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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Panama City & Casco Viejo

Panama City, or what was supposed to be our first border run. Having skipped town for Nicaragua just one week before, however, technically speaking this trip was pointless. That aside, we were both really excited to take a bus down to Panama City with our good buddy Brad, a classmate of mine during my TEFL course back in Jan/Feb. 

We boarded the bus for a long 15 hour bus ride, made even longer by the 2 hour stop at the border (a much easier crossing this time). 

ready for a looonnnngg bus ride
When we finally arrived it was nearly 5am and we were slightly regretting having booked a place to stay that “night.” We all got a few hours sleep under our belts then met up at the main oceanside boardwalk along Avenida Balboa (Balboa Avenue) and walked several kilometeres into the old city, called Casco Viejo. 

Avenida Balboa Panoramic, Panama City
Avenida Balboa
Along our walk, we noticed the tide was so low that several boats were resting in the mud. Many of them looked completely abandoned. Later that evening as we walked back, however, we noticed something strange that could only have been caused by introduction of the Panama Canal. The change in tide, in only about four hours, was really intense. We'd never seen anything quite like it. I'm not sure I'd have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

The same boats: Top: our walk to Casco; Bottom: our walk back
Top: Boats rest in the mud; Bottom: four hours later, the same boats float!
Once there, we found that the buildings in Casco were colonial and the ruins were everywhere. I was in heaven, even saying to Justin at one point “THIS is why I wanted to travel.” The main part of the old city looks very European, with its narrow streets, terraces with flower boxes overhead, and cafes that spill onto the street. 

Casco Viejo ruins, Panama City
Ruins through a gate
dorr, casco viejo, panama city
Pretty doors in Casco Viejo (above and below)

flower boxes, casco viejo, panama city
Pretty Flower boxes along the terraces
Casco Viejo Church, Panama City
Above a doorway to a church 
Casco Viejo Church, Panama City
Jesus says "Rock on"
There was a square full of statues honoring the French, who made the original attempt at the Panama Canal, a street market, beautiful facades with renovations going on behind. 

Crystal in the French Square, commemorating those who made the initial Canal attempt
There were also churches and ruins that were in deplorable disrepare (the government could do a lot to intervene here) as well as shocking poverty behind many of the facades (children would leave their door open and we’d see that behind, there were dilapidated staircases, homes with no roofs, all hidden behind a pretty building face. 

church, casco viejo, panama city
Cathedral in disrepair (you can no longer enter)
church ruins the city isn't working to maintain
Overall, the area was touristy but lovely, with a bit of real, third-world life mixed in. The old city sits right up against the skyscrapers of the current Panama City, which is strikingly American. The contrast is notable. 

Panama City Skyline
Panama City from the market in Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo Skyline
Casco Viejo from Avenida Balboa
One of Justin’s favorite places in Central America was situated right where the old city joined the new. La Rana Dorada (The Golden Frog): a brewery!! The beer was delicious and a welcome treat after the colored water they pass for cervesa in Costa Rica and Panama. (Justin literally bought the t-shirt when we returned to Panama City a week later.)

La Rana Dorada Brewery, Panama City
Justin is ready 
La Rana Dorada Brewery, Panama City
Cheers to La Rana Dorada in Casco Viejo
After just one full night, Brad had to catch the long bus back home (to Costa Rica) and Justin and I set out on our own. We moved hotels to a local place to get a better price. We explored the beach front and old city a bit more, and were lucky enough to get to see the famous Golden Altar at Iglesia San Jose. We tried to see it with Brad, but the church is usually only open on Sundays. We went back just before Easter though and the church was open for Santa Semana (Holy Week--a huuuugggeee deal here). I mean, this alter is plated in GOLD! It was brilliant to see.

Golden Alter, Iglesia San Jose, Casco Viejo, Panama City
Golden Altar, Iglesia San Jose 
Golden Alter, Iglesia San Jose, Casco Viejo, Panama City
Ok, so I added a filter here (guilty) but its really not that big an exaggeration

And, just for fun, silliness along the way:

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