Jungle column

Welcome to this week's Reno News & Review.

Last week, I promised I'd tell you more about my trip to Panama. I'll mostly focus on our trip out of Panama City with a friend we made, 27-year-old mechanical engineer Luis.

Panameños are crazy drivers. Norteamericanos learn to watch out for the other guy to avoid accidents. We call it driving defensively. In Panama, the driver is in charge of moving forward. Their defensive mechanism is to use the horn, particularly when changing lanes or passing someone from behind. Traffic flows like a school of fish, albeit in a nerve-racking way for us unschooled.

I've spent some time in Central American jungles, so I'm not just blowing smoke when I say the “jungles” around Panama City have a different character. (One of the funnier moments was when Luis was talking about the jungle animals, and he said there are moose, meaning “deer,” but he couldn't think of the word. “Well,” he said, “Panamanian moose.”) To me, the whole landscape looked like it had been clear-cut at some point in the past, so there were a lot more deciduous trees, and a much less dense understory. As we approached Las Uvas, about 100 km southwest of Panama City, entire mountainsides were being burned off. I don't know whether it was an intentional “controlled burn” or a wildfire, but since it was pretty close to inhabited areas, and there was no sign of firefighters, I'm guessing fires are a pretty common sight.

The coastal beaches away from the city are as beautiful as you'd expect. Too bad in the U.S. rush to build the canal infrastructure, they put sewers emptying into the ocean around Panama City. I understand a cleanup is underway, but they have a lot beach rehab to do. The 90-degree weather was beautiful and humid, with occasional sprinkles in the afternoon.

People always ask me, “So will you go back?” I probably won't, but not for the reasons people might think. There's an incredibly large world out there. I've seen a thimbleful of it. I've never been to Chile. I've never been on the African continent. I don't want to die ignorant, so I have a lot of traveling to do.