Free Day

On the seventh day of our trip, GLCM was given a “free day”. This was the opportunity for us to explore any aspects of Panama we found of interest that were not preplanned as part of our trip itinerary. The past few days have seen us out the door of the hotel at times as early as 6:30 am, so we took advantage of the chance to sleep in and get some much needed rest. Notably, today was Martyrs’ Day, a national holiday in Panama. It is a day during which Panamanians remember the events of January 9th, 1964, which has come to be known as the “Flag Incident”. On this day, riots occurred in the Panama Canal Zone that called into question the sovereignty of Panama. The Zone was created in 1903 when the United States was given the authority to begin construction of the Panama Canal. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy planned directives permitting both the American and Panamanian flags to be flown in the Zone; however, after his assassination in 1963, the order was never initiated due to a restrictive executive order by the governor of the Zone, Robert J. Fleming Jr. This angered “Zonians”, who were primarily American expatriates living in the Zone. In response, many Zonians flew American flags anywhere they could before they would be taken down. At Balboa High School, after an initial unsuccessful attempt, students raised an American flag that remained on the school flag pole. Students at the top Panamanian public high school, Instituto Nacional, heard of the incident and mobilized over 150 students to march to Balboa High School and fly the Panamanian flag alongside the United States flag. When the students arrived, a dispute arose between them and Zonians. A riot broke out and the Panamanian flag was torn as the conflict escalated. United States Army units were sent to contain the ensuing violence after designated Zone police were overwhelmed. Ultimately, a combination of over two dozen Panamanians and U.S. soldiers were killed, including minors, and there were over 300 confirmed injuries. The Flag Incident is one of the reasons why the U.S. reincorporated the territory to Panama in 1979 through the Torrijos-Carter Treaties of 1977, which specified the closing of the U.S. Armed Forces Base in Panama and the full control of the Canal to the government of Panama by the end of 1999. The “martyrs” of Martyrs’ Day refer to the fallen Panamanians of this incident.

After breakfast at the hotel, most of us hailed Ubers easily to travel to our desired destination, the Multiplaza Mall. One group of five students, however, was cursed with the inability of obtaining an Uber. With all hope lost, we turned to our final solution: hailing a taxi cab. One of our savvy Spanish-speaking GLCM students displayed excellent negotiation skills in settling our taxicab fare and then we were on our way to the mall. We had one heck of a time squeezing all five of us into the smart car-like taxicab, as seen below!

When we arrived at the mall, we were impressed with the wide variety of stores available to patrons. The vision for the Multiplaza was as a commercial tourist center. It features over 500 stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, restaurants, and cinema options. Some of the luxury brands found in the space include Dolce and Gabbana, Hermes, and Gucci. We browsed in and out of our favorite brands like Adidas, Lego, and Converse as soothing piano music played throughout the mall’s corridors. One GLCM student thought purchasing a pair of crocs would be a great way to remember Panama by, so he did just that!

As a side note, one thing that makes our GLCM trips memorable is the quality time that we spend together. Because we spend so much time bonding together, we learn a lot more about each other as people and share many memorable and sometimes silly moments together. Over the past few days, we realized many of us have the shared passion of collecting Pokémon for the beloved game Pokémon Go, so these students took advantage of the spacious mall to conduct raids together to collect the characters. They lavished in joy when they completed a successful raid, as seen below.

After exploring enough of the mall, we decided to return to Casca Viejo, which we had visited previously on our first full day in Panama. We appreciated being able to once again enjoy its beauty and picturesque views. We explored several souvenir shops to find gifts for family and friends as well as to collect mementos to remember our trip. At one point, we took refuge from the intense sunlight under a tent, where a shaved ice vendor was conveniently waiting to entice us with the nice cold refreshment, which we gladly indulged in. The ice was shaved from an actual block of ice right before our very own eyes! A popular choice was a strawberry syrup and condensed milk combination that yielded a delicious strawberries and cream flavor. The shaved ice vendor was very friendly towards us and even allowed us to give shaving the ice a go.

Afterwards, some of us decided have lunch at Diablicos, a traditional Panamanian food restaurant, which we had kept in mind since our first visit to Casca Viejo. The word “diablicos” refers to the devil, which is represented in costume in some Panamanian festivals. The restaurant’s decor was a conglomeration of red-devil themed items, including statues and masks, as seen in the photo below. We tried three different meal options and they were all a real hit. One entree was the “Filete de Pollo al Ajillo”, a delicious chicken breast with a Panamanian garlic sauce served with traditional Panamanian bread and a sweet rice. Another plate was the “Arroz con Mariscos”, a delectable mix of rice, vegetables, and seafood, including octopus. We also recommend the “Guacho de Mariscos”, a flavorful serving of fresh seafood, rice, and a stew with criolla sauce. We had an excellent time there and the staff was very kind.

After we relived the memorable taxicab experience to the mall, we made it back to the hotel. A couple of us decided to do a mini souvenir haul. As you can see, one of the most popular souvenirs we have come across are burlap bags with beautiful and colorful traditional designs sewn on them. For the folks back in the States keeping up with our blogs, you can find a sneak peek in the photo below!

Today also happened to be the American College Football National Championship. Although our beloved Fighting Illini team wasn’t playing, we could not resist the opportunity to watch the game. We ended the night gathering together to watch Texas Christian University face off against the University of Georgia. We were all grateful for the opportunity to recharge the batteries today, independently explore Panama, and share in some quality time together. It was a memorable time and we look forward to our travels tomorrow as we continue to study the construction sites and soak in the culture of Panama.

Blog by Ally Kolar