Panama City

Panama City is a city of stark contrasts. There’s a forest of modern skyscrapers up against the unique architecture of Casco Viejo and the wood frame, 20th century buildings of the canal zone and also the urban slums against the glittering malls and upscale apartment buildings. Where the city ends the jungle covered hillsides instantly transport you into another realm where monkeys, sloths and a plethora of insects and birds live as they have done for eons. We spent a day visiting Barro Colorado, an island in Lake Gatun about 20 miles outside of Panama City. The lake was built during construction of the canal and is where ships passing through the canal move from the locks on the Pacific side to the Caribbean side. Barro Colorado was part of the original environmental survey for the Canal before the lake was flooded. Shortly after the canal was completed the now island was designated as an environmental research station operated by The Smithsonian Institute. The area has been at the forefront of tropical environmental research since the 1920s and continues this tradition today. Access to the island is strictly controlled with no more than 30 people on the island at any time. We set out very early from Panama City to catch the daily boat to Barro Colorado. We met our guide at the docks and steamed out to the island in time for breakfast. The island was alive with birds, insects and animals. Iann, our guide knew everything about everything and we spent the day tromping around the island not knowing what we would find next. We stumbled onto poison dart frogs, leaf cutter ants, howler monkeys and many, many species of birds. It was fun to be back in the canal!
We also visited Flamenco Station and interviewed the controller in charge of directing traffic in and out of the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. The control tower looks like it could be at any airport but sits on a hillside overlooking the approaches to the Canal. The site has much history. Behind the tower is a fort originally built by the US to house a 16 inch gun to protect the entrance to the canal. It was later used as a hideout by Manuel Noriega. The locals still refer to the old fort as the Noriega Bunker and it’s now an eerie, deserted place with the concrete bunkers sealed off. There’s still a barbeque grill outside the door and we pictured Noriega sipping a cold Balboa beer with a pargo sizzling on the grill.
We hiked around Ancon Hill enjoying the most amazing views of the old and new Panama as well as the monkeys in the trees. We enjoyed being tourists this week in Panama City. The last time we were in Panama City we were so busy gathering boat parts and provisioning for our canal transit. This trip was at a much slower pace where we could visit with old friends and dine out while relaxing.Selfie on Ancon Hill With Mike and Holly at Mi Ranchito Black & Green Frog Happy Mike Peter, Mike & Robin at BYC Do Not Enter? View From Flaminco Downtown From Anton Hill Monkey View from Flaminco Signal Station Downtown Panama City

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