My last blog dealt with some deep spiritual content, so I decided to switch gears and write about something completely fun and frivolous; my recent trip to Panama, with a focus on food.
Flying into Panama City is quite a spectacular site. The modern city line reaches majestically into the blue sky. Built along the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, the view is reminiscent of a miniature Miami and in fact has been described as such. The architectural grandeur was pleasantly surprising and I felt excited as I peered out of my Air Canada Rouge window.
Our arrival this year corresponded with the opening ceremony of the new locks and the police cars and motorcycles were out in full force. It added some extra time to the typical 45 -minute drive from the city to our destination of Coronado Bay. Our driver talked animatedly about the opportunities in Panama while I held my husband’s hand and took in the lush green countryside and the peaceful hills, a faded blue-gray in the distance.
We’d been to Coronado Bay the year before, on our first visit to Panama, and had such a fabulous experience we decided to return. Unfortunately, the suite we had rented previously wasn’t available. The unit we were shown to this time was spacious, colourfully painted with seaside blue walls and decorated with bright paintings. It had some wear and tear and lacked an oven or dishwasher. The balcony overlooking the pool and ocean was in similar lacklustre condition but made up for it with the spectacular view.
We decided to walk the short five minutes to our favourite local restaurant, Luna Rossa, for dinner. We were greeted by the owner, a delightful woman originally from Italy. The atmosphere was cozy, the service excellent and the menu featured both Italian fare and local specialties. The wine list was limited compared to what you might find in the more cosmopolitan city, but the selection was suitable to our tastes and the prices were reasonable. The barbequed lobster I indulged in was perhaps a little bit over-done, but tasty and decadent nonetheless. Over the course of our 7 day stay in Coronado we dined here several times. I ate tangy tomato and seafood risotto, imported from Italy melt-in-your-mouth cheeses, thin strips of medium rare beef tenderloin and a rich dark chocolate torte. But my hands-down favourite was the smooth and creamy cappuccino, the best I’ve ever had anywhere in the world.
The possibility of purchasing an investment property was on our agenda and we’d contacted a realtor before our arrival. The first day out we viewed several properties, including two condos at Playa Blanca in Founders, three units in an older building in Playa Serena and one in Coronado Bay where we were staying. There was one unit in Playa Serena that was basically turn key and listed for the incredibly low price of $215,000 USD that we felt was a contender.
A few days later our realtor showed us some stunning condos that were under construction in a brand new community called Casamar. With ocean and mountain views and everything you needed on site, including a gym and a restaurant, they were enticing. There weren’t many already built that were for sale and even the ones that were ready didn’t include air-conditioning or appliances. Listed at $290,000 USD without the aforementioned items, the cost, effort and challenge of trying to oversee construction and furnishings in a foreign country from out of country seemed too daunting a task for us to consider.
We saw a few more units and talked with a Property Manager. Hearing his stories about short-term renters trashing the place and his opinion that we should consider long-term rentals was off-putting because I wanted to be able to use the property as a vacation rental for ourselves and our family. When he went on to describe dishonest property managers who claimed the rental was vacant when actually occupied in order to pocket the money for themselves it had us feeling even more deflated and discouraged.
Before throwing in the towel on the whole property investment idea we decided to go and view a house in a gated community near Coronado that we had looked at the year before. As we walked up the cobbled pathway to the pale yellow stuccoed and white-trimmed show home we recalled instantly why we had loved it so much. The magnificence of every detail was even greater than I’d remembered and it blew everything we’d seen out of the water. The skill and craftsmanship of the builder was apparent in every detail. The show home was selling with all of the high-end furnishings, appliances and a pool in the back yard for $360,000 USD and we both felt certain we had found our space.
After the emotional reaction settled, we realized that we loved that property as a space to make our home, not as a property to rent out to strangers. We started looking honestly at all of the decisions we would have to make, including financing and lawyers, not to mention finding renters we could trust, and concluded that it just wasn’t the right time.
With that decision made we were able to focus on relaxing and rejuvenating. We managed to exercise regularly at the rooftop gym of our building, which had the extra bonus of spectacular views. We spent a few hours dreaming and sunbathing by the pool but unfortunately the weather was frequently overcast with occasional thunderstorms and we didn’t get to lounge around as often as we would have liked.
One of the most impacting experiences during our stay in Coronado was the one day we made it down to the stretch of ocean just outside the gates of our building. We were the only people in sight as we went about laying out our towels on a beige patch of sand overlooking the craggy rocks where the ocean waves were crashing. I lit a candle and sat in silent meditation, letting the ebb and flow of the waves soothe my soul as my breath united in tandem with the oceans’ rhythm. Peacefulness enveloped me, feeling in flow with the universe and full of gratitude. I smiled when I opened my eyes, marvelling at the shift in my perception, where the black volcanic sand that had appeared to me as a dirty canopy of the earth’s crust now appeared like a sheet of midnight sky, the sand sparkling like a multitude of stars.
When our beach vacation came to an end it was off to spend five days enjoying the culture and food of the city. We rented a casita in the district of Casco Viejo from Patty, the friendly and delightful owner. It was a very small studio, decorated artfully with attention to every detail and was impeccably clean. After dropping off our luggage and taking a quick peek around we left in search of a restaurant in the area that Patty had recommended.
Nazca was just a few blocks away, nestled in amongst a row of shops and eateries. We were treated with the attention of a skillful waiter which added to the experience. We ordered a bottle of Catena Malbec and a bottle of still water. I savoured the chef’s specialty, a local grouper in champagne sauce with crisp steamed vegetables that was absolutely delicious. Feeling particularly decadent, we decided to finish by sharing a caramel pudding the waiter suggested that was crazy sweet and likely not the best choice for a diabetic but so creamy-smooth and delicious the extra insulin requirement seemed worthwhile.
We walked through bustling markets with artisans selling their wares and music blaring from speakers in the alley. We took selfies with cityscape, ocean views, and local attractions in the background. We walked along the immaculately clean city-designed walking pathway that stretched along the ocean, through the bustling fish market, complete with gardens, tennis courts and fountains. We even took in a live jazz show at Danilo’s Jazz Club in the American Trade Hotel.
A highlight was the day our tour guide Rudy picked us up for a day of sightseeing. We began in the oldest section of the city, Panama Viejo, constructed in the 1500’s. It was the first European colony to be established in the area until the pirate Henry Morgan came along and ransacked it. We drove through various other neighborhoods while Rudy spoke with pride and enthusiasm about the history of his native country.
The tour culminated with a trip to the Miraflores Locks. We were directed into a theatre and shown a brief movie that explained the history of the canal. We toured the museum before beating the crowds to stand along the viewing area and await the arrival of two ships making the passage down the narrow, intricately designed canal. The spectacle as the massive ships were towed and lowered while the water drained and rose again in the containers was amazing and definitely a site worth seeing.
We shared many delightful culinary experiences in Casco Viejo, but our absolute favourite was the Veggie Moon restaurant. The designer of the space created a unique dining experience by featuring individually decorated tables and settings. It was whimsical and cozy and inviting. The waiter spoke little English and we spoke little Spanish but with a few eyebrow wags and hand gestures we were able to procure a Malbec that was bold and peppery on the palate. It was luscious, swirling and sipping the deeply purple-tinged red liquid.
Then there was the food. The chef prepared for us an appetizer that featured a sushi roll of delicately mashed sweet potato combined with quinoa, rolled in nori and served over a smear of avocado mousse, sprinkled with sparkling citrus mango salsa and garnished with fresh, crisp pea shoots. Slices of aromatic freshly baked bread were being served in a miniature doll-sized steel shopping cart. For our mains, my Mr. chose the pepper crusted tuna over garlic mashed potatoes. I picked the lentil risotto with beans. Listed as gluten free, I wasn’t expecting the explosion of flavours. It was without a doubt the most incredible vegetarian dish I have ever tasted, and Mr. agreed upon tasting that it contended for the best dish ever, including those featuring meat!
Feeling jazzed – and suddenly quite hungry – remembering our fabulous trip to Panama.