The traffic was terrible and I decided to jump off the bus before my stop and go walking. A 500m pedestrian walkway with low price product stores would lead me down to the old quarter of Panama city.
Just a small paragraph regarding the buses I sincerely don´t know what it reminded me the most the colourful buses from Pakistan or the truck “Camel” buses from Cuba. Anyway, it was sincerely a sign of lack of propriety. Old US school buses all decorated with colourful cartoons and images. The one I took once upon a time was driving children in some distant town in Virgina (US).
As I reached the old quarter, houses with paint peeling off, clothes drying from the terraces and most importantly the fallen walls and ceilings in a few buildings. This all reminded me of another Caribbean city Havanna. If someone had told me that I had been placed suddenly in Habanna Vieja, I would easily believe it. Again, like Havanna, very cosy, picturesque and colourful. Just missing the music, cigars and rum. On the other hand, this city has the view of all the cargo ships waiting to enter the canal and head towards the Atlantic ocean.
It is certainly not correct or polite to compare but the similarities were such that I had to bring it in. Already answering questions some might have, I need to say that Havanna does have some extra charm when compared to Panama City. First the plazas in Havanna are, in my opinion unbeatable. A beer in the plaza with the illuminated church on one of the ends, the guitarist playing some son and the cool breeze from the ocean is an unforgeatable Havanna experience which I could not find a match in Panama. Yes, Panama does have the canal (actually one of the drivers that made me come to this country) and the hat (which is actually manufactured in Ecuador) but Cuba has the Son, the “Puros”, the “Che”, the “Ron”, the “Old man and the sea”, …. and I could continue. If Panama is going to seriously focus its economic efforts in tourism, have it as a generator of growth for the country, I strongly suggest they create something new.
Lunch at an excellent chilled restaurant in Casco ViejoÑ Casa Blanca. Even Brazilian music was playing (Gracas a Deus!!! Chega um pouquinho de chu chu chu e cha cha cha). Two upper class girls talked a mixture of English and Spanish behind me. It´s probably the fashionable way of talking. Might show to themselves that both are fluent in both languages
After lunch still found some energy to leave Casco Viejo and head to the ruins in Panama Viejo. Finding a taxi that would get me there at 5pm was not an easy task and buses heading that direction would only leave every 2 hours. Eventually, I did manage to find a taxi not before being warned a couple of times about how dangerous it was for a foreigner to be downtown at that time of day. Interesting that this was only a couple of blocks away from the touristic sites. Nevertheless, I had to agree with the locals as I wasn´t feeling entirely safe. Just out of curiosity, the taxi I did successfully catch took me down to the ruins, waited for me (about 1-2 hour) and drove me back to my guest house for 8usd.
Although controversy, I really enjoyed walking around the ruins. Apparently, from what I have read, the ruins have been severely damaged already. Still I thought the ruins were in great state of conservation and felt that it was possible to visualize the old city quite well. The local government did an excellent job in restoring and maintaining this part of their past. Although it is impossible not to note the neighbourhood surrounding the ruins. Surrounded by shantytowns, the site does not reflect the tranquility and loneliness so typical of city ruins. Hopefully the government will continue the current work of restoring the site and slowly remove this unwanted neighbour to such a great tourist attraction for the city.
I later went back to the hostel as I had arranged to meet the two. They had remained in Boca to enjoy some more snorkeling and beaches. The great thing of travelling with good friends is that you always have a good company. But, if each person wants to do a different activity, the group needs to be open about it and understand whatever each person wants. I guess that we really did excel in that.
We were all exhausted (I had to wake up early for my flight while they had the boat trip) but we still managed to go out for dinner. After having a great dinner in Casco Viejo, we went to La Casona, a reasonably underground bar close to where we had dinner. Unfortunately the place hadn´t picked up yet and the music was not what we were seeking so we headed to Calle Uruguay. A mainstream street with several clubs. Interesting to see but our bodies weren´t coping. The fact that we had to leave early next morning also was not an incentive to stay. All added up, shortly after getting to the street we were already in another taxi heading to the guest house.
PS: I try to “advertise” on Facebook whenever I write a new post. If someone wants me to email them , please let me know. I will also ask the other two to write something here shortly… lets see their comments on my impressions of the trip so far.