Ruins in Panama city
No trip is complete to Panama city without spending time in the famous Panama Viejo. The ruins of the much maligned city are closely linked to the European discovery of the Pacific ocean, Spanish expansion, the history of piracy and the bullion lifeline to Europe. We were excited to see the ruins and at the same time dreading the throng of tourists happily snapping their selfie photos. To find the ruins you can follow these simple driving directions (or have a taxi):
Upon reaching the city, get on Avenida Balboa. Then get on Via Israel and avoiding Corredur Sur, get on Via Cincuentenario and you can then just follow directions. Easy!
Not for the direction challenged Dmitry it was not. Upon arriving on the outskirts of Panama city, we made one of countless wrong turns and ended up in opposite direction from the ruins. We then decided to try to get on Corredur Sur. The new route that was controversially built around the downtown core. It is a toll road and it costs $2.5 one way however, there are no exits along the way and we drove past the ruins again…
After wasting more than hour to get to fabled ruins, we somehow made it to Mercado National de Artesanias. The first remnants of the ruins are there. I strongly encourage to sign in and walk along the stalls of this market.
The various aboriginal arts that one can acquire are of every kind and size.
There is also Museo de Sitio Panama Viejo. We did not go as we were eager to climb our way to the real ruins and explore the Dmitry and Elena way.
We were incredulous to discover that apart from us, there was no one at the actual ruins. A very nice lady sold us the entrance tickets ( $5 each) and upon receiving the map, set us on our way. As you make your way deeper towards the tallest structure standing, the hum of the cars fades away. The honking and worn out brakes get muted and replaced by the incessant chirping of parakeets and other birds calling the park their home. We walked along what was one of the bastions of Spanish rule and could not help but envision what life must have been like 400 years ago here. The sun has reached its zenith as we made our way around the slaughterhouses, the residences of the wealthy citizens and cathedrals.
The rays of the sun touched the darkest corners of ruins, illuminating them as we explored. I couldn’t help it but stop to try to envision how hard life must have been. The diseases, the threats from the sea and land, the rigors of living so far from their homeland and to do it all in the name of their king. We wandered among the ruins free to shoot any way we felt like. (Note: If you are the type that wanders of the marked path and wants to explore the grounds a little be mindful of snakes. We saw one slithering away).
The highest point in the ruins is the bell tower and the park staff has done an incredible job of building stairs and guardrails to reach the top. As we were the only people there, bats adorned the walls, looking with their small, beady eyes. They made no attempt to fly away and just hung there like some ornaments. I resisted the urge to grab one! With every floor upwards, the view of the downtown stretched. The view from the upper floor was breathtaking.
Words were useless. The wind from the ocean burst into every crevice and a very entrancing sound emerged. We stood there entranced by the flapping wings of pigeons above, the howling wind and the magnificent view of the city. This was by far the best $5 dollars spent!
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To explore this part of the city, one must be prepared for an quick, easy one hour of leisure walk or you can do it our way. To do explore the “befree” way is to rid yourself of stereotypes and fears. It is to open your soul to new experiences and meetings. So many times upon returning do we wish we could have done more, said more and experienced more. Our goal is to break those barriers down and live life the way it is supposed to be. Free and open to new challenges.
We decided to leave the ruins when a horde of students descended like an avalanche on us. There were more than a 100 kids in the group, yet they were very kind and smiled non stop. I remember my high school field trips in Canada…They were a definitely not educational. The midday heat was relentless and with me losing the water bottle, we decided to head into the city to check out the financial district. As we were driving away, I thought that this city had its share of bad luck and is still standing so no wonder so many banks call this place their home.
Parking is a challenge to find in the city. We drove in circles trying to find a spot where to ditch the car and lucked out when Elena spotted a spot beside one of thousands of banks that make up the financial district. The so called restaurant street is undergoing a massive reconstruction with construction vehicles, closed businesses and an open restaurant here and there. The guide book I had, was published in 2010 and surprisingly 3!!! restaurants on calle 5A that we wanted to check out no longer existed. I thought that maybe we were on wrong street but a cop told us they were in fact closed. Either the competition is ridiculous or the food sucked.
We saw a tree house cafe and since it looked architecturally interesting and had a wall of foliage inside, we went to check it out. It turned out to be a regular coffee house and while this is not worth mentioning there was a small incident that happened to us there.
This place was tucked away in the financial district and not easy to find. I did not see any other tourists there and I guess our cameras gave us away as the staff took notice. The staff thought it would be funny if they served us at our table rather than ordering at the cashier and there was a steady stream of cooks, cashiers and even the manager that brought something to our table. It was very sweet of them and only when we were leaving we realized that we were the only ones served at the table. So green house cafe is the spot for us!
While we were downtown, I noticed how nature was trying to live symbiotically in urban setting. Huge trees created natural shade and pathways and sidewalks were created to avoid damaging the massive roots. Parakeets were chirping everywhere and to me it was a surreal scene. To see a parakeet sitting on a telephone line chirping, while a throng of business suits flows by. Cacophony of car horns filled the air yet the lonely parakeet just sat above it all and sang his chirping tune. To find this beautiful bird among huge concrete skyscrapers was surreal.
While looking for souvenirs, we decided to check out the malls. Let me tell you, with parking rates like these, this mall is already the best one in my books.
We didn’t find any souvenirs there as Panamanian malls do not differ from the ones back home in Canada. The same prices for clothes and the same brands like Victoria secret, Guess and others. They are cleaner and there is less people.