2022-23 / Population approximately 2,000,000
After swooping down onto the runway at Tocumen Airport in Panama City October 15, 2022, we began our Panama explorations with a short stay in a neighbourhood near the Albrook Gelabert Airport. We hardly imagined that we would meet with wildlife and a variety of bird life — it was, after all, the city — but we did. After two winters in Canada we were ripe for adventure, and a warm winter.
On recommendation, we arrived at Greg’s place in Albrook on the edge of Panama City (near the Albrook Airport). Greg could not have been a better host. Along with sharing fascinating stories of treasure hunts and diving & spear fishing adventures, he found time to point out wildlife and bird sightings, which were many, some even from his own backyard where the birds have a daily banquet. Greg steered us to a nearby pond which houses black Panamanian turtles, Jesus lizards (who appear to walk on water) as well as a few slightly unnerving caiman. Wild creatures right in Panama City! The agouti and coatimundi are both sweet creatures (though I’ve heard the coatimundi can become aggressive with feeding, as with any wild animal, and looking at their 2 inch razor sharp claws, I would not want to be the object of coatimundi disaffection!). Many of the photos in this post, especially wildlife, are taken by Aaron White with his super zoom lens and excellent eye. For location of this great stay, find Greg’s Place in Albrook on Google Maps.
The neighbourhood was a friendly place for our daily walks, and the sights along the way never failed to surprise. Imagine a tree growing from the wall of a building, and the odd way the middle tree has of producing fruit. A feast of sights!
A day spent in the popular Casco Viejo (historical area) of Panama City proved a delightful change of pace, with new views of the city and an opportunity to choose two molas from Guna women. These women are of the San Blas Islands off the eastern Caribbean coast of Panama. Mola are all hand sewn, created in a variety of designs and colours, and can be valued in the number of layers of fabric used to create them. They are often considered historical art, with meaning and symbols of the culture incorporated. For example, medical plants, protective symbols and legends can be incorporated into a mola. Typical Mola colors, such as burgundy, orange, or black refer to the vegetable colors, also used in body painting, a practice from which the mola originated. About 100 years ago, when the Spanish arrived with fabric to trade, the art of body painting became transformed into a fabric art. Still, women of the Guna wear mola as part of their daily clothing. When I first examined these mola, I thought they must be machined, so fine was the stitching. I know I will treasure these works of art for a long time, whether I use them as wall hangings or sew them onto another item, perhaps a bag or article of clothing.
Strolling the Casco Viejo proved to be an enjoyable pastime, with lunch in a local cafe and a new view of the city to be seen from across the bay. A long walking or cycling path follows an arc of roadway into the bay.
We also made it to the apparently world renowned ‘2nd largest mall in the Americas’, the Albrook Mall. Though we are not big shoppers and would not normally find reason to check out this mall, I did lose my sunglasses after arrival in Panama City. This is not a country to be without sunglasses, so I was grateful for the opportunity to find a new pair at one of the ‘over 700 stores’ in this mall. Exits and entrances are marked with exotic animal motifs for ease of navigation.