Visiting Panama City and the surrounding area
We were anchored at Fuerte Amador for two days, a real treat, since so often when crossing the Canal, the opportunities for any stops are quite limited. We used our time here to explore the Panama City area together, then for George to see the work being done to expand the Canal and so that Marney could visit a local area that was the inspiration for two of the titles in a book series that she enjoys.
We certainly could have visited downtown Panama City, seen the Old Town City and explored the ruins of the earliest settlements here on our own; all are available on the Ho Ho bus route or via private tour organizations. But we opted to go with HAL shore excursions; it was exactly what we wanted to see and their schedule worked with George's taking a HAL tour to see the Canal expansion while Marney visited the former site of Fort Clayton. We don't speak much Spanish and we were interested in a historic museum offered on the Old Town portion of the Panama City tour and we'd heard that the signage was all in Spanish there; we'd need some interpretative help. The tour was exactly right for us; there was flexibility in what one could visit at the Old Town and Historic City stops and the guide was very knowledgeable about the area. We learned a lot.
George enjoyed seeing portions of the expansion project; it's hard to visualize it from descriptions, so seeing portions up close was helpful. The tour explored the area near the Gatun Locks; there's a slide-show page for this tour.
Author Janet Lambert, who wrote over 50 novels, most exploring the lives of families involved in the U.S. Military during the 1940-1970 era, based two of her titles around Fort Clayton. WELCOME HOME MRS. JORDAN and A SONG IN THEIR HEARTS mention locations that can still be seen today, but Fort Clayton was returned to Panama in 1999 and is now the home of various international schools operating under the umbrella of Ciudad del Saber, or School of Knowledge. Marney used the Ho Ho bus to travel there, to look at the buildings which in many cases are still recognizable from descriptions in the novels and to see the general area and take photos to share with members of the Janet Lambert Book Club. There's a Ciudad del Saber page in the menu bar under "Panama" as well.
I think we were both surprised by how little English we heard spoken here. Of course the primary language is Spanish here, and orginarily we wouldn't expect to find English spoken except in tourist areas, but since the United States was a major presence here as recently as 1999 we thought, especially at Ciudad del Saber, that it would be easier to ask questions than it turned out to be. It appeared to us that nationalism is very strong here, as might be expected when a foreign entity has returned land to the host country as recently as 15 years ago. There are Panamanian flags everywhere, and I know when I asked about Fort Clayton at the School of Knowledge, the English-speaking receptionist very politely mentioned that this area belongs to Panama now, and there isn't any great local interest in its USA-involved history. She referred me to the City of Clayton offices which have a small collection of photographs, but this really isn't the time to ask about U.S. interests here in the immediate past. Quite understandable. Our guide also mentioned how much is being done to raise the educational level in local schools, with lengthening school days, more emphasis on foreign languages and math, etc. Pretty typical of many places these days!
We enjoyed our 2-day visit very much and look forward to future opportunities to travel here. There is much to see and much to learn here, in a country that is a major economic power in the area. The industry emphasis on banking, commerce and tourism that is visible throughout downtown Panama City speaks to its importance in the world today.