King of Cobra Castle
The things you see when driving across Panama. If you take your time the journey can be filled with one extraordinary sight after another – case in point, the Pino del Cobra Castle. This classic example of architectural whimsy can be found at kilometer 300, just after you cross the Cobra river bridge, and a few kilometers before Los Ruices. Tucked away in the pine trees is this reinforced concrete structure complete with moat and cantilevered drawbridge.
I just had to find out the “when,” and more importantly the “why” of this structure so I ventured into the grounds. The owner and builder, Jack Aulestia, met me. Jack Is still in good shape despite his 70 years of age. Between my Spanglish and Jack’s English I managed to solve the mystery.
Jack said that after retirement he had nothing to do. One day, he recalled a book he had read as a child about Robin Hood and his merry men. The pine trees of England’s Sherwood Forest were a perfect fit for this part of Panama – so there and then he decided to build his fairy tale castle.
I asked him if it was the classic movie with Errol Flynn that inspired him? “No,” he said, he had never seen the movie. This idea came solely from the book. I am glad Jack hadn’t seen the movie, as this might have led him to prance around the castle in bright green tights. Which would not have been a pretty sight.
I doubt if his castle will ever grace the pages of Architectural Digest, but who cares, the years have allowed a wonderful natural patina to appear on the concrete giving the structure an almost stone-like appearance. Its setting amid the towering pines trees overlooking the Cobra river is perfect. “Are you thinking of selling this?” I asked, the answer was a clear and unequivocal, “no!”
Jack took me upstairs and showed me his study which opens onto the drawbridge. The drawbridge doesn’t move and doesn’t connect to the other side of the moat. At the end of the drawbridge there is a drop of 15 feet or so directly onto the rocks of the moat wall. So I imagine this would be the place to invite the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham to go for a stroll on some dark, moonless night.
Jack is obviously a man who reads a lot – his library was full of technical magazines and books including Scientific American and an English translation of Albert Speers book, ”Inside the Third Reich.” Speer, as the historically astute will recall was Adolph Hitler’s architect. Perhaps in the labyrinth’s of Jack’s castle there are some dark, dingy, dungeons? I really didn’t feel like pursuing that line of enquiry.
Jack Aulestia is one of life’s rarities – he actually went and fulfilled his dream. Too many of us die without our song’s being sung, without our poetry being read and without our soufflé’s ever reaching the oven.
Would the valiant Robin of Loxley feel at home among the pine trees of Panama? Would he and his merry men applaud this man’s dream? There is little doubt in my mind - they sure would.