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Panama city is an interesting mix of spanish colonial architecture back-dropped with modern high-rises and surrounded by urban slums

Whilst I would say the city is not the most exciting place to spend a week, we manage to keep ourselves occupied.

We found a lovely one bedroom apartment in Amador Heights through Pattys Casitas. The apartment was in a great location, easy access to everything via taxis, which are cheap.

Included in the apartment are two bikes, so we cycled along the Amador Causeway , which links four small islands. The causeway was built as a breakwater from rocks excavated during the building of the canal.

In 1671 the original Spanish settlement of Panama Viejo was destroyed by pirates.  As a result they moved to a more defendable location called San Felip, now know as Casco Viejo.

The old town of Casco Viejo shares similar spanish colonial architecture with Old Havana, Cuba.  Likewise, both had been left to decay into urban slums.

Now, like old Havana, Casco Viejo is undergoing significant restoration to return the town to its former glory.  Casco Viejo is small in comparison and renovation work is going on at a frenzied pace.

The cobblestone streets, spanish mansions and iron lamp posts are a stark contrast to the conglomeration of high-rises looming across the bay. You could easily mistake yourself for being in Dubai, or Hong Kong.

Further contrast are the urban slums bordering Casco Viejo. We lock the taxi doors as we drive through and Patty had warned us to not walk through these neighbourhoods.

Reprosa is a local jewelry business making replicas of ancient huacas; sacred ornaments handcrafted in pre-Columbian times.

Using the traditional techniques of the ancient goldsmiths, casting pieces in gold and silver.

Our private tour with Monica starts with a history lesson and a traditional drink consisting of Guava and Pineapple juice with a dash of rum. It was an interesting tour and included some retail therapy in the factory gift shop.

Within walking distance of our apartment was the Frank Gehry Biodiversity Museum. A US$90 million project, it opened in 2014. Acclaimed as an architectural triumph, I’d say the Guggenheim in Bilbao is more impressive.

wpid-teddy_roosevelt.jpgWe are tempted to purchase a Panama Hat, only to discover they are in fact made in Ecuador.

The name was coined when President Roosevelt was photographed wearing the hat he had been given on a trip to inspect the Canal. The media referred to it as his ‘Panama Hat’ and so the name began. We might wait until we’re in Ecuador.

Of course, the main attraction of Panama City is one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, an incredible engineering accomplishment – the Panama Canal.

A few interesting facts:

  • The Canal was originally conceived by the French in 1882 – they went broke and lost over 20,000 lives trying to dig their way through.
  • The Canal Zone was acquired by the United States under a perpetual lease in 1904 and American engineers proposed the lock system.
  • The three locks in the canal raises a ship 26 meters to the man-made Gatun Lake.
  • There is a 20cm difference between the Atlantic and Pacific sea levels, the latter being the higher.
  • The first ship passed through the canal in September 1913.
  • The length of the Canal is 82 km, on average it takes 8-10 hours to navigate end to end.
  • About 40 ships pass through the canal daily.
  • The average toll paid per ship is between US$300K to $400K (around $5 billion per year).
  • President Carter signed a treaty in 1977 to give Panama control of the Canal.

And there ends our week in Panama City.

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