“No tengo Instagram. Mi memoria fotographica. / I don’t have Instagram. My memory is photographic.”
I had one request: To try some great, authentic food in Panama City. That simple request turned into an expansive walking tour of Panama City, complete with views, history, photo ops, rooftop bars and street art.
To be fair, we did hop a $3 cab because a restaurant I wanted to try was closing. And we also took a 3-stop, 35-cent subway ride. Yes, the subways of Panama, which are only about a year old and cleaner than most streets, were only 35 cents per person. Score.
But before my Sunday afternoon stroll, a big group of us had dinner and drinks at El Caribe on Saturday night. This restaurant on Via Argentina was serving up some great fish. I had a two lightly fried white fish fillets with a salsa/sauce on top. It was heavenly. So good that I kept eating way past being full. And all for about $7 for the meal. Perfection.
I should stop here and say the food in Panama is amazing… and dirt cheap! Even the drinks are cheap to very reasonable. For example, at the beginning of the tour we stopped a very local, non-air conditioned market and had breakfast of a whole fish and flatbread for about $6. And on the way back from our full-day tour, we stopped at a chicken joint on the side of the road heading back to Panama City. A quarter rotisserie chicken, fries, chimichurri and hot sauce for $3.25. I wish I had taken a picture before digging in because it was blindingly delicious.
But since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will do more showing and less telling.
We started the afternoon at the mercado de mariscos, the seafood market. It was a huge outdoor, family atmosphere with tables and cerviche. At one of the many stalls I ordered a shrimp cerviche and crackers for $2.25. The flavors were fresh and limey and it was actually perfect for a light, outdoor snack.
Next we zipped over to Los Venezolanos. My one foodie request for Panama: A dope empanada. And this Venezuelan spot, actually right across the street from El Caribe was a personal recommendation. In fact, it is known in Panama city for amazing empanadas, and has many positive reviews on Panama’s version of Yelp, degusta (noting that El Caribe also has great reviews).
We got there right before closing but managed to get a fish empanada. For $1.85!!! A super filling, handmade meal for $1.85…Even the dollar menu can’t beat that. And it was heaven! Add the hot sauce, and I had to order a second one to go.
Next we hopped the subway from Via Argentina to Cinco de Mayo. The rest of the day was a trek.
We went to see Javier’s friend Maria. Maria is from Colombia and makes Cocadas. These are coconut treats in various flavors. Maria shreds 50 coconuts BY HAND every day, and creates delectable treats, that are a base of coconut, sugar, and various different fruit and other ingredients depending on the flavor. I tried the pineapple one and one that tasted like pralines. The flavors were so intense, it was hard to believe it was shredded coconut (especially since I don’t like coconut). I cannot believe that this woman shreds coconut by hand every day, but her customers are faithful and love her treats.
We spent the afternoon walking through Casco Viejo, or Old Town. The architecture was stunning and the vistas were amazing.
As with many American inner cities, Casco is going through a gentrification. Old, abandoned building are next to quaint homes and restaurants, which are next to totally rebuilt hotels. The contrast is interesting to see.
In the little research I had time to do before leaving, I heard about this rooftop bar called Tantalo. So as we strolled Casco, we stopped in.
And good thing we did. As is typical in rainy season, a major storm rolled in. Before we were forced inside from the rooftop bar, it made for some amazing shots.
But the inside of Tantalo was actually almost as big a treat as the rooftop (okay, not too much beats a great rooftop bar, but you get it). The wall art/graffiti was amazing. And when I realized that there was a 3D wall over the bar, I was captivated.
While on the roof, Javier showed me this famous church just two blocks up. As if the rooftop shots were beautiful enough, the front of The Church of San Jose was breathtaking. The church also features a gold altar and it is exquisite. We walked in taking in the scene between masses. Stunning.
All of the churches I saw in Panama were beautiful. So ornate and full of color.
The Art of the Streets
I must say that I am seriously starting to love and appreciate street art. Everywhere I go where there is a street art presence, I find something new and vibrant and unique. Be it bright colors or a profound message, it is something I seek out everywhere I go now.
You guys know I love a Tiger! M…I…Z…
While walking through Casco, we saw a bunch of street art sprinkled throughout. Some pieces were more like graffiti, while some were more portrait-like.
This collection immediately made me think of the diverse cultures of Panama. Perfectly apt reflection of culture in the country.
But I absolutely loved the simplistic pieces. The social commentary. When I saw the Instagram commentary, I immediately stopped (shoot a pic, of course) and then ponder the thought. It is so true. Especially as a writer, I have had to delve into social media in a way that isn’t necessarily natural to me. But I remember a time when we didn’t have Instagram (for me that was 6 months ago, LOL) and we had photo albums and memories.
The Final View
We finished off the stroll with an amazing vista of the city. It was kind of a perfect end to an explorative day. It’s amazing what you experience in when you take the time to walk a city, like a local, and just take it all in. That’s going to be my mantra going forward on future trips… Take it all in.
All photographs are copyright of Tyra Hughley Smith. However, the murals and underlying works belong to their respective copyright owners and Tyra Hughley Smith makes no assertion as to their ownership.