Panama: 5 Awesome Facts from my Trip!

This week I'm turning my blog into the Travel Channel and everyday will share something about Panama.
The name Panama means "Abundance of Fishes." I spent one week visiting  Panama City, then cruised the Panama Canal, visited an Embera indigenous village in the rainforest (where I had an encounter with a wild monkey) and stayed at a beach resort. Since it was the start of the rainy season (yet they are in a drought) the beach was empty and I had the pool practically to myself! I also went to a guava plantation, a butterfly and orchid farm, and visited a zoo where I saw the many cats of the jungle.

You don't need a visa to visit Panama but they do randomly fingerprint Americans at the airport. If you're wondering about safety in Panama, I saw armed police everywhere, standing around in parks, entrances to hospitals, and at the zoo. We were warned about purse snatching and according to the State Department: "Panama remains relatively safe when compared to other Central American countries, yet crime rates are still higher than one would encounter in most of the United States."

Panama City reminded me Honolulu with lots of high rise buildings with palm trees, but tons unsightly power lines. They are building a new subway right now, and their new metro will open next year. The old city is pretty empty of inhabitants but it’s a world heritage site and private donors are renovating the buildings. Foodwise I mostly ate rice with pigeon peas and plantains which is their staple dish.   

1. People
Panama is a small country of only 3.6 million people and the people can best be described as a "Panamix" because they’re really quite diverse consisting of:
68% Amerindian-Mestizo
15% White
10% Black
6% Amerindian
1% Other
Jewish and Muslim communities with approximately 10,000 members each. The Chinese population  is 200,000, many having immigrated in the 19th century, then had to fight for their citizenship. Recently Panama has had immigration from working class Colombians who come to work in the service industry and upper class Venezuelans coming to protect their money from the political situation in their country. It's interesting to note that Panama buys it gas from the Caribbean island of Tobago, not Venezuela.

2. Panama Hat 
The Panama hat is actually made in Ecuador. In 1906 President Roosevelt was the first US President to travel outside of the US during office, he went to see the Canal and insisted on going during the rainy season. He was photographed wearing the hat and upon his return asked where he got it and said it was a Panama hat, hence the name stuck.

3. Carnival
During Carnival in February everyone has off work and school for the week. Carnival includes a "pollera" parade where Panamanian women wear the national costume, these handmade dresss costs starting at $7000. The dress is white and has elaborate embroidery and hand-sewn appliqué on it that can take months to make. It also has a lace petticoat and big pom poms on the chest and back. They wear an exquisite crown like headpiece made of pearls and a gold comb in their hair. Then they wear multiple necklaces around their neck to complete the look. 

4. Sports
Baseball is Panama's national sport and at least 140 Panamanian players have played professional
baseball in the United States, more than any other Central American country. Pay per view is free when Panama is boxing. However Panama has never qualified to play in world cup for soccer.

5. Weather
Panama is tropical and hot, they have two seasons rainy and dry. Right now they are experiencing a drought as it should be the start of the rainy season. Since they need the water to operate the canal which in turn gives them electricity, they are making electricity cuts around the country. Starting with government workers, their hours have been changed to 7:30am-1:30pm, no lunch break, and the a/c is only on from 8:30-12:30.

Panama is going through an economic boom with construction cranes everywhere. These photos were all taken in downtown Panama City which has scores of high rises, the JW Marriott looks like something that would belong in Dubai. Then the vacant old city has the beautiful historic churches. There was another side of town where the poorer people lived, that looked nothing like this.

John Hopkins hospital

Where else would you expect to find your well-bronzed blogger? Pretending to be a Bond girl by the pool enjoying my tropical getaway! Did you know that Quantum of Solace was filmed in Panama?

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