I arrived in Panama at seven in the morning, right in the middle of a soccer match. Walking through the terminal, everyone was glued to their cellphones, watching the team’s progress against England – not so different from Brazil. Game day is a holiday with which I was completely unfamiliar until this past month. Gustavo and I waltzed through immigration in roughly 30 seconds. No other flights had arrived, and the game was still taking priority. It was very uneventful, despite it being the first time ever that we were able to cross the border together.

The best part about leaving the Panama City airport was the slap of an introduction to the city. As the sliding doors opened to let us out into the parking lot, a rush of hot, heavy, humid air hit us in the face. It reminded me of a more tropical New York City summer day. Although it definitely smelled a lot better.

I was in Panama City for the most recent ICANN conference but had a bit of spare time before the events started. After dropping everything off at the hotel, we rushed over to Casco Viejo, which is the historic part of the city. We started at Iglesia San José based on the cab driver’s recommendation, which is a historic church that has an altar covered in gold leaf. What he didn’t tell us is that it also has this insanely detailed and gigantic nativity scene that is perpetually on display in the back.

We walked around a bunch, stopping in some shops and grabbing lunch at a cute, outdoor place called Mahalo. I ordered some brunch-style arepas and immediately entered into food heaven. I forgot how much I missed them. And how much I missed actual hot sauce. Bring on the heat.

In Panama City, of course, it’s impossible to miss the Panama Canal. We went over right before it was about to close (literally, we arrived at 5:05pm and the last ticket is sold at 5:15pm). We ran through the museum and after getting moderately lost on the fourth floor, managed to find our way outside. Lucky for us, there were two boats coming through. We were able to watch the whole process right up until the visitors center closed, a mere 45 minutes later. It was fascinating to see the dams closing and opening to manage the flow of water as these gigantic cargo ships floated through, pulled by the tiniest little tractors.

Now, on the last day, I was really hoping to make it out to the Gamboa Rainforest Reserve since Copa Airlines included it before every single movie I watched on the flight and pulled me in with adorable videos of sloths. It turns out it’s about an hour outside of the city, so there wasn’t enough time. After some Googling, I ran across the Punta Culebra Nature Center, which includes exhibits of tropical animals, as well as walking trails. Supposedly, I read, it was possible to spot sloths on the walking trails, so I wanted to give it a try.

After spying a few iguanas and raccoons, I finally saw my first sloth! All the way up in the tree, there he was, just hanging around. Literally. Doing absolutely nothing, as one would expect. I also met another very friendly raccoon on the way out who walked almost right up to my feet, except I got scared so he got scared too and we both ran away.

One thing that I’ve been trying to do on these trips is to hit up a local Crossfit. It sounds silly to some, especially because it requires me to get up really, really early. I find it to be a really helpful outlet that builds up my confidence before heading into a day full of meetings and workshops. For me, the barbell is a straightforward measurement of my own physical and mental strength, and it helps me to start the day with a couple of victories under my belt.

In this case, that place of morning refuge was Crossfit PTY. It’s a small, close-knit group, with a ton of folks from the United States, so all the classes were taught in a wonderful mixture of Spanglish. If I’m ever back in the area, I’m definitely going there again.

In fact, I’m hoping to make it back to Panama City again at some point. I really enjoyed the food, the weather, the architecture, and the history. There was also a ton of access to American goods – unsurprising, of course, considering the history between the two countries. Nevertheless, for someone perpetually homesick for American food, and the amalgamation of North American/Latin American food that we see so much in the US, it was nice to return to something comforting and familiar. Thanks, Panama.

By Erica V.

Always seriously joking and rambunctiously soft-spoken.

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