First day in Panama

I’m sure you’re all wondering if I’m safe after yesterday’s message, and I am. We are now in Panama and I love this place.

After I wrote yesterday, we decided to make the most of our delay and see la ciudad de Guatamala. It was really fun, there was a festival going on and all the school children from around were performing in marching bands for the parade. We also went to a beautiful Cathedral and a market. The market was huge, a converted building with 5×5 stalls filling it end to end, 2.5 stories high (two floors on top of eachother, and one was half a story down.) Inside you had the regular tourist stuff, along with sacks of grain, cooked foods, ribbon shops, wedding supplies and live chickens for sale in a basket. Everything the residents of Guatamala could possibly need.

Our taxi driver was really sweet. He offered to come back when we needed to leave and in fact refused payment until he collected us. He was trusted by Marriot so we could trust him. When he returned he couldn’t make it to the agreed location because of the festival traffic so he parked 3 blocks away and ran to meet us.

We took our flight and arrived in Panama without further delay. Flying in was beautiful. Fog surrounded the plane all the way there until we were almost there and it broke just in time to throw light on the highrises of Panama City. We shared a cab with some frindly Americans we met on the plane who shared our cancled flight plight. Tanya and I ate dinner and roamed the streets last night, trying to get lost. Interestingly, on closer inspection it appears that although there are more sky scrapers than San Francisco and this looks like a richer city from the outside, inside you can tell that 1/3 of the buildings are under construction and some are empty. There is a lot of investment going on right now and this city could very well boom, but right now it’s not quite as metropoliton as it appears.

This morning we got up and went to Casco Viejo, the new, old center of town. It was raining and I was interested to see that the residents seem to stop their lives to stand under an awning and wait for the rain to stop. We waited with them for a while, but decided just to brave the rain, and I’m glad we did because it was still warm and the wet city streets were pretty in their own way.

At one point we saw the ocean so started walking towards it. About 2 blocks from the edge of the peninsula an old woman stopped us, insisting we don’t go down that way. She said it was too dangerous. It’s really cool that she did, despite the fact that it proved we stuck out as tourists. Everyone has been likewise friendly and helpful. I should point out that Guatamala did not feel safe, and nobody seemed interested in looking at us or helping us except our Taxi driver.

After lunch at a high scale restaurant called Buzios (30$ for both of us) we took a taxi to the Old old part of Panama, Panama Viejo. It was hard to find a taxi driver, and when we finally found one he already had a fair. Didn’t matter, he told us to get in and we started driving the opposite direction we wanted to go. All taxi rides had been life and death experiences so far, with the weaving and horn honking and speeding but this guy was 10x worse. Then we entered a complete slum, and I was sure we were being scammed and the other woman in the car was a decoy. She eventually got out and we were off, so I felt a little better but I didn’t feel safe until we were out of the car. Later we had a taxi charge us 1/4th the price and drive at a more reasonable speed. We tipped him well.

Old Panama was kinda fun, ruins of the old city before Captain Morgan attacked it and burned it to the ground (the guy you know from the Rum). I was pretty interested in hearing about Morgan, because I knew he got pardoned (and knighted) so I thought he was forgiven. But it was clear the residents don’t like him much. The Pirate section of the museum was tucked in the last corner and talked about what a terrible guy he was. Basically, he raised the city because he could, they offered very litte resistance and he took 3000 prisoners ransom and torchured them until they paid. So now I’m more sensitive to their culture, but I can’t help marvel at this early entreprenuer.

That’s the everything up until now. I really love this city, so many colors and sights. Tonight we plan to go to the new, new center of town and maybe see what the clubs are like here. Tomorrow we see the canal and get on a plane for Bocas Del Toro where we should have a more relaxed schedule.

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