Evington Travel – From Evington to Panama
I have always dreamt of going to Panama. As a child my grandmother related many a tale about the land that houses a magnificent canal, and gave its name to the hat famously worn by the man from Del Monte.
On the 27th of July I embarked on my much-anticipated journey. Two flights and almost 24 hours later I walked out of Tocumen International Airport to be met by humidity and heat.
There was much to do in Panama and I spent the first part of my nine-day trip in Panama City. One of the places I visited was Panama Viejo, which translates as Old Panama. Being positioned just in front of the Pacific Ocean allows us to better understand why settlers first chose to inhabit the area in 1519.
Walking through the Main plaza, I tried to imagine what it would have been like filled with the social and leisure activity of the early inhabitants. A vibrant culture basking under the same sun that shone on me as I marvelled at an entire city that stood in ruins around me. 115 steps took me to the very top of the old cathedral tower where I was greeted by breath-taking views of the old and new city.
I could see why the buildings from the pre-Hispanic and colonial periods have earned the site a place as UNESCO World heritage site. The rich history of Panama Viejo made it well worth the visit.
The historic district of Panama is the perfect place to walk around and see some of the buildings that form life in Panama today. The national theatre stands proudly in the district, alongside the French and German embassies. The Panama Canal museum is an imposing building, built in 1874. Both the French and Americans used the structure during the construction of the Panama Canal.
The area attracts visitors from all over the world, and is renowned for it’s appeal and beauty. It is a hot spot for couples wanting some Viejo charm in their wedding photos and I was fortunate enough to see two newly weds posing for pictures on their special day. The happy couple captured their special moments as the great red sun set on the horizon.
A stroll along the waterfront offered both the opportunity to buy souvenirs and breath-taking views of the newer part of Panama City – towering skyscrapers and the impressive, curving F&F tower jut into the skyline.
The ocean at the opposite end is littered with ships waiting for their turn to pass through the great locks at Panama Canal. The Canal cuts through the Isthmus of Panama and connects the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea). At certain times of the day it is possible to see ships passing through. My chance came at 9am one morning where I braved the morning rush hour (tail-backs stretching all the way out of the city) to watch a great liner make its way through the last stretch of canal.
I watched from the visitors viewing deck as a cargo-ship was guided through the last section of lock. Seeing the water rise and great locks open to let the ship through was an extraordinary experience. I was then led on a tour of the building where a short and very interesting film highlighted the history of the Panama Canal in 3D, and explained the expansion programme. The proportions and project of the scheme was mind-boggling and I watched in awe. The remainder of the visit was a three floor tour of exhibits found at the original excavation site some 110 years ago, and details of marine life that were considered when planning the new phase.
The next day, I caught a flight from the Albrook International Airport located at the former Albrook air force Station. Air Panama operates short daily flights to destinations in Panama that would otherwise take a long road trip to get to. Tocumen International Airport is used to access the Western side of Panama.
Being stretched for time, I had booked the 6.45am flight, which took me to the archipelago of Bocas Del Toro in the Caribbean Sea. A small island offering trips to uninhabited islands covered in rain forest and boasting some of the most remarkable indigenous wildlife and empty beaches.
A tropical downpour met me when the small propeller touched down in Bocas Del Toros but I did not let it dampen my spirits. I had experienced a few torrents over the past few days and knew just how quickly the hot sun appeared afterwards to dry away all traces of rain.
The drive to the hotel revealed a small town so unlike the resort like islands found in other more popular parts of the Caribbean. There was a Bohemian feel in the streets. The short drive gave me a window into the lives of the inhabitants leaving their homes in preparation for a day at school and work.
Within an hour of hotel check-in I was on a small boat with 12 other people on the way to do a spot of dolphin watching. Unfortunately they didn’t show, however, the sight of flying stingrays, which gracefully glided out of the water more than compensated.
A visit to Isla Zapatilla, with its white sand and clear turquoise waters offered the opportunity to swim and for some, snorkelling. The island forms part of the Isla Bastimentos National marine Park, which protects sloths, monkeys and many reptiles. The deserted island gives the feeling of literally being in the middle of nowhere.
On the return boat trip I was lucky enough to see a sloth hanging from its branch in the island adjacent to Isla Zapatilla. I learnt through the guide that a sloth rarely leaves its high abode, apart from to give birth.
The second day and a second tour took me to Starfish Beach, where dozens of starfish of all sizes dotted the shore. The opportunity to get so close was a real treat, though officers were at hand to ensure the starfish were not touched or taken out of the water.
Red Frog Island also formed part of the tour, which is inhabited by tiny red frogs and offers the opportunity to see many monkeys. On the way to the island, the heavens opened up and turbulent waves pounded the side of the boat. Due to the adverse weather conditions, the trip was cut short and we returned to shore.
My third and final day I chose to hire a quad bike and explore the island. This was more fun than I expected. The relaxing Caribbean lifestyle and small island population meant other users are never in a rush to get anywhere. The few cars that were on the road were clearly accustomed to quad bikers and often slowed down or pulled aside to let me pass. As the wind blew through my hair I experienced a sense of freedom and excitement.
My trip to Panama had been all I had imagined and more. With white beaches and clear waters just a short flight away from the City, Panama could rival some of the best holiday destinations in the world. I will definitely be going again.