March 10: Day 7 – Departures
by Jonathan Lee, Lisa Grossman, Jesse Heldrich -- March 10th, 2011
Our final day in Panama was a day spent in Panama City…
We spent our final day in the proximity of Panama City. At the beginning of the day we returned to Punta Culebra and performed our final check on the chitons. This time the tide seemed much higher, and was coming fast. We were able to find many of our labeled chitons, but some appeared to be submerged beneath the incoming tide.
When the Spanish first arrived here, it was a mere village named “Panama” from the Cueva Indian phrase for “abundant fish.” Spanish settlers introduced these structures of the town square and the cathedral to cover old indigenous structures and traditions while imposing their own architectonic symbols. This process assisted the Spanish in transforming Panama from a fishing village into a successful port city. After checking the chitons, we traveled to Panamá la Vieja–the old Panama City. There were several ruin lots that were once they convents, monasteries, and dignitary houses that formed the town square. Forming the focal point of the ancient square was the cathedral, which featured a large bell tower that would have seemed like an overwhelming skyscraper to the indigenous peoples at this time.
We also visited the nearby Convento de las Monjas de la Concepción. The nuns and widows who entered the convent actually formed a center of power in the city due to their amassed assets. They were able to support a church for the slaves, fund many other projects, and construct cisterns and wells for reliable water.
After examining these ruins, we visited the nearby museum of old Panama. Here walked through the history of the old city, from the very prehistoric beginning, through its success as a Spanish port, up to its destruction in the face of the English pirate, Henry Morgan, and the fleeing of the Panamanians.
The second city was brimming with colorful historic buildings. Some were restored and now held apartments and shops. Others were in abandoned or in the process of being repaired. Panama City was just starting the long walk of working to preserve its rich historic atmosphere.We then traversed the city to the historic area of the second old city. This settlement was built after the citizens of Panama fled from the old city. Paranoid of the return of English pirates, the center of the city was built like a fort, with walls fifteen feet thick in some places. We strolled along these walls, which were so wide that they had turned into walkways for citizens and visitors.
That evening, we journeyed back to Punta Culebra for our final meal in Panama. Overlooking the ocean, we feasted on delicious steaks, endless seafood paella, and a massive parrotfish. By the end of the meal we were stuffed. Lisa had even eaten the eyes of her parrotfish. Lounging in our seats and reflecting on the past week, we were all content with our brief stay in Panama.