We experienced some annoying set backs over these last couple of weeks because Brendan and I both suffered bouts of illness. So we have spent way too much time laying around and not nearly enough time exploring. However, by some miracle if you ask me, Brendan´s dad tracked down a Panamanian man he met in gradschool and traveled in Europe with forty years ago! We have yet to meet the actual man, José Raul, but we have spent some serious quality time with a number of his children and grandchildren. The family we have met so far has been beyond generous to us. We first met up with Jose´s Daughter, Ana Matilda and her three sweet, highly energetic pre-teens. They hosted us in their luxurious country home in El Valle, a lovely mountain town where many successful city dwellers own houses, and nice ones at that. We were astonished at the number of beautiful homes with lush gardens, spring fed pools, and mountain views. El Valle is definitely not your typical country town in Panama. After lounging around here for a few days, we decided we rather enjoyed having a maid to clean up after us and so decided to take up their offer to stay at their home in the city.
So here we are in the bustling, metropolitan city of Panama. The day after we arrived, Ana Matilda and company actually departed for a two week cruise and left us their home. So far most of our time in the city has been spent relaxing and trying to get healthy but we did manage to take a day trip to the Caribbean coast, which was an amazingly short hour and a half drive through jungle, where we walked around an old Spanish fortress sacked by the Pirate Henry Morgan. The ruins stand on a cliff looking onto the ocean at the mouth of the Rio Chagras where boats enter the canal heading towards the Pacific. We enjoyed watching a few huge ships pass through the Gatun Locks, the first on the Caribbean side of the canal. The enormity of the canal and it´s process was entirely fascinating. We learned some financial tid-bits that surprised us. First, the largest sized cargo ship pays 280,000 dollars to pass through the canal carrying 3,000 containers, and second the Canal grosses an average of 1.5-2 million dollars in one day! Not Bad!
Our most delightful day in Panama City was spent strolling around Casco Viejo, the old colonial part of town. The colorfully painted buildings with balconies and courtyards are reminiscent of the French Quarter. This city is the oldest on the Pacific coast of the Americas first established by the Spanish and later developed by the French who came to work on the canal. Today there is a mix of cultures and a strong Afro-Caribbean vibe. Although, very run down with a long history of poverty and rent control issues, it is undergoing serious renovation and the mix of old and new has undeniable charm.