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Travel notebook

The Panamanian gap

📍 Colón 9.353754, -79.9009973

In Colón, we do not go unnoticed. Most of the time, people who ask us on the street think we are Americans and speak to us in English. Each time, we answer them in Spanish, so they are surprised for sure. With Emilien speaking fluently in Spanish, Leo in a scholastic way and Lucas basically, we can enjoy very interesting exchanges with the locals. The language barrier being crossed, a certain connection is created.

Ici, nos objectifs etaient d’entamer les démarches pour le canal, mais aussi de nous confronter à la culture panaméenne. Finalement, What better way to meet a culture than to go to the market?

We are in the heart of the city, in the main street in front of a big building. Some stands are outside but the main part of the market is covered. In front of this one, many multicolored buses stop to deposit the people.

Bus dropping off citizens at the market

These buses are incredible! You have to imagine that it's a bit of a competition to see who will be the most decorated: tags and extravagant paintings, addition of mirrors and lights, huge chromed stainless steel exhausts that come out of the back and make a noise from the underworld... the more visible, the better.

We don't let ourselves be intimidated by the emulsion that surrounds us and enter the market. Inside, the halls are tightly packed and the fruit and vegetable stands are well stocked. We will find there products similar to those we found in Martinique (tomatoes, cucumbers, chayotes, huge avocados, ...).

Very quickly, we understand that the market is divided into two parts: those of the fresh produce and those of the fishmongers, butchers and tripiers. This second part is much more atypical, really different from what we knew. There is a lot of offal: pig's head, tripe, kidneys, ... It is true that in France, this culinary heritage is lost but here, it is clearly at the center of their diet.

We don't stay long in this part of the market, only long enough to buy provisions for the boat.

Globalement, les produits que nous avons achetés au marché étaient super bons ! Les gens eux aussi étaient très amicaux et bienveillants; we never felt in danger.

Visit to the Mercado Público de Colón

It is with this first experience that we started the visit of the city. This time, we decided to visit more widely and we found ourselves in the popular districts. Over there, we are not in our element. The buildings are extremely damaged and the inhabitants are watching us. We are often reminded that it is dangerous and even that "this is not a white neighborhood".

We quickly leave this place to find ourselves in a bar, at the back of a hotel which must have been an old Palace. The atmosphere is very strange because New Washington Hotel semble abandonné mais du personnel y travail. Les jardins ne sont pas entretenus, les peintures sont décrépites et globalement tout est très délabré. 

New Washington Hotel a few years ago - ©SandySB, CC BY-SA 3.0

In relation to the feeling of insecurity, an encounter will completely change our perception: Rasta Nini.

Mercredi, alors que j’étais en train de faire des photos, Lucas aborde un homme à l’apparence peu commune. Il doit avoir la soixantaine, environ 1m75, plutôt maigre, turban sur la tête pour cacher ses dreadlocks, une dentition très douteuse et six doigts à une main.

As a matter of course, the man presents himself as the founder of the Rastari culture in all Latin America. He tells us the history of the buildings that surround us, of the city and the country. He knows a lot about these subjects and we try to understand him (which is difficult when he speaks to us in Spanish, English and Rasta dialect). Iyaric). Il n’oublie pas de se revendiquer antipolitique expliquant qu’ici : everyone knows it. 

Rastanini “One love“

At first glance, we find it hard to believe but when he takes us on a tour of the city, we realize qu’il n’exagérait rien. In the street, everyone greets him. Rasta Ninni introduces us as his brothers from France: "hermanos de Francia". We meet many people, from politicians to ice cream vendors on the beach. The people in the street seem intrigued by our little eclectic group and this trip will last until early evening.

Ice merchant in the Parque de la Juventud

C’est à ce moment-là que notre histoire avec Rasta Ninni will take a turn. The four of us go to look for a place to eat but Rasta Ninni had something else planned. He takes us to the Vatican, the hottest ghetto of Colón. So we find ourselves at night, surrounded by big buildings completely insalubrious. Mamas are chatting at the bottom of the buildings in the street and children are playing in the middle of the road. The sewers flow directly into the gutter and there is a lot of garbage everywhere.

Picture of the Vaticano - © Panamaamerica

Notre ami marche sur la route et nous le suivons de près. Les groupes nous épient et les personnes aux fenêtres des immeubles nous regardent attentivement. The situation is very oppressive.

Despite this, Rasta Ninni seems well known and respected; people say hello to him and he continues to introduce us as his brothers. Everything seems under control and we walk through the ghetto to a house where his nephew will give him some marijuana.

Following this passage, we follow it in the direction of Playita. But be careful, there we are not talking about a beach but about another ghetto. Celui-ci nous le reconnaissons puisque c’était celui où nous étions passés la veille (le fameux quartier pas pour les blancs). Encore une fois, avec Rasta Ninni à nos côtés, everything is different. We cross the block without any trouble to arrive at a military barrier that manages the entrance to a port area. Inside, a fishing house and a slum. We get closer to the house and Rasta Ninni invites us in.

À l’intérieur quatre rastafaris nous accueillent. Chacun d’entre eux est en train de rouler un joint ou de fumer. À son tour Rasta Ninni les rejoint. Il faut bien comprendre que In the Rastafari culture, marijuana is not considered a drug at all. Le fait de fumer est un moment de recueillement, un peu comme une prière. Ce moment est sacré et nous sommes extrêmement reconnaissants de pouvoir vivre ça avec eux. Nous sommes au cœur de la culture rastafari et Rasta Ninni nous fait l’éloge de ce mouvement. This moment is out of time.

Later, we will finally go to buy some food and our friend will take us back to the hotel. After such a full day, it won't take us long to fall asleep.

The next day, we went back to our usual tasks: grocery shopping at the market and the supermarket. Around 2 pm, we go back to the marina by cab.

The rest of the week will be dedicated to the preparation of the boat to cross the Panama Canal.

Affaire à suivre dans : Le Passage du Canal du Panama en Voilier

3 Comments
  • Guillet Isabelle
    February 18, 2022Reply

    Hello guys
    Thank you for these fascinating stories which give us the impression to be there so much the details are precise and numerous. You won't be the same when you come back for sure. Your girlfriends will be able to entrust you with the cooking and the washing up without worries. And if the shopping is not done and if there is nothing in the fridge you will find solutions...!!! You will have a lot of memories. You will have perfected your English and Spanish skills. And you will have met amazing people... and seen great landscapes... you seem to know each other well... and live well with your differences that make you complete each other well in this collective adventure. This is what your testimonies inspire me. Thank you for these diverse and varied shares that I finally took the time to read...

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