Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Holá y Adiós Hasta Diciembre, Caribbean Panamá! –– April 23 – June16, 2017

[Hello and Goodbye Until December, Caribbean Panama!]

Greetings from The Land of The Free where we are spending a short time visiting with friends, performing life maintenance tasks and blogging about our last month afloat in Panama. We will soon depart for a family visit in Ontario, Canada. After that? Until we return to Abracadabra in December, the beginning of Panama’s “less-rainy season” (to say Panama has a dry season is somewhat disingenuous) we will be in California and . . . other places TBD. Recommendations re: interesting, affordable, land-based travel destinations gratefully accepted.

Blog-wise, we now return to Panama: In the weeks following our canal transit we enjoyed Shelter Bay Marina (very near Colón) and Linton Bay Marina (further east) and spent a couple of weeks anchored in two pretty bays. We also took a short trip to Panama City with our Special Guest Crew Member, Bob Romano because we thought he would enjoy the city and well, just coincidentally, that we could use a few air-conditioned hotel nights! That short break will be part of our Panama City post.

Shelter Bay / Fort Sherman

Shelter Bay Marina is aptly named. It is well protected from wind, well equipped and well run; a perfect place for Abracadabra to shelter during the really rainy season.

Not Much Roll In This Marina!

The Neighborhood Is Tranquilo

Oh yeah, there are nice showers, a swimming pool, a mini-mart, a bar/restaurant and a free shuttle bus to a grocery store in Colón for the crew!

The marina is located on property once part of Fort Sherman, one of the many U.S. military installations built to protect the U.S.’s interests in the Panama Canal. Some may remember Fort Sherman as the U.S. jungle warfare training center (busy back when The Great Threat To Our Way Of Life was from jungle terrain countries . . . ). Fort Sherman real property was ceded to the Panamanian government in 1999 as part of the termination of the U.S.’s interest in the canal. 

A short walk from the marina brings one to some remains of Fort Sherman:

Today's Sail Loft --  Fort Sherman's Theater

Battery Mower - Retired

Battery Stanley - Retired

Fairly Recent Graffiti -- Poor Fatty Buns . . . 

Handball In The Jungle

On weekly nature walks guided by Vicky of S/V Cinnamon Teal, marina visitors interested in exploring Panama’s jungle terrain can see some of the many bird and animal residents of the area. Thanks for taking your time to show us around, Vicky!

Our little camera isn’t the best way to capture pictures of birds.

A Yellow Beaked Iforgottowriteitdown

But we were able to get a few good shots of the slow moving neighborhood sloth.   

Livin' The Life

Geez - I Really Need A Pedicure . . . 

The Panamanian Aeronaval (the air and sea security force) now operates a training facility on part of former Fort Sherman. Some mornings marina residents wake to the call and response of military forces in training, on others to howler monkeys asserting their turf. One can’t help but muse about the primal need to control turf.


Portobelo Bay

The anchorage at Portobelo is some 20+/- nautical miles east of Colón. This has been a popular anchorage since the early 16th Century. During the Spanish colonial era it was a heavily defended port from which Peruvian silver and gold was shipped to the Spanish treasury. Today it is a calm, protected anchorage ringed by ruins of the Spanish empire’s fortifications.

Buddies Exploring Fuerte San Jerónimo

Plotting An Attack

Climbing Fuerte San Fernando
Regretting Wearing Sandals

Our Personal Marine Assault Vehicle

It is evocative and calming to wake on a misty morning under the protection of the ruins of Fuerte San Fernando. One feels very adventuresome -- hey, we're in the Caribbean! -- and at the same time the fort puts a lot of worries in perspective. The Spanish empire held this area in a vice-like grip -- for a while. Now, not so much. But life in both Panama and Spain go on.

Soy la evidencia de que todo cambia. Lo que te preocupa, también cambiará.
[I am evidence that it all changes. That which worries you will also change.]

The ruins of Fort San Fernando and other nearby forts offer a full afternoon of tramping (or several afternoons for those who move slowly in the heat). Travel Tip: Wear real shoes. Touring in flip flops is just offering up your toes as a local mosquito buffet. Trust Molly on this one.

Tourist literature describes the town of Portobelo as “laid back”. 


But to be honest, when one gets ashore -- it’s a bit grotty. The municipality’s street and sidewalk maintenance program, trash collection system, abandoned vehicle program and building maintenance team, to the extent they exist, are in serious need of financial support.

Even so Portobelo has its charms, and a budding reputation as an artist colony. 

Public Art -- Putting Panama in Perspective

There is a very nice art gallery with interesting and beautiful Congo art for sale (Casa Congo). [Side note: "Congo" refers to a culture and type of dance related to the Afro-colonial culture. Afro-colonials are descendants of Spanish-era slaves and distinguish themselves from Afro-Panamanian descendants of Antillians who immigrated in the late 19th century and early 20th century to build the canal. Some say this term is used because many of Spain's slaves in Panama were brought from the Congo basin.] Sadly, those who live on a 36' sailboat are not able to do a lot of art collecting. 

Casa Congo - Restaurant and Gallery

Portobelo is also home to a music school – La Escuelita del Ritmo (The Little School of Rhythm). On several evenings we heard drums from shore and assumed that we were hearing a class at the little school. 

La Escuelito del Ritmo

The parroquia (parochial church) is home of one of the famous Black Christ statues of Central and South America. There is a large pilgrimage to the church in October to honor the statue. 

The Black Christ of Portobelo

The town's museum is located in the former Royal Customs House (where the Spanish counted all that Peruvian silver and gold) which makes it worth a visit. The exhibits provide some information, some even in English, but the exhibits aren't worth a long drive. Warning: The English-language video about the history of Portobelo is probably pretty good, but it is shown in a small room with a broken air-conditioner. Even dedicated museum attendees may begin to lose concentration before the video gets to the sacking of the city by Henry Morgan.

Bryce and The Requisite Spanish Cannon

Bob and A Crown -- Without Information - ?

A Jumble of Stuff In A Corner -
The Museum Staff's Office?

Like the town, the anchorage could benefit from some clean-up. It is a lovely, calm anchorage but sadly it looks like A Place Sailboat Dreams Go To Die.


Can't Help But Wonder What Happened . . . 

Tip For Sailors: When dinghy driving at night, proceed with caution! Unoccupied boats will not be lit.

Not all the boats in the anchorage were decrepit. In fact, for a few days we were joined by Atlantic, a modern re-creation of a 185-foot, three-mast schooner originally built in 1903. She is, according to the internet, a wealthy Dutch yachtsman’s pride and joy. Who could blame him?

The Atlantic Seen From Fuerte San Fernando

The Atlantic Flying The Maltese Ensign

In summary: We liked Portobelo. It’s well worth a visit for sailors and tourists alike. Note, however that those looking for a “Caribbean Paradise Resort Experience” may be disappointed. 

Linton Bay

Just a few miles further from Colón, south of Isla Linton, is another popular anchorage: Linton Bay. This anchorage is slightly more exposed than that at Portobelo, but is relatively well protected.

After spending a few days at anchor we needed water (we don’t run the water maker when anchored off small villages likely to have unsophisticated sewer treatment plants) and power (clouds + calm = insufficient solar and wind generation). So four of our nights in this area were at the new Linton Bay Marina.

Linton Bay Marina

Warning: This paragraph is a short marina report – skip if you’re more interested in touring activities: Linton Bay Marina has nice docks, water and electricity. The office and shore showers are in re-purposed shipping containers and the floating dock bar and restaurant is a work in progress. Produce trucks arrive frequently and on occasion a woman delivers bread for sale. Both events are reported by the marina over the radio. There is also a “real” grocery store within a short taxi or bus ride, though for our short stay we relied on the veggie and bread deliveries so we can’t report on how well stocked the grocery store is.

Molly At The Linton Bay Floating Bar/Restaurant
[Note Big Travel Lift!]

The small village  at the south end of the bay, Puerto Lindo (Beautiful Port), is, uhm . . . not very accurately named. It’s a small fishing village and the population is poor. Once again we were reminded how difficult it is for the poor to eat healthfully. In the two small tiendas in town we found white bread, canned tuna, chips and beer – but not much else. The charming lady at one tienda told us about a veggie truck but when we asked about the truck's schedule she laughed: Oh, no schedule – oh, no – no schedule!

One restaurant in the village is Casa X (Casa Equis – pron: eh-keys). There’s a nice dinghy dock there and the son of the owners is very kind, speaks good English and will give directions to the local tiendas. Their coffee is okay. We can’t report on their meals. The ambiance would be improved by a few ceiling fans.

Our Linton Bay tourist adventure was a dinghy ride through a mangrove tunnel to Panamarina, a mooring field tucked in a mangrove-lined estuary popular among hardy, budget-minded yatistas. Panamarina is also, interestingly enough, the location of Tripadvisor’s number one restaurant in Puerto Lindo (there are two listed, the other being Casa X): Panamarina, a French restaurant in the mangroves.

We watched other dinghies and tourist pangas navigate the shoals guarding the entry to the passage through the mangroves. Finally we decided we understood the general circuitous route – go way right, go sharp left, out again and then into the bushes. We motored around the shoals – very slowly – and entered the mangroves. All was well until we came upon a side channel. Hmmm – we’d figured out how to get there, but had failed to do recon on possible side channels. We chose what seemed to be the widest and continued to put-put slowly along . . .

Not Well Marked . . . 

Our Brave Captain Navigating The Mangrove Swamp

until the channel took a turn and – voilá! – there were boats on moorings.

I See Ships Ahead, Captain!

We had a nice lunch, talked to a few of the sailors moored there and retraced our route back to Abracadabra, full and ready to return on our next visit to Linton Bay.

Sailing In The Rainy Season:

One can - sail, that is. We sailed about half of the short distances (in total - 50 nautical miles +/-) to and from these anchorages. But it was the rainy season so we did get wet. Though we were lucky enough to dodge the truly exciting weather we saw in the distance:

Yeow - Water Spout!


So went our couple of weeks away from Shelter Bay: Pleasant. Interesting. An introduction to the real Caribbean where there are resorts with beautiful views to be enjoyed, but much more. 

Next for the blog – Panama City.

Next for us -- luxuriating in dry heat and air-conditioning in California.

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