Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Day Around Town

Hola amigos!

      Day 2 began when the church bells across the street rang loud and clear at 6am sharp.  Luckily we didn't have to get up just then, so we dozed until the bells tolled the next hour, reawakening us at 7am and reminding us of the day to come.  Day 2 really began with a trip to Panama Viejo (Old Panama) where we saw the ruins of the first Spanish settlement in Panama.  Founded circa 1519, it was the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Ocean.  Spanish influence was apparent in the organized layout of the buildings and roads, as well as the construction of a covenant and nunnery on the site.  Central to the site was a lookout tower that provided views of the settlement from one side and the Pacific Ocean from another.  The view from the top was an interesting juxtaposition of the thriving metropolis of modern-day Panama City to the ancient ruins of the first Spanish settlement.  The ruins of Panama Viejo are what remains after the settlement was attacked by pirates in 1671.

Inside the convent at Panama Viejo.  A large tree grows in the center of the ruins.
From left to right: Emily, Kelly, Eleanor, Lara
Hi Graeme!
At the top of the tower.  From left to right: Kelly, Elyse, Eleanor,  Emily, Lara.
The view of modern-day Panama City from the tower.
      From Panama Viejo, we headed to Casco Viejo (Spanish for "Old Town"), which is the historic district of Panama City.  The city of Casco Viejo was built in 1673 by the Spanish after the destruction of Panama Viejo.  For lunch, our class split up and we had the chance to wander around the city.  Of particular note in the city were the beautiful, intricate ironwork on the balconies and the colorful facades of the buildings.  The narrow streets and the central square were an indication of the age and Spanish cultural influences of the city.  For lunch, we ate at a small restaurant called Diablicos.  Unfortunately, we were told by the waiter that several of the items on the menu were unavailable because the restaurant did not have electricity until 3 pm, which, to our surprise, turned out to be a regular daily occurrence! 

Colorful facades of Casco Viejo.
From left to right: Kelly (in back), Lauren (in front), Lara, Elyse, Eleanor.
The narrow streets of Casco Viejo.
      After lunch, our class reconvened in the central square and visited El Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama (The Panama Interoceanic Canal Museum).  The museum focused on the chronological history of the Canal, beginning with the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by the Spanish conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa (after whom the local $1 coin is named - the Balboa).  Our favorite part of the museum was learning about Martyrs' Day in 1964 (a national holiday celebrated on January 9th).  This incident eventually influenced the return of full control of the Canal to the Panamanians, which up until then had been occupied and operated by the United States.   An interesting fact is that 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Martyr's Day as well as the centennial anniversary of the grand opening of the canal.  We picked a good year to visit!

     On our way back to the bus, we discovered a local ice cream shop that offered a multitude of unusual flavors.  It seemed that ginger was the unanimous favorite.  As the locals would say, "muy delicioso!"

Signed, your day 2 bloggers,
(Eleanor Love and Emily Leivy)

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