Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Final Flurry: Costa Rica, the Panama Canal, Roatán, and Final Exams!

Ship in the Gulf of Nicoya near Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Blog Entry #57: The Final Flurry: Costa Rica, the Panama Canal, Roatán, and Final Exams!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Headquarters of the Panama Canal
One day from Florida!  The final week on the ship has been a flurry of activity, as we managed to visit Costa Rica for two days, traverse the Panama Canal, squeeze in final exams, and then spend two days on the island of Roatán, Honduras.  Currently we are off the northern coast of Cuba, visible in the distance off the starboard side of the ship.  A brief review of this final week, and then I hope to get in one more summary blog entry.
Nineteen days after leaving Japan, with our Thanksgiving Day layover in Hawaii, we arrived in Puntarenas, Costa Rica’s main Pacific port.  There is nothing quite like being at sea for nearly three weeks to give one a sense of just how big – and wide – the Pacific Ocean is!  Our last couple days before Costa Rica we started seeing more signs of ocean life, as whales, dolphins, and sea turtles began to be spotted near the ship as we entered Central America’s coastal waters.
Dan with Yusafin Jarquín Jacob in San José, Costa Rica
Yusa & Carlos Antonio at ULICORI
Because we had so little time in Costa Rica, Pat and I decided to catch a bus to San José to visit members of the Jacob family, with whom I had lived 30 years ago when I was a graduate student at the Seminario Bíblico Latinoamericano.  Then the ‘familia Jacob’ (ha-KOB) was a matriarchy headed by the indomitable Doña María and her seven daughters and one son, spread over 20 years from age 40-60.  Only three of the daughters remain, now in their mid-80s.
Carlos Antonio & son, Federico
Pat and I were hosted by Yusa, eldest daughter of Nené, María’s 3rd daughter, and by her cousin Carlos Antonio, only son of Rosa Marta, daughter #5.  Fortunately both of their mothers are still living, and it was wonderful to see them.  Yusa is my age and we have staying in regular contact over the past 30 years – she is a lawyer and as full of exuberant energy as ever.  Carlos Antonio, along with his cousin, Carlos Gabriel, were my constant companions when they were 8-year old mischief-makers 30 years ago (they delighted in teaching me “malas palabras” (swear words) and then setting gullible me on some unsuspecting person); today Carlos Antonio is a successful businessman and the vice-rector of the Universidad Libre de Costa Rica. 
Dan with the 3 Jacob sisters: Rosa Marta, Nené, & Salwa
A highlight of the visit was spending time with the three remaining sisters – Nené, Rosa Marta, and Salwa, though is Rosa Marta is slipping further into dementia, a poignant reminder of our family’s journey with my mother these past few years (our visit to Costa Rica coincided with the one-year anniversary of her funeral mass).
Two days later we were traversing the Panama Canal, easily one of the most fascinating days we had while on the ship.  Built by the U.S. over a decade from 1904 to 1914, the Canal measures 48 miles in length, and interesting traverses primarily from south to north going from the Pacific to the Caribbean, as this stretch of the Central American isthmus is nearly east-west.
Sunrise over the Pacific at entrance to Panama Canal
We entered the canal a little after 5:00 am, which gave us a glorious view of the gleaming Panama City skyline at dawn – it seemed so strange to watch sunrise over the Pacific from the Americas!  My only other visit to Panama was nearly 30 years ago when I arrived by bus from Costa Rica, and spent a couple days here before flying to South America to spend a month in the Andes of Ecuador and Perú.  On that occasion I had the opportunity to traverse the Canal by train; it was fascinating to now repeat this passage by ship.
Panama City skyline at dawn
Bridge of the Americas
Shortly after sunrise we passed under the Bridge of the Americas that allows the Pan-American Highway to cross the Canal. And then entered the first set of locks – the Miraflores Locks.  

Lock gates opening in the Gatún Locks
Centennial Bridge & Culebra Cut in the Panama Canal
Entering the Locks
The Canal is made up of a series of three sets of locks – two on the SE end and one on the NW – that lift ships a total of 85 feet.  Much of the length of the canal is actually through two artificial reservoirs, Miraflores Lake on the SE, and the much larger Lake Gatún, formed by damming the Río Chagres near its outlet to the Caribbean.  Along the way the Canal passes through the “Culebra Cut” where it cuts across the Continental Divide, while passing under the Centennial Bridge (if you are interested in reading more about this amazing engineering feat, Wikipedia has an excellent entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_Canal)
Cargo ship in Panama Canal
Cargo ships enter Locks in the Panama Canal
We spent about eight hours passing through the Canal, and then another several hours bunkered off of Ciudad Colón on the Caribbean Coast where the ship refueled before heading out into the rainy Caribbean.  It was another fascinating first-hand look at an essential piece of globalization and the global economy, as nearly all of our companion ships traversing the Canal were the container cargo ships that we have seen in each port of this voyage.  Because the locks are in a double set, we spent several hours adjacent to a couple different cargo ships that allowed us to see them up close, and exchange greetings with their crews.
Enjoying a trip through the Panama Canal
Harbor at Coxen Hole, Roatan
Garífuna dancers, Roatan
Our original itinerary for the voyage called for ending our trip with three days in Cuba, but the U.S. Treasury Department never granted us a permit, so instead we headed north to the island of Roatán, the largest of the Bay Islands off the northern coast of Honduras.  Because it is located near the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – second only in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – diving and tourism have come to dominate this still fairly laid-back island, 37 miles in length and about 5 miles across.  

Half Moon Bay, Roatan
Pat during a rare non-rainy moment
Pat and I had just finished several grueling days of grading final papers and exams, and we looked forward to a quiet overnight in a cabin in West End on Half Moon Bay.  Our visit was made even quieter by arriving with a cold front that drenched the island with nearly nonstop rain.  We substituted reading and seafood for our planned snorkeling, and returned to the ship Saturday afternoon, ready for the final three days – then Fort Lauderdale and back to wintry Missoula!
Globalization class: Anthony, Reanna, Sidney, Alana, Will
Despite how tired everyone is at this point of the voyage, wading through final exams and papers it was gratifying to see how much my students have learned this semester, and how well many of them have integrated this knowledge with their international travels and experiences.  I taught three classes on the ship: Globalization, Justice and the Environment; The Greening of Religion: Religion, Nature and the Environment; and Nature and Society. 
Greening Religion: Tim, Stephanie, Keara, Evan, Logan, Rosie, Hanna, Caroline
Kaitlynn, Darcy, M.C.; Front: Audrey & Sara
For me it was a dream come true to be able to teach these classes with a significant field portion, and to plan and execute some fascinating field trips, from the Goedgedacht Farm in South Africa that integrates sustainable agriculture with social justice for farm laborers, to the work of the Vietnamese university students on climate change through their 350.org chapter, and the eye-opening visit to the Foxconn mega-factory zone in Shenzhen, China.
Nature & Society: Kevin, Robbie, Phoebe, Philip, Caroline, David, Kyla, Chad, Rayelle,
Cristina, Meg, Brandy, Shelbi, Hollie, Hannah, Ashley
In each case I had a terrific bunch of students who brought their enthusiasm and diverse set of experiences to the classes that enriched both their learning and mine.  While I am relieved to be done with the relentless pace of teaching and class preparation on this voyage, I will miss this particular group of students and hope I can stay in touch with many of them.
Panama City skyline at dawn from the entrance to the Panama Canal

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