Panama is like...
|Panama City skyline|
We all have our own comparison points. Everyone told me that Panama City is like Miami, but because I have never been to Miami, that meant nothing to me and seeing the 20 some sky scrapers on the Panamanian sky line took me completely by surprise.
For me, driving on the seaside highway past Panama City’s elaborate downtown felt more like Chicago. Perhaps you have never been to Chicago and so that comparison means nothing to you. Suffice it to say though that super tall, architecturally interesting buildings right alongside the waterfront, Chicago’s or Panama City’s, is always an impressive sight.
Panama was interesting because it was so familiar in some ways, so different in others. It uses the American dollar as its currency (with the addition of their own coins). English is much more common. More than any other country I have been to in Central America, Panamanians did not hesitate to switch to English when faced with my fledgling Spanish. Malls take up both a large part of the real estate and social activities. And finally, Panama City has a Costco. Need I say more.
Of course, the USA has had a huge part in Panamanian history – for better or for worse. From its independence from Colombia to the building of the Canal, the US has always been highly “involved” let’s say… but that is a much larger topic. So I will leave it at that.
Panama has also capitalized on the Canal as a tourist sight and has built a completely new visitor center at Miraflores to accommodate the increasing number of people flocking to the locks.
|Miraflores Visitor Center|
However, somehow, it is captivating. And everyone stares at it like the finale of the World Cup, snapping pictures, commenting to other stander-byers, waiting in awe for the locks to close and the ship to rise. It must be that somehow, intrinsically you feel that this was a huge feat of engineering. Ships should not be able to essentially go over land to get from one ocean to another, and the Panama Canal’s engineers made it happen. Pretty cool even for someone who does not, in the slightest, understand the mechanics of it.
It is also apparently the only time and place on the seas where the captain ever gives up control of his/her ship. That is requirement for the Canal, but a massive No-No anywhere else. As a control freak, I get how big a deal this is. What? You want me to hand over control of MY ship. Uh-uh. Not gonna happen. But if you don’t want to go around the entire South American continent, then you might have to reconsider this stance. You give up power, let another capable person take over your responsibility, let him/her navigate the tricky, narrow parts and then you get control back later, after a lot of waiting (it takes 18 hours+ to get through the 3 sets of locks that make up this canal).
|Crew standing idly, taking pictures, enjoying the Canal|
Seeing more than just its capital would have told me a lot more about Panama, but our week there was a nice chance to reconnect with friends, an interesting reminder about some facets of American society and a good example of how different countries in the same region can be. It was also a time to remember to quell the power gremlin and let someone else do their job.