We were awaken on Saturday morning by our driver Kevin, calling in to report that he would now be available to drive us until later in the day. No problemo, Nancy and I got a new driver and continued with our plan to explore Casco Viejo, the old city of Panama.
As a matter of fact, Casco Viejo is the second oldest Panama City. The oldest one was destroyed by the Pirate Captain Henry Morgan. Henry Morgan was one of the most savage pirates of his era, he left a trail of blood thoughout the carribean as he plundered Spanish colonies and ships. The cathedral tower to the left, is just about all Henry Morgan left standing in the first Panama City.
An intereting local tale is that the people of Panama City knew Henry Morgan was coming, and took all the valuables from the church, and every where else and hid them. There was an elaborate gold altar in the Catholic Church which they dismantled and moved. What they couldn't move they covered with a black tar-like paint. Legend has it that when Henry Morgan saw the sad looking remains of the altar, that he made a large donation to the Priest, and asked that it be used to obtain a nice altar, as the one in the Cathedral was the ugliest he had ever seen.
Anyway, back to known facts. It turns out that when Henry Morgan sacked Panama City, England and Spain had a peace treaty. Morgan was sent back to England to stand trial for breaking the treaty with Spain. Morgan successfully argued that he had no knowledge of the treaty and was released (wink, wink). Not only was Morgan released, he was knighted for his services to Empire. Interesting going from savage pirate to Knight of the British Empire.
In Casco Viejo, the second Panama city there are 11 major cathedrals and the architecture is spectacular. Honestly, it looks a lot like New Orleans on steroids. All the streets are brick, there is a lot of the lovely iron work, and statuary everywhere. It is really quite a place. Here is picture of a couple of the cathedrals we saw.
The cathedral on the right has a plaza in the front with a statue of Simon Bolivar in front of it. I don't know all that much about Simon Bolivar, but he is credited with liberating much of Central America from Spanish rule. If you look carefully on the enlarged picture of Simon Bolivar, you can see a bird, and I swear I think it is a buzzard. It sure doesn't look like an Eagle. In any case this brings us to the next parts of the story.
The city of Colon, Panama originally sat on an island just outside where the Panama Canal is today. It originally had been a headquarters for the French, as they attempted to build the canal. Colon is on an island called Isla Manzanillo. Colon has always been a sketchy place but during the French era here, there were no sewers and little fresh water. Waste and dead animals went into the unpaved streets or into the ocean. The nastiness of this place prompted one historian to say, "searching for something that this town could excell at, we found it in her carrion birds, which cannot be surpassed in size or smell. Manzanillo Island may boast of the finest vultures on the planet." What does this have to do with the White House? Well there are two things; Guess what famous American Presidential candidate was born in Colon? I'll give you a couple of hints, he is still a U.S. Senator. And he look like the guy on the left. Yep, it's John McCain, the old buzzard himself. The second thing that Buzzards have to do with the "White House is below.
We walked down to the Presidential Palace. So here is a picture of the Panamanian Presidential Palace. Everyone told us it is the "White House, just like in the United States". The President of Panama has a nice view of the Panama Canal and you can see the ships cueing up there from the front of the house on the other hand....
Well, I am not so sure about that this is just like our "White House". I never remember seeing one of these roosting on the White House in the United States. This is a picture of one ugly buzzard roosting / resting on the Presidential Palace. Oh well, as the old movie said "in a country without grave diggers, vultures serve an important purpose. Click on the pic to get a real good look at this ugly sucker.
Finally, you have to adjust to the pace of life here. The entire Casco Viejo area is being restored. They expect to have the restoration completed by the year 2020. Based on the sign below, I am not sure that they will make it. If you look closely you can see that this building restoration was to be completed by August 2006 - worse yet, it is supposedly 80% sold out. As one U.S. vulture once said to another U.S. vulture, "Patience Hell! I am going to kill something!". Manana y Manana
All the best,