Out of the Jungle and Into the City

Wilson wanted a Panama Hat, too!

On Monday, we drove our rented Toyota Yaris across the Panamanian Isthmus to the capital, and largest city, of Panama — Panama City. It was founded in 1519 by Spanish Conquistador, Pedro Arias Dávila. The city became the launching point for the expeditions which conquered the Incan Empire, and was an important stop on that South American gold and silver route which ran through Panama City to Portobelo and Nombre de Dios. In January 28, 1671, the original city (Panama Viejo) was set on fire when the pirate, Henry Morgan, sacked the city. (Besides having rum named after him, he wreaked havoc throughout the Caribbean and was a real pain in the neck for the Spanish!) Two years later, the city was rebuilt on a new site 5 miles down the road, at what is now Casco Viejo.

A look at the modern city from Casco Viejo

Cindy standing among the ruins of Panama Viejo, with the modern Panama City in the background

On the day of our arrival in Panama, we checked into our luxurious splurge hotel, the Waldorf Astoria. We’ve never received a higher quality of service at any hotel with which we’ve stayed. They made anything happen for us, including twice taking post cards to the post office for us, buying stamps and placing them on the cards before mailing. We were upgraded to a junior suite and rested in the lap of luxury for a couple of days. After checking into the hotel, we walked along the Pacific waterfront on Balboa Avenue to the Multicentro Mall. There we shopped and took in a movie at the cinema. We watched the excellent latest Star Wars Installment, “Rogue One” (with Spanish subtitles). The day was capped off by a deliciou steak dinner at Gaucho’s Argentine Steak House, one block from our hotel.

Our Room at the Waldorf Astoria. 🙂

Our hotel in Panama City (with the WA on it).

Cindy loves Nutcrackers (and Christmas decorations, in general).

They’re everywhere!

Santa’s flying through the Multicento Mall!

We got the VIP treatment in the theater with reclining theater chairs.

My delicate wife protecting herself from the searing Panama sun with her Waldorf Astoria umbrella.

Filet at Gaucho’s.

Besides enjoying our comfortable room, Tuesday was exploration day. We first took a taxi to Casco Viejo (The “old quarter”) to ramble up and down the quaint streets of this ancient section of town. It was reminiscent of the old town in Cartagena, but not nearly as nice. There were sections of beautifully restored old buildings, but many were in need of repair. Many are presently undergoing renovations. The government has allowed private individuals to buy the buildings. The exteriors must be restored in the original designs, but the interiors can be remodeled as desired. They were given ten years to restore the buildings, or there will be severe penalties imposed. We enjoyed stepping into the many churches in Casco Viejo, especially the Church of St. Joseph, which is home to a distinctive golden altar. The altar, one of the few things saved from Panama Viejo during the siege of 1561, was buried in mud to save it and was later extracted and secretly set up as the altar at St. Joe’s.

Interior of San Jose with the Altar de Oro

The famous Altar de Oro (Golden Altar), in Iglesia San Jose, which miraculously survived the sacking of Panama Viejo by Captain Morgan.

Side Altarpiece in San Jose of San Nicolas of Tolentino, the Patron Saint of Holy Souls. Baskets were filled with requests on paper for prayer for the souls of dearly departed individuals. Cindy placed the name of her father in one of the baskets, on the anniversary date of his funeral.

Side Altarpiece at San Jose’s with Saint Hedwig, who assists the poor and homeless with obtaining houses (worshippers have placed small houses at her feet to ask for assistance.)

Beautiful painted sculpture in San Jose (Jesus praying in the Garden, supported by an angel behind).

Streets of Casco Viejo. Left-hand side under renovation; Right-hand restored.

Casco Viejo

Facade of the Ruined Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus, presently undergoing renovations.

Streets of Casco Viejo

Iglesia Santo Domino Facade. A 17th century church destroyed by fire in 1756. One of the only structures that remained through the years was the “Flat Arch” (Interior of the structure). It’s ongoing presence signaled seismic stability in the area and contributed to the decision to build the Canal.

Inside the Iglesia Santo Domingo

The “Flat Arch” of the church. It finally collapsed in 2003, but was rebuilt with the original stones.

Awaiting Restoration. One can imagine its beauty once restored.

Casco Viejo

The 1680 Iglesia de la Merced. The facade was brought over stone by stone from Panama Viejo.

Interior of the Iglesia de la Merced

Walking through Casco Viejo

Iglesia de San Francisco de Asis, a small but ornate church, restored in 1998.

Interior of the Church of St. Francis of Asissi

An elaborate Christmas Village inside St. Francis church, showing Bethlehem with the manger, the shepherds, and the wise men in various parts of the city. This is just a portion of the village.

Mosaics on the altar rail.

After walking around Casco Viejo for a couple of hours, we taxied the five miles to Panama Viejo, the original city founded in 1519. In 1670, it had 10,000 inhabitants, hundreds of homes, multiple convents, a hospital and a cathedral. Then in 1671, Captain Morgan marched across the isthmus from the Caribbean side, destroying the city and claiming the lives of thousands. Unfortunately, for Morgan, a peace treaty had been recently signed by the English and Spanish, so he was arrested and transported back to England for trial. He proved he had no knowledge of the treaty at the time of the attack. Instead of suffering punishment, he was knighted by King Charles II and, in 1675, returned to Jamaica as Lieutenant Governor.

The tidal range can be as high as 16′ in Panama City. At low tide, (this photo) the water has receding leaving portions of the bay high and dry.

The bell tower of the cathedral still stands in Panama Viejo, the original Panama City, founded in 1519.

A look out across the old Panama City from atop the bell tower.

Cindy within the Cathedral

Standing in the Jesuit Convent of Panama Viejo

La Concepción Convent

Inside the church of La Concepción Convent in Panama Viejo

Convent of San Jose in Panama Viejo

Standing in the Convent of the Franciscans in Panama Viejo

Worn out from our explorations of Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo, we taxied over to our President Elect’s Hotel, The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower. We ascended to the top of the Hotel and sipped on a some refreshing drinks before returning to our hotel. Our adventures in the city were concluded with a wonderful dinner at a restaurant just around the corner from the Waldorf Astoria, La Post. We received a grand experience in fine dining for much less than I expected. The short ribs were heavenly. 🙂

The lobby of the Trump property

The BARcelona lounge atop the Trump Ocean Club Tower in Panama.

La Posta. Mmmm!

Interior of La Posta

Late Wednesday morning, we checked out of our hotel and made our way back to the other end of the Panama Canal. Beatitude was just as we left her two days prior.

Cindy making Christmas cookies back aboard Beatitude.

Beatitude is patiently waiting for repairs.


Making some snowman ornaments.

Cindy and Santa Sandy (the marina social coordinator).

Our little tree has changed. New ornaments added, and presents beneath the tree. 🙂

Painting a panel from our bedroom which had been damaged by mold/mildew/water.

Last Saturday, Cindy and I hopped in our rental car and drove eastwardly along the Caribbean (northern) coast to a small town called Portobelo. (No relation to the mushrooms.) We motored past this port on our way back from the San Blas Islands, but were unable to stop due to the urgency of reaching Colon secondary to our lightning strike. It was refreshing to drive away from the dirty city of Colon and into the pleasant countryside. After a beautiful drive, we arrived in Portobelo, where school children were enjoying a street carnival by the main square.

Driving through Sabanitas, on the way to Portobelo

Caribbean vistas on our return trip to Colon

We found a parking spot right in front of the Iglesia de San Felipe (a.k.a, The Black Christ Church). The church was the last building constructed by the Spanish in 1814 before leaving Panama. It houses the Christo Negro, which is said to have washed up on the shores of the harbor. Up to 60,000 pilgrims come from around the country to worship on the feast day of October 21st, when the statue is paraded around town by a group of eighty men with shaved heads, bare feet, and robed in purple.

Church of San Felipe

Iglesia de San Felipe

Cindy before the Black Christ

The Christo Negro

San Felipe Nativity Scene. Baby Jesus doesn’t make his appearance in the manger until Christmas.

The other site to explore in Portobelo is the ruins of the old fort, which protected this important city on the route of the Spanish treasure fleets. The pirate, Captain Henry Morgan, captured the city in 1668, plundering almost all its wealth.

Fort Shots

Portobelo looks like a beautiful and protected harbor

The 1630 Aduana (Customs House) where the King’s gold was counted.

Walking in the Jungle, Waiting on Boat Repairs

Since our last post, two primary activities have occupied our days. The first of which are daily walks in the jungle. We love spotting and watching all the monkeys, toucans, coatmundis, hawks, and other wildlife as we amble through the forest.

A Yellow-Tailed Oriole hiding in the high grass

Unknown species of Hawk (Do you know?)

Another pretty yellow bird (What kind?)

The not-so-beautiful Vulture

Toucan in the jungle

A Coatmundi, keeping his eye on us (Thanks to a commenter who corrected my previous misidentification of these creatures as anteaters).

Lots of Capuchin monkeys (they are quite wary and skittish around us).

Howler Monkey momma and baby

Baby howler 🙂

Momma and Tiny Baby Howler

I love this wild animal I found on my jungle walk!

The other diversion over the past week has been continuing to have the damages surveyed from the lightning strike and gathering estimates. The estimates have begun to roll in, so hopefully we can start ordering replacement parts next week. Thus far, we know we have to replace our radar, autopilot, AIS, Wind and depth transducers, and VHF. We also have to replace parts on our generator, watermaker, and navigation lights; as well as replace both engine start batteries and one engine alternator. I’m sure other things will pop up as we begin the repair work. I’m still hoping for the end of February to be able to leave Shelter Bay.

More workmen surveying Beatitude damage

Playing a 3 1/2 hour marathon of Mexican Train last Sunday in the cruiser’s lounge

Our tree, with the addition of three ornaments which we made during Christmas activities here at the marina… along with cards which we also obtained at a card exchange (Cindy hand painted the ones we exchanged: Lucky folks.)

Cindy’s hand-made Christmas cards for the marina Christmas card exchange.

Trying out our bicycles. Despite a lack of use, they still work!

We were so happy when our friends, Carl and Annie, showed up at Shelter Bay. We first met in Culebra and once again in Granada.

Yesterday, we took the free marina shuttle into Colon where we rented a car from Hertz. The advertised price is only $7/day! They fail to mention the $40/day mandatory insurance until you go to pick the car up. Anyway, we did some grocery shopping before returning to the the marina.

Shopping at Super 99 in Colon

At the Millennium 2000 shopping area in Colon.

This is the typical intersection in Colon. No stop signs. Traffic inches forward from all directions trying to squeeze through the intersection.

Colon is depressingly poor and dirty… and dangerous! We have been warned not to walk around town unless we want to be assaulted, robbed, or murdered.

Dominos underway on the streets of Colon

The oldest Anglican Church in Central America. It’s in Colon. No service times on the church or on the web. We would have attended this Sunday if we could find out service times. 🙁

Driving our rental car onto the ferry across the canal.

Today, we drove six miles along the Caribbean coastline into San Lorenzo National Park where we explored Fort San Lorenzo, built on a promontory overlooking the Rio Chagres. The river, which was discovered by Columbus on his last voyage in 1502, made up part of the Las Cruces Trail, upon which loads of Peruvian gold and treasure would be transported across the Panamanian isthmus making its way to Spain. Due to increase pirate attacks on those transporting these treasure stores, Fort San Lorenzo was built in the late 1500s. In 1670, the pirate, Henry Morgan, leveled the fort, leading to ultimate rebuilding of the present-day fort on higher ground in the 1680s. It sat high on a cliff overlooking the harbor, protected on the land side by a moat and drawbridge. Cindy and I had the beautiful place to ourselves to happily explore.

This howler was standing guard on a tree above the road leading into San Lorenzo.

Entrance to Fort San Lorenzo

The beautiful Rio Chagres

Ruins within the fort

We’re in the moat

Standing at the precipice, above the harbor

Beautiful raptor at the Fort

A capuchin exploring the fort with us

We stopped for a hike into the forest after exploring the fort