I had the pleasure of my adult daughter’s presence with me here in Panama recently. She is a very busy gal and only had five days to spare, so that put some pressure on me to find a way to get the most out of that limited time to show her what my life is like here in paradise.
I think I met that challenge and did not try to do everything that there is to do or see in this wonderful country. Instead, we took it kind of easy and only took in a few highlights to get a flavor and an overview of Panama’s many possibilities and opportunities.
My wife (a.k.a my best friend with whom I have spent nearly every day and night for the last many years) took an assignment in California that prevented us from being together for a couple of months. How strange that feels! But it afforded me some alone time with my daughter. This was a rare opportunity for both of us to bond as father/daughter, unencumbered by anyone or anything, and for me to show her my new country and its wonders. This was her first time in Panama.
We first spent some time in the Coronado beach area where I live. We took in the beach scene: lounging in the sun, watching as the local fishermen hauled in their catch, bargaining and buying some fresh fish ($2/lb), and making ceviche!
I then invited some friends to join us one evening for an abundant and delicious seafood meal. Wow! It was a great example for my daughter of what life feels like here: We live by the ocean, we hear the ocean as we fall asleep, we swim in the ocean, we eat from the ocean, and we have wonderful expat friends to share it all with. Could it get any better?
Of course, a must for any visitor is to spend time in Panama City. We explored some of my favorite things, like Casco Viejo, the old town, with all of its exciting renovations of the old Panama. We got a guide to show us around town; it cost only $5! He was happy, and it made for a richer experience for us.
We also checked out the enormous Panama City fish market, within walking distance of the old town. What a sight — and smell!
And then the Canal. My daughter was given a cursory explanation (by me) as to how the locks work, but to see all those ships go through one after the other in person is truly something to see. The museum next to the Miraflores Locks is also a great way to get a better understanding and appreciation of this amazing system.
With the Canal undergoing expansion, I decided to take her to the new locks on the Caribbean side of the country near Colon at Gatun Lake, which is an easy one hour drive from the city. This is an especially unique time to see these new locks now that they are nearing completion. It is impossible to imagine the scale of this engineering wonder. Right now it is a giant open pit with huge cranes and equipment feverishly working to meet the deadline to finish in time to celebrate the Canal’s 100th birthday.
From this site it is a short drive to the San Lorenzo Fort, a world heritage site, which is most definitely a unique and wonderful place.
The ride to the site is absolutely beautiful, and once you get there it is like entering a time warp. We happened to be the only visitors there that day and had the entire place to ourselves. We heard some noises nearby and decided to explore. The sound was coming from a large mango tree, ripe with lots of fruit and dozens of howler monkeys peacefully moving through the tree, picking ripe mangoes and munching on them. Each animal had a baby on its back and we figured we had walked into a howler monkey nursery! There were no males, only females and lots of them. They totally ignored us and just kept eating and moving. It really was a thrill to see this and realize where we were. What a place! What a country! Where else do you find that?
I also took my daughter to the many expat events happening everywhere on a daily basis: there was beach volleyball here, a happy hour there, and I was able to introduce her to so many wonderful people. She really got it after a while and said to me, “Dad, I understand now why you are here!” I guess I could not ask for a better endorsement than that, could I?
I am writing this while sitting on my balcony overlooking the beach and the water. There is an enormous tropical rainstorm thundering all around me. It is warm. It is beautiful. It is peaceful. It is Panama. Life is good.
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