Day 10 (March 13):

Panama City, Panama

Everyday Life:

   La Exposición. It’s one of the many barrios (neighborhoods) in Panama City. Together with the barrio of 5 de Mayo, La Exposición rests in the lesser developed district in between the historic Casco Viejo and downtown Panama City. The TripAdvisor reviews for the hotels in the area warn travelers to stay away. “It’s a bad neighborhood!” “Prostitutes frequent the streets and police carry big guns. Stay away!” "Be sure to take a taxi at night. There are shady characters all around…even for Central America.” Sure, at first glance La Exposición can be unsettling. There are a significant amount of buildings in disrepair, the streets are beat up, and there is an obvious presence of “less legal” business on low traffic roads late at night. But, this is the reality of Panama City…of any city. In between the tourist hub of Casco Viejo and the endless strips of international banks in the downtown district, La Exposición’s hard hitting atmosphere is a symbol of the tough life, hard work, and lack of access to financial stability faced by many Panamanians. If you really take the time to look around you will find that this and other nearby barrios are ‘real’. They don’t try to hide their flaws with fresh coats of paint…they aren’t steamrolling their troubled pasts through historic renovations. If you want to get in touch with everyday life in the city you need to spend time in areas like La Exposición. 

 

Follow Me!

   Stroll down Avenida Arosemena at 11 a.m. and really take the time to look at the surroundings…the people. You will discover a street lined with brightly colored kioskos (food carts). Their owners situate folding tables and plastic chairs around their stalls, inviting hungry passersby to grab some great, home cooked food that’s ridiculously cheap (a plate piled with grilled chicken, lentils and rice, patacones, and a drink will cost you about $3.50). The smells of asados (bbq) being prepared for the upcoming lunch rush will send your senses into overdrive as smoke bellows out of the large, metal grills that belong to each kiosko. Come lunch time each table will be filled with a mix of customers who share boisterous stories and joyful laughter with new friends while they enjoy their meals together. 

   Next, make your way over to the Plaza de 5 de Mayo and venture down Avenida B. Turning the corner you will first be hit with the blasting sounds of Reggaeton and Merengue. Follow the upbeat music through Avenida B and you will find a long row of barbarías (barbershops). These small businesses are pieced together with scraps of metal and wood to form 3-sided stalls. Their open fronts face the sidewalk so that the barbers can interact with one another while also chatting with the foot traffic. The layout embraces an open environment…an all-out hair cutting spectacle. Each barbaría is decorated with a unique blend of spray paint graffiti and Panamanian urban icons. Large wooden signs display trendy names like “Ghettostyles” and “Gangster Cuts”. At midday this area is a hub for social interaction as every chair on the strip is filled with young Panamanians looking to get the freshest cuts. It’s here that you will find the latest trends in hair styles being created; each barber looking to one up his competition. Continue down Avenida B and the upbeat sounds of Reggaeton, Merengue and street chatter will eventually fade into the background. Keep wandering the streets of these barrios and you will stumble upon countless cultural gems that are hidden within Panama City, like the strips of kioskos and barbarías. You will miss the true beauty of the city—any city—if you only listen to the negativity created by outsiders. To truly feel everyday life on the street—to experience it—you must dive into these districts and form your own opinions.

Click Image to Enlarge:

Native Lobster Claw Plant

Native Lobster Claw Plant

Shot of a Native Lobster Claw plant in one of the parks on the Cinta Costera of Panama City. The skyline of Casco Viejo hides on the horizon.

Promoting Healthy Living

Promoting Healthy Living

A view of one of the many playgrounds on the Cinta Costera of Panama City. The sign promotes the use of bicycles. "The practice of physical exercise, with the use of bicycles, is good for your health and can help to reduce sicknesses."

Balboa and 500 Years of the Pacific

Balboa and 500 Years of the Pacific

This statue of Vasco Nunez de Balboas was built by the Martinelli Government on October 20, 2013. It celebrates 500 years since Balboa first traversed the Isthmus of Panama and made contact with the Pacific Ocean. With his sword in the air, he stares over the horizon of the Pacific.

The Chivas Survive

The Chivas Survive

A Chiva rolls down Avenida Balboa. The new Metro and the Metro Bus were supposed to phase out the "Red Devils", but their presence is still strongly felt within the city.

Sign for the Panama City Metro

Sign for the Panama City Metro

First opened in April of 2014, the Panama City Metro is the first metro in Central America.

Panorama of the Los Andes Mall

Panorama of the Los Andes Mall

The last stop on the Metro in the Los Andes station. In this panorama the metro line runs through the background.

Street Vendor on the Pan-American

Street Vendor on the Pan-American

A street vendor closes up shop for the day. In the background is a sign directing traffic towards the Pan-American Highway. Photo taken just outside of 5 de Mayo.

Layers of Infrastructure

Layers of Infrastructure

Waiting for the elevator at the Los Andes Mall station. The highly developed Metro and Los Andes Mall are layered over the poverty stricken communities that hide in the background.

Strong Women in Panama City

Strong Women in Panama City

A mural commemorating strong women in Panama City. Photo taken just outside of 5 de Mayo.

Layers of Infrastructure 2

Layers of Infrastructure 2

Multiple layers of infrastructure are represented in this image from the Los Andes Mall; each with individual, but interconnected, histories. The brightly colored buses and white vans are the earlier forms of public transportation. The Large white and orange Metro Buses were created to phase out the earlier forms of transportation. As of 2014, the new metro rail is the newest infrastructure in the city.

Havana Club Lounge

Havana Club Lounge

A great place to grab a mojito. The Havana Club Lounge brings an early 20th century Cuban vibe to the Casco Viejo district of Panama City.

Iglesia del Carmen Metro Station

Iglesia del Carmen Metro Station

A view of the Iglesia del Carmen from the metro stop.

Panorama of the Los Andes Station

Panorama of the Los Andes Station

A view of the surrounding area outside of the Los Andes Metro Station in Panama City. Visible is a mix of old communities and new infrastructures of the metro and local mall.

Casco Viejo Restoration Project

Casco Viejo Restoration Project

The Panamanian Government is in the middle of a project to renovate the historic Casco Viejo district of Panama City. The project seeks to remove the many squatters that call this place home and repurpose the centuries old buildings as hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. I took this same photo two years earlier and the only gray and green building remains unfinished (although they did remove the graffiti).

Casco Viejo Restoration Project 2

Casco Viejo Restoration Project 2

Photo of the same street taken in June of 2013.

Fishing Boats at the Marina

Fishing Boats at the Marina

Fishing boats return to the marina after a long, hot day on the water. The marina hosts a long strip of cevicerias (ceviche restaurants) and is a great place to enjoy fantastic, cheaply priced ceviche.

Panorama of Panama City

Panorama of Panama City

Photo taken from the Cinta Costera.

Plaza Bolivar in Casco Viejo

Plaza Bolivar in Casco Viejo

One of the steeples of Plaza Bolivar in the Casco Viejo district of Panama City.

Strong Women in Panama City 2

Strong Women in Panama City 2

A mural commemorating strong women in Panama City. Photo taken just outside of 5 de Mayo.

The Iconography of the Chivas

The Iconography of the Chivas

The school bus style Chivas shuttle travelers throughout Panama City and to nearby towns. They all sport unique air-brushed artwork that depict cultural icons. Many focus on scenes of heroism, half-nude women, and sports superstars.

Strong Women in Panama City 3

Strong Women in Panama City 3

A mural commemorating strong women in Panama City. Her shirt reads "I am a panther, not a princess." Photo taken just outside of 5 de Mayo.

The Iconography of the Chivas 2

The Iconography of the Chivas 2

Panorama of the Miraflores Locks

Panorama of the Miraflores Locks

Photo taken at the Panama Canal in Miraflores.

The Pan-American Railway

The Pan-American Railway

Completed in the 1850s, the Panama Canal Railway shuttles goods, people, and equipment from Balboa in Panama City (Pacific Ocean) to the Isthmus of Panama in Colon (Atlantic Ocean). The route covers roughly 75 kms.

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