From what we get, we make a living.
From what we give, we make a life. – Winston Churchill
Sign in front of a surf shop in Bocas Del Toro, Panama.
Panamá City has many attractions. Of course, you know about the Panamá Canal. But there is more:
Although you will see many modern business people in suits and high heels, you will also see indigenous peoples in Panamá City.
When the Spanish arrived in 1501, several dozen native tribes inhabited Panamá. Now only seven groups remain. But the indigenous culture is much more vibrant and present in Panamá than in neighboring countries such as Costa Rica although an inordinately high percentage of that population lives in poverty. According to Lonely Planet Panama, “In the comarcas (autonomous regions), illiteracy runs between 10 and 30 percent. Access to health care and education are serious issues” (p. 260-261).
However, the Guna (until 2011 spelled “Kuna”) have probably the most sovereignty of any indigenous group in Latin America. The Guna woman above has a mola blouse, which is made of brightly colored squares of cotton fabric laid atop one another; cuts made through the layers form basic designs that are held together with tiny, evenly spaced stitches (LP 269). Her colorful fabric skirt, legs wrapped from ankle to knee in long strands of tiny beads – forming colorful geometric patterns – a printed headscarf, and many bracelets too all note that she is a Guna.
You’ll also see many beautiful churches in Panamá City. The Iglesia de San José holds the famous Altar de Oro, the sole relic salvaged after the pirate Captain Henry Morgan sacked Panamá City in 1671.
The Iglesia de la Merced – a small Casco Viejo church has a circa 1680 baroque facade – one of the oldest Panamá City structures:
For better photos, see: http://havecamerawilltravel.com/iglesia-merced-panama-city/
You’ll see that Panamá City streets are great to walk.
You’ll find happening places in Panamá City. Here at the Veneto Hotel – a pool and nightlife.
Meeting people is always interesting wherever you are.
Nightlife at Casco Viejo:
Visit Panamá City for the people, the museums, the history, the beautiful walking streets, and the nightlife.
Amor y Luz, Renée
Malls are much the same wherever you go. In fact, for most malls, it’s not easy to tell if you are in St. Louis or Dublin since many of the stores and much of the retail is the same. An exception is China with its modern, high-rise, high-end malls filled with Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, action-packed movies at $20.00 a ticket, and fine dining on the upper floors. Panamá City too has a mall that seems exceptional to me. It is big – in fact, the largest mall in Latin America – the Albrook Mall!
Besides being a retail center, the Albrook Mall is the terminus for the Panamá City Metro and the Central Bus Terminal of Panamá – the long-distance and city public bus terminals.
Albrook Mall has over 350 stores, more than 100 restaurants divided into three food courts; the mall is so big that we found only two. The food courts include all the big names such as the McDonalds, Dunking Donuts, Subway, and Quiznos plus local chains and independent restaurants: Fitness Foods, Ni Hao Chinese restaurant, and salad bars. Also you’ll find a movie theater, a bowling alley, a supermarket, casinos, and more – almost anything you could possible want or need is there at Albrook Mall.
The mall is opened every day from 10am to 8pm; the restaurants in the food courts close at 9pm. We found nothing open at 4am when we arrived by our long-distance bus from Boquete. But we caught the first Metro train of the day to the Veneto, our hotel, where they let us check-in early – and we were there in time for its great breakfast that starts at 6:30am. So even if you end up at Albrook Mall when it is not open, transportation to where you want to go is readily available.
We were at the Albrook Mall several times: we got our sim cards, drank fruit smoothies, ate tasty snacks, caught long-distance buses and the Metro, and watched people – all at Albrook Mall.
Be sure to check out the Albrook Mall when you are in Panamá City.
Aloha, Amor y Luz, Renée
Of course, Barry and I needed to see the Panamá Canal – that engineering and commercial feat that cost the lives of many but today allows commerce to flow between the Atlantic and Pacific. Most of the workers came from Barbados – but also from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad, and Jamaica.
The Spanish, Italians, Greeks, Hindus, Americans, Armenians, Cubans, Costa Ricans, Columbians, and Panamanians came too. On March 30, 1854, the Sea Witch clipper arrived with 705 Chinese to work on the transoceanic railroad project, which was crucial for the construction of the canal.
According to the Miraflores Locks Museum, the labor force peaked in 1884 with 19,243 workers. “They managed to understand each other, started families, made fortunes, and exhausted the country,” says the museum. However, thousands of those who came to work died – mainly of yellow fever or malaria.
On October 10, 1913, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson gave the signal via telegraph to blow up the Gamboa Dike – to join the waters of Gatun Lake and the Culebra Cut, thus creating the Panamá Canal.
In 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian leader General Omar Torrijos signed Torrijos-Carter Treaties that started the process of handing over the canal to the Panamanians by 2000. The U.S. military bases remained and the transfer was to assure that the canal would be kept open for U.S. shipping.
“The US had long-standing relations with General Noriega, who served as a US intelligence asset and paid Central Intelligence Agency informant from 1967, including the period when Bush was head of the CIA (1976–77).”
However, according to a Mother Jones article, “As George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas Pickering said about Operation Just Cause: ‘Having used force in Panama… there was a propensity in Washington to think that force could provide a result more rapidly, more effectively, more surgically than diplomacy.’ The easy capture of Noriega meant ‘the notion that the international community had to be engaged… was ignored.’
‘Iraq in 2003 was all of that shortsightedness in spades,’ Pickering said. ‘We were going to do it all ourselves.’ And we did.
The road to Baghdad, in other words, ran through Panama City. It was George H.W. Bush’s invasion of that small, poor country 25 years ago that inaugurated the age of preemptive unilateralism, using ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ as both justifications for war and a branding opportunity. Later, after 9/11, when George W. insisted that the ideal of national sovereignty was a thing of the past, when he said nothing—certainly not the opinion of the international community—could stand in the way of the ‘great mission’ of the United States to ‘extend the benefits of freedom across the globe,’ all he was doing was throwing more fuel on the ‘wildfire’ sparked by his father. A wildfire some in Panama likened to a “little Hiroshima” [because of the destruction of at least 4,000 residences, and according to human-rights organizations, the deaths of thousands of Panamanian civilians].
From: “How Our 1989 Invasion of Panama Explains The Current U.S. Foreign Policy Mess” -The road to Baghdad started in Panama City, 25 years ago, by Greg Grandin http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/12/our-forgotten-invasion-panama-key-understanding-us-foreign-policy-today
Today, the Panamanians Barry and I talked to have mixed opinions about the removal of Noriega. Major roads are good throughout the country; Panamá City has a terrific metro system, new high rises, construction is everywhere, and many American and European ex-pats are moving to Panamá.
Right now, construction is underway to double the capacity of the Panamá Canal to accommodate even larger vessels. The “Third Set of Locks Project” will create a new lane of traffic with about one and a half times the current maximum width and length – known as Panamax – that carry over twice as much cargo.
I hope you too will be able to see the Panamá Canal.
We went to the Caribbean – to Bocas del Toro on Isla Colón to be exact. One of the best parts of the trip from Boquete to Bocas was the water taxi from Almirante; we practically flew over the emerald water. Bocas is known for its laid back atmosphere and water adventures.
Image from: <http://geology.com/world/panama-map.gif>.
You can see some of the highlights.
Aloha & Amor y Luz, Renée
Boquete is known as the Napa Valley of Panamá’s coffee region and is a top destination for adventure lovers – climb the volcano to watch sunrise, go white-water rafting, hike, bird-watch, rock climb, and enjoy coffee tours.
In the highlands of Chiriqui Provence in western Panamá, Boquete is where Barry and I spent much of our time in January. With a population of 19,000, Boquete has about 14% North American and European retirees. That fact is probably why we met people who had time to talk. Also a result of all the ex-pats is the number of Boquete interest groups: hiking groups – at least two, a bird-watching group, bridge players, and bocce ball players; these are just the ones we discovered in the 10 days or so that we were in Boquete.
The Ngäbe-Buglé (actually two groups of indigenous peoples whose languages are mutually unintelligible) have exclusive land rights and considerable administrative autonomy in their region. The Ngäbe (also spelled Ngöbe), the larger group, speaks Ngäbere, and the Buglé speaks Buglére, both members of the Chibchan language family. Collectively, they make up the largest indigenous population in Panamá of about 200,000.
According to Lonely Planet: Panamá, “Like other indigenous groups in Panama, the Ngäbe-Buglé are struggling to maintain their cultural identity, especially as foreign pressures continue to descent on the comarca (autonomous region). They predominately survive on subsistence agriculture, but they have been more successful than other groups . . . in maintaining their cultural identity and resisting the drive to modernize” (166). From what I saw, this means they are very poor and not well respected. 😦 But some Panamanians realize the importance of having traditional cultures, so hopefully the Ngäbe-Buglé opportunities will improve. Walking eight hours to pick coffee is not a good opportunity!
Our favorite places to eat in Boquete (in alphabetical order) include: Big Daddy’s, La Casona Mexicana, Mike’s International Grill, Retrograde, and Sugar & Spice. All had fresh produce, vegetarian choices for me, and wonderful cooks.
We loved the cool weather, the fair, the friendly people – local, ex-pat, and at our hostel, the travelers and Mamallena staff, the yoga and Pilates classes, the great hikes, the organized Take-a-Hike group, and good food.
We would visit again. We recommend that you go to Boquete too.
Aloha and Adios, Renée
One of the reasons to spend time in Boquete, Panamá is for the wonderful hiking. If you walk on almost any road that intersects with the main street, up you go and soon have great views of the town, coffee plantations, and green mountains.
One path we took is about an hour walk from the center of town – up a steep hill to the Lonely Planet Panama recommended site: El Explorador – “The gardens are designed to look like something out of Alice in Wonderland, with no shortage of quirky eye-catching displays, including fanciful suspension bridges, koi ponds and playful sculptures” (165).
It’s $5.00 each for foreigners to enter this private garden. At first, I thought “ridículo!” – but the place grew on me. The figures and garden decorations often included sayings – many of them inspiring.
Here are some of my favorite:
As you can see, my translations aren’t quite right. Let me know your better versions.
When you are in Boquete, spend an afternoon climbing to El Explorador and enjoying the quirky, peaceful spot. Vaya con Dios, Renée