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Today the weather is warm, as usual, and drizzly. It rather reminds me of a typical Seattle day. Dare I say that I missed Seattle for a moment? I did.

bean pod casco viejo

After a decent night’s sleep, we made our way downstairs for the complimentary hotel breakfast. We got to choose between an omelet, scrambled eggs, pancakes or French toast. Kristian and I chose the veggie omelet which came with 2 slices of white toast with butter and apple jelly. The boys both chose French toast which was served dry with raisins sprinkled on the top. I appreciated the lack of sugar that we typically drown our French toast in and to my surprise, the boys didn’t ask for it. Our meals were served with a plate of fresh fruit each (cantaloupe, papaya, watermelon, pineapple), and freshly squeezed, pulpy orange juice and pineapple juice. The pineapple juice was to die for. So fresh and frothy!

breakfast collage casco viejo

After breakfast, I found our friend from San Francisco sitting on the front porch of the hotel. I asked her to remind me where to go for the best shopping and she sent us on our way. Before we walked away, she warned us that some guys from Mexico had contracted Dengue Fever and that it was probably a good idea to wear insect repellent. After running back to our room to drench ourselves in repellent, we set out to obtain a Panamanian shopping experience.

Via Espana

Via Espana is a cross street about 5 blocks down from our hotel. It is a bustling street, absolutely packed with import shops. I’m not talking Pier 1 or World Market. They are local stores that import the brands that we have in the U.S., like Tommy Hilfiger and Nike. Mostly though, they are small boutiques which carry imported, overpriced clothing and other items. I did find a couple stores with Forever 21 prices on clothing and cheap jewelry inexpensively priced at $2-$3. We didn’t buy anything except for a couple of journals at their version of the dollar store, which really only translates “inexpensive,” not necessarily $1.

Via Espana Collage Casco Viejo

At one point, we found Plaza Concordia (open-air mall) and while inside, were asked not to take photos. What? Overall, not too impressed with Via Espana, though I can see that if you live in the area, it’s a short walk away from most places and you can probably find just what you need if ever in a pinch. It’s filthy and noisy and not a place I’d like to spend any more time at. It does, however, make for a great cultural experience, which if I’m being honest, is what I came for. *sigh* Embrace it.

Taxi to Casco Viejo

casco viejo view

The front desk at the hotel was kind enough to call us a cab that would take us to the much anticipated, historic area of Casco Viejo. Within 10 minutes, a man who introduced himself as Eduardo picked us up and safely drove us to Casco Viejo. I was fearing the cab ride after our first cab from the airport, but this man surprised us and smoothly and safely took us to our destination. One hundred points for Eduardo!!! Though he didn’t speak more than a couple of words in English, with the help of our guidebook, we were able to tell him exactly where we wanted to be dropped off. He also asked us what the rest of our plans were for our stay and we managed to arrange a 9am pick-up time for our trip to the Canal tomorrow. At our stop, Kristian handed him $8. He said, “No, doce.” Kristian asked him if he could see his zone map, which lays out exactly how much a driver is allowed to charge to drive to certain zones. Eduardo preferred not to show Kristian the map and waved us off. I guess we’ll find out if Eduardo still wants to drive us around tomorrow!

Casco Viejo

casco viejo architecture

As soon as we stepped out of the taxi, a bilingual man approached us about joining a group of other Americans on a guided tour of the area. Apparently the man was born near the Canal and knows a lot of the history. We decided to join the others, who were from Chicago and take a short tour. In the hour or so that we spent with them, we learned a little about how to haggle, some history of some of the buildings, including the location of some 200-year old dungeons. One of the first things you’ll notice, after being in the city, is that Casco Viejo is very clean and tidy – a welcome change. Even with all the construction going on, everything was manicured and kept up. I had such a difficult time choosing architecture to show. There are so many beautiful and very different types of buildings!

architecture collage

casco viejo family

casco viejo churches

There is a huge tourist police presence through the area; at least one officer on every corner or street. I felt conflicted, in that on one hand, I felt safe because they were everywhere, and on the other, I questioned why they were so necessary. Was I about to be mugged or one of my children kidnapped? We were hungry even before we began the tour, so we handed the guide $2 and left the group to scout for good food.

casco viejo view

Rene Cafe – Casco Viejo

casco viejo cafe

It didn’t take us long to find Rene Cafe, thanks to the guidebook’s referral. It was a quaint, little, hole-in-the-wall restaurant similar to what I’d imagine I’d see in France or Italy. At one point during our meal, they were chopping onions and my eyes began to sting! That’s how small it was. Looking at the menu, Kristian mentioned that the idea was genius and that a restaurant like this would probably be a hit in the states. Here’s what the menu read:

casco viejo menu

So, the way it works is, they make whatever they’re making that day as a salad, rice, appetizer and dessert. You only pick what kind of meat you’d like your main dish to consist of: chicken, beef, pork or fish. Kristian and the boys ordered the pork and I ordered chicken. The meal came in courses beginning with bread with basil butter, followed by an Italian-style salad, quiche slices, seasoned rice and then the meat. Our server was Rene himself; an older, kind gentleman. Everything was so tasty! I was quite impressed. They topped us off with a small chocolate brownie. We paid $8.50 each.

casco viejo food

After lunch, we mostly hung right around Plaza de la Independencia.casco viejo nap

casco viejo women

In one corner is a small marketplace where we haggled for a Panama license plate (for Kristian), some handmade beaded earrings (for me) and some clay flutes for the boys. We thought it comical that at one booth, the seller, who spoke a little English, asked us where we were from. When we told her we were from Texas, she promptly held up her thumb and pinky and said, “Hook ‘em horns!” These people have already been indoctrinated even before setting foot in the U.S.!!!

casco viejo license

casco viejo market

We continued to walk around, taking in the architecture, snapping plenty of pictures, buying the “world’s most expensive coffee” (that’s what the sign read! Great marketing, huh? In reality, it was comparable prices to Starbucks), and lastly, cooling off with the most amazingly delicious banana ice cream I’ve ever had!

casco viejo ice cream

The mosquitoes are out and we’re ready to go home now. The cab ride home was slow due to a lot of traffic and the driver was not happy about Kristian only giving him $8, when he wanted $12. Oh well. There are laws here about overcharging!

sleepy in casco viejo

El Trapiche Restaurante

It was 9pm before we were ready to get some dinner. It’s pitch dark, aside from the lights coming from the local businesses, but the hotel desk assures us that it’s safe to walk down the street to a restaurant. She’s right. No riff-raff – just a bunch of people hanging out, having a nice time in the warm, night air.

We landed at El Trapiche because we wanted to try authentic Panamanian food. We weren’t terribly hungry, so we ordered an appetizer of ceviche and a platter that contained a mixture of Panamanian fare. I can’t believe we forgot to take a picture, but almost everything was really tasty, and very different. The ceviche (fish “cooked” in citrus) was not a hit with Kristian or me, but the boys liked it on top of soup crackers.

My reaction to ceviche!
casco viejo ceviche

After dinner, our server brought us our check with 4 Hall’s cough drops. After-dinner mint, anyone? I have had this nagging, wimpy cough for a week or so, so I thought it was kind of ironic.

halls casco viejo

We’ll have to fall asleep to the sound of a thunder storm, mixed with howling dogs tonight.

Buenas Noches!