A Trip to: Panama

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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!

A Trip to: Colombia

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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 Diana of Speaking Latino shows us around Colombia!

Bogota is the capital city of Colombia where cachacos, the name given to the people from Bogota, are extremely kind and love both salsa and their traditional music. Bogota is at 8,612 ft. above sea level and, for those that aren’t used to those heights, that will make you literally “feel” the city.

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The historical center of Bogota is located in La Candelaria. Among the government buildings and plazas you will find a busy Plaza de Bolivar where on one side the Palacio Liévano or Lievano Palace is located. This is the seat of the mayor of Bogota. Passing by the Plaza de Bolivar is the Carrera 7, a busy street that has undergone the process of becoming a pedestrian walkway in some segments.

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One of the obligatory stops while in Bogota is the Gold Museum or Museo del Oro that is located in the historical center of the city. It displays a pre-Hispanic collection of gold artifacts made by the indigenous cultures in Colombia before the colonization period.

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Monserrate is a mountain that has become a symbol of Bogota. After a short funicular or cable car ride you will get to the top which is at 10,341 ft. above sea level. While there you will be able to eat at one of the restaurants or kiosks and visit the church.

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An amazing view of Bogota can be seen from Monserrate. There you will notice how big the city is. In fact, it is the largest city in Colombia and one of the most populated in Latin America.

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The T Zone or Zona T is a pedestrian intersection in the form of a T located in the Zona Rosa. In this area are dining options, fashion designer stores, and malls. It is a lively place to hang out.

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One of the most impressive things that I’ve seen in my life is the Salt Cathedral or Catedral de Sal constructed inside of an active salt mine in Zipaquirá. It includes all the elements to be labeled as a Catholic cathedral with regular religious activities and a mass celebrated every Sunday. They have enhanced the experience with color changing LED lights and even a retail area where you can find Colombian crafts. The Salt Cathedral is about a one-hour drive from Bogota and, even if you are not Catholic, it’s worth the visit.

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Bandeja paisa is perhaps one the most emblematic dishes of Colombia, especially popular in the Paisa region. The traditional bandeja paisa is a generous plate (or literally a tray) that includes all of the following: beans, rice, ground meat, chicharrón (fried pork belly), chorizo (sausage), avocado, sweet plantain and a fried egg on top.

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A hot alcoholic drink called canelazo is traditional in the Andean highlands and can be found also in Peru and Ecuador. The Colombian version consists of aguardiente (alcohol from sugarcane), panela (unrefined whole cane sugar) or sugar, and water boiled with cinnamon.

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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!

A Trip to: Mexico

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Editor’s note: Welcome to the Hispanic Heritage Month “A Trip to” series here on Latinaish. This series has been so popular that we’re going to continue it beyond Hispanic Heritage Month! 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 F.J. of Bilinguish shows us around Mexico!

Mexico is a fascinating country to visit because it is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the Americas and, with more than 116 million people, the most populous. Besides having great physical diversity, from volcanoes to deserts to jungles, Mexico also boasts a variety of indigenous languages and cultures.

The gorgeous view from atop a pyramid at the archeological site of Teotihuacán is one of the most iconic images of Mexico, but it is just one of many beautiful places to see.

Teotihuacan Avenida de los Muertes y P del Sol desde P de la Luna

Mexico City is a great place to start exploring; It is one of the largest urban centers in the Western Hemisphere, second only to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The center of the urban area is called México D.F. (Distrito Federal), and it’s surrounded by the state of Mexico. There were about 19 million people living there as of 2009.

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The center of the city has a large paved plaza called the Zócalo. There you can find some of the city’s most important buildings, including the city and state government buildings, as well as a Catholic cathedral. Public celebrations, including the country’s Independence Day observance, are held here, too. The enormous Mexican flag is raised and lowered each day. In this picture you can also see some of Mexico City’s famous smog, caused by the city’s geography and vehicles for all those millions of people. There are now many environmental programs in place to cut pollution and clear the air, so to speak. Imagine how impressive a view of the endless city surrounded by volcanoes would look then… ojalá.

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Mexico City has been an important place since pre-Hispanic times. When the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519, this city was called Tenochtitlán and it was the center of the Mexica (Aztec) empire. The Templo Mayor (principal temple) was destroyed by the Spanish and covered by the modern city. In 1978, some electrical workers digging near the Zócalo stumbled upon a buried artifact from the temple, which renewed public interest in excavating the area. Now you can visit the Templo Mayor archeological site and museum near one corner of the Zócalo. This large statue is one of the many pre-Hispanic objects you can see in the temple.

Puebla from the 7th floor of the Holiday Inn rooftops and church spires

Just a few hours south of the capital, Puebla is a beautiful colonial city. Although it’s the fourth-largest city in the country, the centro histórico has an old-fashioned feel. Besides the beautiful architecture, Puebla is also famous for its food and traditional talavera pottery.

Oaxaca Tamayo ofrenda

If there’s one city that captures the essence of Southern Mexico, it’s Oaxaca City. With a more rural feel, more visible indigenous culture, and its own beautiful archeological site, Monte Albán, full of pyramids and ancient ball courts, just outside the city, Oaxaca is worth spending days in. The name of the city and the state are pronounced “wa-HA-ca.” You can buy chapulines (fried grasshoppers) from a sidewalk vendor or walk down a “chocolate road” whose shops and chocolate factory smell delicious. One of the best times to visit Oaxaca is November 1st and 2nd for Día de los Muertos. The city is full of ofrendas (offerings) to the dead, like the one above for Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo.

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The Mexican countryside is beautiful too. This picture was taken from the window of a train en route from Guadalajara to the town of Tequila. Visitors tour a tequila factory and see the whole process of tequila-making, from agave cactus (above) to finished product. And they give you “all you can eat” food and drink on the tour- yum!

Feria de Puebla - chapulines y  cerveza- alimentacion del futuro

No trip to Mexico would be complete without tasting some delicious Mexican food. You can sample the previously-mentioned chapulines at many places in Southern Mexico, like the Puebla state fair (above.) Other interesting dishes include escamoles (ant eggs), sesos (cow brains, usually in a taco), gusanos de maguey (caterpillars, usually fried), menudo (tripe soup), and huitlacoche (corn smut, usually in a quesadilla.)

Exquisitas Gringas

Not all Mexican food has the “yuck” factor, though. There are plenty of dishes that you might recognize from your local Mexican restaurant. Chalupas, cemitas, tamales, atole, pozole, and sopa azteca are some of my favorites, although, to be honest, the “real” versions of these foods that I eat in Mexico are often very different from what you get in Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants in other countries. There are tacos and tostadas, too, as well as gringas, which are like a combination of a taco and a quesadilla. I took a picture of this sign because, of course, a gringa is also a way to refer to an American woman. (Cue music by The Guess Who.)

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No trip to Mexico would be complete without watching some folkloric dance. Each state has its own traditional costume and dance. The most famous of these is el Jarabe Tapatío, from Guadalajara, Jalisco, known to the wider world as the Mexican Hat Dance. Here is another, called Arcos y Tejedores (“Arches and Weavers”), performed by children at a public school celebration on Mother’s Day.

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Many traditional dances have roots in indigenous cultures. These dancers are part of Ritual a Quetzalcoatl, a yearly event performed at the spring equinox on the pyramid in Cholula, Puebla. This dance group was from the Program for Mexican Culture and Society in Puebla, a study abroad program at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, who learned about Mexican culture and music firsthand through dance.

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!

A Trip to: Chile

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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 Diana Caballero of Speaking Latino shows us around Chile!

I had the opportunity to visit Chile during the best time of the year: Fiestas Patrias! My husband lived there for three years and he always talked to me about how wonderful Chile is especially when they celebrate their independence. At some point I became friends with a Chilean living in Miami and she introduced to me some of the Chilean food and culture that reinforced to me that Chile was a must-do trip. So a full year of “campaigning” to visit Chile began with Jared and finally attending this year’s Fiestas Patrias celebration became reality for me.

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Pio Nono street crosses from North to South in the Bellavista neighborhood in Santiago. It’s a street with a lot of restaurants, bars and galleries. The Bellavista neighborhood has a bohemian mood with colorful buildings. This street also takes you to the Metropolitan Park that includes a zoo and funicular that takes you to the top of the San Cristobal hill where you have an almost 360 degree view of Santiago.

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In 1962 the Chilean rodeo was declared a national sport and it is also commonly performed during the celebrations of Fiestas Patrias. This photo shows several Chilean rodeo national champions that met at the Padre Hurtado Park (ex Parque Intercomunal de la Reina) as part of the celebrations of the Semana de la Chilenidad. All participants wore the traditional Chilean Huaso attire.

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Almost all Latin American countries have their own version of an empanada. In Chile the most popular is the empanada de pino. Pino is the filling made from beef, onions, raisins, one black olive, and a portion of hard boiled egg. These empanadas also have a distinctive way of folding and sealing the dough.

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In addition to the fondas, the cueca dance and the barbeques, the Chilean Fiestas Patrias also include traditional games played by kids. Hopscotch is one of those. Chileans refer to it as luche, but its also known in other countries with many different names such as infernáculo, rayuela, peregrina and avión. Other traditional games played during this celebration are: the Chilean rayuela, la rana, palitroque and taca taca.

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The figure of the organ grinder or organillero in Latin America comes from Germany where the first instruments came from in 1880. Organilleros in Chile are usually seen in conjunction with the traditional chinchinero, a street performer who plays a bass drum strapped to his back with long drumsticks and a rope tied around to the performer’s foot to play the cymbals on top of the drum.

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I think you would like to experience a terremoto in Chile. Terremoto means earthquake, but I am not talking about a real one. This one is just a drink. The terremoto drink is made with pipeño, a sweet white wine, fernet or grenadine and a scoop of pineapple ice-cream that floats on the top of the drink. Depending on the size it can be named differently: cataclismo (cataclysm) for a big glass or réplica (aftershock) for a smaller size usually after you drink a terremoto. Warning, these drinks will make your legs shake!

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About one and a half hours from Santiago you can arrive to Valparaíso, one of Chile’s main ports. Valparaiso was built on 41 hills and was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Get ready for a nice walk that includes some steps while looking at artistic expressions in graffiti on the walls of this old city. There are eight funiculars or ascensores that will take you to the top of the hills for a magnificent view. Within a short drive you can go to Viña del Mar, the principal beach town for Santiago residents.

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 Hispanic Heritage Month series!

A Trip to: Bolivia

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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 Susan of Medina Adventures shows us around Bolivia!

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One of my favorite parts of visiting La Paz, Bolivia, is the descent along the highway, from the airport into the heart of the city. I get butterflies every single time and not just because I’m afraid of heights – It’s anticipating the breathtaking views, like this one of the snowy Illimani mountain watching over the city, that makes my heart leap into my throat.

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I’ve never been a city girl, but La Paz is definitely a big time city with amazing architecture and brilliant colors, even on an overcast day. Each building is different; there are no cookie-cutter houses here. And some buildings are so close to the edge of the cliffs, that they look like giant Jenga towers – I’m amazed at how they don’t topple over.

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On my first visit to La Paz, I didn’t know what these green things were. Any guesses? – They’re trash cans! So then I couldn’t figure out why they’d be up on those poles. It’s brilliant, really, it’s so the street dogs can’t dig through it and scatter the trash all over the place. I also find it interesting how little trash is in there. Reusable bags are brought to markets, and most things are sold by the kilo, so there is little packaging to be thrown away.

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La Paz is also famous for its street parades. Dancers swish to the music of marching bands and leaders signal with whistles. That is my daughter and her cousins dancing in those beautiful green costumes. Along the path of the parade, you can see locals dressed in traditional clothing – polleras (ruffled skirts), shawls, and bowler hats. There’s also a mom carrying her daughter on her back in an aguayo, the brightly colored woven cloth. Rain or shine, vendors will be selling on the streets of La Paz, anything from fruits to jeans.

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I remember telling my camera, “Take, take, take!” as we were leaving this picturesque street in Coroico. I loved the colors of the buildings, the cobblestones, and the little market set up right in the middle of it all. Coroico is often a vacation destination for people in La Paz, since it is only a two hour drive from the city and is in a subtropical part of the country.

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This is my husband after a four hour trek down the mountain which started at La Cumbre, 14000 feet above sea level. He’s ready to hitch a ride back up. The row of buildings with corrugated metal roofs is a typical sight on the roadsides and will usually offer lunch or sell little snacks.

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And finally, this is my son enjoying the Sunday tradition of chicharrón, mote and limonada (fried pork, corn, and limeade). See that giant plate of food? That’s for one person! I can never finish all the food they give me at one sitting, and I usually discreetly pass it to my husband (which is why he always gains weight when we go back!) And those red plastic chairs? Coca-Cola propaganda is everywhere in Bolivia. Toma lo bueno!

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 Hispanic Heritage Month series!