In and around Stephen Foster Folk and Cultural Center

Azaleas Along the Florida TrailI originally planned to hike the Florida Trail from Suwannee Springs.  But, I knew things weren’t going as planned when the desk clerk pointed out that rain was expected, followed by a cold snap. Last I checked Wunderground, my weather source reported that clouds were predicted. Back up in my room, they were calling for a minimal chance of rain. However, an hour later, it became 45% chance. Not surprisingly, when I walked to my car, a misty drizzle fell.

Alternative Plan: I decided to drive ten miles to stall for time and hike a different part of the Florida Trail: that which traverses Steven Foster Folk and Cultural Center State Park .  If the weather stayed awful, I could visit the museum and the craft demonstrations. White Springs also looked like an interesting place to take photos.

I arrived at the Florida Trail trailhead in the park. Drizzle continued, and the air temperature hovered in the mid-fifties. Well, I am a Floridian and a little rain doesn’t stop us, though the cold gives us pause. The trail follows the river closely. Like a roller coaster it goes up and down for the full three miles to the boundary of the park. Great for my need to hike some hills  As an out-and-back, it wasn’t as many miles as I had hoped, but the hills and wet sand gave the boots and the lungs a reasonable workout.

There are many scenic overlooks along the river, but there’s also a lot to see on the ground, such as these oddly colored fungi.

Colorful Fungus on a Log

Spectacular wild azaleas grow all along the river.  Azaleas along the trail came in all shades of pink with some areas thick with colorful bushes.  It appeared that I was probably lucky as had the season been warmer these may have reached the end of their blooms.

Pink Azalea surround the Trail

The Suwannee is a favorite of canoeists and kayakers, as it provides rapids and opportunities for long distance trips

Canoeist on the River

After the hike, I headed into the museum, which pays tribute to the music of Steven Foster, with ten quite unique dioramas that memorialize his songs.

Stephen Foster Diorama

and a carillon (not working and needs repairs). Steven Foster wrote over two-hundred songs, many about the South. He never actually visited Florida.

Next, I headed into White Springs, the former home of an early twentieth century era spa. In its heyday it was home to fourteen luxury hotels. Many burned in 1911, so not much remains and the town now has fewer than 1000 inhabitants.  The Telford Hotel, built early in the 20th century, has been closed since 2014.  People still remember eating and staying there, though. Telford Hotel

Next door, the lovely Sophie Jane Adams house dates to 1893, though I wasn’t able to find out much more about the house.

Adams House, circa 1893

The bad weather turned out to be a blessing as I didn’t spend my entire day on the trail. Tomorrow, though is another day!

Historical Panama: Transported Through the Ages

Museum of Biodiversity

Panama’s history as a transportation cross-roads of the Americas intrigued me.  On this ultra short six day trip, I steeped myself in canal history in the morning and Panama’s Spanish history in the afternoon. I learned just enough about Panama’s history to plan for a future trip.  Start studying Panama’s history at the Museum of Biodiversity. The museum, housed in world-renowned architect Frank Gehry’s most colorful building provides a timeline of Panama’s history, beginning with the volcanic eruptions that created the isthmus.

Panama's History in 3D
Panama History in Three Dimensions

From the start species moved back and forth across the newly created isthmus. This land bridge changed our world. Don’t miss the multi-dimensional movie on Panama’s history.

Many species moved across the isthmus
Species Movement Across the Isthmus of Panama

Visiting the Spanish Ruins

I visited three different historical sites, all UNESCO World heritage sites. Unfortunately, drizzle and grey skies marred these visits. It was, after all, the rainy season! I’ll be back some day on a bright sunny day to get better photos and experience all of Panama’s past. I barely had enough time for the canal and Spain.

South American riches traveled from South America, north to the Caribbean town of Portobelo, across the Panama isthmus on the cobbled Camino Real, through the Pacific coastal town of Panama Viejo (Old Panama City) and finally traveled on to Spain by ship. Through the eighteenth century British pirate attacks disrupted these Spanish settlements, not infrequently burning then to the ground. Casco Viejo finally replaced Panama Viejo, during the 19th century because of its more defensible location and port.  Time brought independence from Spain, inclusion in Gran Columbia and irrelevance.   In the 1840s, however, gold prospectors transited the isthmus on that same Spanish Camino Real to reach the Pacific Ocean and California. American speculators built a small railroad to transport the prospectors. Finally the canal saga began, first by the French and then the US.

Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo is open limited hours. The day I visited (a holiday) both the visitor’s center and the park were closed. I was able to see tops of the extensive ruins, including churches and schools, over the fence and at the entrance, though.  Apparently, large parts of the town, along with many other historical buildings, was dismantled to build the Panama canal. (Leave it to us to dismantle old historic buildings!). The town literally sits at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and on the day I was there, the water was simply a mud flat. It seemed an odd place for a port

Puente del Matadero, Panama Viejo

Historic Casco Viejo

Historic Casco Viejo (Panama City), more centrally located near modern-day downtown Panama City, is a work in progress. Panamanians have restored many old buildings as restaurants, coffee shops and museums. After a long day of touristing it was great to find the Casa Sucre Coffee House, one such repurposed building.

Casa Sucre Coffee House

Many historic churches have remained in Panama;  however, other buildings are still simply shells that will need much work.  Contrast this yet to be restored building with the Iglesia San Francisco de Asis.

Unfinished building Iglesia San Francisco de Asis

One can imagine extensive restoration producing a town similar to Florida’s St. Augustine.

Portobelo

Christopher Columbus named Portobelo when he visited in 1502. Portobelo became a major Spanish trading center, holding three-month long annual trading fairs at the peak of Spanish influence from the mid-sixteenth to early nineteenth century. My ecoCiruitos guides, Fabio and Roberto transported me into the center of this small town built amongst the ruins of this highly fortified town. Dark clouds threatened and when it began to rain  we moved quickly…not necessarily the ideal circumstances for photographing ruins. The extensive ruins of forts and the village show evidence of  tropical humidity and age the ruins as they are covered in soot, but they are otherwise in reasonably good shape for building of such age.

Camino Real: The Terminus to the Road to Panama Viejo

This area, like the ruins in Panama City is somewhat of a work in progress. The lovely restored customs house awaits content. It certainly has the bones to become an historical museum. This little slide show below is a sample of two and a half centuries of Spanish rule in Portobelo, including the forts and the customs house. With the Smithsonian Research Institute nearby, it seems that they would have another opportunity to develop a lovely regional museum here in Portobelo.

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The other attraction here, Iglesia de San Felipe, houses the Black Christ. Portobelo celebrates the Black Christ statue at an October 21st festival. The church was the last building that the Spanish built before leaving Panama.  Many believe that the Black Christ cures illness.