Cocktails in crumbling colonial mansions

Tue 12 Feb 2008 20:36
Position  08.35N  79.02W
I began writing this at anchor off the island of Contadora in the Gulf of Panama, famous for being the place where the Shah of Iran lived during his exile. It's only about 30 miles off the coast of Panama, and we're looking at some pretty glamorous houses on shore. We've also send the best bird life in four years--flocks of pelicans skimming the water, the adults teaching the fledglings how to fly. Instead of sailing directly to Ecuador (off the coast of Colombia!) we are spending a couple of days en route exploring the Las Perlas Archipelago, famous for its pirate history and being the place where Elizabeth Taylor's huge pearl came from.
We've found Panama to be a fascinating place, especially as we have been lucky enough to be here during Carnaval, he biggest party of the year. John Hunt from Southern Princess, took some wonderful photos the night we were there, so do take a look on the Southern Princess blog on Mailasail or the World Cruising website. In a crowd of about 20,000 were amongst a very small number of white faces, which could have been rather scary. Luckily everyone was very polite and good natured.Sure parts are crime infested, but the great thing is there are almost no tourists. Panama City has been described as 'Miami, but with more English" but we've found very little English, and my limited Spanish has had a real work out. The history is fascinating, from Henry Morgan to General Noriega, and as well as the canal, Panama is best known for money laundering. Luckily my niece, Sophie brought us a copy of the Panama Lonely Planet, so we were able to visit many great places and find the best food and cocktails. Our favourite place was Casco Viejo, the old town, where we met up with Vladamir, one of the tourist police who patrol the area on bicycles. As it was nearly knock off time, He offered to take us back to the boat in his car, which doubled as as taxi when he was off duty. He had pretty good English, so Tony, Mike and I arranged for him to take us back to the Caribbean Coast to visit Portobelo and Isla Grande. It was a wonderful trip, but we hadn't bargained for the dreadful state of the roads. What we saw over there made us sorry that we'd had to hurry down to make our Canal transit. You could happily spend 3 months cruising the waters of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Panama. Everything is so cheap here you can dine at a top quality restaurant for remarkably little. And that includes the most delicious mojitos and excellent Chilean wine.
We anchored last night off another idyllic island where we found another Australian yacht--a couple doing a circumnavigation as part of the Blue Water Rally. Because it's the right time of year we keep bumping into the Blue Water folk.
Since we entered the Pacific the water has been quite cloudy--full of krill. When you swim in it you come out smelling of fish. The fishing is outstanding--we'd caught 3 tuna before 7 30 this morning. We had Bill Granger's tuna confit and pasta last night, plus cherry pie, which we shared with our friends on Southern Princess. Lunch today was the best sashimi we've ever tasted. The fridge and freezer are now crammed with fish, but our wine supplies are somewhat depleted. I counted 8 empty bottles this morning!
We're now back on our course to Ecuador which we should reach on Saturday. There's very little wind, so it looks as though the iron headsail aka the engine will have to be employed.