The old, long abandoned buildings of Casco Viejo stood next to the modern houses. The ancient houses’ walls were slowly succumbing to the unavoidable effects of mother nature, their support systems sighing heavily from the erosion of time. People walked along the streets as history presented itself with glass-less windows and boarded up doors.
Casco Viejo is the historic district of Panama. Originally the French Quarters, it soon became populated by Panamanians when they left. Over time, the Panamanians slowly migrated east, abandoning the buildings as quickly as they had inhabited them. Read more about the history of Casco Viejo here.
The abandoned buildings proved useful however, as they are now homes to squatters. As I walked along the narrow and convoluted streets of Casco Viejo, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I could not help but greatly appreciate the uniqueness of the crumbling buildings. It personified the city, giving it character that is unlike any other.
Wrinkled towels and soaked clothes hung off of black balconies, swinging in the breeze as drivers drove left and right, dodging pedestrians walking in the street. Children roller bladed and men in plaid shirts with prickly moustaches played checkers underneath a weeping willow tree. Street cleaners in highlighter yellow uniforms swept garbage that was left behind from a careless litterer.
The balconies of the abandoned buildings were covered in black dust from years of wear and tear. Trees wrapped their branches around the open windows of these buildings, twisting and turning until they had covered the entire wall. Small trees sat in large mosaic pots that lined the street. Leaves blew off of it in the breeze, and crunched as pedestrians stepped on them.
Horns blared, startling those who were unsuspecting of such noises. Street vendors sold respados (shaved ice with syrup) and hand-made jewelry, keeping a keen eye towards those who lingered a moment longer than all the others. A tan church stood in between two white towers, making a statement with its unique color and medieval design.
A white gazebo, with long columns and a dirty dome stood in the center of a park. Trees branches hung loosely over the gazebo, making it look like a fairy tale. People sat with their eyes closed along the gazebo and in the shade, taking a break from the beating sun’s rays and heavy heat. A breeze swung the branches of the weeping willows, making them dance playfully in the park. Left, then right, then left; the rhythmic motion of the wind made it look like the branches were moving in unison.
The heat made my shirt stick to my back as sweat trickled down, my body’s attempt at cooling me down. Dogs slept on the side of the road, with their legs stretched and eyes partially closed, aware of what was going on around them. Birds flew around each other in the sky, landing on the tops of branches and in the dirt, looking for something good to eat. They made peculiar chirping noises, making me wonder what type of birds they were.
People shouted “hola” at each other across the street, holding bags full of mangos, plantains, and vegetables. A wrinkled old woman with gray hair and a dress down to her knees stood at the doorway of a store, smiling up at the sun. Another woman sat crafting jewelry with her hands, twisting and turning the metal until it created something beautiful.
Casco Viejo is a beautiful area of history right outside of Panama City. Walk this UNESCO World Heritage site and absorb the beauty that makes this part of the city different than all of the others.