I have been in Panama for almost two months now and something that is constantly coming into my mind is how the city always manages to affect the senses in one way or another. This blog focuses mainly on the sounds and sights that this evolving city throws at you from every angle but also the other less obvious senses that is only recognised from living and submersing yourself in the Panamanian culture.
This is in no way meant to be offensive nor a put-off for those wanting to come to Panama….embrace their culture and their livelihood as they are all in all wonderful and vibrant people with a fabulous country that should be shown off to the rest of the world!
Having never lived in the centre of a city, all noises are foreign to me especially when I want to go to sleep and the only way to do so is to have the window wide open and a fan going! At home the loudest noise I may hear is throughout the autumn months is when the farmers are harvesting their crops late at night or in the early hours of the morning…Panama is a very different story! During the daytime the sounds are constant and seem almost too familiar and dare I say it even homely?! I find myself saying “oh Panama” when I hear the city sounds when I’ve come back from the valley or a beach trip! Panama is a bustling city where construction seems to occur somewhere all day every day, although it cannot be heard from Hispania all the time, you can guarantee that on your walk to Casco Viejo, New York Bagel Café or even Riba you will hear the sound of a pneumatic drill or banging.
When taking a casual stroll around the city, you can be sure to hear the following sounds from men…why is it always the men in countries that feel this behaviour is acceptable and even welcomed by women… ‘hey baby/beautiful/preeeety’ or my personal favourite ‘I love you’ said in a somewhat creepy manner generally by the older generation! Hearing this fills me with laughter because walking to Riba in my pyjamas or gym attire when I’ve just got out of bed definitely does not warrant these greetings, you just need to learn to embrace the Panamanian way!
Time for a little reminiscing, on the bus back from Isla Grande sitting in a quaint little chiva I noticed almost immediately the décor surrounding the driver, as always it was delightful! The most interesting part was the gear stick, why? Well because it had ribbons on, similar to those on a child’s bikes handlebars! On closer inspection there was a button on the top which quite soon after we started moving I realised was in fact a horn! Was this because the main bus horn was broken I hear you ask, oh no, quite the opposite. There was two simply because in Panama horns mean a variety of things and I think I have come to understand that one is for beeping at your friends whether they are walking on the side of the road, on the porch of their house, or driving past in their car.
The other and more prominent horn is for cars and buses that are in your way or ones that after a split second have not realised that the light went green and they MUST MOVE! Now with this in mind I presume the second horn (if available) would be for alerting the pretty gringas that they are looking great today, I hope to have worked this out by the time I leave!
Now onto another sense that is constantly being appealed to is sight. This was one of the first things that really caught my attention at the beginning of my time here in Panama, I absolutely love looking around a new place, finding its quirks and charm without using anything but my eyes. In Panama there is something to appeal to all, just looking out from the balcony of Hispania I can see Parque Urraca with children practising baseball (how they train in this heat in the full gear is beyond me!), other children in the playground, adults just people watching from the benches and if you’re lucky in the late afternoon you can see young adults learning or practising acrobatics on ribbons that have been tied to the trees. It truly is a wonderful park to live behind.
Looking further afield the views are incredible, walking along the new infrastructure that is the Cinta Costera (a boardwalk that runs from the thriving business district all the way into picturesque Casco Viejo). If you look out on the ocean you can see, on the horizon, all the ships and boats lining up to pass through the canal. To the left you have the business district with more skyscrapers than I can count and a very westernised look which fits into the predetermined notion of what a city looks like. It is incredible to think as you observe all this modern architecture that only seven years prior not one of these buildings existed. Panama has come a long way in a short space of time. In complete juxtaposition to this is Casco Viejo one of the most interesting and beautiful places the City has to offer, with its squares, quaint shops, fruit and vegetable vendors, a mix of restaurants and its constant flow of yellow taxi’s! Many a time have I walked through Casco and just observed the people and absorbed its charm and I urge all who come to Panama to do the same, grab a batido and sit in the square people watching, you will not be disappointed!
Taste in Panama refers to the variety of flavours than tickle your tastebuds on a daily basis. I’ll keep this brief as my last blog was dedicated to food! Batidos are the tastiest treat that the city has to offer. They are fresh fruit, batido milk, ice all blended together to create a delicious thick shake. Another of the Panamanian dishes that I love though could easily tire of is rice and beans, only Panamanians know how to make them perfect, I’m going to try and get the recipe off Hispania’s cook Linda as hers are the best I’ve had here! Pollo frito, this is everywhere in Panama, the local fonda’s will serve it happily for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I know that some of them would eat it all day everyday if they could. Not usually a lover of such a dish, but in Panama it would be rude not to eat the local food!
Smell is a hard sense to appeal to when thinking of a country as a whole, there is definitely a distinct smell as there is in many countries of warm rain. It is not a horrid smell at all but it is one that is recognisable and apparent especially during the rainy season. One of the more awkward smells but it is Panama is that of the fish market. The smell is slowly creeping down the Cinta Costera and is not one that I will miss at all. When you smell it when walking to Casco the only positives I can find from it is that you are nearly at Casco which in the blistering heat is welcoming and also that the fish is extremely fresh and for fish lovers this is important!
Finally this country and its culture touches you, and it varies for different people whether that be the person who came to visit and never left or the intern who’s eyes have been opened by experiencing life in a different country.