Last week I was in Panama for a YWAM America’s leaders conference in a fancy hotel by the Chagres river and a hop, skip and a jump away from the Panama Canal.
My first time in Central America and in a such a resort…what an experience! Sadly we didn’t have an all-inclusive package with alcoholic beverages during the time of the conference, so my dreams of drinking pina coladas by the pool were somewhat short-lived :p Not to say that that was my sole intent because there were certainly other activities to peak my interest!
We got up at 2 AM to drive to the airport for a 6 AM flight through to Miami. Even as we came off the plane in Miami you could feel the heat and humidity, which only increased in Panama City. There was a shuttle waiting for us when we arrived, which took us through the city to the hotel where the conference would be. When I looked out the plane window and saw all the skyscrapers that were right next to the water my first thought was they must not have many earthquakes here. Which is pretty true. It’s partly why they chose this area to build the canal. And they have some pretty funky architecture in the city. I was most impressed by the building that has floors which spiral around, each one slightly offset from the others and all in glass.
Sunday I had the chance to visit the old city with its markets, townsquares, and churches. Some buildings were well maintained or renovated and others in need of some love. In contrast with many of the stone churches I’ve seen in Québec or in Europe, the church we went inside seemed to be all made of wood, even with wooden pillars.
We visited the Panama Canal Museum - briefly, since we didn’t pay extra for the English audio explanation and all the exhibit was in Spanish – and we tasted some typical Panamanian food, i.e. chicken and rice with lentils. My Colombian friends laughed when I showed them the picture I took (see below); even if it’s not that exotic I still wanted to have a memory of the experience :P
Back at the resort the sloths and toucans remained elusive the whole week. At one point I heard a toucan in the trees, but the foliage is so dense I couldn’t see very much. However, I did visit the exhibits and partake in a night tour. Which meant seeing some snakes, some iguanas, some capybaras, different kinds of birds including pelicans, turtles, many butterflies, caimans and an alligator in the water. At one point we saw the caiman near some ducks and capybaras at the waters edge, but we didn’t get the chance to witness a live hunting scene. Alas!
There are 16000 specifies of butterflies in Panama. My favourite were the blue ones ( a very scientific name I know :P), and I spent some time trying to take a picture of one with their wings open. And the leaf-cutting ants impressed us…they travelled back and forth from the trees – and way up high in the branches – to their nest so often and in such a large volume that there’s even a worn-down path. Never noticed that in Canada.