World’s last tropical rainforest

The price of food and reasonable medical care have fallen so much that the world population swells to levels scarcely imaginable 200 years ago.  Whenever you get a bunch of people together in a tropical climate they inevitably seem to say to each other “Let’s go out and cut down all of the trees in the jungle so that we can grow crops or graze cattle.”

The last tropical rainforest left will very likely be the one right here in central Panama for it supplies one thing that is undeniably critical for the operation of the Canal:  rain.  The heart of the 80 km-long Canal is a big lake, 26 meters above sea level.  Every transit of a ship through the Canal requires that 52 million gallons of fresh water drain out of this lake into the Caribbean and Pacific.  The water is replenished from surrounding rainforest.  One thing that people in this part of the world have learned is that when you cut down all the trees it changes the local climate, generally cutting the amount of rain that falls.

Panama is one of the few places in the world where you don’t need a hippie environmentalist to talk up the value of the rainforest.  Here everyone knows what the rainforest is worth… $600 million per year in tolls.

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Two careers, two kids, plenty of time

A Panamanian-American couple invited me over to dinner at their house the other night.  They are both well-educated and have excellent careers.  Their girls are 8 and 9.  I walked in the door to find an impeccably neat household.  No toys cluttering the floor.  Both husband and wife were relaxed and happy to chat.  Eventually an excellent meal appeared, cooked and served by one of two live-in nannies.  The dishes disappeared and the kids came into the room to hang out with the parents.

By dessert I’d figured out what was wrong with the picture.  These people had as much free time and energy to socialize as single childless Americans.  My American friends who are married with children are capable of straightening up the house and entertaining at home perhaps once every two months.  These upper middle-class Panamanians could do that every night if they wished.  Americans with kids are exhausted by the effort of driving them around and reshuffling the clutter.  Panamanians have their chauffeur do the chauffeuring.

All of the magic (two nannies and a full-time driver) happens for $1000/month.  A perfectly lovely house in a nice area can be had for $250,000.

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Hardest core person so far

The hardest core person encountered so far on this trip is Eric Duquenoy (  He left France a little more than two years ago in a smallish 4WD diesel Mitsubishi, drove down through French Northwest Africa, shipped his car/home from Togo to Brazil, drove down to Ushuaia, Argentina, then came up the West Coast of South America as far as Ecuador before shipping the car up here to Panama City (there is no road link between Columbia and Panama and it is dangerous to drive through Columbia).  Eric is a 44-year-old former computer programmer who sleeps in a pop-up mattress/tent mounted to his car’s roof (similar to what you see at  Eric and I met in the old city this afternoon and he gave me a lift back to my hotel where I discovered the hardest core element of all in his story:  the Mitsubishi is unairconditioned.

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