I’ve been less exposed to Panamanian culture in the small, rural, international community in Gamboa than I would have hoped. But we’ve been able to bring some of our own traditions here, and I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to venture out and learn about Panamanian culture in other places! Without further ado, here are some highlights from those experiences…
- Halloween celebration
There was a costume party in Gamboa for Halloween, and my lab mates and I dressed up as the teenage mutant ninja turtles. My supervisor, Mike, is in the middle dressed as an 80’s rocker. There were some really great costumes – one guy traveled here with an entire tweed suit for the occasion and two stuffed animal birds that he put on either shoulder, and he shaved off his beard to be Darwin. Several girls decorated cardboard boxes like the crazy diablo rojo buses in the city, and someone came as a “nudist” in a suit with a happy birthday party hat and birthday party supplies – get it?! It was his birthday suit, haha. It was neat to be with people from all over the world celebrating an American holiday together.
- The Biomuseo
My friend Gabe and I went into the city to check out the Biomuseo a few weeks ago. The museum sits right along the water and is an iconic, brightly colored building designed by the architect Frank Gehry, who is known for his unique and organic looking designs.
In my humble opinion, the museum is a really well done celebration of the biodiversity of the tropics. It has the perfect amount of exhibits to leave you well informed but not overwhelmed. Each exhibit uses a different art form, including photographs, videos, and sculptures, to teach visitors about the plethora of tropical flora and fauna, the geological and cultural history of Panama, and the importance of preserving the incredible ecosystems found here.
I left feeling so inspired seeing how many people were there expressing an interest in nature.
- The beach
It was such a funny experience to wake up early to head to the beach… in November?!? Despite the dreary weather during the bus ride there, it miraculously cleared up when we arrived and ended up being a perfect, sunny afternoon! The trip was my Panamanian friend Ernesto’s idea, and it was neat to have a tour guide for the day. He pointed out his favorite places along the drive (including a mountain range that’s great for camping and a roadside fonda selling the best empanadas with freshly made cheese), showed us all the different fruit trees near the beach (tamarind, star fruit, limes and more) and told us about the strong sense of community in Latin America – front sidewalks are like an extension of people’s homes where they bring out speakers and gather together to socialize.
Look who was sitting next to me on the bus ride back from the beach…
This adventure happened to be on Panama’s Independence Day from Colombia, and when we got back to the city we spontaneously bumped into a parade! The route passed by the Presidential Palace in a section of the city that’s usually inaccessible to tourists, so we followed the parade past security and got to see some of the really beautiful buildings. The parade itself was also neat – there were dancers wearing polleras, the very ornate traditional Panamanian dresses, and bands wearing traditional men’s attire and Panama hats. Ernesto pointed out which style polleras came from which region of Panama, and explained that flipping up different parts of the rim of a Panama hat signals different things – for example “I’m single and looking for a girl.” Afterwards there were fireworks, which looked so picturesque above all the old buildings. Sorry for all the low quality photos this week, but I’m including them anyways because I think it’s still nice to have some visuals.
Anyways, bringing some American culture to Gamboa and learning a little bit more about this country has been fun… I can’t believe I only have a few weeks left here, I’m going to try to squeeze in as many other little adventures as possible before it’s over!