Panama - Her name was Catherine Johannet. She was strangled to death, and her body was found in Panama’s Bastimentos Island, located in the province of Bocas del Toro. People magazine and other major and legitimate news outlets, reported the news after it was confirmed by the FBI and local authorities who have been searching for her body. She was a fellow seasoned traveler whom by the age of 23 had already visited six continents. We never met Catherine; our paths never crossed, but they easily could have, we admire her a lot. At 23, we were not even close to where she was. Her death was felt deep inside within the entire worldwide community of adventurers like us. Shortly after the news broke, without much hesitation, we decided to set our compasses in Panama’s direction. This blog entry is merely an effort to make Catherine proud, as we attempt to engrave into history a humble piece she would have been proud of
We had originally intended to visit the Bocas del Toro area; nonetheless, after much thought and consideration, we decided to be respectful and stay away from that area.
As usual, we begin with our travel advice. We booked our tickets using Skiplagged’s hidden city technique. It made our tickets incredibly cheap. We also used their long layover option, which made our tickets even cheaper. We do not advise the latter; the long layover is not worth it. You will end up the spending even more money on amenities such as food, transportation, showers, and others. The fatigue will take a toll on you, thus making the travel aspect of your trip significantly stressful.
This was our first time utilizing Copa Airlines, Panama’s airline. We were mesmerized by their services, and their timing was impeccable. Their reputation precedes them. As the aircraft landed, the monitors began to portray Panama City, as a thriving modern metropolis. To be exact: “Welcome to Panama, the hub of the Americas” – The Panama City International airport reminded us of airports such as DFW, IAH, and LAX. The terminals were filled with people from all over the world, and all sort of languages were heard.
After clearing immigration, the gates to an often underrated paradise and a land of opportunity were opened. A fact worth mentioning is that Panama’s currency is the U.S. Dollar. The latter can often be very handy, especially if you need to keep a tight lid on your budget while overseas.
Our first stop, (usually our first stop everywhere we go) local street food joints. If you have read our previous blog entries, you know that we always try to avoid any major chain restaurants and other tourism-based venues. The menu for this adventure included:
· Arroz frito chino
· Arroz con pollo
· Arroz de mariscos
· Helado de nance
· Sopa de pescao
· Salchicha con juguito y ojaldre.
· Ensalda de toldo
· Pescao’ frito
· Guisao’ de carne
· Guisao’ de gallina
· Chuleta de Puerco con arroz blanco y ketchup Maggie at Daniel’s house.
· And so much more……..
Our adventure began in El Chorillo. El Chorillo is a neighborhood that was heavily damaged during the 1989 United States invasion of Panama. Often, for us in The United States, when we see terminology such as “invasion” being used, we immediately link it to Afghanistan and Iraq. As Ezer Vierba portraits in his report titled “Panama’s Stolen Archives” On December 20, 1989, U.S. forces invaded Panama in Operation Just Cause. (In Panama, it is sometimes called “Just because.”) as they sought to overthrown Panama’s dictator, General Manuel Antonio Noriega. The Panamanian forces—a militarized police at best—were not capable of mounting an organized defense of their country while the U.S. military machine pounded Panama City, fires raging in the working-class neighborhood of El Chorrillo trapped thousands. In the next days, while U.S. forces pushed into the interior, military police units struggled to enforce authority over the main cities. The public sacked the city’s shops while the smell of charred bodies was still in the air.
As we chatted around with Panamanians, it was noticeable that they are not ashamed of their past, and are proud of where their country stands right now.
After the country was left in crumbles, Panama has managed to overcome their darkest moments, and lead the way in progress throughout the region.
Raul Moreira, Director of Economic and Social Analysis at the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), explained in a press conference that the Ministry's forecast is aligned with projections from the International Monetary Fund, which also estimates Panamanian economic growth at 5.8%. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) projects 2017 growth to be 5.9% and the World Bank 5.4%. Panama's economy continues to lead Latin America, according to the World Bank and is well-ahead of ECLAC's projected average growth for Latin America of 1.3%.
We had a great time in El Chorillo. Nonetheless, Panama is a synonym of The Panama Canal. So by default, our next stop was the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal had recently completed its expansion works, and to admire the newly expanded canal, we traveled to the province of Colon, located on the Atlantic side. Needless to say, it was a majestic experience.
Of course, we had to make things a bit more interesting, so we diverged slightly into a nearby rainforest area. As you can see in the pictures, the area around the Panama Canal was a thick jungle, we are sure that a flora enthusiast would have had a blast, we almost got lost, but managed to return to the canal viewing area. (that was a close one) –
only 4 hours into our adventure, and our adrenaline levels had already skyrocketed.
Next item on our agenda, was El Mercado de Marisco, previously visited by Anthony Bourdain. It did not disappoint, the dishes prepared with freshly fished fish had a surreal taste. We then head to El Casco Viejo District, The Causeway, and The Cinta Costera.
While mingling around and deeply learning about the local culture, we met Rene, a Venezuelan immigrant who fled to Panama from Venezuela in search of a better life. Panama has been at the center of a massive influx of Venezuelan immigrants. We thanked Rene for sharing his amazing story with us and promised him to do our best to discover Venezuela next.
On the other hand, Carlos, a Panamanian native we met while exploring Panama’s central business and banking district, shared with us Panama’s current anti-immigrant sentiment. Carlos: “They come here from Venezuela and buy property, and all of a sudden they think they own the country” – We are very familiar with that narrative back home in the USA. We recognize that often, issues of this nature can be somewhat intense and complex. Without hesitation, we provided Carlos with a warm and humble listening ear. As it is our policy, we try to stay away from political issues as much as possible, but this does not mean that we are exempt from consequences. We believe we must use our database of knowledge acquired while traveling the world for the greater good of humanity; so, with shared our ideals of hope, progress, equality and success with Carlos, and other Panamanians we met along the way.
We have so much material we could write a book about it (perhaps someday we will) we simply couldn’t fit all in one blog entry.
We spent a total of 5 days in Panama, traveling throughout the provinces of Panama, Panama Oeste, and Colon, which is merely a fraction of what Panama has to offer. In those five days, we visited so many places and met a wide arrange of amazing people, who refused to give up after their country collapsed in 1989 and instead came together to build an incredible paradise.
“I found paradise, and it’s called Isla Ina!” Catherine Johannet, a 23-year-old native of Edgemont, New York, wrote on Feb. 1 about the tiny island off the northern coast of Panama.
She was right. We agree. Panama is an affordable paradise within reach.
Humbly, in memory of Catherine Johannet 1993-2017
Your adventurous spirit will always live within us in all our travels. @catastrophe93
Baker, K. (2017, February 08). Missing Columbia Grad Reportedly Strangled in Panama Soon After Posting ‘I Found Paradise’ on Trip. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from http://people.com/crime/missing-catherine-johannet-strangled-in-panama/
Panama, G. O. (2017, February 21). Panama forecasts Latin America's highest economic growth rate for 2017. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/panama-forecasts-latin-americas-highest-economic-growth-rate-for-2017-300410849.html
The smart way to find cheap flights. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2017, from https://skiplagged.com/
VIERBA, E. (2014). Panama's Stolen Archive. NACLA Report On The Americas, 47(3), 24.
Villacis, D. (n.d.). American Woman Found Dead in Panama Was Columbia Graduate. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from http://abcnews.go.com/International/american-woman-found-dead-panama-columbia-graduate/story?id=4532618