09 October 2007

Wandering in Old Panama City


We took a cab to Plaza Francia [France Square] which is in Old Panama. We wanted to walk there but our friendly B+B host told us “You must not walk through El Chorillo”. As we drove through the neighbourhood, I could see why. It had all the signs of a depressed, desperate place. I’m sure I would have felt similarly if we were without child but having our little 13-month-old bundle of preciousness with us made the situation that much more intense. Since I had never been there before, I had no idea what to expect and my greatest fear was that what we were seeing was in fact our destination. My mantra went something like this: “Please don’t drop us off here. Please don’t drop us off here.” and “Please don’t let this be Casco Viejo. Please don’t let this be Casco Viejo”.

Thankfully the the taxi driver kept driving and In moments we arrived at our intended destination ... Old Panama City... and it was gorgeous. It reminded us a bit of Havana only much smaller and in better condition in spots. The area was almost deserted, save a few mild-mannered indigenous folk selling carvings, jewellery, tapestry, weaving etc. The Square, dedicated to the 22,000 workers who lost their lives in making the canal, led us to the very tip of the old city with a stunning view. Through the mist we could see the New City, the Pacifico, and Ancon Hill, where we were staying.

We then happened upon a 20m long bouganvaillea arch which is amazing albeit a little broken down. There were more people selling their wares. The soft sell is so sweet. Much of the colonial architecture was in ruins and there's a lot of poverty in the area. The kind that really makes your heart sad. Small doorways open onto the skinny sidewalk. I glimpsed inside through the dark and saw the sadness. Some of the old buildings had been beautifully restored. In general, the old town was much smaller than I would have thought. After 45 minutes we saw most of it. Spud saw none of it as he was lulled to sleep on daddy’s back the whole way. His sweet curls wet with humidity pressed on his head.

When he woke up we took a cookie break in Cathedral Square. Next we went to the Canal Museum which was well done but we had to rush because by that time our little traveller was getting restless. Then we found a cute restaurant for lunch. I had sancocho [Panama’s national dish, chicken and veggie stew] and Spud liked it too.

After lunch we happened upon a taxi with glorious A/C and Spud fell asleep as he usually does. Aside from the driver getting us lost and scaring the crap out of me as he aggressively crossed 3 lanes of traffic, the trip back to the B+B was pretty uneventful.