I arrived in Panama City, Panama hat in hand (I travel in puns), heart filled with excitement over my afternoon of traipsing through the colonial neighbourhood – and UNESCO world heritage site – of Casco Viejo.
I had arranged with my hotel, Casa Nuratti, for an airport pickup, since I didn’t have much time to get to the city and wanted to get there quickly. As I cleared customs, I walked out to the usual throng of family, friends and drivers holding up signs with travellers’ names. I walked the whole length of the arrival area, looking for my name on one of those signs, and came up empty. Confused, I logged into the airport wifi to check if I ever got a confirmation email from the hotel. I had no confirmation (no big deal) but I did have an email from hotels.com asking me to rate my stay at Casa Nuratti (head scratcher). Why do they want me to rate the stay before I even get there?
(Where this is going just shows how much I needed the time off)
I opened my trusty travel wallet, grabbed my hotel reservation info and saw that, to my horror, I had booked the hotel for 3 days prior to my actual visit! Thoughts of losing the pre-paid hotel stay and finding a new accommodation swimming in my head, I grabbed a taxi and told them to drop me off at the hotel I had booked. Time to wing it! If it was fully booked I’d figure something out.
I got to the hotel and explained the situation to them. The hotel has 14 rooms only, so they remembered my name and sympathized. In the end, I got a room and they didn’t charge me for it! (Enter: chorus of angels singing Hallelujah.) I took my Cheshire Cat smile upstairs, unloaded my stuff and headed out to see the pretty streets of Casco Viejo.
Walking through the grid of streets, I felt like I had traveled back in time to the days of Spanish colonialism (Casco was built up in 1672). While some buildings are in need of some tlc, most are beautifully restored, with each building painted in a different colour. The whole neighbourhood looked like a rainbow checkerboard.
Panama City has a ton of skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of a smaller-scale, Latin American New York (palm trees and the Pacific replacing the multiple parks and the Hudson). I guess you can say that Casco is the equivalent of Brooklyn, minus the hipsters. The neighbourhood happened to be sparsely occupied on that day, which I didn’t mind after the adrenaline rush of landing in a foreign country without my usual preparedness of the basics (transportation and accommodation). I finally started sinking into the rhythm of leisurely travel.
It was the calm before the storm of nightlife started pumping out music from the restaurants, jazz clubs, and bars in the area. But sometimes a city just has a way of vibrating at the frequency you need. Panama was making beautiful chilled out music (for the time being) and I floated through the colourful streets on cloud 9.
Check out my Instagram (@portjam) and search for #PortjamInPanama to follow my footsteps through Casco Viejo!