By Lynnette E. Stokes

After five years of being back in my beloved Panama, my time to depart to the USA had arrived. But back upon my return in 1991, I was unprepared for the sights and changes that had transpired since my last visit nine years earlier. After the initial shock and the adjustments of being home were over, I reflected on the five years there, and decided to write down my thoughts on what I will miss in Panama the most.

On the top of my list is the jungle. That lush, green, thick expansion of foliage that contains so much life. I have always enjoyed the smell of the soil and leaves after a typical tropical rain. The shine that gleams off the leaves with reflections of cocobolo and palm trees. The wide variety of birds within the trees, their loud screeches and calls echoing above. Watching in fascination, feathers of red, green, black and blue while fast in flight. The distinct scold of a toucan, hoping from branch to branch, while you laugh at its odd beak and strange blue feet. Like a cloud of black, a thick flock of parakeets soaring above the trees. My overwhelming pleasure of locating a variety of wild orchids; "Espiritu Santos" and "Lady of the Night", returning days later to see their splendid colors in full bloom. Spotting large scaly green-brown iguanas and small, gentle "Nikki's" near overflowing, ripe mango trees as they enjoyed a sweet treat.

My other favorite place is of course the beach. Traveling to several places in the world, I was at many beautiful beaches, but Panama has got the most memorable. The Atlantic Side--it's shark's fin shaped rock at Devil's Beach. The massive waves crashing against that corner cliff on Pina Beach, I always thought it would make a great Al Sprague collection. The Pacific Side--memorable years spent in Las Uvas at Grandpa George's Klein's "Casita", strolling along that white sandy shore and splashing in that aqua ocean. Gorgona Beach with its hot black sand as we shared our "Growing-up-in-the-Zone" stories. My precious shell and sand dollar collection acquired at Corona Beach. And of course, cruising the Causeway at Amador with a cold Panama in my hand, crossing the Bridge of America to start my intake of corvina with patacones at Vera Cruz Beach. Events that have made such an immense impact in my life, that no matter where I go, or how long I've been gone, will have special memories for me.

Last on my list, is my time back home in the former Canal Zone. The pleasure of sharing with my children everything about home. Sitting on that white marble and listening to the sounds of the water fountain at Goethals Memorial as I explain to them why this was built, while in the background, the breathtaking view of Balboa Elementary School. Then, taking the over 200 stairs to the Administration Building, pausing to read the inscription on the Culebra Cut Rock as my words express the emotions I feel. My frequent visits into the Rotunda of the Administration Building, to view that overwhelming mural. Telling the history, detailing the construction of the Panama Canal, focusing on the reflections of the people and the many lives touched by this monumental project. Gorgas Hospital--standing at the steps leading towards the center gardens facing the original hospital administration to admire the green copper domes that cover that ancient building, while inhaling that sweet scent from the nearby white Frangipani flowers. That drive towards the Forrest Preserve, past the restored French cemetery, the white crosses finally uncovered for all to see. Passing under the old Panama Railroad Overpass; honking my horn as I did when I was a child. Arriving at Summit Gardens to visit with the macaws, peccaries, jaguars and spider monkeys. Taking the time to explore the clumps of bamboo, track the rock-covered trails, while entertaining my family with stories of the Abou Saad Shriners at the Summit Garden picnics. Last stop, Gamboa, clacking across that one-way bridge, arriving at the old golf course along the lake. To look for baby turtles, admire the little black ducks, only to discover cayman eggs; completely surrounded by that beautiful jungle reflecting off that crystal water.

That crystal water, that Gatun water. No where else on earth was there a sweeter taste, a more refreshing feel, a more enjoyable time. A body of water that represented a reason for why we were here, why we came and the directions in which we were headed. A wondrous man-made feat, a wonderful tropical playground we called HOME.

That day, as I climb that Miami bird with tears in my eyes, looking at that beautiful green mountain over Howard, I know it will not be my last time home.

For I have drank from the waters of the Charges, and know the rest.... Until then, Hasta Luego Mi Lindo Panama!