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Do it Yourself :: Panama Canal

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Women and their children in Panama City old town.

Women and their children in Panama City old town.

Viewing the Panama Canal from a cruise ship might not be the best vista.   Canal bound cruise ships are so large and the decks so far above the water line that you can’t see what is going on below in the lock passages.

Boat tours of the Canal locks are offered by various providers.  I went with Argo Tours on a partial transit, the only option on the day I contacted them.  I couldn’t find a web link to Argo recently, so maybe their name or management has changed, but whoever offers the canal lock passage tours, the experience is worthwhile.  The food was much better than I expected for a tour boat, and copious.  The guide explained the history, natural lore, and mechanical process of the lock transfers in English and Spanish.

Panama Canal at Gatun Lock. image courtesy of Commons Wikimedia.org

Panama Canal at Gatun Lock. image courtesy of Commons Wikimedia.org

I had hoped to walk the isthmus during this two-week trip to Panama, but had difficulty lining up maps sufficiently detailed for a solo walker. Next time I travel in Panama, I plan to ride the Panama Canal Railroad which has been refurbished for the tourist trade, but will offer another perspective of travel across the isthmus.

Prior to exploring the Canal area, I spent several days at Bocas del Toro  on the Carribbean side and enjoyed a 1 day island boat-snorkel tour  offered by several tour operators in Bocas. Make sure you hire a boat with a canopy as the sun can be fierce.

Bocas del Toro floating settlements. © Air Panama

Bocas del Toro floating settlements. © Air Panama

Another day, I flew from Panama City to Isla Coronado in the Pacific for an overnight in a spiffy cliffside beach hotel.  Various high-level international refugees have stayed there —  the Shah of Iran, possibly Manuel Noriega and other shady characters.

On one of the weekends, friends of Experience Panama tourism guru Ana Rojo invited me to join them for the cross country drive  west-north-west to Boquet in the highlands, for cooler temperatures, ranch-style living and coffee plantations. Isla Verde guest house is nice there — run by a friendly German family.  The hike up the mountain is worth the effort.

In Panama City, use good sense and hire a car and driver to view the tourist highlights, because public transport can be problematic unless you have lots of time to sit around and wait.  Cabbies can be helpful, or not.  I rode city buses a couple of times and boarded efficient inter-city buses to reach Bocas del Toro from Boquete.

The Smithsonian operates a world-class tropical research institute at Barro Colorado, an island in Gatun Lake.    The day was interesting, but we were kept close to the administrative buildings.  Experienced hiker-naturalists might find the nature walk a disappointment.

If you can, book into the Country Inn and Suites Hotel (an American style business hotel with the usual discounts for AAA, government/military and seniors) because of the direct view of the Canal and all the ships.  For me, that made the trip, to be able to look up from the balcony and see a tanker nosing through the canal, or the sun setting over the tropical forest on the opposite side of the canal.

Panama - Amador CausewayA 6 km causeway made from dirt excavated from the canal runs alongside the canal, open to pedestrians and cyclists.  At the end of the causeway, there’s a handful of charming islands, one of which is a small Smithsonian marine research/education facility, converted from a WWII-era lookout station.  The recreational port  area attracts sightseers and  the marina area is bracketed by seafood restaurants.  For me, it was restful to walk along the causeway, maybe visit the marine research island, have a snack at one of the restaurants and walk back to the CountryInn Suites hotel then finish up the evening looking at the canal  during twilight.  All along the causeway, sea breezes rustle the palm trees and folks of all generations run, rollerblade, walk and cycle.

The birdwatching at Canopy Tower and nearby trails is incomparable.   Panama offers many national parks, though transportation to the parks could present a logistical hurdle.

Travel Tips.  Bring along a roll of $1 and $5 US banknotes.  For some reason it was hard to get singles and that’s what you need in this tip driven economy.  US currency is used throughout and some prices were quite modest,  except for classy hotels in the city and resort areas.  If you do find yourself taking taxis, be aware that the first rate quoted by the driver is the tourist price and the normal price is perhaps 1/4. ( e.g. for a $1.25 cab ride, 8 minutes travel time, the driver will quote me, Miss Gringo Tourist, $7.00, then come down to $5.00 and even when I offer $3.00, will still try and get me to agree to a “tour”.

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Written by patwa

15/02/2013 at 5:44 pm

Travel Writing as a Career?

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Check out this web chat about travel writing and global networking experiences.

http://moneyfortraveling.com/specialty/travel-writing/start-a-writing-career/

Resources:

AdventureTravelWriter.org

AdventureTravelWriting

 

Written by patwa

21/01/2013 at 3:15 pm

Japanese Calligraphy :: National Geographic Society

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National Geographic Society

1145 17th St. NW, Washington DC

Workshop on Calligraphy

July 8, 2012, 1 to 3 pm

The workshop opened with a discussion and projected slides that explained the differences between Western Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere calligraphy and writing. The way language itself is represented by these different geographic areas reflects their approaches to writing down the concepts or things expressed.

The Western Hemisphere relies on alphabets that are combined in various ways to express words that represent concepts or objects.  The Eastern Hemisphere, at least in China, Japan, Korea and other areas where Chinese culture influenced social evolution, relies on characters or symbols to represent concepts and things, often these characters are based on pictographs.  For example, the character for “mountain” looks like E turned on its spine, with the three upward spikes representing mountain peaks.

Chinese characters are called Kangi and came to Japan in the 3rd century C.E.  In Japan, these characters have been simplified visually and organized structurally to match the phonetic letters or combinations used in Japanese spoken language.  This occurred in about the 8th century C.E. and the Japanese call their characters Kana.

The function of calligraphy is also different in the two hemispheres.  In the West, the emphasis is on hand-lettering for inscriptions, decorative scrolls and ceremonial documents or occasions.  In the East the design of the word and the spirit of the word or character are considered more important when it is expressed in writing.

Training differs too:  In the West, penmanship is on the decline.  In the East, school children practice writing characters all through their primary education and scholars practice calligraphy as a zen mental relaxation exercise.

The principal styles of calligraphy in the East are: tensho, the seal script used for official purposes; the reisho script for clerical work; the kaisho for regular use; the gyosho which is semi-cursive; and the sosho which is cursive.  There is also a running style which is a very fast cursive script.  The cursive calligraphy is nearly unreadable and mostly serves as artistic decoration or design on paper.

The Tools used in Eastern calligraphy are called the “Four Treasures” and are:  natural hair brushes set in bamboo “stems”, mulberry paper, ink stick and ink stone. Mulberry paper is quite thin and until a certain level of skill is developed, students should use newsprint to practice writing ink calligraphy.  Ink sticks are made from soot remaining from burned wood or coal.  The ink stone is a shaped stone on which ink and water are mixed for the calligrapher’s use.

Our workshop assignment is to practice the characters that express the Seven Virtues of the Samuri:  Loyalty, Honor, Honesty, Respect, Benevolence, Courage, and Rectitude.  We will also practice the character for Forever which includes all the various brush directions and line weights that a calligrapher needs to learn.  The workshop leader explains the development and brush strokes for each of these characters.

While Eastern Hemisphere calligraphy is usually written from top to bottom, right to left, accommodations have been made for novice calligraphers from the Western tradition and we may write our characters left to right.

Seated at long tables covered with plastic, we each receive a little ink in a plastic dish, a natural hair brush in a bamboo “stick” and several sheets of newsprint paper and a mulberry paper with grid markings to help us properly align the character brush strokes.  We also receive a very helpful model of the characters that represent the Seven Virtues of the Samuri with the strokes marked in numerical order for correct duplication.

We watched Ms. Lok demonstrate the proper way to hold a brush and approach the paper.  She demonstrated writing each of the eight characters we would be practicing.

Then, for the next 45 minutes, the room was silent while adults and children, parents and their kids, and several single adults practiced writing Kana and learned the character virtues of a Samuri.  The writing was achieved by paying attention to the meaning built into the brush strokes that become characters representing the virtues.

As part of my year-long Mandarin language training program in 2007-2008, I had to write Chinese characters every day, but we were using pens or pencils for this activity on gridded paper, which is very different from freehand brush calligraphy.  While I have studied Italic calligraphy and am familiar with brush work from my art training and practice, I had not approached Eastern calligraphy before.  Therefore, I was a near-novice, just like everyone else in the class.  It was gratifying to see that nearly everyone managed to approach the calligraphy and focus on the spirit of the characters while also following the guidelines shown for the order of the brush strokes.

The workshop leader Ms. Lok, and her assistant (her son), walked around and helped anyone who needed specific guidance. The workshop offered special insight into the language and visual representation of Japanese and its mother language, Chinese.   The workshop was interesting, completely engaging and an appropriate length for adults or children.  The children in the audience were attentive and well behaved. A workshop aimed just at children might have less background and more practice. Some of the adults assisted each other and Ms. Lok spent time with each participant demonstrating the finer points of brush control. An excellent experience by all parameters.

Written by patwa

09/07/2012 at 1:20 pm

Lunar Eclipse

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NASA graphic displaying total lunar eclipse.

Chart depicting Total Lunar Eclipse 03.03.2007.

Image from eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov

Lunar eclipse behind us, Ides and spring equinox ahead. On these ever-shifting and aligning astronomical sands is your house in order? Look to the east, keep the wind at your back and don’t forget to scan the skies for refreshing omens.

Where do your travel plans take you next?

Written by patwa

05/03/2007 at 10:23 am

Posted in Astronomy, Creation, Geography

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