Staying a Half Step Ahead

Three months ago, I wrote about how blessed I felt that I had been staying out of harm’s way. In the intervening months, it seems that trouble is starting to follow a bit more closely in my footsteps.


  • As I was crossing the border into Costa Rica, a border dispute between the two countries flared up.


  • In the week before I left, Panama experienced days of torrential rain.
  • Debris and floodwater necessitated the closing of the Panama Canal due to meteorological reasons for the first time ever (the other notable closure was for the US Invasion in 1989).  The father of a Panamanian friend I made works as a hydrologist for the Canal Authority, and he had to work outrageous hours.
  • Landslides caused the closure of numerous key arteries throughout the country.  At one point, floodwaters and landslides blocked the two highways linking Panama City and the country’s second most important city, Colón.  One of the bridges across the Canal was closed indefinitely, and the Panamerican Highway into the Darien Province was closed.
  • My friend Johanna had to be evacuated from the village in which she was doing agricultural work.  You can see some of her pictures of the evacuation (i.e. traveling by boat along the Panamerican Highway) here on her blog.
  • The day before I flew out of Panama, one of the runways at Tocumen International Airport buckled.
  • If you’re interested in helping some of those affected by these floods, there’s information here.


  • On the day I flew out of Tunis, a young fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire.
  • As a result of the ensuing protests, within four weeks the government was dissolved.  President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled since before I was born, and whose smiling face covered posters all over Tunis as I explored the city, fled the country.

Flooding in Nicaragua

During my stay, Nicaragua’s two largest lakes reached record heights, surpassing the floods resulting from Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Cocibolca (The Lake of Nicaragua) inundated one town that is not expected to be recoverable for three years. Xolotlan (The Lake of Managua) flooded Tipitapa and many of the communities around its shores. Local news channels showed footage of the flooding and scenes from refugee centers almost every night. President Ortega’s approval ratings have increased during the flooding; the government’s response is well-regarded, as are the additional refugee-center jobs being created (largely for Sandinista party members). While acknowledging factors contributing to these record floods, such as unauthorized low-lying settlements and an antiquated storm drain system, the Nicaraguan president’s jury is not out on for the fundamental cause: world capitalism (and the climate change it causes).

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

Crazy Bus Drivers Cross Flooded River

Enjoy the video above (filmed by someone other than me about 30 miles from where I spent my first night in Nicaragua). Note that the sound is a bit loud, and that if you’re reading my blog through your email, you may need to click on the title of the post above to view it on my website.

As the rainy season has followed me through south through Central America, I’ve managed to avoid landslides, downed bridges, and (completely) crazy drivers. I’ve heard of school bus drivers making it through some rough weather, but these buses seem to be taking an unnecessary risk. La Prensa reports on the government’s response:

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MTI) warned that it could suspend the concessions of companies that put the lives of passengers in danger, as was evident in a video captured of various public transportation vehicles crossing the flooded Coco River, in Quilalí, Nueva Segovia, during the recent rains…
Authorities from MTI’s Ground Transport Department noted yesterday that whatever company operates service in the country and puts the lives of users in danger can be subject to heavy sanctions and its operating permits can be suspended indefinitely.

This is probably a harsher response than would normally be expected. The video hits a bit to close to home for Nicaragua, which is mourning for five Red Cross workers and a journalist who were killed in a flash flood while trying to bring supplies to a community isolated by the rains.

Staying One Step Ahead

I have been blessed in my travels so far, staying one step ahead of various incidents affecting the countries I have visited.

  • Belize
  • Rainy season flooding rendered the Southern Highway to Punta Gorda impassable at the Kendal Bridge.
  • Hurricane Richard left significant damage throughout the country, especially in Belize City.  At minute 20:23 of the news report below, the first hostel I stayed in is visible in the left of the frame, two doors down from a building that lost its entire roof to the winds. Click here to donate to the Red Cross, which is assisting with relief efforts
  • News 5 (October 25, 2010) from Great Belize Productions Ltd. on Vimeo.

  • After its cage was destroyed by falling tree in the hurricane, a jaguar escaped from the zoo and fatally mauled a US Citizen. The email warning I received from the US Embassy read:
  • Dangerous Animal Escaped from Belize Zoo following Hurricane Richard – Still Loose
    The U.S. Embassy in Belmopan is issuing this Warden Message to alert Americans that there has been an incident near the Belize Zoo involving a jaguar fatally attacking a person. The Belize Police Department is responding; however, the animal has not yet been recaptured. The Belizean Police have confirmed the jaguar escaped from its cage. All other animals at the Belize Zoo have been accounted for. We recommend U.S. Citizens avoid the area surrounding the zoo and stay away from forest areas for the time being.

  • Guatemala
  • Heavy rainfall led to extensive flooding and landslides after my departure. Passengers in a bus traveling the Interamerican Highway (along which I traveled) were killed by a landslide.
  • El Salvador
  • Violence perpetrated by the gangs that extort bus companies was one of my concerns about traveling through San Salvador. A few weeks after I traveled through, a new anti-gang law led to increased threats against bus operators, many of whom responded by simply cutting service for days.
  • Honduras
  • At least thirteen people were killed in a head-on collision between a bus and a truck on the highway between El Progresso and Tela (along which I traveled)
  • I hope that I continue to stay safely ahead of such happenings (or maybe that such happenings stop following me?)

    The Amphibious Port Bus

    Bus turning onto a flooded road

    Bus turning onto a flooded road

    The Port bus is a slow, bumpy, muddy ride during the rainy season and a great example of the durability of these old buses (and their riders). A 1994 Blue Bird transit style was making the run on the day I rode, one day after some moderately heavy rain. Once we crossed to the west of Central America Blvd., many stretches of the route were more water than road. The bus avoided getting stuck, since there seemed to be enough gravel under the ponds, but it was a slow trip.

    Carlos (see below) explained that over the past few years, a government sponsored dredging project at Belize City’s southern deepwater port has interfered with drainage in the surrounding residential areas. Currently, cruise ships dock offshore east of the city, and their passengers are ferried to the shallow Tourism Village dock on smaller boats; with sufficient dredging, the cruise companies will be able to save their customers time and money by docking directly at the city’s southern port.

    Flooded road

    Flooded road