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Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Metamorphosis of Old Panama

We had a hideous time starting from being woken at about 6am by loud conversations in the reception room right through the wall in the Hostel, Hospedaje Casco Viejo, far from being a quaint old world mansion of a hotel, was a bare bones backpackers catering to a stream of young people choosing to stay in the once sleazy ghetto rapidly being refashioned as a chic tourist trap.

Casco Viejo itself is a small spit of old Panama - a little peninsula poking like a genital organ into the sea facing the new city. It is the one relatively undestroyed remnant of old Panama, left aside when all the high rises sprouted that have made Panama City look like Miami fallen off the US.

We firstly went for a short walk to get drinks to rehydrate ourselves in the heat and later took a walk across the neighbourhood to the inner side facing the new city, past the churches dilapidated condemned and now reconstructing row houses, which nearly made us wilt into the sidewalk, although it was quite stunning scenery in the morning sunshine after a torrential thunder and lightning storm which we saw approaching from the plane and which struck the city in the night.

Panorama of the New City from Casco Viejo (click to enlarge)

We then tried to get a refund on the ticket COPA had forced us to buy in Cali firstly going through the freeways of the new city to the Sheraton were we were treated well by the hotel staff but found the advertised COPA office was little more than a cubicle for hotel residents and the woman spoke no English, then after phoning COPA and being told to to to their office in Via Espana near the Riane Continental we were treated to a rude and completely unhelpful response by the staff there who insisted that because COPA had forced us to make in internet booking we would have to cancel it by an apocryphal e-mail to Apparently all airlines get fined by countries like Panama if they let anyone fly in without an outward ticket and get caught so, they in turn refuse to budge unless you buy an onward ticket on the spot, so its a ruthless trap for the unwary.

After trying for an hour to get service to no avail we finally cut our losses and caught a third taxi to the huge noisy Allbrook terminal. Within a few minutes we had been touted on to a bus to el Valle and were charging out in a small air-conditioned bus with super loud boom box sub woofers, so we had to make the whole trip with ear plugs.

The bus journey was pretty good. We were both able to put our sick left legs up beside the driver as we had the two front seats. The road was a freeway along the Pan-Americana nevertheless with a series of bus stops where just about every intercity bus will stop to let off or pick up passengers. The highway crossed the canal and veered along the coast with off shaped rocky hills to one side, finally coming to the el Valle turn off and then winding ever upward towards a rolling hill line which is actually turns at the summit into the large crater of an extinct volcano inside which the town of el Valle de Anton sits, arriving just as the lightning struck at sundown.

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