We took a cab to Plaza Francia [France Square] which is in Old Panama. "Don’t go past 10th Street" they told us. "You must not walk through El Chorillo". As we drove through the neighbourhood, I could see why. It had all the signs of a depressed, desperate place. My greatest fear is that what I saw was actually our destination. My mantra went something like this: "Please don’t drop us off here. Please don’t drop us off here." and "Please don’t let this be Casco Viejo. Please don’t let this be Casco Viejo". I’m sure I would have felt similarly if we were without child but having our little 13-month-old bundle of preciousness with us made the situation that much more intense.
Thankfully the the taxi driver drives on and in moments we are at our intended destination...and it’s gorgeous. It reminded us a bit of Havana only much smaller and in better condition. The ocean is misty and almost deserted, save a few mild-mannered indigenous folk selling carvings, jewellery, tapestry, weaving etc. The Square is dedicated to the 22,000 workers who lost their lives in making the canal. The view from the very tip of the old city is stunning. Through the mist we can see the New City, the Pacifico, and Ancon Hill, where were staying.
We happened upon a 20m long bouganvaillea arch which is amazing but a little broken down. More people selling their wares here. The soft sell is so sweet and I wanted to buy something but it seems too early to start acquiring stuff. Much of the colonial architecture is really in ruins and there is a lot of poverty in the area. The kind that really makes your heart sick. Sad small doorways open onto the skinny sidewalk. Inside is dark and sparse and grimy and sad. Some of the old buildings are beautifully restored. In general, the area is smaller than I would have thought. After 45 minutes we saw most of it. Spud saw none of it as he was lulled to sleep on daddy’s back the whole way. His sweet curls wet with humidity are pressed on his head.
When he wakes up we take a cookie break in Cathedral Square. The little guy is sweating quite a bit but he knows to drink a lot so I’m not too worried and there are no signs of dehydration.
There’s a noticeable lack of harassment here and it’s hard to get used to. The ‘hello’s are quite genuine, without hidden agendas of selling or conning.
Next we went to the Canal Museum which was well done but we had to rush because by that time our little traveller was getting restless.
We found a cute restaurant for lunch. I had sancocho [Panama’s national dish, chicken and veggie stew] and Spud liked it too.
After lunch we happened upon a taxi with glorious A/C and Spud fell asleep as he usually does. Aside from the driver getting us lost and almost killing us as he aggressively crossed 3 lanes of traffic, the trip home was pretty uneventful.