Panama

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When we’re in middle school, life seems to be ever-lasting. We are care-free,

blissfully unaware of anything other than our immediate surroundings. We are,

effectively, trapped by our own developing brains that are beginning the search for

identity and meaning and leaving very little to be concerned about other’s. Middle

schoolers are selfish. They talk back. They roll their eyes when you speak of others and

their feelings. They don’t understand the bigger and more important concepts of this

world because biology is working against them. So, when my grandma offered to take

me on a cruise in the Caribbean over spring break in 8th grade, my first thought was,

“my friends are going to be so jealous!”.

The excursion we’d picked the day we would be in Panama cited a nice city tour

ending in a trip to the rainforest and the Panama Canal. Entering the city was like

stepping into a different world. The driver and tour guide explained that Panama really

doesn’t have driving laws, but the unwritten rule was that the “little car always stops for

the bigger car”. I was genuinely scared for the first time in my memory. It didn’t matter

that we were in a tour bus or that our guide was being so upbeat. The thought of a place

without traffic laws, signs, or functioning lights made the entire city seem much more

foreign than my suburban neighborhood at home. As we went deeper into the city the

poverty grew exponentially. To my left, the guide said, was the biggest shopping center

in Panama. The only issue was, you couldn’t even see it. There was a thirty foot cement

wall circling the complex with barbed wire jutting out at the top.

Someone asked why the wall was there, and the guide casually explained that it

was simply too dangerous to have people come and go as they please. There was only

one entrance and exit, and each had security guards posted and did checks on all the

cars coming in and out. I could look at the hard, grey wall any longer, but the view to my

right was worse.

There were apartments stacked six stories tall, if you could even call them

apartments. Most of the walls were so worn down you could see people walking around

inside, even the ones on the top floor. Extensions had been built precariously over the

street below, with as many as two extra room sticking out over the street, some meeting

with others in the middle. These rooms were covered with what looked like scrap pieces

of metal, pieces that we would throw into recycling without another glance back at

home. Dirty clotheslines ran back and forth between the buildings, with tattered shirts

and pants limply strung like Christmas lights. There were children as young as five or six

running barefoot between parked cars, holding filthy cans and rattling the few coins

they had, asking in colloquial Spanish for some change.

The chocolate croissant and fresh fruit I’d had for breakfast no longer sat well in

my stomach as I thought of the luxuries on the cruise ship in comparison to the horrible

poverty I saw here. I was scared, not only for myself as I translated the news flashing

across the bus’s TV screen into English (three shootings so far today, one major robbery

of a nearby bank) but for the people, the children I saw that were stuck in the only life

they’d ever know. These people were so incredibly brave without the slightest awareness

of how they were living their lives. It was the first time I’d ever truly feared for others

because of what they were suffering.

When I think of bravery, I think of the barefoot kindergarteners scampering

across the horribly dangerous streets of Panama City trying to bring home enough

change for their parents to buy a loaf of bread. I think of the mothers and fathers

working tirelessly to bring home food for their children, not knowing if they will be able

to eat next month. I think of the security guards at the shopping center who work there

every day not knowing if it will be their last because someone is desperate they have to

force their way in. I then think of myself and the way I was scared as we raced through

the busy streets. The bravery I saw in the people of Panama four years ago has seeped

into my own life. I am no longer a scared, naive thirteen year old. I am a woman with a

bright future who is forever grateful for the opportunities I have been blessed with and a

newfound courage to take with me as I reach out to what this world has to offer.

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Panama City 2013 WSGT

George wrote about our adventures in Panama in a five part series for the Huffington Post.

Panama City 2013 WSGTPart One: Panama City

Over the last 10 years, countless periodicals, blogs and websites have claimed that Panama is an ideal retirement destination for a variety of reasons. The cost of living is low. Quality health care and government sponsored retiree benefits can save expats money and provide solid investment opportunities to either start up an entrepreneurial business or purchase real estate.

There is no doubt that Panama has serious pluses for potential retires who desire to relocate abroad to a country with a cheaper standard of living than the United States and Europe. The country of Panama is blessed with beautiful islands, ample coastline beaches, mountain retreats, and colonial towns. The people are friendly and outside of Panama City, the atmosphere is generally quite laid back and easy going. With a population of only three million, the country does not feel overly crowded.

 

We Said Go Travel (WSGT) delved into the county of Panama and investigated various locales that have been written about and praised in the media to determine if we agree that abundant fantastic retirement options exist in Panama for those considering the possibility of living abroad. In part one of this five section series, we will inspect the first stop that travelers will likely make when arriving to Panama, the metropolis of the country, Panama City.

With an eclectic mixture of modern high-rise buildings and Casco Antiguo’s refurbished old town, Panama City has aspects that are appealing. Accruing substantial daily revenue from the fascinating Panama Canal, the government has pumped major dollars into the city infrastructure, constructing a respectable skyline and a rejuvenated old town. The best healthcare in the country can be had here and there is no shortage of nightclubs for those who desire an active nightlife. A variety of budget to quality international restaurants are available.

Despite these positives, Panama City has some serious drawbacks. First of all, crime can be a serious issue in many of the barrios that are meshed within the city. The so-called red zones are notorious for robbing tourists; even in the daytime, one should exercise precaution. Another drawback is the heinous traffic that is especially noticeable from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m..

During these hours, the streets of vast portions of Panama City become filled with idle vehicles pumping pollutants into the air. Even though the city is near the water and pretty views can be had from locations such as the Causeway de Amadores, there are no beachesper se located within the city that would be recommended for swimming. Outlying beaches such as Punta Chame are within striking distance but at least an hour outside of the city depending upon traffic conditions.

All in all, WSGT deems Panama City a nice place to spend a few days enjoying the city skyline, the old colonial Casco Antiguo and, of course, the amazing Panama Canal. However, after a few days, we were ready to move on to more secure and less congested locales laden across the country. As for Panama City, we enjoyed what the city has to offer, but would not recommended it as a potential retirement destination in itself.

Look for Part 2-5 for more on Panama from George Rajna.

PanamaSolo travel has its good moments. Standing at the start of the hiking trail ‘Sendero Los Quetzales’ in complete isolation, viewing the natural beauty of the sunrise over the hills of Boquette whilst listening to ‘Headstart to Happiness’ by Style Council was definitely a moment best enjoyed alone. However, getting here had not been easy, especially at the beginning of my trip.

As the shared taxi drove in the dark and lashing rain towards the light of the skyscrapers and unfinished buildings of Panama City my fellow passengers were dropped off at their grand hotels, the lights faded behind me and the buildings took on a more crumbled appearance. I realised I was coming towards my guesthouse, ‘Pension Colon’ in Casco Viejo, which was to be my home for the next two days.

Waking up to the brightness and heat of the sun pouring in through the window is one of the joys of foreign travel. Sadly, this was not the case on my next day in Panama. I was awoken by the continuing sound of rain and the noise of saws and hammers. In the darkness of night, I had failed to notice I would be staying in a building site.

Unperturbed, I set out to explore the streets dressed in my bright green poncho which makes me look like a giant flaccid condom. Another plus of solo travel is that fashion can take a back seat as nobody you know will ever see your ridiculous choice of clothes. The sights of the old town were numerous and I got a grasp of the essence of Panama and the nature of its people just by walking around for a couple of hours.

A trip to the world famous Panama Canal is as expected when holidaying in this country. The history of the building of the canal is fascinating and the area surrounding the canal surprisingly beautiful; Engineering progress and natural beauty contrast with each other, much like the country as a whole. It says something of Panama that what makes this country famous was achieved at the expense of its natural environment.

I moved onto Chitre, a hundred miles south-west of Panama City, determined to prove wrong Graham Greene’s description of it as a ‘dull little town’. He is wrong, but only because the towns surrounding it make Chitre more interesting in contrast. There is simply nothing of curiosity in this region unless fiestas are in progress.

Therefore, I moved onto Boquette to experience more nature. It really is stunning; I recommend getting here as soon as you can. Before the overdevelopment of Panama City gets to the mountains. Already, property is being bought here by foreign nationals, at a rapid rate.
After Boquette, I came back to Panama City and checked in at the same guesthouse as before. ‘Pension Colon’ had changed beyond recognition, it no longer resembled a building site, upgrading to ‘faded colonial grandeur’, proving that some development in Panama, perhaps, is for the better.

About the Author: Robert Davies. I am 36 years old and originally from England but have just moved to Bangkok. My passions are sport and travel and I often like to combine the two. Find me on Facebook or my blog.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Panama has the VERY first urban rail in Central America: Read the latest news about it!

 

koby bar mitzvahAdios Los Angeles, Hola Panama! (from our latest news)

Being in Los Angeles for our family event (Koby’s Bar Mitzvah) was wonderful. We were fortunate to spend time with our relatives and share in a special celebration. We also saw many friends and had a fantastic live event at Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. We appreciate your participation in Oahu at Lotus Honolulu and in Los Angeles at Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel and online for our webinar about Exotic Burma for our Festival of the Pacific! We will share videos of all events as soon as they are available.

We have NEW VIDEOS to share! Please enjoy: our video book trailer of Traveling in Sin,our first night in Palau (Mingles So Thai), Palau Government House  with Hula Hooping, Palau Jungle River CruisePalau Museums,and Baby Poi in Thailand. We will share our stories from this summer as the articles get published.

We are currently in Panama. People always ask us about our luggage or what is in our backpacks. When we checked in for our flight from Los Angeles to Panama City we had 19.4 kilos. (Math problem: 1 kilogram is 2.2 pounds.  8.4 for George and 11 for me, or 42.7 pounds for both of us.)

Our visit to the Panama Canal and Casco Antiguo (see George’s photo below) was history come alive. We hiked in Santa Fe (photo below, got eaten by chitras) and enjoyed the festival De Patria on Nov 3 in Boquete.  I think that the best thing about travel is to be able to understand what is going on and how it relates to your life and the lives of local people. George and I feel so fortunate to be able to continue our travels and grow our website. Thank you so much for your support!

Hiking in Santa Fe, Panama
Hiking in Santa Fe, Panama

We appreciate all of you who read our newsletters, articles, website and BOOK! Thank you to everyone for your support of our journey and all our writing. Connect with us on FacebookGoogle+LinkedInPinterest ,  SlideShare,  Twitter, and YouTube.

Happy and Safe Travels! Gracias!

Lisa and George (Click here to sign up for this newsletter. )

More articles to enjoy: Thank you to Mountain Travel Sobek for interviewing us for their ADVENTURE TRAVEL series! Click here to read the interview! Did you know our site was listed in the TOP 100 Travel blogs! Thanks Nomadic Samuel!

Have you seen our new video book trailer for Traveling in Sin?

George in Casco Antiguo
George in Casco Antiguo

UnderWaterPortraitStuck in a concrete jungle, I yearn for those long summer days where I felt free. Every morning I would awake to the familiar sound of waves crashing up against the dock; the ocean was calling to me.

I was never a morning person but in Panama I practically jumped out of my bed with a smile on my face and a skip in my step as I eagerly got ready for work. The walk to my job was brisk but always included a breathtaking sunrise over the vast and endless body of water that surrounded the tiny island of Bocas del Toro.

Upon arrival, with a large coffee in hand, I would often find myself lingering on the edge of the dock, dipping my toes into the cool water and taking deep breaths so that the fresh ocean air could fill my lungs. As people started to arrive for their scuba instruction, I knew that I was one step closer to entering into my underwater world.

UnderWaterIt is hard to explain the feeling that you get when you let out all the air from your BCD only to slowly sink into the unknown. At first your body panics, doubting that small contraption lodged in your mouth, but that feeling quickly dissipates and is replaced by excitement and awe as you enter a whole new world. As I slipped underneath the surface, I left behind all my troubles and worries. I was welcomed by infinite silence and a playground that was waiting to be discovered.

Hakuna Matata became my daily phrase after only a couple of weeks on the island. In Canada I was told that after University, an individual needs to find a job, to settle down, buy a house and/or start a family. My mother would often ask me about my life and my future, pestering me with exhausting questions like “when are you going to getting married?!”

BocasdelToroYet the second I hit the water in Panama, I felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders. Life in Bocas del Toro was simple; people walked at a much slower and serene pace. I quickly learned that there was never a shortage of smiles on the island and laughter could be heard for every direction.

In fact, island living set me free and taught me many life lessons. As my life slowed down [almost to a snail’s pace], I learned to appreciate the little things. Stress had become a complete waste of my time. I learned to smile, laugh and live every moment to the fullest. Possessions became unimportant as they had no real impact on my life. Those shoes, fancy clothes and/or flashy accessories had no place in Bocas; all I needed was my scuba equipment and swimsuit to find true peace and tranquility.

FlyingGurnardAnd whenever I glided effortlessly through the rows of brightly colored corals that lined the bottom of the ocean, I felt free. Free of anger, stress and sadness. The water healed me and washed away all my negative feelings and emotions. Instead of fretting of what might be, I lived in the present. I chased squid, played with lobsters, searched for sharks and yearned to uncover buried treasure. The ocean had transformed me and life had become perfectly perfect.

About the Author: A self-proclaimed travel fanatic, Yvonne Ivanescu has embarked on a number of unforgettable adventures across the globe. In 2012 Yvonne launched Under the Yew Tree, a website about travel, beauty, food and fashion in South America. For more South American travel tips, follow her on Twitter  and Facebook.

StarfleetBocas

By Lee Abbamonte

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to a whole new world.

Travel enables you to see the world through other peoples eyes and from other points of view.

Travel increases your awareness of other cultures and people.

Travel makes you smarter.

Travel is the best education you can receive.

Travel enables you to speak intelligently on a variety of global topics.

Travel shows you how global policy effects different countries and different types of people.

Travel brings you to places you’ve only dreamed about seeing.

Travel shows you landscapes you never thought were possible.

Travel shows you what real beauty is.

Travel shows you that everything is beautiful in its own way.

Travel makes books and television come to life.

Travel makes adventures happen everyday.

Travel makes dreams come true.

Travel gives you a sense of enormous accomplishment.

Travel gives you something to look forward to to.

Travel gives you options.

Travel is a lifetime journey that is never the same twice.

Travel makes the big world small.

Travel humbles you.

Travel puts things into perspective.

Travel shows you what poor is.

Travel shows you how unfair this world can be.

Travel shows you people overcoming the longest odds to live their life to the fullest.

Travel shows you triumphs of the human spirit.

Travel teaches you how to say “Cheers” in 30 different languages.

Travel teaches you the International language of beer.

Travel teaches you to appreciate wine and the beauty of vineyards.

Travel teaches you to try new things.

Travel makes you yearn to do new things.

Travel teaches you the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Travel teaches you to become a traveler and not just a tourist.

Lee Abbamonte is the youngest American to visit every country in the world. I am a travel writer, travel expert, global adventurer and have appeared on NBC, CNN, ESPN, GBTV, Fox News, Jetset Social and have been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Smart Money, Slate, OK! Magazine, Peter Greenberg radio and many others. I’ve visited 306 countries and am one of the world’s most-traveled people.

“I believe in globalization of everything including people. I believe that I am a citizen of Earth. I believe that people around the world are at their core, basically good and the same. I believe that more people should experience the world and the way traveling can open their eyes and minds to different and exciting things. I believe in just being myself. I believe in life.” – Lee Abbamonte