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Panama City, Panama, More than the Canal

Panama City, Panama, More than the Canal
By Candyce H. Stapen

Thereís much more to Panama City than watching big tankers float through the Panama Canalís locks. The birds, nearby rain forest and the ability to boat on the canal intrigue us more than the slow transit of ships. In 2011 Panama City will also have the Frank Gehry designed Museum of Biodiversity.

In Soberania National Park, a 55,000 acre rainforest within 30-minutes of downtown Panama City, a flock of wild parakeets zooms across our path, landing like ribbons of green on the branches of the mango trees up ahead. Pipeline Road, a wide, nearly flat path constructed during W. W. II as an access way for an oil pipeline built at the canal, now serves as a primary birding spot. The park shelters more than 525 species of birds and 125 kinds of mammals.

As we continue our walk Roberto, our guide, points out that the barking whistle we hear comes from a trogon and that the 60-foot tree, towering above the others, the one with the shiny green leaves, is a mahogany. We keep walking, listening to the crescendo of guttural cries made by the howler monkeys, which we canít see because of the dense vegetation.

The rustle of the wind in the bamboo arching over the trail sounds like distant rain. As we near the end of our walk, dozens of toucans with rainbow-colored bills fly by, careening into a grove of fichus trees. This is just a typical morning on one of the eco-tours available at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, also about 30-minutes from downtown.

The resortís aerial tram lifts us 77 feet up into the jungle canopy as a guide points out the balsa, fichus and oil palm trees. Eye level to the branches, we search them for birds and howler monkeys. From the tram landing, we walk to the base of the 90-foot observation tower. The ramps, instead of stairs, make it easy to climb. The reward for reaching the top: an impressive view of the canalís Gaillard Cut and the big ships passing through.

We get out onto the canalís Gatun Lake in a motorboat, feeling dwarfed by the big tankers we pass. When we reach Monkey Island, the white-faced capuchin monkeys, accustomed to being fed by the guides, jump out of the trees and climb aboard for handouts, non-politically correct but fun. On another outing, we visit an Embera village, one of the regionís indigenous tribes, where we meet villagers in their colorful clothing and learn about these indigenousí peoples culture and crafts. We purchase several of their tightly woven baskets to remind us of this special countryís many riches, so easily explored from Panama City.

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