Discovering the history and culture of Panama

We go to Panama! We enjoyed breakfast at The Cafe by Mise en Place at TPA airport before walking hot to MIA where we boarded a flight to Panama City. It was 54 degrees very cold when we left Miami, so when we landed in Panama, we were happy to warm up. The Pope had just gone to Panama and when we left the airport there were still big signs stating: “Bienvenidos A Panama Peregrinos” or Welcome to the Panama Pilgrim. Thousands of people came as pilgrims to Panama City to see the pope and even though he had left, there were still hundreds of worshipers living in churches and parks throughout the city.

We take a taxi from the airport to the Grand Central Hotel in Casco Viejo, Spanish for the Old Quarter, the historic district of Panama City, a UNESCO heritage site. Our tour guide Abdiel Luis was waiting for us at the hotel. He introduced himself as Abdiel Luis and even though everyone called him Luis, we were more comfortable calling him by his first name Abdiel. After finding our room with a nice balcony and unpacking, we arranged the Grand hotel located opposite the Plaza de la Independencia and the Basilica of Santa Maria la Antigua.
to explore our own environment.

The hotel is centrally located at Plaza de la Independencia or Independence Plaza with views of the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria la Antigua. The Basilica began in 1688 and it took 108 years to complete the cathedral. The outside of the basilica is made of stone and brick, while the two towers that flank the basilica are made of wood and painted white. Each tower holds a functioning bell. Pope Francis provides the church, considered the main cathedral in Panama, with 11 million dollars for restoration. Stained glass windows that depict various saints brilliantly with the incoming sunlight. I was especially moved to see a statue of Jesus with a cherub head like a child clustered around his feet. I learned that there are graves under the floor that are opened once a year. The Pope came to visit here at the end of January, 2019, leaving just before we arrived.

Our group roamed the narrow streets to Iglesia de la Merced. This Mercedarian Temple is the only church in the Old Quarter that preserves its original wooden roofs and columns from colonial times. Although small, the bright golden altar of Iglesia de la Merced draws you to the church. The pipe organ with 1,032 tubes was placed in an 18th-century antique cabinet. Take your time to pay attention to various sculptures such as Mary of Succor, Saint Mary de Cervellione, Patron Saint of Sailors. You will see many ships represented in the church because this has been a fishing village for a long time and the fishermen and their families are very obedient. I especially like Our Lady of Charity with sailors rowing boats at their feet. Be sure to pay attention to the beautiful angel hanging over the golden altar. Santa Luisa, House Protector has many mini-colored houses scattered on his feet.

Our journey continues to the port where the beaches are exposed to the largest tidal changes in the world. From here, we have a great view of the new Panama City outside the sea walls and tidal salt plains. I was surprised that I did not see a mooring or ship stranded as I saw in other extreme tidal areas in Europe and Canada.

I knew that the Panamanians had dinner far later, I liked all the small painted houses scattered on his feet.
than we are but we have been traveling for what seems like too many hours without proper food so that when we were damned we decided to eat when we were hungry! We chose Diablicos Abuelo del Diablo located on the road from our hotel and visible from the port and beach. We are hungry and too tired to explore further. A cute tourist spot with traditional masks hanging on all the walls that made me a little nervous about the quality of the food but again, tired. We were welcomed wholeheartedly at the door by the “doorman” and waiting staff. Because it was only 5 pm I did not anticipate other visitors, but there were indeed other couples who might arrive on our plane!

After we ordered our drinks (Mojito and Panama Hat, fine), I took a walk photographing masks and decorations. The doorman rushed over, gave me a hug and put a local sunhat hat on my head. I took it off and he said, “No, this is for you!” Not wanting to be a shameless person, I smiled but took it off to eat.

In our first robbery, this photo was taken from the restaurant’s top floor balcony. The port is in the distance.
My Panama palate has “Stuffed Chicken” hard chicken breast filled with plantains and cheese covered with b├ęchamel raisin sauce. Dave has “Fried Fish Wheels” prepared with local Saw Fish, unsure of where the “wheels” came from. Both dishes came with a double fried banana which I can’t say I like, I feel hard and chewy. Coconut bean rice comes with this dish, but I expect coconut rice like I ate in Belize. Sadly I didn’t taste any coconut in this rice dish. We hope the food will improve.

When we paid our bill and left, I returned the hat to the man at the door and he laughed and said, “No, I gave you”. I thanked him, offered to pay for it, but he firmly said no, so we were on a trip to explore a little more than the charming old town and its beautiful banks. I later found Diablicos had entertainment with Panamanian cultural dances in beautiful costumes but unfortunately not in the day / night we were there.

After dinner, we decided it was still too early to sleep and walk to Arco Chato which is also known as a flat arch. Thank goodness because we were tired of traveling, it was only a few blocks from our hotel at Independence Plaza and the nearest beach. Originally built in the 17th century, the church and monastery of Santo Domingo were never rebuilt after the fire that destroyed them in 1756. The only thing that survived – for centuries – was the Flat Arch (Arco Chato) sitting at the entrance . The ruins that glow at night give a haunting green light for curving. Day or night, the church tower rises above the remaining structure giving a beautiful contrast between the old and the “new”.

On an independent walking tour we passed many shops and street vendors selling “Panama Hats”. These shops and street vendors offer many varieties and various quality straw hats. We were then told that Ecuadorians who had come to work on the Panama Canal carried these straw hats with them to protect them from the hot sun. The hats are light and breathable made of woven toquilla straw and the good ones are quite flexible to fold and put in the suitcase.
Dense weaves are ideal for protection against tropical sun, plus they are very durable. According to legend, the Panama hat “superfino” can hold water, and when rolled, passes through the wedding ring. The Panamanians like hats and see the market for them, then produce hats and call them theirs.

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