Driving into Panama City from the airport, we crossed over that bridge you see in the above image. As is always the case, I spend my first few moments in any new location staring raptly out the window absorbing everything around me. My view along that bridge showed me a few scattered boats bobbing along peacefully and calm waters lapping at the buildings along the shore line in the distance. As I asked the cab driver what I was looking at across the water and he enthusiastically began telling us about the history of Old Town, I made a mental note to find my way down to the water and take a (this) shot of the bridge we were driving on.
Jump to later that same day and we’ve checked in and eaten and naturally we are itching to explore Casco Viejo or Old Town; our brief history lesson earlier had informed me that everything around us had been rebuilt in the early 1600’s after the original city had been attacked by pirates and then Governor Juan Perez de Guzman pretty much burned the entire city to the ground in an effort to protect the treasures Panama City had within her walls.
Taking the city on foot we were amazed to still see evidence of this devastation as blackened, empty husks of these buildings still stood, interspersed amongst the renovated and freshly painted structures.
The city streets were teeming with people, both locals and tourists alike and we were beckoned from every enclave to sample the food, coffee and liquors that the each tucked away spot had to offer.
Though I cannot draw or paint to produce anything even remotely resembling artwork, I completely adore street art; it is raw, unapologetic, pure expression often done with very little regard for anyone’s opinions other than those of the artist themselves – that’s something I can get behind. The streets of Casco Viejo kept me thoroughly enthralled as each street provided new material.
As I walked back and forth along the above sidewalk with the cartoon infested wall and studied the images (and the statue of The Virgin Mary hidden in those banana trees growing on the top of the wall), I became aware that the other side of said wall was painted with even more artwork and without a second thought I charged through the open gate, camera in hand and Jessica at my side. As we are standing there excitedly taking photos, we slowly become aware of the gentleman standing off to the side, staring at us, towel over his shoulder and toothbrush in hand…yes, we are in this man’s front yard.
This is where anyone else in a normal state of mind would sheepishly excuse themselves and beat a hasty retreat, as normalcy has never appealed to me, instead I smiled and waved, including the walls in my hand gestures I exclaimed how beautiful it all was and took his confused, gap toothed smile in return as all the permission I needed to continue shooting. Gracias señor!
As we perused street after street of Panama hats, linen suits, crosses, rosaries and an obscene amount of Bob Marley printed souvenirs, the appeal of the small cafés that dotted the streets in the midst of the typical tourist fare was too much to ignore, the alluring scent of cappuccino drew us in.
Walking while discovering new places is not only the best way to see all the hidden side streets (and people’s front yards) but it also allows you to justify all of the fried, fatty, chocolate drenched things that you must inevitably consume to be able to fully enjoy any new culture.
While I am not traditionally a fan of sweets and will almost always choose cheese over chocolate, I feel as if I am culinarily obligated to eat when I travel and nothing falls outside of this mandate. I do this for you dear reader, all for you. Our tasty treats and rich coffees did not disappoint and the classic yet elegantly comfortable decor inside Cafe Unido gave us a lovely spot to recap our day thus far and to plan our night ahead. If you’re in the area may I suggest you get at least 3 items from their menu, my only regret was not having ordered even more.
Lest you think our walking was aimless, recall my first image in this post of that bridge stretching across the horizon…well this was still our goal, to make our way towards the water and the shoreline and to hopefully get a shot of that bridge. The streets of Casco Viejo are made for walking and we had an abundance of sights, sounds and smells to keep us busy and fully enthralled as we explored. We found our way through a torn chain link fence, crossed a graffiti covered basketball court and hopped down a short wall to finally arrive at the ocean’s shore.
Imagine our slack-jawed surprise at what we saw, or didn’t see rather, as the tide had completely gone out and what was left was miles of pebble and rock covered ocean bed with only small pools of water remaining where large boats had been just a few hours prior.
As the sun began to dip and the sky was cast in the palest pastels of pink and purple, and we picked our way along the exposed shore, our discovery of the extreme tides here in Panama told me that there was most likely a great deal more to this little island gem than what I may have originally thought. My camera battery flashed on screen at this point and yes that was my second battery pack, a good indicator that our day had been well spent and that it was time to head back to the Marriott prior to nightfall.
I didn’t know then how enraptured I would be in the days to come, only that I had to make sure both of my batteries were charged, I simply couldn’t afford to miss a single thing here.