Now, we know that this site is alleged to be a Restaurant Review, however for this post we’re going to offer something special, break out of the mold, if just temporarily, to review the new and majestic Cinta Costera: The Jewel of Panama City. How could we resist?
So what exactly is the Cinta Costera? To start, we'll show you a photo of the welcome sign at the entrance:
In Spanish (the predominant language in Panama) Cinta Costera quite literally means “Coastal Belt”. In this case, although not directly implied in the name, “belt” refers to “green belt.” Think biological corridor, carbon sequestration, oxygen production. Think ecological refuge.
The Cinta Costera extends along the length of Avenida Balboa, a major thoroughfare named after the great Spanish conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa, noble founder of the first permanent colonial settlement on mainland America. We realize that if it weren't for the heroic adventuresome spirit of Vasco Balboa, many of us may not had ever had the pleasure of living and working in Panama. So thanks, Vasco.
We have heard that during the creation of the Cinta Costera, great pains were taken to preserve his magnificent monument, which was a vestigial point of interest of the otherwise drab Avenida Balboa. We've driven past it many times but have never stopped to check it out up close. Since the Cinta Costera renovation the statue has been re-highlighted as a major focal point. Balboa is perhaps the most revered historical figure in all of Panama. Not only does he have a major coastal road named after him, but the major coin currency is called a Balboa, and the most popular beer in the country is called Balboa. There are numerous parks called Vasco Nunez de Balboa, not to mention a large port area and American military residential zone. Sometimes it´s fun to buy a Balboa beer with a Balboa coin and drink it at the base of the Balboa statue situated along Avenida Balboa. Think about it, where else in the world can you do something like that?
Moving on, the Cinta Costera is Panama City’s tribute to the natural world; a demonstration of how advanced modern societies can achieve symbiosis with the non-human world.
Until recently, most people didn’t necessarily think of Panama City as being an internationally renowned paragon of urban ecological awareness, but with the unveiling of the Cinta Costera this cosmopolitan metropolis is quickly making a name for itself amongst the A-list of environmentally progressive capital cities worldwide.
Were it not for the generous, forward thinking, ecologically conscious spirit of the Panamanian government coupled with a Balboaesque conviction and cutting-edge minds tirelessly devoted to working locally in green architecture and engineering, the actual realization of the Cinta Costera would have never been possible.
While in its conceptual phase and throughout construction, this massive and impressive undertaking was not without its share of criticism. Like any of the great engineering feats of the world, some die-hard skeptics simply thought it would never happen. Some thought it would happen poorly and then fail. Few people imagined it possible that a raw sewage dump could be transformed into a vibrant habitat for local flora and fauna. What these naysayers and pessimists didn’t know was this: In order to command a position at the forefront of sustainable urban development - in order to make a positive difference in this world - you have to be willing to persevere against all odds. You must be willing to question the dominant paradigm and strive to set new, higher standards. And that, friends, is exactly what happened here.
So last week we decided to dalliance our Sunday away walking the length of the newly completed parkway, beside the placid sea and along the meandering promenade. We wanted to experience this thing first hand.
It was your typical Saturday afternoon in Panama City, the hot equatorial sun playing hide-and-go-seek behind billowing clouds, perhaps a rumbling thunder-head in the distance. All in all it was looking to be a fantastic day.
Initially striking was the impressive swath of green stretching out before us. The way this luxuriant mat played with the sparkling hues of the adjacent sea - oscillating between grey and raw-umber hues - was nothing short of remarkable.
And the wildlife! Let us tell you about the wildlife: Just five minutes into our walk we encountered not one, but two species of native bird, the first apparently about to break into song and the other happily foraging away in the undergrowth. What an incredible thrill!
With an ultra-zoom lens we were able to capture both of these glorious little creatures. Check out the photos below.
And the other.
It is worth noting here that since our arrival to Panama City, back in the late eighties, we have not come across such a profusion of non-human fauna within the confines of the city. So, although we weren’t fortunate enough to have any additional bird sightings on the Cinta Costera that day, what we saw in the first moments of our walk made it abundantly clear that the green belt was already working wonders.
The photo below makes clear the sheer depth of eco-oriented, artistic genius behind the Cinta's artisan sod work, and why it is worthy of remark. You see, grass needs water to grow, and water, as we are all aware, is a diminishing resource. So what has been done throughout the Cinta Costera, as a logical solution to this pressing issue, is a sort of patchily arranged mish-mash of sod pieces - an abstract checkerboard pattern if you will. What this accomplishes is simple and to the point: it saves water. Some of the sod pieces don't make complete contact with the soil, this too seems to be an intentional design point. It's really quite simple: Less contact between sod mats and soil-cap equals less water uptake, equals water conservation. This strikes us as a poignant aesthetic manifestation of the human / nature relationship - a living, breathing Piet Mondrian. The sodwork takes on a dynamic state, changing as time marches on, like nature itself.
In the following photo we have captured an example of one of the most architecturally striking engineering feats of the Cinta Costera. What you are looking at is a walkway round-a-bout which leads to a bridge, so pedestrians and bicycle riders can safely traverse over the roadway from one green oasis to another. Impressive, to say the least, somewhat reminiscent of the classic Mesoamerican ziggurat.
As was apparent in the above photograph, the design of the round-a-bout epitomizes the concept of ecological integrity. Notice how it is clad in mini-terraces of partially dormant sod, and how it follows the same water conserving concept/philosophy as the sod work in the previous photo. It is clear that designers at Odebrecht are breaking out of the mold here, making room for native species to establish a loose and local influence. Observe the organic, nebulous form, now a senescent void, patiently awaiting natures whims.
The walkway is both lofty and spectacular. Note the ornamental pink ginger meticulously placed at the base of the concrete piling.eco-minimalist aesthetic.
Here (below) we see a bold gesture: Panama is taking suit with the 1st world recycling paradigm. In an instant, it seems, The Capital has gone from no recycling program whatsoever to an advanced, multifaceted system on par with those we've observed in Scandinavia, Japan, and other nations on the forefront of green infrastructural practices. So please, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We all have to participate, we are all in this together. If you see someone throwing, for example, metal into the organics receptacle, do your part and call them out on it. They are probably the ones responsible for the accumulating litter in the area. If someone tries to tell you this new recycling effort is a complete farce - an illusion - maybe give them a reprimanding whistle, a red card, or just report them to the nearest special agent working under the City of Panama Municipality's "Pig Hunting Campaign." (For more information see the July issue of The Panama Report.) For someone to think that Panama City is still throwing all of their waste in one giant of trash heap is both ignorant and ludicrous. With the inauguration of the Cinta Costera, Panama entered into the 21st century and no longer employs such barbaric wastefulness.
The Benches are positively one of our favorite features along the promenade. You will find The Benches to be abundant and strategically placed. When evaluating the ecological integrity of the overall project, don't let the solid concrete nature of the benches fool you, this is, in fact, the most ecological approach to bench making in our current day and age. You see, they are sustainable because they'll be around, relatively unchanging, forever.
As is apparent, The Benches take on a minimalist, industrial design, and almost look as if they're made out of high-quality hardwood painted white. They aren't made out of hardwood, and they are painted white, specifically, to reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere, mitigating the effects of global warming. Sure, Panama may be famous for its large tracts of primary rainforest, replete with valuable tropical hardwoods, but Panama no longer subscribes to the philosophy of defiling ones own backyard in order to build ones house, no, those days are over.
In the photo below you will bear witness to the enticing arrangement of benches, decided up by the Cinta Costera's team of elite designers. You will note, above all else, the very formal placement. The reasoning behind this is complex, drawing on both historical and contemporary factors, admittedly beyond the scope of this review. In an attempt to keep it brief, we'll try to summarize the broader meaning in a sentence or two: The formal row is intended to invoke memories of Panama's militaristic past and traumatic dictatorship, one of the darker periods in the country's history. However, the fact that what we're looking at is benches, organized as such, completely transforms the overall implication, and we think of community. Thus the benches allow us to enjoy the benefits of collective activities and communal experience.
Lets take a moment to talk about lights and lightpoles and the role they play in defining the conceptual framework of the Cinta Costera. As one of its foremost artistic expressions, the abundant integration of lightpoles into virtually every square foot of the Cinta gives a bold but abstract reference to its unique maritime location. Observed from afar, the lightpoles give striking resemblance to ship masts, thus offering the unique visual allusion of Cinta Costera-as-marina. Seen up close the lightpoles almost resemble deciduous trees. At night, when the lights are on, the sky is filled with glowing dots, which succeeds in creating a sort of starry-night effect, even when overcast.
The sheer diversity in light pole styles is impressive, rivaling that of plant species present on the Cinta Costera. Below we'll take you on a photo tour of some of what we found.
Below you'll find the classic double half-arch design, with rounded fixtures, clearly reminiscent of the harpy eagle, one of Panama's great natural oddities.
And here you see a more minimalist single-arching, arm-lamp. Representing the slight wobble in the earth's rotational axis, also known as the obliquity of the ecliptic.
Although not all of the lights installed along the Cinta Costera work, some of them do, here's an example of one, which also illustrates yet another intriguing lamp style. Now, you may be asking yourself, what do you mean not all of the lights work? Energy saving my friends, energy saving. With the help of experienced computer programmers from PIT (Panama Institute of Technology), the Cinta Costera employs a complex light-timer algorithm working in conjunction with the nocturnal and diurnal cycles, so the lights aren't on all day. A simple yet novel concept.
The next photo is a side shot of the the lamp photographed above. This particular design makes abstract reference to sailboats and ocean liners, clearly invoking a maritime feel. Don't let the asymmetry throw you off. Sailing is a perfect example of human symbiosis with nature. This kind of gesture forces us to reconcile our anthropocentric aesthetics with the complexity of the unknown.
We haven't yet identified the symbolic representation of the next light style, although we like it immensely. It seems to summon an almost crude and industrial feel, less organic then those presented above.
We were positively taken aback by the diversity in light pole models, the artistry of their layout, and the profundity in their collective, multi-layered symbolic representation, but what really put the icing on the cake had to have been a prominently displayed art installation reminiscent of certain formal devices employed by renowned Scottish sculptor, photographer and environmentalist, Andy Goldsworthy.
This is Panama. Panama. This small, unassuming Central American country has been variously referred to as the Singapore, the Dubai, and the Switzerland of the Americas, in other words, in a league beyond most of the other “developing” Latin American countries.
Near the end of our stroll we came across another sculpture, a bit of colonial residuum, a metal statue of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, located at the halfway point along the Cinta Costera. Here Balboa stands tall, strong and wise.
Colonial residuum. Our research has highlighted a few of his somewhat unfortunate attributes, including a) his keen ability to obtain large quantities of gold through the use of violence, and b) his fondness for forcing groups of male Indians to dress up as females and engage in lewd sexual activities, then unleashing his trained packs of "war dogs" to attack the Indians while they lay on the ground naked, humiliated, and vulnerable.
Even more curious is the fact that one of the highest orders granted by the Panamanian government to distinguished and outstanding figures, foreign and domestic, is the Orden Vasco Núñez de Balboa, in various degrees, as established by Law 27 from 28 January 1933.
Building the Cinta Costera has been a bold and progressive venture, which gives a backward nod to Panama's cultural heritage. Balboas statue, in this particular context, provides us with a fresh approach to the outdated, idea of the Monument. Here, Balboa isn't exhalted as such, but rather is read through a post-monument, post-modernist lens as a point of departure rather than and end in itself. The antiquated figure of Balboa amidst this center of progress references how far we've come from the barbaric colonial practices popular in days of yore. The preservation of this statue reminds us, once again, that the Cinta Costera, like many great works of art, elucidates a truth by enacting the very abhorrence it seeks to denounce. Although it hasn't always been smooth sailing, Panama bounds into the 21st century with renewed vigor!
So, if you decide to take a stroll along this local landmark (a definite must!), please remember to be a curtious and inquisitive visitor, and most importantly, inform yourself before you make rash assumptions, keep an open mind, and most importantly que lo pasen bien, fren!