Wilde Adventures
Incan Empire Cruise: November 3 — December 4, 2013

Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge)

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Fort Clayton, a historic site, used as inspiration in fiction

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In Janet Lambert's WELCOME HOME, MRS. JORDON, the author uses this actual military fort as background for recurring characters in her many books that follow two large military families through the 1940s, into the 1970s. In this book, recently-married TIppy (Andrea) Parrish and West Point graduate Peter Jordon, on his second assignment since graduation, are ordered to Panama, where they are stationed at Fort Clayton. The United States Armed Forces returned the Fort Clayton land to the Panamanian government in 1999, and the buildings are now part of an educational complex, Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge); relatively unchanged on the exterior, except that United States Army insignia and flags have been removed. Actually, Panamanian nationalism is very strong here; the field across from the main complex was literally covered with Panamanian flags on poles the day I visited.

I (Marney) have long loved Janet Lambert's books, and this opportunity to actually see a location that was the inspiration for two of her titles (the other, WITH A SONG IN THEIR HEARTS, is the sequel to this title) was too good to pass up. Upon arriving at the Fuerte Amador cruise terminal I had no solid plan for getting there; I was thinking of a cab (regardless of the expense) and was delighted to find that Ciudad del Saber was a stop on the Hp On Hop Off bus. Couldn't be simpler! However, it's not a frequently-requested stop and to my horror I realized the driver was not going to stop there; I recognized where we were, but he was trundling right on by and the bus tour guide who spoke English was upstairs! I couldn't get her attention until we reached the next stop the Miraflores Canal stop just a few minutes away, but the bus went back to the missed stop and the guide showed me how to cross the highway and then where to pick up the bus for the return trip to the cruise terminal.

The text below is taken directly from the book to show how closely Janet Lambert matched her story to the actual location. All of Janet Lambert's books are still in print, available through Image Cascade Books and there's a Janet Lambert Book Group online; contact me (link in the menu bar) if you want details.

A real location, taken from fiction: WELCOME HOME MRS. JORDON by Janet Lambert

After an army transport ship journey from New York to Panama, new bride Tippy and her Army officer-husband Peter have collected their luggage, car, and dogs from the ship and are beginning the drive from Colon where the transport delivered them, to Fort Clayton, near Panama City, where Peter's next military assignment will be their home for over two years. Actual text excerpts from the book follow; I've selected sections that match the book's descriptions to what I was able to see that day. Janet Lambert's Panama arrival is set in January; we were here in mid-November.

The road was long. The day shone its sun on them with blistering heat, as if it wanted to see how quickly it could cook them, and when it had them sizzling to its satisfaction, it turned on a faucet and poured down water.

"This isn't rain," Tippy said, steaming inside the closed car. "It's a cloudburst. It's worse than a Turkish bath. Do you suppose it does this way all the time?"

"It couldn't," he answered, loosening his tie and mopping his forehead with a piece of her cleansing tissue. "Hasn't everyone told us this is the dry season? How can it rain in the dry season?"

. . . And as suddenly as it had vanished the sun came back. It brought a little breeze with it, and they leaned out to drink in the fresh air and look at one of the great locks. The man-made waterway had a freighter in it. It was lifting the ship one step farther on its journey, moving it along until another lock received it and lifted it even higher. In three hours it would glide out, free again, and in another ocean.

"It's exciting," Tippy said, and for the first time, really knew that it was. They passed little villages, just ordinary clusters of houses . . . they passed a few beautiful homes, too, set in the hills with palm trees and flowering vines for decorations and higher, rolling mountains for a backdrop. And at last they rolled over a long winding hill and saw a lighthouse ahead of them.

"There she is!" Peter said, pointing. "A guy told me to watch for a light house. He said it would be on the left side of the road, and a bridge—the Miraflores, I think he called it—would be on the right. He said that as soon as we see it . . . yes, that's it. That's good old Fort Clayton."

. . . Peter turned the car through a gateway beside the lighthouse. There was a sentry gate, but no sentry, so he went on to park beneath the gold sabers. "I don't think this will take very long," he said. "I'll just have to report in. Gosh, where's my tie?"

. . . "Peter," Tippy said to the dogs, sitting patiently on the back seat, as Peter stepped out of the car into yet another rain shower, "has a great responsibility on his shoulders, so don't bother him any more than you can help. Until he shakes down in this new job it's up to us to do everything we can for him. We're all army, so let's remember that. . . . Everything's going to be a lot of fun,"Tippy told them cheerfully, and she sincerely hoped that it was so.

"The set-up's swell," said Peter, returning to the car. . . "I have our keys . . . let's go home."

. . . They wound along well-kept roads where green grass flourished on either side and flowers bloomed riotously. . . . One long street had large houses . . "King's Row," said Peter. "The top brass lives here." . . . They poked along between rows of yellow houses, until Tippy, watching house numbers, cried, "Stop" This is ours!"

From WELCOME HOME, MRS. JORDON, by Janet Lambert © 1953; renewed 1981

The descriptions in the story still match what I saw that day, as much as I was able to see. While the Army's Administration Building (seen better in the slide show photos) is now the offices for the various international schools, and the sabers over the main doorway have been removed, the roads and other once-military buildings are still there, in excellent condition, and repurposed for school use. There are a few new buildings mixed in; the architecture is quite different and its obvious they are from another era.

I know from reading the author's daughter's description of where her own relatives lived when stationed here that their assigned home was in what is called the 400 area, that is now private property, with homes, and I couldn't visit it, but similar areas can be seen along the roads that the Hop On, Hop Off bus took along country roads as it came in through the back route to the main complex. I really enjoyed my day there, complete with the rain showers, and since I was there in mid-November, it was still part of the hot, "dry season" of so many years ago! Of course, the bus I traveled on was air-conditioned; a luxury not available to Peter and Tippy Jordon in the 1950s!

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Hop On, Hop Off Bus

Easily available right outside the port terminal. This is a tender port; the building is obvious as you leave the tender.

Portside Wi-Fi Available

In the terminal building

As a Hop On Hop Off customer, I asked for their password and it was promptly provided. Other store there would probably do the same. There were plenty of benches and chairs within range.

I couldn't find any at the school, not even in the cafeteria, but it could be that there's a password known to school users.

Blog Content & Website Design: Marney Wilde • Photographs by George Wilde