Today I got to explore a new neighborhood in Panama City. Not only was this neighborhood new to me, but it is new to most Panamanians! That is because it is Balbao, part of the Canal Zone, which, until 1999, belonged to the United States, as they had control of the Panama Canal and the ‘Canal Zone.’
Balboa is a very interesting community, because as with many buildings in Panama, here are the originals, built for families who came to erect the canal in the early 1900’s. History had proven that workers were more productive when they had their families living alongside them. So, to help with the health, well-being and productivity of construction laborers, homes were built to provide space for an entire family. Many were assembled to entertain families downstairs during the hottest part of the day, and at night, they would retire to the upstairs, where the bedrooms were located. Today, many families rent out the bottom portion of the home to bachelors or people just passing through. My friend Jonathan is one of these renters, living in the downstairs part of a home with a family residing above him.
We take a walk around, as he shows me some parts of this community. Old canal administration buildings now serve as office space for the government. A garden and field are a make shift track area that locals use for workouts, jogs and a training space for marathons.
When I return back to my neighborhood I specifically get out of the taxi a few blocks before my street. I love the Casco and exploring around it, best done on foot. Casco Viejo has this auburn tint from the many street lamps illuminating and reflecting from red brick walls. Kitties scurry across the street as car after taxi slowly make their way down the one-way road ahead of me.
As you walk, lights might blind you from below, while passing blocks of buildings lit up from the ground level, to give the historic and authentic neighborhood even more of a glow.
And of course! What do you know? I run into Javier, the painter I met the other day. I had asked to take a photo of him painting, and in the process made a new friend and learned some of his background from Cuba.
Another favorite part of this neighborhood is that it is so small and close-knit; you are likely to see neighbors, residents and friends at last once a day as you walk for lunch, a dinner stroll or while doing errands.
Have you been to Panama City before? How did you enjoy your trip? Let me know in the comments below.
If you have any questions about my trip or want tips for setting up your future journey, feel free to email!