When I read several online travel stories comparing the old section of Panama City -- Casco Viejo -- to Havana and New Orleans, I knew my experiences there would be memorable. I spent eight of the best years of my life in New Orleans as a college student and then a reporter at the New Orleans States-Item. And Havana is my number one bucket list destination.
Casco Viejo was even more magical than I had expected. The picture above is the balcony view from my hotel, the Magnolia Inn. Some streets in Casco are even more narrow than the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans. But anyone who has been to that charming part of the city will instantly recognize the wrought iron balconies that are a hallmark of both places.
I landed in Panama on the night of June 29th and my first foray into Casco was on the morning of June 30th. You could cut the humidity with a butcher's knife. Not even eight years of tropical humidity in New Orleans prepared me for Panama's damp atmosphere. Within an hour of walking around the area of the Magnolia Inn, I was drenched in sweat. But I had a new Nikon Coolpix camera with me and I was eager to discover what scenes I might see through its lens.
Visitors to Casco Viejo immediately sense the ambiguity of both architectural optimism and pessimism in the same neighborhood. UNESCO is pouring millions of dollars into renovation projects all over Casco, but snuggled right next to renewed, refurbished buildings are others in utter disrepair. Casco Viejo is in a state of transition that will take years or even decades to complete but that offer hope and inspiration for the future.