How a big dig in Panama to make shippers richer saved a rainforest and astounded paleontologists

By Dave McBride

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Standing at the new Cocoli Pacific Locks of the Panama Canal today in the company of heads-of-state and assorted Pooh-Bahs and Potentates) we watched as Panama opened a bigger door to world commerce.

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By this time, most everybody knows the basic way that a lock system provides the steps for ships to climb and descend between sea level and the lakes above. But we also learned that the expansion of the canal is also the story of a scientific sensation and environmental salvation.

There is a newly made-up word in the world’s lexicography which, in that single word, describes a complex story about how corporate profiteering and a national need partnered to save the rain forests of Panama from ruinous development. The word is Neopanamax. Panamax was the word coined to describe the biggest size a cargo ship can be to fit through the Panama Canal. The locks newly opened after a decade of construction were designed for an even more immense ship called Neopanamax, which requires a space that is wider, longer and deeper. The wider and longer requirements are accommodated by the brand new locks on either end of the Canal. The deeper element of the design required that the waters across the interior of Panama be raised higher to float the enormous new ships. Deeper means more water and that requires rain.

Canal lake interior

Lake Gatun—Courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP)

Like the Everglades in Florida, the tropical rainforests of Panama help create their own weather.  The humid forests give up evaporated moisture that rises into the clouds and condenses into rain. To ensure that enough rainwater falls to raise the rivers and lakes that fill the canal and float bigger ships, the government of Panama, realizing their reliance on this symbiosis, declared the interior rainforests throughout the canal region to be protected from development.

Another gift to Panama from the new canal project is that scientists were able to follow the diggers into the bedrock carved out for the new locks and to discover fossils that surprised paleontologists around the world. Deep in the Las Cascades Geologic Formation, researchers from the University of Florida and elsewhere found seven fossil teeth that shook the foundations of animal origin theory. These are teeth of a monkey similar to the capuchin that wears a bellhop’s hat and dances to the tune of the organ grinder. The teeth are 21 million years old. That means monkeys lived in North America before it was connected to South America by the Panama land bridge.

Monkey images

Courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP)

Till now it was assumed that South American monkeys evolved there and traveled to North America after the isthmus rose up. Now it is clear that somehow monkeys floated north, perhaps on rafts of floating debris, across a hundred miles of ocean separating the two continents to colonize the forests in the southern tip of North America millions of years before the two continents were connected. The scientists called the ancient monkey species Panamacebus transitus, to allude to the monkey’s movement across the ancient seaway that divided the continents. The U.S. National Science Foundation contributed almost four million dollars to the scientific project to study the fossil record revealed by the cutting of the new canal lock, which was led by researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History. The great variety of fossils identified in the dig include those of camels, crocodiles and fierce bear dogs (Oh my).

Veteran Newsman Dave McBride is an award-winning news radio reporter, anchor and program director and creator of fan-favorite Dave’s Raves. Dave has received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Writing for Radio/Large Market and the 2010 and 2011 Murrow for continuing news coverage. He was awarded the New York Festivals World Gold Medal for Best Writing for Radio. In his first year in Florida he received the Florida AP award for Best Long Light Feature in both first and second place. Dave is currently based in South Florida.

THE PARTY PACK Celebrate In Style

By: Stylist Melissa Lynn
The holidays can be full of beautiful surprises, especially when traveling to new places with new adventures scheduled.

But, not all celebrations can go as planned. Fortunately, there are essentials you can prepare to ring in the new year with success. Pack these stylish wear-anywhere items for wherever this season’s’ festivities take you. From ugly sweaters to sequins and sparkles, you’ll be ready-set to keep the spirit bright in front of the fire or laying beachside…

A Casual Chic Christmas…

CasualChic XMAS- B1Party Place: The May Fair London
Items Links: Replay Blazer | TumiTegra Lite | Kate Spade Keds | NIKE Air Max | Sakroots Travel Case | Classic Flannel Set | Hobo Abrielle | Sequin Uggs

Mix/Match and be Merry
MM Merry, B2Party Place: Riu Plaza Panama
Items Links: Eliza J Skirt | Roxie Ankle-Tie Pumps | Minimercengy | Alexis Leona Dress | Carlene Bow Pumps | NARS Jungle Red | Gabi Dress | Atelje Jask Sandal | Pointsettia Drops Earrings

Winter by the Waves

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 3.35.41 PMParty Place: Melia Nassau Beach
Item Links: Linen and Sequin Tote | Le Specs | Petalo by M. Gemi | Snake Print Maxi | Gigi Burris Hat | River Island Wrap Suit | Beats Wireless | Sonix Bahamas Phone Case

Stylist Melissa Lynn has more than 15+ years in the industry with a degree in Merchandise Marketing from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. SML has styled television appearances and music videos, viral and print advertising campaigns, red carpets, editorial shoots + look books.

Her work has been featured on major television shows and publications like Cosmopolitan, Dazed Magazine, LA Times, MTV and she contributes expert opinion for fashion news leaders such as Luxury Daily and TheHauteMess.com.

Make it Summer Fun for EVERYONE!

Grand Bahia Principe Coba

Grand Bahia Principe Coba

The school year is winding down and like many parents out there, I am in denial that I need to line up sitters, start camp sign-ups, and look into pool memberships to keep my family happy this summer.

But the one thing I am REALLY looking forward to is planning is my summer family vacation.

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An itinerary for Panama to maximize your vacation!

Gina West, one of Apple Vacations’ Regional Sales Managers, recently returned from Panama. We were able to get her first impressions and now here is a sample itinerary that’s she suggests when visiting Panama:

First stop, Panama City… it’s actually two cities in one.  The historic area of “old” Panama City is experiencing a renaissance. The ornate architecture of decade old buildings are being painstakingly restored to their original condition.  Old Panama City is invitingly charming and yet eclectic with small boutiques, shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and gathering squares.  While it’s still a work in progress, witnessing its rebirth leaves visitors with a strong desire to return again and again.

The newer part of Panama City is home to over 80 world banks, many corporate headquarters and hotels. Dozens of skyscrapers have gone up just in the past 10 years! The city is host to countless corporate conventions in the dozens of trendy, chic sky-scraping hotels.  Currently the 80-story Trump Ocean Club Hotel is the tallest building in Panama City with magnificent views of the new skyline as well as old Panama and the ships in the distance waiting their turn to enter the Panama Canal. A visit or stay in Panama City is a must.  There’s so much to see and do, great restaurants to visit, quiet or upbeat bars and lounges. Stay in one of the hotels in the newer part of Panama City for two nights but be sure to visit both areas during your stay.

Next, head to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and the second lock of the Panama Canal is just a short 30 minute drive southeast of Panama City. The tranquil and serene Gamboa Rainforest Resort is located minutes from the Miraflores Lock (the second lock of the three that make up the Panama Canal). The All-Inclusive Gamboa Rainforest Resort, not yet 10 years old, possesses a casual elegance and charm that you feel the moment you arrive.  The panoramic view of the river and mountains gives this resort the look and feel of a spa retreat. Guests of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort unwind and relax as the pace is much slower than the pulse and energy of Panama City.  Treat yourself to this experience. The Gamboa Tarpen Club at the Panama Canal is connected to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Be sure to take the water tour into the canal which takes guests into the canal waterway and its surrounding tiny islands teeming with wildlife. This was my favorite part of my week in Panama. The tour guides on these small 10 passenger vessels are excellent and able to spot various species of wildlife that inhabit this area. Spending a few days at Gamboa Rainforest while in Panama is an absolute must.

Finally to complete your stay, plan on spending your last few nights at one of the beach resorts in Panama. There is a beach resort to fit every desire and budget. The Westin Playa Bonita is just 45 minutes southwest of Panama City. As you drive further south, the beaches of Panama get even better. From the understated luxury and elegance of the Panama Marriott Hotel to the charm and energy of the family friendly All Inclusive Royal Decameron, there are many great beach resort in Panama. Spending the last few days of your visit to Panama relaxing at the beach!   

There is so much to see and do in Panama, but the good news is it can be done in a week with a little planning. In fact, Apple Vacations offers a 7 night package that incorporates a little bit of each part of Panama. Spend some time with your travel agent to make sure your Panama vacation is the best fit for you. 

 I didn’t expect to fall in love with Panama as much as I did, but I did. Besides the diversity of what Panama offers, there was an intangible element of the Panama experience that I couldn’t quite put into words. I consulted Wikipedia and I found that intangible element. According to Wikipedia, in “a 2012 poll, it was reported that Panama City was the city with the happiest people in the world” – So there you have it! Perhaps the most compelling reason to visit Panama. 

Add Panama to your bucket list and visit the city with the happiest people in the world!

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Panama – From the pages of the history books to an amazing experience!

We get a lot of questions on Panama. It is a fairly recent addition to Apple Vacations product offerings. Gina West, one of our Regional Sales Managers, recently returned from Panama. We were able to get her to share her experiences with all of us. Now you can decide if Panama is right for you!

As a baby-boomer, in grade school, I learned the significance of this small country. It is barely more than a strip of land, the “isthmus” on the globe connecting North and South America. Until my visit, my understanding was simply this. A strip of land connecting two continents and home to the Panama Canal – a passageway critical to the world’s commerce and economy. Boy was I wrong! There is so much more to Panama than in our history books. The Panamanian Tourist Board should put me on their payroll as I have now become a self- proclaimed “unofficial ambassador” and passionate promoter of Panama. Panama should be on everyone’s travel or “bucket list” and here’s why…

 Besides the critical role that the Panama Canal plays in transporting goods from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the workings of the three locks of the Panama Canal is amazing to witness and i’s history is worth exploring. My fourth grade geography class came flooding back and I was in awe, as I watched a cargo ship carrying 1500 containers maneuver it’s way through the locks from the Pacific (to the south) to the Caribbean and Atlantic (to the north).  Even more amazing was seeing ship after ship stacked up behind it waiting for their turn. This 24/7/365 day operation is “business as usual” in today’s world of commerce but still one of the coolest and most amazing engineering feats ever accomplished. 

 I expected to be WOWED and impressed by the Panama Canal, and it did not disappoint. What I did not expect, was everything else that Panama has to offer.  I truly fell in love with this destination.

 In recent years, Panama has modeled itself, the government and lifestyle similar to The United States, so it’s no wonder that American travelers find Panama a very comfortable destination to visit. Panama has coin currency called the “balboa”. The value is the same as the U.S. dollar and the U.S. dollar is the standard currency used throughout Panama. Just about everything in Panama is up to U.S. travel standards. The accommodations are spacious and clean. You can drink tap water because the filtration systems are the same as here in the U.S.

 There is so much to do in Panama, and so many areas to visit. It is a city destination, is it a beach destination, there is a rainforest. You can dip your toes in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the same day! If you want to take a vacation to Panama, but are wondering just how to get the most out of your visit, here is what I would recommend: Plan to spend at least one week. But, don’t spend the entire week all in one place. There are three distinct areas in Panama and you should visit each.

Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll give you the sample itinerary that Gina recommends.

In the canal with the container ships! Trump Ocean Club Infinity pool on the 35th floor! File0505 Tamarin Monkey in the Gamboa Rainforest

 

Top 5 Travel Tips for traveling to Panama

As told by Ruth Daniels

I would consider myself a little bit of a “seasoned” traveler. I’ve been throughout the Caribbean Islands, to several vacation spots in Mexico, and the all over the U.S. So when I was thinking about going away, I definitely wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere a little more adventurous. My friends and I decided to go to Panama! I found that this booming Central American hotspot has much more going on than its namesake canal.

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations – The Westin Playa Bonita Panama

 

Here are my top 5 travel tips for going to this destination:

1.      Fly Non-Stop!

We left from DC where we flew out on Copa Airlines. It was a non-stop flight, which was really nice. They even had blankets and pillows and served meals on the plane! I can’t remember the last time I was on a flight that did that. It definitely added an unexpected touch of luxury.

2.      Private Transfers

For the convenience of Apple Vacations customers, all hotel bookings have private transfers included. Whether you are arriving at the airport or transferring between different hotels in our program, our local ground handler, Gamboa Tours, will provide a private air-conditioned transfer at a time requested by you. This makes booking a double (City & Beach) or triple center vacation (City, Rainforest & Beach) simpler and will ensure you get the most out of your vacation experience in Panama. It’s a really nice added touch, and one less thing to worry about while traveling.

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations – Trump Ocean Club Panama

3.      See everything! – Beach & City

We had heard through various contacts that the best way to experience Panama was to stay for a couple nights in the city, and then, spend a few nights at a beach hotel. The first 2 nights we spent at the Riu Panama Plaza. It’s in the financial district close to a lot of boutiques and shopping malls. I definitely came back with my bags a few pounds heavier! Our rooms were on the 17th floor and we had a breathtaking view of the city. From our hotel in Panama City we were less than 20 minutes from the Panama Canal and the Old City ruins. We went to Miraflores Locks and actually got to see a huge boat go through! It was neat to see the water levels change in the locks to get the boat through. The ruins were great too, because we got to see another historic side to Panama. Our last 2 nights were spent at the Sheraton Bijao where we spent some time on the gorgeous white sand beach and enjoyed the spa, bars and sun!

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations – Capuchin Monkey, Monkey Island Boat Tour

 4.      Monkeys!  (Technically, it’s the Monkey Island Boat Tour)

You can take a boat tour through secret waterways to find hidden islands where Capuchin monkeys and Howler monkeys can be seen leaping in the trees above! Occasionally, they become curious of visitors and venture down to take a closer look. This tour is roughly a ½ day and includes transportation, English-speaking guide and boat ride around the Gatun Lake.

 Last but not least…

 5.      The Panama Canal Tour

This tour begins at the Flamenco Resort and Marina. After a 45 minute motor coach ride to Gamboa, you will board a boat and enter the canal at Gaillard Cut, where the Chagres River flows into the canal. While traveling the Cut’s 8.5 miles, you will view the new Centennial Bridge. Next, enter Pedro Miguel Locks and then Miraflores Lake. Once in the Pacific Ocean, sail to the Flamenco Marina and disembark. On the way, pass under the Bridge of the Americas. Admire the Bay of Panama and Panama City’s splendorous skyline. The ½ day tour includes round-trip transportation, bilingual guide, Panama Canal transit with all fees, lunch on board, soft drinks and water. The full day tour includes in addition to the partial transit, you will enjoy a trip through Gatun Lake, which was formed by erecting the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River.

Now you can see why Panama is a top destination for adventurists, eco-tourists, history buffs, beach lovers, families and romantics.  What are you waiting for?!? Go find your paradise in Panama!

 

*Apple Vacations Representatives are provided by Gamboa Tours DMC, an independent destination management company operating in Panama and providing services to Apple Vacationers. All prices are per person in U.S. dollars. Prices and excursions subject to change without notice. Excursions operated by local independent suppliers. Some require physical activity. Please consider the nature of the excursion to ensure it is appropriate for your age and physical condition.

 

 

Panama, When do I get to come back?

I completed my visit to Panama with only one question in mind – “When do I get to come back?”

View of Panama City from Trump Ocean Club Panama Hotel

Without a doubt, Panama is one of the most interesting countries I’ve ever visited.  It’s essentially three destinations – beach area (Playa Blanco and Playa Bonita), the Rain Forest and the metropolitan area of Panama City. Each destination, in and of itself, would make a wonderful vacation, but being able to visit all three areas makes a visit to Pamana something very special indeed.

Upon arrival in Pamana City, you’re struck by the city’s modernity and energy. High-rise hotels, high-rise apartment buildings, banks, casinos, restaurants, shops and businesses make up this bustling area with its very active commerce, arts, culture, nightlight and dining.  And, a visit to the old Colonial City (Casco Viejo) – founded in 1673 – should definitely be part of any Panama itinerary. At the center of Casco Viejo is Independence Plaza that has many restored and colorful buildings.

 

Casco Viejo

 

By the way, I wasn’t aware, until my visit, that the Panama Canal doesn’t run East to West; it runs North to South, with Pamana City anchoring the southern port that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Panama’s official currency is the US Dollar and English is widely spoken as a second language.  Service is “American-style” and the hotels’ and restaurants’ quality is top-notch.

The Miraflores Locks – just a half hour north of Panama City – has a wonderful Visitors Center boasting cool and very informative museum outlining the importance of the canal to Panama and the world. There’s a shaded viewing pavilion from which you can watch ships – large and small – pass through the locks.  Some of the larger ships go through with literally inches to spare on either side!  (A visit to the Miraflores canal museum is included in several of Apple Vacations’ optional day-tours and in our Explore Panama program.)

Some cool tidbits about the Panama Canal:

  •  Two million gallons of fresh water are used for every vessel that passes through the Canal locks.
  • A typical transit of the Canal by a cargo ship takes approximately 8 to 10 hours.
  • The highest toll was $419,420, paid by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl in February 2011.
  • A multi-billion dollar project designed to widened and deepen the canal be will completed in 2014 and will allow ships double the size of today’s canal-capable vessels to go through it.

 

About an hour north of Panama City is the Soberania tropical rainforest that quite literally powers the Panama Canal with the billions of gallons of water it needs annually. The Rain Forest is simply incredible; it’s home to hundreds of types of birds, mammals and reptiles.  What struck me most was how dense and colorful the jungle is in this area, with its flowers the size of dinner plates and incredibly large trees.  From this area, you can hike, bike and take a boat tour of the Chagres River and see rare white-faced monkeys jumping around the trees above.

 

Chagras River, Soberania Rainforest area

 

The beach areas of Playa Bonita and Playa Blanca are, respectively, about 40 minutes and 90 minutes drive from Panama City.  The drive to the beach areas is through very picturesque, rolling hills and small towns and shopping areas.   Playa Blanca is a particularly large beach that stretches along the Pacific Ocean; beach walkers will love the fact that they can walk for miles.  Guests looking for value and fun should look at the Decameron Resort, a family-friendly all-inclusive resort that stretches along the beach; during my visit to the Decameron, it was very clear that families were having a great time.

 

Playa Blanca

 

If you’re thinking about visiting Panama, check out our seven-night “Explore Pamana” tour that splits time in all three areas – Panama City, the Rainforest and Playa Blanca.

So, the answer to my original question “when do I get to go back?” – As soon as possible!