Booming Panama & More

The second Tocumen International terminal under construction will not be enough to meet projected demand by 2020,and a third airport expansion is being considered.

The authorities at Tocumen SA have projected that by 2020 the average annual number of passengers who transit through the international airport in Panama City will amount to 20 million and the second terminal, in which they are investing $800 million, will exceed its capacity in 2022, reports CentralAmericaData reports that “… The current expansion (T2), whose construction has a cost of US $800 million, will incorporate 85,000 square meters of buildings, 20 new boarding gates and 8 remote-controlled doors. After the work, the airport will have a total of 68 departure and arrivals gates in an area of ​​148,000 square meters. Although we the next stage is being analyzed, the administrator of Tocumen SA, Joseph Fidanque III said it is possible to increase the capacity of the T2 with the addition of an additional 12 gates into the current design, which would be possible, in his words, “for relatively little money.”

“… The initiative has been welcomed by members of the tourism sector. Moses Veliz, president of the Tourism Commission of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives, who has also been involved in the world of aviation, said a third extension is necessary because when the T2 opens, it will be full up. ”[NEWSROOM PANAMA]

Panama Canal Update

The world is waiting … so are the ships.  190 ships are now sitting at the ends of the Canal waiting up to five days to get a slot to make the transit.  This is what it was like when I started doing Canal runs, and before the world financial slowdown. In past years the number has dwindled, but now it is up again.

Here’s the latest Canal Expansion update …

Back To Sea

I was already scheduled to do two trips with Silversea Cruises in the Caribbean in December, getting back home a few days before Christmas. We have a wonderful couple we met on one of Jackie’s Panama Relocation Tours who are house sitting for us and taking care of the dogs while we are gone.

Then last week I got a call from Princess Cruises to do two of the final cruises of OCEAN PRINCESS, the first over Christmas in the Caribbean and the second a trip around South America from Miami. Instead of flying home as planned, I’ll fly off to St Martin to join the ship.  Christmas Day I’ll be somewhere in the Caribbean lecturing on England and France in the Caribbean.  But I have my tiny one-foot Christmas tree to take along.

The OCEAN PRINCESS is one of four “R-class” ships that Princess acquired when another company, Renaissance Cruises, went belly up with four new ships under construction.. These ships, about 650 guests and 130 crew, were fantastic little ships to cruise on.  Once before, and probably again this time, on a former ROYAL PRINCESS, another R-class ship, we were docked beside OASIS OF THE SEAS and looked like one of the OASIS lifeboats!  Carnival’s English cruise director John Heald once described these ships as being like “deluxe country inns gone to sea.”

But for me to get together 33 lectures between now and when we leave on SILVER WHISPER is a real challenge!  About half I can cobble together or adapt from talks I’ve given before, but half are new.  Although a talk only lasts 45-55 minutes, a single talk can take 2 to 4 eight-hour days to create.

People frequently tell me that I have the “ideal retirement in Boquete and on cruise ships” and I guess I do, but with responsibilities and properties in Panama, and the lecture biz, it is still a lot of work.  Work I choose to do, but still work.  So we are addressing some of the realities of our lives.  Boquete is home and we love it and aren’t leaving, but we do need to downsize, simplify and have less responsibility which is why I’m selling my properties including our lovely home. The idea of selling the house is tough, but we’re at the point where we need to downsize.

But in the meantime … I love our little coffee finca!

I love the light in the morning

I love the light in the morning

And especially I love the way the light streams into the living room

And especially I love the way the light streams into the living room

When we designed this, we wanted the Tuscan stone tower look from the outside, but I wanted the clerestory windows for the light

When we designed this, we wanted the Tuscan stone tower look from the outside, but I wanted the clerestory windows for the light

The entrance is a door from Egypt we found at Zapadora

The entrance is a door from Egypt we found at Zapadora


My Day in The Panama Canal

In what may be a classic case of over-reaction, Carnival Corp following the Costa tragedy has now decided that nobody is allowed on the bridge of its ships except the bridge team and the pilots. You will recall that the captain of the COSTA CONCORDIA was entertaining his dancer-girlfriend on the bridge when the ship veered to close to the island and slashed open the hull.

Always in the past I gave my “Bridge Commentary” while passing through the Panama Canal, well, from the bridge! Not anymore. So I was somewhat pissed yesterday to have to give the “Bridge Commentary” from the Horizon Court surrounded by passengers chomping away on breakfast and with, for me, a very limited visibility plus the need to describe the play-by-play without being there.

I was to start at 5 am. I was there, but as so often happens on ships, the right hand didn’t have a clue what the left hand was doing. It was almost 7 am before I managed to get the right people awakened, and get a mic in hand and begin my commentary.

While our normal “Pilot on Board” is scheduled for 5 am, yesterday was not a normal day in the Canal. The pilot was scheduled to come on board at 5:45 am, something nobody thought to tell me about. Normally I check everything out with the Bridge the day before to confirm the schedule … Of course every ship is different and operates differently.

For me it’s a long day … 5 am until about 3 pm when we get through the final locks, with me talking much of the day. So, with both me and Princess looking disorganized, we managed to get things going at 7 am.

I learned that sometimes changing things, even in ways you don’t want, actually works out for the better. I loved doing the commentary from the Horizon Lounge with all the guests right there asking questions. If one person asks a question, or really didn’t “get” how something works or why, the likelihood is a score of other folks have the same question or misunderstanding. And I had stewards filling my coffee and all the food was right there. So eventually it worked out great!

So why wasn’t it a normal day on the Canal? First they were doing a lot of dredging in Culebra Cut. [Culebra Cut was renamed Gaillard Cut by the Americans to honor David Gaillard who was the American engineer who was largely responsible for the success the US had in digging through the Continental Divide. Since the Turnover, Panama has been returning to using the original Panamanian names, so it’s now usually called Culebra.] the dredging forced one-way traffic through the cut. And, the big news, in more ways than one, they were moving one of the giant new gates for the Pacific Locks through the Canal.

The rolling-type gates that will be used in the new locks are made in Italy, then brought across on specially designed barges. The gates for the new Atlantic locks have all been delivered and are sitting beside the Canal near the present Gatun Locks, awaiting installation. The gates for the new Pacific locks have to be brought through the Canal over to the Pacific side. So we got to see the process when we passed one of these gigantic gates, not the largest by the way, in the Canal making the transit. The largest of the new Pacific gates is 11 stories high!! On the picture you can see the centipede-like method of specially constructed vehicles that moves the lock gates.

While we were going through the Canal, with me accessible in the Horizon Court, people were coming up not only just asking questions, but wanting pictures (pity their friends who need to watch them, but I guess it’s easier to watch friends’ vacation pictures on iPad than a full-scale “come over for drinks and see my vacation ‘slides’” presentation), express appreciation for my lectures (Princess take note!), or get me to sign copies of my PANAMA CANAL DAY books. Incidentally, we sold out the books I brought on board and I’m hoping to have more to pick up when we get to Ft. Lauderdale.

Panama Canal Day Gates 1Panama Canal Day New Lock GAteNew Pacific Lock Gate in the Canal



Things Change

If there were a mantra for living in Panama it would be “things change!”  In fact, if there were a mantra for life it would be “THINGS CHANGE!”  Living in Panama I’ve learned that you always have to be expecting change and to have a “Plan B” in mind.  In Panama, also  Plans C, D, E, F, etc.  But here, as everywhere else, the secret is to keep plugging and respond as positively as possible to the changes life throws at you, whether they are the gigantic life-altering changes, or the little “that’s interesting” changes.

It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since I was at sea, so wanting to get back in the swing of things I agreed to do several “one-off” cruises this fall, one for Celebrity and four for Silversea. While in the Canary Islands on Celebrity I experienced loss of vision in my one eye several times.  Once when attempting to start a talk, while an inexperienced AV guy tried to figure out PowerPoint, I was stalling by telling jokes I’ve used many times and in the middle of the joke I forgot the punch lines.  I ended up in the medical center with the ship’s doctor sending me to an ophthalmologist.  When the eye doc said there was nothing wrong with my eyes, the ship doctor, fearing a stroke, sent me back home to Seattle for a whole string of tests.  Tests which proved … drum roll! … I’m normal, much to the surprise of some of my friends.  But in the meantime, not to leave Silversea hanging at the last minute, I had to cancel my four scheduled cruises.

The silver lining was getting to spend some time with my daughter and her family in Seattle.  I’m now with my other daughter in Sonoma County working my way back to Panama.  And the other day … Princess called.  They want me back at sea, doing my favorite run through the Panama Canal on ISLAND PRINCESS … starting mid-November!

Island Princess in locks

Since 2014 is the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal, and with all the expansion construction going on, this is an exciting time to do the Canal run and be able to introduce a shipload of folks [1,970 passengers, 900 crew] to Panama.  Plus, no long-haul flights!  I start with a Canal transit from Los Angeles to Ft Lauderdale in less than a month, and then do the partial transits round trip from Ft Lauderdale.

New Picture (3)