Photo Op with caldera mountains in the backgroud
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Still in Panama city
20:00, Friday, 15 Feb, 2013, Anchored at the Playita Amador Anchorage, Panama City
Another quiet night with only the sounds of the flag flapping in the breeze and the odd motorcycle racing down the causeway. To the west there is a steady traffic of large ships heading to and from the Canal and to the south the lights of the many anchored ships make it look more like a city than an anchorage.
Hard to believe that it has already been over a week since we arrived. It has been a busy one, mostly work but some play to make it interesting.
The day after we arrived we went into the city for our internet chips and a “disposable” telephone, an indispensable item if you want to get anything done in this town. Our first taxi driver was Frankie, a local who speaks very good English and knows the city well. Frankie has become our lifeline and at $10/hr he is keeping us on schedule and has facilitated many of the tasks that we have had to do. Checking into the country is always an onerous task but with his help we were able to cut some corners and get things done efficiently. Shopping for anything or finding special services is difficult from where we are. We are located at the end of a long causeway at the southern entrance to the canal. It was built from residue from the original Canal excavation so nothing is close. Busses are not an option when you have to run from one end of the city to the other, especially when you have to carry your purchases which tend to be heavy and bulky. We have been able to share the cab expenses with other cruisers too.
So far, Panama is turning out to be much cheaper for most services and goods that Costa Rica. Fuel is a dollar less and the basics (like beer and rum) are almost half price. Checking in is much more costly because Panama has a “Cruising Permit” requirement. Ours came to $213. That and the $215 for immigration make much more of dent that the check-in/out costs of all of the other countries of Central America. And that is only the beginning. Our Canal Fees should add up to something close to $1500. We also have a few essentials to buy here like bottom paint and repairs to a few items. The VHF radio has already cost us $35 and repairs to the zippers of the cockpit enclosure another $135.
Last weekend was the start of Carnival. It culminated with the Mardi Gras parade on Tuesday night. For the entire weekend this town was nuts. We tried to avoid most of it but succumbed to the lure of the Afro-Caribbean event on Sunday and the Tuesday festivities and the parade downtown. The locale of the parade was the main road approaches of the Bridge of the Americas. The entire area was fenced off and, entry was only through gates where everyone was searched, presumably for weapons. They had a separate “foreigner” entrance for anyone with a foreign passport but everyone was searched. There were thousands of people queued up at the other entrance. Once inside you were besieged with hundreds of stands selling anything from those cheap Chinese-made light-up trinkets t, people selling spay foam and spray silly string cans, beer stands, and many different food choices. The most popular were skewers of marinated meat cooked over a makeshift BBQ. You don’t need a permit to do this in Panama and it was obvious that most were your next door neighbor type trying to capitalize on the hordes. Surprisingly it was all cheap. When you consider that all the beer sellers were selling at $1.00 it makes you wonder how we get gouged back home. Mind you, here the beer sells for less than $12.00 per 24. The parade itself was an anti-climax. It was about 1 hr long but only 10 floats, a few band and lots of crazy people in semi-organized groups marching or dancing to loud music emanating from massive speakers on the back of beat-up cars. This was not the Carnival in Rio or New Orleans but it was an interesting spectacle. We left right after the parade and there were still thousands of people lined up to get in.
The following day Fran and I, with our friends, Leu and Claus (White Shell) decided to try out the bus system. With directions from another cruiser we set out to find a marine store downtown. After 1-1/2 hours of riding busses we ended up in a “not-so-good” part of town, at least that is what the tourist police who picked us up told us…. Thinking we were close to our target we got out of the bus and started hiking to our goal (or so we thought). A police van stopped us and asked us where we were going. We told them, they rolled their eyes and told us to get in. After a scolding (in English) about wandering in a bad part of town they drove us to our destination.
Today we went on an organized tour to a village about 2 hours north of the city called Valle. It is actually located in an extinct volcano’s caldera. All along the way our guide pointed out the many gringo enclaves that have sprouted up over the past few years. Many Americans and Canadians are retiring here, including Ken and Sandy, former neighbour’s when we lived in Ottawa. We are hoping to meet the in a few weeks. Valle was a refreshing change from the big city. We saw a very interesting zoo of indigenous wildlife and plants and a hike to a waterfall. This was topped off with a visit to the local craft market. The Panama hats were a popular purchase. Fran says I look pretty good in mine……
Valle Zoo: Cayote above and rare golden frog below
!900, 16 Feb, at a mooring ball at Cantadora
We have returned to Cantadora with Rio Nimpkish. This is a stop on our way to the Darien River system on the Panamanian mainland, south of the Canal and close to the Columbian border. We have heard lots of good reports of the area from friends and have mapped out a number of places to see. This is an area of indigenous peoples who had not had much contact with the civilized world and who produce beautiful baskets. Fran is hoping to get a few for her collection.
On our way here we saw large areas of red tide. We had seen it close to shore but it is much more widespread than we had anticipated. It appeared to be a layer about 4-8 ft below the surface. We also found that the water has warmed up 6-10 degrees since we were last here. Maybe we’ll get a chance at snorkeling before we head back to Panama City in a week or so.
Must complete this entry and post it as we will most likely be out of cell tower range once we cross into the Darien.