Yesterday was a good day. If the low point of the day before was necessary to have the high point of yesterday then it was worth it.
My oldest brother was my tour guide today. He speaks English although not fluently but certainly well enough for us to talk about the sights. Our first stop was the Baha'i temple. Baha'i is a religion that focuses on peace and spiritual unity. There are currently eight temples in the world and one of them is on the outskirts of Panama City. The temple looks like an egg and sits high on a hill/mountain (not sure what to call them) overlooking the city. The temple is open to people of all faiths to come and pray and it is indeed a beautiful place to meditate. I am not a religious person but I could find peace there. The number 9 is important in Baha'i and there were 9 openings to the building. Each opening let the sounds of nature flow in. At that height you could still hear the sounds of the city but mainly I heard birds and insects and wind through the trees. Each opening gave another view of the city and mountains around. A truly beautiful place that I feel privileged to have seen. Pictures were not allowed inside but we walked around the outside to take in the view.
Our next stop was the Christ the Redeemer statue in San Miguelito. It is a little version of the one in Brazil. We picked up the church guardian who kept warning us that it was not safe. It didn't look particularly scary but I guess the neighborhood wasn't the best and people don't seem to go up there. Too bad because there are beautiful views of the city from there too.
Next we went to eat lunch at what turned out to be a typical Panamanian restaurant (yay!) and I got to meet my oldest brothers oldest son. In other words my nephew. Those are some weird words to say for someone who grew up as an only child. He is 25 and also speaks English. He learned the last two years because the cell phone company he works for brought over a boss who was Jamaican and only spoke English. I am very impressed that he learned the language so well since he can't practice it at home. He has a good sense of humor and loved to hear that I was from Houston. He even named his dog Houston. All Panamanians like Houston because of the baseball player Carlos Lee.
Next was shopping for some handcrafts. Since my brother focuses on Panamanian culture he knew right where to take me and that was back to Panama Viejo. There is a new building near the museum that houses stalls for people to sell their crafts. Molas, molas, molas and hats, sculptures, baskets and jewelry. Things were set at tourist prices but it was nice stuff and it will definitely be on my list of places to go in the future for gifts. I finished my gift buying and even completed my personal shopping (earrings!). Being with my brother was like being with my dad. Everywhere we went we ran into people that he knew especially here.
On our way to the next sight we stopped at a business so I could meet another one of his children, this time a niece. She was lovely and of course also spoke English. Next stop was a return to Casco Viejo or as I learned today Casco Antiguo. No matter what you call it I still loved this old neighborhood. We went to the house of one of my aunts. It was in a building that was built in 1901. A small apartment with no air conditioning. Air came in from a window and balcony facing the narrow street. The place had character. Half the buildings in Casco Viejo are old originals like this one and the other half are stripped down to the facade and rebuilt for the wealthy. I'm glad I got to see an original before it is gone.
My aunt joined us and we walked one block over to the Church of San Jose to see the golden altar. When my cousin told me about it earlier I thought it would be a little altar with a few gold decorations. Boy was I in for a surprise (every once in a while not researching pays off). It is a huge altar intricately carved from wood and covered in gold leaf. The altar was originally part of the cathedral of Panama Viejo. There are many different stories of what happened next and how it happened but when word reached Panama that Henry Morgan was coming to destroy the city the altar was hidden and saved. It was then moved to Casco Viejo which was the next site of the city of Panama. The altar glows. There was music piped into the church which gave it the perfect atmosphere. And as a funny aside I recognized people from the boat tour in the church. Tourists!
My aunt showed us the shop where she works which is next to the church and also the inside of a building that was used to make and store ice. Then it was back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. If things had stopped right there I would have been happy. That was a great day of activities.
But one more thing and that was a final dinner with family. I got to meet the two brothers that I didn't meet last time. There were 10 of us all together at a round table in a Chinese restaurant. We had a family style dinner with soup and then big plates of food. I am not a fan of fish but I made a point to try the Corvina on one of the plates. It is a popular white fish here. One of my brothers had his wife and two young kids (more nephews!). It was fun to sit back again and watch the family dynamic. It is interesting that I felt quite a connection to one of them even though he spoke very little English and my Spanish is zilch. I could just feel that if I spoke Spanish we would have the same conversation style, personality and humor. I really need to buy the full Rosetta
Stone course. It is $500 but my first $500 is going to the iPad. But Rosetta Stone is now a must. So that wrapped up my evening. My dad brought me back to the hotel and we said our goodbyes. My brother is taking me to the airport.
Over all it has been a good trip. It was more emotional than I anticipated. It was fun and frustrating. Interesting and exasperating. I came in expecting it to be free and breezy like a normal vacation. I should have known that anything so tied with family and my personal history is going to have more weight and significance. I feel more a part of the country and more a part of the family. In my book that makes it a success. Now to fly home.