90 degrees and sunny or shoveling snow, hmmm, which do we prefer?

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We arrived! After some rather long journeys to Chicago prior to another wintery day back in Indiana, ALP16 made it to balmy Panama City, unfortunately without Christie and Joe. Joe will meet up with us in Colombia but Christie is taking care of a new one. She will be missed :(.

Today (Monday, Feb. 15) was spent enjoying the the canal, the colonial city and the new Biomuseum in a Frank Gehry designed building.  Beth packed in an amazing trip with Kenny as our fantastic guide and Nuestro Salvador (Our Savior) as our wonderful bus driver. I have a feeling we will be well taken care of throughout the week we are here.

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We started our day out with a drive to Miraflores Lock, Kenny making sure we had lots of pertinent information about the history of Panama and the Panama Canal Zone. The selfie with Maria is to let her parents know that she is alive and well. We learned about the transfer of the canal to Panama in 1999 as well as the actual building of the canal. The Panama Canal Zone (the canal as well as 5 miles on either side) for nearly 100 years was officially part of the USA. For many years Panamanians were not allowed into this area for any reason. Driving through this area is very different to many other parts of Latin America. It definitely looks more like a tropical area in Florida, more spacing between the homes with trees in the yards and wider streets.

We were able to see two large ships go through the locks and watch as some tug trains helped pull them in as they went up in water level to get through Gatún Lake. In the photo below you can see the tug train alongside the ship going through the canal.

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We toured the Casco Viejo, or the old Panama City, after our trip to Miraflores. Walking around the city we were able to see why it is considered a UNESCO site (historical preservation site) due to the incredible colonial buildings in different states of renovation.

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The church of San Jose was built in 1675 and has a spectacular gold altar. Sitting in front of it and meditating made me realize how history has shaped so much of Panama and Latin America. The old cathedral that has trees growing on the inside has a beam that is still in place after the conquistadores had built the building. This beam was one of the reasons that convinced the USA to build the Panama Canal in Panama and not in Nicaragua since it showed how stable the ground was for building a permanent fixture. The photo of the pink building shows the repairs that are needed to maintain this important historical part of the city that helps to bring more tourism to the country.