Friday...............first day in Panama
Panama City Travel Blog› entry 94 of 129 › view all entries
After breakfast I spoke to Samantha, the manager, about a tour for tomorrow. She explains that they will have to work out a price for me as usually tours are for a minimum of two people. I tell her that I’m used to tour operators being used to tours for a minimum of two people.
Samantha gives me some information about the local area and Panama City in general. I am (accidentally) staying in “Old Panama”, known as Casco Viejo (San Felipe), an area of great historical importance and a World Heritage Site. I really prefer this area to the bustle of the city and am not very interested in shopping after my shoe spree in Medellin.
I set off late morning to walk around Casco Viejo.
After the Plaza I head off to the Presidential Palace, the White House of Panama. To reach the area, there is a cursory check of my handbag. You cannot enter the Palace, but there is a great view across the bay to the city skyscrapers.
From there I walked to Plaza Bolivar, that man’s been everywhere! Then down to the Plaza de Francia where the French Embassy is situated, through the Paseo Esteban Huertas, with souvenir sellers and partly covered with bougainvillea. This was part of the defensive wall which once surrounded the city. From there I could see the Bridge of the Americas and the mouth of the Panama Canal. When I flew in yesterday I saw a number of ships waiting to use the Canal. Apparently the bigger ships can only use the canal during daylight hours because parts of the Canal, including the locks, are quite narrow and also in the morning the ships go one way (at the moment Pacific to Atlantic) and the other way (Atlantic to Pacific) in the afternoon. Ships take 8 to 10 hours to traverse the Canal.
I stop at Buzios, an excellent restaurant; I sit outside.
After lunch I go to the ruins of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, built in 1678, but gutted by fires on several occasions and not rebuilt after the 1781 fire. The church is famous for its long, not very arching, arch, called Arco Chato. Legend has it that when the US debated whether to build the Canal in Panama or Nicaragua, they were impressed that the arch remained standing for so many years and took it as a sign that Panama had little earthquake activity, making it a safer place to build. The arch finally collapsed in 2003 but has been rebuilt, using the original bricks.
The final planned stop is at Casa Gongora, built in 1760 and purported to be the best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial home in Casco Viejo.
I’m walking back to Canal House and decide to catch a cab to the city, to the best shopping centre, Multiplaza Pacifica. I hail a cab, who quotes me only USD2, when I’m expecting to pay USD8 to 11. As I am sitting in the front, it’s a few minutes later that I realize there are two people in the back, so I guess that was why it was cheap. The shopping centre doesn’t inspire me; the prices are too high. I see some shoes that I liked in Medellin but they didn’t have my size. Price in Medellin around USD60; price here USD108.
I go back to Canal House, USD8, and watch a couple of movies on cable, including The Devil wears Prada. BTW no meters in taxis in Panama, so as usual I get a quote first.