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Out for a Ride in Panama City

By Warren C. Webster
Out for a Ride in Panama City

Opportunity. When it knocks you answer. I had the opportunity to leave the comforts of my retired life in Winston-Salem, NC to fill in for a counselor on maternity leave at the International School of Panama. Mary and I chose to live in Casco Viejo, the second-oldest city in Panama. Old Panama was burned to the ground by the pirate Henry Morgan, and the remaining citizens then founded Casco Viejo, right on the Bay of Panama.
Taking my bicycle out of the door to our apartment, then making a right turn down Avenue A, then a short left as you enter the unrestored sections (read slums), one enters the beautiful Cinta Costera. First the bridge over the Bay, with views of the boats lining up to enter the famous canal on your right, and the entire area of Casco Viejo on your left. A little further, the spectacular view of the high-rise buildings of Panama City are on you left, then right in front of you, as you pass the fish market. Here is the opportunity to either hold your breath or hold your nose for about three hundred meters, as when the tide is low, the smells are high.
We have traveled just over four kilometers already, and now we can ride on the main road that runs the entire length of the city. Only on Sunday, from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., one will find hundreds of joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, and rollerbladers, all enjoying this beautiful street cleared of all motor vehicles. The rest of the week, you can traverse the same distance, but on a very well manicured and maintained walk and bike path that runs all the way from the edge of Casco to the beginning of Punta Patilla.
I ride past the large marina on my right, all along the Panama Bay. Looking left I see the waterfront hotels, like the Intercontinental, the Waldorf, and the Hilton. Nestled in among these fine hotels are twenty- to thirty-story residences, mostly for wealthy Panamanians and expatriates. Almost all the buildings have either a city view or a water view. Rents, like purchase prices, have risen dramatically in Panama City, but most of the teachers choose to live downtown in these high-rise buildings because there are plenty of restaurants, excellent supermarkets, and great shopping malls within easy reach.
By now I have traveled over eight kilometers, and can easily turn around and retrace my tire marks to return home. On the bridge over the Bay of Panama on the return trip you can clearly see the Bridge of the Americas. Every boat that enters the Panama Canal from the Pacific side travels under this bridge, and it is a beautiful one.
Off the bridge, ride past the run-down tenements and broken sidewalks for just two blocks and you enter what is a section of town that, at any given moment, has twenty buildings in total renovation. Realtors and investors alike are creating a small town within the city that is eye candy as well as historically accurate. Balcony iron work must remain original and restored, building facades must remain in original stucco, but have been painted a myriad of lovely colors to reflect this warm and inviting city.
It has been just about eighty minutes, I have returned to the door of my apartment, and I again marvel at my luck in being an international teacher. If you have never given this developing part of the world a look, and you like to cycle, here is your opportunity.

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