Archive for the ‘Panama’ Category

The Rising Oceans

Friday, March 16th, 2007

   I am sitting in an internet cafe in Punta Arenas, Chile, right now, doing web searches to figure out just how big of a problem sea level rise will be. The sea level has already risen over the past century, although only about one inch. As more glacial ice melts, what will it do from here on?

Monterey Bay and Research Station
Malibu, CA
La Paz Shoreline

   The most likely result is not that bad – maybe a foot and a half this century. This could be very bad for many places I have visited – especially along the Caribbean coast—and also make storms much worse, not to mention erode some nice beaches. But I might not call it a disaster.

Mazatlan Coast
Beach at Placencia
Coast at Omoa
Panama City
The San Blas Islands

   The problem, though, is that it takes a long time for ice sheets to melt, and we don’t really know how long that is. In the ‘long run,’ which could be centuries or millennium, with a likely 3 degree C warming, the ocean could rise 80 feet. We don’t know if it is centuries or millennium, because computer models for ice sheets are very inaccurate. If it is centuries, as some argue, the oceans could rise much faster than we would like – maybe a foot a decade. And, again, we don’t know, but, well, do we want to find out?

Cartagena sits barely above sea level
Santa Fe Coastline

   As I have said before, I am in Punta Arenas right now. Punta Arenas sits on the shore of the Straight of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, and is just one of the many cities on the coast that I have visited. Throughout this entry I have interspersed photos of the coastlines I have visited on this trip – take a look at them and envision what a 1 foot, 10 foot, or 80 foot sea level rise would look like.

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales Shore
Punta Arenas Shoreline

A sail from Panama to Colombia

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

   As there are no roads between Panama and Colombia, I spent a few days in the city of Colon looking for a boat to Colombia. Colon is a city where foreigners are regularly held at gun point in the daytime, and I left the marina only to give presentations at a local school as well as the rotary club.

I spent 4 days at the yacht club in Colon, looking for a boat to Colombia
International Caribbean School, in Colon
I talked at the Rotary Club in Colon

   I found that yachts, for the same price as a plane ticket, take backpacking travelers between Colombia and Panama. (You can potentially get a free ride on a freighter, but only if you are willing to spent lots of time in Colon). I found a 65 foot yacht, the Golden Eagle (probably the best boat making this run), headed towards Colombia. As I was staying in the marina (sleeping on different boats), I spent some time before departure helping sand the Golden Eagle’s floors. In exchange, the captain told me I could be first mate, which meant I got to get on the boat a day early and sand the floors.

Sunrise from the deck of the Golden Eagle

   We were soon joined by 12 other young travelers from Australia, England, the Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, Singapore, and the U.S. For the first time this trip, I was surrounded by other travelers. We sailed first to the San Blas Islands, where we anchored between two small islands. The local Kuna Indians, who inhabit the islands, canoed up to our boats to sell us locally made clothing. All the islands sit less then a half meter above sea level, and we guessed how many years it would be before they were under water.

The Crew
Arriving to Paradise
The Golden Eagle anchored off the San Blas Islands
Kuna Indians on the San Blas Islands
Kuna Indians arrive to sell us things
Andy and Lara relax on the deck of the Golden Eagle
Cartagena, Colombia
Everyone is feeling a bit seasick

   After two more days of sailing across the Caribbean, we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, the first stop in South America.

Travel Summary – Central America

Friday, May 26th, 2006

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Hello from South America!

   Since the last update, I have biked the length of Central America, visiting all 7 countries (see map of my route) and adding 2,400 miles to the trip. This trip continues to exceed my expectations, and I have visited schools and appeared in the national media of almost every country I have biked through. I am now in Colombia, where I arrived from Panama only a few days ago.

In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
Escuela El Progreso, Los Arroyos, La Union


  • 3/12 Mayan ruins and climate change
  • 3/17 Dennis Murphree joins me for Belize
  • 3/21 Learning to SCUBA and the fate of coral reefs
  • 3/26 Dennis Murphree speaks
  • 3/31 Honduran countryside
  • 4/7 A week through El Salvador
  • 4/15 Should I bike Colombia?
  • 4/15 Media coverage for rideforclimate
  • 4/16 Honduras, Nicaragua, and swimming with the locals
  • 4/18 Hurricanes and climate change
  • 4/29 Pops joins me from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
  • 4/30 Biodiversity and climate change
  • 5/8 Costa Rica to Panama City
  • 5/14 Deforestation in Central America
  • 5/15 A sailboat through the Panama Canal
  • BEST VIDEOS FROM CENTRAL AMERICA (click on the links below to watch)
    Scuba diving in Belize
    Kids dancing at pool in Nicaragua (large file – watch only if you have a high speed connection)
    My father joins me and rides a silly looking bicycle
    Dogs chasing me in Costa Rica
    Riding through the Panama Canal

       Central America is a region highly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels and stronger storms could cause hardship, especially for the poor (of which there are a lot in Central America). Climate models for the region show warmer temperatures as well as perhaps less precipitation, both of which will be bad for agriculture. Many species as well may be threatened by a warmer climate. Finally, the coral reefs that line the coasts are greatly threatened by a warmer earth.

    Monte Verde Cloud Forest
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)
    Coral Reef in Belize

        Environmental Defense has a new website to help you reduce your carbon emissions: On this site you can calculate how much carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, and learn how to reduce these emissions.

       I have created a paypal link so that you can give money on my site to the Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense. Many people have also offered to help with my travel expenses, and there is now also a link for this. These are on my take action page.

       Did you really think I would stop biking? I have decided I need to take rideforclimate to the U.S. Here are the tentative plans.

       In Colombia, I am biking through Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. I’ll then head towards Venezuela, following the northern coast before turning south into Brazil. I will arrive in Manaus, which sits on the Amazon River, where I will likely send my next update. If you know of organizations, schools, or researchers to visit on this route, let me know!

       I am now in Cartagena, Colombia, on the northern coast of South America. If all goes to plan, in 10 or 11 months I will be at southern tip of the continent, in Ushuia, Argentina.


    Total Miles Biked: 6321

    Flats by country in Central America:

    four flats in one day

    Belize: 0
    Honduras: 4
    El Salvador: 1
    Nicaragua: 0
    Costa Rica: 1
    Panama: 10 (ugh)

    A Ride for the Climate is sponsored by:
    Mike’s Bikes of Palo Alto
    Clif Bar
    Hobson Seats

    Leave a Comment!

    Through the Panama Canal

    Monday, May 15th, 2006
    In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
    Panama City

        I spent a week in Panama City, where I stayed with a friend of a friend, visited three schools (Balboa Academy, Academia Interamericana, and Instituto Atenea), and somehow found myself on the front page of the national newspaper (see article online).

    Balboa Academy Middle School
    Raise your hand if you own a bicycle - Instituto Atenea
    Academia Interamericana de Panama, Panama City

       Panama City sits next to the Pacific opening of the Panama Canal, a 50 mile waterway that connects the Pacific to the Atlantic. A large portion of global trade travels this canal, and many of the goods you have, especially if you live on the east coast of the U.S., were likely shipped through this canal. The canal, built by the United States in the first decade of the 1900s (history of the canal), consists of a number of tubs, called locks, that raise and lower boats to a large reservoir in the center of the country (see a map of the canal).

    Ship Captain Ray, takes the command to begin the transit
    The yachts at the Canal's beginning

       Small sailing boats are required to have four line handlers to help with the transit. Yacht owners can hire professional Panamanians for $50, or they can take me for free.

       After some time at the marina, I found a sailor interested in my line handling services – Ray on a sailboat named Velera. As the small boat was raised or lowered in the lock, it was my job to adjust lines to keep the boat centered in the lock and not banging into the walls. This is harder than it sounds.

       I may never again be so close to so many huge moving ships. I have created an album of photos from this transit, and even have a few movies of the locks – the devices that raise and lower the boats – in action. Thanks again to Ray, for letting me on his boat for this transit.

    Entering the lock behind a large boat
    Closing of the gates
    The ship is rising
    The Haul starts to motor out of the full lock
    Driving through the Guillard Cut
    Steering through the Panama Canal
    Haul America and smaller boat
    Ship in Panama Canal
    Ship in Panama Canal
    Panama Canal Locks
    Don't Crash!

       We arrived in the Atlantic side of the canal, where I was dropped off at the local marina. As there are no roads between Panama and Colombia, I instantly began looking for boats to take me to Colombia.

    Deforestation in Central America

    Sunday, May 14th, 2006

       Deforestation is a major problem in Central America. A quick look at the statistics shows that in the past 15 years, 20% of the countries’ forests have been destroyed. As I have biked through Central America, I have seen countless roadsides which were once covered by forests, but are now ranch land or farmland.

    Deforestation in Honduras
    One of El Salvador's many volcanos (Volcan de San Vicente)
    Lots of land cleared for cattle along the road.

       The problems associated with deforestation include loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, more landslides, greater flooding, and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Cutting down forests releases a large amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and in these small, mostly poor countries, these emissions are comparable to the countries’ use of fossil fuels.

    Deforestation in Costa Rica
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)

       While in Panama City, I talked to someone who wrote Panama’s proposal to reduce deforestation. The people cutting down the forests, in general, are very poor – subsistence farmers who need to clear land to grow food to eat. It seems that the only viable method of reducing deforestation here is to find these people other work or to pay them to not cut down the forest. Protecting forests without finding these people other income could cause great hardship.

       In Panama City, I also visited Futuro Forestal, a company that purchases pastureland and converts it to forest. The wood from the forest is harvested after 25 years, and sold. While this is not as good as a full forest, it still takes significant carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and is far better than ranch land. It also provides local jobs and makes a profit. You can also buy carbon credits through them as well.

    This part was hilly.
    First day of biking in Guatemala

       Stopping deforestation in poorer regions will require foreigners and locals to work together – with foreigners helping to provide financial incentives to protect the forests.