Panama City

We have just 2 days to pack in a lot of sightseeing.  I've surprised the kids by booking an apartment on Plaza Bolivar in Casco Viejo, the old part of Panama City.
The view is amazing and the rooftop pool is adorable.

Panama City is undergoing a transformation.  The old part is on its way to being enchanting like Cartegena, but its not there yet!  Some areas are immaculately restored while others are still burned out shells.

People that had been living in the city prior to the beginning of the gentrification have been pushed to the fringes of the area, making a walk around something that can turn seriously dangerous in a matter of blocks.  We were warned many times to use great caution in the city as the old city is fringed with high density slums.  In fact one night after walking back to the apartment from the market we were followed by a group of men and only just happened to reach the well lit and heavily policed plaza when they gave up.  Most of the area is well guarded by police and special tourist police who are well armed.  We were just on a block that was quiet at the time.  No harm done, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth for the city.

We came here for the Panama Canal and the 4 story museum and visitor's center did not disappoint, although the admission of $55 for the family hurt the budget.

After the canal we went to the famed fish market and had lunch in the small restaurant above where we could watch the fish mongers and ceveche vendors.

Every market has its shrine.

We left the fish market to find the artisan's market.  One block into our walk two police on bikes approached us..."I am the tourist police.  My job is to help you.  Where are you going?"  Ok, this never happened before.  I know the city is bad, but he wanted to escort us for the 15 minute walk to the market.  I was beging to wonder what I had gotten us into...we accepted of course and followed him through the streets to the market we were looking for.  He warned us not to take out a camera and to keep our bags close.  He said we needed to use "great precaution".  It all sounded pretty dire.  So that's why I have no photos of the market....but as we found our bearings we got a little more comfortable, or at least not super paranoid. 

In our wanderings we stumbled on a Santeria market area.  The altars are so different from the Catholic ones we usually see.  I wish I had a photo of the one made out of menacing metal objects: spikes, handcuffs, barbed wire, cast iron rooster statues and surrounded by candles and surrounded by candles...the walls of the shop are lined with shelves of powders, liquids, bundled herbs, and animal skulls.  One could really get some issues resolved here I think. 

We found great places to eat for $3 and a snow cone street vendor.

The old part of Panama City is colorful, lively, and on its way to being a huge tourist draw.

For us, it was the most uncomfortable Latin American city we have been to in five countries of travel.  We did not love it the way we loved Medellin, Cartegena, Lima, or San Jose.  The renovated areas were so luxe and the people there so posh....that's not so fun for us, but it was knowing that a few blocks away were very dangerous made walking around pretty stressful.  Its not always easy to determine where that line is. 

We had fun in the apartment, people watching on the balcony to the restaurants below and we did have that rooftop pool all to ourselves.

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