DREAMSCAPES WINTER 2019/2020
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EXPLORING PANAMA
 
(2019 - Winter Issue)

Writer: STEVE GILLICK



The mixologist in the Palapa Bar at the Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort revealed one of his trade secrets.

Miguel Diaz lowered his voice and admitted he infuses his drinks with the cultural memories of his travels. “They’re not just drinks. It’s all about the history and experience inside the drink.” And to prove his point, he served us “Freshness of the Forest” in glasses covered in actual tree bark and moss. “This cocktail takes you into El Valle with its infusion of eucalyptus, blackberry purée, red wine, single malt scotch and lime. You can smell the valley, feel the forest and share in the tradition of the locals drinking eucalyptus tea in the cold mountains.”

To Miguel, exceeding expectations, as far as the senses are concerned, was the ultimate takeaway for any visitor to Panama.

There’s no question that Panama City can be the sole purpose of a trip to the country, but not all travellers seek city-focused holidays. For some, the idea of disconnecting from skyscrapers and traffic jams and reconnecting with nature, the land and the people define their vacation as meaningful, interactive and memorable. They are continually discovering that there is a world of wonder out there.

INTERACTING WITH NATURE

Soberania National Park, about 25 kilometres outside of Panama City, is a wonderful escape for nature lovers, birders, photographers, walkers and joggers. They head for Pipeline Road where they only have to walk a few metres along the 17.5-kilometre path through the rainforest to see scarlet-rumped caciques, violet-bellied hummingbirds and some of the other 525 species of birds in the park. It’s not uncommon to hear a barking roar in the distance, only to witness a few minutes later a family of howler monkeys swinging through the canopy. And it’s not unusual to spot a mass of unkempt hair in the crook of a tree, and then realize that it’s a napping three-toed sloth.

Michael Castro, our birding guide, told us that when he was a child, he and his grandfather would talk to the birds and name them. A colourful keel-billed toucan would become “Mr. Toucan,” and therefore more easily recognizable the next time they met. Michael related a prophetic moment when they spotted a graceful white hawk one day. “My grandfather put a hand over his heart and told me that when he died, he wanted to return as that hawk.” Michael continued to learn about birds and has mastered over 300 different bird calls. “My grandfather passed all that energy on to me.”

And our own energetic interaction with nature continued on nearby Gatún Lake. Forsaking hiking for a motorboat, we sped past huge cargo ships plying the Panama Canal before heading into a marshy area. Docking on a small island, we encountered a troop of curious white-faced capuchin monkeys. And when we stopped at a neighbouring island, a family of Geoffroy’s tamarin monkeys, with their adorable pug-like facial expressions, climbed aboard our boat, scampered across the seat backs checking here and there for food, and finding none, hopped back into the dense island foliage. Great blue herons, hook-billed snail kites, swooping magnificent frigatebirds and even American crocodiles complimented this amazing getaway.

INTO THE VALLEY AND BEYOND

It should be noted, however, that Panama, a country slightly smaller than Ireland, is fairly easy to explore without a guide and also with a limited knowledge of Spanish. On a mission to find the rare Panamanian golden frog, we caught a communal van at Panama City’s bus terminal for the two-hour journey to El Valle de Anton.

On arrival we rented bicycles, naively overlooking the fact that the town sits in an extinct volcanic crater. Therefore, to visit Chorro El Macho (the Manly Waterfall), we had to walk our bikes up a steep incline in the 34 C morning heat, but on arrival, the cool air currents around the 35-metre waterfall proved to be heavenly. And then from the waterfall, it was a steep and, needless to say, fast bike ride downhill to Pozos Termales for a therapeutic mud bath. Photos and selfies of ourselves completely coated in the thick mud were de rigueur, before our long, blissful soak in one of the warm thermal pools.

Then it was another steep ride uphill to the Zoological Park to finally see the elusive golden frog. Local legend dictates that good luck will come your way if you lay your eyes on the creature and, sure enough, luck arrived at the end of our sweltering day of discovery, in the form of two ice-cold cans of Balboa beer.

North of El Valle lies the city of Colón where Achiote Road in Fort San Lorenzo National Park is considered a mecca for birders and nature lovers. We spent a full day walking the trails, spotting over 60 species of birds and animals, and with our guide Michael leading the way, we ended the day at a grove of trees, gloriously crowned by a flock of colourful chestnut-mandibled toucans.

PARTING THOUGHTS

Back at the Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort, in the area known as Playa Blanca, near Rio Hato in Coclé Province, Miguel the mixologist was tantalizing the guests with his “taste-of-the-country” drinks. But the sense of escape actually started as soon as we entered the lobby of the five-star property. On display were life-size, woven bird statues, traditionally used by the Embera people to celebrate their connection with nature. One wall featured a collection of power sticks, resembling walking canes with decorated heads, and used by the Caribe people to pay homage to their ancestors. And other lobby walls showcased handicrafts used by some of Panama’s eight indigenous groups.

Inside the Palapa Bar, Miguel explained, “Every drink I make captures the five senses, as well as a sixth. The sixth sense is your attention; making you aware that you are in a very special destination.”

Panama is a world of wonders, brimming with sixth-sense opportunities that embrace adventure, peace of mind, cultural interaction, nature appreciation and, ultimately, vacation satisfaction.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Panama Tourism Authority: VisitPanama.com

Colón: visitpanama.com/destino/san-lorenzo

El Valle de Anton: visitpanama.com/destino/el-valle-de-anton

Soberania National Park: visitpanama.com/destino/parques-nacionales

Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort: thebuenaventurahotel.com

Gatún Lake Cruise: ecocircuitos.com

 
 
 
 
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