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Central America Caribbean » Panama » Panamá » Panama City October 8th 2019

The gateway into Panama is through Panama City and also conveniently located right next to the canal. Panama has always been close to the top of my bucket list and I just needed someone to tilt me in that southerly direction. So, I met a gal, Danielle, who told me she and her young family lived there on an island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. I have always wanted to check out the Panama Canal. I know several folks who have sailed through the canal on a cruise and heard them preach about the beauty and engineering that went into its creation. But, I don't do cruises, except for the Alaska one I did a few years ago and that would be the last one. So, I told Danielle she might see the whites of ... read more
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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 Advisor article 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 ... read more
blowgun
Sloth
Curious


After a hearty breakfast aboard the Discovery, we all boarded small dinghies and headed to the nearby shore, docking at the Gatun Yacht Club. From there we got on a small van that drove us drove OVER the narrow lock (this road access is soon to be removed) to the Agua Clara Locks, the location of the new rolling gates on the Atlantic side. The Only other way to get to Agua Clara is via ferry or draw bridge. This over-lock opportunity will end soon but it was a great opportunity for us to get a perfect view of the operations along this very narrow access “road”. On January 19, 2015 eight mammoth gates, ranging in height from seven to nine stories were installed in the three concrete locking chambers. The locks were scheduled to open ... read more
The Third Set of Locks accomodates enormous ships
Explanation of the Rolling Gates Operation
Panama Hat Palm on the Tropical Trail


I was up by 6AM and was out and on a mission. I found Lake Gatun to be balmy, breezy and quiet except for the hum of the catamaran’s engine. No one was around. But I missed the southern cross. I later learned it is usually seen around 4AM. And sadly I couldn’t record the howler monkey’s morning calls, but the sunrise was spectacular. And the coffee and breakfast helped to ease the pain of my missed adventures. We cast off early in this sunny morning for our voyage on the open waters of Lake Gatun (and the Chagres River) crossing the division between the provinces of Colon and Panama, several times in fact. The Chagres River, marks the division between Panama and Colon provinces. It is the only river that flows into both oceans. We ... read more
Pilot Change in Gamboa
Gamboa is a busy place this morning
Gaillard Cut bisects the Continental Divide


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


This morning, our bus left the Holiday Inn in Clayton, and headed towards the Atlantic Ocean on Corridor Norte. While Roberto navigated our bus, Abdiel discussed Panama’s position on land preservation and environmental protection. He said that 42% of the land in Panama is protected by the government for green space allowing for water mitigation and natural flow to the canal. A portion of the same 42% of land is also used for parks where some of the protesting squatters live. He also informed us that Stanley Motta, who some may know from his calypso record label in Kingston, Jamaica, owns the Panamanian airline COPA (that some of us will use flying to Colombia). COPA makes up 14% of Panama’s GDP. Motta has become an extremely wealthy man and is very influential in Panamanian elections. Abdiel ... read more
Atlantic Bridge from the ferry
Toro Point Lighthouse in Shelter Bay
Howler monkey in San Lorenzo National Park


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


After an equally delicious breakfast at the Holiday Inn’s Ship View Cafe, we left Clayton for the Chagres River (the native name for crocodile) to see the Embera Indians. Along the way we passed the US Embassy and some very expensive homes. A school for wealthy Chinese residents was very impressive. Abdiel said the Chinese run most of the convenience stores in Panama and have made quite a bit of money. The Chinese were smart opening their shops during traditional siestas when other stores were closed. Chinese men were brought to Panama to work on the railroad for the canal. After the canal was built some went to California to work on the railroads, but others stayed in Panama to open their now thriving businesses. As we were leaving the city, Abdiel pointed out the egg ... read more
Map of Chagres National Park
Aguinaldo, our handsome "bow poke man"
Aguidaldo navigates the Chagres River


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




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