I was born in Panama City’s neighborhood of Calidonia, in a small hospital that doesn’t even exist today, but the neighborhood still does. Later in life, I’ll find myself in the same neighborhood going to university and doing part of my training as a medical student. I vaguely remembered from when I was a young teenager that the name “Calidonia” had something to do with Scotland. I can’t even remember if I heard that at school or somewhere else. But I never looked at that information.
Living in a different country than yours comes with ups and downs. However, one of the best parts is when family announces that they would be coming to visit –I love it– because it does not happen often. This time, my two younger sisters planned a trip to see me. It’s been nine months since we last saw each other. The distance between us has only strengthened our bond as siblings, which I assumed as some sort of advantage, but I know for others it can sometimes go in the opposite direction, so I‘m lucky. I thought our meeting would take place in either Germany or Spain, but they had Scotland in mind instead. I knew it would be a memorable time because we’d also be celebrating my younger’s sister birthday in there. A few weeks before the meeting in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, I was researching things to do and see, and then this question from my teenage years popped again into my head. What possible connection could there have been between far-off Scotland and tropical Panama?
Scotland – The Visit
September 2023. Soon, summer will come to an end, with the weather in Edinburgh fluctuating from sunny and warm to gloomy and wet. Still, it was wonderful to be surrounded by tons of medieval houses. Many of them painted in vivid colors making a beautiful contrast between the old and new. The broad and narrow streets of the city go over the multiple hills. One of them is known as Arthur’s Seat, the city’s most notable hill. There is some debate about whether or not the name alludes to the legendary King Arthur. This hill is also close to the Edinburgh Castle. These two things must not be missed on any trip to this city.
I arrived a day earlier than my sisters in Edinburgh. There I planned a trip to the National Museum of Scotland. Unless there is anything truly remarkable about a city’s museums or historic churches, I hardly ever visit them as a tourist. This time the bait was a quest to learn more about the connection between the Scots and the name of the neighborhood I was born in. As I got to the museum, to my surprise, there was no entrance fee! All museums in Scotland are free of charge –always–, and let me tell you, that museum is just fantastic. They could easily charge a couple of pounds and we would all happily pay for it. But thank you Scotland for keeping it that way :-).
When I finally asked a guide in the museum about the Panama Story, he quickly said yes and led me to the exhibits detailing that part of Scotland’s history. It is a complex story that has many arista, but I will try to give you a very short version.
Basically Scotland, like many other countries at the time (late 1600s), was in the race to establish new colonies and amass wealth. The Scottish Parliament gave its blessing to the establishment of a colony in what is now the largest province in Panama: Darien. This new colony would be called “New Caledonia”. Caledonia was how the Romans called Scotland in former times. But extreme weather in the jungle, Spanish hostility, and a shortage of resources all contributed to the rapid demise of the colonists. Thousands of them died. The Museum records say that approximately one third of Scotland’s wealth was lost because of this, leading to financial ruin. Despite many other factors playing a role, it is believed that this financial failure in “New Caledonia” was the ultimate cause that contributed to the decision of Scotland to join the United Kingdom.
It’s history, fortunately things have change for the better, for both countries since then. Even the name had a change. In Panama they decided to make the word sound more Spanish by substituting the letter “e” for the “i” in Caledonia and named a neighborhood with the new name in honor of the colony that never made it.
The last day in Scotland we got a bit of rain, more like little showers. Not really heavy rain but it was non-stop. We still celebrated a cozy-private-happy birthday. In the end, we are from Panama, which is one of the countries with the highest rainfall in the world, so it really did not bother us much. But all in all, it was a wonderful visit, to a very fine country –with not the best weather– but with open citizens and extraordinary countryside, which is for sure one of the most beautiful regions in Europe. I guess you can’t get all in life, because it won’t be fair.
I leave it like this.
See you all next month!