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Behind closed doors

Casco Viejo Hello

Imagine what lies behind Casco Viejo’s many doors. Historically important events took place behind many. Others are vivid reminders that Panama almost lost a national treasure. They are guardians of the past and portals to the future. Side by side they tell us of the hard times, a rebirth and the joyfulness of Casco Viejo and it’s people. They make us smile and almost cry, protect the rich, provide sanctuary for the poor and always remind us that Casco Viejo is real. Walk with us and wonder.

Big Wooden Needs a door Fancy Door
Red and Blue Rainbow doors Sophisticated

Nueva Avenida Balboa

Avenida Balboa
Today we needed to run a couple of errands in the El Cangrejo neighborhood. A two dollar taxi ride, then we walked around and amazingly accomplished everything on our list. It was around noon and there had been a light rain that cooled things off a bit - so we decided to hike back to Casco Viejo. Besides, we had wanted to eat at Restaurante Boulevard Balboa which was at about the halfway point so we could always grab a taxi if our legs gave out. We had been once before (on our 2006 visit) when a Panamanian took us there. I had a “combinación especial”, Jane a Cubano and a chocolate shake - everything was great AND we took half home with us for dinner. Read more

Just another day, until . . .

Art class in the plaza
On any given day you can see just about anything in Casco Viejo. School kids on a tour. Art classes in the plaza. Police on their morning run. Vendors and craft sellers. Tourists. Last week our neighbors plunked a tent down in the middle of the street (albeit a side street) and two soccer goals for the kids - somebody’s birthday party. It was an all day festivity ending in the required fireworks. Read more

The Hill

Flag on Ancon Hill
From about any location in Panama City you can see a huge Panama flag atop a very prominent landmark - Ancon Hill, 650 plus feet high. While we had the rental car (between all those important errands) we decided to play explorer. The guidebooks said there was a road to the top of Ancon, the challenge was finding it. Off we went to Balboa (originally a Canal Zone town) and Quarry Heights, where the U.S. Southern Command was located. After finding a road behind the current headquarters of the Panama Canal Authority that looked promising up we went, until - we came to an imposing guard post. Oops, maybe we were not on the right road after all? Edging forward, we finally decided that it was just a leftover from the U.S. Military (you come across these things frequently in the old Canal Zone) and where once you would have encountered a serious MP we were greeted by a bored Panamanian guard waving at passing tourists. Read more

Playing Catch Up

Will try to get back on schedule after my little layoff - was very busy doing nothing!

Bridge of the Americas (Puente de las Américas)
Last Friday we rented a car so we could do a little exploring outside the city and run a few errands. Our first trip was to La Chorrera to check out a small development. It was a thirty minute drive West on the Interamericana Highway to Brisas de los Lagos where the project engineer gave us a great tour. They have done a very nice job so far and we liked what we saw. Two big decisions we still haven’t made - city versus country and this project would require we build (something that I didn’t want to do - hassle factor, mainly) as they have no existing homes for sale. Still, it was impressive enough that it is on our “list” as the search continues. Read more

The Old Fashioned Way

Snow Cone The Old Fashioned Way

As you walk around Casco Viejo chances are you will eventually see one of these guys, usually under a shade tree in one of the plazas. They make snow cones the old fashioned way - from a big (but getting smaller) block of ice they purchased at the start of the day. We normally get cherry (rojo) with the “works”. Read more

Another look

With our hardhats in hand we made the short walk back to La Posada, a restoration project we looked at last week. As you can tell from the pictures, they have a little work to do. The agent says it will be ready by November. In a lot of ways Panama is just like the islands - when someone asks a question the answer is always meant to please - not be accurate. In the islands it’s the “don’t worry be happy” attitude, in Panama it’s "juego vivo" - live without hassle, that rules the day. Hey - “whatever works” does it for me. Read more

Budget Buster

Casco Viejo View

Because we are both now retired and on the infamous “fixed income” we try and watch our spending - we actually have a budget and a surprisingly (for us) effective way of tracking our money (will tell you about the “system” someday). But, as with all well laid plans certain things occasionally popup that were not planned for. In our case it’s . . . . Read more

Something Fishy

Mercado de Mariscos Restaurant at the Fish Market

Yesterday after shopping on Avenida Central we walked a couple of blocks to the Mercado de Mariscos (Fish Market). If you noticed the Japanese flag on the sign -the building was a gift from the Japanese government. Upstairs is a restaurant that overlooks the floor of the market where we had lunch. In addition to pretty good food you get the added benefit of the free show going on below. You can even buy your entree from one of the vendors and take it to the restaurant for preparation.

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Avenida Central

Avenida Central
Avenida Central is one of Panama City’s main avenues, originating in Casco Viejo just a few feet from the front door of our apartment and running to the edge of the banking district. Today we took a little walk down Central to the “peatonal” section (pedestrian mall) to check out the shopping. This area of the city is not on the “must see” list of most tourists (some guidebooks even say avoid the area) but if you live in the city and want to find stuff at reasonable prices, this is the place. Plus it’s just an interesting, not sterile, slice of life in the big city - with real people going about their daily lives. Disneyland cute and perfect it is not! Read more

Concert at Teatro Nacional

Teatro Nacional
Tonight we attended a jazz concert at the National Theater. One in a series of events in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the theater. The concert was free - a gift from Alliance Francaise (a French cultural exchange organization) to the people of Panama.
Concert at National Theater
The theater is a great concert venue, very good acoustics and ornate almost beyond description - they don’t build halls like this any more! Looks like it could accommodate about 600 if they packed the place, and you wouldn’t be more than 75 feet from the stage in the worst seat. Read more

Nothing Exciting

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Our major accomplishment for the day - we looked at another apartment that is for sale in the building next to our rental. Two bedrooms, nice view of the city, and some great inside architectural features inside - exposed “calicanto” walls and remnants of the very old foundation. It’s on our “maybe” list.

Casco Viejo Park
A trip via taxi to the grocery store (one of the amenities that Casco Viejo lacks) and several walks around Casco, took care of the rest of the day. What a life.

Special Note: I’ve upgraded the software used to create this site. If you see something that doesn’t look right or won’t display - please let me know.

Take care.

Sunday in Casco Viejo

Iglesia de la Merced
After church at Iglesia de la Merced we walked around the corner and past the Presidential Palace. The guards allowed us to walk right past the front door - didn’t see the boss.

Presidential Palace Flag in front of Palacio de las Garzas

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Looking at Casco Viejo

The plan when we moved to Panama was to rent and “test drive” the various living options available. Location (city, country, mountains) and the type (high-rise, low-rise, condo, single family home) - we saw no advantage in rushing and wanted to give ourselves a reasonable shot at finding something (somewhere) that meet most of our criteria. The only thing that has happened so far is that we’ve pretty much ruled out a high-rise - just not our thing. Read more

A walk around Casco Viejo

Tonight you get to tag-along on one of our late afternoon walks. We usually just wander around, get a snow cone from a street vendor, and explore.

Panama City from Casco Viejo Park
Out the door we go, turn left, and head towards this little park, with a nice view of the city.

Rubén Blades' house in Casco Viejo
Then it’s past Rubén Blades’ house (Panama’s Minister of Tourism). If you are a film buff or into Latin music you may recognize the name. Read more

Casco Viejo, a short history

Casco Viejo Park
Casco Viejo (also know as Casco Antiguo or San Filipe) is the old quarter of Panama City, founded in 1673 after the original Pacific settlement (Panama Viejo) was sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan. It is the oldest city on the Pacific Coast of the Americas and remained the center of Panamanian life for nearly 300 years, until the 1930s, when, like many old quarters in Latin America, Casco Antiguo declined as Panama's upper crust moved to the suburbs. Read more

Before I Forget

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A couple of “Extras” that will get lost in the shuffle if I don’t write them down.

Today (Wednesday) we went for our first major trip to the grocery store - up until now, we shopped almost daily for the things we needed. Now that we are settling in, it was time to stock up. Get a taxi and off we go. Load up a cart and head for the check-out lane (those dying for some cost of living comparisons will have to wait) and we are greeted by the usual “bagboys” - one unloads your cart for you, then joins his buddy at the other end to bag the stuff up. Then he rolls the cart to the curb and gets you a taxi, loads the groceries into the taxi and we are on our way. Service with a smile.

The taxi drivers continue to amaze. Going to the grocery we had “Mario Andretti” - thought Jane was going to jump out if given a chance. On the return, just a leisurely drive. Arrived at the apartment where our neighbors maid and handyman helped carry in the groceries. Then the amazing part. We had been inside the apartment unpacking the groceries when someone knocked at the door - it was the maid with a bag of our groceries. She told Jane we had left the bag in the taxi and the driver had RETURNED when he later discovered the bag. Maybe I’m getting cynical but I wonder in how many places that would happen. His total fare - a whopping $3.00.

Take Care.
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Up and Running, sort of

Actually, I’m back to walking (slowly) - when I was a bit younger this type malady would hit me for a day or two, then I was back at it. This time around it’s coming up on a week, starting to feel better - but no two mile hikes anytime soon.

The good news - we moved on schedule (Monday) and are now it our Casco Viejo (old city) apartment. Our small building (6 apartments) was originally built in 1906 - it’s one of the younger buildings in this area, many of which are over three hundred years old.
The neighborhood was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and restoration is still very much a work in progress. When I get feeling just a little better I will start a series on Casco Viejo and our experiences.

View of Panama City from Casco Viejo

That’s it for now. This last picture is the view from a small park about fifty feet from our front door. (Yes, it’s a picture I took - just played with it a little).

Take care.
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