The sun was just peaking over the tall skyscrapers as we walked along the damp streets of Casco Viejo, dodging puddles from the early morning rain.
Most the shops and buildings were still closed up, but a few showed signs of life. We made a rough circle around the town and noticed one shop was still closed, despite the posted sign listing its hours from 10-6. It was nearly 11 by then. No one seemed in a rush there, though.
That was okay for us. We were enjoying the beautiful old buildings and soaking in a bit of the culture.
Casco Viejo, means “Old Quarters” in Spanish. This part of Panama City was built in 1673, after pirates all but destroyed the original city in 1671. Many of the old crumbling buildings have been restored and now quite a few nice restaurants, artesian shops and hotels are popping up.
A lot of the buildings were in the process of being restored as we walked the streets.
There’s a definite Caribbean flair to the art, clothing and demeanor here in Panama.
Especially when compared to Lima, Peru. Most people in Lima seem to wear black or dark clothing. In Panama, the colors of the clothing are as bright as the land surrounding it. The art, too, is bright and bold. The people on the streets seem generally happy, though perhaps somewhat fatigued by life.
In Lima, we get smiles for the kids, but if you’re out alone don’t expect one. I still smile at people on the street in Peru, and then remember how out of place that is when I receive a puzzled stare in return. Back to Panama…
We were excited to get a chance to see the historical museum and even had a guide to point out the most interesting facts of Panama’s long history (in Spanish of course – John helped translate what I couldn’t catch). It was surprising to us to note that if Panamanians don’t like a part of their history, they just leave it out. Like the dictator president they had in the 1970’s, who just doesn’t appear on the list. Or the Spanish Conquest, where the country lost much of their gold supply, which is basically overlooked completely.
We had lunch in a cute little cafe in the town center.
You had just one choice to make: chicken, fish or pork. The rest was a set menu. Very good I might add. The kids must have been craving veggies because Olivia nearly polished off a whole bowl of calabaza (squash) soup and Cliff ate half the green salad by himself!
There were a lot of stray cats and dogs in the area, which fascinated the kids and made me a bit nervous.
At one point Cliff enjoyed breaking up a group of pigeons and chasing them around. They find entertainment everywhere!
As we walked down one street we heard a wailing toddler. I looked up and inside what had earlier appeared to be an abandoned apartment building was actually someone’s home. On each balcony was a child, one who was clearly upset about something. It’s been sad to see the living conditions of the locals here. More so because there doesn’t seem to be much hope for improvement.
Even as people invest into businesses and open shops, the poor still continue in their poverty. In Casco Viejo the contrast is pretty stark. Beautifully restored pre-colonial buildings right next to people living with sheets as doors and piles of trash and rotting food in the street.
It was amazing seeing buildings that were so incredibly old. Still standing to tell a part of their history.
We walked around the town several times trying to find an art gallery we had read about, but never could locate it. The buildings in Panama don’t have addresses, but rather just crossroads or general directions, such as, “across from the cafe and down the street from the bakery”… Makes it fairly difficult to find anything specific!
After lunch, we visited a local ice cream shop, where each flavor is made of fresh ingredients.
John had the rum and raisin, I had the fresh ginger, and Olivia of course chose “pink” or strawberry :). It was a nice end to our morning out.