Our next port of call was Fuerte Amador, Panama, eight miles form downtown. From here we booked an excursion into Panama City, the capital and largest city. Panama City has a population of two million people which is half of the country’s four million people.
Panama is a country on the isthmus which links Central and South America. It received its independence from the Spanish empire in 1821. It is regarded as having a “high income economy” with a large portion of its income being revenue from Panama Canal tolls. About 40% of its land area is jungle. Panama has also been at the top of the list for retirees from other countries to retire due to their low cost of living, excellent healthcare and no hurricanes.
The excursion was called “Panama City: Old and New“. We drove by the oldest part of the city Panama Viejo (Old Panama Ruins and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) without stopping. We struggled to snap pictures through the bus windows of some of the ruins. In fact the guide almost forgot to mention the ruins until someone on the bus asked about them. Through doing research for the blog I learned that Panama City is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the Pacific coast of the Americas, and was founded in 1519. The town was destroyed during a pirate attack in 1671 and the city center was moved five miles southeast.
We finally got off the bus and proceeded to walk through an older part of the city. We passed by the Presidential Palace and the guide would not let us stop to get a picture. Very strange. Not even a picture from a distance?? I managed to sneak a picture of some police near the palace. The guide did not use a microphone so it was very hard to hear him depending on where you were standing.
We continued walking down some very narrow brick lined streets through the old colonial area of the city. The Spanish architecture was reminiscent of what we had seen in Colombia with the wrought iron balconies. Many of the old colonial buildings are falling apart and in need of repair.
We visited Saint Joseph Church with its beautiful golden altar. The altar is considered one of the greatest treasures of Panama. The altar is made of carved wood covered in gold leaf. When the pirate Henry Morgan attacked and destroyed the city in 1621, the Jesuits painted the altar black to hide the gold.
The church had restrooms which some of us desperately needed. While some of us waited in line, the guide took the others to another room in the church where there were very detailed dioramas of The Nativity. Those of us who chose the bathroom were told to meet the group back in the sanctuary. We totally missed seeing the dioramas. Fortunately Bill was able to see the display and took pictures. I do not understand why the guide couldn’t have given us ten minutes so everyone could see them.
We saw the ruins of the 1741 Old Convent of Santo Domingo. It burned in 1756, it was never repaired and the very unique flat arch located here was key during the negotiations of how to build the Panama Canal.
It is said, that Panama used it as proof that Panama does not have earthquakes because an earthquake would have destroyed the arch. The current arch is a reconstruction with its original bricks. Note: Panama does have earthquakes!
We visited one more church, the Panama Metropolitan Cathedral, where construction took place from 1688 to 1796.
At this point in the tour it started to rain and storm. A very heavy rain as we started to walk back to the bus. Bill and I had brought one umbrella and one poncho. Most of the people had not brought anything and were getting soaked. We took refuge under some awnings but were splashed as trucks passed by. Discussion was held as to whether people wanted to wait or brave getting wet. At this point most everyone was soaked so what difference did it make. The guide said the bus was not allowed on the narrow streets and could not come pick us up.
When we reached the bus we had a new bus waiting because people had complained earlier that the AC was not working adequately. Now people were drenched to the skin and had a nice cold bus to ride back on.
At this point we were expecting to ride through some of the newer sections of Panama with skyscrapers and modern buildings along nice beaches. After all, the tour was called Panama City: Old and New. Even after the rain delay we were not behind schedule. Instead, the bus took us directly back to the ship. A disappointing end of the tour and a disappointing tour in all. We hope to return to Panama City someday and see more of it. One thing Panama City did not have was persistent vendors and beggars. Perhaps the rain had something to do with that but I don’t think much.
Dinner that night was a couple from Stuart, Florida and another from Tampa Fl and sisters cruising together, one from Albuquerque, New Mexico and the other from Henderson, Nevada. All delightful dinner companions.
After a day at sea our next port will be Costa Rica.