I was only in Panama for three days but it was love at first sight.
Stepping outside the air conditioned walls of the airport in Panama City, I felt the night air. It was hot and humid, with a slight breeze, just my type of weather. We grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant. I remember ordering pineapple juice thinking I was going to get the canned pineapple juice like back home. Little did I know, I was in for a real treat. My pineapple juice was served in a pina colada glass, filled with freshly pureed pineapple and garnished with a healthy chunk of pineapple on the side of the glass. Outside of Hawaii, it was the best pineapple I had tasted! I also ordered fish, rice, and plantains for dinner, and could have that dinner for the rest of my life with no complaints. The fish was pan fried whole & topped with slices of lime, the plantains crispy, and the rice was amazing (rice can do no wrong in my book). Everyone we encountered, whether in passing or for service was so friendly, that I started to feel a sense of familiarity with the people of Panama City. Even when our language didn’t quite connect us, I started to feel connected to the people and the city in ways that I haven’t felt in other places.
You can’t go to Panama and not see the Panama Canal. There is so much history behind The Canal and how it has revolutionized how cargo is shipped, you simply must take a tour to learn about its history. After the tour, we walked around the city. The skyline was beautiful, the buildings were a backdrop to the water and the sea breeze was a steady relief from the heat and humidity. We ran into a man who was making snow cones. For just twenty-five cents I had one of the best snow cones I have ever tasted. I will always remember thinking about how much I enjoyed that life was simple there. Even in the midst of a beautiful and busy city, life still felt so easy.
On the third day, we took a visit to Gamboa Rainforest. We climbed aboard a small boat along with another family of three from Chile. This family had a box of cereal, equivalent to Trix in the US. The boat ride took us through Panama Canal and the rainforest. It stopped close by a bank with a tree that leaned into the water. This is where the cereal came in. The family gave us a handful of cereal and the guide explained that if we held our hand out, a Howler monkey would climb into the boat and grab it. It was a great experience, and it will probably be my only experience with a truly wild animal. I love animals and all but….I am not gung ho about disturbing them in their natural environment.
Thousands of people were downtown, and there were Panamanian flags everywhere. It was exactly the type of chaos I love! There was music and dancing, people hanging out of cars and tons of people were walking down the street. We met some locals, and again, even though we didn’t speak the same language, that familiarity was there. They danced with us, shared food and chastised my brother when he tried to wander off.
The people of Panama felt like my family and the food felt like home. It has been nine years since I have visited this country and the connection is still there, the memories still fresh, and experience is something I love to share when I’m asked, “So what is your favorite travel destination?”