by Dave McBride

CNN reported Panama among the 2016 Top Ten Ethical Travel Destinations as ranked by the Ethical Traveler Organization. It ranks countries on the basis of unspoiled natural beauty, memory-making outdoor activities and opportunities to interact with local people in a mutually enriching way.

1 Ethical Traveler ranked Panama second in environmental protection, because of major reforestation projects and programs to encourage farmers to create sustainable tropical ecosystems. Panama has also protected huge areas of tropical rainforest from commercial development. A strict National Animal Welfare Law protects animals from exploitation.

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The Punta Bruja Nature Reserve, 20 acres of tropical rainforest, provides the natural backdrop of our all-inclusive Westin Playa Bonita. Walking paths in the area lead to unfamiliar plants and animals, but be warned the terrain is hilly and the coastal forests can be steep and exhausting for the unfit hiker. Remember bug spray and bottled water. Though found across Central and South America the soaring tree below is known as the Panama tree and is the official national tree.

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We elected to take an excursion into the rainforest about half-way across the isthmus and to cruise the Rio Gatun to visit the communities of indigenous Embera, forest residents long before Panama became an element of one of the world’s best palindromes (see below).

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These villagers relocated west to the interior rivers north of Panama City as their rainforest homes in the remote east of Panama were transformed into an extensive national reserve. They once lived solitary lives apart even from each other along inaccessible jungle rivers. Now they have accustomed themselves to village life together along the Gatun and the Chagres Rivers to profit from tourist dollars spent on their crafts and by performing traditional dances for the cameras. They receive much of their crafts for sale from relations still living in the deep forests, with whom they share the revenues. Highly recommended as a day trip from the resort.

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Travelers to Panama have the opportunity to visit warm and charming rainforest river dwellers less than an hour’s journey from contemporary Panama City with its skyline boasting more skyscrapers of any city in the Western Hemisphere save New York and Chicago. 16 of the 25 tallest buildings in Latin America are in Panama City.

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A man, a plan, a cat, a ham, a yak, a yam, a hat, a canal—Panama. 

The original immortal palindrome devised by British wordplay and mathematics expert Leigh Mercer in 1948 was “A man, a plan, a canal—Panama.” Over time various clever palindrome engineers have created elaborate variants such as the one above and others of 40 words and longer. One code writer wrote a computer program that created a 540-word Panama palindrome.

By the way, the same mathematician who wrote the original Panama palindrome is also famous for inventing a math limerick, which goes:

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

Veteran Newsman Dave McBride is an award-winning news radio reporter, anchor and program director and creator of fan-favorite Dave’s Raves. Dave has received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Writing for Radio/Large Market and the 2010 and 2011 Murrow for continuing news coverage. He was awarded the New York Festivals World Gold Medal for Best Writing for Radio. In his first year in Florida he received the Florida AP award for Best Long Light Feature in both first and second place. Dave is currently based in South Florida.