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    Fort San LorenzoFort San Lorenzo Colon, Panama
    As with many historical sites, the exact or even approximate construction date of this fort is not known, but there are estimates that make it in the late 16th century, when King Philip II of Spain ordered that a fortress be constructed on the overlook at the mouth of the Rio Chagres River that was heavily used for commerce and slave ships. The fort is about 40 minutes from Colon, Panama, and you have to cross the canal to get there, and as you come nearer, you'll see why the Spanish built the fort where it is located, high up on cliffs that overlook both the Atlantic and entrance to Rio Chagres, which was one of the most important rivers in the Americas, because it would become the starting point for such infamous and notorious pirates like Drake and Morgan who would use the Isthmus of Panama to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It would also become the crossing point for Americans that were heading to California to search for gold in the late 1840s. For all of these ancient adventurers, the first part of the trek would be to cross the isthmus by the Rio Chagres, and the second part would be along land that went along the old Spanish gold trail that had become known as the Camino Real. That meant that anyone wanting to attack Panama City would have to get past the old fortress and then go up the Rio through the jungle to Panama City. Henry Morgan would become the lone pirate to sack San Lorenzo, and then go up the river, across the Camino Real and get to the city. The story of how Morgan did this is really an exciting and interesting one, and would be beneficial for some background to this fort and the region around it.

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    Portobelo National ParkPortobelo National Park Colon, Panama
    Portobelo, means port in Spanish, and was discovered by Columbus in 1502, and its official name was obtained in honor of King Philip II of Spain, San Felipe de Portobelo, and at the time during the Spanish colonies, it would only be accessible by boat, and thus became the port of entry into all of South America. Because of this, and the fact that pirates would attack the cities in the region every month or so, including Morgan, Drake and Hawkins, the Spanish decided to take a longer, but less dangerous route around Cape Horn in Chile and is near Colon, Panama, today. In 1980, the entire colonial structure, that included the sea fort would become a World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, and Portobelo would be declared a Monumental city of the Americas by OAS. The national park include the city of San Felipe and contains 86,000 acres, including marine areas. The park protects coral reefs and coastal forests with numerous diverse ecological environments that include the reefs, coastal lagoons, magnificent beaches and mangrove swamps, with the beaches being very popular with divers. The park has become the nesting grounds for four species of marine turtles, that includes the endangered hawksbill and was created in 1976. The port has been a home for Spanish treasure fleets and storehouses for the gold and silver that was brought here overland from the Pacific coast, and was one of the most beautiful natural ports in the Caribbean. The city was founded in 1597 by D. Francisco Valverde y Mercado and by the middle of the 17th century, all the riches of Peru would come here via the Camino de Cruces.

May 12, 2011