Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Sprawling Slum" of Colon

Next we were onto Colon, the armpit of the Caribbean. The Lonely Planet calls it, “a sprawling slum of decaying colonial grandeur and desperate human existence”. (Why can’t I write like that?) The highlight, our friends on Crystal and Mima were there and we missed them terribly. We had one night with Crystal before they moved to a marina across the canal. Nice marina, but not convenient to the shopping or bus transportation in Colon. Most days, cars have to wait up to an hour for ship to pass before crossing the bridge to Colon. The only other marina choice was the Panama Yacht Club. A place where “Yacht Club” is loosely defined. After waiting 45 minutes for the slowest office worked in history to tell him that they had no place for us, Marc came back to our anchorage. Our friends on Mima orchestrated a squeeze play with the boats around them and we got a spot in the marina. Unlike anything we had ever seen, we had to estimate where to drop our anchor and back into a “spot” while not getting tangled on several moorings underwater. The first attempt, the anchor chain ran out and we were 10 feet short of the end dock. We had to go it again with our friends taking lines while standing on other boats. Literally, we had 12 inches on either side of our boat of space. Marc then received a huge shock trying to plug into the power (see picture). Off to Panama City to see Grace. The weekend was great with trips to the mall, haircuts, dinner and salsa lessons and Pricemart for $600 worth of familiar products. Back to Colon on the night bus (after needing taxis and porters to help with all the stuff) with the a/c so cold we were all huddled together for warmth. At least this time no violent movies were showing for the kids to stare at. After securing a pickup truck taxi and watching him drive around to try to hack up the fare, we were back at our “marina”. Off to the Rio Charges, only 20 NM south but a world away from Colon. Sabrina proudly exited Colon and officially sailed the boat out of the Panama Canal, passed 20 some boats waiting to transit.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Line Handlers for a Day-Only in our Mind

After the San Blas, we ventured to Isla Linton and Portobello along the coast of Panama, before Colon. Our South African friends on Grace, a 56ft foot catamaran, had said we could line handle in the Canal with them and they went on to make arrangements for their transit. Marc and I were really excited.. .a chance to see the canal on someone else’s boat. It is an overnight adventure so Stewart on Grace was wonderful to allow us to go, as he would be housing 4 of us. Everyone had said not to spend time in Colon, which was dirty, polluted and dangerous. Our hearts sank when, due to a pilot strike, Grace’s transit date was over 30 days away. Side-by-Side did not plan to be in Panama for that long. The next email, however was that they secured a last minute opening and went through. Being South African they have a flair for “persuading” officials. We were crestfallen but chose to travel to Panama City and see them before they left. The family on Grace, Stewart, Debra and their three kids were some of the most special, generous and loving people we had met. We hope to visit them someday in South Africa.