Category : Lifestyle
Panama: a Land of Discovery
I have awesome memories of our trip to Panama, which is squeezed between Columbia to the South and Costa Rica to the North. Geographically, it is relatively small – you can drive from one shoreline to the other in a day, It is also a country filled with a beautiful diversity (rainforest diversity and cultural diversity). It boasts a pristine rainforest, a strong cultural history, and a thriving modern economy. It has one foot in the past and the other in the future. I hope that you will enjoy this exposé of Panama.
Panama City History
Panama City is the capital of Panama and its largest city. It was founded in 1519 by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dévile. This city was the strategic point for launching exploration and conquest expeditions in Peru, primarily in search of gold and silver. Panama was also the transition site for loading ships with gold and silver and bringing them back to Spain.
Old Panama (Panama la Vieja) contains the ruins of the original city of Panama, which was destroyed by fire in 1671. The city of Panama was rebuilt in 1673 about five miles from the original city.
Panama City Today
Panama City is located between the Pacific Ocean and the tropical rainforest in the northern part of the country. It is a city of cultural diversity. Panama City boasts an ultramodern city center complete with skyscrapers and modern architectural design. The Skyscrapers produce an impressive skyline around the bay. To get across the canal, there are two bridges, the newest being the Centennial Bridge. It gives you a bird’s eye of the Canal. But a bridge is a bridge, so it is better to find a lookout point such as the Miraflores visitor center
Panama’s Old Quarter boasts diverse architectural styles including Spanish Colonial, French and Antillean influences.
The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Its length from one shoreline to the other is about 40 miles.
Construction of the Canal was completed in August 1914. It was controlled solely by the United States from 1914 to 1979 and in December 1999, Panama gained complete control over the Canal.
Negotiating the Canal can take about 25 hours, including the wait time. Once a vessel has been authorized to pass, it can take about 10 hours to go from one end to the other.
Panama Canal is one of the very rare examples of synergy between a vast engineering project and rainforest preservation. The rainforest has been kept in pristine condition and it provides the water and hydroelectricity needed for the Canal’s operations via the Chagres River.
The Embera People & the Rainforest
The Embera tribes are the indigenous people of Columbia and Panama. They originally lived a semi-nomadic life in Darien province (South-Eastern part of Panama) However, due to the increasing dangers of Columbian guerillas and drug traffickers, they moved north to the Chagres river region of Panama. The Rio Chagres is one of the most vital rivers in Panama. It feeds into Lake Alajuela, which provides 45% of all the water required by the canal.
A National Park
In 1985 this region was turned into a national park in order to protect the Embera people and their customs as well as protect the rainforest and the flow of water into the canal.
This new development meant that the Embera had to change their semi-nomadic activities such as hunting and raising large domestic animals due to new land restrictions. Their main source of food and survival was restricted so they had to turn to other ways to help the economy of their villages.
They have recently adopted or embraced cultural tourism as a way to provide for their needs. This means that they invite visitors (tourists) to visit them in their communities to share their way of life.
Traditionally, the Embera wear very little in the way of clothing and will only really “cover-up” (tops for the women and short skirts for the men over their loin cloth) when they are expecting visitors. They wear traditional body paint which serves as both an insect repellant and an antibiotic.
Meeting the Embera Locals
On our visit to one of these villages in the Gamboa Rainforest, we were picked up and escorted in a dugout canoe to the village.
The village people greeted us warmly and then the men of the village took us on a tour through the rainforest. They showed us the plants and trees and educated us about their medicinal uses. We learned about the techniques for hunting such as using the poison of the dart frog on their arrows. We saw and learned about leaf-carrying ants as well.
Following this tour into the rainforest, we were welcomed back to the village with a traditional meal of plantain and fish presented on banana leaves and prepared by the women of the village. We were then shown and invited to participate in traditional. dance.
I highly recommend Panama as a destination to discover a warm, friendly culture, an introduction to the biodiversity of the rainforest and beautiful landscapes. And to see the engineering feat of the famous Panama canal is worth it. I encourage you to discover all the beauty Panama has to offer.
Have a great day!
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