a big green leaf and lay it in their path. The ants start immediately to slice the leaf into pieces small enough to carry. In minutes the leaf is gone. The last bits of food can be seen wiggling down the miniature path into the jungle, where they will feed the colony.

There are monkeys, little dark ones, and some have white faces. Anthony saw a raccoon, and we saw a little house pet-sized animal with a stubby tail; I did not recognize it. This animal could run fast, leaping in an arc and landing 10 to 20 feet ahead before running again and jumping again.

As we returned, we saw some teenage kids playing volleyball. The evening was becoming extraordinary. We enjoyed a sundowner in the cockpit and had dinner in the marina restaurant. The same kids playing volleyball were now playing cards in an activity room provided for cruisers. They drifted in to eat dinner with their parents. It turns out several families are cruising with their kids. Think of all the home-schooling required of these families.

Today we went to a new, still under construction with a few stores open, shopping mall in Colon that included a lovely supper market that was like something between a Walmart and a typical US supermarket. On the way there, the bus drove over a hinged bridge at the Atlantic end of the Gatun lock on the Panama Canal. The bridge opens and closes in sync with the first lock gate.

The prices in the store were surprisingly meager. In no case was it a price more than you would pay in the US. The selection was extensive, and we recognized many brands. All the labeling was in Spanish, so much association observation was required before purchasing. The wine was from Panama, Chile, and Argentina; prices run from $2 to $10 a bottle. The store layout was the best we have ever seen; it is straightforward to find what you want. We had two cups of great coffee that cost 25¢ each, waiting for the $4 bus ride back to the Bella Donna.

This post is long enough; I will report on transit starting tomorrow.

God Bless Bella Donna.

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