Posted on April 8, 2017
We are in Panama, and we are loving it.
Leaving Jamaica, we’d planned to head to Bocas del Toro and work our way west along the north coast of Panama. Once we were heading south, though, we decided we’d really like to meet up with our friends on Sapphire, a fantastic kid boat we hadn’t seen since the Bahamas. If we sailed to Colon, they’d plan on meeting us at Shelter Bay Marina. Their date to transit the Panama Canal was coming up, so we may have needed to park the boat and meet them in Panama City, but either way, we decided it would be good for the kids to have a chance to hang out.
En route, we texted with them via sat phone and discovered that their transit date had been pushed back to the 6th, and they were waiting in Portobelo. Perfect! We nudged the bow a bit closer to the wind, and turned up towards the lovely town of Portobelo.
We managed to get our anchor down minutes before a torrential downpour, parking right behind our friends’ catamaran. A little over an hour later, we were at their boat, catching up in the most loud and intense way possible. This is a family who we met in the Exumas; we spent only about a month sailing together. But the nature of cruising friendships is intense. Boat people already have a great deal in common—besides the culture of sailing and the sea, we were spending every day with these folks, experiencing amazing things together. We commiserated on boat schooling challenges, shared creative ways to use cabbage, celebrated Christmas together; we snorkeled incredible reefs and grilled lobster (none for you, Alison!). We went on hikes and went for sails and picked our way through tricky passes. One of the great boons of cruising is the fast, fierce friendships; the flip side: how quickly we often need to say goodbye. So being able to see our friends again in a setting as sweet as Panama was fantastic.
They showed us around town, and gave us the dirt on where to park the dinghy, how to offload the garbage, where the best grocery stores were located and how to cage free internet. We went to dinner and made mighty plans for the week. Some of our plans fell through; we did not end up renting cars with them and heading to Panama City to do some sightseeing (we were pretty wiped out from the crossing, and it took us a while to actually check in to the country). Some of our plans seem to be holding, though; after a few days in Portobelo, we’ve moved over to the Shelter Bay Marina and will act as line handlers for their Canal transit on Thursday.
Between our arrival in Portobelo and our arrival in Colon, we did a great deal of sleeping, a little bit of shopping, and a fair amount of relaxing over internet and beer. We commissioned some canvas work—a connector between our bimini and our dodger, to try and keep the sunstroke at bay when we’re underway. We explored an old Spanish fort guarding the entrance to the bay—one of three, but we went for the most remote one with three levels to hike up. We did a little cooking and a little cleaning. Mostly, we recovered.
So far, what we’ve seen of Panama is a huge contrast to our previous couple of countries. We’ve been among a big expat community—backpackers in hostels, globe-trotting cruisers, foreigners who’ve relocated to Panama—so we’re maybe not experiencing the real country; but when we do walk the streets, no one hassles us, or tries to sell us anything, or offers us a room. It’s all very chill. It’s also very cheap—groceries here are costing us a fraction of what we saw in Jamaica, and there’s certainly no fee to anchor anywhere. Even the extra-fancy Shelter Bay Marina has pretty reasonable rates—we’re paying $44/night to have a safe place to leave the boat as we transit with our friends.
The one big drawback: Van Halen, on a constant loop in our heads.