Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Hitting the big smoke in Panama City

Leaving the tropical delights of Caribbean island life was always going to be a bit difficult, but it was time to head to the city.

Panama City is the cosmopolitan capital of Central America. And while I had popped into a few cities while travelling through Central America, I never felt safe and these places had a distinct 'you might get shot' kind of feel.

Panama City on the other hand is cool. Now I'm not saying you wont get shot here, but the centre of the town did seem very civilised. I had a wander through some of the seedier areas where we had a taxi driver yell to us to turn around quickly as it wasn't safe, but we kept on wandering. I came out of the local markets alive, and not a sign of a weapon anywhere.

The city shoreline is packed with parks and shimmering skyscrapers. Mmmmm, I was back in civilization.

But the central hub of any city is not where you discover what the place is really about.

I headed to the colonial district of Casco Viejo to discover the true city and it's history. This part of the city was left crumbling into the sea for many years but is now part of a major regeneration project. Feeling like I was back in Havana, I wandered the twisting cobblestoned streets in awe, loving the dilapidated buildings standing next to a funky coffee shops, cute little churches and beautiful plazas. It was obvious to see why this area is now Unesco World Heritage listed.

I could have walked around here for days. In fact I did.

Mmmm, I probably got a bit carried away with the photos then, but the area was amazing.

I also went to the other end of town to see the ruins of Panama Viejo. Yes I know, I'm done with ruins but these weren't the work of the Romans, they are what's left of the orginial city after it was ransacked by Sir Henry Morgan in the mid 1600's.

We might have been told the area was closed for the day but there aren't really any (unopenable) gates, so we wandered around for a while.

But while Panama City itself is wonderful, it is the canal that shot it to world fame when the first ship sailed through in 1914. I spent a morning at Miraflores locks watching sail boats and huge freighters being raised and lowered through the locks. The worlds biggest ever engineering project is truly wonderful, but I did think it was rather narrow. I wouldn't like to be trying to steer a big boat through that little passage. Apparently I'm not the only one who has questioned the width of the canal, a project is about to commence to make it loads wider.

Panama City was also the place where I had to say goodbye to some wonderful travel buddies. That's always sad, but that's life on the road I guess.

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