Friday, January 23, 2009

The Payback

In Casco Viejo
Presidential Palace in Casco Viejo

See how fast the quid pro quo can come around? On Monday we wanted to be active, as on Tuesday we were going to be dedicated to Barack Obama’s inauguration. So we are off to Casco Viejo at the crack of dawn (about 11 a.m.). We are on vacation you know, and nothing really gets busy until about 11. Into the taxi and down toward the waterfront, along Balboa Avenue, by the fish market, then through the public markets and on into the Casco Viejo peninsula. The taxi fare? $2.50. As you can see, for just running around Panama City you really do not need a car.

Casco Viejo was the second Panama City. The first city, called Panama Viejo, is in ruins from the dastardly deeds of pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. Two years later the city relocated to Casco Viejo which on the peninsula was more easily defended. Panama City has had its ups and downs, depending on the coming and going of the Spanish, the California gold rush, the failure of the de Lesseps canal, and then the Canal Zone isolation of the Americans. The 20th Century was not kind to Casco Viejo. The beautiful French buildings, built in the late 1800’s, were allowed to deteriorate so it became very run down. Currently, many of the buildings are being renovated, including the public buildings such as the Municipal Building, the Interocean Museum, the national theater, and many others. A lot of work is going on, but it looks like it will be a long and expensive job.

The attraction for tourists is that it is very walkable, with promenades around the peninsula, very nice plazas and squares, flowering trees, and spectacular views of downtown Panama City. There appears to be several new upscale restaurants, although we opted for home made French ice cream suggested by the Fodor’s guide. You know, if you walk long enough, you will find the top end Panamanian handicraft store. When a store is titled “Reprosa – Treasures of Panama” (, the payback is about to slap me across the face. Their brochure says “I am ancient land of legend/In my veins run golden rivers/Gods and heroes tell my story…I am Panama”. Oh lord I am cooked! My greatest fear is that this will not be the last trip to this store.

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