After the unceremoniously departure of the president of Panama, Manuel Noriega in December of 1989, In February of 1990 I deployed to Panama with a cadre of 120 air force civil engineering members for 90 days to rebuild a school in Nombre de Dios, and to rebuild or repair a road and bridge from Nombre de Dios to Portobelo, that 11 mile stretch of road was some challenge, and was not for the faint of heart. We arrived in Panama at Howard Air-force base near Balboa on the Pacific ocean, about 49 miles cross-country from where we would be working. We went over land by truck to Colon, then on to Nombre de Dios on the Caribbean, and what an adventure and drive it was. Our forward base just outside of Nombre de Dios, I should say, rear base, because this camp was a tent city in a barbed wired contained clear patch of land that was cleared out of the jungle of Panama just for us. Our support base was Fort Williams Davis, a U.S army base near Gatun about 36 miles away. Now because of the expected dissension and chaos over the departure of President Manuel Noriega it was to the work site and back to the camp, and for the most part, the entire 90 day deployment. Because of our location, we were told, and warned that under no circumstance to venture off the road into the bush, and be extremely aware of the bushmaster and the fer-de-lance, both of which are extremely venomous snakes. While working on the road we would often hear what appeared to be people walking in the bush, and one of our Panamanian host would say, bushmaster, or fer-de-lance, and I took their word for it, because I am afraid of three snakes, a live one, a dead one, and a play one, and I was not about to challenge anyone, try to prove anyone wrong or right, test a stick to see if it would move, or go snake hunting. Because a shovel did not fit too well in my hands, or I had problems operating the shovel, I sort of got out of that shoveling detail, then I was assigned the task of driving the one-wheel dump truck, better known as a wheel barrow. Those in charge soon learned that I did not have a license to operate the truck and did not have an aptitude to learn, nor was I eager to operate heavy earth moving equipment, because I was good with directions and had quickly developed good rapport with the locals, I was assigned to make supply runs with several Panamanians, that were attached to the camp which was a good choice, because I looked like most of the locals which made it easy for me t go into the towns and vilages to pick up supplies. On our supply runs, more times than none we would get lost for a few hours driving along and around the Panama Canal, some times we would make the 32 mile drive to Colon, and just hang out, but with caution. We made several side trips to ‘Comarca de Kuna Yala’ which is made up of the San Blas islands the home of the Kunas Indians. We even made several runs back to Howard AFB, which were over night runs, and we would spend the night in Panama City. These unauthorized or unofficial runs gave me a chance to see a lot of Panama, and what most of those who deployed with me did not. So, in spite of the snakes, the primitive living conditions in the base camp, and the restrictions, I found Panama to be an awesome place of rare and exceptional beauty, steeped in history that goes back to the pirates or buccaneers, and to the Spanish conquistadors, and I just loved digging up the ancient or recent history of Panama, especially the history of the Afro Panamanians, who were run away slaves who married into the Kunas and settled in and around Nombre de Dios, and their descendants still live in and around Nombre de Dios. I also found the major cities to be ever bit as metropolitan as any large American or European city, Lastly I really fell in love with the food and people, I had no choice because everywhere I went the locals would offer me food and drink. The welcome mat stayed out for me because there was a feeling of kinship. If Panama is on your bucket list of places to visit, I will strongly encourage you to check it off. I can not tell you about the entire region or country of Panama, but I will give a brief overview of Panama that I extracted from various travel journals and brochures of the region or area that I was in and called home for 90 days, especially the big ditch called the Panama Canal, all in all Panama is much more than what is in the overview or review, I also have a post on Cruising The Panama Canal.
Howard Air Force Base was closed on 1 November 1999 as a result of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. Howard AFB was located 6 miles southwest of Balboa, at the southern pacific end of the Panama Canal. Most of the area around it was uninhabited part of the Panama Canal Zone watershed, through Panama City could be reached by crossing the nearby Bridge of The Americas.
Fort Williams Davis was transferred to the Republic of Panama on September 1995, it was located on Gatun Lake near the Gatun locks on the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal. It was first referred to as “Camp Gatun” and was stablished in 1919 as a military reservation for the defense of the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. The fort was home for the 14th Infantry. During several decades, it provided the army with a training area for jungle warfare courses and special forces training. It had 4,075 acres and the entire complex included 427 buildings by 1995
Panama: a country in Central America is known as the “Crossroads of the Americas” due to its privileged position between North and South America, with coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, with Colombia and South America to the southeast and Costa Rica and North America to the northwest. It’s strategically located on the isthmus that forms the land bridge connecting North and South America. It controls the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea with the North Pacific Ocean, one of the most important shipping routes in the world. The ease of travel and wide array of experiences make Panama one of the most attractive emerging tourism destinations in the world. In just one week, visitors can enjoy two different oceans, experience the mountains and rainforest, learn about native cultures and take advantage of vibrant urban life. The capital, Panama City, is a modern, sophisticated metropolis that resembles Miami and has established commerce, arts, fashion and dining.
The Panama Canal: (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is a 48-mile ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake 85 feet above sea-level. Gatun Lake was created to reduce the amount of work required for the canal. The current locks are 110 feet wide. A third, wider lane of locks is being built; however. Today, traversing the 40-mile Panama Canal is a rite of passage and something you’ll remember for a lifetime. Add in compelling ports like Cartagena, Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas on your Panama Canal vacation, and you’re in for a unique adventure. According to the Panama Canal Authority, it takes from 8-10 hours for a port-to-port transit, depending on the size of the vessel, but it can take longer, depending on the traffic.
Ethhinc Groups: Kuna or Cuna is the name of an indigenous people of Panama and Colombia believed to be descendants of the Caribs. The spelling Kuna is currently preferred. In the Kuna language, they call themselves Dule or Tule, meaning “people”, and the name of the language in Kuna is Dulegaya, meaning “Kuna language” (literally “people-mouth”).The Kuna live in three politically regional autonomous comarcas or reservations in Panama, and in a few small villages in Colombia. There are also communities of Kuna people in Panama City, Colón, and other cities. Most of the Kunas live on small islands off the coast of the comarca of Kuna Yala known as the San Blas Islands. The other two Kuna comarcas in Panama are Kuna de Madugandí and Kuna de Wargandí. Kuna is spoken by more than 50,000 people in southeastern Panama and northwestern Colombia. Photographing children is not much of a problem; however photographing women is more of a touchy business, many cover their faces, or if not, pose and then immediately ask for a small fee, usually $1.00 U.S. If there is good rapport they will without hesitation pose for photographs, and entertain you at their homes or villages on San Blas Islands, Panama which is just across the bay from Nombre de Dios. The main form of transportation for the Kuna is a dugout canoe, the men, women, and children are expert handlers and sailors. Other ethnic groups of Panama include the Afro Panamanians, Cimarrones, or Afro Colonials, and the Afro Antillanos, or those from various Islands of the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad.
Nombre de Dios: (Spanish,”Name of God”) is a city on the Atlantic coast of Panama in the Colón Province. Founded as a Spanish colony in 1510 by Diego de Nicuesa, it was one of the first European settlements on the Isthmus of Panama. It is the oldest continually populated town in Panama and the America mainland. Originally a major port of call for the Spanish treasure fleet, Nombre de Dios was the most significant port for shipping in all of the Americas between 1540 and 1580. During the Spanish colonial period, the Colon region of Panama was the center of trade, commerce, and overall economy for the Spanish. They imported many black African slaves to this area to work in Panama and to ship to other Spaniard colonies. Most if not all of the slaves escaped from their Spanish masters and became known as the Cimarrons or Cimarrones. In Panama, the enslaved Africans who had escaped their Spanish masters lived together as outlaws and in order to stay alive they wisely sought out the natives, Kunas Indians for survival tips whom they also intermarried with. Their main settlement appears to have been at Vallano near Nombre de Dios with 3000 or more Cimarrons. After the opening of Potosí Bolivia, in 1546, Peruvian silver was shipped north from Bolivia to Panama City and carried by mule train across the isthmus to Nombre de Dios for shipment to Havana, Cuba and Spain. As Nombre de Dios was situated near an unhealthy swamp and was nearly impossible to fortify, it declined in importance. In June 1572 the English privateer Francis Drake with the assistance or aid of the Cimarrons sacked the colony and in April of the following year Drake and the Cimarrons ambushed the Spanish Silver Train, a mule convoy carrying a fortune in precious metals. Drake captured the town again in 1595 but found little treasure, thereby missing 5 million pesos waiting of the Pacific side. After these incidents the Spanish preferred to use Portobelo as a Caribbean port. Today as in the past most of the black population in Panama is centered in the Province of Colon, primarily in the towns of Portobelo and Nombre de Dios. Even today Afro-Panamanians are 15% of the population and it is estimated that 50% of Panamanians have African ancestry.
Portobelo: is a port city in Colón Province, Panama. It is located on the northern part of the Isthmus of Panama and has a deep natural harbor. Today, Portobelo is a sleepy city with a population of fewer than 3,000. In 1980 the ruins of the Spanish colonial fortifications, along with nearby Fort San Lorenzo, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Portobelo was founded in 1597 by Spanish explorer Francisco Velarde y Mercado and quickly replaced Nombre de Dios as a Caribbean port for Peruvian silver. Legend has it that Christopher Columbus originally named the port “Puerto Bello”, meaning “Beautiful Port”, in 1502. It is also said that after Francis Drake died of dysentery in 1596 at sea, he was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo Bay. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, it was an important silver-exporting port in New Granada, or Colombia on the Spanish Main, the Caribbean region and one of the ports on the route of the Spanish treasure fleets. The Spanish built defensive fortifications. The privateer William Parker attacked and captured the city in 1601 and Captain Henry Morgan repeated the feat in 1668. He led a fleet of privateers and 450 men against Portobelo, which, in spite of its good fortifications, he captured Portobelo. His forces plundered it for 14 days, stripping nearly all its wealth while raping, torturing and killing the inhabitants. Portobelo can be reached by car from Panama City through the Transisthmic Highway in approximately one hour and 30 minutes.
Gatun: (Spanish: Gatún) is a small town on the Atlantic Side of the Panama Canal, located south of the city of Colón at the point in which Gatun Lake meets the channel to the Caribbean Sea. The town is best known as the site of the Panama Canal Gatun Locks and Gatun Dam, was built by the United States between 1906-1914.Today, most of Gatún is a virtual ghost town, administered and maintained by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). The eastern part of town, formerly called “New Town,” has been demolished to make way for the Panama Canal Expansion Project’s expanded third locks channel. Many cruise passengers and tourists visit or pass by the Gatun Locks but do not venture into town to appreciate its remaining Canal Zone style architecture.
Colon Port of Call: The Panama Canal is poised as the next big cruise embarkation port, Colon, at the north Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, is a sprawling industrial city within close proximity to beautiful jungle landscape and the wonders of the Canal. Of course, the most popular sites from Colon are the nearby Panama Canal itself including the impressive raising and lowering of ships in the Gatun Locks, including one’s own, and the immense man-made Gatun Lake. Colon is attractive to cruise ships in part because of the new Colon 2000 cruise terminal allowing berths for several large ships and more than 2,500 passengers at once. The terminal offers a variety of shops but is a bit removed from the centre of downtown Colon. Some cruise ships dock at Cristobal Pier which has its own shopping terminal.
Panama City: (Spanish: Ciudad de Panamá) is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Panama. It has a population of 880,691, with a total metro population of 1,272,672, and it is located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, in the province of Panama. On a 2012 poll, it was reported that Panama City was the city with the happiest people in the world. The city is the political and administrative center of the country as well as a hub for international banking and commerce. Panama City was founded on August 15, 1519, by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila. The city was the starting point for expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. It was a stopover point on one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent leading to the fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo, where most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Americas passed through. On January 28, 1671, the city was destroyed by a fire when pirate Henry Morgan sacked and set fire to it. The city was formally reestablished two years later on January 21, 1673, in a peninsula located 4 miles from the original settlement. The site of the previously devastated city is still in ruins and is now a popular tourist attraction known as Panama Viejo. The city has numerous tourist attractions. Particularly interesting for tourists are sites located in the old quarter,
•Las Bóvedas (“The Vaults”), a waterfront promenade jutting out into the Pacific;
•The National Institute of Culture Building and the French embassy across from it;
•The Cathedral at Plaza de la Catedral;
•Teatro Nacional, an intimate performance center with outstanding natural acoustics and seating for about 800 guests;
•Museo del Canal Interoceánico (Interoceanic Canal Museum); and
•Palacio de las Garzas (Heron’s Palace), the official name of the presidential palace, named for the numerous herons that inhabit the building.The area immediately east of the Pacific entrance of the canal—known as the Amador Causeway—is being developed as a tourist center and nightlife destination. Undoubtedly the most cosmopolitan capital in Central America. Panama City is both a gateway to the country’s natural riches and a vibrant destination in its own right. As a thriving center for international banking and trade, Panama City sports a sultry skyline of shimmering glass and steel towers that is reminiscent of Miami. Not surprisingly, the city residents often joke that Panama City is the ‘Miami of the south,’ except that more English is spoken. Although there’s no shortage of fine dining and chic dance clubs, visitors are often drawn to Casco Viejo, a dilapidated neighborhood of historic buildings and cobbled streets reminiscent of old Havana. Abandoned in favor of more stylish neighborhoods, Casco Viejo lay crumbling on the edge of the sea for decades. However, following an ambitious reclamation of this colonial district in recent years, it is priming itself to charm and enchant visitors once more. The city’s architectural diversity is rivaled only by its cultural diversity. Urbanites here hail from all over Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and, increasingly, North America and Europe. Given the ethnic diversity, it’s no surprise that the capital boasts a wide array of restaurants, with everything from Panamanian-style ceviche and Bluefin tuna sushi to tikka masala and chicken kebab. Not far from the city, you’ll also find some impressive adventure opportunities, from hiking through tropical rainforests to skirting along the jungle on a train ride to Colón.
Famous and world renown Panamanians:
Roberto Durán Samaniego is a retired Panamanian professional boxer, widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time. A versatile brawler in the ring, he was nicknamed “Manos de Piedra” (“Hands of Stone”) during his career.
Tatyana Ali is an American actress and R&B singer, best known for her childhood role as Ashley Banks on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Tatyana is the oldest daughter (she has two younger sisters) of an Afro-Panamanian mother and a Trinidadian father of East Indian descent.
Melissa De Sousa is an American actress, De Sousa was born in New York City, New York of Panamanian descent. She is an Afro-Latino. De Sousa was raised in New York by Panamanian parents. She began ballet at a very young age studying under Joan Millin. She attended the High School of Performing Arts and acting naturally followed. Her film credits include The Best Man, Miss Congeniality, 30 Years to Life, and Lockdown.
Rodney Cline “Rod” Carew is a former Major League Baseball first baseman, second baseman and coach of Panamanian descent. He played from 1967 to 1985 for the Minnesota Twins and the California Angels and was elected to the All-Star game every season except his last. In 1991, Carew was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Carew is a Zonian and was born to a Panamanian mother on a train in the town of Gatún, which, at that time, was in the Panama Canal Zone. The train was racially segregated; white passengers were given the better forward cars, while non-whites, like Carew’s mother, were forced to ride in the rearward cars. When she went into labor, a physician traveling on the train, Dr. Rodney Cline, delivered the baby. In appreciation for this, Mrs. Carew named the boy Rodney Cline Carew.
Panama In Photos…The Panama Photo Gallery.
The traveler sees what he sees,
the tourist sees what he has come to see.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights;
it is a change that goes on,
deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.