Just Passing through
With a late afternoon arrival into Panama City we decided to stay a couple of nights and explore what there was on offer in the city of Panama on the Pacific Coast. We unintentionally ended up in a rather upmarket taxi from the airport for US$28 – we were happy as it was clean and comfy with air con, and we speed down the freeway towards downtown as daylight faded and another tropical deluge fell from the sky, slightly cooling down the steamy temperature.
We had prebooked at Hotel Milan, having had it recommended by cruiser friends. At a cash price of US$65 a night it was a large room, had a window that opened, air con that worked and was clean and quiet – and as it was just down the road from the Hilton we presumed the neighbourhood would be ok.
When I asked the receptionist if she could show us where we were on a map we found it very amusing when she brought out a map of Central America and put a ring around Panama City!, great so we did get off the plane in the right country then!!! She seemed to think it odd when I turned the map over and asked if she could show us on the city street map where the hotel was - we got there, eventually. Then Mark asked the porter if there was a bar/cafe nearby, he told us the adjoining cafe was closed Sunday nights, there was nothing else near but we could buy cold drinks at a nearby Chinese supermarket. Good thing we weren’t hungry we thought! So we dropped our bags and set off for a walk before it got too late.
Less than a minute from the hotel we passed a French Restaurant, then a bar/burger joint, closely followed by a pizza cafe, a Greek restaurant and a huge Panamanian restaurant. Has our Spanish has lapsed so badly during our time home that everything just got “lost in translation”!!
Exploring El Casco Antiguo
After a jetlagged sleep, Monday morning dawned a rather gloomy picture, not so good for taking photos, but certainly a cooler option for exploring. We walked for a while then hopped in a cab (they are $3 for a trip around town) out to El Casco Antiguo.
The old walled city is sited on a promontory, which made it slightly easier to defend in the good old days of pirate attacks which abounded in these parts. After Panama gained independence from Colombia in 1903 many of the administrative offices were relocated and the area started to rapidly decline, many buildings today are still in a state of total disrepair. However it has been declared a World Heritage site and is currently undergoing extensive renovations – they hope for it to become a rival to Cartagena in Colombia.
We strolled the streets, first passing through the grounds of the Presidential Palace (having cleared through security), the building was one of the finest we saw and gives some indication of what an attractive old town this will become when work has moved on a little more. But for now amongst the plazas and churches were dug up roads overflowing with yellow helmeted workmen,. Scaffolding and ladders adorned the footpaths instead of sidewalk cafes and mola stalls. Totally decrepit buildings are a plenty, beautifully renovated ones are still few and far between . El Casco Antiguo is certainly a project underway, and even once the buildings are reborn to their former glory there will be an urgent need to repopulate the area to bring back that buzz of an old town. It will need the little corner vendors selling the likes of freshly squeezed lime juice or mangoes so good you can smell them a block away; small shops bulging with all those goodies that these neighbourhoods need; locals sitting under the shade of the trees in the plazas gossiping away about the days goings on; street sellers hawking their wares; souvenir stalls displaying a vibrant range of colourful molas; smells of freshly roasted coffee and just baked empanadas wafting out of neighbourhood cafes; funky bars and restaurants occupying most corners – then the life will come back and El Casco Antiguo will thrive. Lets hope we see at least some of these next time we visit.
We walked back along the Costa Cintra Walkway (coastal belt)which is a green belt area running along the harbour front. For some reason someone decided a 7 foot tall concrete wall might be a good idea between the walkway and water, they did paint it blue, but the view just wasn’t quite the same!! (see it in the photo) Further along the wharf and fish market area did show us an insight into life in Panama City, the blending of the old ways and the new.
Next morning it was an early departure from the hotel and a $5 cab ride in heavy rain to the Albrook Bus Terminal on the outskirts of town. We bordered the express bus bound for Colon, departed at 8am, arrived Colon around 9.30am, caught the first cab we could find to Quatro Altos where we stocked up on a few essential groceries then awaited the 11.15am shuttle bus to Shelter Bay Marina. By 12 noon we were back on Balvenie .
Home is where the boat is, and it was nice to get home!