Next Stops: Chorrillo, Betania and Rio Abajo

This is Rio Abajo today, an important part of the
Silver People Trail. Image thanks to Peter Hahndorf on flickr.
Ancon Hill as viewed from the back of what was
once the Ancon Laundry where my grandmother
worked for over 20 years. Today the building is
the headquarters of the DIJ (Dirección de Investigación
Judicial (the investigation arm of the police). You can just
about make out the Panamanian flag flying at the top in
the upper left hand corner of the photo.

Chorrillo, that part of the old sector of Panama City, had its colored community, having been a gateway to Calidonia and its colored communities of Guachipali, Marañon, and San Miguel with its view of Ancon Hill and the sea, and the beaches in the nearby upscale Bella Vista District with shade trees lining the streets and avenues. The beaches that ran all the way to Old Panama- Casco Viejo– were up until then clean enough for families and young boys to use as the neighborhood swimming holes that boys would remember for the rest of their lives.

In my boyhood days I remember going to the only government owned Olympic swimming pool and tennis courts and being turned away outright by the people at the admission gate- me and all the rest of the kids from the poorer Barrios. About the only kids admitted were the kids from the ritzier neighborhoods and from the rabiblanco families.

Rabiblancos, meaning “white tails” were always welcome there. I guess they were hoping against all odds of nurturing Olympic champions from within the upper classes. But, as we all know today, their Olympic gold medalists have all come from the poor and working class groups.

Although I was ready to enter secondary school I continued to deliver messages and Susú transactions for my even busier grandmother. It looked like my grandmother was busier after retirement than before since her laundry business, Susú and other endeavors kept her and me on our toes. You would never guess from her demeanor, however, that Mrs. Fanny Reid was this enterprising senior citizen. My Fanny Reid was a real British Lady who tried to be as unimposing as possible; so much so that I resented her at times for not being more protective of me who was her right hand and the key person in all her interests.

My errands for my grandmother started expanding my view of the ever growing city which was now pushing back into the areas of old Betania and Rio Abajo. Although many people do not know this today since the people from the interior have since overrun the cities and settled in theses areas, but in the beginning these districts had a different face.

The Westindians in the early days of the Canal construction would acquire much of the property in Chorrillo, and were some of the first settlers of the Rio Abajo and Betania Districts. Of course, these districts, especially Betania and Rio Abajo, were then truly bush areas with very little infrastructure to accommodate a growing population.

Many of the board houses in Chorrillo, for instance, were owned by Westindian families who had managed to buy them and, in turn, rented them out to the Canal Zone workers so they could be close to their places of employment in the nearby Zone. But, more about these newly expanding districts in my next post.

This story continues.

3 responses to “Next Stops: Chorrillo, Betania and Rio Abajo

  1. The famous Cerro Ancon, referred to as Ancon Hill by early West Indians. In Panama city, I believe Ancon hill represents one of its very high point because it can be seen from so many places.
    A friend was buying a property in the Ricardo Alfaro Avenue area and he wanted to know if the vista from the condo was toward Cerro Ancon or the city.
    l don't know what they did to the ocean front near Colegio Abel Bravo, but I do not see the Atlantic Ocean and this is a disgrace. Now Abelistas Alma Mater's song could be even considered irrelevant because it speaks of being near the Atlantic. And Abel Bravo is no longer near the Atlantic Ocean it is close to buildings.
    I remember when Abel Bravo was right beside the mighty Atlantic and we used to go and sit beside it and recite poems by Neruda and Marti. Those were some very glorious moments in the life of the students on the Alantic coast.
    I wonder who is the clown that gave the go ahead to pour dirt to create land to build buildings there, erasing a vast natural sea entrance.
    The area near Abel Bravo is now unrecognizabale and plain ugly.

  2. Anita,

    Much of the feverish development going on in Panama today is highly questionable from the aesthetic and environmental point of view, if not absolutely dangerous. The landfills and the re-direction of entire rivers is paving the ground for numerous disasters (flooding, land slides, destruction of green areas, etc.) for people living in the new Barriadas. Where will it all end? This is unfortunately a sign of our times.


  3. could you make an article about the English creole in panama?