Is that really John Wayne Island?
Panama is so gorgeous and from my condo I can see down the coast past Gorgona to Punta Chame. Located to the right, visible in the distance, are two islands. Each time I show someone my view they always ask, “What are those two islands?” When I answer, “The one on the left is John Wayne Island”, the response is “Really, what does John Wayne have to do with Panama?”
Wayne was the same rebel in his private life that he is renowned for in the Western films of the United States. In the sixties, he was fighting for the independence of Panama diplomatically, not violently. Even though he was a Republican he openly differed with the Republican Party over the issues of the Panama Canal.
The canal was on Panamanian soil but under United States control and had been disputed over for years. In 1964, a conflict of flags between the United States and Panama arose. There was a clash between the United States Military and Panamanian demonstrators which caused fatal injuries and is remembered each year on January 9th as “Martyrs Day”.
Wayne’s former wife Josephine was native of Panama and he was a personal friend of the leader of Panama, Omar Torrijos. The conservatives had wanted the U.S. to retain full control of the canal, but Wayne believed that the Panamanians had the right to the canal and sided with President Jimmy Carter and the Democrats. He supported the treaty of July 9, 1977. The “Torrijos-Carter Agreement” was signed, which guaranteed that Panama would gain control of the Panama Canal after 1999, ending the control of the canal that the U.S. had exercised since 1903. This agreement also stipulated the permanent neutrality and functionality of the Panama Canal. The United States was awarded the right to defend it against any type of threat. His support of the treaty brought him hate mail for the first time in his life.
As compensation for his extraordinary efforts, Omar Torrijos gave John Wayne a beautiful island off the coast of Panama in the middle of the Pacific – Isla Taborcillo.
After his death, Wayne’s family sold Taborcillo to millionaire Farhad Vladi. Currently the island is owned by Austrian businessman Ralph Hübner, who is the founder of the publishing company “Who’s Who”. The island contains a resort hotel and theme park. Isla Taborcillo is a small private island located 40 km from the mainland and only an hour and half drive from Panama City. It can be reached by boat within approximately 15 minutes from the Panamanian fishing village Punta Chame. It was the land of the natives of an old civilization in higher Central America. There is a link between the Mayans and Aztecs in the north and the Incas in the south.
As a visitor to the island you can walk back to the ‘Wild West’ and experience;
A walking tour that re-creates a Western motif and learn interesting facts about The Duke
A sheriff’s jail with two cells, a post office and a church
‘Far West’ activities such as archery, shooting or horseback riding (John Wayne style)
Western houses on “Duke Morrison” street have guest rooms
So if you are like my sister (part of John Wayne’s posse), or just someone looking to explore, then Isla Taborcillo should be on your list of things to experience in Panama. As John Wayne said, “A goal, a love and a dream give you total control over your body and your life”.