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After our late night I got up at an unglodly early hour, since my clock was an hour off, and waited for everyone else to get up. It was hours later before we met up with Marivel. I think I already mentioned that she loves across the street, which simplifies matters as long as you can figure out how to cross the street even at 8 am. There are no cross walks. This is a skill we learned living here, and not one we have lost.
It is already warm and it is always humid here. We’re on the coast in a tropical country, after all. Off we went to some Chinese place for a Chinese breakfast. It was really good- and no it wasn’t a pretty place. We ate several dumpling sorts of things stuffed with rice and what not, and a kind of Chinese tortilla, which was rice and whatnot battered with an eggy thing and pan fried.
Marivel lent us a SIM card for the phone, which saved us the trouble of buying one, and off we went to the Peace Corps office. We got a warm welcome from the training director Raul, Lourdes and Emmy in medical, Maria Elena the security chief who makes sure they know where the volunteers really are, Brandon (not sure what he is doing) and a few others. It was nice to see these people. The new office is quite spacious and attractive. We tried to make arrangements to see our host family for the training period without success. Panamanians are very friendly people, and I like them as a rule even though I do not care for many aspects of the culture.
Marivel took us to a dumpy place at the fish market for lunch. The food was top notch. The shrimp al ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce) and the tiny clams in the same sauce were the best I’ve had and the price matches the surroundings more than the quality of the food by a long shot, and Panamanian beer, which is decent, is still only $1.25. for a mere $25 for two there is quite the lobster meal. In the market fish is abundant and prices are low, if you can handle the strong odors and lack of ice.
After lunch we drove through nearby Panama Viejo, the oldest part of the city. It is a mess. Full of 19th century buildings, perhaps older, many of which are in bad repair. There are quite a few being renovated, and a lot of road work going on. The Presidential palace is here. I can not imagine it would be easy to get him out of there in a hurry.
By now the sun had scorched the humid air. You needed heavy sunglasses to handle the glare. Her tiny car fortunately is air conditioned but the heat kept us in. Some touristas wandered about. This area has great potential but fulfilling it is quite the project. Then again so is most of the rest of the city, where you find some of the ugliest, scariest looking slums you can imagine. Decades of neglect and poverty don’t do wonders for a city landscape.
The new Biodiversity Museum by Frank Gheary is a ways away given the route you have to take to be greatly shortened once the coast road opens. But for now you have to wind your way through a maze of local streets– Panama City navigation is not easy even with the poor maps you can get so this is for locals to do. This country has a dearth of museums, sadly, but this should be a much appreciated addition to the flimsy cultural life. I think there is one other museum only, an art museum. I’ve been in. The art is not bad, there is just not much of it. There is an anthropological museum (I think it was), but the contents were robbed and it never opened, last I heard.
There are some very good restaurants here. We had dinner in one. Pomodoro it is called. Good selection of fairly traditional Italian cuisine, including hand made ravioli. They have a salad topped with gorgonzola that I really like.
Tomorrow we head for the western part of the country.