The word panama means abundance of fish, butterflies and trees according to the indigenous Indians of the region, the Kuna. Nowhere is this more evident, at least the fish part, than the Mercado de Mariscos (seafood market) in Panama City.
As my partner in crime, photographer, best friend, travel buddy, logistician, all around good guy and husband observes, “Panama grows on you daily. It is like a slow seduction and before you know it, you are in love.” Sam does not usually wax poetic until way after the sun goes down, if at all, so I know he was truly inspired.
We started walking the cinta costera (coastal ribbon), surrounding the fish market area watching the colorful boats deliver their sea treasures to the docks for weighing and payment. The boats are old, beat up and charming in their simplicity. It is obvious that this particular “dance” has been performed each and every day for many, many years. Watching the Panamanian fishermen come in after hours of fishing, is something I had wanted to see before but had always come to the market too late in the day. Clearly, this is hard work but the smiles on their faces and the camaraderie at the docks indicate a pleasure and satisfaction in their work. Ok, it’s possible I am romanticizing a bit but it sure seems like that.
We left the dock area and wanted to see the actual bounty in the market. Curiosity overcame the pungent smell that tickled my gag reflex. It took some self-convincing to keep breakfast down. I managed it and was rewarded by the sight of gorgeous fresh fish of all shapes and sizes. Enormous tuna, red snapper, sea bass, crab, langostinos, shrimp, lobster, octopus and a multitude of other sea creatures. Let me say, I am a fish fan and have had fresh seafood almost every day since I have been in Panama.
We left the market and decided to have a cool drink at one of the many stalls that surround the market. The sights and smells are amazing, people watching is great and the fresh seafood is incomparable. Every fonda (stall) has someone showing you their menu and gently urging you to to take a look. We settled on the shadiest, breeziest spot and ordered two beers. The menu looked so good we decided we needed a snack. We ordered langostino cocktail. It’s like sort of like a shrimp cocktail you get in the United States but with many more shrimp, a kind of lime mustard sauce and lots of onions. Unlike ceviche, the cocktail leaves the seafood whole but still “cooked” in the lime juice. It was delicious and cheap. We thought to take a picture only after we were half way through, but it was originally heaping with shrimp.
We decided to do more exploring and rounded the front of the market to find a bathroom. Let me say public bathrooms can be found in Panama but sometimes its not easy. We found a small indoor restaurant and decided that in order to use their bathroom (customers only), we needed to have another beer also it was a great way to cool off. As is usual with us, we ended up staying about an hour talking to Uber our waiter who was Columbian and was trying to learn English just as we are working on our Spanish. The more people we meet, the more we realize that people are basically the same all over the world. Even though we don’t speak each others language perfectly, we can usually share a laugh, find commonality and show our genuine interest in their families and respect for their culture.
Panama City traffic can be horrendous, so before rush hour we needed to get back to our hotel. Regrettably, I was unable to conquer that huge lobster I spied at the market for dinner but I vow to return very soon and one of them will be mine!