by Melanie Chambers.
In Panama City, the best views of both the charming Old Town and glittery new skyscrapers are from a patio bar.
From the second floor patio – not much in the old town is higher than two storeys – the intense black night illuminates the alabaster church.
It’s the remnants of a Spanish colonial church, La Iglesia de Santo Domingo, which burned down in 1756. In fact, the entire skyline below is a page from Panama’s history books – a hodge-podge of slave rebellions, earthquakes, and pirate attacks. Sipping an electric blue shot, perched on an elegant bar stool, I feel like I’m looking down on a museum.
Earlier that night, we meander around Plaza Catedral and Plaza Independencia, the main square in Casco Viejo. Warm yellow street lamps glow on the cobblestone roads; a harpist strums a tune. Our group stops for a few nibbles and a mojito – it’s a mint oasis in my mouth and the best mojito I’ve ever consumed.
Walking down cobblestone roads, it shocks us that no one is around, only the souvenir shops. Some sell the quintessential Panama hats, and my favourite, molas – colourful hand-stitched panels made by Kuna women. And we’re lucky to find Papiro y Yo – a fair trade women-run recycled jewelry store. It’s also sustainable: the necklaces and bracelets are made from bottle tabs woven through ribbons or discs of recycled magazine paper.
On the other side, a strip of beach facing the canal, Cinta Costera, runs along Balboa Avenue to what looks like a scene from The Jetsons. The skyscrapers stacked side-by-side are in a name-brand competition: Trump Towers, The Point, the tallest residential condo in the Western hemisphere, The Revolution Tower, a metal skyscraper that has been twisted to resemble a mammoth spiral staircase. There are at least another two-dozen skyscrapers under construction.
On the top of the Hard Rock Megapolis is a patio bar called BITS. All that separates us from the towers and the concrete drop below is a glass wall.
A warm breeze swooshes over the couples salsa dancing to a DJ mash-up of Latin and electronic tunes.
The next night we’re at Bling – another Hard Rock bar – with pink champagne on ice and go go dancers. I want to hate it. The DJ taunts the crowd: the lights go out and we’re standing in the dark. No sound. Then, the sound builds: a faint beat mimics a flicker of light. Louder. Louder. Brighter. Brighter. BAM! Full-on lights and throbbing beats. Hammering our fists in the air, the floor goes nuts. How can you hate this?
Check Melanie Chambers’ article about her Panama trip in our winter issue.