Vasco Núñez de Balboa Park
Sunday, July 17 2005 @ 10:28 PM UTC
Contributed by: Anonymous
The park is popular with locals and foreigners alike. From the park you can get some nice photos of Punta Paitilla to the left, and Casco Viejo to the right.
Vasco Núñez de Balboa was a Spanish conquistador and explorer. He was the first European to see (and stand in the waters of) the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean, on September 13, 1513. He accomplished this feat after an arduous trek through the jungles of what is now Panama. He claimed the Pacific Ocean and all its shores for Spain, which opened the way for Spanish exploration and conquest along the western coast of South America. But it was the Portuguese explorer, Magellen (not Balboa), who, because its waters seemed so calm, gave this ocean the name "Pacifica" (meaning peaceful).
The park is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. It's just a nice place to spend some time, enjoy the flowers and ocean breezes, watch the birds fly by, and relax for awhile...
Any place in Panama that draws tourists also draws artisans and people who want to sell their wares. You will always find people selling molas, carved tagua nuts, handmade jewlery, and other typical tourist stuff in the park near the monument.
Have you ever sat and watched someone make a Mola? Molas are the colorful hand-stitched panels made by the indian women out of scraps of colored cloth. It's a functional artform that requires lots of skill...
Gustavo Antonio Lawson has been taking pictures of visitors with his Polaroid instant camera at this park for more than ten years. I talked with him for a few minutes about the park, tourists, and stuff like that. He said that he and the other "regulars" that frequent the park have effectively become the security for the park. He said that there have been people who have come there to basically try to take advantage of the visitors, and execute schemes and frauds, and to assault and rob them. His primary complaint is that the current Mayor of Panama City has decided to pull the municipal police presence from the park. They used to be stationed there full time, but the mayor has decided that it's no longer necessary.
Gustavo also said he could not understand the current layout of the park. The mayor cut down some shade trees, and moved the benches so that they were not in the shade. Gustavo thinks that they did that to make the park more photogenic (which is nice) but that it would be more attractive if people could come to the park, sit in the shade, and simply enjoy the ocean air. Maybe he has a point.
In any case, there were lots of people coming and going, tourists and locals alike. My favorite was a taxi cab that drove through the park, with an Oriental husband and wife tourist pair on-board. The wife was filming with a handy-cam from the back seat, and the taxi driver literally didn't even slow down. Oh well, I hope they're happy. The people that work every day in the park are just nice guys, and they are good examples of how it should be done. They keep the place clean, watch out for the tourists (their source of income), and are just fun to talk to.
I bought an old Canal Zone car tag dated 1944 - 1945 from this guy. He had a few more, but he had painted them himself to make them look newer and not so old and rusty. He said that he now thinks that was a bad idea, and he's going to strip the paint back off and make them look old again. He had a whole bag of old car tags (one from California, so I guess he's a collector...)
This park is a nice place to take pictures. There are lots of flowers, and the grounds are well manicured and pretty. There are ocean birds such as pelicans and seagulls flying by and looking for lunch, and smaller insect-eaters buzzing around the flowers...
And you can always get a "raspao' " at the park. Shaved ice with flavoring, condensed milk poured on top.
The Vasco Núñez de Balboa Park is a landmark in Panama City, and a nice place to visit, whether you live here full time or are just passing through.