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Re: Private Island Paradise: Something Fishy's Anniversary Adventure
+1 any chance of another segment this week? Pretty please...

If underwater photography is twice as hard as terrestrial, post-processing them is ten times as hard. It's taking far longer than I anticipated, but I will likely have a post up this week (or thereabouts).

July 25, 2017, 10:46:13 PM
1
Re: Viva La Revolución! Time-traveling to Cuba with Something Fishy, whYME, and CITH [Something Fishy] It was time to say goodbye to Cuba.

We woke early, shlepped our stuff down the long and dark staircases, and out the door. On our way out we gave our leftover food to some neighbors and passersby; I've never in my life seen someone get so excited over a half eaten container of peanut butter .


[whYME] As we were leaving I snapped a picture of the (incomplete) collection of empty water bottles we had amassed over the course of our stay. Photo by whYME:



We had arranged with Elvis to drive us to the airport, but he was nowhere to be seen. Apparently he was just as tired as we were, and with no plane to catch he was still in dreamland. Oh well.

Luckily for us there were plenty of taxis roaming the street; before long we were packed into an antique Chevy and off to the airport:




The airport looked lovely in the early-morning light:



I know they mean the rum, but still - couldn't have said it better myself:


This sign was the one and only advertisement we saw in Cuba.

There is a supposed 25CUC departure tax assessed at the airport, so we each carefully hoarded our last remaining CUC. We were never charged the fee however, and so we ended up selling the 75CUC to a DDFer headed to Cuba a couple of months later.

Now, too, I had no luck with the customs agent who flat-out refused to stamp my passport. Oh well.

There was a great view of the apron from the terminal. Here's a lovely lineup representing most of Cubana's fleet - all old Soviet aircraft. Front to back, we have a Tupolev Tu-214, Ilyushin Il-62M, Ilyushin Il-96, and two Antonov An-158s:




A slightly-less exotic Airbus A319 that Cubana wet-leases from Avion Express:



After takeoff we had a great view of the airport. It's not big, but definitely nice and modern:



A Cubana Tupolev Tu-204CE:



Old Havana and the harbor:



You could see our apartment immediately to the left of the Capitolio rotunda:



Airshow: next stop, Panama!



Banking low over Isla de Taboga, or "the Island of Flowers" on approach to Panama City:



A bunch of ships waiting their turn to pass through the Panama Canal:



Panama City was a total shock to me. When we passed through here earlier in the week it was the middle of the night and I couldn't really see anything. I had expected a third-world country, but what I saw while landing today may as well have been Miami or Chicago. Unbelievable.

It was pouring rain, but even so we had a great view of the city. In the background you can just make out the canal and the Centennial Bridge spanning it:




We landed around 10:30 AM, and our continuing flight was not until 9:30 in the evening. We had a full day in Panama ahead of us.

As in Iceland, "layover tours" are a big thing here. Copa has a very extensive Central America network, and most flights connect through PTY. With many of these layovers being quite long, and lots of attractions relatively close by, there are plenty of tour companies who are only too happy to take your money. I had researched the options ahead of time, and realized that pretty much everything is both overpriced and overly touristy. Combine that with the fact that we wanted to stop by a restaurant for dinner, and it made far more sense to hire a driver by the hour.

As soon as we stepped outside the terminal we were accosted by tour vendors and drivers. As per my research, we tried to ignore them all and walk to the airport boundary where the non-official taxis could be had for much cheaper. But when it reached a point when our "entourage" simply would not let us pass, I gave up and figured it doesn't hurt to try and negotiate. I was expecting to pay around $100 for 8 hours with a non-official driver, so I announced that we need a driver and we're paying $80 for 8 hours.

Much grumbling ensued, and half the crowd promptly disappeared. The remaining hardy folk began a heated argument, all stating categorically that I'm out of my mind and it would cost at least double. No problem, I said, see ya - I could get the price I want a couple hundred feet away.

That did it... two minutes later we found ourselves in a large, comfortable, ice-cold, official taxi. We had agreed on $100 - my original budget - plus a $10 "tip" for the main hustler. Fair enough.

So what do you do when you're in Panama? You go see the canal of course! One of the three locks in the system, the Miraflores Locks is just outside Panama City and has a great visitors center and viewing area.

Traffic on the main highway was bonkers, so after a while the driver took an exit and took us through a maze of side streets lined with beautiful villas. After spending the week in Cuba, the villas, bustling highways, and billboards everywhere were complete culture shock. We spent the entire drive gawking out the window while catching up with our wives for the first proper conversation in a week.

Before long we arrived at Miraflores. It had stopped raining, but the air was thick with a humidity such as I have never felt before. If I was hot in Cuba... that was nothing compared to this. The visitors center has a board showing the schedule of ship transits, and it wasn't long until the post-lunch break ships began their journey through the locks. We therefore decided to skip the exhibits, although they were supposed to be quite interesting - particularly the working model of the canal. There are a number of indoor and outdoor viewing platforms and levels, and we chose the second-highest so that we'd have both a good view and some protection in case it begins raining again (smart move, as it turns out).

The main control room is directly opposite the viewing areas and sits on the center island between the two canal lanes:




Part of the hullabaloo. Photo by whYME:



Cool bird. Photo by whYME:



Much of the canal runs through Gatun Lake, the man-made reservoir that powers the entire canal system. Problem is, that the lake is 85 feet higher than sea level. In order to move ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the lake, a series of three locks are used. Here at Miraflores, ships are raised or lowered 56 feet in two steps. Today, canal traffic was flowing from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so ships entered the locks from the right. The would close behind them, the water is lowered to the level seen in the left of the picture, and then the entire process is repeated once more until the ship is at sea level:



The second, lower chamber with the Pacific entrance beyond:



Photo by whYME:



While we were waiting the clouds became threatening once more and before long unleashed an epic deluge. Even with the protective overhang we got soaked.

Canal workers taking refuge:




The Panama Canal is the only place in the world where a Captain gives up complete control of his ship. Here a specially-trained canal pilot peers out of the bridge. Photo by whYME:



Photo by whYME:



The far end of the locks through the rain. You can see a dozen or so of the large electric locomotives known as mules lined up:



To cross over the canal itself workers use a catwalk on top of the gates. Poor guy could use an umbrella, methinks:



The scale of the gates themselves are nearly impossible to comprehend. Each is 82 feet high, 65 feet wide, and over 7 feet thick. Their weight? A measly 720 tons (that's just about one and a half million pounds, for the mathematically challenged among us).

The most mind-blowing part? These monsters are so perfectly balanced and buoyant, that when the water level is equal on both sides and the mechanics disengaged you can move it yourself with a good shove.

Finally, ships ahoy! The first ships of the afternoon being lowered through the nearby Pedro Miguel Locks:




Here we go:



The Liberian Navigator Umbrio, carrying a load of natural gas:



You could see the "mules" at work. Four or more of those are tied to the ship and guide her precisely through the locks:



Here's the thing with the canal: On the one hand it's unbelievably fascinating to see this colossal system working like clockwork, ferrying huge ships back and forth and up and down, all 100% powered by rainfall and gravity. On the other hand, it is the most mind-numbingly boring thing to see. The tugs move slowly, the mules move slowly, and the water level changes slowly (52 million gallons of water don't exactly drain in 30 seconds).

This is the only thing I've ever experienced that was so interesting and dull at the same time. I definitely recommend that everyone go and this this wonder of the world in action; but on the other hand I wish the entire process could be sped up like ten times or so, kinda like a real-life timelapse.


[whYME] I set up a gopro to film the boat going through the locks, but unfortunately I hadn't treated it with Rain-X so at times the view is blocked by raindrops in front of the lens (it's cinematic, okay?). This video is certainly not going to win any cinematic awards but it pretty much shows what's going on.

Played back at 60x the actual speed it's easy to watch:




Now good luck making it through 2 minutes of it in real time:



[Something Fishy] So while our ship was slowly, agonizingly, lowered, I turned my attention to the crowd on the platform. It had been relatively empty when we first got here, but with the arrival of the first ship along came the hordes:



And when there are hordes there are selfies:



And selfie sticks:



And the ubiquitous dude-taking-pictures-with-an-iPad:



While the hordes in the viewing area were watching and filming the boat go by, some of the boat's crew were ... watching and filming the hordes in the viewing area . Photo by whYME:



Mazel tov, the ship has gone down a level. Open the gates!





Photo by whYME:



The guys on the ship were enjoying the crowd too:





Checking Whatsapp instead of running the canal ?





This futuristic-looking thing is a Kizomba escape pod. Pile into this, let go, and you'll always end up right-side-up in the water. Hopefully a good distance from the now-burning ship as well:



Here's what it looks like in action:



The ship was now in the second chamber, and the lowering wasn't any faster than the first time. Time for a nap to find something else to watch.

Hmmm, pretty good view of the huge new canal expansion they're digging parallel to the old one:




Photo by whYME:





Interesting note: at this point the expansion was not much more than a rough ditch. By the time I came back to Panama two years later (which was this June), the project was pretty much done and already in operation.

Anyway... our ship. It's finally arrived at sea level. Off it goes to the Pacific now, having saved some 8000 miles and 6 weeks of sailing:




All in all, it had taken the ship 45 minutes to traverse the 0.87 miles of the Miraflores Locks. Not a terribly long time in the grand scheme of things, but excruciatingly slow nonetheless.

...And then here comes another one:




Fact of the matter though is that once you've seen one you've seen them all, so goodbye it was and off to our next stop: Ancon Hill.

Ancon Hill is a nature reserve that sits in the middle of Panama City, and yet contains a full jungle ecosystem. Sloths, armadillos, monkeys, and all manner of birds are commonly seen, and the higher points offer lovely views of the city. Being close to both the canal and kosher food made the reserve a perfect place for us to spend a few hours exploring.

Our driver drove us to the base of the hill (the road leading to the top had recently been closed to motorized traffic), and we set out on the way up. The main road, despite being a constant uphill climb (duh), nevertheless made for a fairly easy hike through the rainforest.

It wasn't long before we spotted our first animal, a large rodent called an agouti:




Unfortunately, this would be both the first and last animal of note we'd encounter - the drenching rains earlier in the day has sent everyone undercover. In vain we searched for sloths, monkeys, ...anything exotic throughout our visit.

That is not to say that there wasn't a lot to see. We still had a great time focusing on smaller - yet infinitely creepier - wildlife. That hill had enough spiders to send any arachnophobe into an apoplectic fit.

Golden silk orb-weaver:




Photo by whYME:



Tropical orb-weaver:



Photo by whYME:



Photo by whYME:



whYME getting waaaay to close:



SF trying to maintain a safer distance. Photo by whYME:



View of Casco Viejo:



Photo by whYME:



Photo by whYME:



Canal traffic:



Toning down the creepy-insect index a bit, here's a Thoas swallowtail butterfly:



Random cool fern:



Cool view of the city:



Who knew that palm tree bear red berries? Supposedly they're poisonous:



While it had stopped raining, the weather was still quite dreary. On the top of the hill itself, other than a bunch of antennas and some battered Panamanian flags there was nothing to see. The views from the top were pretty great though - to the right is Panama City's small domestic airport, PAC; to the left is the container and railroad complex, and in the background you'll see the canal:



Photo by whYME:



Photo by whYME:



Through the haze, both the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks, and the Centennial Bridge:



A closer view. You can clearly see the three steps that make up the locks. Photo by whYME:



Bridge of the Americas, also spanning the canal:



Another interesting fern:



Pretty plant life:



Photo by whYME:



Random building in the jungle. Photo by whYME:



As we headed down the hill, other than a bunch of nasty-looking vultures there was no wildlife to be seen. I took a couple of half-hearted vulture pictures, but didn't really expect a remotely-interesting image.

[whYME] So we were walking down the steep hill, and I was about 5-10 feet behind Something Fishy. At one point he snapped a few pictures of a vulture in a tree up ahead of us. Even though I didn't particularly care for another vulture picture, out of habit (and experience -when SF takes a picture it's usually worth it to follow suit ) I snapped a few pictures as well.

Several months later my sister was looking through my pictures and commented "ooh, nice toucan." Knowing which pictures she was looking at, I corrected her, "um, you mean vulture?" "No, toucan." I looked at the picture and what do you know, there in the tree next to the vulture is a toucan!

A while later I was discussing something with SF on Whatsapp and mentioned the toucan:

Me: BTW I assume you got pics of that toucan at Ancon?

Something Fishy: toucan?
Me: lol look a little closer at your pics of that vulture on the way down the hill
SF: Can't figure out if you're trolling me or not
Me: <posts picture>
SF (5 minutes later): NOOOOOOOOOOOO

This is the picture I got:



And this is the picture poor SF got:



[Something Fishy] Boy was I mad! How dare he get that picture and all I got was a horrible branch?! But no worries: I settled the score in the end, and even came up on top. My roadrunner picture > his toucan picture. So there!

(Poor CITH though, he got gypped twice: he had gone down Ancon Hill a few minutes before us and didn't even get half a toucan, and then missed the roadrunner in New Mexico too.)

It didn't take long to get to the bottom, and a few minutes later we met our driver in the parking lot and were on the way to the restaurant. After whYME's positive experience earlier in the week at Pita Plus, we decided to play it safe and head there now.

We were famished at this point, not having eaten properly all day. In fact, this was going to be our first proper meal in a week - we had been living on tuna and junk food in Cuba. We promptly ordered a mountain of food and set to devouring them.

It's possible that it was just the effect of not having had a real meal all week, but that burger was the best I had in my entire life. The sides were incredible as well - fries, onion rings, kibbeh, chicken nuggets, and a bunch of other random things. The food was so good that when I passed through Panama again last month, I made it a point to book a long enough layover to return here.

(The guy in the green shirt is our driver, who we invited to dinner.)







Stuffed to capacity, we made our way back to the airport, had a great shower in the lounge ([whYME]: when Something Fishy says he had "a great shower" he means to say "this lounge has the the best showers ever." - Or at least that's what he posted on whatsapp at the time . Personally I think his perspective was slightly skewed by what we were dealing with over the past week.), and took off into the night headed for good old New York City.

----

The end.


---

[whYME] Not so fast.

As stated earlier, my flight was not until the next morning. I went to the airport with the guys hoping to convince Copa to put me on that flight instead of the morning one, but alas, no dice. I now had to find a hotel for the night.

Although PTY airport has free wifi, it was acting up at this point and I was having trouble connecting. Fortunately, PTY has a landside lounge epically called the Tocumen Royal Saloon. I was able to get in with Priority Pass, and sat there figuring out my hotel in a comfortable chair with a cold drink.

With a 7:40am flight, I clearly wanted to stay at an airport hotel. I settled on the Riande Aeropuerto, booked a room, and caught the shuttle to the hotel. I got to my room and had a great shower. And let me tell you, this hotel has the best showers ever . I then headed to the bar to take advantage of the free drink coupon they gave me at checkin. Back in my room I ate a burger I had gotten at Pita Plus, and then for the first time in a week, had the tremendous pleasure of lying down in a comfortable bed with proper AC and drifted off to a few hours of sleep.

In the morning the hotel had quite an impressive breakfast spread which of course was of no help to me, but I did take a banana and granola bar and headed back to the airport. After all of Something Fishy's ranting and raving about the Copa club shower I had to try it out myself. I had a great shower in the lounge and took off into the day headed for good old New York City.

---

The end.


[Something Fishy] ...until the next trip.

August 04, 2017, 01:57:05 PM
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Re: Something Fishy's Trip Reports Thread Final Cuba segment posted:


August 04, 2017, 01:58:45 PM
1
Re: Which/How Many Commercial Airports Have You Flown Through?
First time opening this thread, pretty cool.
 Wow you guys flew a lot. (wonder if you counted your total hours on a plane what that would be. ;))

244h 27m for me. That's way low around here, I believe.

August 07, 2017, 02:04:38 PM
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Re: "Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber" "Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts."

Wow. Absolutely spot-on.

the reactions just highlight his point about any echo chamber

+1000.

BI calling it a "manifesto against diversity" in their headline shows they're beyond hope and clearly missed the entire point.

August 07, 2017, 10:25:11 PM
2
Re: &quot;Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber&quot;
http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/07/opinions/google-employee-manifesto-against-diversity-opinion-randazza/index.html

You know it's gone too far when even CNN writes something like this:

"Cue the outrage and applause machines -- depending on which political tribe you belong to. Of course, the outrage machine is calling for him to be tracked down and fired. I take the opposite view, but not because I agree with him. In fact, I mostly disagree with him, though I think he makes some good arguments -- but that is beside the point. I categorically oppose the notion that if you have an opinion that deviates too far from that which is considered to be "politically correct," then the appropriate punishment is that you should lose your job -- and preferably not be hired anywhere else, either."

August 07, 2017, 11:57:15 PM
1
Re: Private Island Paradise: Something Fishy's Anniversary Adventure
SF, you just have to flip a switch at this place to use the toilet, right?  No other tasks to use the bathroom plumbing?  ;D

Well some like to lift the lid first too

August 10, 2017, 10:08:32 PM
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Re: Master Thread of Pet Peeves This crap:

"You are leaving this super amazing incredible site and are proceeding to a horrible cesspool of an external link. Proceed to your doom, or remain here in the bosom of perfection?"

I clicked on a goddamn link, for heaven's sake! Let me go!


August 15, 2017, 12:07:55 AM
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Re: Where are you going to watch the (Total) Solar Eclipse on August 21? Somewhere in the belly button of America.

My PNR reads MOON upside down.


August 15, 2017, 06:49:58 PM
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Re: Where are you going to watch the (Total) Solar Eclipse on August 21? The DO will be easy to find, I'll probably be the tallest thing on the prairie for miles around.
August 16, 2017, 10:59:34 PM
4