Jose, our friend and the guy who rented our apartment to us, is a Spanish teacher here in Panama. He comes over a couple times a week and hangs out with us. It's business and pleasure - we learn Spanish from him and we teach him about online business. He's a lot more of an expert in his field than we are in ours.
Last week he told us about a couple he teaches here. The guy, Peep (pronounced 'Pep') is from Estonia, and the girl, Sarah, is from Austin! We called them up and planned to hang out one night.
They live in Casco Viejo - "The Old City". Todd and I kept intending to go visit Casco Viejo, but never got around to it. Unless there's a moderate amount of pressure, you can't ply us from our work.
On the map Casco Viejo looked too far away from the city to live in, so we never considered it. As we rode in the Taxi to visit Peep and Sarah we realized that may have been a mistake.
We drove past shoddy street food carts and past a highway overpass, and were magically transported to another land. It was as if we had entered a time machine set for a hundred years prior.
The asphalt ended abruptly and gave way to a worn red brick street with a steel train rail running down the middle. The road became a single lane, which would have been a problem if homeless people didn't direct traffic, hoping to get a quarter or two for their troubles.
The buildings were beautiful in different ways. Some were old, built around the turn of the century. Others were new, but run down with character. Both types were next to each other.
We met up with Peep and Sarah and they gave us a short walking tour of the area. Stray cats and dog lounge on the sidewalk, occasionally chasing each other.
Casco Viejo, we learned, used to be the best part of Panama. In fact, the house that Peep and Sarah are renting rooms in belonged to the first President of Panama! Over time it became dangerous and was largely abandoned. In recent history a revival effort began to restore the area to its former glory.
Casco Viejo has water on two sides of it, so you can look down alleys and see the ocean. From the huge concrete rooftop gazebo at the former President's mansion we could see the sun set over the ocean and the Canal.
I have the feeling that I know where we'll rent next year.