A Trip to: Panama


Editor’s note: Welcome to the Hispanic Heritage Month “A Trip to” series here on Latinaish. Join us as we virtually visit different Latin American countries through the photos and words of people who live there, have lived there, or have visited and have a lot of love for that particular place. Today Scott of Everything Learning Spanish shows us around Panama!

The beach on Taboga Island, a half hour boatride from Panama City

The beach on Taboga Island, a half hour boatride from Panama City

Panama is a beautiful country in Central America that has been influenced culturally by both South America and the Caribbean. It is a rather small country, but (at least in the city) it doesn’t feel small, and it’s growing rapidly. Throughout the economic crisis, Panama’s economy has been growing. Immigration to Panama comes from neighbors such as Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, and from faraway places such as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Nepal. The Panama Canal is one reason for this booming economy, and right now the canal is being expanded to accommodate the largest ships in the world. Other important sectors in Panama’s economy are banking, ship registration, tourism, real estate, and construction.

Bay of Panama and the city skyline

Bay of Panama and the city skyline

Food is excellent in Panama, as many great ingredients are local and fresh. Fruit of all types grow on the isthmus including: mangoes, plantains, papaya, oranges, limes, avocados, cashews, and much more. With access to two oceans and freshwater lakes and rivers, seafood is also abundant and common in Panamanian cuisine. Ceviche, fried fish with patacones (twice fried plantains), and sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) are all delicious and fresh. Food is also relatively cheap compared to the United States. Panama’s currency is the dollar, which makes travel for Americans easy. Excellent restaurants are everywhere! One can easily find restaurants serving Panamanian, Colombian, French, Greek, Middle Eastern, and many other cuisines. Eating is one great pastime in Panama, but it’s certainly not the only thing!

Filete de corvina con patacones, Seabass filet with twice fried plantains and slaw

Filete de corvina con patacones, Seabass filet with twice fried plantains and slaw

Panama city has a great variety of things to do. The causeway is a man-made bridge that connects three islands in the Bay of Panama. It is loaded with restaurants, souvenir shops, ice cream stands, bicycle rental places, and all with great views of the sea, the bridge of the Americas, and the city skyline. Another great thing to do in the city, at least in the morning before it gets too hot, is to visit the Cinta Costera, an enormous park that stretches along the coast in Panama city. Cinta Costera includes walking/biking trails, playgrounds, basketball courts, skate parks, food stands, and more! You can find lots of vendors of raspao, or shaved ice topped with sweetened condensed milk, which is very delicious and refreshing on a hot day! Another great thing to do in the city is to disappear into nature, right in the middle of the city. Parque Metropolitano Natural is a great big park that is basically a forest right in the middle of the city. Complete with trees, wildlife, and trails, this is a wild adventure that is super convenient from anywhere in Panama city.

View of Panama City skyline from the hotel Torres de Alba

View of Panama City skyline from the hotel Torres de Alba

The city also has many kid-friendly activities. There are two Smithsonian museums (biodiversity and tropical research), both located on the Causeway of Amador with excellent educational activities for children. Another one of the city’s great green-spaces is Parque Omar, a very large park scattered about with playgrounds, the national library, tennis courts, workout areas, street vendors, and much more! All of the malls have ample indoor playgrounds, some have carousels and other rides. Panama city certainly offers enough experiences to keep the whole family busy for the whole vacation, but that’s not all there is in this Central American jewel.

Starfish at the Smithsonian tropical research institute museum

Starfish at the Smithsonian tropical research institute museum

Entrance sign at Punta Culebra - The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Museum

Entrance sign at Punta Culebra – The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Museum

There is a lot more to Panama than just the city! If you’re seeking an escape from the tropical heat, El Valle de Anton, about an hour and a half away from Panama city is usually about 10-15 degrees cooler. El Valle is a volcanic valley. There are hot springs, a zoo, restaurants, and an artisan market. A nice, quaint village surrounded by natural beauty. Panama also has many beautiful beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. There are lots of all inclusive resorts, the beaches are excellent and surrounded by great tropical foliage, and the ocean water is invitingly warm. Eco-tourism also abounds, with eco-hotels ranging from bed and breakfast all the way to complete luxury experiences. There are great accommodations and exciting activities to be found in the entire country!

Church in El Valle de Anton, a quaint tourist town, and cool retreat from the searing hot temperatures of the city, a little more than an hour away

Church in El Valle de Anton, a quaint tourist town, and cool retreat from the searing hot temperatures of the city, a little more than an hour away

A beach resort on the Pacific coast, about an hour away from Panama city

A beach resort on the Pacific coast, about an hour away from Panama city

But all of what I’ve written so far neglects the best part of Panama, its people. Panamanians are so friendly and welcoming! I am very fortunate to have married a Panamanian, and to have been welcomed into her family. We are doing everything we can to celebrate our children’s Panamanian heritage, including letting them stay with my in-laws in Panama for two extra weeks after we’ve left. We most certainly want such a rich culture to be an important part of their upbringing.

Panamanian culture is rich with heritage from Europe, Africa, the Caribbean (specifically Jamaica and Barbados), South America, North America, and Native American peoples that still live their life according to their customs and traditions. The culture is still evolving and changing through new immigrants that go to Panama for economic opportunity and security. All of this combined makes for one incredibly vibrant, exciting and diverse place. You can see this diversity in everything Panamanian: The music, the dance, the food, the art, and much more. Panama, like all of Latin America has vast cultural riches and beauty. All I can close with is, go there and experience it for yourself!

The author of this guest post  with Panamanian boxing legend Roberto ‘mano de piedra’ Duran

The author of this guest post with Panamanian boxing legend Roberto ‘mano de piedra’ Duran

Editor’s note: Did you enjoy this guest post? If you have some nice photos of a Latin American country you’d like to share as we did here with some short descriptions, please email me to be a part of this special travel series!

Win or Lose, a Day to Remember

I’ve now had two days to recover from the Copa Oro games we went to on Sunday, pero todavia estoy completamente rendida.

The night before, I couldn’t sleep, half from excitement and half from anxiety about the tickets. Following the wise advice of a friend, we arrived hours early at the stadium. (Gracias to Rudy, who we actually got to meet briefly at the game.)

We went straight to the “Will Call” window and I gave them my I.D. I watched them shuffle around and come up empty-handed. I watched them check and re-check. I knew this would happen. They apologized that they didn’t have tickets for me under my name. I called the number of the on-site manager that State Farm had given me in case I ran into problems – he assured me he had the tickets on him. When we met him in the parking lot where State Farm had set up, true to his word, he had the tickets. I resisted kissing him and instead let him tell me about some of the fun things they were doing there.

I talked with someone about the sOccket ball and she showed me how it worked. I also got to check out the State Farm iPhone app, Kick4ACause which allows you to donate electricity just by playing the game. [See video of me playing]

As Carlos and I decided what to do next, a mini-Salvadoran pride parade broke out. Of course we joined in.

The parade went around the parking lot making all kinds of noise. At one point we clashed with a group of panameños, but after dancing with them for awhile, the parade continued on, much to the bewilderment of gringos trying to tailgate in peace.

When gringos tried to interact with Salvadorans though, the Salvadoran response always made me smile. When gringos shouted “U.S.A.!” – the Salvadorans didn’t feel threatened – they joined them in chants for the red, white and blue. I wonder if this made an impression on anyone in that parking lot who had expected a different reaction – to realize that it’s possible to have enough love for the place of your birth, language or culture – but feel equally proud of the country you now live in.

After the mini-parade we sought shade and a late [very expensive] lunch inside the stadium. We found our seats and waited.

Salvadorans seemed amused by my "Guanaco Pitbull" shirt, but I didn't realize how confusing it would be for non-Salvadorans, who seemed to puzzle over what it meant.

While waiting, I observed a lot of Salvadorans who came prepared to not only cheer on El Salvador, but the United States as well. Many wore La Selecta T-shirts, but carried American flags. The “U.S.A.!” chant was alive and well in sections full of Salvadorans during the U.S. vs. Jamaica game.

The game itself was great, but the sky was so cloudy that I wasn’t able to access Twitter on my phone which was frustrating.

After the United States won, we were all full of happiness and hope for El Salvador.

Hearing the crowd sing the Himno Nacional de El Salvador made me tear up a little. To look around and know that all these Salvadorans were here together even though many, like Carlos, were far from their homeland… It’s difficult for me to put in words.

Being at the actual game instead of watching it on television is a unique experience. I’ve watched a lot of Salvadoran fútbol games on T.V. but never heard the crowd whistling in unison. Salvadorans have a unique way of whistling, (I wish I had caught it on video), but when you have thousands of people doing this, it sounds sort of like a forest full of parrots.

Speaking of whistling, at one point in the game, a Salvadoran player fell on top of a Panamanian player in a position that looked somewhat compromising. This got some funny responses from the crowd which I won’t repeat, but you definitely don’t get that on T.V. either.

As for the game – La Selecta missed a lot of opportunities on the field, but they did get this penalty shot which was very exciting.

Another highlight for me was seeing a guy run across the field with the Salvadoran flag. I know that’s frowned upon but it amused me, (and he was really fast. Maybe La Selecta should draft him?)

An unidentified man carries an El Salvador flag as he runs on the field during the second half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Panama and El Salvador. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

(You can’t see on my video, but you can see in others that the Panamanian goalie threw the U.S. flag out of the goal. That’s what the booing was about at the end of the video.)

El Salvador was ready to win… and then Panama scored a goal in the last minute… at least they say they scored a goal. I’ve watched the replay two dozen times and can’t decide if it was good or not. If only there was video of it from the other side – pero ni modo, what’s done is done. There’s no use being bitter about it.

Okay…maybe a little.

Cover of El Diario de Hoy / Deportes

Here are some of my favorite photos I took during the game:

As you see, some guys had a banner that proclaimed Zelaya to be better than Chicharito. While I was there to support La Selecta with all my heart, I’m not so sure I agree. My Pitbull didn’t do much better. The game was full of excitement, tense moments, joy, disappointment – the poor Salvadorans around me went from elated to crushed over and over again. One guy often took his frustration out on the empty stadium seat in front of him. By the end of the game I was kind of surprised he hadn’t managed to rip it out as he repeatedly pounded on it screaming “P*TA! P*TA! P*TA! HIJUEP*TA!”

Carlos was calmer than that though I heard him say a few choice words under his breath after the final penalty shot shoot-out decided our fate.

Win or lose, it was an amazing experience. I know it was particularly special for Carlos. I asked him what it felt like being in the stadium surrounded by so many Salvadorans. He said it reminded him of home and the games he used to go to with his friends. The good thing about Salvadorans is that even though Carlos didn’t have his old friends with him, the guys seated around us were more than willing to fill-in for the day. I know Carlos to be a mostly quiet guy, but when he’s with other salvadoreños he opens up and is actually quite talkative. I love to see him uninhibited like that. [ Read Carlos’s post about the day here.]

The game came to an end, but the brotherly love was far from over. On the way out of the stadium I was nearly crushed, (this panicked me for a minute but I knew Carlos would throw people left and right if I were in any danger.) … Then we missed the first Metro train because it was impossible to fit anymore people on it. We waited twenty more minutes for the pleasure of being crushed on the next train. Besides myself, I think there was only one other woman on the train – it was packed with young men wearing blue, and all of us, (myself included), were in serious need of some deodorant after a long day in the sun.

Despite the heat, lack of personal space, exhaustion and loss of the game, the group on the train remained in good spirits.

“Yo soy salvadoreño!” shouted one man still full of pride and warrior spirit, “Soy guerilla!”
A man from the other side of the train answered him back,
“Guerilla mi c*lo!”

(Don’t ask me to translate it to English. Somehow, it’s not as funny like that.)

Disclosure: I attended the Gold Cup games at the invitation of State Farm. All opinions are my own.