Alongside the Panama
My husband, John, and I are in Panama, where we are experiencing adventures
at every turn.
After staying at the Riande Airport Resort near Panama City, we picked
up our rental car. A fellow Anerican advised us to "Drive like you
stole the car!" However, our, our 30-minute drive to Gamboa Rainforest
Resort was unevenful, if you don't count the flat tire.
in the rain forest
Gamboa is a five-star hotel that has attracted the rich and famous, including
Jimmy Carter, Queen Sofia of Spain and Prince Hitachi of Japan. It offers
eco-tourism in comfort and style.
It is located at the Panama Canel's midpoint, so we enjoyed eating lunch
at their marina restaurant whil;e watching ships navigate the crossing.
Gamboa has a close working relationship with the nearby Smithsonian Tropical
Reasearch Institute, so the emphisis is on nature. Bird watching is the
primary draw, with more than 900 different kinds of birds sighted in the
area. There are plenty of other activities, including fishing, relaxing
in a spa, visiting an Indian village or just lazing around the 200-foot
The major attraction is the resorts's aerial tram that moves silently
through the jungle canopy to the top of the hill, where it is an easy
climb up a 100-foot tower for an incredible view of the rain forest and
the Panama Canal.
Amazingly, the tour is wheelchair-accessible, as is the entire resort.
Another day, along with a television crew filmed a segment for a Sunday
variety show, we motored into the canal's Lake Gatun and sped past the
big ships to islands, where we saw howler and the white-faced monkeys
and took in some fishing
The TV crew filmed John catching a peacock bass. In the morning, we listen
for howler monkeys, and in the evening, we watched for capybaras, a rodentlike
creature the size of a racoon
Today it is truly Panama's Canal. The United States turned over control
on Dec. 31, 1999. From the viewing area at the Miraflores locks, we watched
the cruise-ship Rotterdam go through. We also took a partial transit tour
up through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguael Locks, where our boat was
like a minnow compared to the whale of a container vessel that went through
The cargo ships are guided through the locks by tugboats and electric
"mules," similar to push-me-pull-you train engines that run
on tracks along both sides of the locks. Because of some of the confusion
over one of our tours, we received a complimentary helicopter tour of
the canal. Like a scene from a James Bond movie, we lifted off from Gamboa's
heliport and whisked along the length of the canal with the pilot pointing
out the many areas that were once under the auspices of the American military.
We buzzed around Panama City before being dropped off at Albrook airport
to catch our flight to Bocas del Toro.
After enjoying our slice of the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,"
we headed to Bocas del Toro, where it is more like life on "Gilligans
Island." Bocas del Toro is a cluster of tropical islands in the north
of pPanama near the Costa Rican border. The quaint coastal town in the
jumping-off point for a marine park famed for surfing, diving and snorkeling,
but we are here to study at "Spanish by the Sea." Each day,
after four hours of class, we studied around the pool, where a production
crew for the British version of reality-TV series "Survivor"
works on its schedule. The series was being filmed on one of the nearby
islands. Their boats and the helicopter buzzed back and forth; everyone
associated with the show was very close-mouthed. We stayed at the school
for $10 a night and were awakened frequently by a rooster who likes to
get up 3:30 a.m. As a reward for studying diligently, we spent the weekend
at a little piece of heaven called Punta Carocol, where the picturesque
cabins are built above the water. We snorkeled right off our front porch,
spotting stingray, moray eels, starfish, sea cucumbers and many colorful
small fishes. Our tranquility was moved only by the breeze and the sea;
there were no roosters.
I made all our arrangements via the Internet or after I arrived in Panama.
Rooms at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort (877-800-1690) start at $80 for
a room in one of the villas, houses built for canal personnel, and for
as high as $800 for a suite; they also offer a variety of packages.
Five days of classes, four hours a day, one-on-one, at Spanish by the
Sea are $190. The nightly rate for a shared room with a shared bathroom
and kitchen is now $6 per person. There are only two rooms, but there
are many hotels nearby ranging from$10 to $70 a night. At Punta Caracol
we paid $80 per person a night for a cottage, which included breakfast,
dimmer and transfers by water taxi.
For more information, visit these Web sites;
or call the Panamian Embassy at (202) 483-1407
Web for related information on Panama Canal