After dinner last night, we enjoyed a lively folkloric dance show, Eight dancers and four musicians performed several numbers representative of the Panamanian culture.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
We booked a private tour with VIP Journeys Latin America, since we were interested in visiting the Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá (Panama Canal Interoceanic Museum), established in 1997 and devoted to the history of the construction of the Canal, including both the French and US involvement. The displays and narrative are mostly in Spanish, and no tours were offered by Crystal. Our tour guide, Fabio, spoke fluent English and was able to help us fully appreciate the museum’s offerings.
Fabio is with VIP Journeys’ partner, EcoCircuitos Panama. The agency noticed that our ship was docked at the Port of Balboa, rather than the Port of Panama City as originally planned. They took a chance and sent Fabio here, hoping we would connect. We were concerned because our instructions didn’t look correct any more, so were really pleased with EcoCircuitos’ proactive approach. Fabio was very knowledgeable and professional, a perfect guide. He explained that his education was in tourism, plus additional studies in history, evident from his excitement about his country’s history. Panama requires all tour guides to be licensed, so they can ensure quality experiences for tourists.
Before visiting the museum, We strolled through the Casco Viejo (the old quarter), which dates back to the late 1600’s. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific Coast. Originally, buildings in this area could stand no higher than the Cathedral. That has since changed, and many buildings have been, or are being added to and renovated. Those buildings, though, must retain the original foundations.
This is actually the second site of Panama City. The original city was established in 1519 by Pedro Arias de Ávila, but was destroyed by the Welsh pirate, Henry Morgan (the original Captain Morgan) in 1671. The city was moved inland, and a double wall built around it for protection. Many of the stones from the original city were used to build this wall. There is one church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced (Our Lady of Mercy) which retains its original facade. All of the blocks and stones were moved and reassembled in Casco Viejo.
Buildings in this area represent many styles of architecture: Art Deco, French, Caribbean, and more. People came from all over the world during the canal construction (both the French attempt and the US completion), and brought their own architectural styles and preferences with them.
The American Trade Hotel was originally built to house the American Trade Developing Company in 1917. It was considered to be the first “skyscraper” of Panama City. The building housed Panama’s first modern apartments with reinforced concrete, using the same techniques perfected in the construction of the Panama Canal. In fact, it even housed many of the Canal’s workers.
The building was abandoned in the 2000s, and occupied by a lethal Casco Viejo street gang. During that time, gang members wrote quite a bit of graffiti on the walls. When the building was renovated, photos of the graffiti were incorporated into wallpaper that now lines the walls of the stairwells.
When the Panama Canal was built, local bricks were used to pave the streets in Casco Viejo. They were designed for buildings, and weren’t really strong enough for streets. Over the years, they have been patched and re-patched. During an historic renovation of the area, custom-made pavers were made by Pine Hall Brick, a US company based in North Carolina.
New pavers Old bricks
At the Plaza de Francia (French Park), along the tip of Casco Viejo along the coast line, we saw monuments to some of the Frenchmen who were instrumental in France’s attempt to build the canal. One of the most notable, was Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had been instrumental in the aborted French construction of the Suez Canal several years before the United States took over. We also had great views of Panama City’s skyline and more modern buildings.
Our visit to the Panama Canal Interoceanic Museum was very informative. Established in 1997, the museum is devoted to the history of the construction of the Panama Canal in its various stages, including the first French construction attempt, the later construction by the United States, and the eventual transfer to Panamanian control. There is also a section dealing with the Panama Railroad which was constructed in the late 1840s to transport “49ers” (prospectors) across the isthmus. We truly enjoyed this experience.
Late this afternoon, we got to see a NeoPanamax ship, one that must use the newer locks. Diamond Gas Sakura is a tanker built in 2018 that sails under the flag of the Bahamas, and it is 164 feet wide by 965 feet long, with a draft of 36.5 feet.
Tonight’s entertainment was Fox Fortura, a classically trained group of four young men, who made it to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2016. This is one more example of the quality of entertainment provided by Crystal – a marvelous way to end the evening!