After a full day of travel, and after barely scraping through immigration due to some shady not-knowing-of-our-hostel-name, we successfully made it into the city. With the help of our friend Felipe, we crashed hard for the night. We awoke the next morning, eager to get our Panama on.
We first stopped at some ancient ruins in Panama Viejo, remnants from when an infamous English pirate, one Captain Henry Morgan, sacked the old bustling capital. This historic theme was to be repeated, we learned, throughout Panama’s history. Whether it was the French with an interest in realizing the isthmus as the location for a Pan-American Canal, Colombians eager to expand territory, or Americans seeking to prove our military might, Panama has seen its fair share of dreamers attempt to actualize their fates on its soil.
We awoke early our first day. We had heard about the mercado de mariscos on the western end of the city, and were eager to see the hustle and bustle of a market. We wanted to get the real taste of the city. A cab ride later, we had arrived.
We thought arriving at around seven thirty or eight o’clock in the morning would mean getting to see the best catch of the day. What it really meant was that we stood out like sore thumbs in the back alley where people were working hard with their nose to the grindstone. Despite this, I felt the Caribbean vibe of Panama begin to press upon me. The smell of fish clouded my nose. This seemed somehow different than my other trips to Central America.
I was really drawn to the angles of the fish tails sticking out of baskets and buckets. It was obvious our casual stroll through the market was at odds against the pace of everyone else around us.
We did return later that day to enjoy some fresh ceviche.
We concluded our afternoon with some ceviche and cerveza. Our trip to the mercado began to make clear to us what our host’s father had explained to us. Panama identifies more as a Caribbean island than it does as part of Central or South America. At this point in the trip, we knew not even the half of it.