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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: 8.95163, -79.5318
A bit dazed this morning, not having had the best sleep - given the lack of sleep the night before flying out, I'm working on something like six or seven hours in the past two days. Hoping to take a stroll around the neighbourhood to get my bearings, the sleep deprivation and confusing layout made for a disorienting experience.
Streets aren't well-labeled here, and the ones that actually are labeled don't provide much help - many street signs aren't oriented such that they line up with any street, so they don't tell you much. A number of streets also have two names, so the one you see on the map doesn't necessarily correspond to the signs you read. Making things even more confusing is when you come across something bizarre like an intersection with one sign saying 50A street and the other 50B street!
Marbella is one of the more affluent neighbourhoods in the city, but it isn't really designed for pedestrians with its potholes, uneven and/or crumbling pavement, and construction everywhere. It's rare that you can walk more than a block or two without having to cross to the other side because the sidewalk is impassable. The recent rains
The Latin American Miami ...
... accurate description of Panama, with its modern city centre full of skyscrapers, looking much like the Miami coastline. Viewed from Casco Antiguo, you can see all the fishing boats, perhaps a reminder of a more traditional life in Panama before the introduction of all that foreign influence and money.
didn't help either, with big puddles and muddy sections everywhere. On top of that, there really isn't much to see in the neighbourhood - there's Calle Uruguay, famous for nightlife, but that only stretches for a couple of blocks.
There are a few stores and restaurants, but no neighbourhoods with any real character, ones that are perfect for lazily passing an afternoon, as is so common in the World's most exciting cities. Panama City is funny in a way - sprawling, and the feel of the city is reminiscent of places like A Coruna in Spain, Montevideo in Uruguay, or even Recife in Brazil. I love both A Coruna and Montevideo, and found Recife decent - but Panama? It seems to be lacking something, a certain energy or soul that those other places have.
The rainy season is usually over by now, but it has continued to rain, with thundershowers the past few days and more in the forecast. The cloudy skies weren't the worst thing, as it made the 45 minute walk to the old town, Casco Viejo, bearable - it's super humid in Panama with a high of 29 today, which would have felt far hotter had the sun
Casco Viejo ...
... not to be confused with Panama Viejo, which was the original settlement destroyed by the English. The Spanish subsequently re-built the city here.
Casco Viejo is quite enjoyable, the scene of a renaissance these past few years - it still has a long ways to go, with a number of buildings still in disrepair. Restoration of classic buildings needs both time and money, and the investment is pouring in now that it's becoming a desirable place to live. It's funny - Casco Viejo had declined greatly decades ago and as it crumbled, the residents all left, which was followed by an influx of poor Panamanians who came for the cheap housing. The decay continued and along came with it rising crime levels and became a place that nobody who had the means, wanted to live.
Very interesting how that all changes - now Casco Viejo is very desirable place to live, with fancy restaurants and modern renovations taking over. It makes you wonder - who all of a sudden decided that this is the "it" neighbourhood in town? It's sad really - those that took a chance on the neighbourhood because they had no other place to go are now slowly being forced out by developers. But it's a common theme across the world - a dodgy and undesirable neighbourhood becomes
Gringo Pitstop for a Watermelon Juice ...
... high-end spot in Casco Viejo - with expat dollars comes fancy places like this. Refreshing, but the juice had a bit of an off sour taste to it.
marginal and eventually gentrifies some more, to the point of being an edgy and upcoming neighbourhood. After a few more years of improvements, the rich roll in and complete the process, turning what was once a derelict dive into the trendiest part of town.
Feeling pretty beat up after a long day of walking and the continued sleep deprivation, the perfect cure was to find a nice shaded patio and relax, enjoying a cold Balboa (popular local brew) and a huge dinner. Crepes y Waffles - a chain restaurant, not the most traditional Panamanian meal but tasty, nonetheless. Suprisingly good crepe with smoked ham, dutch cheese, tomatoes, and onions. Having not eaten much today, it barely lasted two minutes - not feeling super full after, it was followed up with an arequipe crepe, which was chosen in the mistaken belief that it was some exotic ingredient, but it turns out that it was just caramel 😞
So far Panama has been interesting, but a bit of a letdown - it lacks the vibrancy that is characteristic of many Latin American countries. The energy, the love of life, a certain wondrous magic ... it's what makes traveling in those countries so amazing, and
Rob Me, Please ...
... you wonder why you hear so many stories of tourists getting robbed? Fancy camera hanging on the front, big backpack on the other side ... as if that's not enough, there's a big fanny pack on the front, sure to be stuffed with goodies ripe for the taking. Luckily, Casco Viejo is quite safe during the day, especially since it's patrolled by dozens of tourist police. The surrounding areas are a bit sketchy however, and not some place you want to wander around looking like this.
the dearth of those qualities is exactly what makes Panama City seem so ordinary, in comparison. Hopefully tomorrow brings a little of that missing magic ...
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