Farewell Panama, You Were A Beautiful Host

After spending eight months in Panama, we prepared to leave the San Blas Islands, and head for Colombia. Our original plan was to be in Bocas del Toro by the end of June, and stay for a month. After that, it would be on to the San Blas for the month of August, and then head for Colombia in September. As we’ve well learned, weather rules the cruising world, and as a result, we didn’t arrive in Bocas until the first week in August.

Since we’d arrived late, and paid several hundred dollars to clear into Panama, I told Scott it would be a shame to rush through the country, so we slowed our plan. Almost three months later, we’d grown attached to the laid back, comfortable town of Bocas del Toro, and the scenic surrounding islands. We met new friends, and frequented stores and restaurants in town so much that we were recognized on the street.

We ate fresh made pizzas at Bocas Marina’s barbecue night, got to know most every happy hour special in town (Scott even came to like sushi!) and never got tired of the mountain views.

At Red Frog Marina, we were surrounded by lush jungle rain forest, and enjoyed the short walk through tropical scenery to the beach, for yummy tacos. The staff quickly became friends, and the sights and sounds of the property were truly beautiful.

 

Scott crawled through caves with bats, hiked trails on Red Frog’s property and explored the archipelago with the Aluminum Princess.

We went to Sunday parties at Ron Azul,  attended many happy hours on Red Frog’s dock, survived crazy, crowded, high-speed panga rides to and from town and celebrated Thanksgiving at a terrific potluck with friends during our final days in the area.

It was hard to cut the apron strings and leave Bocas, which will always have a special place in our cruising memories, but there was more of Panama to see.

As we headed for the San Blas Islands, our route took us to more beautiful locations. The shoreline scenery at Escucdo de Veragus was almost otherworldly, and we spent hours in the dinghy taking in the sights.

Portobelo’s harbor was quiet and picturesque, and we enjoyed roaming the ruins of the many forts that surround the town.

At Captain Jack’s, perched on a hill in town, we were welcomed with cold towels, local info., and delicious food. We’d have liked to linger longer in Portobelo, but weather pushed us on.

Next was a pit stop at Linton Bay, for an overnight trip to Panama City, and a visit to the Panama Canal. We spent hours watching the huge ships close up, as they passed through the locks on their way to the Pacific.

Then it was on to our hotel for the night, where we continued to watch the ships pass by. It was also a treat to watch tv in English, and take roomy showers.

Our return trip toward Linton Bay was by train, on the Panama Canal Railway; what a cool way to travel! We spent the entire ride out on the observation deck, getting up close and personal with our surroundings.

We took advantage of a lull in the wind, and enjoyed a calm ride over to the San Blas Islands, where we enjoyed a tropical Christmas and spent almost four months surrounded by gorgeous water and uninhabited palm tree islands.

Scott fished almost every day, catching endless lobster, then using the heads as bait for delicious Trigger fish!

 

There were endless anchorages, some near the lush, mainland mountains and others surrounded by reef and palms. 

We enjoyed getting food from veggie boats, and interacting with the friendly Guna people.

For somewhere so remote, our social calendar was quite busy! We made terrific friends here, who we’ll keep in touch with for years to come. There were many beach parties, as well as trash burning gatherings, which was always a good excuse to bob in the water.

During our time in the San Blas, we had our first official cruising visitor. Our friend Karen made the adventurous journey to see us, and we had a ball catching up, introducing her to our friends, and showing off our “neighborhood”!

Scott continued his explorations, by land and sea, and Howard spent his time in Panama as he does in every location we visit, playing, napping and watching for fishes….and occasionally sharks, and generally keeping us on our toes!

 

 

So now it’s time to move on, and leave where we’ve called home for the last eight months. We could spend years here, or very easily live here. The country is beautiful, and offers much to see and do on the water and inland, as well as in Panama City. Our departure is bittersweet, but we look forward to our next stop, and for the adventure to continue.

 

 

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

Portobelo’s Spanish Forts

Because it was one of the most important ports on the route of their treasure fleet, the Spanish built several defensive forts in Portobelo. At one time, ten different fortifications were built on the hills behind the city’s port, making it the most heavily fortified Spanish coastal control point in the Americas.

Pirates destroyed them several times, but several of the fortresses still survive, and in 1980, their ruins were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (criteria for World Heritage Sites).

We first visited Fort Santiago, which sits on the south side of the harbor.

Houses now sit among part of the fort’s waterfront walls, and it’s upper battery, across the main road, is completely over grown.

 

 

Men who built these forts were definitely shorter (and most Panamanians still are). Scott seemed giant, in front of a doorway.

Our next stop was the custom house, located just off of the square in town.

Built in 1630, it was the headquarters for all of the Spanish custom offices. Gold and silver from the Inca Empire was exported through this custom house, and countless African slaves were imported to the New World from here as well. This huge building was the scene of many large trade fairs, until it was bombed by English pirates.

There was a small museum inside, with photos of the custom house in it’s heyday, in disrepair and before and after it’s reconstruction in the 1990’s. A display of period weaponry caught Scott’s eye. He especially liked this gun/hatchet thing.

The next fort, San Jeronimo, is located just outside the custom house.

This fort is affected by high tide, and we had to slop through water and mud to get to the walls, and look out to the harbor.

Several wrecked boats were visible from San Jeronimo’s walls. The most recent, from Hurriane Otto’s swells, still had people aboard, living life at a 45 degree angle.

While wandering the grounds, we were entertained by a happy group of school children, who gathered just inside the fort to sing and dance for donations.

Lastly, Fort San Fernandino sits on the north side of the harbor,  just near where we were anchored.

We beached our dinghy, and trekked through tall grass to the first battery level. There was a wobbly, narrow wooden board across the dry moat. I ran to the other side, Scott took his time.

We traipsed around the lower battery level, wandering through stone doorways, around crumbling corners, and peeking through walls, back down at Sea Life below in the harbor.

Next, we climbed a steep hill to the upper battery. The tall grass was full of burrs, that covered my shoes and pants. There were some set-in steps for part of the climb, but the remainder was just a foot path.

The views looking back at town and down to the harbor were even better at this level.

Scott noticed this small house-like structure, and had a peek inside. House-like was right, as in outhouse…the seat looked less than comfy!

Further up the hill, there is another, smaller fort that was built to store gunpowder and oversee the battery. Scott climbed the path for a bit, but decided not to leave me waiting, and snapped some photos before coming back down.

By the end of the eighteenth century, Portobelo’s boom ended. The Spanish switched from large fleets using few ports, to small fleets trading at a wide variety of locations, making them less vulnerable to attack. Ships also began traveling around Cape horn, to trade directly at ports on the western coast.

The city’s population revived briefly, during the construction of the Panama Canal. Today, Portobelo’s population is less than 5,000 residents, who now make a living fishing, farming or raising livestock.

After conquering all three forts and touring the custom house, we declared victory and headed back down the hill. It was happy hour, and Sea Life was waiting below at anchor.

Here are many more fort photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”