05 Nov Panamanian Paradise
My purpose behind this blog is to bring more people into the beautiful world i see when I travel. I began traveling to feed my curious mind and see how the realities of these varied countries compared to the media interpretations. But I didn’t know much about Panama because its not covered much in the media. Its a pretty low key country when compared to other places who have rampant poverty, internal conflict and relentless crime. Unfortunately these are the places are ALWAYS the spotlight of Americas camera crews with little attention being given to the regions that thrive. As a Black man in America I know all to well how the good parts of a culture can be ignored because its easier to sell sadness than prosperity. For that reason I had to go to break through the BS.
Shout out to my close associates here in Miami from Panama(Oscar, Sheyla, Hazel) that always display the ultimate joy in telling me how nice their country is. You inspired my journey in more ways than you know.
After much procrastination finally purchased a roundtrip ticket for $220 after several weeks of finding tickets for $350+. This time my procrastination paid off.
Took a while to research the right area in a new country but I settled on a neighborhood called Paitilla (really a safe area) and I locked in the AirBNB in the Pacific Sky Building. It was a beautiful 2 bedroom in the heart of downtown Panama. It was only $377 for 3 nights, half of which is being paid for by my homie Rob who’s meeting me there. I’m an adventurous person but I always like to stay within close proximity of downtown when I hit up a new spot. Its safer(especially since I don’t speak the language) and its easier to get around when you’re centrally located.
At 8:20, after a bumpy flight, I successfully landed in panama city. I’m truly amazed at how beautiful and modern this city is. It looks a lot like Miami to be honest but it still has those charms that only come from central american cities. My driver was the cousin of a friend of mine back in the states. He grabbed me at 8:30am but my homeboy wasn’t coming in until 1:30 and even worse we couldn’t check in our apartment until 3pm. Jony took me to Nikos to grab some breakfast(its a 24 hr joint thats basically the same thing as Dennys in the US). I didn’t want to be too adventurous so i grabbed the scrambled eggs, pancake and a piece of fried chicken. Afterward we went to Albrook Mall. This is a good spot to meet locals and 1 of the biggest malls i’ve seen in my life. This joint is huge. They had mostly the same stores and fashions that exist in the stated so I didn’t cop anything. The entire time we’re riding thru the city I couldn’t help but notice the vast array of complexions that make up Panama City. They have a heavy Caribbean influence via all the jamaicans and other cultures from the Caribbean Sea side that settled in Panama.
At 1:30 we want to the airport and grabbed my homie rob from Houston and we checked in the crib. I got to say that I’m super impressed with the quality of the air BNB apartment. Its a 2.5 bedroom 3 bath joint in the heart of the city. Walking distance to a lot of great shit and most importantly the hot water actually works. I’ve gone to several other places (Cartagena, Colombia and Dominican Republic) where this wasn’t the case, so I really appreciate it when its here. Later we met my homie Josh(he lives there) and a couple of his homies at El Caribe on Via Argentina in Cangrejo. It’s owned by a Jamaican woman and the ox tails were off the chain! I’ll keep it trill, in some Central american countries I’ve had bland food that realluy was your standard chicken with a side of rice and beans. They were usually decent, but not too adventurous to the taste buds. My homie knows the owner so she came over and recommended different dishes based on the flavors we told her we wanted to experience. This made it feel like a really customized dining experience. After dinner we went back to the crib and got dressed and met the fellas at Habanas, a indoor/outdoor cigar bar type spot. A lot of ladies there. Wuuuuuuu! After buying a bottle of Abuelo rum and meeting some interesting people Joshs’ friend Panama Dave took up to Ashe where the DJ was playing a dope mix of reggaeton, salsa and dancehall. Really good spot. After being approached by 1000 hookers and having some interesting conversations i jumped in a cab and took it back to the crib and called it a night.
The Air BNB
Woke up late and went to a mexican restaurant in our area called Los Cebollenes and had a 4 taco meal. They had a guy that came around and made fresh salsa for us. He actually took a whole tomato and smushed it up in a bowl added cilantro, lime and a few other spices of our choosing and served it with fresh chips. I was impressed. We spent a more time in the restaurant than we planned because when we looked outside it was pouring down raining, so we had to wait it out another 45 min or so. no biggie tho!
After a short siesta we headed to the Casco Antigua to check out the old buildings. There i saw Iglesia de San Jose which is a beautiful church that’s famous for the distinctive baroque Altar de Oro (The Golden Altar), which was saved from Panama Viejo(the even older city) and transported into the “new” city. The altar was about the only thing of value salvaged after Henry Morgan ransacked Panama Viejo. A priest painted the altar black to disguise it. Almost every weekend weddings are being held there.
While in Casco Viejo we happened upon a celebration. I remembered that it was the lead up to tres de Noviembre (3rd of November) which commemorates the day Panama separated from Colombia. There were dancers in traditional dress and several bands playing in the main plaza of the city. A caravan arrived with several dignitaries who were escorted in to massive praise from the crowds. This is one of those times where I wish I knew more spanish because I wanted to know more about the celebration but couldn’t talk to anyone. After the celebration we headed to a spot I read about online and desperately wanted to try out because of their craft brews and thankfully it was in the same area. La Rana Doroda(The Golden Frog) is a small beer pub located at the entrance of Casco Viejo and is a popular spot for locals, and gringos, who like the taste of a finely brewed craft beer. As soon as you sit down the server brings you a boat with samples of the 5 beers they brew dope spot.
When we were done eating and drinking we tried to grab a cab and head back to the crib for a min but the cab driver had other plans. Just like in th states drivers can get a kickback for taking tourists to certain spots Well….yall know I like adventure so the cab driver took us to a dope strip club called Capri in an area called Rio Abajo(wasn’t planning on gong but the peer pressure got to us.) Since it was halloween all the chicas were dressed as devils, nurses, tinker bell as well as several other raunchy characters. It was a dope sight to see. We stayed at the club for a few hrs then hit a 24 hr shwarma spot for some gyros and called it a night.
Woke up and tried to hit Casa Diabla a spot that came highly recommended by my homegirl but it was closed so we caught a cab back to our neck of the woods and hit Red Lion which was across the street from the Hard Rock Hotel in the touristy. Its a gringo friendly spot so they had all the NFL games on and most of the staff spoke english. Ate a fiya burger there then headed back to the room to as we anticipated going to the Panama canal. Unfortunately when I called my homeboy that drove us around the previous day he told me that they closed early on Sundays so we would have to save that for the next trip. I ain’t gonna lie, I was kinda disappointed because like most outsiders the FIRST thing I ever heard about the country of panama was it canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Caribbean sea. This canal built in 1914 not only bolstered the economy of panama but was the first major migration of jamaicans who came as builders of the canal. To make matters worse I watched in horror as my Dallas Cowboys lost to Seattle in a game They should’ve won.( I know some of yall don’t care but i DO)
Since this was our last night we decided to chill out so we went to Habanos, grabbed a few cigars, sat outside and watched Sunday night football. That was until 11:30 when they abruptly turned the lights on and told people to leave. I was wondering what was going on so i asked an american guy that lives there. He told me the City shuts dowm from midnight til midnght for Dia de la Muerta(Day of the Dead). I thought it was only celebrated in Mexico but I guess I was wrong. So since ALL of the clubs/bars in the city were closed we had no choice but to call in a night and head in.
The following morning we headed to the airport still full of excitement about the weekend but wishing we had knocked a few more things off the ‘to do’ list. This only gives me fuel to go back sooner than later.