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Published: December 12th 2014
When Welsh pirate Henry Morgan trashed the Spanish colonial city of Panama in 1671, looking for a gold church alter, he probably didn't think much about what would grow in its place. These were simpler times, when ransacking your neighbour's stuff, burning, looting and pillaging, was not just ok; it was expected.....
Morgan would not have foreseen a 21st Century forrest of glass and concrete towers or a canal which links 2 oceans, but he might have predicted a diverse, multicultural and prosperous city, because Panama had been that for 150 years before he dispensed his version of Brittish justice. And it still is that way today, nestled on its strategically located isthmus on a most important world trade route.
Yesterday morning we flew in from Quito, the world's second highest capital to Panama City at sea level, and it was not just a move of altitude and country. We said goodbye to the Andes as we were treated to a spectacular view of the Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador's highest peak (5900m), soon after we lifted off from Quito airport. We also said goodbye to the Andean people and their thin dry air, to be replaced by Central Americans, breathing
moist tropical air, the ocean, approaching Christmas and a journey along the thin strip of land that connects America - Panama, Costa Rica, Nicuragua and who knows where else? We've 3 months left to figure it out....
We're staying in the old quarter of Panama City, called Casco Viejo (Old Compound), on a thin peninsular of land which jutts into the Pacific, selected because it could be easily defended. Casco Viejo shows what Panama must have looked like before Morgan and his mates had their fun and games. Nowdays it is a place of crumbling colonial facades, of tumbledown stores, warehouses and civil and commercial buildings, many of which are being renovated to support tourism. Panameños are busy building bars, guesthouses, restaurants and cafes and there's every reason to work on this UNESCO world heritage town. The new facilities will complement a very attractive location the beautiful house of parliament, presidential palace, many churches and museums.
We're staying in the Casa Sucre, the old sugar warehouse. It took 5 years for its North American owner to convert this stone building into accommodation and a street corner café. A labour of love, no less.
Ah, and the golden
alter. Legend has it, that a Spanish priest, expecting the assault, painted it black and accused another pirate of taking the golden one and, appealing to Morgans kinder side, extracted a donation. Morgans is said to have announced: "I think this priest is more of a pirate then me!". The golden alter is safely housed in the Cathedral in Casco Viejo.
The Casco Viejo in Panama City has a vibrant feel, warm sweet ocean air, African roots, char grilled seafood, salsa music, coffee and rum.... what a great place to start our Central American adventure...
And another thing; is there no irony in the rum being called "Captain Morgan's"?
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