Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Disaster and Backpackers


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The Chiriqui highlands are a disaster zone. According to Don Winner, ‘38 houses have been destroyed and another 162 houses have been damaged. A total of 1,840 people have been affected by the flooding and 273 people are homeless.’

‘The road between David and Almirante has been completely destroyed in at least four distinct areas and there have been at least 100 mudslides all along the road and the route is now completely closed. According to news reports it might take as long as one to three months before the road is reopened. This road is critically important to the Bocas del Toro province as all fuel arrives via tanker trucks traveling along that route, so the most immediate concern will be access to fuel for disaster relief responders.’ – Panama Guide

Boquete, the town I used to live, has been divided in two with the two bridges that link both side of the Caldera River having washed away.

I am safe and sound in Panama City where surprisingly there has been little rain. But I am no stranger to disasters surviving a massive earthquake in Istanbul and the Asian Tsunami in Thailand.

My experience in Thailand (scroll down to the post Goodbye 2005 – The Asian Tsunami and my beginning) demonstrated to me the main difference between backpackers and tourists.

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G.K. Chesterton

I was on Koh Lanta for the destructive tsunami. Although closer to the epicenter there were fewer deaths on this island because the rising slope of the land gave no room for the wave to travel.

I lost what material possessions I had after leaving Korea but I had the clothes on my back, the tsunami did not affect bank account and I had my life. But there was devastation for the Thais. The evening after the tsunami I climbed up to a safe spot on a hill with a six pack and watched tourists become travelers -- out of their 4 star hotels chatting and sharing their stories with others.

The tourists went home. The backpackers stayed and helped the Thais rebuild.
So now tourist hotspot Boquete is a disaster zone. The tourists will go home disappointed. The backpackers know that being caught in the rain is not part of the plan but twists on the road and bizarre travel plans is God’s way of dancing with you.

Hostel Boquete is right near one of the washed out bridges but is housing people in an alternate location… give Dave a call for details at 6-436-1786

Nomba is open for business…

The Lost and Found is open and the last hostel in Chiriqui before Bocas so a good place to wait for the road to open. There are free pickups from Gualaca (While the Bocas busses don't run) and pick ups in David if you help cover the gas. Movies, books, foosball, games and all the rainy day activities there are free. You can also volunteer here to help restore water to the community. Call Andrew at 6-589-9223

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