March 3, 2005: Our adventure started with the following question from the Consulate of Panama emailed a week after we had received our visas:
Dear Mr. Young,
I just have a question. Are you going to film this in Panama? If so you might need a permit. I am doing a research for you to make sure that you don't have any problems in Panama. I will get back to you on this.
PS, Did you get the Fedex?
March 4, 2005: We received an email from someone else at the embassy with the following:
I will assist you with getting the necessary permits to film and broadcast the eclipse. Below is a list of the requirements needed for a permit to film in Panama.
1.Short letter addressed to Luis Alberto Prescott, National Media and Communication Directorate, Ministry of Government and Justice, presenting your idea and requesting authorization to film. The letter should be in Spanish and it will be routed to the proper authorities from the Embassy of Panama. You can send it by mail/fax to us (the information is below).
2.Two (2) ID size photographs of every member of the crew traveling to Panama.
3.Copies of the passports of every member of the crew traveling to Panama.
4.Filming and travel itinerary.
5.Detailed list (complete description) of the equipment
I know it requires some paperwork. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need further info.
Reading this we weren't exactly confident we could get the following done before we left on March 31: Write the letter, find a translator, get it translated, send it to the Consulate of Panama, have it sent to Panama, have it checked out by the Panamanian government, have the Panamanian government issue and print the permits, and get then sent back to us.
Well we found a translator at UND, thank you Carmen, and sent the "list of requirements" out. The passport photocopies were not of the quality needed. Luckily they didn't want us to send them again! We faxed information needed. Then we got a phone call saying the Panama government won't send the permits and we need to pick up the permits in Panama. Then they asked do you know anyone that can pick them up and fax you the permits! Well luckily Rodney at the University of Penonome, who made email contact with us earlier, was willing to pick up the permits. Thank you Rodney!
March 23, 2005: We receive an email:
Below is the contact information of the officer handling your case:
Administrative Assitant Natoinal Media and Communication Directorate
The office will be closed for holy week this comming friday. I suggest you contact Ms. de Roja to coordanate pick up.
March 29, 2005: The Fax arrived and the adventure continues...
March 31, 2005: Went to bed early in preparation for the very early flight.
April 1, 2005: I write this sitting in a hotel room in Houston, Texas wondering where my luggage is. We boarded the plan in Grand Forks this morning for a 6:40 AM flight to Minneapolis. We then boarded a flight for Houston where we would connect to flight to Panama City, but they could not get the engines started so we were delayed. We finally got to Houston 10 minutes late and missed our connecting Continental Airlines flight which, by the way, was the only flight to Panama today. Northwest Airlines was pretty sympathetic to our situation and put us up in a hotel in Houston for the night, gave us several food coupons and a coupon for a discount on any future Northwest flight. Since we are spending the night in Houston, we decided to get our luggage and asked for it to be sent to baggage claim. When it did not show up we asked where it was and someone was tasked with finding it. Well, it turns out that while he was looking for our luggage his shift ended and he simply left. He didn’t bother to tell us or anyone else this, so we sat around for about an hour (he said it might take a while) before we asked another baggage claim person where our luggage was. Northwest was pretty sympathetic to our situation (again) and gave us more food coupons, another coupon for a discount on any future Northwest flight and sent us to Continental to find our luggage. Continental found 3 of the 4 bags, sent us on our way (the bag with all of my clothes is still missing) and said *IF* they find it they will call. I hope their luggage finding ability is better than their attitude!
At 10:30 Continental called and said they had my missing bag, so I went to their baggage claim office to get it. I asked a Continental baggage claims person where it was and she snapped at me to get in line and wait my turn to file a missing bag claim. I asked another Continental baggage claims person the same and she said that I needed to wait in line to file a lost baggage claim. I tried to explain that my bag had been found and that I had waited in line TWICE already today (there was a dozen or people in line already - apparently Continental looses a lot of luggage). She then snapped that I could go look for my luggage myself. So I did! I didn’t find it, but I find another baggage claims person ("Bill") who helped me look for it. We couldn’t find it, so I gave up and went back to my room only to find a message from Bill stating that he found it. So I went back to baggage claims AGAIN and there he was and there my bag was (in the office of one of the people who snapped at me to wait my turn). Thanks Bill.
P.S. We spent the food coupons. I had prime rib and several beers and Tim had Salmon and several beers. We earned it.
April 2, 2005: We decided to check our luggage in early and then take the hotel shuttle to a local mall and pick up some things we would probably require in Panama. We checked in only to discover that the Continental gate agent used the wrong name on my luggage. She had assumed that since there were two Young’s on the flight, that I was the other Young. She assured me that my luggage would get to Panama (since both Young’s were going there) and that they would not check to match luggage tags to ticket holders. I was dubious about her claims, but had no choice. I certainly hope Continental’s flight crews are better trained and more customer conscious than their ground personnel! To top off a good start to the day, the shuttle to return us to the hotel was late, but we made the flight (wew!).
We arrived in Panama City only to find Rodney Delgado from the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá waiting for us and to find our car reservation had been cancelled. So we spent an hour more getting another rental car. We then headed to Penonome, found our hotel and had something to eat and called it a day.
P.S. They did not check to match luggage against ticket holders, so I did get my luggage in Panama.
April 3, 2005: We headed off to the Technical University of Panama to meet with Thomas Goodey, another scientist. Thomas is from the U.K. and is using pendulums to investigate an anomoly possibly associated with gravity waves and detectable during eclipses. Thomas' web site is here. Otherwise, we spent the day at the Technical University of Panama at Penonome testing the network.
April 4, 2005: We went to Panama City to take part in a press conference covering the eclipse which was carried by Panamanian Television and the Newspaper. We also met the system/network administers at the University of Panama at Panama City to look into ways of mirroring our webcast and our carrying their webcast (the plan is to have 2 viewing sites: Penonome and San Carlos) to reduce the chances of clouds obscuring both sites.
We moved our base to San Carlos (the Coronado Beach Resort) from where we had planned to webcast the eclipse, but our testing of their network indicates it may not suffice - too slow. Thus, we may have to move back to Penonome. Stay tuned for further updates.
April 5, 2005: We spent the day at the resort connecting and testing the GPS and video overlay unit. We also did more troubleshooting and testing of the video feed. No resolution - yet. It seems we have an 8kbs bottle neck somewhere between here and Grand Forks (we need about 300kbs). We made into the Panama American newspaper on the 4th page and to break the stress of being near famous, I worked out in the resort’s spa and took a swim in the pool.
Later in the day, we headed back to Penonome for Tim's presentation "Expeditions to Astronomical Events." Due to the language barrier, Tim required a translator and that job fell to Abdoulaye Diallo (in picture). The turnout for the lecture was phenomenal. The population of Penonome, Panama is only about 17,000, yet we had a standing room only crowd for the 200 seat auditorium and the lecture was broadcast over an intranet to 13 other campuses. An estimated 800 other people watched. Compared to the general population in the United States, Panamanians are genuinely interested in science.
After the presentation, Tim, Rodney, Thomas, Linda Dominquez and I had dinner. Everyone but I had fish, which was apparently quite good. I had yak - at least that is what it (pork?) tasted like.
Then we drove back to the Coronado resort.
April 6, 2005: We spent more time checking the network - no resolution yet. Then, we decided that sitting near the pool was too distracting, so we hopped on a "bus" and moved to a new location (note the black sand). Here I am deep in thought trying to resolve the network issue and here is Tim contemplating the true meaning of an eclipse. Finally, we met another American couple who had or were planning to retire to Panama. Apparently, retirees get many perks here and the cost of living is lower than in the U.S.
We headed back to the resort to prepare for another visit by the Panama American newspaper. They want to take pictures of the equipment required to webcast an eclipse but they did not show up.
Later in the day, we headed back to Penonome for my presentation "Webcasting: Ins and outs." Due to the language barrier, I also required a translator and that job fell again to Abdoulaye Diallo (in picture). The turnout for the lecture was phenomenal, standing room only again.
After the presentation, Tim, Rodney, Thomas, Linda and I had dinner. This time I had chicken, which was very good.
Then we drove back to the Coronado resort.
April 7, 2005: We spent the day indoors as it rained almost continuously (this does not look good for eclipse viewing). However, the Coronado resort did arrange for a network connection to be installed at the equestrian center and this network has much higher bandwidth. Looks like the network issue is solved.
In the afternoon, we did a little shopping. As usual, I bought a bunch of "treats" for my grandkids (Radell and Ariana Marsh of Fargo, ND).
Later in the day, we headed back to Penonome to attend Rodney Delgado’s presentation. While in Penonome, we studied the weather forecasts. One site says clouds and rain for the big day another says partly cloudy with a chance of rain. Hmmm. Should we stay or should we go (to David - our backup site)? Personally, given the satellite loop, I think we should stay put as the cloud cover looks to be breaking up.
While in Penonome we also met "Joe" a retired school teacher from Denver who made the trip to see the eclipse.
Finally, I had to say goodbye to Linda Dominquez .
Then we drove back to the Coronado resort (again).
April 8, 2005: The BIG day! The weather looks promising (good thing we stayed put), so off to the equestrian center we go . Here is the set up on the parade field .
Around 2:00 PM the clouds moved in and it began to look bad. However, they moved on well in time for the eclipse (wew). There was also a horse show(?) going on at the equestrian center prior to the eclipse . I can image Tim was a little nervous with horses tromping around our equipment.
A small crowd began to gather before the eclipse and we gave them some mylar so they could photograph it themselves. Professor Azael Barrera brought a group of students from Florida State University at Panama to the Coronado resort to see the eclipse also. Note that we are scheduled to give presentations at Florida State University at Panama on Tuesday. Another attendee was "Joe" the retired school teacher we met the day before in Penonome.
The webcast went well, but due to bandwidth concerns I turned off the sound feed to use more of the bandwidth for the video feed. This allowed me to increase the data rate and image quality. Our servers remained up and it looks like most of the mirror sites were up for at least part of the eclipse - so the hybrid webcasting idea worked out well. But, we learned a few more lessons to be applied to the next webcast. For example: we know 41,000+ logged into the website during the eclipse, but because of the multicast feed, direct feeds to VLC and use of mirror sites, we have no idea how many actually our webcast.
The clouds remained at bay just long enough to see totality, then, they moved back in and obscured the view. But, we did see the totality, so, other than a nasty case of sunburn (SPF 75 is what is required here. SPF 15 doesn't cut it), the whole venture was a success!
Later in the day, Tim, Joe and I drove back to Penonome for a celebration. Turns out that Rodney Delgado had a 1000 or more visitors to his location. But, despite the massive crowd, things went smoothly. I hear that the event was very well organized. Finally, we blew a tire on the car on the drive up to Penonome and had to change it on the side of the road in the dark - who says science isn't fun!
After the celebration, guess what? We drove back to the Coronado resort (about 45 miles each way).
April 9, 2005: The day after. We got up to find we are on the front page of LaPrensa . We also got email from George 'Chip' Smith at Lawrence Berkeley Lab (Computational Research Division) indicating that he (and Lawrence Berkeley Lab) would like to be a mirror site on future webcasts. Which is very good news, as Lawrence Berkeley Lab has a tremendous amount of network bandwidth.
After scrambling for 7 days (I estimate that we have each put nearly 100 hours into this this week alone) to get this to work we are going to take the last few days and see parts of Panama. But, we first started off with surfing lessons at a resort in Playa Del Palmar . Tim did pretty well, but all I learned was how to fall off. Here we are with our instructors "Nino" and "Evelyn" .
Surfing requires a lot of shoulder strength and was a lot of work, but fun. Unfortunately, we left our things on the beach on what we thought was a high point. But, it was not high enough as the high tide a came in a wave drenched everything (including Tim's camera and camcorder) and carried Tim's sandals out to see to never been seen again. Adios sandals, Vio condito.
April 10, 2005: We checked out of the resort and headed towards Boquete which is a small town in northern Panama at the base of volcano Baru (the highest point in Panama).
It took about 5 hours to get there and it turns out we had just missed a parade celebrating the town's 95 anniversary.
April 11, 2005: We started to hike up the volcano Baru, but ran into rain , were tired and were running out of time, so we had to give up. The view of the valley and Boquete, was fantastic. Of course, the tropical rain forest was nothing to scoff at either . It turns out that the local farmers grow coffee along the volcano's slopes .
On the way down the volcano, we met 2 Germans (Stephanie and Oliver) who were also hiking. They asked for a ride into town and during the drive down, Oliver told us that he was also a Physicist and that Stephanie was a biologist who was in Panama to collect army ants for genetic study. Her tactic was to stand (very still) in their path to collect them or to pluck one from the nest. Not a job for the weak at heart.
After we returned from the hike we did a little shopping in Boquete and found these two women dressed in traditional clothes.
After a quick lunch we headed back towards Playa Del Palmar (where we took surf lessons) to spend the night. Along the way we took this picture of a farmer hauling his product to market (this was a common site). Also, note the rooster (another common site - stray chickens).
April 12, 2005: We headed to Panama City to give a talk at Florida State University at Panama (which is just below the America's Bridge) . Prior to our talk we toured the Panama canal. Here's a picture of 1 set of lock doors and here are 2 ships entering the lock . It was fascinating to watch the massive ships come in and go through the locks.
P.S. The green ship carries 4000 cars.
That night we headed out for our last supper in Panama. We stopped at a place out along the causeway that extends out into the sea forming a breakwater for the canal. Tim had jumbo shrimp and I had garlic shrimp .
The view wasn't bad either. Here's the America's Bridge and downtown Panama City , as viewed from the site of our last supper.
April 13, 2005: Here I am sitting in the airport in Panama City waiting for the flight home (Newark, Minneapolis and Grand Forks). Panama is like a slice of America. Street venders sell hotdogs (flyingdogs), the water is safe to drink, American cars are present and the food is similar to what one would find in the U.S. However, french fries are not considered to be a fast food, they are served with many dishes here.
The only drawback to being in Panama City is driving in it. Very few road signs and twisty roads make it very difficult to find anything. We ended up in the "bad" part of town on several occasions and had to struggle to find our way out of it.
Overall, however, it was a successful expedition.
|Looking across the Inter-American highway towards the jungle.|
|Panama City, Panama|
|A pink tree.|
|A minivan in Panama City, Panama (I think this thing would fit in the back of my pickup truck).|
|Docks along the Panama canal.|
|Tim and I at the Coronado Beach Resort.|
|Pool and patio at the Coronado Resort.|
|House near the beach (note the bushes).|
|Looking northwest from beach.|
|Looking southeast from beach.|
|Pool overlooking beach.|
|Looking up towards the peak while on a hike up Volcano Baru.|
|Volcano Baru park entrance.|
|Looking down towards Boquete from Volcano Baru.|
|A moss covered tree along the trail up Volcano Baru.|
|Another farm family on Volcano Baru.|
|Public transportation - Panama style.|
|A monument in Panama City.|
|Classic architecture in Panama City.|
|A run-down apartment in Panama City.|
|Women walking in Panama City.|