The driver is waiting for us in the parking lot as we offload the tender and spill out onto the bustling port, a gray and dreary Panama City skyline lying just beyond. He carries a sign that reads “Canopy Tower,” and even though we are technically early, he’s ready for us. Odd, I think, this is definitely not the Central America I’m accustomed to where times are merely suggestions.
Samantha and I load into his air-conditioned van and head for the hills, seeing a small slice of Panama City as we go, old and dilapidated colonial-style buildings, hammocks haphazardly strung from posts. The MV Explorer is docked in Balboa, and most of the other participants are headed to the Embera village or out to see the locks. But I’ve already sailed through the Panama Canal. This time I want to see a part of Central America for which it is so widely known: the rainforest.
It’s not such a long drive actually. Even with pretty heavy traffic, it only takes us 45 minutes to turn off onto the bumpy, steep road that leads up into the canopy. I first heard of the Canopy Tower only a couple months prior to my arrival in Panama; my friend Fidel, all the way over in Japan, featured it on his blog as a hotel he’d like to visit. Lucky for me, I knew I’d be in Central America’s biggest city not too long after, so I bookmarked the hotel and made a mental note to stay there once I reached Panama. I’m nothing if not a woman of her word.
We arrive to a still, quiet environment—well, quiet at first, until the surrounding rainforest becomes accustomed to your presence and the chirpin’, screechin’, hootin’ and hollerin’ starts up again. I later Skyped SVV and my dad from inside the tower, and neither could hear what I said too clearly over the sound of the wildlife just beyond the open windows.
Samantha and I enter the tower, are given the keys to our room and start climbing the spiral staircase up to our dwelling. Our room is modest, as are all accommodations in the tower, but that’s OK: We’re here for the birds, not for Four Seasons-like luxury. We haven’t even unpacked when Samantha starts to point eagerly out the window and jump up and down. “Use your words, woman!” I say, mimicking how my sister-in-law speaks to her five-year-old son. “I don’t know what it is!” she exclaims. “But look right there!”
“There” is a tree not 15 feet from our room. Scampering along a branch just a few feet above eye level was…a raccoon? No, it’s a possum? A marmot of some type? No, actually, it was something neither of us had ever seen before. So I snap his (her?) mug shot—I am suddenly patting myself on the back for having the foresight to rent a long lens before my trip—and post it to Instagram. “It’s a coati!” one of my Semester at Sea kids quickly writes back. These SAS students—not just hat racks; they sure are worldly and knowledgeable!
We watch the coati for a bit before wandering upstairs and exploring the rest of our temporary digs.
It is hot and sticky both inside and out—duh, Kristin; it’s the rainforest in Central America…what do you expect?—but as the sun dips down beneath the canopy, the tower cools considerably. The windows remain open, and as if the atmosphere weren’t inviting enough, there are hammocks strung up in the living room for guest use. Samantha and I bust out our Kindles and don’t move for hours. This is the life; this is all I need to be content. (The Tower’s complimentary wine and beer fridge helps, too.)
The observation tower is at the top of a very steep and narrow staircase. But once up there, it’s another world, one of quiet and tranquility.
That night, we have dinner with the other guests—a hodgepodge of four other older couples from California and England—around a long table. They tell us all about their bird sightings from the day, and our excitement builds for the following morning’s rainforest safari, despite the 5am wake-up call. Then, they all leave for a night drive, and we return to our hammocks. But only after stealing up to the tower and taking in the nighttime view. You can’t really tell below due to the extreme darkness that encased us, but we can see Panama City lit up in all her glory amid the late night fog.
For such unique specialty lodging, it’s still relatively affordable. We paid $35 each way total for a transfer (up to three people), and rooms start at just $110 a night. Worth every penny, too. There’s also the Canopy Bed and Breakfast in Gamboa, as well as the Canopy Lodge—complete with zipline—about two hours west in El Valle de Antón that has a bit fancier accommodations. We preferred to be in the rainforest, though, and for me, the tower was just perfect; when else are you going to have the chance to sleep in a giant tower dome high above the trees in Panama? Never, is the answer.
Unrelated to all things Enrichment Voyages and Panama, but a big happiest of birthdays to one SVV! Today, he is a youthful 38 and doesn’t look a day older than when I met him at 31. We will be celebrating with a round of golf, cookout, some competitive games of cornhole and, of course, fireworks!