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Ruta Quetzal BBVA 2008, which travels to Panama and Spain, begins tomorrow

  • The XXIII edition will visit Panama, a country of major geo-strategic importance because of its canal, a project which the Spanish crown aspired to as early as the reign of Charles I
  • Participants will travel the three major Trails that join the Atlantic and Pacific oceans: the Real, the Chagres and the Cruces
  • They will be received by the King and Queen of Spain in July at the El Pardo Palace
  • After leaving behind Panama, the expedition will travel through the two Castile regions, Madrid and Zaragoza, with particular emphasis on the importance of water in sustainable development in the 21st century.

The XXIII edition of the Ruta Quetzal BBVA, The Crocodile River Jungle. Panamá-Río Chagres", begins tomorrow in Panama with 325 participants from 56 countries. The young adventurers will follow the route of the Canal and study the country's biodiversity. They will then journey onto the two regions of Castile, Madrid and Aragon where the Expo Zaragoza 2008 kicks off on June 24 under the slogan "Water and Sustainable Development", key for development in the 21st century.

This year, 325 participants from 56 countries will travel to Panama where they will visit the famous canal, a huge engineering feat which has linked the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for over 100 years. Ever since Christopher Columbus arrived in Panama in October 1502, the Spanish Crown had tried, unsuccessfully, to join the two oceans bisecting Panama, something that was not achieved until the 20th century. In Spain, the expedition will travel through the two regions of Castile, Madrid and Aragon, where the Expo Zaragoza 2008 is being held under the slogan "Water and Sustainable Development".

A program to foster values

Ruta Quetzal BBVA, headed by Miguel de la Quadra-Salcedo, which is a multi-disciplined project combining education, training and culture for new generations, forms part of the BBVA Group's Corporate Responsibility program. It also fits with BBVA's vision of Working for a better future, as, according to Francisco González, Chairman and CEO of BBVA, "The Ruta is an innovative project with an important purpose: to educate. The over 300 youngsters who take part year after year receive training based on values which help overcome inequality as well as fostering equal opportunities, mutual respect and effort, among others", adding that "the values represented by the Ruta are the values defended by BBVA, at a time when we most need commitment to ethical principles, solidarity and sustainability".

The characteristics of the previous 22 editions of the Ruta Quetzal BBVA- which the UNESCO has deemed to be of universal interest- are reflected in BBVA by combining tradition and innovation to improve people's future.

The Panama Canal adventure

The Panama Canal is one of the most important engineering feats ever built by man. In October, 1502 Christopher Columbus reached Panama's shores in what would be a final attempt to complete the mission begun in 1492, one that greatly concerned the Spanish crown: controlling trade from the East.   Pursuit of this goal prompted King Charles I to commission Pascual de Andagoya, governor of the Indias, to investigate the possibility of crossing the "new lands" by means of a canal through the Chagres river. Andagoya identified numerous technical and financial obstacles.

King Philip II put forward a similar proposal to the Italian engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli but this was dismissed due to seismic activity in the area and the project's high cost. Because of the difficulty connecting both oceans with a canal, the Spanish crown encouraged the building of Royal Trails to cross the isthmus as done earlier between Acapulco and Veracruz.

Given the strategic, economic and cultural importance of these areas, the Ruta Quetzal BBVA 2008 will travel the three main Trails opened up during the reign of King Charles I to link the two oceans: the Real, the Chagres and the Cruces. In order to concentrate on these routes and secure and protect them, the Spanish Crown built various fortifications which will be visited by the expedition, the most noteworthy being Portobelo, where, it is said, Francis Drake lies buried on an island in the bay. The city was also attacked by other English buccaneers such as William Parker, Henry Morgan and Edward Vernon.  

In Name of God (Bastimentos), the expedition will hear the adventure of local chief Quibian, the "guaymi-gnobe" of the Veraguas region. He rose up against the Spanish for trying to exploit the rich gold mines in the area, and razed the city Columbus founded in 1503 and had named Santa Maria de Belen. 

Biodiversity in Panama

Panama's exuberant natural environment will be a major subject of study in the XXIII edition of the Rutal Quetzal BBVA. The rich diversity of the flora and fauna in this part of the world has led the Panamanian government and international institutions to designate 25% of its territory as protected land, divided into 14 national parks.  Much of the expedition will take place in two of these, the Chagres National Park and the Portobelo National Park, which together cover 1,600km2. 

But Panama is not just its Canal and Royal Trails, it is also an advanced multicultural society with a forward-looking project which the expedition will witness when it visits the Ciudad del Saber (or City of Knowledge), an institution comprising 35 national and international institutional and non-institutional organizations which combines various academic disciplines to generate and transfer knowledge.

The Ruta will also take in the city today known as Panama Viejo, whose ruins are currently being restored and which is an interesting example of an early colonial city. Before returning to Spain, the expedition will visit the Panama Canal to study its construction and various transformations since 1880 which were supervised by Fernando de Lesseps. The region's harsh climate meant a great number of lives were lost during the canal's construction which also suffered huge economic losses. The Compañía Universal del Canal was declared bankrupt at the end of the 19th Century and four years later, in 1903, following Panama's independence from Colombia, the US and Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty. US engineers spent 10 years building the canal and its locks before it was opened in 1914, changing the face of global economic relations and international shipping. 

Given the increased demands of global freight traffic, the Canal is currently being expanded with work due to end in 2014.  The project includes the construction of two sets of three-level locks, widening and deepening the existing navigation channels in the Gatún Lake and entry points to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, as well as deepening the Corte Culebra. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $5.2bn.

The two Castile regions, Madrid and Zaragoza

The Ruta will then travel to Spain to be received by the King and Queen of Spain at the El Pardo Palace in Madrid.  It will also visit the Prado, the Royal Palace, the Botanical Garden and the Natural Science Museum, among other places.

Following their sojourn in Panama, expedition members will continue their study of the handling of drinking water over the years, a fundamental resource for human development and evolution, by exploring some of Spain's most important rivers: the Duero, the Ebro and the Mundo in the Alcaraz mountain range, areas of outstanding beauty in the two Castile regions and Aragon.

In Castilla-La Mancha, more specifically in Toledo the expedition will remember Doménikos Theotokópoulos "El Greco" (Crete 1541- Toledo 1614), the world-famous painter who bequeathed a large part of his work to the Imperial City, focusing on his later works which had a decisive influence on 20th-century painters. It will also visit the Calares del río Mundo Natural Reserve and the Alcaraz mountain range, a protected area with a varied offering of flora and fauna; the Lo Hueco archaeological dig in Cuenca where the remains of crocodiles from over 150 million years ago have been found and Cuenca's Science Museum.

Moving along to Castilla y León, the expedition will visit the Arribes del Duero natural park from the Miranda de Douro Portuguese border. This river is a vital route and the Ruta Quetzal BBVA will visit Zamora, Toro, Burgo de Osma and Berlanga de Duero, finishing in the Picos de Urbión, a route which has played an important role in Spain's history. The town of Berlanga de Duero is the birthplace of Fray Tomás de Berlanga (1487-1551), the fourth bishop of Panama and discoverer of the Galapagos islands, who proposed to Charles I the construction of a canal to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, bisecting the Panama isthmus. Even though his plan failed to come to fruition given the expense involved and the technical complexity, Tomás de Berlanga was a visionary of his time, proposing this project some three centuries before the two oceans were finally joined. In the Collegiate Church of Berlanga de Duero visitors can see a stuffed reptile (lizard or caiman) which is over three meters long and which the friar brought back from his American adventures.

Zaragoza, site of the Expo 2008, will be one of the highlights of the Ruta Quetzal BBVA 2008. On the one hand the expedition will study Amadís de Gaula, a piece of literature probably written in the 13th century by an unknown author narrating the adventures of the legendary hero, Amadís, who was thrown into the river shortly after birth and picked up by a Scottish knight. This is considered one of the greatest chivalry tales written in Spanish for its magical tone and one which had a significant influence on 16th century tales. The visit to the International Exhibition "Water and sustainable development" will give the expedition members a better understanding of the importance of water to nature, humankind and the relationship between communities.

Ruta Quetzal BBVA 2008 finishes in Madrid at the end of July with the diploma ceremony at the Madrid Complutense University.

For more information please visit www.rutaquetzalbbva.com


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