2 May 2024

# Panama Trip

1. The idea is to knock off a couple of more countries Apr 26, 2024

If everything goes to plan, we will cover Country #59 and #60. Meanwhile, I would have visited airport #166 and #167. And taken Airline #38. Let’s see what the future has for us.

Speaking of numbers, this is a milestone anniversary for us. Not the 25th (we are not that young) or 50th (not that old either). It is our 31st and for a person with unhealthy interest in numbers like me, that is a cool anniversary.

I am sure you have heard this from me many times how I think 31 is a unique number. To go over it again…

312 = 961
Reverse of 961 is 169
169 is 132
And of course reverse of 13 is 31.

So, the reverse of the square is the square of the reverse!!

I know, I marvel at the most inconsequential things in the world!!

2. A quick number puzzle Apr 26, 2024

Srini commented on my previous post about the number 31 pointing out that the binary representation of 31 is a palindrome.

Which got me thinking – for all binary numbers with “n” digits, how many are going to be palindromes?

Can you quickly come up with the answer?

3. Approaching Cuba Apr 26, 2024

A country I want to visit some day but not sure when the restrictions will ever go away. That is Bahia de Santa Clara (Santa Clara Bay) in front of us. And that small town on the shores is La Teja. Lots of clouds in the sky today.

4. First spotting of Panama Apr 26, 2024

Looks very green from here. We just crossed over from the Caribbean/Atlantic side.

5. Getting ready to land Apr 26, 2024

We crossed over from the Atlantic side to the Pacific side. As you can see the Pacific side water is not a great sight. The water is fairly murky and the shallow depths mean the tide comes in and out over a large swatch of area pulling and and out a lot of soil.

Panama City is visible in the distance.

6. Airport #166: Panama City,. Panama Apr 26, 2024

7. Drive from the airport to the hotel Apr 26, 2024

Incredible number of highrises. As a matter of fact, Panama City has the most number of skyscrapers in all of Central America. For that matter, even in all the Americas, it is only behind New York City and Chicago. (I think Miami and Panama City have very similar numbers)

8. View from the room Apr 26, 2024

9. First things first! Apr 26, 2024

All my childhood in India, I had heard about the Panama Canal. Of course, I had to get there as soon as we checked into the hotel room. We grabbed and Uber and went to the Miraflores locks to watch how they move the ships thru the locks.

10. Boy! Was I wrong!! Apr 26, 2024

That is the Panama Canal! You can see a set of locks. And a few ships waiting behind. And a large one crossing in the parallel channel away from us. The ships fit very tightly in the canal. So, they have to be guided by the railcars on either side that you can see. In fact, all ships are categorized as Panamax if they can fit into the Canal. Now, there is another newer one built a few hundred yards away from this original one that can take bigger ships.

And you have to use a Panama Canal pilot to cross. The other two requirements are that you have to pay the tolls 72 hours before crossing and you have to fly a Panama flag in your boat when you cross. The toll runs into tens of thousands of dollars. The highest ever paid was \$450,000! The lowest? 38 cents by an American swimmer who swam the distance of the canal!

But here is the crazy thing. I always thoughts the locks existed because of the height difference between the Atlantic and the Pacific. They are indeed different but not that much. The engineering marvel of Panama Canal was in utilizing the large lake of Gatun to minimize the digging. But the lake is 86 feet above the ocean level. So the locks lift the ships up to Lake Gatun and then bring them down on the other side!!

Also, geographically, the route is where the land mass takes the shape of a “S”. This means, when you go from the Atlantic to the Pacific, you will be driving the ship west to east (northwest to southeast to be precise) and not the other way round!!

11. This is crazy engineering Apr 26, 2024

Look what happens to the boat (actually two sailboats are tethered together). Notice how they go down in front of our eyes as the water is lowered before the locks are opened for them to proceed! And this is only one of the few locks! Crazy engineering feat.

To understand the engineering challenges, simply think of the four ropes that are tethering them to the land so that they do not hit the walls. How do you deal with the fact that the ropes now need to “give” as the boat gets lowered?

12. Oh! Boy!!! Apr 26, 2024

We came back to our hotel room to find a huge tray with a map of Panama and many chocolates placed on the map where they originate from. And a really large chocolate in the shape of the hotel we are staying in (JW Marriott) where the hotel is!!

13. Love this property Apr 26, 2024

If you folks ever come to Panama City, give the JW Marriott a shot. This is the view when you sit out on the 14th floor terrace. There is the pool that you can see. But do you see the dark area beyond that? Notice carefully on the left side of the picture. You see a few people who seem to be under water? That is because they are. That is another pool – an infinity one at that. And then you see the Pacific Ocean beyond that.

14. Morning sky from the room Apr 27, 2024

15. Today’s adventure Apr 27, 2024

Today’s goal is to visit the Embera tribe at their village called Tusipono. The Emberas are mostly in the Darien Pass but some of them have migrated to the forests near the banks of the Chagres river. This map shows where the tribes are in Panama. Our target village is right in the center where you see the three house icons.

This would need us to first drive to Lake Alajuela, then get a local villager’s boat to take us upstream in Chagres river and then a thirty minute hike – part in the water and part on land. The last two days saw a lot of rain. The ground is going to be very slippery (black clay mostly).

But if we reach there, we can get to know the local culture, listen to their music and eat the food they cook. Apparently they do a dog and pony show for tourists if they visit them!!

16. We have reached Chagres river! Apr 27, 2024

After an uneventful (and slow!) drive to Lake Alajuela, we reached the point where we can get some local boats. That is Chagres river in front of us. Dry season is ending and the river is fairly shallow at this point of time.

There were a few other tourists waiting there.

17. Our ride is here Apr 27, 2024

A villager showed up with his boat and shimmied it next to the land squeezing out the other three boats.

18. Off we go! Apr 27, 2024

Sharmila, myself and three other tourists – getting out into Chagres river. The gentleman here in the picture is Tylan who served in the military and is now studying Supply Chain Management in FSU in Florida.

19. Charging up Chagres Apr 27, 2024

20. Left by the wayside? Apr 27, 2024

21. Our tattoo guy Apr 27, 2024

This guy was waiting outside as we finished his lunch. His speciality is drawing tattoos with Embera designs. I assume these are temporary. But look at the ornate jewelry he is donning!!

22. Turning a corner Apr 27, 2024

23. We have reached the spot from where the hike will begin Apr 27, 2024

24. My friend “Jimmy” Apr 27, 2024

He is a local tribal and he is going to guide us thru the hiking trail. We will hit a waterfall first.

(His real name is Jaime)

25. The hike took us thru some small streams Apr 27, 2024

I do not know why but Sharmila’s picture reminds me of Gandhiji a lot!!

26. Parts of the hike were terribly slippery Apr 27, 2024

Two days of rain had made the black clayey soil very very slippery. It was less hiking and more sliding down for me into the streams…

27. Now for some narrow ledges on the hillside Apr 27, 2024

28. Negotiating some steep rocks on the way Apr 27, 2024

29. Reached a waterfall Apr 27, 2024

30. The waterfall that I could not find the name of Apr 27, 2024

31. Catching a breath with Jimmy before the final push Apr 27, 2024

We should get to a clearing in the deep Panamanian jungles where the Embera village is.

32. Our reception committee Apr 27, 2024

33. We have reached the Embera village of Tusipono Apr 27, 2024

34. The men welcomed us with traditional Embera music as we entered the village Apr 27, 2024

35. The kids were very cute Apr 27, 2024

They were all dressed up in bright clothes. They were playing around on a Saturday morning. There was no way of conversing with them. They knew only Embera language.

36. The festivities started with the men playing some music for us Apr 27, 2024
37. Then the women did a few Embera dances Apr 27, 2024

38. This kid was too cute Apr 27, 2024

Note the toddler on the table. His dad was playing the flute and gave him a couple of maracas. The young kid kept swaying with the music and gave it a crack with the maracas. It was blissful to watch him.

39. There was the audience participation part too Apr 27, 2024

The Embera men and women came and each called one person from the audience to dance with them. Sharmila was in full flow!!

40. This touched my heart Apr 27, 2024

During the audience participation portion, one tiny tot walked up to us and asked this elderly gentleman for a dance. Who was a brilliant sport and happily obliged. The did the full dance together. There was a sense of pure happiness that overcame me watching these two.

41. The ceremonial crowning of the women after the dance Apr 27, 2024

42. Lunch is ready Apr 27, 2024

All this time we were in the main covered area with festivities, two matriarchs were busy preparing our lunch. There were two large fire pits (you can see one of them). On the menu is fish fry, plantain fry and lots of fruits. They are served separately wrapped in a leaf packet tied together with small twigs.

43. The fish fry was delectable Apr 27, 2024

I am not a big fish fry kind of person. Much to the chagrin of every Bengali. But the ones the Emberas made reminded me of the fish fry my mom used to make. It just tasted very different. We were complementing on that. We were surprised to find out that it was the common tilapia from Chagres river. The tour guide explained that the difference in the taste is because it is absolutely fresh from the river and not farm grown.

44. Our local Embera scholars Apr 27, 2024

We learnt a lot from these two ladies about the local Embera culture.

The kids go to elementary and middle school in the next village (by the river). After that, if they want to study, they have to go to the city.

Elections are held every five years. All the local Emberas gather together and people suggest names for their leader (“noco”). As names are suggested, all those who agree stand behind that person. The longest line wins!

Interestingly, they do not eat red meat. That is because, by Panamian law, they cannot keep cows, goats, sheep, horses etc. In fact, we saw only dogs around. They are also not allowed to do agriculture (other than what they need to eat themselves). The law was put in to stop deforestation of the rainforest. Without which, rainfall would be less. Which would affect the water level in Gatun Lake. That would then affect the biggest economic lever of the country – the Panama Canal.

Interestingly, they make alcohol only for celebrating certain events. They do not drink alcohol otherwise. This was surprising to me. Most tribes imbibe some locally grown alcohol – often to smooth the edges of their hardships in life.

I did not see a single person smoking either!

You cannot live in the village if you are not an Embera. If an Embera marries a non-Embera, neither are allowed to live in the village. They can visit though.

The Emberas do not have a fixed place for worship.

The matriarch answered all our questions in Embera. The younger lady translated it to Spanish. And then our guide translated it to English!!

45. Exploring the village a bit Apr 27, 2024

Reminded me of my dad’s village back in India a lot.

46. You will not be able to guess what that wooden structure is for Apr 27, 2024

This is “cepo” – the method of punishment in the Embera villages. If you are found guilty of stealing or fighting, for example, you will have to lay down on the ground with your leg locked thru the hole. You will be laying there for four to nine hours for one to five days based on what the “noco” (leader decides).

This is placed right at the entrance of the village so every villager can see the person. The idea is to create shame. No food or bathroom when your leg is locked in. (You will go home at the end of the hours every day though).

The last time it was used in this village was six months back.

47. Sadly, it was time to go Apr 27, 2024

The womenfolk came out to say goodbye from the top of the hill

48. Playa Bonita Apr 30, 2024

This time we decided to stay away from the city. This is about 30 minutes drive south of the city. The beach is full of shells. That is the Pacific ocean. My mind is slightly disoriented. I am always expecting that to be the west (Pacific side). In reality, the isthmus of Panama is such that I am actually facing south.

This is a view from the room.

49. Ships are all lining up to take their turn to get into the Panama Canal Apr 30, 2024

50. Somewhere among those huge letters you can find us Apr 30, 2024

51. Interesting sunset colors as we walked on the Amador Causeway Apr 30, 2024

52. Went for a walk to mangroves right next to our beach May 1, 2024

53. Coffee by the poolside May 1, 2024

54. Achieved a dubious feat May 1, 2024

With this run, now I have run in more countries in the world (30) than in states in the USA (29)! Need to go around running in USA a little bit more.

This was my first run after hurting my left leg. Was a bit relieved that I was able to finish it. Not to take any chances, did a lot of stretching and drank of lot of water this time 🙂

55. View of the Bridge of Americas during the run May 1, 2024

This is the entry point into the Panama Canal from the Pacific side.

56. Today’s adventure – get into the Panama Canal, visit some monkeys May 1, 2024

Also this marks the 7th country that I have the Pan American Highway on. (Chile, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and the USA).

57. First time seeing an anteater in my life May 1, 2024

This one was sitting in the middle of the road. Cars stopped and shooed it to the side. I did not know that there are anteaters in this part of the world.

58. Reached Lake Gatun May 1, 2024

Will take one those boats thru Panama Canal. Not exactly confidence arousing. I have seen those humongous ships in the Canal the other day!!

59. We are officially screaming along in the Panama Canal May 1, 2024

The pilot drove his boat like he had stolen it!!

60. It was pretty unnerving May 1, 2024

Those containers are gigantic and one does not get a full understanding of the scale till one gets within twenty yards of them. Fortunately, they were cruising along at less than 10 knots (speed limit in Panama Canal). Otherwise the wake from their moving would easily have toppled us.

61. Reached monkey island! May 1, 2024

This dude was chilling like he has nary a worry in the world!

62. White faced cappuccino monkey May 1, 2024

This one came on to our boat and took the banana straight from Sharmila’s hands.

63. Tamarin monkey May 1, 2024

These are much smaller. This one hung on to the tree with two feet, grabbed my hand with two hands and kept eating the food from my palm till it finished it.

64. Hit a snag on our way back May 1, 2024

Out of nowhere, there was a fallen tree on the road. Cars soon lined up and passengers came out to see what could be done. Do not know why, one guy had a machete in his car. He ran back, got it and started chopping off the bigger branches. In about ten minutes, we were on our way again!

Still do not know why he was carrying a machete in his car.

65. Our last destination for this trip – Casco Viejo May 1, 2024

The old city of Panama from the 17th century. This was built after pirates destroyed the original Panama City (which is in ruins today). Very colonial Spanish structure. Reminded us of Old Town San Juan in Puerto Rico a lot.

66. Remember San Juan by the lake Atitlan in Guatemala? May 1, 2024

All the colorful hangings across building tops in the streets? Here it is all hats!!

Learnt another interesting fact from a local – Panama hats are not from Panama. They are from Ecuador. In 1906, President Roosevelt had come to inspect the canal and wore a hat like this. That shot its popularity and the name “Panama hat”!

67. Finishing out the day watching some Tamborito (popular Panamian dance) May 1, 2024

68. What a trip!! May 2, 2024

Met a lot of people
Learnt a lot of new culture
Saw some beautiful scenes
Overcame some serious communication gaps
The days went by too quickly
In general, exceeded all expectations…

… and that is just the 31 years of marriage!
The Panamá and San Andres trip has been great too!! 🙂 🙂