Eight Days in Panama
Installment Three

Nora our personal guide drove us next along Balboa Ave in the Paitilla, Marbella area. The Multiplex 4 story enclosed mall starts the area heading towards downtown Panama City. It is a newer mall. Has a Las Vegas style casino, outdoor cafes, inside food court and assorted small boutique shops. The mall has about 1/3 empty shops. Missing are the huge anchor stores like Robinson May, Penny's etc.It is here that you look out towards the bay. We learned quickly that the bay has a big tidal change. The bay front area between Multiplex and the Marina Miramar fills up and then reseeds about every 12 hours. At low tide the sand, mud and rocky outcroppings are exposed. At high tide it is filled over with water. The bay is said to be too polluted to swim in. Never did see anyone in the ocean waters around Panama City.

There is a side walk on both sides of Balboa. The bay side is tree lined. The city side had high rise condos and assorted shops including a Dunkin Donut. It is what you do not see that impressed me. Very little trash. About 1/2 way is Uruguay street near the Shell gas station. Said to be one of the better areas for dinning. There are several high rise projects under construction. Other high rise condos are finished. But the condo boom seems to end at about the Marina Miramar or in Bella Vista. In the marina are newer mostly expensive looking power boats in larger sizes up to about 40 feet or so. The only time we saw a helicopter was at the tip of the marina. There near the marina is the monument to Balboa in a small bay side park. Past the Marina Miramar was a hospital, more stores and shops and the US embassy. It became very clear that living along Balboa has some noise issues with traffic. But the bay view and easy access to shops and restaurants might off set the negative noise concerns?

As we got closer to town center, buildings got older, more run down. At about town center, there were shabby 3 story tenement housing. All in need of repairs or a good paint job. Many had their laundry hanging out to dry. There were open markets, open fronted sidewalk vendor restaurants very typical of struggling people. Much like what we have seen in poorer regions of USA, Egypt and Mexico. Nothing shocking. Again what was missing impressed me. We did not see homeless street people living in doorways or tents as we often see in San Francisco or Los Angels California. Or the panhandlers with signs "will work or food", so common in USA.

We turned into the Casco Viejo region and parked near the National Theater and the Presidential Palace. It was here we walked about. The old city reminds me of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Narrow streets. 2 story buildings. Some rehabbed in like new condition. Others in bad need of rehab. Termites are an extreme problem in Panama. They consume wood as fast as it goes up. That is why most construction is concrete. It was said that the new rehabs are to conform to the existing style to preserve the architectural appearance of this wonderful area of the city. It is in this region we became aware of the well armed police and Military. I know Panama is not supposed to have a military, but they looked like it to me. Both in different uniforms.The police were on foot and bicycles. Nothing shocking or something we have not seen before in other countries. We had to pass by some locals hanging out a first floor window, living in a run down apartment building. Only time I felt uneasy. Police were around the corner. The Theater is a national treasure. Small in side, but very well maintained. It would be grand to dress up and see a performance there. Several very old Catholic churches that we toured, Panama City Cathedral and Saint Joseph's. Some shells of old stone ruins. In the center was a park. We stopped and had a refreshing fruit drink at a nice cafe near the park. Young boys were playing some sort of gambling game on the sidewalk. Looked like 2 boys each would toss a coin and when they landed, one would win the others coin. Not sure how they figured who won? The school children all wear uniforms. Nice to see this. There were several museums we missed because of time. It was getting real hot and humid. Walking about in the sun was difficult. Soon learned that shade is most important any time of the day. I was getting soaked with sweat. We walked out to the French Embassy and around the point where there was a most beautiful park on the bay front looking back to Paitilla and all the ghostly high rise condos that dot along the bay. At this time of the year colorful bougainvilleas are everywhere. Lots of palm tress including coconut trees.

As we drove out of the Casco Viejo, we passed a local shopping area in Santa Ana region. Bustling with locals. Open air fruit  stands. We never got back there, but it looked like the local swap meet. A great place to haggle with the sellers. Not sure I would venture there at night. I would certainly down dress and leave my valuables home. But would have liked to go there and look around, but time did not permit our return. We did not take our umbrella. Looking into the sky, clouds were forming and moving fast out over the bay. Darker ones were on the way by noon.

Panama City is alive with people. It is a capitol city busy with the all the aspects that make a international city work. It is modern. It is growing and expanding. There seems to be many plans at work to move the city into the future. The high rise construction going on is nearly unbelievable! Each condo project different in its appearance making them architectural beautiful, specially at night with all the lights. The attention to detail, such as the rebuilding of the old fortress city at La Vieja. (Panama Viejo) The effort to keep the look and feel of the Casco Viejo region. A concentrated effort to attract tourist and "Baby Boomers", with the benefits to the local people with jobs and tax dollars to the government.

The people dress more casual than we had expected. jeans and shirt were most common. Short pants were common. But we were told that short pants are not acceptable in banks and government buildings. Reminds me of Southern California, lay back levis. Now one thing I could not understand is how the local men can wear an undershirt, long sleeve shirt and long pants and not sweat! I know that many postings tell that it only takes several days to adjust to the heat and humidity. Then how do you counter that every mall, store, restaurant, taxi we were in has their air conditioner on? One good benefit of the humidity soon appeared. Having come from the dry desert of Arizona, my dry chapped skin was getting back to normal. My wife started holding my hands once again as we strolled the city.

Part 4, day one, balance of our Panama City tour.
Installment One Installment Two Installment Three Installment Four Installment Five
Installment Six Installment Seven Installment Eight Installment Nine

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