La Cinta Costera

Lover’s drive, or the Cinta Costera, is a seaside road in Panama City. When I fell upon it in 2010, it was newly constructed. Heat and humidity never failed to find their way to the ocean drive, where on truly tropical days, not a soul could be found until the evening hours, when the city would cool from daylight sunbursts. Basketball and football games on the stone courts and joggers were the mainstay but the life of the drive were the couples that sat perched on the concrete embankments that lined the 2 kilometer stretch of road.

Hand in hand and arms around shoulders, the couples were usually young locals freshly in love or in the process of wooing a significant other. They were seated all across the drive, from the residential street that bordered one end to the rough and tumble neighborhood that was located at the other. Pelicans hovered overhead, their large orange beaks holding the freshly captured fish from the waters below. The lovers paid these birds little attention, fixated upon each other, whispering and holding hands. The ocean water stretched far into the pacific horizon where mostly large container ships planted for their turn to cross through the Panama Canal. Waves would splash against the boulders placed at the beach front during high tide while the dark sand of the ocean floor was visible from the shoreline during low tide.

The busy evenings on the Cinta Costera in the dry seasons would see the traffic piling up on the parallel main road. The cars were at a good distance in order to keep the runners moving without having to directly ingest the fumes from the street.  The lovers, in worlds of their own, and focused only on each other were without distraction. The children screamed and played in the parks unconcerned. The traffic would come to a standstill in the evenings as residents left work and rushed to return home.

Patrolling the drive, the military police were a presence on busy days. Their purpose was to watch and observe but they hardly involved themselves in the lives of the locals on the water front. Skyscrapers surrounded the streets that lined the Cinta Costera, mostly residential buildings housing the well to do of Panama City. With the neighborhood of Paitila at one end and Chorillo at the other, the beach drive was a connecting path between the richer and poorer parts of Panama City.

On weekends, ice cream and drink vendors would push their carts around the courts in hopes of enticing young people to buy their cold refreshments. The children would line up after their games, dropping their dollars into the hands of the vendors in exchange for much needed cool beverages. Saturdays and Sundays were when the streets were truly alive. The countless lovers spent their free moments in each other’s company, stealing kisses and caresses while whispering sweet nothings.

The disparities in local life were bridged at the Cinta Costera. The white collar classes of the large Jewish neighborhood of Paitila and the working class crime ridden blocks of Chorillo were merged on this two kilometer strip. Regardless of their living conditions and status, the young hearts of Panama City thrived on the Cinta Costera, where time was reserved for the many lovers that disconnected from the world and engaged with each other.

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