San Blas/Panama Re-Cap
25 April 2012 | 08 54.549'N:79 31.399'W, Panama Canal
Hmmmm So little to say, and so much space.... Panama has been very interesting and a lot of fun. Lots of mixed things though, which is in part why I have taken some time before writing.
Kuna Yala: We didn't spend a lot of time in Kuna Yala (aka the San Blas). Only a little over 2 weeks. But we did see a fair bit in that time. We had romanticized the area a bit, as it is one of few places that has a culture that has held very strongly to its traditional ways. The Kuna live mostly in thatch huts on remote islands. They live by fishing, and by doing some farming on the mainland. They are known for living very long healthy lives--enough so that some scientists have come to study the phenomenon over the years. We definitely enjoyed seeing this, and were fortunate to get some great tours by Nestor on Nalunega and by Federico from Nargana who also acted as our guide up the Rio Diablo river. However, we also noticed an awful lot of corrupting outer influence which took away from it a bit. Lots of plastic trash in and out of the water in some places (others were fairly pristine). Kuna asking to get cell phones charged, and some begging for things from crui sers. A culture of taking from cruisers whatever they can has seemed to develop--very one sided, as they for the most part don't seem willing to do anything in return without charging for it. Cruiser's patch dug out canoes with epoxy all the time, and charge cell phones etc. Yet they charge an exorbitant ransom if someones dinghy drifts off, and appear loath to do anything without a price. ...just a couple of examples. It all Left a bit of a bad taste for me--and in fair part a bad taste for the foolish way cruisers have 'trained' people how to react to them.... It was a beautiful place to visit, but the water was not very clear while we were there, so our snorkeling was somewhat limited. We did see some large grouper and a couple very large rays while snorkeling though...
After Kuna Yala, we make a pit stop off Isla Linton--where we were fortunate enough to see the endangered Black Spider Monkey. And we had dinner at a fairly sketchy hostel like place that seems to be on the backpacker road to south america. For those who don't know, you can't drive all the way to South America. There are no connecting roads between panama and Colombia. There of course are probably a few dirt tracks, but they are through place with heavily armed Guerrillas etc. So people catch boat rides out of Kuna Yala over to Colombia. However, this particular "hostel' seemed to have some side businesses ...
After Isla Linton we stopped in Portobello. This was a very interesting if brief stop. Portobello was the main port through which Spanish gold flowed out of central america. Three forts, and a customs house which held the gold, which are all very impressive. So we viewed and read a lot about the history. Notably, there is a bit a semi permanent cruiser community here so its a good place to track things down, and a good place to hang out as an alternative to Shelter Bay. We only stayed one night, and had the good fortune to be able to take the kids to a pirate party and a new bar/restaurant.
After Portobello we went into Shelter Bay marina, which is the only marina in the Canal Zone on the Caribbean side. Nice place, but very isolated. Amy took the shuttle in to some shopping areas and got all of our provisioning done. Unfortunately the only nearby town is Colon. Which is hugely dangerous. People get mugged in broad daylight all the time. One cruising boat that we met, anchored close to Colon, trying to save money on Shelter Bay rates, and locals swam out and robbed them of nearly everything on board.
We spent 3 weeks in Shelter Bay, much more than we would have liked. But getting a transit date that sticks can be a problem. But we were able to haul out and get our sail drive fixed. Hopefully it will hold up--knock on wood. Also Shelter bay is right near a National Park, and is within the old abandoned Fort Sherman, United States Base. There is nothing but jungle and wildlife surrounding the Marina--so we heard howler monkeys everyday, and saw them when we would walk out of the marina into the jungle on walks. We also saw some of the white faced Capuchin monkeys. Not to mention, birds, crocodiles, insects etc. Pretty neat place.
We are now on Panama City side of the isthmus. Panama city is much safer, and is a modern city. Skyscrapers everywhere--the skyline looks a bit like New York. We won't be spending much time here, but we will be finishing up our provisioning and enjoying a few meals out. Yesterday we went out for dim sum in the morning. Then went to the Panama Canal Museum, then went out for panamanian ice cream made in the french tradition. Very nice :). The night before we pigged out at a Lebanese restaurant. Today we are thinking pizza and cold beer--and maybe a trip to the movies at one of the mega malls ha ha.
In the next couple of days we will depart for the Galapagos.