In 1671, Henry Morgan (the face of your captain and coke mixies) led an attack on Panama Viejo – now Casco Viejo – and practically burned the city to the ground. Buildings from the ruin still stand and they create a catastrophic beauty that pulls you into some alternate reality. Sounds like love at first sight, but it took a minute or two. I actually forgot we were hitting Panama before Costa Rica. (What? Panama City? Like, PCB Spring Break?) I had no expectations. But, I’ve fallen in love.
Casco Viejo (or Casco Antiguo or San Felipe or Old Panama – why have one name when you can have several) is the historic district of Panama City. In the 1950’s, due to Panamanian expansion, Casco Viejo’s wealthier inhabitants peaced out, leaving the town deserted and unsafe for many years. As little as 20 years ago, restorations began. Now we see many house museums, restaurants, bars, and little shops. The contrast between newly restored and torn buildings, covered in modern street art, creates a rare atmosphere – a perfect picture almost everywhere you turn.
My favorite person so far in Panama is my Spanish teacher Richard Dickson. He’s a soft-spoken and gentle man who wears tape on his glasses and a blue polo that pays tribute to Honduras. Paso, Bamae and I are learning the basics (passed my placement exam in untouched). He started to talk briefly about his fiancee and showed us a picture of her, the background of his cell phone. He said they used to live in Honduras. But, gang activity was prominent where they lived and one day there was a knock at the door. Richard and his finacee were threatened to give 70% of their income from that point forward. They were able to escape to Panama. He didn’t seem sad or angry. Just accepting of the situation he was in. An insignificant comment made in passing it felt like. I thought about that for a little while.
I remember when I first got here I could barely breathe. The humidity stuck to every inch of my body. I breathe easy now, with permanent dewey skin. It didn’t take long to get used to it. I’m sitting on the Magnolia Inn hostel balcony, watching dry lightning for the second night in a row. The moon hides behind a blanket of clouds, just barely peaking out to say hello. I can’t help but think of all the moments in my life that have brought me to this moment now. No idea how I got here, happy I did.
Since arriving in Panama I see I am surrounded by cultural differences. Whether it be from the country itself or the people I’m here with – it’s everywhere. And I’m just trying to figure it all out. I want to understand these differences, articulate them, learn from them. Maybe it’s not all about self-reflection like I thought. It’s not all about finding who I am. More about how I fit in this world. Understanding others and…maybe help them understand me.
FaceTime’d Brody while writing this post and he asked for a feature. So I snapped this pretty shot of him stuffing his face. Hi, Brody.