Monday, 25 April 2016

Aboard MS Expedition: Panama City exploration

Contrasting skylines of Panama City
Street in the old quarter
Panama Hats. About US$25 will get one.
From on board G Adventures MS Expedition in Panama
Panama City shore excursion
23 April 2016

From its inauguration in 1519 by Spanish conquistador, Pedro Arias Dávila,
Panama City has been a waypoint for treasure seekers and gold diggers. In
fact, so infuriated were the English that they sent the rampaging
privateer, Henry Morgan, to sack the fledgling city in 1671. Morgan took
gold, silver and hostages before leaving the place in flames.

The city was relocated and rebuilt, but succumbed to several subsequent
fires leaving the old city, now UNESCO listed, with a mixture of
architectural styles from Spanish, French and Caribbean influences. Then
again in 1989, US forces invaded in order to capture the rogue president,
General Manuel Noriega, again leaving portions of the old neighbourhoods in
ruins.

Now with the revelation of the so-called Panama Papers, this renegade city
seems none to keen to shed its reputation for creative banking and currency
conjuring. Since 2000, the government have made all manner of enticements to
foreign investors and the new skyline has grown like bamboo shoots in the
steamy heat. Made up mainly of residential condominiums, there is also a
fair share of corporate and hotel developments including a new luxury Trump
tower. Some of the original real estate pricing was a little optimistic,
with many of the strata properties falling by as much as half of their
initial asking price. A decent condo, I'm told, can be acquired for as
little as US$250,000 these days.

Prior to our transit through the canal, we had time to wander the streets,
taking in sights, sounds and smells of the old town where many buildings are
under restoration, adding a curious blend of sad cosmopolitan decay and
trendy colonial rejuvenation.

As one might expect, tourist traders were out in force selling all manner of
trinkets, but the prize was certainly the genuine Montecristi, that
distinctive handwoven hat so typified by historic figures like Teddy
Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. This is despite origins of the hat actually
deriving from Ecuador. An 'Ecuador Hat' is apparently too much of a mouthful
and a marketing impediment.


Words and Images (c) Roderick Eime


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