A morning in Old Town

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Things started to come together for us on the exact same morning we decided to leave Panama City. The rain cleared and sun came out, the roadside vegetable stands suddenly had avocados stacked in huge piles (we’d been looking for them for a week), and the crowd in the hostel was clearing out. We had originally thought we’d leave early in the morning, but changed or plans when the weather decided to offer reprieve from the previous downpours.

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So we walked. Out of the hostel, down Via Espana. Past the vegetable stands and family markets. It was as if the weather had been preventing the city from functioning as normal. Liveliness reigned. There was live music, there were parades of people out for the day, filling the sidewalks with activity. After a few kilometers the road narrowed. Pavement turned to brick and large blue tiled planters indicated that the road was now a pedestrian promenade. We walked by a casino advertising cheap lunches, we passed a park drenched in the artistry of wise weeping willows, cheap clothing stores spilled out the weekly specials into the streets. Slowly the seedy buildings erected from a not so distant era of tastelessness faded. Suddenly there was charm. We’d found old town.

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On the waterfront overlooking the concrete jungle of downtown’s financial district lies the remnants of the city’s previous center. I would like to think of this neighborhood as being in renaissance, but many would still classify the district as crumbling relics.

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In reality it is a bit of both worlds- the main square is beautifully restored, the churches and clock tower feel like a storybook. In between, there are dilapidated buildings that tell their own stories of glory days and abandonment.

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Yet where the traditional facades stand amongst gutted buildings, there is character. Walking the district is a whimsical experience. If you let your imagination loose, the place comes alive. It is the Panama City of yesteryear, and it is a neighborhood that is actively reclaiming it’s place in the city. It is old and new, wise and hopeful, crumbling and active. Like walking through a history book.

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