Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mainland Panama and the Canal trip

Boy, are we ever trying to get the most out of Panama.  There is so much to see and do.  We know we can’t eat the whole elephant nor can we afford the whole elephant so we are trying to get the most out of it as we can.  Sailing the San Blas Islands was just awesome not only because of their beauty but the serenity, the Kuna Indians and their culture, the perfect weather and the fun of snorkeling and swimming in crystal clear waters.  If you ever want to just do a getaway vacation and just relax, come here (no 5 star hotels but total relaxation).  The Kuna’s are very peaceful people who live a traditional life but also very friendly and helpful. 
Now do you see why people come to the San Blas Islands

I had to slip this in.  This is what Harry looks like every morning talking on the SSB to all the nets and working on the computer at the same time.

A typical Kuna village, very crowded and actually pretty dirty
Kuna Indians in their dugout canoes. this is their mode of transport.   I had to take this pic from a distance

So we finally decided it was time to leave Kuna Yala and do some real site seeing of the mainland of Panama.   Also, we needed a bank machine and some food on board.   So we had a fantastic beam reach sail from the islands to Portobelo, our first real mainland stop.  It is a famous historical town for 2 reasons.  It was discovered by Columbus on his 4th trip over in 1502 and  then became one of the most important sites for transferring riches from South to North America.  From this port tons of gold and silver were shipped off to the capitals of the Spanish empires.  The wealth in this town was so strong that it attracted pirates such as Henry Morgan on the Spanish Main who, with 460 men managed to overtake the town.  His demand for 100,000 pesos which he received, kept him from destroying the entire population.  After that attack, forts were being built all around the harbor.  Harry and I managed to explore all 4 of them.  2 of which included pretty steep climbs but fantastic views of the harbor.  (see the pictures)

Just wanted all of you to see, I finally had to start doing my own laundry
Of course with Harry's help
Check out the speakers in this trunk.  This was at a soccer game and you could hear the music in the next county.  It did tend to draw a lot of girls around there.
A bunch of us cruisers having a barbecue on the beach.  Really fun time

This are the local buses, all painted up and privately owned so they can paint anything they want on them.  Called chicken buses

View of the harbor from on top of one of the forts

We took our dinghy down one of the rivers to find monkeys and birds.  Not much luck but beautiful scenery

We were hiking to the top of one of the forts.

These are how cashews grow.  One nut under an apple looking type of fruit.  It is amazing that you only get one nut out of this.  Can't believe they aren't more expensive then what they are.

The famous Captain Jack's bar in Portebelo.  It's where all the cruisers hangout

The big gang of us all playing farkel and having a great time.  Some of these folks are ones we crewed with across the canal and others we have been buddy boating with.

The bridge we had to cross to climb to the top of a hill
The other reason for its importance is the church of the San Felipe de Portobelo.  It is the home of the Black Christ of Portobelo.  This statue has become holy and worshipped because of the miracles attributed to it.  Every Oct 21st, the Festival of the Black Christ is celebrated.  People walk on their knees from as far as Costa Rica to pay their respects every October 21.  It makes me want to stay here til October just to witness the celebration. 

We have all been warned to stay away from the downtown part of Colon because of the crime and if we do go there, take taxi’s.  Well, we had to check into the country and get our cruising permit so we took a 50 passenger local bus with about 200 other people to the bus terminal of Colon and caught a taxi who didn’t have a clue where customs and immigration was and didn’t speak a word of English.  After ½ hour of driving around and him asking 4 different people he got us to immigration.  The fare was $2.  We then found out we must got to customs first.  So off we went to find another taxi.  This time we really got lucky.  We found a driver who speaks English and takes all the cruisers from the marina into customs.  He got us there, stayed with us, helped interpret and got us back to immigration.  Tito was our man!!  Customs was going to take all day and said we would have to come back at 3pm to get our papers and immigration closes at 3pm.  So I did some whining and tried to force a few tears saying we had been up since 4AM and came all the way from Portobelo etc, etc.  She felt so badly, she said: O’well, I will do them right now.  I am beginning to find out that being a “little old lady with white hair pays off”.

The next adventure was our 2 day trip through the Panama Canal.  Wow, what an experience.  Harry and I functioned as line handlers on a boat called Tiger Lilly.  Lilly and Tom are friends of ours and needed 1 more person so we came as a set.  It took 2 days through 6 locks including an overnight anchored in the middle of the canal in Gatun Lake.  We had agents on board for both days and also some trainees.  Then Tom’s brother and another friend from Florida also were onboard.  So needless to say it was a busy boat and everyone had to be fed so I was the galley maid along with Lilly and we cooked up a storm.  Feeding 7 men is not an easy task.  The agents were so very friendly and very professional so it made it fun.  We did a lot of waiting for locks to open and close etc.  Lilly and I did not have to actually handle lines so we took a ton of pictures between us.  It’s pretty intimidating when you have a huge container ship about 10 feet behind you squeezing into the lock.  We can now check off one more adventure on our bucket list.

Lilly feeding the agent and one of his trainees

Coming into the canal at night with the gates closed

Now the gates are opening

We are rafted up (nested) with another sailboat as we go thru the locks

Bridge of America we went under at the end on the Pacific side in Panama City

Tom and Lilly the owners of the boat we crewed on.

Huge container ship just 100 feet behind us in the lock.  Check out the paintings of dolphins and fish on the haul

Tom made Harry in charge of all the deck work.  They were getting the boats rafted up.

We really took about 100 pictures but I tried to pick out just a few that you could see what goes on.
They dropped us off in Panama City, we got a hotel room and spent the next 2 days touring the city.  It is a very beautiful modern city  with tons of highrise buildings and some very old historical sites dating back to the 1600 and the Spanish invasions.  Of course I took a ton of pictures but won’t post but a couple.  Panama city is very safe, not like Colon.  We felt comfortable walking around at night and seeing the sights.  Then Monday we had a driver named Roger, who speaks English, took us shopping to provision.  After about $700 worth of groceries etc we came back to the marina where our boat was safe and sound.

One of the many Cathedrals in the city

Ruins of the old city in the 1600's before the city was moved to a saver area.  this was all left behind with a population of 10,000 people

Harry with a Dragon outside one of the restaurants

The Presidential palace

View of the city, quite impressive

Kuna Indians come into the city to sell their wares

We climbed Mt Ancon and this was one of the views of the city.  It was a very overcast day.
Next adventure is taking our boat down the Rio Chagres to hike through the jungle!!  Next blog the end of May

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