Students Discover Panamanian Culture on Class Trip

Students try on masks made by Jose.   Photo Credit: Angelo Hu

Students try on masks made by Jose.

Photo Credit: Angelo Hu

By ANGELO HU and ALLEN SZETO

Ever been in between two continents at once? Over spring break, students had the unique chance to do just that in the beautiful country of Panama. 

“It’s the school’s first trip to Central America,” said Ms. Susanna Sala, the organizer and a chaperone of the trip. “We can see some of the things we talk about in class in real life.”

The trip’s itinerary included museums and old parts of Panama City for those who like history, a farm for those who like animals and agriculture, meeting local artists for those who like art, the famous Panama Canal, and many other opportunities.

There was a small problem when the flight was delayed from Newark Airport to Atlanta, Georgia and the adventurers missed their connecting flight to Panama City. 

However, this minor setback did not hold the travelers back. With a few phone calls, the teachers were able to set up a trip in Atlanta so the students did not have to waste a day doing nothing.

“It’s so great we got to see two places in one trip,” said Sofia Aloramoda ’19.

In Atlanta, students got to visit the Coca Cola factory, CNN’s headquarters, and the Cartoon Network.

“This is even better than the factory and the free coke,” said Immanuel Collazo ’21 said at the Cartoon Network studio. “They have ‘We Bare Bears,’ and I love that show.”

In Panama, the trip started wildly with a boat ride around the Gatun Lake to Monkey Island, which houses Howler Monkeys, Jeffreys Monkeys, Capuchin Monkeys, and even crocodiles.

“Panama is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, boasting a whopping 978 avian species,” said Louis, the tour guide.

The students were enchanted with the beauty of nature and the animals that inhabited Monkey Island.

“I liked the monkeys,” Stone Montgomery ’21. “Especially the Howler Monkeys howling.”

Some students found the animals and wildlife to be charming, especially this one student that took a liking to the Panamanian white-faced capuchins.

“I liked the white-faced monkeys,” said Sofia Aloramoda ’21. “They looked so cute.”

When the students visited the Panama Canal Museum, they experienced a ship passing through the canal first hand. 

“The Miraflores lock was very cool, said Aloramoda. “We were so close to the lock with the ship passing by. I felt like a VIP.”

The fourth day kicked off with a four-hour drive to Chitre, a city in Panama with lots of old traditions and culture. First students visited a drum maker who introduced them to the different drums that Panamanians have: the black, white, and mixed drums. 

“The drums originated from Africa,” explained one of the drum makers. “They have to be played in a specific order.” 

Afteward, students got the chance to play the drums themselves.

“It was hard because I’m used to playing four beats versus three beats,” said Justin Rodriguez ’19. “I used to play the piano in middle school.”

After seeing Rodriguez struggle, the second volunteer, Mindy Argueta ’21, showed Rodriguez how it was done. She executed the rhythm that the drum maker set perfectly.

“It’s kind of easy,” explained Argueta. “When you tap too softly, you won’t get that much sound.”

Masks are also an important part of Panamanian tradition. Jose (a mask maker) has been making masks for over 27 years. These masks were put on by performers wearing a complete dress and used for different festivities.

“No mask is the same,” said Jose. “I destroy the clay mold after the mask is done, so you can order a mask here, and it will be completely original.”

Jose the clay processor (no relation to the mask maker), also works in Chitre making ceramics. Each of his creations is baked in ovens that reach up 700 degrees celsius.

Jose created a vase right before the students’ eyes, and they were wowed.

“That’s bananas,” sang Collazo. “B-A-N-A-N-A, bananas.”

After seeing the different traditions on day five, students experienced something that billions of people around the world do for a living: farming. On a farm owned by Margarette, students were able to milk a cow on their own.

“I was looking forward to this trip because of unexpected events, but I surely didn’t expect to milk a cow,” said Aloramoda.

Margarette said, “I’ve had a farm since my grandparents owned it. We started with 100 cows and had to reduce the number because of the weather. We sell the milk that we get.”

For lunch, the students enjoyed a soup made of yame, peppers, cilantro, garlic, chicken and rice. This delicious dish is called sancocho

“We make these to celebrate parties and family gatherings,” explained Margarette. “We like to party!”

However, this meal was not free; the students had to work hard to make the food with Margarette’s family.

Some students were able to use the milk that they had freshly milked from the cows to create the cheese. 

“It ain’t easy,” Collazo said as pressed the fermented milk together. “But it’s honest work.”

All that hard work paid off when the students were finally able to taste the fruits of their labor.

“The food is fresher,” Montgomery said. “But my friends might not like working here.”

On their last day in Panama, the students visited the Smithsonian Institute, which studies the wildlife living in Panama.

“There are whales that come from the North and South poles to raise their young, but they keep colliding with the ships,” said Anna, an employee. “However, thanks to Hector Gustav, a scientist who mapped all the places that the whales like to hang out, we were able to create a path for the ships to travel.”

Students really liked the Smithsonian’s goals.

“This would not only save the whales but also save the shipping companies money,” said Argueta.

After visiting the Smithsonian, students visited the Biomuseum, which contained more than 30,000 species of trees and animals.

Much to the students’ surprise, the animals at the Biomuseum, such as jaguars and harpy eagles, are actually exotic former pets. The Biomuseum tries to help those animals get used to the wild. Those who cannot adapt to the wild stay in the museum.

“I think its a shame that someone would capture a beautiful creature for their own selfish desires,” said Collazo.

On the last day, many students did not want to leave.

“Imagine we had another flight delay,” said Chad Benjamin ’21. “So maybe we could stay in Panama for just one more day.”

Ivan Lee contributed to this article.

FeaturesCasey Levinson