Thursday, September 29, 2011


After covering the Western part of the Azuero, which is green and hilly, we ventured over to the Eastern side.  The Eastern Azuero is where the small Spanish towns are with their lovely architecture, churches and plazas. 

It was very hot here.  We'd been spoiled by the perpetual springtime weather in Boquete.  The air conditioner in my car konked out from the overload of being run for eight hours straight.  So we rolled the windows down for the rest of the trip and sweated a lot.

In general, I didn't care for Chitré and Las Tablas, the larger towns.  You won't see any pictures of them here.  Noted for their huge celebrations during Carnival, they were congested and busy.  We did find a great bargain in a hotel in Las Tablas for $15 a night (including our 50% Jubilada discount).  No hot water in the shower, but after being in the heat all day the cold shower felt good.

Did I mention it was hot?

But there are several smaller towns, some off the beaten path, that provided lovely views.  Some of these towns date from the 1500's - settled within one generation of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the Americas.  The houses were built in traditional Spanish colonial style, with covered front porches going the entire width of the house, tile roofs and elaborately carved doors and transoms.  The people there were friendly and laid back.  Here are a few of my favorite sights:

La Elena, one of the first towns as you come south off the Interamericana.  Basically a tourist trap, but there are some lovely old houses there.  What were they thinking when they installed that electric meter on the front column?  Where is their sense of historic preservation?

A lovely house with green door in La Elena

Crab tracks scribbled in the sand at a beach near Las Tablas
These are tiny crabs, maybe half an inch across.  The sand balls up as they scurry across it.  You can mash the balls back into granular sand easily.  Beach was at low tide; tides can vary by 15-30 feet here.

A charming beach house we looked at on Playa Estero.
Yes, that's the beach on the left, just outside the door.

View from the Carretera Nacional near the turnoff for San José.
This is cattle country - note the windmill. 

San José was on a by-way off the main road.  They had just had a fair and rodeo in the town square.  Here is their church:

Church on the Plaza at San José.  Euphemistically described as "Modern Spanish".  I do like the  two-story bell tower, but that modern arch at the entrance needs some ornamentation, don't you think?
One gentleman came over from the beer hall, where several regulars were gathered, to tell us all about it.  We nearly sat down to have a beer with "the guys" but decided against it.  Everything was so peaceful, beautiful and fun. We had a great time during the short time we were in San Jose.  They are probably still talking about the two American women who stopped to talk with them.

Then, on the way out of town, a young man pointed a huge silver automatic pistol at us as we were driving by.  Scared the Bejeezus out of me.  We had wondered how so many people could live with no apparent means of employment.  Maybe we were naïve - perhaps this is a route for drug trafficking.  Seems fairly far inland for that.  Sad if it is true.

Heading on down the peninsula, we stopped at Pocrí, another lazy town.

Church and town plaza at Pocrí.
A lovely, artsy town.  I could live there.
Pocrí rocks.

Charming cottage on the town square in Pocrí.
The satellite dish and cell phone tower kind of spoiled the view for me. But, as they say, that's progress.

On a Panamanian friend's advice, we decided to go to Purio, another pueblo off the beaten track.  We were not disappointed.

Purio is filled with old houses, many in a sad state of disrepair.  Here is one of my favorites:

Purio:  La Casa de Marcelina Sanchez
I was fascinated by this old house with the dirt walls showing through.  I harbored a fleeting thought of restoring it to its former glory.  While we were standing in front of it, a lady from across the street came over to talk to us and explained that Señora Sanchez had been her aunt.

I so regret not having known Tía Marcelina.

Then, on the porch of the house next door, we saw this friendly woman (likely another Sanchez relative), who gave us permission to take her picture.  I love how her hair rollers are color-coordinated with her outfit and the walls of her house are two different colors:

This, my friends, is the real Panamá:
kind, gentle, friendly people.
I feel privileged to see them.

We looked around this fascinating town of Purio some more, and found this classic scene.  I don't know what the machinery is used for, but it seems to be the real thing.  No other tourists were here.

Old machinery on a porch at Purio

Private chapel on the Carretera Nacional near Purio.  We weren't allowed to go in.  Note the lovely spiral staircase going up to the bell tower, and the beautiful turquoise trim next to the cream walls.  ¡Qué estilo!
Then it was on to Pedasí, the southernmost town in our journey.  Pedasí also has the charming houses and town square, and boasts one regular restaurant owned by a Chinese family and featuring Chinese-Panamanian food.  Restaurants other than fondas and typicos were next to impossible to find anywhere on the peninsula, even in the larger towns.  I was beginning to realize how spoiled we Gringos are in Boquete, which boasts French, Peruvian, Mexican, and American-style restaurants among other cuisines.  We even used to get Thai food on a regular basis at the Gringo market until that family moved back to Thailand.

But I digress.

Pedasí is on the verge of being ruined by huge California-style developments.  They are in sight of the ocean but not directly on it.  The beaches are still public.  Million-dollar homes and huge, out-of-proportion gateways dot the previously unspoiled countryside.

What a shame.  I wonder what the native people will do after the prices for daily commodities go up.

Here is a doorway in Pedasí.  I didn't show the hole in the dirt wall, but it was there.  Another project begging for sensitive historic preservation, while the outskirts of town see ticky-tacky McMansions that look like they could blow away in a strong wind.

Pedasí Doorway

Finally, my favorite picture of the whole trip.  This group of elders was engaged in conversation on the porch of a house in the town square, probably as they have been for many years.  I love them.  I hope to return someday soon and give them each a copy of this picture, with grateful thanks for helping me to see "The Real Panamá".

Pedasí:  "The Conversation"

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