Life in El Casco Viejo








It seems to me that a lot of people would love the adventure of living abroad.  Once they’re actually past the moving to another country part and on to the living part.  Like when you’re traveling, once you’re in that hammock with a cold beer in hand, or eating a perfectly simple linguine arriabiata with a glass of wine in an ancient piazza.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I often catch that glint of wonder and excitement in the eyes of those who ask me what it’s like to “be on vacation in the tropics”.  Although it’s definitely not always a vacation around here (cut to 80’s montage of Mr. Mom with spaghetti sauce flying all over the kitchen while getting tangled in the phone cord during a business call) it does still very often feel like we are living in a unique and exquisite place here in Casco Viejo.  When I fly home to San Francisco, I still have that sense of pride when I see the Golden Gate Bridge or when I feel the chill of fog on a walk at Chrissy Field, accompanied by the low, comforting sound of fog horns.  There truly is nothing like a bike ride to a Berkeley farmer’s market or an evening summer meal outdoors, with an orchestra of crickets, in Napa. I will always be rooted to the Bay Area because it’s where I was raised and it is where I plan to end up one day.  But living so far from that home not only makes me appreciate it more, it also allows me to see the interesting, the peculiar, the spectacular, the typical, and the realities of living in a new country and neighborhood.

Maybe it’s because I know we won’t live here forever, or because I am obsessed with catching poignant and magical shots with my camera, but I do feel like I am ever-ready on the look out for what’s around me and this keeps me aware and awake.  We live in the “old part” of Panama City, the historical part where it all began.  Casco Viejo went from it’s hay day at the turn of the century, to being invaded by the US in 1989 which led to it being more or less abandoned, to it’s revival up to the present.  That’s my high speed history lesson anyway.  Today, the streets of Casco Viejo are NEVER dull, in fact, they are bustling and busy and dirty and vibrant.  Casco Viejo is a mix of old & new, deteriorated & restored, insanely hot & humid, chaotic & friendly, safe & unpredictable, creative & traditional.  When I walk down the street to work or while running an errand, I always see at least a handful of people I know and everyone greets each other with a “buenas” or a smile.  If I’m pushing Joaquin in his stroller, there are people shouting “Joaquin!” from their doorsteps and windows. I swear, no joke. It’s pretty hilarious and also heart-warming in a wild way.  Tourists wander around like bobble-heads wearing freshly purchased Panama Hats, Reggaetone blasts from dilapidated buildings, cafes & plazas over flow with locals and children are running reckless. There is always traffic and parking is a mess. It is a relatively small neighborhood, all fitting into about a square half-mile.  However, what lives within it’s streets is a sight to see.  For those of us who call Casco Viejo home, there is an understood agreement that this is a very special place and either we are all brilliant or crazy to live here, but none of us are really sure which.

In upcoming posts I will talk more about how living abroad can actually be feasible for someone who is considering a change.  I’d like to help demystify the idea that moving/living abroad is a giant, impossible step (or a 24/7 vacation).  I’ll provide a closer look of how Juan and I came to move and work here, and how so many of our ex-pat friends make it work too.

Photos: Awaiting a treat : Casco kids swimming : Dinner in Plaza Catedral : Typical Block Party : Palm Shadows out my front door : Plaza Bolivar : Rolo de Sedas Pollera Girls : Sunset in Casco

  5 comments for “Life in El Casco Viejo

  1. May 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Nice to see you’ve got a blog set up and are posting away Mrs Berry! Those photos and your description of Casco Viejo are spot on, they really capture the environment and it’s good to see you embracing living in another country.

    I think for a lot of people who haven’t done the ex-pat thing (I live in Seville and work in London for anyone who doesn’t know me), then for sure, it can be scary making the move to live in another country. But it is SO enriching in so many ways and an important reminder to take a step back from where you’re living, questioning the viewpoints a nation has (especially by talking with locals) and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone where most of the good stuff is in life.

    I think it’s great living abroad, highly recommended and Panama as a destination is incredible – living there and having access to all the wildlife and culture is an amazing opportunity.

    Keep posting Mols! x

    • Molly Berry
      May 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      Cato! Thanks so much for this comment and for sharing the “rewards” you’ve experienced living abroad. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment regarding comfort zone, especially knowing how much you’ve learned and grown over all these years, it proves that it is worth it. You’re about to marry a Spaniard! Crazy, huh? It feels like only yesterday that we were “Cruising America” in our RV while you had your nose in a Spanish dictionary translating every word you were reading – y ya estas hablando como un viejito de Seville!
      Juan and I truly, truly, TRULY hope to see you in your element this October.
      So much love to you!

      • May 12, 2013 at 5:58 pm

        Haha, indeed – I always wonder what people thought when they saw the Corn Tortilla God flying past them in an RV muttering ‘Me gusta… el.. fútbol’.

        Comfort zones are funny things, they keep us out of trouble sometimes, but most of the time, I think they just get in the way of the stuff life is about i.e. having fulfilling experiences with people you care about.

        I’m not spiritual in any serious kind of way, but for me, life is a journey and learning to be separate from family while ‘together’ at the same time is an important part of that process. I think the best lesson these days is to learn that you can be mobile without losing everything (definitely something that was possible before, but is now) and things like Skype are *really* useful for taking the edge off lengthy periods away.

        Anyway, I’m starting to sound like a self-help book for ex-pats! Re: the wedding, I really mean it, if finances are an issue, then I won’t let it be – just shoot me an email and we can discuss it privately ok?

        Big love to you, Juan and Joaquín the most coolest of foxes x

        • Molly Berry
          May 12, 2013 at 6:46 pm

          You heard it here live people! Cato is sending Juan & I to España in October, all expenses paid!!
          We love you Tortilla God. Will write soon.

          • May 12, 2013 at 7:27 pm

            Me llaman ‘El Sugar Daddy’ xx

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