Hello! I have emerged from the decade known as 2018. I:
completed my first half of grad school, became a redhead, spent a sweltering summer in Tokyo, remembered how awesome solo-travelling is after taking my first adventure-in-solitude in three years, got a tattoo, listened to lots of live music, visited many theme parks, wrote a lot of code, learned Japanese, cooked a lot, filled myself with incandescent rage at the state of the world, connected and reconnected with friends new and old, travelled to places that remind me just how simultaneously small and large the earth can be (internationally: Japan, Malta, China, Nepal, Panama and domestically: SoCal, Oregon, Florida, NY), and listened a lot more — particularly to myself.
Overall, 2018 has been a ride. Not necessarily a wild ride (though the year did have its moments), but one of those really long rides where you can gaze peacefully out the window with a bit of wind poking through.
Not bad, but like I said, 2018 was a decade.
In comparison: so far in 2019, I have managed to get through all the endings of Bandersnatch, fly from the East coast to the West, set a Goodreads challenge that I inevitably will not fulfill, annnnnd … that’s about it. I’m going to add “wrote a blog post! FINALLY!!!” to this list, because hey, if there’s anything I have failed to do, it’s cleaning out the hard drive on my poor laptop by uploading all my Panama content.
PANAMA, YOU SAY? So, I might have mentioned six years ago that I hadn’t had a snowy Christmas since 2003. I’m neither happy nor sad to admit that this arbitrary but personal record still holds after fifteen years:
2017: Dominican Republic
2016: Costa Rica
2014: San Francisco/Ecuador
2013: New Zealand
2012: San Diego
It wasn’t that I intended to pick a place where I would never have to see snow again (as a winter baby, I actually do enjoy fresh pow), but rather, somewhere that was not too far of a flight from New York was ideal for a Christmas-to-New-Year’s vacation. I had just barely emerged from a particularly hectic and busy semester, and Panama — with all its ease in planning and chilled-out vibes — seemed like a great place to unwind. For one, it’s very easy as an American tourist to visit, but it’s still something new. Panama is a 4 hour flight from New York, they use the US dollar, they use the same outlets, and they’re on EST. As the designated crossroads of the Americas, the country straddles both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and it’s the last mile before South America. Plus, Panama City is having a bit of a moment this year, as the city celebrates its 500th birthday in August!
The first half of the trip was spent in Panama City and the second half was spent in Boquete, a village in the Chiriqui province (on the Pacific side of Panama) that’s well known for its forested landscapes and outdoorsy scene. Panama City, on the other hand, has such strong Miami vibes that when I posted a photo of the Panamanian skyline on Instagram, everybody thought I was in Florida. There are high-rises and palm trees that hug the Panama Bay coastline (so much that Panama City has the fourth largest number of skyscrapers in the Americas), and the weather is sunny enough to justify multiple showers in the day but not oppressively humid enough to make you want to melt in an Alex-Mack-style puddle. However, unlike Miami, Panama City is home to its eponymous canal and its surrounding expanse of jungle. As in: I found a sloth in my first 24 hours in Panama.
That little buddy was found in the Parque Natural Metropolitano, an actual jungle turned US military base turned park that is host to sloths, titi monkeys, and butterflies — should you know where to look. I clocked in an impressive number of steps on my Fitbit as I hauled my butt up the different trails that led to the lookout points.
I also hiked up Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill), which is Panama City’s highest point. The walk up is not strenuous by any means (I’m coming from San Francisco, so this isn’t my first rodeo with hills), but it definitely requires a good amount of water to stay hydrated under the sun. For a twenty-minute walk, I was rewarded with panoramic views of the city and its crown jewels, including this darn canal that everybody keeps talking about. In San Francisco, I can walk up a hill for twenty minutes and get completely ensconced in fog. What gives?
Speaking of, Christmas was spent actually crossing the Panama Canal! We took a boat tour via Canal & Bay Tours and cruised along the canal, which has scarcely changed since its inception over 100 years ago. While the ride was smooth sailing, we were flanked by tankers and cargo ships and enormous vessels as we drifted under the Bridge of Americas and into a series of three different locks. In order to be level with the sea, we had to sink down several meters, which equates to 26 million gallons of water, getting secured to 50-ft thick concrete walls, and being held back by 700-ton steel gates before the water levels were equal enough to proceed. Engineering is wild, man!
It’s amazing that these ships, in all their enormity, were able to pass through with nary a bump or scrape. That there’s some pretty tight steering.
Since Panama is a largely Catholic nation, a good number of places were closed Sunday the 23rd, the 24th, and the 25th, which meant that the 26th was one of the few days we could visit the Biomuseo, a biodiversity museum with a Dr. Seussian architecture that can be attributed to none other than Frank Gehry.
The museum was also the endpoint of an hourlong stroll along Cinta Costera, Panama’s pedestrian walkway that hugs the coast.
We took in views of Casco Viejo (above), the old town neighborhood full of brightly painted Spanish colonial-style buildings, and stopped by the Mercado de Mariscos (the fish market), where vendors were selling their catches-of-the-day left and right.
And finally, the Panama City leg of our trip was capped off by a delicious meal at Maito, where we sampled a tasting menu that I’m still dreaming about, even to this day.
All in all, not a bad way to spend the silly season. 🙂 Just so I’m not inundating the Internets and your eyes with 28348293 photos, the second leg of my trip (aka the more nature-y part in Boquete) will be featured in a forthcoming post. For now — happy 2019!