Archive for May, 2006

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.

San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama City, Panama – 8 days, 535 miles

Monday, May 8th, 2006

   Departing San Jose, I said goodbye to my father (who returned to the states), and continued climbing into Costa Rica’s mountains. I climbed a 10,000 foot pass and then, in the same day, returned to sea level and the Pacific Ocean. On one of the many climbs, I met two Costa Rican cyclists and convinced one of them to ride my heavy bike up a hill while I pedaled his bike. I told him it would be good training (video right).

Climbing high into the mountains - 9,000 ft
That is the Pacific!
I convinced Max to ride my bike up the hill.  I hope this isn't cheating.

   You may notice I have only three panniers now. I sent a number of items home with my father – the first comment lists some of the things I got rid of.

   From the beach, I continued south along the coast, finding the heat and humidity at sea level almost unbearable. With every climb, my clothes became soaked with sweat. I was relieved to find that the fire station in Ciudad Neily, on my last night in Costa Rica, had not only extra beds, but also air conditioning, a kitchen, and a pool table.

Just another day at the fire station - Ciudad Neily
Pool at the bomberos station - I am stripes
Geovanni explains why we should use bicycles

   Departing Costa Rica, I met Geovanni, a cyclist who rode with me and provided a short oration about why we should use bikes as transportation. Click on the video above right.

Welcome to Panama

   Entering Panama, I noticed no major change in the standard of living – Panama and Costa Rica have strong economies compared to the rest of Central America. I biked quickly across Panama, which I found to be sparsely populated. I camped next to a fire station, camped on an empty beach, stayed in a cheap hotel, and then camped next to the house of a family who sells souvenirs on another beach (photo bottom right – note that my stove is at the bottom of that picture because I am trying to cook dinner).

Fire station in the city of David
Nice shoulder - Interamericana Highway
This part was hilly.
Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
Las Lajas beach
Edwin, Orbic, Amando, Abimelec, Tris, Alcide, Magheleen, Andy, Belgica, Beatriz, Jaime, Siayeli, and others, and my stove
Well-thought-through plan for getting to Colombia
Trying to get across the bridge over the Panama Canal

   The rainy season has just begun here in Panama, meaning that it is humid all day and there is usually a heavy rainstorm at the end of the day. In such a storm, I crossed the bridge over the Panama Canal, and arrived in Panama City, where I will stay for a few days attempting to find a boat to take me through the canal and into Colombia.