Enough Already

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This picture was taken yesterday.  And yes, that is fresh snow falling – on top of the several feet of snow that has been on the ground since November. I am so done with this winter. Enough already!

So to help me think happy (and warm) thoughts, I’ll return to our Panama trip.

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When people ask what we do when we travel, our stock answer is that we wander around trying to figure out where we will eat dinner. We say this only partly in jest. It’s actually a great way to see a city – and to find great food. That was how we ended up at Navaja on our second night in Panama.

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It is fairly small and unassuming, but with wonderful food. Apparently it’s not the kind of place that tourists discover. That led to a conversation with the people at the next table, and before long we had a recommendation for an even more out-of-the-way restaurant. If you didn’t already know about Donde Jose, there is no way you would even guess it was a restaurant.

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See what I mean? Even with reservations and the exact address, we had a difficult time finding the entrance (it is the doors on the far right). But oh my, was it worth it.  The restaurant has only 16 seats, with a fixed multi-course tasting menu and wine pairing. The dishes focus on local flavors and ingredients, and it is just amazing. You can probably tell that we loved it, and would highly recommend it.  But you absolutely must make reservations well in advance.  We barely managed to get a table before the end of our trip.

That’s all I can write tonight.  My mind is distracted by thoughts of wonderful food…

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Homeward Bound

We are flying home today. When we step out of the airport at the end of the day, we will be greeted by -24 C weather (11 below zero, Fahrenheit) .  With that thought in mind, I will limit myself to a short post today.

We stayed at the Central Hotel, pretty much in the center of San Felipe, the old part of Panama City. But the hotel is also on Avenue Central.  It was build in the 1880’s so I suspect the avenue is the reason for the name.  The hotel sits on the Plaza de la Independencia, so it is nice and open. Here is a view of the hotel and the plaza.

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The Cathedral of Panama City is on the other side of the plaza.

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And as I head back to the land of ice and snow, I will leave you with another picture of the local vegetation. This isn’t an abandoned building – it is well maintained, and on a busy street – and yet it has already sprouted a tree growing out of the side of the building…

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Last Day Before Snow

Tomorrow we head home. I know that several feet of snow are waiting for me in the yard, so today I did my best to enjoy the flowers here in Panama.

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As you can see, the haze from earlier in the week has cleared, leaving a lovely blue sky.

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Many of the “flowers” are actually flowering trees, creating wonderful opportunities to use the blue sky for contrast.

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Over the next few weeks I’ll try to provide a bit more context as I post additional pictures of San Felipe – the “old city” or Casco Viejo in Panama City.

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Second Last Day

Our second last day in Panama. We’ve been taking it easy and enjoying the chance to relax in the warm weather – sort of “chilling in the heat”. We haven’t even seen the canal yet, and everyone says it is one thing you absolutely must do when in Panama. So we decided to start our day with … a self-guided walking tour of every church in Casco Viejo ( Panama City – the old city).  Hey – it seemed to make sense at the time.

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Many of the churches have been destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries, but this ornate pulpit dates back to colonial times.

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But sometimes I find that the less obvious features are more impressive – like the post supporting the roof in this small church dating back to 1673 – simple, rustic, and yet very impressive in its own way.

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Several of the churches also had the stations of the cross, something that brings back memories of my childhood. Of course, if you have been following this blog, you may also recall that the fourth station has particular significance from my visit to Jerusalem. The first example from our Panama walk is glazed and enameled dating to the 19th century.

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Here are a couple other examples.

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Of course, along the route we enjoyed the beauty of Casco Veijo.  The bougainvillea in this picture was covering half the facade of a building, creating a wall of flowers.  Interestingly, even though it came from a single root, it had a mix of white and pink flowers.  I’m told this means that two different strains must have been grafted onto a single root stock.

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Don’t you wish that was your balcony?

I also came across this tree.  It almost looks like the tree grew to avoid the street light – though I’m sure that isn’t what actually happened. Still…

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And here we go back to churches, in this case ones that have long been in ruins. This example is known for the flat arch shown here.  Apparently it collapsed, unexpectedly, a few years ago, but was rebuilt using the original bricks.

Note the clear blue sky.  It has been hazy the last few days, but not today.

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I started this post talking about the Panama canal, and I eventually did make it to see the Miraflores locks.  But here’s the thing. The Rideau canal runs through Ottawa, with a series of locks right beside parliament. They are tiny compared to the Panama canal, but you can get much closer to watch the locks in operation.  I’ll try an analogy here.  I’ve been able to see great musicians play in arenas, and the concerts have good. But the best concerts I’ve ever seen have been when not-quite-so-famous artists perform in much smaller venues.  The chance to be “up close” makes all the difference. So by all means, see the Panama canal. But if you ever have the chance, you absolutely must see the Rideau canal locks in Ottawa.

With that, here are two pictures from the Miraflores locks.

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What I like about this picture is the small boats in the lock as the enormous ship pulls up close to them.  I know that everything is controlled, but this has got to be unnerving.

And this picture shows a supertanker pulling through the locks.  The clearance on either side of the boat is less than two feet. It’s difficult to see where the ship stops and the lock begins…

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That’s all for today.  For tomorrow – who knows.

 

 

 

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Jungle

We’ve all seen pictures of Mayan ruins completely overgrown by jungle.  This is what happens if something is abandoned for hundreds or thousands of years. But I’ve often wondered just how long it took for the jungle to reclaim these ancient cities. Just how aggressive is the jungle?

Panama City’s Casco Viejo is a city in transition. I’m told that twenty years ago virtually all the buildings were run down or abandoned. The UNESCO World Heritage site designation started a process of restoration that is still ongoing. Scattered in among the “gentrified” buildings you can still see a number of abandoned buildings. Some are mere shells – stone walls with no interior structure.

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Others are showing decay, but still functional, or at least integrated into functional buildings.

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But everywhere you look, if the building is not being actively maintained, you can see clear signs of the jungle fighting back. Note the trees growing over, and on top of, the wall above.

Some of these trees are quite large, even though they are on top of two or three story high walls.

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From another perspective, you can see just how tenacious this tree must be to survive, much less thrive.

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In some cases the trees grow on the side of a wall, without any visible horizontal surface for an anchor.

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I’m not sure about this one, but who knows.

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I’ll close with a picture of the Bridge of the Americas at sunset.

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Picture This

No pictures today. You will need to use your imagination.

We’re in Casco Viejo (the old city) in Panama at an intimate Latin Jazz club in the American Trade Hotel. If ever there was a recipe for cognitive dissonance, this is it.

We’re at the back of the club, where they seat the “old white couples who arrive without a reservation”, but we’re still within 25 feet of the stage. We’ve arrived early, thinking that “show starts at 8:30” means the show starts at 8:30. Silly us.

Two tables directly in front of us are empty until a middle aged couple arrives. Bald guy and blonde woman.  They are younger than us, but old enough to know better. Unfortunately it appears they don’t.  We reconcile ourselves to having to watch them neck for the entire show.  Little did we know we would eventually wish they would start necking again. They’re joined by heavyset guy and sparkly woman and the necking stops. Relief. The show starts (most definitely not at 8:30) and by this time blonde and sparky are having an animated discussion while we are trying to listen to the music. It was fantastic. The music, that is. And then sparkly, who has not been listening to the music until now, decides it’s so wonderful that she must record it on her phone. When sparkly starts recording, blonde decides she’s very interested in heavyset (not the one she came with) and gets all touchy-feely.  This continues even after sparkly returns from recording the band. At this point we kind of missed the necking – until it started again. Very confusing…

Meanwhile to our right, young man sat down and saved a seat for his wife. He promptly focused on his phone until wife arrived near the end of the set. She  promptly ordered a water and focused on her phone until she left 15 minutes later. I really hope I’m missing some critical detail here.

A guy our age, with a young woman and an infant, tried unsuccessfully to get a table at this point. I’m thinking grandfather. I’m hoping grandfather.

Just as the band started playing, a large group of young people arrived. My first instinct was “rich entitled young Americans” but perhaps I was being unkind.  Of course, it’s also possible I nailed it.

Immediately in front of the stage a man sat alone at his table, focused on the music and ignoring all the fascinating action going on just behind him.

All in all, probably one of the more enjoyable/interesting evenings I can recall.

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Sun

We all know the sun is far stronger in the tropics than in The Great White North. You must wear sunscreen – lots of sunscreen. Yesterday, one of us was very careful applying sunscreen. The other was negligent. So it came as a shock when at the end of the day the responsible one had sunburn. We’re blaming the rooftop pool. It sounds like a marvelous idea when the snow drifts are several feet deep, but in the heat of the Panama sun things are not so black and white. Why am I telling you this? To explain why today’s post will be a random series of photographs taken while I wandered around the old city, alone, with no particular objective in mind.

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I’m sure there is a story behind this particular section wall in the ruins of the Jesuit church. I’m equally sure I cannot imagine what that story might be.

I admit I’m fascinated by ruins. In part it’s because I grew up in rural Saskatchewan where the oldest buildings were maybe 50 years old. But there’s also something about the process of weathering. It isn’t uniform. Most of these buildings began with perfectly smooth surfaces, and over time some parts degrade faster than others, exposing the weakness and strength in the original construction. And it isn’t always obvious how things will turn out.  In this picture, some, but not all, the bricks are crumbling like soft sandstone, while the mortar has remained true.

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The next picture shows a niche in the cathedral, probably originally housing a statue, but empty now. It isn’t clear if the coloured stones were a visible part of the original design, part of the structure originally covered with plaster, or a recent addition.

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At the end of the day, I was left with a sense of contrast and conflict.  The never ending war between humans intent on building, taming, (some might say destroying) and nature intent on reclaiming. Clearly humans have the more powerful tools in the short term, but I am constantly amazed at what nature can achieve with steady persistence. You see signs of this everywhere in Panama, but I’ll illustrate with this picture showing a mature palm tree growing inside the ruins and a young tree literally growing on the wall of the cathedral.

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The contrast between humans and nature is everywhere, but it’s equally apparent there is conflict between humans – between the old and the new.  I’ll dig deeper into this in another post (the implications aren’t obvious), but for today I’ll simply show this picture of a newly renovated (gentrified?) building adjoined to one that is, shall we say, in need of repair.

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And finally, since this is a random walk, here is where we had lunch, just a block from our hotel.

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Postscript: Now that I’m (mostly) retired, I have more time. With more time comes the opportunity to rethink things.  Over time, this blog seems to have evolved into pictures, sparsely connected with uninspired text. I’m toying with adding more detail in the descriptions. More colour. I know I’m doing this for me, but an audience helps. So if you like more context, please do let me know.  (Silence will be interpreted as “I only look at the pictures, so I didn’t even read the question, especially as it was tacked on at the very end of the post that already had too many words.”)

 

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