Archive for August, 2009

Portobello, Panama

Posted in Uncategorized on 10/08/2009 by ketchkaraka

This is the new log, I’ll edit and post the totallity of the old log on the website when I get the time.

We arrived here on sunday the 2nd after beating into the wind all day.

We had sailed to the rio Chagres from bocas del toro in light wind, at sea for 48 hours. The rio Chagres is the main river of Panama, the one that was used in the old days to cross the isthmus before they built the railway and the canal. Now the river is dammed about 6 miles from its mouth, so its waters are used to generate electricity for the canal and to flood the Gatun lake, through which the canal goes. The river itself and its surroundings are protected as a national park and while there is the dirty city of Colon about 20 km away, nobody lives in the national park except some indigenous people and scientists from the Smithonian Institute. There are the ruins of the fort San Lorenzo overlooking the mouth of the river, and we anchored just beneath it for the first few days. The fort was one of the major fortification on what was then the spanish main and it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times as the corsairs and the spanish fought for the control of the entrance of the strategic river. The captain Henry Morgan took off from there to go sack Panama City in the 1600s. Nowadays, the overgrown ruins are only full of ghosts, buzzards and howler monkeys, instead of canon balls and cutlasses you find mangoes and bananas.

The crew set to explore the area, gathering fruits, making jam and home made booze, baking bread, trying to catch fish, etc… after a few days we motored upriver to the dam and anchored there for a night. Most of the crew went to visit the Gatun locks, the first one on the canal coming from the Atlantic side. They spoted a mother sloth with a baby on the way back. There also were crocodiles.

The next day we all decided to go visit the Smithonian Institute. They are about 3 km from the river, up on a hill. At the end of an old road there is a keeper house where one man lives, and a construction crane pocking through the canopy and that is used for research. But we were nowhere near the road or any path, so we equipped ourselves with shoes and pants and compasses and machetes, the little map we had of the area and we hacked our way through the rain forrest… it took us about 3 hours to get to the crane. The crane is open so we could climb it, the whole 60 meters of unbroken ladder of it, and enjoyed the panoramic views from the top, while feasting on home made bread and mango sauce. The return trip took us another 3 hours, and we got slightly lost on the way back. Navigating in the jungle, where you can’t see more than 20 or 30 meters away, going down steep slopes and never seing the sky is very hard. Darkness was not far off so we had to rush, wading knee deep in mud, hacking trails through thick growth, playing mountain goat down cliffs, avoiding spiders and crocodiles and barely having the time to rest at the bottom of the incredible waterfalls in the midst of all that. We made it back to the boat muddy, thorny, cut and exhausted, in the nick of time, just at sunset and it was well worth it.

Next we went back to the mouth of the river, and got the boat ready for the next leg. The wind was fresh, blowing a good 25 knots, practically exactly from where we were going. So we had to zig and zag all day, dodging countless cargo ships leaving or entering the canal and arriving after dark in the beautiful bay that is aptly called Portobello. Here we have just been relaxing, and visiting the remnant of the town, which used to be the custom center for the spanish at the time they where sucking dry the americas. The magnificent stronghold at the center of town is said to have been the depository for a third of all the gold of the world in its time. There are also 4 major fortresses, ruins all, since Morgan wasn’t content with only destroying San Lorenzo and Panama City. The town today is a very small affair, forgotten by time. It is sleepy and remote with only a few yachts anchored in the bay, and the rare tourists who make their way here find the place devoid of hostels, night clubs or fancy restaurants.

Dori and Manuel just went to spend 3 days in panama city, 2 hours away by bus, Mike and Silke went as well but just overnight, while the rest of the crew just chilled on the boat. We met interesting people on other boats and ashore, neighbors so to speak, and we had some nice evening rebuilding the world, exchanging sea stories, jamming and depleting Panama’s reserve of rum.

We took care of a few things, provisioning, fixing a few leaky pumps, refill the cooking gas bottles, etc etc. Everybody is now looking forward for the next part of the trip, 4 or 5 weeks of isolation in the kuna territories, hundreds of small islands occupied by an autonomous indigenous people between here and Colombia. The weather is unsettled for today so we’ll just get the ship ready and leave tomorow morning.