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Central America Caribbean » Panama » Panamá » Panama City August 17th 2019

I subscribe to the theory that says adventure can be found anywhere. I like the idea of choosing travel destinations by throwing darts at a map. I don't have darts, but a few months ago I saw the headline of a Trip Advisorarticle that listed Panama City as one of five underrated cities in Latin America. I didn't bother reading the article. I just bought a ticket, then called Jennifer in Texas and asked if she wanted to meet me there. "It won't involve mosquitos and camping in a jungle, will it?" she asked. "No," I lied. Going Native I found Anne on the Internet. A former Seattle zookeeper turned Hollywood animal trainer, she once wrangled jaguars for a film called End of the Spear, a true story about missionaries who tried to evangelize a remote ... read more
blowgun
Sloth
Curious


After an early breakfast we toured the ship’s galley and said goodbye to the friendly crew and staff, then disembarked the Discovery to be rejoined with Roberto our jovial bus driver on Isla Amador. He drove us around Isla Amador passing the Smithsonian Tropical Institution on Isla Culebra where they have been measuring water accumulation in the region. From there we found the much anticipated Biomuseum designed by architect Frank Gherry whose wife, we are told, is from Panama. I am sure she had a great deal of influence on the design and installation of this amazing museum. The roof, with its many colorful tiles scattered about like piles of brightly colored leaves, makes this building stand out with a statement of its own. But under the roof it gets even better. As you get closer ... read more
View of the volcano from the Biomuseo
Giant sloth
the Great Biotic Interchange


We left the Hotel Cubita at 9AM to visit Dario Lopez the renowned mask maker at his home on the northern edge of Chitre in the district of Parita, carnival mask headquarters. Mr Lopez demonstrated the creation of traditional Panamanian folkloric festival masks using clay, paper mache and forms that could be reused up to 30 times. He doesn’t use a base color but adds up to five colors as he creates his designs. A large mask can take about two to three days to build the form, letting it air dry and finally painting. Mr Lopez has been making these devil masks since the 1960s and now his family joins him in this tradition. Dario’s granddaughter Madeline (five years old) was very proud of her grandfather, taking photos and watching over him like a little ... read more
Dario Lopez, renowned mask maker
Horse-truck gas station stop... beer and gas for the truck, what's for the horse?
View of the Panama Canal from our hotel window


Monday, Jan 28 We are off to Panama! We enjoyed breakfast at The Cafe by Mise en Place at the TPA airport before hot footing it to MIA where we caught a plane to Panama City. It was a surprisingly chilly 54 degrees when we left Miami so when we landed in Panama we were happy to warm up. The Pope had just been to Panama and as we left the airport there were still large signs pronouncing: “Bienvenidos A Panama Peregrinos” or Welcome to Panama Pilgrims. Thousands of people had come as pilgrims to Panama City to see the pope and although he had left, there were still hundreds of worshipers lingering in churches and parks throughout the city. We took a cab from the airport to the Hotel Grand Central in Casco Viejo, Spanish ... read more
Hotel Grand Central
View of the Basilica Santa Maria la Antigua from our hotel
Santa Luisa, Patron of Houses at the Iglesia de la Merced


We began the day with a bus tour around the modern city of Panama. This new city has tall, thin buildings so designed to withstand the high winds and hurricanes that frequent this region. Panama has the largest tidal changes in world. On the Pacific side the tides run 16 - 18 feet high to as low as 2 feet during low tides within a 24 hour period. The highest point in Panama City reaches a nose-bleed record of 600 meters. We passed areas where fishermen used to work and live. Now these areas are overtaken by high rises and great wealth. These poor people have nowhere to go and wish to maintain their homes but are finding they can’t afford to stay. Sadly a common occurrence around the world. The bus stopped along the route ... read more
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion, a UNESCO protected site
The Virgin Mary
Four story Cathedral Tower


Before leaving Panama City we visited the small neighborhood of El Chorrillo where Noriega was once powerful. Our local guide Victor gave us a personal tour of the El Chorrillo district and painfully told the sordid history of these times. For years Manuel Noriega, Panama’s corrupt and brutal dictator, had been an ally of the US. The US did not trust the Panamanians and yet they used Noriega as a CIA asset and a key player in the shadowy network of anti-communists, tyrants and drug runners. The controversy was that the people of Panama were afraid of Noriega and fearful of him and his people. In fact Noriega killed those who tried to overthrow him. “It began with Bush”, Victor said, “who paid Noriega as a contact working with the CIA, despite his being a drug ... read more
Restoration for El Chorrillo
Struggling neighborhood of El Chorrillo
Murals located around El Chorrillo reflect frustration and anger


Day 2--first full day here--After watching a cruise ship, the Coral Princess, float by, started with breakfast at the hotel and an orientation meeting where we met our guides, updated the schedule, and learned the ground rules. Basically, no one in Panama pays attention to time but we are to be on time for the buses. This morning we went to Panama la Vieja, the original part of panama city, the section destroyed by Morgan when he sacked the city (more later). First, a trip through the Panama , Canal Museum, then a short time to wander, then a walking tour of the old city and some plazas, ending at the French Plaza and a bus trip to lunch. We were divided into 3 groups today because the old city cannot accomodate a big bus. Notes ... read more
Light House
Altar de Oro
French Embassy facing French Plaza


Spent last night at the Dulles Marriott so we didn't have to try and get to Dulles at 8 am on a Monday--worked very nicely. The shuttle had us there in no time, we checked our bag and got our boarding passes (scored TSA pre-check!!) and made our way, via the new underground trains, to the gate and the plane. The plane was not packed to the gills and we ended up being the only two in our three-person half-row. Flew Copa Airlines and it was very pleasant--good food, nice stewards, videos in the seats, etc. Stepped off the plane into the walk way and felt the 91 degrees, got our luggage and found the transport to the hotel--was a 40 minute drive so we were even more glad we arrived in time to take advantage ... read more
Panama City skyline
Front of Hotel
Hotel Hall


So, for those not in the loop--We're going on a Road Scholar trip to the Panama Canal March 25-30 (https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/9901/grit-and-glory-exposing-the-panama-canal) for details. Mike's got a camera and Panama Bird book; we've decided on clothes, etc. to take--Susan still needs to get a hat. Think we'll make it with one suitcase (it is only 5 days, after all!). We leave March 24, spending the night before at Dulles. Good news--our flights are close enough to the Road Scholar-provided ones that we'll be able to ride to and from the airport and hotels in Panama City with the group and won't have to arrange our own transport. The dollar is the reigning currency in Panama and we've tested our ATM cards to be sure they work and we know the PIN! Still need to call them and warn ... read more

Central America Caribbean » Panama » Panamá » Panama City December 2nd 2018

Friday morning we awoke early to find we were alreaady entering the Panama Canal. On Deck 3 forward they were serving coffee and a crowd had gathered to watch as we approached the first set of locks. These are the Gatun Locks and there was a cruise ship ahead of us. We watched as the Norwegian Jade gradually rose in front of us. It was a slow process so after coffee I retreated back to the cabin to watch from our balcony.I was not feeling the best and once we were through the first set of locks and into the large lake I went back to bed while Fletcher headed upstairs for some breakfast. I could still see the passing scenery through our floor to ceiling windows.Traversing the canal takes all day so we discovred back ... read more
One of the tugboats
The Norwegian Jade in the first lock
View of the lock and the "mules"




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