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The Sack of Panama

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The Sack of Panama

Alexandre Exquemelin, the pirate surgeon, wrote a firsthand account of Henry Morgan’s attack on Panama City in his classic book, The Buccaneers of America. I read this book with jumping enthusiasm many times while growing up in the empty fields of Upstate New York, as I too wanted to be a pirate and sack Panama City.

So I hopped a bus to Old Panama to walk amongst the ruins of what the pirates left behind. I became excited as Exquemelin’s descriptions came flooding back to me. Morgan was not a pirate of romance, rather, he was vicious: torture and terror were his devices of extracting as much wealth out of the Spanish populations of the New World as he could. He was not one of my favorite pirates, but he was a pirate none the less, and the romantic vestiges of the pirate life still stick with me today.

So I ran off of the bus towards the ruins of what the pirates left behind. There was a mere chain link fence that stood between me and the old city, and without delay nor care dispatched this barrier in a single bound. I was pretending that I was a pirate and attacking old Panama. How could I justifying walking in through the front gate and paying $5 to restore what the pirates set out to destroy? How respectful would that be to the memory of my long felled brethren who plundered these coasts in centuries passed? No, I would not dare to denounce the work of those iconic freebooters who razed Old Panama to the ground. I too, would enter the city as a trespasser.

I ran amongst the ruins and took photos of this crumbled building and that toppled wall. Sometimes I pretended that my camera was a blunderbuss and that I was shooting Spaniards rather than photographs. I was in the middle of all my pirate glory when I attempted to crash the tower that I distinctly remember Esquemelin writing about when I was accosted by a ticket checker. She asked me for my ticket and, as I did not have one, I ran away. She called security.

Retreat! Retreat! Wade the pirate showed his white flag and was now on the run from body armored police with machine guns. These guys seemed to be a little tougher than the lot of Spaniards that originally defended this city before it was laid to ruins. Now that the city has been ruined rubble for a few hundred years an army of well provisioned police is able to provide it with adequate protection. Ironic, no?

Well, I thought so.

I was now running quickly from crumbled wall to ruined rock pile that were once homes in a vibrant city. Crouching down behind each battlement that would offer me cover I hid from my pursuers. I thought in this moment that my perdicament was looking pretty rediculous, and perhaps the only thing more rediculous than being caught breaking into a UNESCO World Heritage site without a ticket would be to be apprehended red handed with a big coconut. So I snuck over to a coconut vendor near the front gate and purchased the biggest coconut that I could find. I was a real pirate now: running from the authorities with a bandana tied around my head, laughing, while drinking coconut milk. I was in my glory.

In this way, with coconut, I would peak- ever peaking- around each dilapidated corner of Old Panama as I was on the look out for the gun touting defenders that were on my trail. After eluding them successfully through the ruins I found myself fifteen meters from the fence- a long fifteen meters. Sucking in my gut, taking in one last look from my ruinous cover, and relishing one last breathe I made a quick dash for the freedom of the exit barrier. I made it. I then jumped over the fence, and ran away to the safety of Panama City.

Wade at the Sack of Panama

The sack of Panama was fun.

Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
Barva, Costa Rica
Late February, 2008

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Filed under: Central America, Humor, Panama

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3136 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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