Hasta pronto Panama

April 15, 2010 | Yvonne, intern, Panama, Radio y Television Educativa Panama

Panama is an unknown paradise that has yet to be discovered by the world. Many people only know the name because of the famous Panama Canal; however they fail to realize that this country is truly a diamond in the rough.

Panama’s capital is Panama City and is known as the Miami of Central America. The dichotomy of new and old within the city’s walls was one of the many reasons I feel in love with this breathing-taking city. During the weekends there was always something to do. When I was feeling lazy, I loved taking a stroll down the long Amador Causeway. This walkway connects the city to three different islands that lie only 2 kilometers away from the coast. When I was feeling adventurous, I would take a cab to Casco Viejo (the old Panama City) and marvel at the French, Spanish, American colonial, neoclassical and art nouveau architecture styles. I would also enjoy lingering around the tables of the street vendors who were Kuna Yala women and always dressed in their traditional clothing

But after I was tired of sightseeing, the city also offered everything that I might find in Canada, including shopping! My favorite store is SAKS, which receives “imperfect” clothes from large US department stores and usually sells them for incredibly low prices. It was in that store that I found a perfect Micheal Kor’s shirt for only 9 dollars. Furthermore, as a shoe aficionado I was pleasantly surprised that all my favorite brands were at least 50 percent cheaper than the shoes I would buy in Canada. Panama City is also known at the city that never sleeps. No matter what day it is, there is always a party somewhere in the city. Zona Viva is a narrow strip near the Amador Causeway that has at least 10 bars and nightclubs. On the week-ends the place is almost packed with people walking up and down the strip looking for the best dance party. But for those days when I felt like sitting back and sipping a glass of wine, the city offers the best restaurants and lounges for an older crowd.

My job allowed me to explore the city a little bit more throughly. My last post was a little grim on my situation, but since then I have tried to make the best out of my work placement. After my boss heard that I was unhappy, he sat down with me to discuss some of my options. He allowed me to pitch my own idea for a show that I would be able to film and then edit. I pitched my tourism in Panama idea and he gave me the green light to do it. My television show pushed me to research and learn a lot about the culture and history of Panama. While writing about Casco Viejo, for example, I learned that the original city (Panama Viejo) was completely destroyed by the famous pirate Henry Morgan and was then relocated to the rocky peninsula of Casco Viejo because it was easier to defend. As I researched and filmed in each location I started to peel away the layers of the Panama “onion”.

For example: did you know that Kuna Yala are one of the world’s most autonomous indigenous people? The Kuna revolution began on February 25, 1925 when an armed group attacked the Panamanian police stationed on the islands of Tupile and Ukupseni. The police had been involved in the violent suppression of Kuna cultural practices and had been abusing the populations various communities. As a result of the revolution these indigenous people have gained full political and economic control over the northern province of Kuna Yala (formerly known as San Blas).

Panama has 6 major indigenous populations that are still practicing and involved in their traditions. When stepping into their villages, it seems like you are stepping into another world. However this is the sad truth; if you drive just an hour out of the city you realize that Panama is still a third world country. The city is rich, however the rest of the country is still suffering from hunger and poverty. When I traveled outside of the city I was flabbergasted on how poor the rest of the country was compared to Panama City.

However my job placement allowed me to see both sides of the spectrum. In the end, I loved my placement. My television show went amazingly well. I ended up shooting three episodes that I will hopefully put up on Youtube in the near future. The experience also taught me a lot about myself. I learned that it’s not easy to be in front of the camera, I always forgot my lines or messed something up. Thankfully my camera man was very kind and patient. From filming I learned how to use the editing program AVID. I had a lot of fun taking what was in my head and transforming it into something real. Editing took hours upon hours and sometimes I was ready to quit. But I persevered and learned how to be patient. At the end of it all I have some cool footage to show for it.

I was also blessed with the opportunity to travel a little bit on the weekends and during Easter. It is so easy to travel in Panama because everything is so close to the city. I was astonished how such a small country holds so many things.

Five hours away from the city is Boquete, a beautiful mountain town that grows the best coffee in the country. The town is also home to a number of companies that takes visitors on numerous adventures including horse back riding through the cloud forest, hiking, white water rafting or zip lining.

Four hours away from the city is Santa Catalina, a famous beach town where surfers go to catch a big wave. This town is also known for it’s amazing scuba diving.

Three hours from the city is San Blas, where the Kuna Yala live. This paradise offers people inner peace and tranquility while walking across white sand beaches or swimming in turquoise colored water.

For a paradise that has some remarkable night life, head over to Bocas del Toro which is a little over 11 hours from Panama City but only 30 kilometers from Costa Rica. Bocas is famous for it’s beautiful beaches, it’s dolphin reserve, it’s scuba diving and of course the partying. This is the perfect place for anyone who wants to relax during the day and party away the night

These are just a couple of places to visit within the country. Each place is unique in it’s own right and is never more than 12 hours away. Buses are cheap and plentiful. However if you hate buses or are stressed for time, plane rides are relatively cheap (100 dollars one way to Bocas). Even if I was working full-time it was easy to plan short trips to different areas within the country. I ended up visiting Bocas del Toro, Santa Catalina, Santiago, David and Boquete. Not too bad for only 3 months! And although I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to, I am already planning on coming back to visit the paradise that is known as San Blas.

Granted that there is much to see and do in Panama, I was alway weary that it is still a very poor country. I was heartbroken to see people without limbs on the side of the road begging for money. But as Panama grows as a country, I believe that it will slowly start working towards trying to end poverty.

As I said before, this country is a paradise waiting to be discovered. Panamanians realize the potential of their country and are waiting for the huge tourist boom that will change their lives forever. They are eagerly anticipating that boom by building more real estate, changing their transportation (which are painted school buses called Red Devils - Diablo Rojos) and even planning the construction of a subway system.

I am glad that Panama has shared its heart with me, and I cannot wait to see how it will grow and expand in the future.

Hasta Pronto PANAMA!

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