Blah… Panama City
Panama City, Panama
As we flew down the highway in the back of a sweltering bright-yellow taxi staring at the distant skyline of Panama City, the excitement of finally being in Panama was really high, but something also just felt a bit ‘off’ already in those first few minutes. It was dinnertime, but the two-lane highway was completely deserted and overall, the skyline just seemed ominous. The light glow bouncing off the dark sky was dull and flat and for the most part, a lot of the high-rise buildings mainly stood in shadow. It was an impressive and sprawling city, yet from a distance, it felt eerily deserted. Even though the activity did pick up as we got closer to downtown, it still seemed too quite – restaurants and bars were empty, lone security guards stood outside glittering casinos with nobody else around, and shop owners sat behind their stands staring off into the distance.
It was a really bland first impression of Panama City and unfortunately it’s an impression that went unchanged throughout three days there. Bummer to start off Central America on that foot, but in thinking back on the trip, it was probably the low-light of my three weeks down there. From what I experienced, I just didn’t see a ton of character – Moderately bustling, yet boring streets during the day and dark, empty, and uninviting sidewalks at night. Newer buildings seem deserted and the older decaying buildings are crumbling. We were guests in the city, but we seemed to be more of a nuisance to anyone we met and tried to talk to, including staff at the overpriced hotel we stayed at. (The rooftop pool/hot tub/gym was awesome though!) Other than one memorable meal, the food was nothing special – Panamanian food in general really lacked any sort of profound flavor. I concede that there are apparently great international places to eat, but I’m stubborn on these trips and try to only eat ‘local.’ The Panama Canal was extremely interesting to see, but the other touristy sights were just unimpressive compared to their ambiguous reputations. Casco Viejo had some charm, but was greatly dilapidated. The Amador Causeway? There are impressive views of the city skyline there (If the weather’s nice. It wasn’t.) and other than the few uninviting restaurants (Bennigans?.. Seriously?), there seems to be nothing else out there. And unfortunately, Panama City was the most expensive part of the whole trip.
With its rich colonial history and current international banking and commerce influence, maybe I had just set my expectations for the city too high. Maybe I just didn’t spend enough time there or the right parts of the city. Or maybe it was due to the bleak gray weather that engulfed the city. Whatever it was, I should have taken some advice I had received and moved on to different parts of the country quicker (We skipped San Blas…). Luckily the trip only got better as we moved north.