We have arrived in Colon, everybody's least
favourite city in Panama! With just $10 cash left in the kitty we
reluctantly left the San Blas with a quick stop at Portobelo to try and obtain
some money from the ATM machine there. We opened the door only to wade
ankle deep in old receipt slips from previous users. The machine was as dead as
a Dodo and later confirmed by a friend not to have been working since before
Easter. We heard later that they fixed it the day after we left. The nearest
bank or ATM is in Sabanitas a long 'chicken bus' ride away. So we pulled anchor
again and headed onwards to Shelter Bay which is situated in the far western
corner of Colon Harbour, a safe distance from the thieves, rogues and
vagabonds lurking in Colon itself (at least in some quarters of the city).
Only recently a yachtsman anchored off the town
was confronted by 3 locals in dripping wet underpants in the
early hours whilst his crew were off line handling on a canal transit.
Needless to say he was robbed of all his cash, computers etc. Naturally they
took his dinghy to save getting all that cash and expensive IT equipment soaking
wet on a swim back to town. It may have helped if he had not left his front door
open - we lock ourselves in at night in some areas. Just like back at home
really. He may well start doing the same.
We had only been in the marina for two minutes and already had
met up with people we knew and people we didn't know but knew of us.
(Worrying!). With the old yacht club now closed across the harbour in Colon
town Shelter Bay has taken over as the departure point for most yachts
about to transit the canal. The marina operates a free morning courtesy
bus (complete with driver wearing sinister black leather driving
gloves) into one of the more salubrious parts of Colon. Here you
stand a reasonable chance of getting all of your shopping from the checkout
and into a vehicle without having it all nicked. Being in the western corner of
the massive harbour, the breakwater alone measures a total of 3 miles, means you
have to cross the gigantic Panama Canal locks via a small swing bridge. This is
where you get up very close and personal to the massive ships as they are
eased into the Gatan lock system by the locomotives that still work the canal
after all these years.
'Ever Diadem' transits
the Gatan locks - and now well on its way into the
Turbulence from the lock gates as millions of
gallons of water escape to the Caribbean as we cross the narrow
swing bridge used by traffic alongside the lock gates
Further along the earthworks can be seen of the
new locks in construction which will allow for even larger ships to
transit between the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific
At the Rey Supermarket there are armed guards in evidence
both on the premises and outside. One we spotted tipped the scales at 20 stone
if he was a pound and had a handgun in a holster fastened way down his
left leg. He just needed an eye patch and he would have passed for a black
version of John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn character in True Grit. Seemed very
helpful though and we imagine he's part of the scenery.
With the credit card taking a hammering from all directions we
had to get all the food and not an inconsiderable amount of booze back into the
van, which was full of cruisers doing the same thing. Unlike the journey out
this time we caught the lock gates wrong and had to queue for some time.
Remember when you cursed being caught at a level crossing with a train
due? Imagine waiting for a 100,000 ton container ship, a tanker and the
Mearsk Explorer or whatever all puttering out of the locks at 3
knots! Good job we never bought any frozen food!
Shelter Bay Marina is set in the grounds of an old
American base which is now part of a nature reserve. The base was called Fort
Sherman and has been in existence since the early 1900s forming the
fortifications for the Colon area. There are three batteries which used to house
disappearing guns which have indeed disappeared over the years....
Remains of the old batteries at Fort Sherman - we didn't venture inside in case
You can walk the reserve which is mainly jungle with roads cut
through which apparently don't have too many dangerous animals roaming
around. There is however a resident crocodile (described as impressively
large) living in the marina mangroves which puts the mockers on
popping in to do any hull cleaning. It was seen lurking last week next to a
Canadian boat owned by a couple we met whilst here which is perhaps not too
surprising as they have a dog and cat onboard and maybe the cat looked tasty.
Then yesterday somebody casually dropped into a conversation that it was lurking
at the bows of our boat 2 days ago - the actual day that Skip nipped in
quickly to rod through a blocked anchor locker drain! Sharks one week - Crocs
the next. Bring on the Komodo Dragons.
The remains of many of the base buildings are still standing
but in disrepair. Near the marina building the remains of the old cinema
and theatre lie. The ticket office is clearly visible and just above are the
projection apertures through the wall, although the projection room has recently
Two halves for the stalls
please...... ........... Err,
What stalls Madam?
It looks like the Americans rehearsed for the
invasion of Iraq before they handed the canal and the base over to the
Panamanians as the old married quarters are in ruins. The marina building looks
to have been refurbished very tastefully with a restaurant and guest
lounge. The ablution facilities are excellent and certainly beats
sitting on the back of the boat showering under cover of darkness. Only thing is
each shower room - you have one to yourself - has one of those huge
combined fan and light fittings, the fans are large enough to power a Spitfire.
Whenever we've seen these things the fan is wobbling around so much it looks as
though its going to fly off the mounting or worse still bring the whole lot
down on you whilst towelling yourself down. Now, we have plenty of fans
and propellers on the boat and if they wobble around that much they get
tightened up pretty damn quickly!
Many of the yachts are getting ready to transit the canal so
it's a last fling in the Caribbean before tackling the 3000 miles between
Galapagos and the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. With the cost of
transiting a pittance compared to taking a Panamax vessel through the lockage it
stands to reason that transits are often cancelled at the last minute due to
lack of pilots and advisors. This means that a pre-arranged last night out
hangover is often allowed to cure itself without added stress when the email
arrives to inform you that your transit has been delayed by some days. This
means the marina gets to charge you another few nights stay so everyone
amongst quality boats here - so our request for a small discount on our berth
was no doubt met with side-splitting laughter in the marina office
behind our backs
Last Sunday, 15th April, the 'Admiral', wielding
her considerable powers, declared it would be a 'no-work' day. Having
cleared a mountain of smelly laundry and then hovered the forward cabin in the
intense heat it was the least she should do. There are some walks locally
through the old Fort Sherman estate which take you into the more jungly areas of
the old army base. Just a short distance along the path we encountered
White Faced Capuchin monkeys in the trees looking down at us. It was one of
those staring competitions as we stood still and they sat still peering through
the branches seeing who would be first to move. We were mindful that they were
in amongst abundant date palms which we expected to start raining down on us.
A quick Wiki search when we were back at the boat
revealed interesting facts about this species. They are the 'Minkey of choice'
for street organ grinders everywhere, if in fact there are anymore anywhere.
Organ grinders that is - not the White Faced Capuchin monkey, which is
apparently under no threat at all being abundant in numbers. Its the
organ grinder that has probably become extinct - not his monkey. So, when
somebody mentions sarcastically that they want to speak to the organ grinder,
not his monkey, there's now an appropriate answer.
monkey looking for an spare organ to sit on
One more interesting fact about these chaps is that
due to their superior intelligence they are being trained to work with
paraplegics, but Wiki didn't actually expand on exactly how. So we are left
to speculate on how the abilities of such a creature could assist those
unfortunate people. One fact we do know is that they are a darn sight better
looking than those apes we saw at Linton a few weeks back. But their
complexions did remind me just a little of Dame Barbara Cartland
towards the end of her days when the makeup was being caked on in thick
layers giving her a white ghostly look. Think it was also the receding
The picturesque grounds of the Sherman estate which is gradually being reclaimed
by the jungle
Further on along the path we encountered a group of vultures
that were clearly upset to have their midday snack interrupted by a couple of
yachters walking along their road. We kept seeing individual vultures
(horrible things) flying out of a drainage culvert where, horror of horrors
there were the remains of - oh no - a White Faced Capuchin monkey.
Well, the vultures have to live don't they? And despite the best efforts
of vultures our white faced furry friends have numbers on their side.
Fortunately some light relief was provided by encountering a 50 foot long
procession of leaf cutter ants that were staggering all over the road under
their load of freshly cut leaves which they were leaving in a huge pile near the
nest before turning round and walking all the way back for another cutting. As
they go to get another one they have a quick chat with those in transit with a
leaf - presumably to give up to the minute instruction on where to dump it.
Apparently leaf cutter ants have the second most established social structure
next to human beings. Isn't Wikipedia just great!
Ant's Eye view of the Fort Sherman Leaf Cutters
Yesterday, being Sunday again we ventured off for
another route march into the jungle, this time ending up at a local beach.
We could imagine when the Americans were on site that it would have been kept
pristine and raked but now it's littered with the usual detritus of shoes
and plastic containers of every size and shape. To arrive at the beach we
had to walk along a narrow path through the jungle which was mercifully free of
anything harmful although the constant rustling in the undergrowth was quite
A beach to ourselves with distant ships waiting
to transit - no Skip's not fishing
Earlier, along the road we were fortunate enough to see yet
more monkeys - this time not the organ grinding enthusiasts but a troop of Black
Faced Spider Monkeys which according to Wikipedia (again) are an endangered
species. Once again we stopped for a staring competition which seemed to work in
our favour as having to walk directly underneath them produced nothing by way of
a brown 'offering' thrown in our direction. They weren't there when we returned
- probably extinct already.
a huge iridescent blue butterfly with 5 inch wingspan complete our Sunday