Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Sun 15 Mar 2015 23:45
I am not sure that you can ever get used to the contrasts that you find when you travel. Panama is no less a contradiction, noticeably more affluent than its canal partner Colon, with American style shopping malls, buses and long goods trains whose horns blare like in the those moody American films, juxtaposition with concrete shoe box high rises. The smart new parliament building sits next to the water treatment plant and corrugated iron snack shacks and bounded by the motorways, no grand drives and low key security. Ever since 1999 when the USA formally handed back the 10 mile wide strip of territory either side of the Panama canal that they had built and finished in 1914, Panama State has earnt a fortune from this, their biggest source of income. Charges of $250,000 per transit per large container ship or Panomax as those built especially for the canal dimensions are called, and the profit is in the billions. So much so it is financing the 2nd canal building project.
The skyline of the new Panama would look just as good in New York or London, architects vie to make their skyscrapers design stand out. Although we didn’t get past the local shopping mall, prosperity is screaming at you across the harbour front from the city of glass. The shops are well supplied, the streets achieve an imperfect cleanliness totally absent elsewhere, buses run and are easy to use, taxis beep you everywhere and are cheap, the day time streets are relatively safe, this is a city of westernised Latin culture.
The bureaucracy is Latin though and crazy. Clearing in and out of the Capitainary, customs and immigration requires the patience of saints, our friends had to chase all over Panama to find an unmarked immigration office that nobody seemed the whereabouts of. Clearing out should have been simple but another round of form filling, more document copies, the inevitable fee and an hour later, we made a grateful retreat to the gas (fuel) station. “No, we cant fill your dingy fuel tank because you are not in your boat," so we motor round with our boat this morning as we are leaving and send the dingy in from the breakwater. Again our friends come unstuck, you cant row into the marina. As Jonathan rowed to the dock, the marina tender took his painter without asking and towed him to the breakwater again, no arguments, he was furious. Alan went back for him and towed the dingy back in, they finally got fuel but what a performance.
We had heard Old Panama is worth a visit and the restored parts are charming, although they could be next door to a ruin where only the colonial facade has been preserved. The Palacio Bolivar, church and adjacent square were pretty. The tourist stalls full of colourful local crafts and of course the Panama hat. Panamanian vultures stand sentinel over the cathedral square, a sight I cant equate with the city. This is the dry season, the city is hot and sticky, the beer thankfully cheap.
We were very impressed with the local cruisers network of help and information, via the radio (Ch 74 at 8am). We could do with that everywhere!
With relief we have moved on from the anchorage at La Playita, it was rolly, dirty from the diggers going 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, along the shoreside and noisy from the speeding ferries and a rock concert to cap it all! But we haven’t moved far, 8 miles to the island of Tabogo, which is the site of one of the oldest towns in Panama, built before the present city. It was sufficiently important for the British pirate Henry Morgan to burn it to the ground along with the first town of Panama and Portobello. What a pyromaniac that guy was! As you may have seen from the photo blog, the waters are busy with anchored cargo/super tankers awaiting a Panama transit, belching black fumes, the air here is a hazy brown, most unpleasant.
Tabogo is a Panamanian playground too, arriving on the weekend the place was very busy and its still early in the season. Motor boats fill the anchorage, picnics and BBQ’s stretch along the sands, the waste is everywhere. On a brighter note, Paul Gauguin that much travelled Painter, was sent here to the sanatorium, to recover from a tropical disease, contracted whilst he was working on the French version of the Panama Canal. (Not completed by the French and I think not completed at all.) The island has claimed a little piece of him with Gauguin inspired art on the walls.
We are away tomorrow sailing to an anchorage or two in the Les Perles islands some 40 miles from here, before another 6-8 days at sea getting to the Galapagos islands. We are headed for Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz and hope to arrive around 25th March give or take a day.
All our best,
Lynne and Alan