I Used to Terrorize This Neighborhood. Can I Give You a Tour?

After years of robbing people on the streets of Panama City, these former gangsters have learned there’s more than one way to shake down a tourist.

By | September 16, 2016

Until recently, Jaffet and Antonio, two of the founders of Fortaleza Tours in Panama City, may have been the gang members who robbed you if you were brazen enough to step foot on their turf  –  the city’s historic Casco Viejo district, which for about a quarter century was considered a “red zone” for tourists. But now, in search of a better life for themselves, their families and their neighborhood, they’ve made a business out of providing tourists with a guided tour of where all the drug trafficking and murder used to take place in this area (both have dropped precipitously over the last few years). It is, of course, an odd feeling to spend a few hours hearing tales of brutal gangland violence in front of the very people whose lives were terrorized by it (and from the mouths of a couple of guys who participated in it). But Jaffet and Antonio swear it’s for a good cause and in the pursuit of positive change. MEL Films recently tagged along for one of their tours to get a better sense of how profiting off a neighborhood’s tortured recent past is the best way to a brighter future.

* * *

This story is republished from MEL Magazine. MEL aims to challenge, inspire and encourage readers to drop any preconceived notions of who they’re supposed to be.


These 4 Women Are Taking on a Politician Near You

The coalminer’s daughter. The bartender. The police brutality activist. The grieving mother. Each looked at the man representing her in Congress and said, “I can do better.”


The Collector of Time

As Mark McKinley puts it, “no collector ever says, ‘I’ve gone too far.'” After 27 years and an official Guinness World Record, he stands by that statement.


The Saviors of Saffron

Three young Spaniards are reviving the farming tradition that flourished in their grandparents' generation.


An Aging Mother’s Animated Love Letter to Her Autistic Son

“Who would look after him if I wasn’t here?” and other questions this mom asks herself every day.


Courvosier Cox Knows He’s a Superstar

Meet a teenage actor-singer-comedian with absolutely no doubt that his tumultuous adolescence will soon give way to Hollywood fame.


A 360° View of India’s Gravity-Defying Pole Wrestlers

Get up close and personal with the athletes of the reemerging ancient pastime of mallakamb, in Narratively’s first 360 film.


This Breathtaking Greek Fireworks Battle Puts Your July 4th to Shame

Once a year, residents of this mountainous island gather at two churches on opposite ends of town and launch 100,000 handmade rockets — directly at each other.


Penny’s Ex-Husband Realized She’s a Woman. But They’re Still Best Friends.

When Dee came out as a transgender, it meant the end of her marriage to Penny. And that’s when the empowering journey for both women truly began.


The Nomadic People Caught in the Crosshairs of China’s Economic Boom

As Chinese investment turns this mineral-rich region into a cash cow, does the Southern Mongolian culture have any hope of survival? A few families are willing to fight for it.

Get your Narratively Neverending Storytelling Swag Bag. Become a Patron today. ×