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Published: October 11th 2006
"Buenas" (The most common greeting around here)
Panama wasn't on my list of intended destinations, but here I am, as I wouldn't let the opportunity to merge with another culture go by.
The trip down to the Central American country between Colombia and Costa Rica was my first since the ban on liquids in carry-on luggage, thus we checked our bags. Well, we made it to Panama City on time, but not our belongins, which arrived 26 hours later. Needless to say, wearing the same clothing for 2 days wasn't very refreshing, to say the least, particularly when the heat and humidity have been so high we feel like melting popsicles under the tropical sun.
We started our first day with a pleasant hike on the "Parque Natural Metropolitano", the only protected tropical forest within an urban area in the Amricas. The forest is known as the "lungs of Panama City".
From there we headed to the Panama Canal, witch connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The USA bought the rights to built it for 40 million dollars, almost 100 years ago. In 1979 president Carter passed it back to the Panamean people. It is a great
source of income for Panama, generating almost 500 millions/year, with the transit of 14,000 ships. It costs an average Panamax ship $100,000 to cross the canal, taking ~15 hours for the journey. It would take 2 weeks for the same ships to go around the bottom tip of South America, and it would cost 10 times more.
It was actually very interesting to see the container ships being lifted 85 feet and gliding through massive locks, tightly fitting, with literally only inches to spare on either side of the walls.
The population is about to vote "si"or "no" on the proposition to build an extra set of wider and deeper locks. There is plenty of campaining going around, and lots of controversy about the fate of the $5 billion for the construction, as most expect political corruption to follow for certain.
On our second day we travelled for 2 hours to "El Valle", a picturesque, eco-friendly, lush town on what was a crater of an ancient vulcano. The fresh and cooler mountain air was very much welcomed, as I was getting sick of breathing polluted city air and of stinking like if I had put on an
El Valle Indian
Selling colorful handcraft
"exhaust pipe" fragance on!! Yes, my hair and clothing smelled that bad!!!
Back about the "El Valle", it is the home of the endangered, and very poisonous, golden frog. The little creature actually looks cute!!! We also got to see the market, where the indigenous people come to sell plants, vegetables and handicrafts. We tried some new food, the "pifa", the little fruit called "nance", which tasted pretty bad, and the delicious "patalones", a special type of banana which is cut, smashed thin, fried and salted.
That's all for today.
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