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 DĆ”vila. 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. šŸ™‚

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 CompaƱƭa 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 ConcepciĆ³n Convent

Inside the church of La ConcepciĆ³n 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. šŸ™‚

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.

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