The Uber slowly rounded the circular drive in front of the hotel and whisked us away to Casco Viejo, the old part of Panama where the main city was rebuilt in 1763 after the original Panama City was destroyed by pirates led by Captain Morgan in 1671. Our driver expertly dodged between lanes of traffic to get us from the hotel zone into the old quarter.
The driver dropped us off in front of the French embassy and we began our wanderings from there. We read the story of the original French construction crew’s misfortunes at their initial effort to build the canal in the late 1800s. The memorial commemorates the 22,000 men who died in their failed attempt, mostly from yellow fever. From there, we climbed the ramparts overlooking the bridge and the waterways leading to the canal.
We walked the old streets with their colonial style houses. The United Nations has designated it as a world heritage site. No old buildings can be torn down and all of the old architecture that is in decay is being rebuilt as it once was. In the interior things can be remodeled but the reconstruction of the outside has to adhere to strict rules.
We walked past numerous squares and small parks. We found our way into a few artesan markets and did a little shopping. There was a quaint little cafe on one street corner where we popped in for empanadas to keep up our energy for our reconnoiter of the old city. We stumbled upon the presidential offices with sets of guards on every corner.
On the next block sits the Bolivar Palace and a square with a statue honoring his life. We read some plaques, took more photos and sat on the steps figuring out our next move. The old city has an old world charm similar to cities like San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca. Across the street was a cathedral dedicated to Saint Francis so we stepped over to look inside.
It was a beautiful church with lots of cool artwork on the walls. We lit some “candles” for our Catholic friends. They were battery operated where you drop in a quarter and the plastic flame lit up like the fake candles you put in your jack o’lanterns. I reckon our prayers for healing were just as well received as those sent up with real wax. Hope you are doing better Barbara, we are thinking of you. We sat for a while in contemplation then slowly walked the perimeter looking at all of the statues and stained glass.
Then it was back on the street for a few more blocks where we ended up where we started at the artesan markets. We hailed ourselves a cab out front and asked him to drive us up to the canal so we could hopefully see some boats passing through. Ulysses was awesome and obviously very proud of the canal and his knowledge about it.
We knew from the internet that the Miraflores museum was closed due to Covid but we pulled up to the gate and tried to charm our way into the viewing area anyway. No way. These guys are hard core and take their post seriously. We drove down another kilometer or so to the Pedro Miguel locks and joined a few other foreigners staring through the chain link fence at the large ships passing through.
The view isn’t the same as the high ground overview you get at Miraflores but it was awesome watching the big vessels getting pushed up to the locks by tugboats then getting cabled up to the “mules”, train like locomotives that pull the ship through the narrow channel. They only need 18” clearance on each side to make the pass through.
Once into the lock, the vessel drops 30 feet to the next level. This was where the view was obscured. We could see the top half of the boat and by lining it up with buildings on shore we could tell it was going down but it was hard to see from where we were. Another ship was lining up loaded with new cars from somewhere in the eastern side of the Atlantic. Ulysses hung with us explaining what he knew and giving us a bit of Panamanian history. He turned out to be an amazing tour guide.
After about a half an hour we drove over to the Albrook Mall where Ulysses dropped us off and went on with his taxi driving day. We asked him how much and he only charged for the ride there and back with nothing added on for the half hour hanging out at the canal. We made sure the tip made up for it and thanked for a fun outing.
The mall was huge and pretty much like any mall in the U.S. PJ was able to find a cool pair of running shoes and we both picked up other items that we suddenly decided that we needed because, well, they were right there in front of us. After a long day’s going full bore, we caught a cab home and hung out in the room enjoying the lights of the city through the floor to ceiling window. We have HBO and Cinemax so we watched a movie before easily falling asleep.