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  • Panama’s North Central Coast, Part One: Fuerte San Lorenzo

    Step back in time by exploring Panama’s historic Caribbean coast. Find out why the Rio Chagres is known as the “world’s most valuable river” and follow in the footsteps of Captain Morgan at Fuerte San Lorenzo.

    Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama fort

    Fuerte San Lorenzo, built by the Spaniards in 1595 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

    Part One: Fuerte San Lorenzo

    We sought treasure: an historical treasure trove, complete with ransacks by pirates, the legends of early settlers, stunning ruins, and yes, gold. And when we learned of Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama, we knew we’d find it there. We couldn’t wait to visit, and soon found out that getting there is half the fun!

    While only about 30 miles from the bustling metropolis of Panama City, our treasure lay on the east side of the isthmus; it would take a bus ride, then a taxi through (yes, through) the Panama Canal past the old US Army base Fort Sherman and inside a national park, to reach Fuerte San Lorenzo.

    It was bound to be an adventure, and we were up for it.

    *******

    Gatun locks, cab ride

    It’s one thing to marvel at the magnitude of the locks from the observation deck of the Miraflores Visitor’s Center and a whole ‘nother thing to be a *little* car on a *little* bridge with only the HUGE doors of the locks holding back millions of gallons of water.

    We boarded a morning bus at Albrook Terminal (the largest bus station in Central America) and for under $10, we were off. An hour later, we were catching a cab out of Colon, gawking at the north end of the Panama Canal out the window alongside us. Progress on the canal expansion project, slated for completion in 2014, was especially jaw-dropping: a ditch big enough to accommodate ships that exceed the PanaMax (meaning some will be longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall). Looking beyond the modern-day construction site I saw a window in time to the early 1900s when the first ditch was being dug and two sides of the world were being joined. A-mazing.

    We came around a bend and up to a simple guard post marking the vehicle entrance to the Gatun Locks. Vehicle entrance? Yep. Because our treasure waited on the other side of the Panama Canal, we quickly learned we’d have to transit it by car.

    Of course our little cab was a low priority for the HUGE tankers making their way from ocean to ocean, so we queued up with all the other commuters and waited our turn to pass – perpendicularly – through the locks.

    Past the Gatun Locks, cruising a two-lane, well-paved road running right through the jungle, we bypassed another point of historical significance along the way: Fort Sherman.

    The US only transferred full possession of the Canal Zone to Panama in January of 2000. Before that time, Fort Sherman and other bases housed hundreds of American troops who kept a watchful eye on the comings and goings through the Canal.

    Today, only 12 years later, Fort Sherman is a ghost town slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. It’s just what happens out here in the tropics: the heat and humidity create a perfect petri dish for growing almost anything! Nothing ever really dies — it just turns into something else. Such is the case at Fort Sherman, where vines creep and trees grow from the ruins of only a decade ago.

    As Fort Sherman slipped behind us (like its place in history), we entered the shade of an old-growth canopy which transformed midday into near-darkness and provided a welcome respite from the heat: it’s cooler in the forest. This tunnel of green brought us to the entrance gates of the Fuerte San Lorenzo National Park. We paid our park fees (just a few dollars apiece) and sprinted ahead to find our treasure.

    Fuerte San Lorenzo spread out before us, an emerald triangle pointing towards the sea. Rusted cannons lined the entrance, which was surrounded by a moat. Of course.

    Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama history

    A deep moat surrounds Fuerte San Lorenzo while the cannons keep watch.

    Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama history

    We strolled the grounds at our leisure, the only souls to explore the park that day. Regardless of when you visit, you’re unlikely to find Fuerte San Lorenzo overrun with tourists – a pleasant surprise for such a stunning sight.

    In place of people, wild creatures abounded: bellowing howler monkeys and scurrying iguanas in the trees, sleeping bats and symphonies of frogs in the darkened tunnels of the ruins, and a great variety of birds (some of which make unique “forts” of their own).

    Iguana, Panama wildlife

    A green iguana keeping company with termites.

    Standing by our lonesomes atop the jungle-abated cliffs of Fuerte San Lorenzo on this fat finger of land separating the Caribbean from the Rio Chagres, it was easy to imagine all who came before us in search of a more tangible kind of treasure.

    From this vantage point, we took it all in: the hot tropical sun, the sounds of the animals, the water hundreds of feet below. And just like that, we were transported back in time, easily envisioning:

    …the buzzing of Spanish soldiers, engineers, blacksmiths, and bakers who labored to build this fort out of tons of stone and earth. Always on their guard — but also likely to have enjoyed the sugarcane rum and other R&R activities of the 16th century;

    …Captain Henry Morgan, out-manned but not out-motivated for the piles of South American riches stockpiled here for European transport, sacking this fort on his way to Panama City, where he plundered, pillaged, and burnt Panama Viejo to the ground in 1671;

    …the thousands of ’49ers who, several centuries past the time of Henry Morgan, were legitimately using the Rio Chagres as a shortcut from the Californian Sierra Nevada to New Orleans;

    …and, finally, the pioneering canal men, who from the mid-late 1800s surveyed this area at length, finally settling on the master plan of damming the mighty Rio Chagres, thereby flooding the valley that created Gatun Lake at the turn of the 20th century.

    Panama history, Fuerte San Lorenzo

    Damon wonders where all the treasure is...

    Tips for Planning Your Own Historic Adventure:

    Follow your imagination to Panama’s historic forts just north of Panama City – and follow my advice to ensure you have the best & safest experience:

    Photos by Laurie Felker Jones.

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    Post by Laurie Felker Jones

    Laurie is the Chief Dreamer and Doer of www.SoManyBeaches.com. Meet Laurie>>

    More posts by Laurie Felker Jones

    Leave a Comment


    2 Responses

    1. Laurie says:

      LadyK, I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece. And, thank you so much for taking the time to share your journey, too! It’s a real treat to find like-minded explorers like you who share our perspectives on this fascinating Isthmus.

    2. LadyK says:

      Your article completely took me back to 1996, when I visited Panama with my husband and 18-month-old son. We had been invited by a good friend who had grown up in Colon, and spent our first night there in a grand, pink Colonial-style hotel that sat right beside the Panama Canal. We toured Fuerte San Lorenzo, our friend showing us little ferns on the ground that, if touched, would curl up delicately away from you. We saw those monkeys you mentioned, and too many iguanas and geckos to count. At the time we were the only ones in the park that day, very much like you mentioned in your writing, and I remember how the fort felt so still, even with the wind gusting in from the sea… We also took another trip out of Colon to an island that served the locals of the city: Isla Grande. We were transported in wooden canoes with small engines out to the island and stayed in small concrete huts behind a cantina for seven days. It was paradise, standing waist deep in the perfect sea, watching the Australian sailboats that had just crossed through the canal anchor off in the distance. The electricity went off at nightfall, and the islanders would drum all night, stars the brightest I’ve ever seen in my life. I fell in love with Panama, from the sea up to Chiriqui and the province of David in the mountainous region.
      Thank you for your beautiful article that pays homage to this precious and haunted country.

  • WP_Post Object
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        [post_author] => 39
        [post_date] => 2012-08-06 11:03:11
        [post_date_gmt] => 2012-08-06 16:03:11
        [post_content] => Step back in time by exploring Panama’s historic Caribbean coast. Find out why the Rio Chagres is known as the “world’s most valuable river” and follow in the footsteps of Captain Morgan at Fuerte San Lorenzo.
    
    [caption id="attachment_18803" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Fuerte San Lorenzo, built by the Spaniards in 1595 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980."]Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama fort[/caption]
    
    Part One: Fuerte San Lorenzo
    
    We sought treasure: an historical treasure trove, complete with ransacks by pirates, the legends of early settlers, stunning ruins, and yes, gold. And when we learned of Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama, we knew we’d find it there. We couldn’t wait to visit, and soon found out that getting there is half the fun!
    
    While only about 30 miles from the bustling metropolis of Panama City, our treasure lay on the east side of the isthmus; it would take a bus ride, then a taxi through (yes, through) the Panama Canal past the old US Army base Fort Sherman and inside a national park, to reach Fuerte San Lorenzo.
    

    It was bound to be an adventure, and we were up for it.

    *******

    [caption id="attachment_18797" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="It’s one thing to marvel at the magnitude of the locks from the observation deck of the Miraflores Visitor’s Center and a whole ‘nother thing to be a *little* car on a *little* bridge with only the HUGE doors of the locks holding back millions of gallons of water."]Gatun locks, cab ride[/caption] We boarded a morning bus at Albrook Terminal (the largest bus station in Central America) and for under $10, we were off. An hour later, we were catching a cab out of Colon, gawking at the north end of the Panama Canal out the window alongside us. Progress on the canal expansion project, slated for completion in 2014, was especially jaw-dropping: a ditch big enough to accommodate ships that exceed the PanaMax (meaning some will be longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall). Looking beyond the modern-day construction site I saw a window in time to the early 1900s when the first ditch was being dug and two sides of the world were being joined. A-mazing. We came around a bend and up to a simple guard post marking the vehicle entrance to the Gatun Locks. Vehicle entrance? Yep. Because our treasure waited on the other side of the Panama Canal, we quickly learned we’d have to transit it by car. Of course our little cab was a low priority for the HUGE tankers making their way from ocean to ocean, so we queued up with all the other commuters and waited our turn to pass – perpendicularly – through the locks. Past the Gatun Locks, cruising a two-lane, well-paved road running right through the jungle, we bypassed another point of historical significance along the way: Fort Sherman. The US only transferred full possession of the Canal Zone to Panama in January of 2000. Before that time, Fort Sherman and other bases housed hundreds of American troops who kept a watchful eye on the comings and goings through the Canal. Today, only 12 years later, Fort Sherman is a ghost town slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. It’s just what happens out here in the tropics: the heat and humidity create a perfect petri dish for growing almost anything! Nothing ever really dies -- it just turns into something else. Such is the case at Fort Sherman, where vines creep and trees grow from the ruins of only a decade ago. As Fort Sherman slipped behind us (like its place in history), we entered the shade of an old-growth canopy which transformed midday into near-darkness and provided a welcome respite from the heat: it’s cooler in the forest. This tunnel of green brought us to the entrance gates of the Fuerte San Lorenzo National Park. We paid our park fees (just a few dollars apiece) and sprinted ahead to find our treasure. Fuerte San Lorenzo spread out before us, an emerald triangle pointing towards the sea. Rusted cannons lined the entrance, which was surrounded by a moat. Of course. [caption id="attachment_18804" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="A deep moat surrounds Fuerte San Lorenzo while the cannons keep watch."]Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama history[/caption] Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama history We strolled the grounds at our leisure, the only souls to explore the park that day. Regardless of when you visit, you’re unlikely to find Fuerte San Lorenzo overrun with tourists – a pleasant surprise for such a stunning sight. In place of people, wild creatures abounded: bellowing howler monkeys and scurrying iguanas in the trees, sleeping bats and symphonies of frogs in the darkened tunnels of the ruins, and a great variety of birds (some of which make unique "forts" of their own). [caption id="attachment_18806" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="A green iguana keeping company with termites."]Iguana, Panama wildlife[/caption] Standing by our lonesomes atop the jungle-abated cliffs of Fuerte San Lorenzo on this fat finger of land separating the Caribbean from the Rio Chagres, it was easy to imagine all who came before us in search of a more tangible kind of treasure. From this vantage point, we took it all in: the hot tropical sun, the sounds of the animals, the water hundreds of feet below. And just like that, we were transported back in time, easily envisioning:
    ...the buzzing of Spanish soldiers, engineers, blacksmiths, and bakers who labored to build this fort out of tons of stone and earth. Always on their guard -- but also likely to have enjoyed the sugarcane rum and other R&R activities of the 16th century; ...Captain Henry Morgan, out-manned but not out-motivated for the piles of South American riches stockpiled here for European transport, sacking this fort on his way to Panama City, where he plundered, pillaged, and burnt Panama Viejo to the ground in 1671; ...the thousands of ’49ers who, several centuries past the time of Henry Morgan, were legitimately using the Rio Chagres as a shortcut from the Californian Sierra Nevada to New Orleans; ...and, finally, the pioneering canal men, who from the mid-late 1800s surveyed this area at length, finally settling on the master plan of damming the mighty Rio Chagres, thereby flooding the valley that created Gatun Lake at the turn of the 20th century.
    [caption id="attachment_18796" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Damon wonders where all the treasure is..."]Panama history, Fuerte San Lorenzo[/caption] Tips for Planning Your Own Historic Adventure: Follow your imagination to Panama’s historic forts just north of Panama City – and follow my advice to ensure you have the best & safest experience: Photos by Laurie Felker Jones. [post_title] => Panama’s North Central Coast, Part One: Fuerte San Lorenzo [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => panamas-north-central-coast-part-one-fuerte-san-lorenzo [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2012-08-29 15:59:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2012-08-29 20:59:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://amble.com/ambler/?p=18610 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw )

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WP_Post Object
(
    [ID] => 18610
    [post_author] => 39
    [post_date] => 2012-08-06 11:03:11
    [post_date_gmt] => 2012-08-06 16:03:11
    [post_content] => Step back in time by exploring Panama’s historic Caribbean coast. Find out why the Rio Chagres is known as the “world’s most valuable river” and follow in the footsteps of Captain Morgan at Fuerte San Lorenzo.

[caption id="attachment_18803" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Fuerte San Lorenzo, built by the Spaniards in 1595 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980."]Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama fort[/caption]

Part One: Fuerte San Lorenzo

We sought treasure: an historical treasure trove, complete with ransacks by pirates, the legends of early settlers, stunning ruins, and yes, gold. And when we learned of Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama, we knew we’d find it there. We couldn’t wait to visit, and soon found out that getting there is half the fun!

While only about 30 miles from the bustling metropolis of Panama City, our treasure lay on the east side of the isthmus; it would take a bus ride, then a taxi through (yes, through) the Panama Canal past the old US Army base Fort Sherman and inside a national park, to reach Fuerte San Lorenzo.

It was bound to be an adventure, and we were up for it.

*******

[caption id="attachment_18797" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="It’s one thing to marvel at the magnitude of the locks from the observation deck of the Miraflores Visitor’s Center and a whole ‘nother thing to be a *little* car on a *little* bridge with only the HUGE doors of the locks holding back millions of gallons of water."]Gatun locks, cab ride[/caption] We boarded a morning bus at Albrook Terminal (the largest bus station in Central America) and for under $10, we were off. An hour later, we were catching a cab out of Colon, gawking at the north end of the Panama Canal out the window alongside us. Progress on the canal expansion project, slated for completion in 2014, was especially jaw-dropping: a ditch big enough to accommodate ships that exceed the PanaMax (meaning some will be longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall). Looking beyond the modern-day construction site I saw a window in time to the early 1900s when the first ditch was being dug and two sides of the world were being joined. A-mazing. We came around a bend and up to a simple guard post marking the vehicle entrance to the Gatun Locks. Vehicle entrance? Yep. Because our treasure waited on the other side of the Panama Canal, we quickly learned we’d have to transit it by car. Of course our little cab was a low priority for the HUGE tankers making their way from ocean to ocean, so we queued up with all the other commuters and waited our turn to pass – perpendicularly – through the locks. Past the Gatun Locks, cruising a two-lane, well-paved road running right through the jungle, we bypassed another point of historical significance along the way: Fort Sherman. The US only transferred full possession of the Canal Zone to Panama in January of 2000. Before that time, Fort Sherman and other bases housed hundreds of American troops who kept a watchful eye on the comings and goings through the Canal. Today, only 12 years later, Fort Sherman is a ghost town slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. It’s just what happens out here in the tropics: the heat and humidity create a perfect petri dish for growing almost anything! Nothing ever really dies -- it just turns into something else. Such is the case at Fort Sherman, where vines creep and trees grow from the ruins of only a decade ago. As Fort Sherman slipped behind us (like its place in history), we entered the shade of an old-growth canopy which transformed midday into near-darkness and provided a welcome respite from the heat: it’s cooler in the forest. This tunnel of green brought us to the entrance gates of the Fuerte San Lorenzo National Park. We paid our park fees (just a few dollars apiece) and sprinted ahead to find our treasure. Fuerte San Lorenzo spread out before us, an emerald triangle pointing towards the sea. Rusted cannons lined the entrance, which was surrounded by a moat. Of course. [caption id="attachment_18804" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="A deep moat surrounds Fuerte San Lorenzo while the cannons keep watch."]Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama history[/caption] Fuerte San Lorenzo, Panama history We strolled the grounds at our leisure, the only souls to explore the park that day. Regardless of when you visit, you’re unlikely to find Fuerte San Lorenzo overrun with tourists – a pleasant surprise for such a stunning sight. In place of people, wild creatures abounded: bellowing howler monkeys and scurrying iguanas in the trees, sleeping bats and symphonies of frogs in the darkened tunnels of the ruins, and a great variety of birds (some of which make unique "forts" of their own). [caption id="attachment_18806" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="A green iguana keeping company with termites."]Iguana, Panama wildlife[/caption] Standing by our lonesomes atop the jungle-abated cliffs of Fuerte San Lorenzo on this fat finger of land separating the Caribbean from the Rio Chagres, it was easy to imagine all who came before us in search of a more tangible kind of treasure. From this vantage point, we took it all in: the hot tropical sun, the sounds of the animals, the water hundreds of feet below. And just like that, we were transported back in time, easily envisioning:
...the buzzing of Spanish soldiers, engineers, blacksmiths, and bakers who labored to build this fort out of tons of stone and earth. Always on their guard -- but also likely to have enjoyed the sugarcane rum and other R&R activities of the 16th century; ...Captain Henry Morgan, out-manned but not out-motivated for the piles of South American riches stockpiled here for European transport, sacking this fort on his way to Panama City, where he plundered, pillaged, and burnt Panama Viejo to the ground in 1671; ...the thousands of ’49ers who, several centuries past the time of Henry Morgan, were legitimately using the Rio Chagres as a shortcut from the Californian Sierra Nevada to New Orleans; ...and, finally, the pioneering canal men, who from the mid-late 1800s surveyed this area at length, finally settling on the master plan of damming the mighty Rio Chagres, thereby flooding the valley that created Gatun Lake at the turn of the 20th century.
[caption id="attachment_18796" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Damon wonders where all the treasure is..."]Panama history, Fuerte San Lorenzo[/caption] Tips for Planning Your Own Historic Adventure: Follow your imagination to Panama’s historic forts just north of Panama City – and follow my advice to ensure you have the best & safest experience: Photos by Laurie Felker Jones. [post_title] => Panama’s North Central Coast, Part One: Fuerte San Lorenzo [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => panamas-north-central-coast-part-one-fuerte-san-lorenzo [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2012-08-29 15:59:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2012-08-29 20:59:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://amble.com/ambler/?p=18610 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw )

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