Welcome to Panama! “Bridge of the world, heart of the universe.” This is a well-known saying here. With the erection of the Panama Canal over 100 years ago, it truly is the bridge that connects worlds apart, with quicker access, saving over 8,000 miles of travel for boats crossing the Atlantic and Pacific.
For example, Panama hats, as they are known, are actually from Ecuador, but brought here to be sold since they have access to so many trading partners.
Panama is like no other Latin American country I have ever visited. You feel as if you are in Europe. The buildings are constructed in the 16th to 18th century style in our neighborhood of Casco Viejo, Spanish for the Old Quarters, which is also referred to as Casco Antiguo or San Felipe. It was founded in 1673, after the original settlement of Panama Viejo was robbed by the famous Captain Henry Morgan (think Captain Morgan’s Rum!) But with the construction of the Panama Canal and the restrictions of the Canal Zone, only one small street was left to enter and exit this neighborhood. Thus, because of this and such inventions and development as the automobile, more Panamanians moved to rural areas, leaving Casco Viejo to deteriorate and become more abandoned. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you will see beautifully restored buildings next to ones practically crumbling with families squatting inside. It is extreme gentrification, and has caused peaceful demonstrations here for almost ten years, fighting to keep the people and the heritage of this neighborhood, alive.