As all Jamaicans should agree, we are truly “Out of Many, One People”, our documented history and genealogy can go in any and every direction across the globe. It takes only a few minutes to glance at the faces on the street to confirm this; Indian, English, German, Asian, African, Spanish, we are the definition of multi-cultural.
It was no real surprise then, when more than two years ago, after going through old family records and documents following the passing of my maternal grandfather, I came to learn that I had direct ancestry from Panama.
Oddly enough, both of my mother’s parents had direct ancestry from Bocas del Toro, a small island province of Panama.
This discovery hatched a yearning in me, I simply had to go. I read everything on TripAdvisor and browsed travel and information blogs and websites, I downloaded seemingly unreal photos of pristine beaches and jungles and I stared at them every few days, in the back of my mind it was all filed away under “One Day”.
In August, 2014 I decided that I was done with daydreaming & “One Day” was now – with passport and the BFF in tow, I set off on a trip that would unknowingly begin my travel love affair.
Arriving in Panama City felt instantly familiar; the tall high-rise buildings gave an imposing initial view of this vibrant, albeit congested city. While on the street we were surrounded by the unceasing hum of the buses and cars combined with the bold, wildly coloured art covering the walls and around almost every corner.
The city was alive & I was hooked!
Since the majority of our time in Panama would be in Bocas del Toro, and we would only be in Panama City for a couple of days, I decided to stay with the Courtyard Panama at Multiplaza Mall. I prefer to stay with Marriott whenever possible for a number of reasons; for one my Marriott points add up and when are discounted or even free stays not a good thing? Secondly, I appreciate the consistency in service, amenities, and overall cleanliness regardless of the country or island I happen to be travelling in. With so many brands under the Marriott umbrella (Ritz-Carlton, Courtyard, Renaissance, Westin, Sheraton etc.), it also offers much more flexible pricing and location options for the particular needs of my trip. Lastly, being a former Ritz-Carlton employee (I was RC at the time of this trip) I know what the company and the employees stand for and their service standards shine through with the product they offer. This hotels proximity to a HUGE mall directly next door was an added and much appreciated convenience.
Our first meal in Panama was right in this mall; after half a day of travelling we really wanted to eat with as little fuss as possible but of course I still had to seek out something authentic. No Applebee’s or Burger King for me!
We stumbled on the restaurant Leños y Carbón which gave us buffet style options as well as an a la carte menu for a decent price (roughly $25 USD per person).
I picked at the salad bar offerings but I typically find that I can’t eat much after flying so I left most of it and chose to wait on my entree instead. Good choice.
The delicately fried fish that was presented to me here, in a mall eatery, would set the tone for my entire stay in Panama and I didn’t touch any red meat or chicken for the next 7 days. Dishes like this could easily steer me back over to going pescatarian again; the richness of the tomato and briny olives gave a perfect vehicle for the exceptionally light corvina without overwhelming it in any sort of heavy butter or cream based sauce, which seems to be all too typical for most chain restaurants. With the fish only crusted in sesame and the absence of any batter, it wasn’t doughy or greasy and there was nothing to take away from the beautiful corvina.
Simple and highly satisfying – I still need to try and recreate this dish, I wonder if snapper would do it justice?
Having arrived and settled into our hotel and now with full bellies, our sights were set on the adventures ahead. Our plans tomorrow and the following day would take us exploring the streets of Old Town and into the forests and rivers of Panama with Jungle Land Panama and promised us an unforgettable experience. Spoiler Alert: It didn’t disappoint!