Winter 2017-2018, Mexico twice, Panama twice, Cuba and Florida once.
The forgotten People of Panama by tour guide Victor Peretz.
Well, let me share with you some important details about El Chorrillo.
On December 20th, 1989, President George Bush launches Operation Just Cause and has sent US forces into the Central American country of Panama in a bid to oust dictator Manuel Noriega.
El Chorrillo is on the water's edge in Panama City, not far from the entrance to the Panama Canal. Many of the canal's builders -- immigrants from the Caribbean -- lived here. Decades later the neighborhood was poor and dangerous because of the invasion in that time, home to teachers and clerks, as well as hustlers who sold contraband cigarettes or beer stolen from the American military bases.
Although many people moved out after the invasion, there are still others who stayed and recall the 1989 attack.
They were caught unawares, they said, when they heard American helicopters coming over the hills and waterfront. Members of the Dignity Battalions, armed civilians sworn to protect General Noriega's Panama, scrambled.
Some residents said the Americans urged them to leave the neighborhood. Others said they had cringed inside their homes, while people on the street tried to get into any home they could, or rushed to the local church.
When the government and private investors started seeing the potential of this area, they started removing the poor people from this area. Many of them moved to El Chorrillo, only a stone’s throw away from Casco Viejo.
Get off the beaten path with me and see where boxer Roberto Duran trained and our local panamanian soccer player who will be representing Panama in the World Cup 2018, learn about how the U.S. invasion of Panama affected this neighborhood since 1989, try local food and drinks, visit the park where dominoes are played, chat with the locals in their homes and get to know the people of this area, and learn about the gentrification that has taken place in the now trendy Casco Viejo historic district.
That's how the gang members took the control of the neighborhood of El Chorrillo. I wanted to show to travellers
something that goes beyond typical tourist places, like the Canal and Casco Viejo. So I started
offering different tours. One of them caught my attention immediately: The Walking Tour through El Chorrillo.
The idea is to show tourists the real side of Panama: the local people, their living conditions and culture. I run the tour under the slogan:
“WE ARE MORE THAN JUST A FAMOUS CANAL – WE ARE PEOPLE“
During the tour, visitors can also find old colonial buildings, but they are not renovated since they have been built. There are apartment buildings, with colorful, but mostly old facades, where freshly washed clothes are hanging for drying. Some houses are sporadically made of wood, almost falling apart. Travellers will see a lot of street art about sports, people of El Chorrillo and some who remind of the US invasion.
Let me tell you about the local history, daily life and living conditions of the locals. I will show you the sports hall, where the famous boxer Roberto "Hands of stone" Duran trained and other places that are related to sport, especially to football. The locals love it and are proud that a few “Chorrilleros” became famous athletes.
The neighborhood is very lively, with children running around in the streets, people chatting and Latin music sounds in every corner. Locals always will greet you friendly with a smile. So we will stop a few times.
We will also visit a Police station, where Victor’s weekly program "Educate Me and You Educate A Nation", is taking place. The idea is to get the kids away from the street and give them a place to learn and play. Especially tourists are welcome to interact with the kids and learn English with them. I want the locals and tourists to connect, exchange knowledge from different countries, traditions and cultures. You can meet the kids, help to educate them and have an authentic experience in Panama. The program is quite new, but I want to develop it with more and different classes in English, music and art. In the long term I plan to educate and empower also the mothers of the children.
The locals are very friendly and welcoming and You will feel safe with me. For sure, it’s not as safe as Casco Viejo to walk around as a tourist – especially after sunset. You will have a very good experience there, where you will take home more than souvenir, You will take home memories to share.
After walking around in El Chorrillo, I will bring you back to our starting point (Plaza Herrera, Casco Viejo). The tour takes around 1,5 hours and it's 40 USD. If you are interested in seeing another, non-touristy side of Panama or spend time with the kids of this area, connect with me on Facebook @Local in PTY or send me an E-Mail. I guarantee you an amazing, unique and authentic experience in Panama City!
Any other question you have, let me know.
Víctor A. Pérez M.
Founder & CEO