Arriving in Panama City airport at 10 p.m. December 22nd, we encountered immigration lines backed up to the foot of the down escalator, nearly causing a Three Stooges-style domino toppling effect as more and more people descended. Almost two hours later we were barreling along crowded roads in the van sent to pick us up, the driver explaining the stores were open 24-hours now and the traffic was the last mad-rush of holiday shoppers.
As we wound up and around the perimeter of Panama City, we were surprised to see a modern city of high rises. There was Central American flavor in the environs, most definitely, but with a distinct American influence. Picture the 1950’s Midwest transplanted into a tropical jungle and you pretty much have our first impression of Panama. Smiling friendly people living a simpler, apparently content lifestyle…or maybe it was just a stupor created by the heat and humidity.
We soon arrived at our stop for the night, Hotel Estancia. Spartan yet clean and comfortable (read that as hot shower), it eased us into vacation the next morning with breakfast served on the balcony accompanied by a concert of several species of birds and Geoffroy’s Tamarins (a small monkey). Shortly after breakfast we were picked up and taken to our main destination, the Canopy Tower, along with another couple already ensconced in the van.
Still part of a gated area on top a mountain just outside Gamboa, Canopy Tower, originally a US radar tower, was converted to a small eight-room hotel about 10 years ago. Ground level was rather dismal with cement floor and dim lighting; a couple of desks located against the far wall served as reception. We were quickly escorted four flights up a grand spiraling staircase (there is no elevator) to our pie shaped room. We immediately turned the ceiling fan to high and opened the screened windows wide to try and get some respite from the heat and a humidity made worse by a light rain. Unlike a lot of Central American moderate hotels, there was adequate shelving/hanging space and a roomy bathroom. Plus, curiously, a freestanding heated towel rack was provided, which later proved invaluable for drying soggy clothes overnight. The only thing missing was a key…you can lock yourself in at night should you wish, but everyone’s room is open during the day. There’s something to be said about the freedom of not having to worry about a key.
After getting settled, we made our way up another two flights to the communal living/dining room, another plus for this hotel! Equipped with a 360-degree view, homey sofas, chairs, hammocks, library & computer on one side, and 6-person tables on the other, it was a comfortable place to hang out, read, socialized, dine. (Framed pictures and newsprint articles say both Jimmy Carter and Martha Stewart stayed here, however, I suspect they visited for the day, but actually stayed at the resort-style sister hotel, the Canopy Lodge, located about 2 hours away.) It was also a great place to observe the wildlife which included many birds, a humorous, posing 3-toed sloth, a Geoffrey’s tamarind, and a Howler monkey personally called forth by my wife Sandy – a talent picked up last year in Costa Rica.