16.02.2013 - 16.02.2013 30 °C
Saturday, Feb 16, Casco Antiguo
An early walk to the top of the hill. The view is spectacular. The Panamanian flag (bandera) flapped proudly overhead. It can be seen clearly from many parts of the town below. We returned for a lazy breakfast, and bumped into Carolina, who organizes matters for the condos. We made arrangements for Jude to be collected at the airport at 10:30 tonight.
Today we decided to go to Casco Antiguo. …the area being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. The city of Panama (Casco Viejo, also 'the ruins') was founded in 1519, but its governor had it burned to the ground in 1671 before the attack and looting by the English pirate, Henry Morgan.
Construction of a new city was initiated in 1672 at a different site. This is the city, Casco Antiguo, also known as San Philipe, which was built on a peninsula completely isolated by the sea and a defensive system of walls. I think that is the last year that paint was applied to many of the buildings. However, say the guidebooks, part of the allure of strolling along Casco Viejo's cobbled streets is the dilapidated charm of the crumbling buildings, abandoned houses and boarded-up ruins. I wasn't impresssed with that, but the attempt at restoration is doing good in some of the neighbourhoods.
We found some fine seaside walks where indigenous people were selling their goods. There were plazas with sidewalk cafes and partly restored buildings and cathedrals. We ambled around for the afternoon then found an interesting place to eat: Diablos. The atmosphere was nice, but the food was poor and overpriced. I think there is a some tourist weariness here that translates a bit into "rip 'em off - they have lots of money!'
A common site was the security personnel, who in fact are 'tourist police' there no doubt to prevent problems for the tourists, and in so doing protecting their tourism industry - a very large part of their nation's income.
We later found other fine looking restaurants in a lovely plaza, where we drank cappuccinos and relaxed in the warm evening. We walked around, and came across a few other tourists.
We came across the Iglesia San Hose, which has an interesting history. In this church is the famous Altar de Oro (Golden Altar) which was miraculously saved after the sacking of Panamá Viejo in 1671. According to local legend, when word came of pirates' impending attack, a priest attempted to disguise the altar by painting it black. Decades later when memories had faded, the paint began to fade, too, and the priceless artifact was uncovered and properly restored to its lustrous beauty. It was then moved from the burned out city and installed in the the then new city San Philipe.
We realized that the seedy neighbourhoods warranted that we get a cab home before dark. We checked the price with one cab - $15, but getting here had cost only $5, so we found another cab. The cabby didn't know the way - it is a good thing Eldon can point out the landmarks, like that flag on the top of the hill. Our place was 3 Ks away, and our cabby complained all the way like he was at the edge of a precipice. I'm missing my friendly trouble free days of last month in Cambodia. Eldon is looking at making this our winter escape from Newfoundland, and all the while I am thinking "Cambodia! Cambodia! Cambodia!"