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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.