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The Story of One Tale, Two Spots; The Real Panama

PANAMA | Thursday, 30 August 2018 | Views [293]

Nine days in one place on vacations has benefits, but, at times it also feels like we should be making more of our time. Today, we planned to rest our legs, enjoy the nice hotel / pool. We did this by relaxing in bed for a while, sitting in the sun by the pool and having no worries about doing touristy stuff.

We could have made the spa day complete by ordering in food, but, by early afternoon we were feeling restless. We decided to go back to 5 de Mayo, a very 'local' area of town.

The Metro was a breeze and before we knew it we ascended to the bustling streets. Avenida Central is a local shopping district both recommended as must see and to avoid. People that suggest avoiding this area do so for those that would rather not 'look behind the curtains', ruin the moment of being in such a tropical destination. It is dirty, bustling and unpolished. People are just going about their lives; they are not on vacation in this area of town.

To us, this is an ideal spot to visit to get the feel of a town; walk, talk and eat with the locals. Unfortunately neither of us speak much Spanish, so we walked and found some great food. 

After ducking our heads in a couple places, we found one that was very crowded; a great indication of quality. The locals had this place packed and it smelled great. Tim muddled his way through ordering another traditional Panamanian meal; chicken, rice and beans (this time it was lentils). 

As a bonus, the meals often comes with a simple salad or slaw. This time it was tomato and cucumber. They even gave us 2 plates so we could share the massive portion, $3.75 plus .50 cents for the water.

The chicken was not as crisp as some, but the flavour was the best so far. We enjoyed the vibe of this place as there was not only many people sitting to eat, but also a constant stream of people taking plates to go. 

It was not surprising that the food was so fresh and tasty. Not only was it popular with the locals, the restaurant is located amongst many butcher shops, fresh produce stands and markets. Some may call it shanty town markets, we call it charming.

We ducked down a few market alleys. Although they seemed sketchy and we felt a bit out of place, people were friendly and offered us to view their stalls. There was a wide assortment of products from toiletries to fresh fruits to amazing looking hot sauce (or so Tim thought).

Tim was daring enough to buy some hand rolled cigars; $1.65 including the matches. Although they look as shanty as the ally they were purchased, they smell great; quality to be determined.

We intended this to be a day of two tales, shanty and upscale, and planned to visit a mall that was described as a designer mall in the north of the city. However, this is a story of one tale of two spots. From Google, the mall was massive and we envisioned a mall like Albrook that was clean, air-conditioned and basically American.

We set out for the mall using the Metro, pretty simple, only 8KM or about 9 stops to the north. After taking the Metro several times at a variety of times of day, we were pretty surprised at the amount of people. We clearly had not experienced rush-hour.

The train ride felt long. It was not only packed, we really felt out of place going through shanty towns along the way. The hills were pretty, but taking pictures felt voyeuristic. 


We arrived at the shanty mall of Los Andes. It was unique, simple and is settled amongst many beautiful hills. It was immediately clear that not only was this not a designer mall, but that we were very much out of place.

Our hang-ups were definitely ours alone and we didn't feel like anyone cared we were there. 

Overcoming our apprehensions, we found a delicious snack. One was a beef empinada, the other was some sort of cheese filled, fluffy dough roll. Best fried food so far in Panama; $2. It was greasy and satisfying. 

We walked around the massive 'plaza'. There was really no 'indoor' area to the mall. Some areas were covered, but only the individual stores were air-conditioned. The only reason we didn't shop more was we had a backpack and none of the stores allowed carry-in items. Each had a bag-check which cost .50 - $2; no thanks.

Tim was completely soaked after our mall adventure so we hopped on the less crowded Metro back to our more comfortable neighbourhood; got a 6 pack of beer and went back to the pool.


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