Wow, what a weekend! Unfortunately, I’m now feeling a bit under the weather, but I’m glad it waited until I returned to hit me. And fortunately for you, not feeling so great means I’m spending more time at home, which means more time for blogging! With some of these trips, it’s hard to decide what to share – so much happens! Here’s a small window into what I was up to:
This weekend I had the opportunity to travel into yet another country – Panama! It’s crazy that in the past 2 months, I’ve been in 3 countries outside the USA. We flew in early Friday morning to allow for the optimal amount of time. Panama was awesome! It’s a bit more developed and modernized than Costa Rica, and certainly has a lot to offer. On our first day, we visited Indicasat, a science research center. We got to take a tour and learn about a number of the projects that are going on there. One researcher, a guy who works with ants, was especially amusing. He was so passionate about his work that he was really enjoyable to listen to, never mind the table of ants he had for us to look at. We also had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Gabrielle Britton, a former Lafayette Psychology Professor. It was great to hear her perspective on some of the articles we’ve been reading in class, and to talk with her more generally about her experience cross-culturally.
The following day we had a city tour, stopping first at the Panama Canal. To be honest, I wasn’t originally all that excited to see it. I figured it’d be interesting, sure, because you always read about it in history textbooks, but my expectations weren’t very high. I was pleasantly surprised! It was fascinating to learn about what goes into running the canal for the passing of each ship, and how this is connected to the global economy.
Panama is actually in the process of building another canal, which will allow for double the amount of ships to pass through! With each ship having to pay a tax of $110,000, you can imagine how much money the canal brings in for the country – and they use it in great ways! Upon arriving in Panama, we each received a card claiming we had 30 days of free health insurance in the country. They have universal health care, and elementary education is free and required. They provide children with books, backpacks, breakfast and lunch, and once you get to a certain year in high school they provide a laptop. A bit different from the USA, no? There are also a lot of benefits for retirees. No property tax for 20 years, and discounts on just about everything. Hmm… maybe I’ll retire in Panama…
After the canal, we went to the Causeway, a series of islands linked by bridges. There are some great views from there, and lots of people out walking and riding bikes. We stopped in a restaurant for lunch, which happened to have a bakery. I got a chocolate chip cookie – for $.40! I swear I attract these places. Travel with me if you share my love of delicious sweets.
We also went to Casco Viejo, the old city. It was originally built in the 1600s, but most of the buildings are from the 1800s. The architecture was captivating – a mixture of various European influences. We learned a lot about Panamanian history from our guide. As someone who isn’t a big history aficionado, I’d have to say Panama’s history is one of the most intriguing I’ve heard. Panama is believed to be derived from a native word meaning ‘abundance’. In Casco Viejo, there’s a mind-blowing church, the Church of San Jose, which has a golden altar. When the pirate Henry Morgan attacked Panama, the Jesuits covered the altar in clay so Morgan would think it was worthless. Lo and behold, he ransacked the entire city, but the altar remained untouched!
Panama City in general was fun to walk around in; I think I like it even better than San Jose. We enjoyed some fantastic, and very reasonable, meals, and even found a chocolate shop! We spent some time talking to the owner, and she gave me my purchases for about half price because she didn’t have change to offer me. And it was delicious! Again, I think these places find me.
On our last day, we loaded into a tiny van and drove to a beach. It was more of a local than a tourist-y beach, but crowded and pumping nonetheless. People were enjoying themselves along the entire strip. It was a hot day, and while it felt great to take in the sun, the water was immensely gratifying. Although it was a bit like bath water, compared to the 90 degree air, it was very refreshing. Nothing like Caribbean waters to break up city living!
A drive and a plane-ride later, we were back in San Jose. Another great weekend spent in another amazing country. What’s next?