The Panama Canal. On My Bucket List For Decades. The Journey Begins
I am writing this blog in one of my favorite places, an airport, this time the Newark International Airport in New Jersey. I am enjoying a view of the cotton-like cumulus clouds floating over the New York City skyline. I am on my way to Panama City where I will stay at the Canopy Tower, an abandoned U.S. radar station that has been converted into an Eco-lodge.
Why Panama? Always a good question. And I have the answer . Because I wanted to see the Panama Canal since I was a child. I first read about it in my parochial school Geography class. It was one of the many places I imagined visiting so many decades ago. And, very honestly, when I said I would travel to these remote places someday, none of my family, friends or teachers believed it would ever happen. There were so many other places on my early “bucket list”. I have already checked many off of my list. The Pyramids were one of the first. This will be another. I only decided on this trip a few weeks ago. One late night I was getting my usual Fall restlessness. I was looking for destinations where I could enjoy nature in the Caribbean region and I discovered the Canopy Tower in Panama. Nature, birds, howling monkeys and sloths. A five hour direct flight. And, the Panama Canal! I booked a stay immediately and that is were I am now headed.
So, it now Saturday morning. I wrote the last two paragraphs on Monday afternoon. I am now in Marriot Hotel in Panama City after a remarkable stay in the Canopy Tower . A lot more about that amazing stay and photos of the amazing critters I saw in future blogs. But first, in this post, just a quick account of my travels from my home in Northeastern Pennsylvania to Panama.
I left my home in the Green Ridge section of Hazle Township in Luzerne County around 9:00 a.m. I already took my daily morning walk through the neighborhood I grew up in and still live. That is my parents house in the photo. I walked to the parochial school to learn about the Panama Canal from this house many decades ago.
I stopped in my nearby law office and then drove the two hours to the Newark International Airport. It was a beautiful Fall day and there was little traffic. I love to be on the road. I had time to stop at an overlook in New Jersey and admire the scenic Delaware Water Gap and in the distance the Pocono Mountains.
So I was at the airport early. This was a good thing since I was parking close to the terminal, at the P4 daily parking lot for the first time. I missed the entrance road and had to drive around a bit to find it.
I finally did and quickly parked my Jeep and was soon taking a tram train to Terminal C. I took a photo of my parked Jeep so I wouldn’t forget where I parked it. I love airports. I remember my dad taking us to the local airport as a young child. He enjoyed watching the small planes land and take off. I am sure this encouraged my wanderlust and desire to travel. As a child I always looked up when an airplane flew over and wandered where it was going and who was on the plane. I still do.
So I roamed the air[port and enjoyed one of my favorite activities, “people watching”. I love hearing the many languages spoken in airports. Seeing the very old and very young and all the folks in between laugh, cry and chat in their native languages. Race, culture, nationality and religion don’t matter here. We are all just fellow travelers, on this small piece of rock in the universe we call Earth. We are here such a short time yet we act like we will live forever. In an airport it seems all of the “differences” that sperate us and cause so much hate are forgotten. We are all human and we are all equal. This is so evident at airports. I love airports.
I then sat by a window and started to write this blog. I didn’t get very far and soon boarded my United Airlines direct five hour flight to Panama. I paid a little bit more to get more leg room. And I was hoping, as it often happens, that the middle seat may be vacant. It still was in the morning. It wasn’t. A young engineer traveling to Panama for work took the seat just as the plane doors were closed . I don’t like to chat on my flights, which is surprising, but we had a short conversation. He was in Panama before and told me a lot about the country. He also warned me about the protests taking place and causing many traffic problems. I would learn about this first hand at the end of my trip.
I enjoy the window seat. I still love to look out the widow on takeoff, and as we fly high above new landscapes with child-like wonder. On this trip I got to see the beautiful skyline of New York City on takeoff. I have seen it many times but still look on it with awe, I think about the millions of people living in this maze of concrete and how different their daily life are from mine. I do love exploring cities their history, culture and cuisine, but I could never live in these concrete jungles.
It was a smooth flight and the sun was setting when we approached Central America. There were no lights below for a long time as I believe we were over the Caribbean Sea. It was total darkness below the plane.
I exited the plane and I was surprised how quickly I got through the airport and customs. I had only my carry on luggage and walked right through customs, after a nice chat with the immigration officer.
Okay, I am now finishing this blog post at my home in Northeastern Pennsylvania on Friday evening. It’s been a busy few days since I’ve been home. But back to my trip. . I was anxious as I left the airport. I was hoping my ride to the Canopy Tower would be waiting for me. I saw the sign and approached my driver. He spoke very little English but asked if I was Franco.
I was glad. It was around 8 p.m. and dark as we walked a short distance through the warm and humid tropical air to his van, We were soon driving through some heavy traffic as we made our way to the Canopy Tower about 40 minutes from the airport.
The traffic got busy as we neared, what I now know , was the Panama Canal. It was at a standstill but my driver knew a short cut and we were driving through dark and winding back roads. Finally, there was a sign for the Canopy Tower, I was relieved that I was not being kidnapped and taken to some remote location. Just kidding, I wasn’t too concerned, although I will admit the thought always crosses my mind in a foreign country where I don’t speak the local language. We turned up a steep winding road I would become very familiar with the next few days. We came to a gate that barred entrance to the once secure and well guarded U.S. military radar installation.
It was an amazing sight seeing the blue radar station and yellow dome in the darkness of the tropical rain forest. I forgot to take a photo, sorry. I was greeted by Jorge who took me inside the building which is now a very well furnished ecolodge. He gave me a quick tour of the building and showed me my comfortable room, the Blue Contiga suite. After being shown the library and dining room,
we climbed a ladder to the roof top viewing area. Here I heard the sounds of the sounds of the rain forest below. Insects and what I would learn were chameleons filled the warm, humid air with their sounds. It was dark and cloudy so I didn’t se the stars or forest. It was late and I was tired and hungry. They had a nice late night meal prepared for my arrival.
I enjoyed my late night meal, then returned to my room, and, after settling in, I went out on my balcony and listened to the sounds of the rain forest. I didn’t stay outside long. I was tired and soon fell asleep, looking forward to the morning and my adventures in Panama, and the Panama Canal. I thought about my early days at Transfiguration parochial school and my Geography class . It inspired me to travel all over this planet, and Panama was the latest destination. . Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos from my travel to Panama. Panama Day 1 travel October 16 2023.
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.” – Freya Stark