However, we did find something to do in Colón after visiting the Free Zone. The northern coast of the country is dotted with the ruins of exploration-era Spanish fortresses, and I wanted to see one because, after all, these structures—put up to protect trans-isthmian trade routes—were the first to foreshadow the coming of the canal. We drove from the Free Zone to the nearby San Lorenzo fort in K.C.'s frighteningly large white pickup truck. K.C. calls it El Diablo, and rightly—it can get through anything.
San Lorenzo, or what is left of it, sits on a lonely, magnificent point on the Atlantic that guards the mouth of the Chagres River. The remains of the fortress are all around us, low dark walls (made of coral from the reefs, it is said) and halves of turrets, bits of old dungeon and buttresses with high grasses growing among them. The useless cannons are still pointed at the jungle and the sea. A low sky threatens rain, and then lets the rain come as the sun begins to drop. K.C. says, "Notice: the sun is setting over the Atlantic here."
And so it is. The promontory on which San Lorenzo is located juts out eastward into the Atlantic, creating this disorienting effect. But then, I think, that's what Panama is all about: new points of view in an old geography, new perspectives on old events, new ways to find pleasure, fulfillment. New birds to discover. Below the stone-gray clouds, an orange sun sinks down into blue Atlantic waters, and we climb back into El Diablo for the long ride home.