A Trip To Panama City

Day 1:

We arrived at Omar Torrijos airport via American Airlines early in the
afternoon. We purchased our required tourist cards (3 balboas, as US dollars are
called in Panama) at the airport, then caught a taxi for the 18 mile ride to our
downtown hotel. The ride in the battered, un-airconditioned car was rather
expensive (30 balboas), but the driver spoke English and was very friendly. We
arrived at the hotel and checked in. While my dad was checking in I bought a
guidebook in the hotel lobby and read up on the history of Panama City. The
original city was founded in 1519 by Pedro Arias Davila, known as Pedrarias the
Cruel, because of his eradication of all but three of the local Indian tribes
during his tenure in Panama. Davila used the city as a place to store Incan
gold before it was shipped to Spain. The original city was sacked and burned
in 1671 by a group of buccaneers led by Henry Morgan. The city was rebuilt
within a year, this time on a peninsula 18 miles away and surrounded by a
strong wall. This old Spanish city is now the in the middle downtown Panama
City.
Panama City is an international melting pot and its eating choices range
from American fast food to excellent internationall cuisine. Eager to begin our
sightseeing, we grabbed lunch at a nearby McDonald\'s after checking in then
caught a bus. The buses in Panama are a tourist attraction in themselves. They
are brightly painted, hung with fringe, and have constantly blaring Salsa and
Caracas music playing. They are cheap (50 cents a ride). but are very crowded.
After asking several drivers “Donde va este autobus?” we finally found one going
to the Plaza Independencia. This plaza is the main square of the colonial town
and is bordered on one side by a cathedral with twin mother of pearl towers that
took 108 years to complete. On two other sides it is bordered by the
Archbishop\'s Palace, now a university and the Central Post Office. While in the
old part of Panama City we also visited the Iglesia de San Jose and saw the
Golden Aaltar. This altar was in the original Panama City and was saved from
Henry Morgan\'s pirates by a monk who painted it black to disguise it. When we
finished touring we returned to our hotel and then ate dinner at El Pez de Ora,
one of the city\' famous seafood restaurants.

Day 2:
We woke early and headed out for a morning of shopping at the Mercado
Publico. I bought some jewelry and some small wooden figurines as souvenirs,
but when I asked “Donde esta los sombreros de Panama?”, the vendor told me
Panama hats were made in Ecuador. The hat most commonly worn in Panama is the “
pita”, a narrow brimmed straw hat with black and white stripes. The most
important phrases to remember when shopping in Panama are “ Cuanto cuesta esta?”
and “ Acceptas tarjetas de credita?” After shopping we had Chinese food in one
of the local restaurants.
After eating we went to visit Panama\'s most famous attraction, the
Panama Canal. The Canal was completed in 1914, and is considered one of the
greatest engineering feats in the world. We took a shuttle from our hotel to
the canal and then went on a 90 minute train ride all the way across the isthmus
along the canal. The railroad we were traveling on was built in 1855 to
transport ‘49ers who were on their way to the California gold rush and was the
first “trans-continental” rail link. At one of the train stations we got off
and walked to the Miraflores Locks, sat on bleachers, and watched the ships go
through the canal. After our tour of the Panama Canal we returned to our hotel
to get ready for a night of dinner and theater. We ate dinner at an Italian
restaurant then went to the Teatro National for a performance of the Folkloric
Ballet. The Folkloric Ballet features native folk dances and costumes and was
very entertaining.

Day 3:
We rented a car and left Panama City headed southwest along the Pan
American Highway. First we visited the Parque Natural Metropolitana, a zoo on
the outskirts of Panama with monkeys, deer, sloths, and iguanas. We then drove
toward El Valle, about 75 miles away. El Valle is located in the center of a
dormant volcano. There we saw hot springs, botanical gardens (with square trees
which scientists have been