Title: the old part of town
Location: Panama City, Panama
I stayed with my friend Vanna in Panama City (Ciudad de Panama), and enjoyed the sites in the old neighborhood of the city where she had stayed for 5 weeks -- Casco Viejo. While it is an old, seemingly unsafe part of the city, it afforded some interesting views into the old days of Panama. The old architecture is being renovated to some of its original glory. There are some interesting classic buildings and a lovely walk along the ocean. Also, several buildings have rooftop views of the canal and the boats queuing up to enter the canal.
The fastest way, albeit the less exciting way, to view the length of the canal is to take the railway from Ciudad de Panama to Colon. The trip is just over an hour. I do not know whether we purchased a higher-price ticket than usual, but we were seated in a vista dome. Vanna desperately wanted some "coffee con leche" or "coffee with milk" consisting of about half coffee/half milk. Fortunately, they served it onboard. It was at no extra cost. They also served some light snacks -- muffins. Thanks to the advice of the personnel checking our tickets, we were advised to sit on the left side of the train (the north side, which allows for views of the canal, along the north of the track). At a couple of places, the railway and the canal diverge. Overall, however, it afforded great views.
It was amazing to see how much construction and how much development there was along the route. When the Canal was controlled by the US and comprised the "Panama Canal Zone", this area was occupied by the US. I was not sure what form the "zone" would take, now that it was included in Panama proper. It was easy to discern the areas that the zone had once comprised -- due to the buildings typical of US construction projects. They are the type of buildings found in company towns along railways in the US and Canada, or in government/company towns, such as military bases, mining enterprises, or hydroelectric projects. The houses are clapboard. The 2-storeys have a center door with a window on either side -- very symmetrical. The fabrication buildings have an organized look. The clean lines of the powerhouse at the Colon end of the canal are like those at Whitehall in England -- almost Palladian. The powerhouse resembled another I have seen on another recent trip to another government site.
The people of Panama are welcoming and eager to share their knowledge of their country. The most beautiful handwork is seen in the textiles created by the native people. The colors are vibrant. The quality is high. It is said that this industry has helped women provide income for the families.
Colon was interesting. It was full of duty-free shops and free-zone stores. The duty-free shops are at the landing where cruise ships harbor. The neighborhoods of Colon, by contrast, are very rundown and do not seem to have benefitted quite as much from international interests as the Pacific side of the canal region.
Besides all the sightseeing, we have also been taking Spanish immersion classes. That's the only way we know how to get around and understand the natives. We are actually getting better!