ECHO 07 046It’s about time for my biannual road trip to North Fort Myers. I have gone every other year since 2003, each trip with wonderful memories, good times, hard work, and good fellowship, and lots of seat time driving. I wonder how many years I will be able to do this? We are not there to help the Red Sox, but to contribute to the operation of a wonderful farm known as ECHO, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization.  Gordon College has been sending work teams pretty much since the place started back in the 1980’s. I am posting two photos from earlier trips that will give some idea of the place.

Please think of us and pray for our team’s work, and driving safety. We will be leaving Friday the 8th, and returning the following Saturday night. Pray for my family left behind that, if necessary, they will be able to work the snow blower! Gee I hope not.

Finally, if you would like to contribute financially to this year’s trip, you could make a contribution with “ECHO trip” in the subject line to Gordon’s Development Office. No gift too large or too small.   Thanks, and really no pressure.



Traveling overseas, one notices some familiar icons are slightly different, sometimes in interesting ways. In some cases, you’ll see signs for things that are definitely site specific.  So, to get things started, get a load of the “person crossing” signs on Ancon Hill. Or shall we say “person with a tush crossing.”

Iconography1Nice tush.

Iconography5Here is a sign for “naked muscular dude crossing.” Is it just me or is this funny?


WHAT KIND OF ANIMAL IS THIS?  My bet it it’s a coati. Long tail, pointy nose.  And while we’re on the topic of animales crossing. Check out this cool “iguana crossing” sign seen in Gamboa. Some of these houses are abandoned, but they were originally part of the housing for people who worked in the Canal Zone.


I loved the “crimewatch” sign. The eye is quite captivating/disturbing:


And finally, seen down by Gorgas Hospital was an interesting danger don’t get shocked sign on a transformer. I actually do like this one:


Friday, our last full day in Panama, the Story family, Kim, and Vonnie went a-driving around the old city. It didn’t take too long to realize the fool-hardy decision it was to try and drive into the labyrinthine streets there, so after a while we gave up on finding a parking spot down in the area of Casco Viejo (part of the old city). We drove on to the museum of the old city, which had a parking lot, and then on to see the famous ruins there (featured on postage stamps).

Old City1 Old City2Here’s Kim wandering around the ruins. More ruins below.

Old City4You can actually go up into the church tower. It is full of lights and no doubt looks very impressive at night all lit up.

Old City5

Then it was off to the American Cemetery to find Vonnie’s two uncles who were buried there. In the picture below you can see a fence dividing the panamanian part of the cemetery from the US part. I wonder how they keep the stones clean, they must powerwash them quite often. Pretty much every un-maintained surface in the tropics ends up covered with a layer of “life.”  The cemetery is very well maintained.

Cemetary2Cemetary4First we found one…

Cemetary3Joseph Joyner, Born March 21, 1915, died May 24, 1943 “To the memory of my dear son. Mother”

Cemetary5Charles S. Joyner “April 22, 1901 – April 2, 1977”

Cemetary1Then to end the adventure we arrived at Niko’s Cafe, back over near Ancon Hill. One of the booths has this photo which includes a photo taken at Fort Clayton in 1939. In there, if you know where to look, you can find Kelly’s Grandfather (Veronica Mahaffy’s Father) Herbert Holmer. The photographer who took this panoramic photo also took many others of the CZ, which you can see here and there at Niko’s but also in other places. Apparently such panoramic photos were very popular in the early 20th century.

Diablo Bus1One of the many “Red Devil” buses you see everywhere in Panama. Apparently some people actually ride on them for kicks. Enjoy some of the better shots I got–most of them while driving. Notice how 2/3 of the front windshield is blocked off.

Here’s an article including some info about these forms of transport and some other Panama terms.

Diablo Bus2

Note the Honda insignia proudly displayed on the front. I don’t think it’s a honda.

Diablo Bus3Jesus and Gandalf?

Diablo Bus4Seen in Portobelo.

Diablo Bus5This one is just in the early stages of transformation. Love the hubcaps and orange fringe tassles.

Diablo Bus6No room to fit the bus in the garage, just leave it blocking the road. No problemo.

I thought about the absurdity of these buses. How in a way, they are starting with something that is pretty much the very definition of uncoolness, the yellow schoolbus full of little kiddies, and transforming it into something with big chrome pipes on the back, pimped out to the n’th degree. It just seems quite absurd. But who am I to judge? It’s an icon of the culture. But not recommended for the gringos.

OK, well, it’s the last night of the full gang being here. All 15 of us, so we had to get a group shot. For the record, we have Perry and Vonnie, who have been generous and brave enough to have all of us here.


Kelly, Craig Peter and Katie Story, Perry Sara, Roger, Mark, Alexandra, Michael Mahaffy, Kim Mahaffy, Mike Mahaffy and Mary Katherine Hill.


The grandparents with the grandkids.

STRI1Took trip to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. What an amazing place. I’ll insert a few pictures. Above you see our guide Wendy. She did a fantastic job learning all of our names.

STRI2These are stingless bees, they make little tubes like this and apparently enjoy living in electrical conduits and junction boxes. Katie got a really nice video of these before her battery died.

STRI3How’s this for a fancy spider?

STRI4Ocelot Tracks right on our footpath. Apparently various cats swim to the island and come and go. It was quite dark down on the jungle floor; you get a sense of that from this picture.

STRI5Casque-Headed Lizard, one of the larger ones we saw today. Apparently this is actually the name for a family of related and fairly common lizards of the tropics.

OK, those are among the coolest pictures we got today.

Now: An important message to Aunt Sandy!! All the kids say thank you for the Christmas presents!

Crossing Gatun Locks1Driving over Gatun Locks, you REALLY get a good look at the locks, you literally drive right over the water level…

Crossing Gatun Locks2

…on a narrow gauge metal bridge!  Our plan was to go to San Lorenzo which is a fort just to the west of Colon.

Gatun Locks Google Map

This Google’s eye view shows where we crossed in the previous tro pictures, going west toward San Lorenzo.

Funky Bus1

Along the way we saw some fancy painted buses (more on this in a later date).

Road out1But San Lorenzo was not to be. There was a landslide recently and no way to get there. Apparently some tourists are actually stuck there. I can’t really believe that, since there was a makeshift “4 wheeler” style passage cut through to the left of where this photo was taken. I can imagine though that some of their vehicles are stuck there at the famous old spanish fort.  So, we turned tail drove through an old abandoned military post and found… Marblehead.

Shelter Bay marina

Yes, the marina at “Shelter Bay” is apparently the place to park your half-million dollar yacht after arriving from British Columbia or Massachusetts. We had a fine lunch there, and Chris, the manager was nice enough to drop a slice unexpected chocolate cake on the 50th anniversary celebrators, who shared it around. All took a bite (literally) in the Mexican style, as directed by Sara.

Shady Cove2

Shady Cove1

Happy 50th Anniversary!

So, following the advice of our neighbor here at “PVQ” Rodrigo, we headed up from Gatun northeast an hour to check out a different harbor, Portobelo, which is where several Spanish forts can be found in ruin, complete with rusting canon. It was quite an adventure. Oh, and when we got there, who did we see? None other than Black Jesus…


There he is, famous in these parts, and he takes part in an annual celebration where pilgrims come from miles away just to take part in his festival.


And here is the entrance to the fort right near the church.


The scenery was quite good if you look up, out to sea…

Portobello3And not down around your feet at all the trash washed up on shore.  We saw a LOT of trash all day on the way up here. But all in all it was a fantastic adventure, and, I think I may be the only one still up at 9:50 PM writing this.