After a great night's sleep, we were up with the dawn and just in time to hear the church bells greeting the new day. From inside our hotel room, it wasn't so much a ringing of bells, but more a roll of gentle sound much like waves on a beach. A wonderful way to start the day.
So we had a leisurely morning with a perfectly serviceable breakfast (the smell of the coffee was fantastic, Stephen assured me it tasted as nice as it smelled), before meeting our guide in the lobby for our tour. I didn't really know quite what to expect, but we were in for a quite a treat as it turns out. Our guide was the charming and extremely knowledgeable Hernan Arauz.
The first stop was to the ruins of the original Panama City - Panama Viejo . I think someone should have warned Hernan that Stephen and I can spend literally hours at ruins, but he kept us very well to time despite our innate tendency to poke around every stone still standing and many which aren't. Part of his success in this line was keeping us regaled with as many facts and stories as we could wish.
The first stop was to the visitors center and associated museum for an overview of the historical context and some of the archeological artefacts (and it was looking at these that we learned of Hernan's mother's work in brief - looking her up later it is hardly any surprise that he has the love of history he does).
One of the later fortifications was literally right outside the visitors centre and gave a taste of what was to come.
From there it was around the corner to the ruins themselves - we didn't really have time to explore all of them, but we did get to about 1/3 of what was visible, including the old tower of the cathedral.
ruins - it was really interesting all the different kinds of stone were used. Some of it was clearly part of the restoration efforts, but others was original
Not too far from the modern city
The old cathedral tower. Photo courtesy of Stephen.
Looking down on the ruins.
And then out across the valley, the direction from which Henry Morgan would have come.
Looking out back towards modern Panama City from the top of the old tower
From there it was back across town to the other old Panama City - this time the one that was founded after the sacking of the original. Colloquially known as "Casca Viejo" or "Casca Antigua", it's actually continuous with the modern city (where we're staying), but is situated mostly on the promontory around the curve of the bay from the original settlement. Hernan warned us that it is currently under going renovation, and so not all buildings were looking their best. We assured him that this didn't really bother us (indeed, we said to ourselves, a little contrast often makes for interesting pictures). We weren't quite prepared for how stark the contrast was however. Some of the buildings looked nearly brand new, while others you wandered if they would fall down right in front of your eyes.
Our first stop was the Church of St. Joseph, or Inglesia de San Jose where the golden altar from the original church was taken. Apparently the church was constructed around the altar. It seem the original intent was for the church to be a place holder until the main cathedral was built, but it ended up staying. It was beautiful and very hard to believe that it dates to nearly 500 years ago.
Stephen and Hernan go into the church. You can see the date above the lentil - 1675.
The altar in situ.
After exploring the church for a little bit (very quiet), we continued on our way, walking to the main central square to see the Cathedral Square (also called Independence Square). Unfortunately the Cathedral itself wasn't open, but it was an interesting mix of styles
And then Hernan pointed out the tops of the bell towers, inlaid with mother of pearl. Beautiful.
I almost wish that it had been more sunny to see them sparkle, but it wasn't to be.
From there we went into the old canal museum, held in the original headquarters of the French efforts to build a canal (highly recommend reading The Path Between the Seas for anyone interested in the full history of how the canal came to be built in Panama).
Alas, they didnt allow us to take any pictures inside, which was rather a shame, as the architecture inside is quite beautiful. Very classically french.
We spent most of our time going through a new exhibit on Balboa (the city is celebrating 500 years of the European discovery of the Pacific Ocean) and then a quick walk through of the permanent exhibition on the history of the canal.
By then, our time with Hernan was at and end and we had the rest of the afternoon to explore the old city. The recommended restaurant, unfortunately, was closed, so we headed down to the waterfront, which afforded some really lovely views of the modern city.
See what I mean about the contrast? No idea what's planned for that building in the middle ground (or even properly what it is).
We even managed to see our first hummingbird! Quite big for a hummingbird actually, but it was very exciting regardless. I hadn't ever seen one sit so quietly on a branch before.
As you can see, the storm clouds were gathering for the afternoon rain. And we found a little cafe around the corner for our lunch.
Nothing spectacular, but tasty in its own simple way - Stephen had a local version of chicken pot pie and I had a tortilla with sausage (the tortillas are thick like spanish tortillas but with coarse cornmeal instead of potatoes and egg). But we had a fresh breeze from outside and cover while it rained.
One of the charming murals across the street.
After the sun came back out, so did we, walking along the old waterfront back towards the Plaza Francia.
Our first view of the famous Bridge of the Americas, shrouded in misty rain.
The memorial to the original French engineers and leadership team who tried to build the first canal.
As you can see, it was only a matter of time until it started to rain again, and this time quite hard. So we took shelter under the balcony of the buildings to wait it out.
And we waited
And it was just as tasty as its reputation held it to be. Beautifully smooth and creamy and in a huge array of flavours. I had lavender and Stephen had "pan d'epices".
By then it had stopped raining again, and so we wandered over to the Plaza Bolivar, for another look around. On the way, we saw our first vulture, a much more common sight than I expected.
So common in fact (and not at all sinister to them), they even put it on their monuments.
From there it began to rain, again (it is the rainy season after all), and so we decided to call it a day and hopped a cab back to our hotel to relax of the rest of the afternoon.
But our day wasn't quite over yet - dinner would turn out to be an adventure in and of itself.