Monthly Archives: February 2015

Exploring Panama City: The Panama City Fish Market

One of the most interesting but easy-to-overlook spots in Panama City is the fish market. If you’re on the sidewalk and feel a desire for a plate of shrimp or fresh fish, wave down a taxi and tell him to take you to Mercado de Mariscos. The market itself is right at the northeastern point of Casco Viejo, a five minute walk away from the city’s oldest neighborhood.

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The market is divided into a few parts. The main building is dominated by the first-floor fish market, which sells seafood of all sorts. Panama City locals come here to get their fish and take home to cook themselves.

You can’t very well fry fish in a hotel room, so I went to the second-floor restaurant and got this grilled lobster plate instead. The restaurant has plenty of other dishes to offer. The best deal is probably a basic grilled fish plate, though. Strangely, they didn’t have crab on the menu, even though they seemed to have plenty of it being sold in the market.

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Above, the market.

There’s one more place to buy seafood at the fish market. If you walk outside the first-floor market, you’ll find a line of ceviche stands. I didn’t get a picture of this, but imagine a row of stands selling soupy seafood cocktails. There are well over a dozen of these stands, all with basically the same menu. You can get a basic cup of ceviche for $1.25 and a kind of shrimp cocktail thing for about two dollars, but bigger bowls are available. This is probably one of the best lunch deals in the city.

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Before leaving, you should walk out to the harbor. Fisherman sail out for their catch every day and bring it back here. The atmosphere at the city’s fish market is very business-like, both among the workers and the customers, but it’s an easy-going place at the same time and the workers are used to tourists.

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Exploring Panama City: Casco Viejo Street Art

I’ve written a little bit about Casco Viejo already. This 17th century district of Panama City, perched on a peninsula jutting into the Pacific, represents the first still-surviving European settlement in Panama and was the whole of Panama City until a wave of expansion in the 20th century shifted the center of the city further inland.

Casco has something to offer aside from its several historical attractions and its cafes and bars, though – something that you’ll be sure to notice when you visit. This old neighborhood is full of street art.

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Some of the art seems to be based in native styles, like the work above. I don’t know what this building houses, but it’s right on a very prominent corner leading into the Casco district. The authorities seem to approve of the city’s street art, otherwise I guess they’d paint over it. Maybe they believe it brings in tourism money.

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I didn’t really get a good shot of this, but someone seems to have painted some tires and nailed them up to a wall. Also notice the weird image above that looks like it was Photoshopped. Casco is full of little open lots and patios like this.

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Some of the art’s been done by children. This wall features crude drawings of ants or beetles with what I guess are the artists’ signatures.

One Casco artist seems to have a fixation on stockings:

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This isn’t the only example. Another one done by the same artist, with the same stylized signature attached in red:

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I’m positive I saw more of these around the district, but these are the only pictures I got.

Casco Viejo certainly has more street art to offer, but this is all I got a decent look at. I spent most of my time in Casco sitting in bars, restaurants and the blessedly air-conditioned Canal Museum. The Panamanian summer is not extremely hot – not to Persian Gulf levels, at least – but it is unbearably humid.

Places not to visit: Clipperton Island

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Located far off the Pacific coast of Mexico, Clipperton Island is truly the destination for someone looking to “get away from it all.” Clipperton was found in various parts of the last millennium by Spanish and French explorers and has been in French colonial overseas possession for about two centuries, minus a period of dispute with Mexico over its claim, and was a center of mining and fishing operations at times.

So what might you expect to find on this island? Not much. Clipperton Island consists of a thin strip of land encircling a lagoon full of brackish water. There are no human inhabitants. There seems to be no workable soil to speak of, and the only point of interest aside from some clumps of palm trees is a 100 foot-tall rock.

A map of Clipperton Island.  (Source: Christian Jost (CC BY-SA 3.0))

A map of Clipperton Island. (Source: Christian Jost (CC BY-SA 3.0))

Why, then, would anyone bother with this place? Aside from the probably very complicated legal issues regarding Mexico and France’s territorial waters and resultant fishing and mining rights in the Pacific surrounding, it doesn’t have anything to offer, does it?

Well, it used to have plenty of something – guano. Guano is “the excrement of seabirds, cave-dwelling bats, pinnipeds, or (in English usage) birds in general” (source: Wikipedia.) Lots of islands in the Pacific happened to contain a lot of guano, probably as a result of birds living on said islands for thousands of years. As it happened, bird shit was highly sought after as a fertilizer by many countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the United States Congress even passed an act declaring that any US citizen could claim any island containing guano that was uninhabited and not held by any other country for the US. The US did claim a lot of Pacific islands on this basis and still holds some of them to this day, but Clipperton, being a French holding from the 18th century, was not among them. So those lucky French farmers were able to get their hands on the lucrative crap that must have resulted in nice crop yields.

Clipperton was visited on a fairly regular basis by miners looking for guano and by fishing and whaling vessels. Because of its both literal and figurative shittiness, however, the island was never permanently inhabited but once, when a Mexican settlement was established there. Said settlement was supplied by ship until 1915, when shipments were halted in the midst of World War I. The inhabitants were then required to live off fish and rainwater collected in boats. As a result of its isolation, the Clipperton settlement broke out into scurvy and mostly died, and the remaining man on the island reportedly lost his mind and lorded over the several remaining women and children and committed several serious crimes before being killed, either in self-defense or out of retribution, by one of the women. The survivors were soon thereafter rescued, and perhaps understandably, no one has tried to live on Clipperton Island since.

Clipperton Island isn’t an entirely bad place, though, if you’re a marine or avian biologist with an interest in the eastern Pacific. A lot of birds still make their homes on the island. A large amount of coral grows around the island, along with a diverse group of Pacific sea life. A species of bright orange crabs also lives on Clipperton, but put your shellfish fork away: their meat is poisonous.

Not on the menu.  (Source: Cedricguppy (CC-BY-SA-4.0))

Not on the menu. (Source: Cedricguppy (CC-BY-SA-4.0))

Getting to Clipperton Island is difficult, as it has no harbor or even a dock or anything and nobody goes there save a few scientific expeditions and maybe the occasional French patrol ship. But you probably shouldn’t visit anyway. In fact, you should just be happy that you live in a place with constant fresh water supplies and no poisonous crabs.