New Canal-1

After a whirlwind trip to Panama, for the inauguration of the new canal, I am back in Costa Rica. The big day at the canal was clearly over the top. I spent three days in and around the canal in pursuit of the story about the new expanded part of the canal, so ready or not, here it comes.

Along with my partner, Buddy, I attended the inauguration ceremonies at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal–the end of the canal next to Panama City. There was also a full blown ceremony on the Atlantic side as well, but the press bus left at 5:30 in the morning. Our press advisor Monica, said that the festivities on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side were mostly for the folks that worked on the new canal, so I opted to stay in bed a bit longer. As it turned out, that was a good call.

The ceremony on the pacific side was clearly over the top. It was complete with a stage show that reached a crescendo just as the giant ship appeared. The music and fireworks continued as it moved into the lock chamber right in front of the assembled multitude. I have no idea how many people were there, but I am guessing that, in the area of the lock chamber, there were in excess of 100,000 people. I will try to find an accurate figure, but no matter what the number, I can tell you, and my videos will show you, that there were people as far as the eye could see.

During the celebration, I spent most of my time in the press area, but on more than one occasion, I did venture into the sea of humanity that lined that extended the length of the lock chamber. That is about two and a half city blocks long.  I wanted to get a feel for what the average attendee was experiencing. As it turned out, I actually ran into a friend of mine from Canada, and some other people that I knew from my days of living in the Panama Canal. I did a couple of interviews—one in Spanish, and one in both English, and Spanish. I also did an interview in Mandarin Chinese.  That was clearly a one way interview. I asked a question in English, but once the fellow started speaking Chinese, I was totally lost! He could have been making snide remarks about the crazy gringo holding a camera in his face, but I did get an invite to visit him in his native country, Taiwan.  Apparently, I was exhibiting Taipei behavior.

The purpose of the fiesta at the canal was the inauguration of the new locks, and the widened waterway of the canal. It was primarily for the people of Panama, but also for people around the world as well. The Canal is of course a national treasure for Panama, but it also important to the rest of the world, because the Panama Canal is where so much of the worldwide commerce passes. The more efficient the canal, the less expensive many of the goods we buy—at least that’s the theory.

With regard to the worldwide broadcast of the Panama Canal Festivities, much of the world was apparently short changed.  As a result, many people do not know what actually happened. That is a real shame. The dual language broadcast (English and Spanish), was a great concept, but I am told they had some serious technical difficulties and it kept cutting-out. The dual language device that I was using did not work well. It might have been a part of the same broadcast method for the world. Thankfully, I have video of all the important events, which I will share as fast as I can process it.

For those in attendance at the new lock chambers, the moment that the giant ship appeared was dramatic and emotional, especially when the biggest ship to transit the canal appeared. That was no small item—pun clearly intended. My partner, Buddy and I were both impressed with the size of the ship, as well as the ceremony. It was all well done, and except for the President, the speeches were reasonably short. I must admit that I zoned out when the Prez was speaking. A politically oriented speech in my native language of English has me running for the door, in Spanish it sends me to another dimension. My mind wandered, and I followed it, but I digress.

Having a press pass allowed me access to much of the area during the celebration. A couple of times I ventured out into the crowd. Both times I did interviews, but mostly I hung-out with Buddy, and the other members of the media, in the two large press tents. That also happened to be the location of free food and drink, so when there was a lull in the festivities, it seemed like a good place to pass the time.

The press area had two big tents, and three levels of risers that permitted us to be above the crowd.  That gave us an unrestricted view of the area and the important events taking place at the locks. Media from several countries attended, but given the magnitude, and the importance of the event, not near the number of countries that one might imagine. Notably absent were representatives from the USA.  Where was FOX, or CNN? Where was the mainline U.S., or Canadian Media outlets? I am inclined to believe that there might have been some unseen representation from the USA, but I never saw it. Nevertheless, the inauguration was a big gala event, and as fast as I can edit the incredible amount of raw footage that we took, I will start releasing videos of the entire event on my new YouTube channel. (To be announced very soon) Most of the videos will be short, usually about three minutes, or less in length, so it will not require much of a commitment to watch each of them. In addition, Buddy and I also plan to produce a full length video utilizing all the footage from the canal event. We have so much video it will take time to select and edit the best shots.  Having lived in the canal, I am the canal expert on our team, but Buddy will also be offering his perspectives as well.

Stay tuned for the sights and sounds of the gala event, and please feel free to ask me any questions about the canal. I lived in the canal for two years, and over the years, I have made 29 transits from sea to shining sea. That may not sound like much, but just being there has made me somewhat of a canal expert. If I can answer any questions for you, then please do not hesitate to ask. That is what the comment section is all about. If I don’t know the answer to a specific question, I know who to ask to get the answer.

When it comest to explaining the event, my words can only go so far. The rest of the story is in the videos. I will have the first one done and uploaded very soon.  My plan is to upload one video a week until I am out of material…or energy, whichever comes first, so stay tuned, and thanks for your interest.

–Jim (of the bigger canal)

Canal News

The BIG news from the Republic of Panama (in the deep south), is about what will happen on June 26.  That is when the Panama Canal will open the new wider shipping lanes, and bigger locks.  This will allow the majority of the ships that were heretofore too large to take advantage of the famous path between the seas. The dedication of the “new” canal is bound to be a world class event, and I plan to be there to report back to you on this piece of history. There will be film at 11, so stay stewed to be part of history in the making.

That’s the view from my chair,


To read more about the new canal, CLICK HERE.

Nicaragua Canal – (Cancelled)

About a year and a half ago, I went to Nicaragua to see what was happening with the construction of the Nicaragua Canal. I could not believe that there was a plan to build another canal through Central America, but I liked the concept, because it was touted as a way to bring prosperity to a clearly improvised Nicaragua. However, after a meeting with the canal administrator, I learned that there was indeed a plan to do just that.  Now some folks in the know say that it will never actually be built. Could they be right?  I don’t really know, but I am left wondering why I don’t see tons of dirt being excavated along the proposed route.

The announced kick-off date was in December of 2014, yet there is little in the form of a canal apparent today. Due to several factors, the canal is essentially on hold right now. However, in some circles, an unwavering resolve to push forward seems to exist, but before I get to the current state of affairs, I need to give you a brief thumbnail history lesson.

At the turn of the century, Nicaragua was being considered by the USA as a route for an inter-ocean canal. The French started in Panama, but they failed.  A fast talking Frenchman named Philippe Bunaua-Varilla was chosen to persuade the US to continue the work of the French in Panama, so that the French Company could recoup some of the investment money they had already lost on their ill-fated attempt to build the canal. Obviously, Bunaua-Varilla did his job well.

The story goes much deeper, but I will save that for another time. What is important here is that Bunaua-Varilla, managed to get the US Congress to vote against the Nicaragua route, in favor of the Panama route.

Fast forward about 100 years, and it appears that the “canal wars” are underway once again. However, this time it is quite different. The Panama Canal is about to open the new expanded locks, and the wider waterways. Soon the deeper, wider canal with the longer, wider lock chambers will be in operation. The fate of the Nicaragua Canal is far less certain because four factors have lined up to challenge its construction.

Factor 1:

Currently there is a drought in Nicaragua, similar to the one in Panama. Drought as used here is a relative term.  Nevertheless, it must be considered, and climate change could create a longer term problem as well. I personally believe that the drought condition will be reversed in Nicaragua, just as it will be in Panama.  In 1998, I was actually living in the Panama Canal.  I believe that was the last protracted drought in the canal area.  I saw firsthand the effect on the ship transits. There was great concern back then, but one day the rain came with a vengeance, and in a short 24 hours, the canal was back up to full operational level. I will tell you I have never seen rain like that before. This is the tropics, so that could also happen in Nicaragua, but for the moment, the drought in Nicaragua is a real factor.

Factor 2:

The original agreement was for the Chinese billionaire, Wang Jing, to invest 50 billion dollars for the canal, and some companion projects related to the canal. It really was a fantastic dream for the Nicaraguan people. Then came the Chinese Stock Market Crash, and it was reported that, over night Wang Jing lost most of his fortune. Apparently, he is currently looking for companion investors in the canal project.  Given the hard economic times, that might be a hard sell.

Factor 3:

The Nicaraguan court system is now overflowing with lawsuits against the government and the canal company. The last number that I heard was over 20,000 lawsuits. Recently, the government enacted a new law to void many of the lawsuits, but even that cannot stop the avalanche of court filings, and what is worse, the people are not waiting for the wheels of justice, they are taking to the streets to protect their land, some of which has been in their families for generations. Knowing that, I can’t help but wonder if that is what is behind Nicaragua’s recent purchase of 50 Russian battle tanks. (CLICK HERE to read the story)  Would not the money for those tanks  be better spent on helping the many Nicaraguans currentgly living in poverty?

Factor 4:

Worldwide Shipping is currently at what might be the lowest level in decades. Not much freight and other good are being shipped.  Giant cargo ships are sitting empty, and are being advertised for sale for a single US Dollar. The lower demand for worldwide shipping also means less demand for canal transits. The Panama Canal will have no problem at all providing transit accommodations for the existing demand, as well as an increased demand in the future.

Will the Nicaragua Canal ever be built? Some say yes, but a growing number of people say no. If there is no clear benefit to the people of Nicaragua, and if viable solutions to the aforementioned factors are not found, it is highly unlikely that a canal will ever be built in Nicaragua.