Goofy Falls — Somewhere in Panama

Path between the Seas -- Panama Canal Zone, 1978I can’t recall the first time I heard about Goofy Falls when I was stationed in Panama at Howard Air Force Base from 1976-1978 or understood why it had been called Goofy Falls in the first place but for many people stationed on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal, it was an alternative to the beach at Howard and Fort Kobbe and the adjacent Veracruz Beach.

I do remember that the first time I went to Goofy Falls was in May of 1977. Some of the guys from the 24th CAMS Squadron (Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron) who I knew quite well and who lived in the same barracks as I did (Barracks 714 was shared by CAMS and the 24th Supply Squadron) had already been there and were raving about how great it was to go swimming there. We had all been to the beach at the far end of the Howard AFB/Fort Kobbe military installation as well as the supposedly off-limits Veracruz Beach (I think it was off-limits because there were no lifeguards and shark nets) and some of the guys were just looking for some other cool place to hang out in Panama.

So, one Saturday afternoon a bunch of us from the barracks piled into two cars and headed off to Goofy Falls, which was located about an hour outside of Panama City. What I do remember about where it was located was somewhere past Tocumen International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional de Tocumen) in sort of in a small rocky valley carved out by a stream and erosion. I know we parked on a small hill and that in the distance we would see Tocumen, Panama City, and the Pacific Ocean.

We had to walk down a path about a hundred yards or so until we came to a freshwater pool fed by a stream that had rushed over the rocky terrain that created Goofy Falls. It was also quite interesting how the geography had changed once we had traveled into the interior-gone were the rain forest-like jungles that surrounded Howard-and now, the geography appeared more like grasslands characterized by dark red soil. The falls were not that spectacular by any means-there was some cascading action over the rocks but what really made Goofy Falls cool was that you could slide down one of them into the lower pool (there were, if I am not mistaken two upper pools).

It was definitely more fun-when one slid down the falls or jumped/dove off some of the rocks into the lower pool-than just swimming at the beach at Howard and Fort Kobbe or Veracruz. The water was cool and quite deep-not sure if anyone ever tried to touch the bottom. In addition, it wasn’t too crowded: there were a few Zonians there along with some other service members when we arrived. Maybe that is one of the reasons why a lot of the guys had raved about it so much because it was sort of like our own private swimming hole.

We brought plenty of beer and other beverages that day and got a pretty good buzz going soon. I just remember a few of the guys who had gone out there that day: Rusty Steele, Harry Tschida, and John McPherson. Aside from John and Harry everyone else out there that day had served in Vietnam. That’s one of the things I will always remember the most about the two years I was stationed at Howard: how a lot of the guys I hung out with had previously served in Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. There was even one guy who supposedly was assigned to Air America and had brought his Thai wife along with him to Panama.

I forgot to wear suntan lotion that day and with the hot sun glaring down I ended up with a pretty nasty sunburn. Indeed, it was so bad that later in the evening I swore I suffered from a mild case of shock. After we had gotten back to base and had chow, some of us went to Veracruz beach to keep on partying. Even though it was around 80 degrees I was shivering but by then my skin from where I had gotten sunburn was burning me up.

The next day I could hardly move. I couldn’t report it to my supervisor when I went to work on Monday because I could have been reprimanded or if my supervisor wanted to really make a fuss out of it, I could have gotten an Article 15-non-judicial punishment. What I got though was worse: I was assigned to a detail to help set up some booths for the base carnival later that week. There was no way I could get out of that detail. It was a classic example of Catch 22-either I got out of the detail because of the sunburn and risked the Article 15 or I suffered being out in the heat setting up the booth. I opted for the latter. In the end, it took me over a week to recover from that sunburn.

I would end up making two more trips to Goofy Falls before I rotated back to the States in September 1978. Just add Goofy Falls to the list of other memories I have of serving in Panama: driving across the Thatcher Ferry Bridge that spanned the Panama Canal, taking the train across the isthmus, hanging out in the Ancon Inn and Ovalo Bar and getting my first tattoo.

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8 Responses to “Goofy Falls — Somewhere in Panama”

  1. gigihawaii February 5, 2009 at 4:07 pm # Reply

    I know a priest from Ireland who got so sunburned, he ended up in the hospital! It is always harder for fair skinned people.

  2. F. Allen Norman Jr. May 4, 2009 at 5:35 am # Reply

    I went to Goofy Falls a bunch of times and you left out picking psylocybin mushrooms out of the cow pies on the way in. I was an SP at Howard and some kids I had busted painted my name on the boulder the falls went over : Sgt. Norman is a Prick Lifer No Bullshit”. Wonder if that was still there when you were stationed there, this was in 1972 or 1973.

  3. Spud July 29, 2009 at 1:18 am # Reply

    I was also stationed at Howard 77-79 and lived in 714. I remember Rusty, Harry, and Johnny Mac, and went to Goofy Falls a few times myself. We always had to leave someone guarding the cars or they would get broken into: guaranteed. In fact the last time I was there … we all came up to leave and there were three Panamanians up the road just sitting under a tree, watching and waiting … I have plenty of Panama/CZ photos on my website.

    I wonder how Goofy Falls looks today and if the urban/suburban sprawl has caught up to it.

    • Jeffrey July 31, 2009 at 10:35 am # Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Bud! Great to hear from a fellow Howard Air Force Base airman and Barracks Rat. Look forward to catching up with you!

  4. Spud November 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm # Reply

    Hey, I just uploaded some pictures of Goofy Falls at:
    http://www.budtristano.com/panamagoofy.html
    ~ Spud

    • Jeffrey December 11, 2011 at 5:29 am # Reply

      I just saw them, Bud. Always great to see some pics of our old Panamanian swimming hole.

  5. Dennis Ward August 24, 2018 at 8:43 am # Reply

    Great commentary. I was stationed at Ft Clayton from 75 to 78, went to Goofy falls several times. The last time, we were all in the water and all our stuff got ripped off, we came to where the beer cooler, clothes, etc were and nothing there. Good thing we weren’t skinny dipping. One of the guys, Steve Fox, spoke spanish and flagged down a La Guardia, who gave us all a ride to the Holiday Inn by Tocumen where we called for a ride. Bunch of us in the bar in our bathing suits and shorts.

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  1. Goofy Falls Revisited « Stopping to smell the roses - July 29, 2009

    […] it was someone coming across a blog I had written about Goofy Falls, this freshwater swimming hole in Panama not too far from Tocumen International Airport. Turns out […]

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