Title: Don't worry about it - that was a stange feeling
Location: Panama City, Panama
We arrived around nine in the morning and were relieved to find our bags...at LAX the system of checking in your baggage was really weird-you had to carry them around the corner from the check-in and hand it to some guy wearing a badge in front of an unlabeled conveyor who smiled and said, ^^don´t worry about it^^.
We were surprised to find out that there were no places to change your money because in Panama everyone uses the dollar for cash and a combination of US and Panamanian coins for change.
Our hostel was on the third floor of the 10 story building in El Cangrejo, which is the Financial District of Panama City. The hostel was decent, there was a nice view from the patio of the town and there was a couple living rooms to hang out in. Our neighborhood was filled with Panamanians wondering around selling lottery tickets, shopping, or just strolling around. At night there were plenty of restaurants with food from all over the world. In fact it was hard to find a Panamanian restaurant, as there were so many Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and American restaurants. We did manage to find a Columbian restaurant with Arepas that were really good. We wondered all over town, maybe covering 5 miles of the area and eventually settled down in a park by the waterfront to watch the locals play soccer.
The first night we were so tired that we decided to go the market and buy some empañadas and sangria for dinner and go to bed around 8.
12 hours later, we felt refreshed and decided to take a taxi to a section of old Panama called Casco Viejo. This area was really beautiful. The streets had a colonial feel to them and were filled with people talking, laughing, selling wares, or just sitting and watching people pass by. We stopped into an old restaurant named Cafe Coca Cola and had a Panamanian breakfast, a cut of steak with gravy and some fried plantain, and coffee (which is great everywhere in Panama!).
After breakfast we strolled through numerous churches and plazas and then went down to the waterfront where the wall and guard posts of an old fort are still visible. The town was really beautiful but very poor and many buildings were beautiful but clearly had been vacant for decades. The streets were filled with cats of every color, sleeping, sniffing around, sleeping on old chairs and even in the pews of churches.
On the waterfront a Panamanian security guard in front of a building titled the Minister of Foreign Affairs urged us to go into a glass door in front of a building that looked slightly less run down than the surrounding buildings. To our surprise we were waived through a metal detector even though we both set it off and inside we found one of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen. Inside was a huge courtyard which opened to the ocean with a big glass dome and huge fans that looked like windmills at the top. The floor was all marble, except where they had placed glass on a raised walkway where you could see the wall of fort. It was truly shocking to walk into such an old building and find such an amazing interior; but in many ways, this has become a metaphor for all of Panama. In many ways, the beauty of this country is hidden and must be sought out unlike many other places where every sign and street points the way. It really adds to the excitement of being here to have to seek everything out rather than being guided along.
As we walked along the East side of Casco Viejo we found ourselves walking by a military base which looked like it was full of high ranking officers and then, further along, we found ourselves in the center of bustling market. The market was huge and rivaled some of the markets of even the biggest cities in Europe. It ran for perhaps a mile along an avenue that was closed to traffic and was full of every type of store imaginable. I bought a Cuban style buttoned shirt and Jeannie bought a Hello Kitty washcloth.
We also managed to take some Spanish lessons while we were there. We didn't have too much time to learn the whole language, but it definitely helped!
Panama City was a really amazing place!