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Costa Rica Update #10: El Otro Lado De La Frontera

Posted by kevinwolz on July 31, 2011

After Las Cruces, I began heading towards the Panamanian border one day early in hopes of getting a bit ahead on the many-hour trip to Panama City. However, a series of unfortunate events all conspired against me, and, to put it simply, I had to stay overnight in the border town of Rio Serreno before crossing into Panama. My time in Rio Serreno was perhaps one of my most exciting/spontaneous/frightening days in Costa Rica. I was able to totally fly by the seat of my pants as I traveled alone, and I spoke a ton of “essential” Spanish just to figure out what the heck I needed to do. That is what real traveling is.  

On the other side of the border, I encountered not just a different country but what seemed to be practically a different world. If I had come from the U.S., I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything at all, but after having spent two months with her Latina neighbor, many of Panama’s different characteristics jumped out at me right away. During my first bus ride (from Rio Serreno to David), I decided to pull out my notebook and create a list of these differences. I had a full-page within minutes–before we even left the Rio Serreno city limits. As a result, half of me got excited for the world of new experiences that obviously awaited me, but my other half became a bit nervous…this wasn’t the Costa Rican home that I had known for, well, what seemed to be forever.

Twelve hours of bus rides later, I was in Panama City (luckily, unlike Costa Rica, Panamanian buses have comfy seats, air-conditioning, and movies…in Spanish, and of which I understood a good 75%!). In Panama City, I was lucky enough to have my professor pick me up from the bus station and take me into his home. Over the next few days, I did my best to get to know Panama with the little time I had.

Within the city, my primary attraction was to Casco Viejo, the oldest part of the city, which reminded me very much of the French Quarter of New Orleans. There, I walked the coast, explored the churches, ate in some interesting cafes, and attended the Canal Museum (which I did my best to plow through in Spanish). Another interesting area was Ancon, which was originally part of the U.S.-managed area around the canal. For quite an extreme change, the buildings and area here made me think that I was on an old army base…quite a bit different from a historic New Orleans. From this army base, I headed to the heart of downtown, which is right on the Pacific coastline and has skyscrapers going in at an alarming rate (including a few by Mr. Trump himself). If you haven’t gathered it from this basic information already, yes, the downtown area made me feel like I was in Chicago again, complete with Lakeshore Drive and Grant Park. What a complex place Panama City is!

One day, on my way out of the city, I decided to stop by the monstrous new mall that seemed to be the city’s most popular location. Now, for those who know me well, a mall is the last place you would expect me to be. Consumerism is my enemy, and the whole atmosphere  just make me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, as I had heard several times that, as a result of the canal, consumerism was a central part of Panamanian culture, I felt the mall a necessary stop in order to get the full Panama experience. I was also very curious to see if the rumors of rock bottom prices on everything in the country were in fact true.  In the end, as you can probably expect, I was only able to deal with the mall for a bit. After a lap around this Everyday, USA outpost and finding nothing the least bit cultural about it (or unbelievably cheap for that matter), I couldn’t take it anymore. So, I headed to the mall’s movie theater and saw the long-awaited, new (and awesome) Harry Potter movie. I’m not sure which location seemed more fake to me: Hogwarts or Albrook Mall.

The last, and perhaps neatest, activity of my Panama City trip was attending the Panama Canal Visitor’s Center at the Mira Flores Locks (the first of three canal locks when coming from the Pacific Ocean). The Visitor’s Center itself was quite impressive, with a large movie theater playing a movie of the canal’s history and a four-storey museum about the construction, maintenance, and future expansion of the canal. However, the best part of the experience was heading to the top floor for an impressive bird’s eye-view of the lock and canal. From there, I was able to view a small ship pass through this set of locks. While the slow process was not the most visually exciting experience ever, it still left you somewhat amazed…as if you had just traveled the entire web of globalization for which the canal is somewhat of a poster child. That said, after my short rendezvous with Panama City and the Canal, I headed for the small little outpost in the middle of the Panamanian mountains where biology would soon become my one and only focus. And so the third and final Phase of my summer began…

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3 Responses to “Costa Rica Update #10: El Otro Lado De La Frontera”

  1. Joan said

    Kevin, Happy to hear you made it to Panama. You should catch a cruise liner going thru if you can. Aunt Vickie & I were on a huge one and we had a balcony with our room so we had a great view of the process. You’ve had a wonderful experience this summer full of surprises, good and bad. Eager to hear more about it when you come home. Only two more weeks!!!
    Love, GB

  2. Karen said

    Great adventures and enlightening encounters!
    Keep up the momentum!
    Mom

  3. Dale & Joyce said

    Great reading, you make us feel like
    we are on the road with you. Have a great ride!!!!!

    Gramma & Grampa

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