January 24, 2014

sun, sand & so much more...

We had enough of the brutal winter cold this time of year. 
We needed to escape far far away somewhere as south as possible on the globe. We chose a country we never visited and knew little about it. It has been one of the most attractive emerging tourist destination in the recent years. It is known as the "Crossroads of Americas" and the home of one of the most important shipping routes in the world... and many Canadians love to have a second home there. 
The sun, the sand, the lush tropical greenery, the bananas and the coconuts were enough for us, yet what we found was a lot more than we expected.
The ideal location of this small strip of land provides Panama with pleasant and inviting weather year round as well as some of the world’s most pristine and bio-diverse rain forests, protected National parks and varieties of white sandy beaches. The country is the only one in Central America free from earthquakes, hurricanes or tropical storms. They say only here you can see the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic.
The indigenous name of this tiny land means "abundance of fish" so fishing takes place year-round and there is no surprise that Panama offers an incredible fishing experience for those who enjoy it and those who love to eat "the catch of the day" (us).
Apart from its natural beauties and abundance, the country features with rich cultural and historic heritage. One of my unforgettable moments of our trip is the exploration of Casco Viejo (Spanish for Old Town) in Panama City. While visitors often refer to this historic neighbourhood as a "colonial city", the locals call it "the French Quarter". Walking down cobblestone streets, an amazing blend of Spanish, French and American colonial, art nouveau and neoclassical architecture styles creates a unique vibe. I easily lost myself into those splashes of colours and textures, charming windows with shutters trying to catch the light behind vintage flowered balconies... churches, museums, plazas with sidewalk cafes with umbrellas over the table for shade where one can enjoy a cup of rich Panamanian coffee… perhaps with a drop of the finest flavourful Abuelo rum… just a luxury! The restoration work of Casco Viejo is still in progress, but no doubt, when that is complete, it will be a fantastic beautiful world-class area.
In fact, the entire country of Panama ( as much as we were able to see) seemed to me as a restoration work in progress, one big construction project. After Noriega's dictator years ended and especially when USA returned the canal land to the Panamanians on December 31, 1999, according to the locals, "things just took off". Panama City will surprise every unprepared tourist with its dazzling skyscrapers, high end sports cars, trendy boutiques, shopping malls and restaurants, vibrant night life… It's rising to become a leading metropolis and for travellers, the changes have been enormous.
However, I have to admit, I left Panama feeling in love with its colours and light and... quite confused. The more I think, the more I am convinced that part of my confusion arises from the fact that Panama represents the world of contrast. Extraordinary natural beauty, delightful historical architecture with clean narrow streets are not far away from littered highways, ugly residential apartment buildings and war-torn neighbourhoods. Even though the country is relatively safe, in fact, it's one of the safest in Central America, police presence is everywhere and police checkpoints are a common place on roads in between cities; document control is furious. Old and new, beautiful and ugly, normal and unusual live sight by sight creating an eclectic place with so much character…
Seven different indigenous tribes strive to preserve a traditional lifestyle with local festivals, artisan products and tourist visits.
And the pride in people’s eyes in this country is tangible...
Panama is one of the richest countries in Central America, a hub of international offshore banking and has around $2 billion revenue stream on its doorstep that is the Panama Canal, nevertheless four of every ten Panamanian lives in poverty. Signs of extreme wealth appear to be evenly interspersed with a lack therefore... Why is that so? Evidently, Panama has money and so much potential wealth to go round; has natural resources, the lowest crime rate in the region, and a population of just over 3 million people...
So after spending some time there, enjoying all the beauty that this sun-drenched country has to offer, I cannot help but wonder what is that in Panama that confuses me… And, I believe, I need at least a second visit in order to find any proper answers… 

I know, a visit to Panama just wouldn't be complete without seeing one of the world's greatest engineering marvels, the Panama Canal and it is worthy of it's own blogpost. 
Stay tuned, dear friends and thank you for reading!

Sharing with Oh, the Places I've been!


  1. Keep on writing, great job!

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  2. How lovely to read you this morning dearest Sylvia! I had forgotten that you would be away for a while, and to see where you've been is such a marvel. What beautiful people, non? What a mélange of cultures and you have escaped the bitter cold.

    Again, your ability to capture life in still photography is soothing to the eyes and mind. So good to see you back, rest and enjoy. Anita

  3. Such a wonderful getaway, Silvia. The skyscrapers in your second to last photos are amazing! Beautiful photos and such an interesting post!
    Happy weekend,

  4. Beautiful collection of photos about a location that is now so intriguing. Loved seeing and reading the descriptions through your photos and writing.

  5. I've seen the same juxtaposition
    between tourist areas and poverty
    stricken areas in Mexico, which is
    one reason we've decided not to go
    back....To see such beauty and such
    suffering right next to each other is
    very unsettling and often feels unsafe,
    as well.

    I don't know if I'll ever see Panama
    for myself, so I really enjoyed this
    visual feast and your lovely descriptions
    of what you experienced there.

    Welcome home!

    xo Suzanne

  6. Unbelievably beautiful photos, you certainly have an artistic eye. So interesting to know about this exotic destination, so far away from me...

  7. beautiful photos of your getaway ♥

  8. Beautiful Sylvia! Hello! Thank you for coming to visit my post! And I just realized (as I knew what would happen....) that YOU should be on that list of HEARTists! There are so many of you who I adore and whose work I admire. I just knew I'd miss several!

    Thank you for always coming when you can. I hope you are enjoying peace and joy as this new year starts on such a cold blast! We are getting even colder temps that usual for January, and that says a lot for Minnesota!

    WARM HUGS! Anita

  9. Sylvia, this post was beautiful and I loved learning more about the country. Looking firward to your next post.

  10. Beautiful country.

    Great to have you at Seasonal Sundays.

    - The Tablescaper

  11. So you have been on a fantastic adventure, dear one! Your images are incredible, Sylvia...you are a photojournalist!! Outstanding.
    What a fascinating introduction to a country I have not yet really explored....and as is the case with many places around the world, there is much too much poverty alongside the wealth.
    Thank you for sharing your beautifully written and photographed account...
    I hope the transition back home is going smoothly, and that you are having a warm and cozy weekend....
    Sending lots of love to you, dear sister...
    - Irina

  12. I've never really thought of Panama as a travel destination, but you have me intrigued. Wonderful photos!

  13. What a wonderful trip. My cousin did this 2 years ago and they loved the whole thing. Your photos are beautiful and show a lot about the country and people there. Very nice photos.


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