June 6th: Learned about the Panama Canal Railway Co. and Maritime Training Services

Today, we had the opportunity to meet with the CFO of the Panama Canal Railway Company, Thomas Morris. We learned that though it may seem they work together with the Canal, they don’t, they have their own customers and stream of revenue. Though, they do receive most of their containers from the Canal. This change of transportation modes is called intermodal transportation.

Like all of the other businesses we visited they explained why the founders chose Panama and the exact location for the rail. Their two main reasons were dual ocean transshipment and and the close proximity of the ports. Having operations in place on terminals located in the Pacific and Atlantic makes it possible to move cargo fairly quickly across the country and from one side to the other. Employees come up with models and solutions for customers to prove to them that by using rail instead of the canal they can save a lot of money by avoiding unnecessary fees. They also talked about how they help the truck industry stay in business by giving them 10% of their containers. Since rail is safer and faster the truck business has become unreliable for some businesses. They are excited about the canal expansion because new ports will have to be built to accommodate for the growing capacity, thus creating more business for them. To finalize our visit he gave us a little tour of the outside and we got to see a train start its journey across Panama.

Then, we headed to Ideal World Training, where they train marine students to navigate a ship through the canal. They provide all types of simulators that recreate different scenarios that can happen on a ship.  I was surprised to find out that this field is so competitive. Currently, there are 300 applicants and only 4 available positions. It takes a very long time to be able to get a job on a ship. For example, to become a captain it takes 20 years of schooling and training. It is a demanding and rigorous career but they are paid a good amount. With the expansion of the canal they have had to prepare and made changes to their training tools and simulators.  Everything that is used for the simulator had to be scaled to 1/25th of the actual ship and canal entrances. The only difficulty they came across when building this smaller replica was the weather. Humans can’t control weather, therefore the wind speed altered their operations by making it five times quicker than in real life, so students need to make decisions fast. It was a good learning experience because it made me appreciate more the maritime industry knowing the great sacrifices they make to get their job. Our visits for the day were over and had the afternoon free to start preparing for our presentations for Wednesday.

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June 3rd – June 5th: Building fun and unforgettable moments

On Friday, the group got up early and excited to visit the Presidential Palace, which is like the U.S. White House. Our instructor, Dr. Esper, had tried all week to schedule us a visit and had finally done so for this day, but to our bad luck when we arrived we were told that the palace had been struck by lightning, so their power was out. What are the odds, right? We were bummed that we weren’t able to visit that day, but now it is a funny experience to tell. That afternoon we got to visit the Miraflores Locks, which are located on the Pacific end of the Canal. During our visit, I gained further understanding on how it is that it works and the importance it has had on the prosperous economy of Panama. We alsol earned of its history, how it works, and the expansion project. Panama has been used as a route for merchant trading since the 16th century when the Spaniards used it to transport gold, silver, and other riches for trade. The French were the first to attempt to build the canal, but failed because of monetary shortages and diseases. A few decades later when Panama gained its independence from Colombia they signed an agreement with the U.S. and were then able to complete it in 1914.

We got to experience firsthand how the Miraflores locks open up and lower the vessel in order for it to reach sea level and thus be able to send it off to the Pacific. It was truly a fascinating experience to think that such engineering ingenuity was possible back in the early 1900s, Enormous vessels are able to pass through these locks and it was interesting to see it moved across such a tight space. Their huge size has an important role though, it saves time and transportation costs to all who move goods using this channel. After we were done observing the lock operation, a short film about the canal, and me dropping my ice cream cone (saddest part of the trip), we were off to tour Casco Viejo.

Casco Viejo is a touristic town with a Spaniard style to its structure. We walked along the sidewalks observing the rich culture that flows through the streets. We went into two Catholic churches that were established by the Spanish when they had colonies there. The inside and outside was beautifully adorned with many architectural details and statues of Jesus Christ and saints. It was interesting to see how people back then placed so much importance to the appearance the church. I also had a much needed moment of spiritual meditation, which was nice.

We went into several souvenir shops and were able to buy gifts for our families back home. Then it was time to meet with our professor at a rooftop bar where we would have dinner. The restaurant had a beautiful sight of the town and could see beyond it to Panama City.

The next day was a beautiful day to have some fun at the beach. We went to Portobelo Beach, Colon. We took a boat ride to Isla Grande (Big Island) where we entered paradise. I had never seen a more beautiful beach in my life. The water was blue, clear and calming. Literally, you could see right through the water! We spent the whole day there just relaxing our minds before starting our busy third week. I got to snorkel for the first time and it was amazing. At first I was a little freaked out about swimming around with fish and other sea life but then I became comfortable and glad that I did so because now it is one of the best memories that I have of the sea.  I definitely recommend this beach for your next vacation escape.



Behind us is the Miraflores Locks control tower.


We observed a vessel coming into the Canal from the Pacific.


I still wonder what those enormous wheels are used for.

June 2nd: Parque Sur

On this day, we got to go into Parque Sur which is one of Panama’s logistics park  where many well-known companies have offices, distribution centers, and warehouses. It also serves as a Free Trade Zone, which means that companies established there have tax benefits and migratory and labor incentives for their employees. Companies such as, Kimberly Clark, Nestle, DHL, UPS, and Ceva Logistics have facilities here.

By being at Parque Sur they have easy access to the Tocumen Airport, as well as to major roads facilitating the multimodal transportation system which includes ocean, rail, and air. I had never heard a logistics park, thus I was fascinated to learn the multiple benefits it provides for international businesses.

While we were at Parque Sur we made an important visit to Ceva Logistics, a third party logistics company that manage a non-asset based supply chain, which means that they don’t own any of the trucks used to deliver cargo. Their specialty is providing solutions for freight management and contract logistics. Companies that include contract logistics handle everything that deals with the management and processes within warehouses. I was impressed by the number of key industries they provide services to, such as automotive, consumer & retail, energy, healthcare, industrial, and technology.  I thought it very efficient of them to go global, but yet not have offices in all of their clusters around the world. What they do instead is partner with an existing logistics company that is already in the country they want to penetrate. They not only do this for cost savings, but for security reasons. They don’t want to take in their employees into countries that might be facing high crime rates. It also captivated me to learn about the reasons why they chose Panama. They discussed the small size of the country, thus enabling fast transportation. Also, in Panama there is easy access to an excellent logistics infrastructure, and being able to use the USD makes transaction activities so much easier. This company has been able to stay competitive because they take full advantage of their location and of Panama’s taxation policies, as well as being attentive to their customers’ needs so that they can try to accommodate them.

Our last visit was to one of the most competitive airlines in the Americas, Copa Airlines. Jose Guardia, the Solutions Manager gave us an insight of the history and how they have been able to stay at the top. The airline was founded in 1947; it started by operating domestic flights to three cities in Panama. In 1980, Copa withdrew from the domestic market and aimed to reach an international level. Their goal is to connect the major cities of the North, South, and Central Americas and the Caribbean and become the leading airline in Panama. The key components that have kept Copa competitive are there business model, location, and the logistics hub they form part of. For example, their business model has been able to keep their accuracy of flight arrival at a 90+%. Once again, like many other companies have already mentioned, being located in Panama is beneficial because they are able to offer connectivity and efficient logistic solutions. They have become a hub for international flights, because of their location and incomparable service quality.

ceva truck


The ladies that are on each end of the picture are employees of CEVA. They did a wonderful job of introducing us to their company.


Jose Guardia, Solutions Manager, is on the left, front row.                                                                     Danny had to squat for me to show up on the picture. How sweet! ^_^



Emmanuel, Copa’s Intern, is on the left and Dr. Terry Esper on the right.

June 1st: Obtaining insights from CEOs

Wednesday was truly a valuable experience, because we got to visit with the CEO’s of very important local and international companies and learn from their experiences.

We began with the major local retail store, Super 99. The CEO and co-owner is Mario Martinelli brother of Ricardo Martinelli, who used to be President of Panama. Mr. Martinelli was glad to welcome us, since he himself was a U of A alumnus back in the 70’s and a Razorback fan. He told us about his experience at the U of A, and how he gives a lot of credit to his education there for his success.  The name Super 99 derives from the Chinese belief that 99 is a lucky number. The original owner was a Chinese male, thus the number and meaning just stuck. He told us that the company’s legacy  is to provide the lowest prices and focus on efficiency and innovation in their supply chain. Mr. Martinelli talked about some challenges his company has faced and how the store was able to stay standing. In 1989, Panama was invaded by the U.S. to take control of the canal and due to the consequences of that event he had to pay all of his suppliers back, which almost led to the closure of the store but what saved the business was that he had built strong relationships with his suppliers and had good credit with them. Thus, he was able to work a deal.

Not only does he like having good relationships with his suppliers and customers, but also with his employees. We asked him if he had a program in place to retain his employees, and he said no. Though, he does strongly belief in having an open door policy, meaning that his employees are free and able to request to speak to a manager or Mario Martinelli himself if they have any concerns related to their work or even serious personal issues. He shared with us examples of this practice. Mr. Martinelli has paid for medical expenses and given out loans to his employees in times of emergencies. What he expects in return is hard work and loyalty. Mr. Martinelli said he was willing to do this because (his words) “Whatever is a big problem for them, it is a small problem for me to solve.” I really like the way he feels towards his employees and his belief that if you put in a lot of work to whatever you want to accomplish, you will accomplish it. When asked about future projects, he said that the remodeling of current stores will be in place soon. Lastly, he took us on a quick tour of the distribution center and engaged in conversation with some of us.

Then, we took of for Unilever’s regional offices here in Panama City. During the presentations I learned about the concept of a control tower and an Ultralogistik model. The control tower is a new logistics phenomenon, which consolidates logistic and transactional processes from Central and the Middle Americas to facilitate the planning of transportation routing among them.  This is possible through the Ultralogistik model that centralizes all logistics and financial operations and saved them 18 million last year. They also introduced us to a software called Business Process Operating Monitoring used to plan the route of lanes and communicate that to the tower in Brazil, thus creating network optimization. They chose Panama as their hub because of its strategic geographical location, modes of transportation, and expansion of canal.

Our final visit was to Procter & Gamble’s regional offices, where we met the Communication Manager, Rhina Alvarez. She stressed to us throughout the presentation that P&G’s mission since its beginning is to make lives easier and increase the health of its customers. How they manage the company and social responsibility projects reflect their values, which are integrity, leadership, ownership, passion for winning, and trust. They are committed to not settling and continue improving. P&G’s long history of social responsibility toward communities impressed me, and it makes me glad to see that now so many well-known companies are doing a lot to help the community. For example, they have what is called the Children’s Safe Drinking Water, which is a powder that when mixed with contaminated water it purifies it and makes it clean and safe to drink. They started this project in Ecuador and have taken this initiative to several other communities that don’t have access to clean water. Another fact that surprised me was that they decided to cut down on their number of brands from 166 to now only 70 to 80 brands. This is because they decided to focus and specialize on the brands that made up nearly 90% of their sales and more than 95% of profit. Which I believe was a good move since they are a global company that needed to standardize their products in order to satisfy the majority of their customers, and not run into so many difficulties..

Overall, it was a long and tiring day, but it was completely worth it because it’s not every day that you get to hear directly from chief executive officers of successful companies.


March 31st: Our visit to Panamcham and the US Embassy

Our first visit of the day was to Panamcham aka AmCham, the chamber that foreign businesses refer to when thinking of bringing their business to Panama. It was founded in 1979 with the purpose of promoting business ideas in Panama. Our speaker was Maurice Belanger, an executive director of Panama’s Chamber of Commerce. During his presentation he helped us understand what they are all about. He said Panamcham is part of the Association of American Chamber of Latin America (AACCLA). Today, it consists of 450 members and what they do is communicate U.S. trade and multinational commerce concerns to the U.S. Embassy, as well as to the U.S. Congress. They have recruited 20,000 businesses, which 80% of these investments have come from the U.S. The U.S accounts for nearly a one-fifth of both imports and exports to Panama. Mr. Belanger talked about how Panama is ripe for foreign investment with the opening of the new canal and the growing economy. So, essentially their mission is to promote commerce and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). He finished off his presentation by mentioning some opportunity sectors for Panama such as energy (solar & wind), and real estate. Some untapped sectors are mining and agriculture, but he believes do have a possibility of growing. I am curious to find out how these sectors will play out in the future of Panama.

Our next stop was to the U.S. Embassy, they have an uptight security system and therefore we weren’t even allowed to take in our phones or note pads with us. The professionals that work in the commerce section of the embassy gave us their analytical view of the Panamanian economy and education. They all agreed that the economy has been stable throughout the years, even throughout the U.S. recession, and because of Panama’s strategic location and usage of the U.S. dollar, international businesses can benefit by expanding here. Though, they did have some critical input to say about the public education and stressed that it needs a lot of improvement. For historical reasons, English classes in public schools’ curriculum were taken away, thus cutting the number of human resource for foreign companies that expanded their business here. Therefore, they mentioned that many companies recruit foreign professionals that do fit the requirements. English classes have been recently added again to the curriculum of public schools, but not to all because of the shortage of teachers who speak the language. This is a problem along with other issues public schools face, which they believe the Panamanian government can have a direct influence on improving the education system. They made us feel very comfortable about asking questions and had a nice conversation with us about their personal backgrounds. When we exited the building we tried taking a picture of it but we were told we couldn’t even do that, so that’s why I didn’t post any pictures for this section.

For dinner, we went out as a group to the restaurant Las Tabernas, which is walking distance from the dormitories here in the City of Knowledge. We met Dr. Esper and Mishi (his wife) there, and I enjoyed a delicious meal of grilled salmon, chopped potatoes sprinkled with rosemary, and steam vegetables. When everybody thought it was time to leave three students of our group got surprised with a birthday cake. Since Kat’s, Yuki’s, and Zach’s birthday all happened during the trip they deserved receiving a cake and being sung the Happy Birthday song both in Spanish and English by our little family. To be honest, most of the group didn’t know the Spanish version but we did our best to go along with our waitress. It was a good ending to relax us after a day of having our brains filled with crucial information.

Retrieved from:




Enjoyed of a delicious dinner at Las Tabernas in the City of Knowledge.

March 30th: Banking System in Panama

Our first visit on Monday was to the main offices of the National Bank of Panama. We were welcomed and handed a booklet with each topic that would be touched on during the presentation. There was one small problem though. All the booklets were in Spanish, which wasn’t a problem for me because I am a fluent Spanish speaker, but most of the group is not. Therefore, I and two other ladies of the group (Carolina and Perla) had to help with the translation of all the information. It was a complex task because we had to interpret and explain some concepts that were completely new to us. These type of situations are good for me though, because I would like to become a better interpreter.

So, a few things that were talked about in the presentation were what the bank manages and the systems and processes that they use. One of their most important activities is what is done under the Chamber of Compensation. The Chamber of Compensation is essentially the area of administration that focuses on managing the process of the exchange of documents between banks that are members. When I mention documents I mean coupon bonds of the states and checks. To become a member, banks need to be checked and certified by the superintendence of banks, which is the agency that regulates and supervises bank activities. One of the things that are required from the banks is that they need to present an international or general license. An advantage of being a member of the chamber is the agility that their system provides in the exchange of documents and that it reduces the risk of fraudulent activity, thus creating trust among the public who have accounts with the banks.  After the presentation, we were given a tour of the facility and were shown how they organize and store the documents that come in from each of the banks. Then, we headed to one of their bank locations in the City of Panama and got a tour.

When we arrived back to our dormitories in the City of Knowledge we gathered in a meeting room and met with Eduardo Castillo who is a Capital Markets Trader for the private bank Credit Andorra. He is a University of Arkansas graduate and received a major in Finance and minor in Supply Chain Management, while in school he was an intern for Copa Airlines and JB Hunt. It is truly admirable how he is only 23 years old and has already obtained so much experience in the field.

His job is to advise clients in which stocks and bonds they should invest in. Something I thought surprising was that Credit Andorra’s clients are not Panamanian, even though the bank is located here their customers are from other countries. The purpose of this private bank is to secure the identity and money of people in other countries that don’t feel their money is safe in their own country. Eduardo also talked some about the Panama Papers and explained to us that the offshore business (what they do) is not illegal, what is illegal is people hiding their money to avoid paying taxes in their country. For example, the president of Russia was in the list of those who were abusing of this service.

Eduardo’s story really inspires me and gets me excited about my future and the goals I can achieve if I don’t give up on my goals.


Miguel Lee gave us an informative speech over Banco Nacional de Panama “The National Bank of Panama”


The representative of the marketing department gave us a tour of one of their banks in Panama City.


Eduardo telling us about his experience at the U of A and his working experience.


Dan Rael photographed a beautiful sunset behind a school in the City of Knowledge.

Last days in the interior of Panama

On Saturday and Sunday we settled in Pedasi, Los Santos, Panama at the resort Beach Break. It is a smaller and less high class than Cubita Resort, but it was equally great because it was right beside the beach, it had a pizzeria connected to it, and had hammocks hanged all along the outside of the rooms. We enjoyed the big, salty waves and collected colorful rocks and sea shells. On our first night we walked over to another resort right next to where we were staying to join a beach party. We played volleyball with the locals, danced, and talked amongst ourselves beside the pool. The next morning we got to spend some more time at the beach, but this time instead of swimming we decided to try something new, so some of us decided to go horseback riding. There were only six horses available, and six of us wanted to ride them so the group had to decide whether to have a guide or have another peer join us. We voted to let one of our own join and take the risk of not having a guide on the one hour journey. At the moment we thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, but little did we know that our lack of horseback riding would cause an incident among us. We began our journey to the shore of the beach on our chosen horses. After about 20 minutes everything was going along just fine, but we got a little confident and got our horses to speed up some. Well fortunately not all of the horses began running but mine did. At first I was happy to feel the throttle of the horse and I becoming in synch with it, but when I realized that I was unable to stop it I panicked. It began running away from the shore and inland. I got it to stop slow down twice but it was just too excited and kept on running faster. I guided him so that we wouldn’t crash into post lights and building walls but I could not get him to stop. He took me on a ride on sidewalks and dirt roads,and when we were approaching a front lawn of a hotel I saw what was beyond the direction he was running towards and there was a little shack and beside it pieces of scrap metal and a little beyond a fence. This is when I believe my survival instinct kicked in and I decided to throw myself of the horse onto grass land instead of possibly falling off on hard, rock land. I landed and it hurt but not too badly. I got a black eye from my face landing on my close fist and some scrapes here and there, but nothing major. I was asked if I was okay by the person who was suppose to be our guide and he helped me get up. He asked if I wanted to finish the ride and I said “Absolutely!” He thought I was crazy but didn’t question me twice. I finished the ride alongside my fellow classmates all along the shore of the beach. I will never forget this whole experience at Beach Break. I had a fun time and realized how much I can withstand injuries. Haha!

P.S. If you ever go horseback riding and don’t have a lot of previous experience take a guide with you at all times! Lesson learned.

beach break.jpg



May 26th: The beginning of our adventure into the interior of Panama

On Thursday at 7 a.m. we left the City of Panama and began our journey to the outskirts of Panama City aka the interior of Panama. Before arriving to our final destination in Chitre we stopped for some authentic empanadas. I ordered the cheese empanada, and it was warm and absolutely delicious. We then headed to visit the National Institute of Agriculture (INA), which was developed in the 1950s by a U of A professor to increase the number of young people interested in agriculture thus leading to the creation of a relationship with the university and the country. Visiting these universities in Panama has made me appreciate my education back at home even more. Their buildings and facilities are aged and have not been remodeled greatly to try and modernize their appearance and are under equipped. At the U of A we are provided with so many resources to be successful in our studies, and I did not realize that not every country place such importance to the appearance of colleges and available resources. After, we arrived at the small town of Parita to visit the oldest church in the western hemisphere. We witnessed a theatrical religious ceremony celebrating Corpus Cristi, which means body of Christ, and remembering how the Spaniards took over the indigenous peoples land to convert them to Christians. Some people were dressed in all white with Indian red feather hat, and others were dressed like the Spaniards in the old times and the rest of the people followed them to the outside to begin mass. On the road where the ceremony was going on there was large pieces of artwork laid down made of rice, flower petals, and other small pieces of material, it was beautiful. (see pictures below)

When we arrived at our final destination, Cubita Resort, they received us with friendly and welcoming service. They gave us cold, wet rags to help us cool down and some refreshing melon juice. This resort is beautiful and elegant, it was hard to say goodbye. To end the day we took an art class where we learned about the masks that are sometimes used in Catholic theatrical ceremonies, such as the one we saw in Parita. These masks are designed to represent demons, so both the good and bad are represented in the ceremonies. After learning about their meaning and the history behind them we began to paint our own little mask. Below you can see the one I painted (the blue) and also my friend’s, Emma Fields, (the yellow).

The next day we drove to Las Tablas to spend the day at the beach. While our time here we spent our time swimming, exploring the shore, learning more about each other and absorbing the beautiful natural scenery that Panama has to offer. We spent another day at Cubita Resort then it was time to go to Pedasi, Los Santos, Panama.

P.S Continue onto the next blog post to read about my amusing and unforgettable experience at Pedasi.


parita art work

Artwork on Chitre roads honoring the religious celebration Corpus Cristi.

parita group

Oldest church in the western hemisphere can be seen behind the group. Side note: The Terry Twelve are great at taking pictures together!


Traditional demon masks used in theatrical religious ceremonies. Emma Fields (yellow). Mine (blue)

las tablas beach

Las Tablas Beach

hogs abroad

Hogs making their mark around the globe. #HogsAbroad #Panama2016

the crew at las tablas

We know how to have fun! Mrs. Esper joins the fun with her children. ❤






May 25th: Old Panama

On May 25th, we started the morning by visiting the original Old Panama where the ruins of the first settlement of Spaniards used to be in the 16th century. It was a very hot and humid day, but that didn’t stop us from being awed by the remains of building walls that still stand today after the city had been burned down hundreds of years ago by Captain Henry Morgan’s army. The purpose of the invasion by Captain Morgan in 1671 was to steal the gold, silver, and other luxuries from the Spaniards. On the picture below you can see the tallest tower that stands among the ruins today , which used to be part of a cathedral. During this time period the Catholic church held a prestigious position among the colonies and the Spanish Crown would demand for their to be a church in every town that was built in the conquered lands. After exploring the remains some more we headed to the museum that they have on site and got to see some artifacts from back then, such as pottery, accessories, and weapons.



March 24th: It has been a busy, great day!


It has been another fun, interesting day again in Panama City. We started the day by visiting the private catholic college USMA where we heard a presentation given by Señor Fong, a marketing and finance professor there. His presentation was about the history, culture, economy, and social norms in Panama. I thought it interesting how he is technically 100% Chinese because both of his parents are Chinese, but he was born and raised in Panama. Later in the presentation he talked about the first presence the Chinese had in Panama which was in 1854 when they were recruited to build the well-known railroad that connects the canal to the Atlantic Ocean. Another wave of Chinese immigrants came into the country when the Panama Canal was being built in 1914.
Something that surprised me was that Panamanians don’t consider themselves to be a part of Central America because of several historical reasons. Such as, Panama not having the same independence day as most Central American countries, also because they use the U.S. dollar. He talked about how the perception of time here is very laid back and is something that has been embedded into their culture, but they are slowly changing that because of the necessity to build strong relationships with their business partners.
Throughout the speech he mentioned several interesting facts. The following are some examples:
Panama is mostly a service based economy, representing 80% of GDP.
The Colon Free Zone is the second largest in the world after, Hong Kong.
Panamanians consume a lot of rice, therefore they have a strong relationship with Arkansas because they are a major consumer of Arkansas rice crops.
Afterwards, we went to each lunch at a small restaurant which is on a slim strip of land next to the Pacific Ocean called “Mi Ranchito” My Ranch. Here, I tried coconut rice for the first time and it was delicious. I have really enjoyed everything new I have tried so far on this trip. I think I might become Panamanian soon!

After lunch, we were ready to head to the Biodiversity Museum of Panama. At the museum we learned that 45 million years ago what is now Panama was completely underwater, and with a lot of time, plate shifting, and volcanic eruptions the isthmus of Panama was formed. We saw fossils of different animals that lived in this land since its beginning, as well as learned about some still existing fauna and flora that can be seen in the area. They informed us about the meaning of the structure of the museum, the utter importance of preserving every form of life on the land, and their theory of human evolution.
To end our day in a good note we went to a soccer game with our tour guide, Carolina. It was Venezuela v Panama, so you can guess that the stadium where we watched it was a professional size field. We got to talk to some of the locals, and cheer with them for the Panama team. So far we have learned a lot about the history and culture of Panama. I can’t wait to learn even more about how businesses will benefit from the Canal Expansion next week, so stay tune.
P.S. Thank you for sticking with me to the end of this blog. Hopefully, I can convince you to be a part of the Panama Study Abroad Program. It truly is a fascinating country and experience.