I am beginning to wonder about Viking’s choice of ports of call. I was excited to be visiting these central American countries for the first time, but Viking seems to have arranged for us to see the worst of them rather than the best of them
Today it is Panama. We have heard much about Panama City and how vibrant and successful it is. But of course that is not where we are stopping. Instead, the ship is docking at Colon, a small port on the eastern coast of Panama at the mouth of the canal. Maybe the fact that few cruise ships call at Colon should have been a warning. But we paid no attention. With all the money the Canal brings to the country we assumed that Colon would be a thriving town. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The first sight of the town from the cruise ship is not inspiring but at least it is colorful and the tour buses are all there waiting
The rest of the town tells a very different story. The color is still there, but everything is decaying.
Trash, junk and unwanted furniture fill the streets, the day’s wash hangs from a miriad of cables and the locals hang out, sitting on anything they can find whiling away the hours in a fog of despair.
But it could be worse, they could be living one street further back
Can I digress for one moment. Every ship that passes through the Panama Canal pays a minimum of $350,000 for the privilege. Many pay much more, some pay over $1,000,000.
With that in mind, can I now ask how can a country with that income allow their people to live like this? Apparently the government has plans to knock down the city and start again, which on the face of it seems to be a good thing. But what happens to all the people who call this home? They will be forced to move. It sounds a lot like China.
Fortunately Viking has laid on buses to take us to Panama City. It lies at the other end of the Canal but it is only 50 miles away and there is a motorway for most of the journey. The difference is startling
They call it Little Miami. They compare it to Singapore, and Dubai. It is certainly impressive. And it isn’t cheap. Apartment prices in the new buildings can be well over $1,000,000. But up close the buildings already show signs of decay. It is a constant battle to fight the effects of the humidity and the torrential rains of a tropical climate, and it is a battle that is never won
We spend our time in Panama City exploring the “old town”, which has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. A charming area of cobbled lanes and pastel colored colonial buildings. Many buildings have been beautifully restored and they stand in stark contrast to those that have yet to receive an expensive dose of TLC
The newly restored buildings are beautiful in a chocolate box sort of way, but it is the ones that haven’t been restored that have so much more character
And then of course there are the people. Just like the houses there are those who have been restored and are beautiful in a chocolate box sort of way
And then those who think they have, but are mistaken
Honestly, all I did was ask him if I could take his photo and he struck that pose. What was he thinking? And what is he measuring with his two fingers? I have heard stories about Panamanians, but can that be true!! And what is it with his right leg, stuck out with pointed toe? If I had suggested that pose he would have punched me on the chin.
Anyway, back to the theme I was going with – then there are those who haven’t been touched, and are much more interesting
And finally there are the children who we hope have a good strong foundation
Although sadly some, however appealing they may be, are off to a rough start
The next day it is Cartagena. Another city with a fabulous old town that has been beautifully restored. We have been there before and I have written about its considerable charm. But today that charm is hidden behind thousands of tourists.
There are four giant cruise ships in port and each one has emptied its passengers into the old town. It is a little overwhelming.
However the day ends with a photo op that matches perfectly the one of the three iguanas in Roatan