Panama City, Panama
Heeding the call of David Lee Roth & Van Halen, as a precursor to our Costa Rica trip we tacked on a couple nights in Casco Viejo (old city), Panama City – the Panamanian version, not the Spring Break Party Zone in Florida.
We got in fairly late on Friday and had but a couple hours of sleep before getting up bright and early, finding our AirBNB which we couldn’t find the night before (no street numbers can make finding things chaotic in the dark), drop our stuff off, and hike to meet today’s tour group. We had booked a pretty decent inclusive package of Casco Viejo, a small nature reserve and, oh, that canal thing.
Our guide was savvy enough to have us meet for (much needed) coffee, a little stroll through old town before heading off to the Canal. He had the timing down so we arrived, hiked up, had a chance to see the museum showcasing the building & operation of the modern marvel and made it to the viewing terrace a few minutes before The Falkanger out of Norway made the transition from Atlantic to Pacific.
It was a pretty cool experience, watching the lochs fill, open, drain as the ship made it’s way across. It was also exacerbated by some of the crew of the ship standing on deck waving excitedly at us and both sides taking photos of the other.
We followed the excitement of the canal up with a more thorough tour of Casco Viejo. It’s a pretty cool part of town, old as the name implies, but maybe 10-15 years behind, say the similar barrio in Cartagena, Colombia. Construction everywhere, refurbishing old buildings in a sad state. And lots of old buildings still in a sad state. It is also the source of resistance. Seems in some nebulous border between the up and coming (again) Casco Viejo and an adjoining, not even remotely renovated barrio, where many buildings are without power and, um, lots of tenants are without rental agreements. Or rent.
After that we had a short excursion to a nature park outside the city. It was small, but got to see turtles, tiny toads and even our first sloth sighting.
After returning home for a shower and short nap we visited La Rana Dorada, the Golden Frog, a craft brewery started by folks behind Bogota Beer Company here in, erm, Bogota. They built up a swell brewery, sold to AB-Inbev, left Colombia and started anew in neighboring Panama. We were also enjoying a night stroll, Christmas lights up, and festive roller bladers filling in for the Santas on Motos we had witnessed a year prior in Quito, Ecuador.
It’s beginning to roll a lot like Christmas.
Day two saw us explore more of Casco Viejo as well as cab over to the Mercado De Marisco, smelled like fish. Figured there would be no better way to enjoy fresh fish, so allowed ourselves to be wrangled in to one of the open air restaurants in the market for some ceviche. Warning! The ceviche served at said Mercado is not like the awesome stuff in Peru, but rather some fish (or other sea life) and about 90% onions. Onions. Onions. More onions. Truthfully was horribly disappointing as the onions overpowered delicate corvo and shrimp.
After chasing the onion away with lots of Balboa, Panama’s watery lager, we headed back to the now-familiar stomping grounds of Casco Viejo for some absolutely fantastic chocolates courtesy of the Tropical Chocolate Café. It shows up on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet as well as other sources as a place to visit, rightfully so. Our tasting six pack featured coconut, rum punch, passionfruit, (my fave) apple pie, pineapple and plantain.
And bright and early the following morning, Van Halen’s 1984 was wiped off my playlist in favor of never-ending Jimmy Buffet as we were off to Costa Rica.