Colon, Shelter Bay.

Sun 9 Feb 2014 18:11
 09:22.1772N 79:57.0W

The light marking the entrance through the breakwater into Colon harbour.

Sailing down to Colon, and the entrance to the Panama Canal, was magical. This wasn't due to a particularly stunning coast line, although it's beautiful national park, nor was it due to clear blue water, it was mostly green as we were inshore. It was due to the butterflies. Big black swallow tailed butterflies, with bright green, yellow or turquoise bands continually flew across the boat. There must have been thousands of them as they flew past for most of the journey. They were heading North out to sea, for no understandable purpose. I told them not to go, that there was nothing there except Jamaica, about 600 miles away, that they'd likely drown, but they ignored me and just kept coming. A dead one turned up on deck later and I was able to photograph it, the uppermost wing is a little damaged, but you'll get the idea of what they look like.

As we approached things got busier and busier, with big ships manoeuvring to enter the ports and to go in through the break water to go through the canal. Here's a shot of our navigation chart as we approached. We're the black boat shape top right. All the grey triangles are ships, clustered both sides of the Gatun locks of the canal.

It was all fine, we got clearance to go through the break water and were safely settled in Shelter Bay by mid afternoon.

Shelter Bay is built on land that used to be part of an American airfield and military base. There are lots of decaying buildings, half overgrown. More significantly it is in a national park and you can walk straight into virgin rainforest teeming with life. The bird song, mixed with the calls of howler monkeys and the beeps of tree frogs, was outstanding. In particular there was a small bird, we were told he was a type of oriole, who would sit as high as he could, 40 feet up on the top spire of a Royal Palm, and whistle a song. It went:

De dum dum dum dah
De dum dum dum dah
De dum di di dah
De dum di di dah

I never heard a bird whistle in such a 'human' way before!

Exploring the forest we stopped to watch the howler monkeys make their way across the tree tops, breaking off leaves as they went, scratching their backs on the bark, mothers carrying babies, all peacefully getting on with their day. Toucans flew overhead, their huge beaks looking remarkably streamlined and sensible when they fly. We were lucky enough to see two kinkajou, amazing looking things, with a face like a racoon, but with big eyes and ears like bears. They're also called honey bears. They have a prehensile tail, that looks like a cat's does when he's fluffed it up. They're about half a meter long, with the same again for the tail. We didn't get a picture but I've found one online so you can see what they're like:

The other 'biggie' we didn't get a picture of was a crocodile. he was inside the Marina grounds, on the bank by the side of the road. Luckily we were in a taxi and he ran fast away from us, to a little creek, pushed high up on his fore arms like a lizard does when he runs, his tail forming s shapes as he moved with frightening speed. I wouldn't want one running towards me... Friends of ours saw anteaters and sloths, and there was a snake in the marina the day before we arrived. I was jealous of the sloths, but was glad to have missed the snake.

What I did manage to snap were some birds. These little blue tree creepers were delightful, and we also saw a big flock of weaver birds, with bright yellow tails and blue grey beaks. They first came to our attention by the noises they were making: loud gurgling, clucks, trills and a sort of tearing sound. We couldn't believe at first that all these noises were coming from the same birds. They're a type of corn bird, a Crested Oropendula, and they weave meter long hanging nests. They're similar to the corn birds we saw in Trinidad, but these ones have a longer upper beak than lower.


The flowers were delightful too, these orchids were crowing on a trunk right next to the marina dock:

I could have stayed in Shelter Bay for months, enjoying the forests around us, every day hoping for a sight of those elusive sloths, but the Pacific calls so we got our boat inspected and measured for the canal. This turned out to be a remarkably easy process as Lochmarin has been through 3 times before, so they didn't even use a tape measure, just used the length they had on the paper work previously. Once you are measured you can request a date so we asked for the soonest one possible and did some more provisioning.

But where can we put it all?