Thursday, July 24, 2008

Note from Casco Viejo

Having arrived in Panama City aboard the red-eye from New York via Miami on Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to spend yesterday rhapsodizing over the architecture and ambiance of the Panamanian capital’s elegant and decidedly still-auténtico quarter of San Felipe, also known as Casco Viejo. Here, only a few miles from the impersonal high-rises of Panama City’s downtown residential and business districts, one can still wander the quiet colonial streets and see the beauty of Spanish architecture strung along the Bahia de Panama. Though many of the homes are in varying states of disrepair, one can tell that creeping gentrification is afoot, with sleek real-estate offices competing for space with multi-family dwellings and vendors pushing their carts selling flavored ice shavings. A considerable sojourn with my novia there was an enjoyable introduction back into Latin America.

Panama City’s history has been nothing if not tumultuous, and in fact this location s the second on which the city was built- - the first was thoroughly sacked by the British privateer Henry Morgan in 1670. San Felipe itself abuts El Chorrillo, a very poor neighborhood that was largely burned in a mysterious blaze in the wake of the 1989 U.S. invasion which ousted Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega from power. The city now is a flourishing banking and commercial centre for Central America, with a sizable émigré community from neighboring Colombia.

Today, we go to see the Panama Canal and tomorrow off to the Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro. As we make our way up through the isthmus to an eventual destination of Belize, I believe that feeling Latin America around me again, speaking its language, meeting its people, will be a bit like meeting an old friend after my many months in Africa. Something to look forward to it.

No comments: