To Rambala And Back

I have been thinking about taking a drive to the Chiriquí Grande area since I had learned of the humanitarian work that the US was doing in that area. I had met Col. Jones and several of his team in David and had told him I would be interested in seeing what they were doing. It was a week or two later that I saw the news, of the traffic accident killing two of the solders, on local TV.

I had been so impressed with the professionalism of the people I had met that I felt a connection and a loss when I learned of their deaths. I felt an even stronger impetus to photograph the important work that they had been involved in. Prior to the trip, I called Col. Jones and asked if there would be any problem in my visiting the work site on Sunday. He had said it wouldn’t be a problem and told me approximately where they were working. With that conformation, I scheduled my trip.

Taking off from David, I drove about 13 kilometers on the InterAmerican Highway toward Panama City and come to a large Texaco station. At this intersection you will see a sign indicating that Chiriquí Grande is to the left. I had no idea of the weather changes I would encounter on the drive. It has been hot and dry in David and this drive was going to take me through several different microclimates before the day was over.

I took the following photo while I was driving through Guaglaca. These flowering trees were everywhere on the drive, but with the wind it looked like all the blooms would be gone in a couple of days.

I got away from David later than I had planned and didn’t take any photos on the drive to Chiriquí Grande. I have made this drive one other time and knew that the drive through the stretch of mountains can be pretty exciting. I didn’t want to be rushed on the return side of the trip in case I got into bad weather or darkness. Also this road is highly traveled by large 18-wheelers.

I will have some photos of the drive from the return perspective, so let me just jump ahead to where I was at my destination. I missed a couple of my landmarks and wound up driving into the city of Chiriquí Grande. I stayed there just long enough to ask a couple locals for direction to where the Norte Americanos were working. Chiriquí Grande is not a town that I would want to spend much time in. It is dirty and the people are very poor and you feel like a foreigner pretty quick.

After getting driving instructions, I turned around and headed to Rambala. When I got close, I stopped at a large Texaco station and another local in a car said he was going toward the work area.

Sure enough he brought me to this site. I learned that this is where they were filling trucks with dirt that was needed to level some of the construction areas.

While I had followed the local, I knew I wasn’t close to the base camp. I wanted to stop by and tell Col. Jones thanks allowing my visit. I talked with a couple of the solders at this site and they radioed the Colonel and then gave me directions.

Unfortunately I missed the Colonel, but I will take the time to say “Thanks Col. Jones” here in the blog. As I mentioned, I left later than I had intended and when I was at the base camp I was ready to eat. I was told that there was a small restaurant that many of the soldiers ate at so I figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.

This is the little Kiosko with the name that translates to “Divine Child’ in English. Sure enough there were several soldiers there when I arrived. I asked what they recommended and the recommendation was fried chicken. Being an Oklahoma farm boy, that sounded like it would hit the spot.

The chicken was great and was only missing a little cream gravy on the French fries to make it perfect.

I got to talk to several of the soldiers who were enjoying the Panama weather. Many were from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois and the northern states. I also met several from Alabama. I expressed my thanks for what they were doing and my regrets for the recent traffic accident.

This is a photo of the daughter of the Kiosk owner. She was a favorite with the troops and why not. Who couldn’t be captured and conquered by those eyes.

With my belly filled and daylight burning, I decided it was time to see what I could see at the sites. This next photo is on the way and you can see that the day was a little overcast.

Around the bend and it cleared up a little.

This is an example of many of the houses of the locals in this area. It is typical for them to be built above ground.

Here are a couple more similar photos.

After passing the dirt excavation area again, I eventually came upon the development site.

I took this photo just after I had parked in front of a long line of trucks.

Here are the trucks. While the road looks pretty good here, when the trucks are rolling this area can become pretty congested and when you are in a small car it can be pretty intimidating.

This shows a little church and the building is going on to the right.

In this photo all the work is going on to the left.

This is one of the trucks getting ready to dump a load of dirt from the excavation site.

I guess, there aren’t many people that come out here with a camera.
”Hi group”.

I considered driving to the next site, but I was told I would see pretty much the same thing, and I decided it would be better to head back to David.

Thanks to all the people I talked to. Thanks for being so cordial and taking the time to talk to me. Thanks also for the great work you are doing. The people in this area will benefit from your efforts. I understand that two schools and two clinics will be built in these areas.

Here is another photo of some family housing.

I wasn’t on the road for very long when I ran into a pretty thick fog and rain.

In one part of the drive you cross a large hydroelectric dam.

This was taken from the car as I crossed the dam.

This is a photo I took to show one of the ways they protect against huge rains causing erosion. They build these rock walls and they are encased in a wire mesh. It allows the water to go through, but slows the water flow and stops the erosion.

This is a photo looking back to the dam I just crossed.

The first time I made this drive (3 ½ years ago), there were some small stands on the road selling things. It looks like they have moved to the other side of the road and the quality of the buildings had greatly improved. I didn’t stop.

The following photos will give you an idea of the general country in this area.

Some entrepreneurial person has built this house for rent. It has quite a nice view. I wonder how much it is being rented for.

Well that is the end of yesterday’s photos. Hope you enjoyed the trip. Remember to support the members of the US armed services. I don’t think they get enough credit and thanks for all the good that they do.

33 thoughts on “To Rambala And Back

  1. Don Ray,
    What a great array of photos – you have an excellent eye.
    We made this same trip about 10 days ago , taking guests to Bocas del Toro and encountered the same rainy/foggy conditions you did. Quite a switch from the heat of David and very welcome, for a short while anyway.
    On our return trip, we encountered a short convoy of Humvees, filled with smiling, waving soldiers – good ambassadors.

  2. Great pictures Don Ray.

    We drove part of this highway 2 years ago, traveling from Boquete to Almirante via Caldera & past the Fortuna reservoir you showed in the photos. This drive was one of the highlights of our trip, as we felt we experienced a bit of the “real” Panama. Thanks for the memories.

  3. I think it is one of the better drives. You just have to be prepared to put up some of the big trucks that struggle going up and down the steep areas.

  4. Hola Don,

    As usual, great pictures. How long are the troops going to be there? Kim and I would like to go see their progress. We drove to Almirante 3 years ago and took the water taxi to Bocas. The drive was very enjoyable.

  5. What an obvious question and one I didn’t ask. Based on the amount of work they have to do, it will be a while. I left my card and asked if someone would drop me an email when there was more of the work completed. I hope they remember. I would like to take some photos when more of the work has been done.

    It looks like they are working 7 days a week on these projects. But as you can see from the current photos, they are not ready to pour the foundation yet.

    Since it is a 2 hour drive one way, if you drive like I do, I don’t want to go back until they are farther along.

  6. The retaining wall to prevent erosion is interesting, particularly since I had stopped in upstate New York this past year to look at a very similar retaining wall along the highway. Then recently I saw one beside the plant maintence building at the University of Georgia For me they are nice looking walls and apparently really practical.

  7. Hi Frank. I do think they are attractive. I first saw some of these in Boquete that had been built following the last big flood in 2005.

  8. Yea its to damn bad that those evil Yankees are ruining a nice country like Panama. Sorry… thats all I heard from this wacky German broad at my hotel, she said she was a journalist and was doing a story for a German Magazine and she had “NOTHING” good to say about the United States! I road back to Atlanta with a National Guardsman who just finished humanitarian tour in that same area, he spoke of the humvee accident, I thanked him for his Service in Panama and 2 tours in Iraq! What a great guy, the 4 hour flight went by like in seconds!

  9. I am sure you straightened her out didn’t you. If not, I can’t believe you passed up such an opportunity for some real entertainment.

    I am sure that Panama is like R&R after a tour in Iraq. I am glad you took the opportunity to tell your traveling companion that you appreciated his service.

  10. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find anyone (especially a female) entertaining that has their head so far up their rear, they can taste last months burrito. I don’t waste my time with people like that I’m too busy enjoying life to be a doom and gloomer. Although she did have a good size rack to look at! ha ha ha!

  11. Don,
    Great to see that area again. We are going to be driving up there in two weeks on our way to Bocas and Changuinola, and hope to stay somewhere near where that big fruit stand is. I think it is also a hotel of some sorts, from what I can remember when we stopped there on the bus in Dec.

  12. Hi Dougie. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I have thought about going to Changuinila a couple of times, but never have. Can you give me a good reason to go?

  13. Hi Don: great pictures. very sad about the accident that took the lifes of two young fine men. It’s good to know that other people appreciate the fine work our military is doing to help out poor people. I did read a disparaging remark made by some new gringa to this country on the website quoting a communist newspaper La Prensa in Havana, Cuba. Seems like some people are always questioning motives when our military is performing good work. I guess it’s part of an anti-American culture.

  14. In case you’re interested, the wire-mesh boxes used for erosion control and retaining walls are called gabions – altho I’ve heard them referred to as gibions – and have been in use for years in Canada in highway construction in mountainous areas. Fortuna was the first place in Panama we’d seen them in use, but they have been used extensively in Costa Rica.

  15. Thanks for the great article. One of the two soldiers killed was from my unit. It’s great to see that his memory is honored by your words and photographs.
    I just got back from Rambala last week, and when I left, all the foundations were poured and at several sites, the walls were going up. (There are a bunch of sites that the Army is working on – schools, medical clinics, etc…) The progress made is really encouraging.
    Keep up the good work.

  16. Hi Springfield MP. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It is good to have an update. I know that all of the hard work will be appreciated.

  17. great; my father have a farm over there .. and a love this trip .. i remenber go every 2 weeks… and was so different .. and now a have more than 6 month’s with out go .. when i see this pictures the only thing the i can say is …. thank’s so much to this troops i know that all this is really necessary for the people … beautyfull job … God bless you …DE parte de un ramabaleno….

  18. Cesar – thanks for stopping by my little pothole on the Internet and leaving a comment. The drive to Rambala is a nice drive with many beautiful things to see.

    Thank you also for expressing your appreciation to the men and women from the US that are working to make things a little better for the residents of this area.

  19. DON RAY:

    Just following up the email I sent you the other day from Puerto Limon.
    This is an excellent documentary for our Costa Rican US friends living here from Puerto Limon to the Border crossing at Sixaola. Your photography and humanitarian side has captured the spirit of this area near Rambala perfectly!

    Please let other persons living in Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro (and all of Panama for that matter) that we would be happy to serve their needs when coming to the Costa Rican Side of the Northern Route through Changuinola and Guabito. Just have them visit the Webpage below and we’ll be happy to attend their travel and coordinate their needs while visiting. It’s a great weekend relax escape in Puerto Viejo or Cahuita (within 1 hour of the Border Crossing). The beaches and people are wonderful and extremely environmentally-friendly educated.

    Thanks again, Don Ray, and keep bringing us more “off the beaten path” reports like this. They really help restore faith in the good side of humanity.

    Weather Expert
    Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

  20. Thanks Max. I will remember you if I enter Costa Rica via that route. I haven’t made it to Changuinola yet. Someday when I have more time.

  21. Just wanted to say thanks for the pictures and information about Rambala. My husband is heading there now with his Reserve Unit to work for a few weeks. It really helps to see and visualize where he will be and what he might be doing. Last time he was gone with his unit very far away was Iraq. So, this really seems MUCH better. Thanks, again for sharing and keeping others remembering that our Men and Women are trying to make a difference. Wife back in the States…

  22. Hi Jeri. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Thanks also to you and your husband for making a difference in others lives.

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