#22 Azuero Peninsula to Portobelo, Panama March 29 to April 25

Filed under: Panama — Aaron and Amy at 12:23 pm on Monday, April 30, 2007

We left David and were headed to the Azuero Peninsula for the Semana Santa (holy week) celebrations. The peninsula is full of small towns that hold many traditional festivals, and the village of Los Santos is supposed to be one of the best for Semana Santa. We were a bit early but wanted to stop at the tourist office to get the schedule of events so we could go hang out on the beach for a few days and return in time for the events. The tourist office in Los Santos is defunct, but there were several men at the small museum that were extremely helpful. We were headed to a beach called Venao, but found a great place to camp that was a few kilometers before it. Aaron saw several clusters of rocks in the water and decided it would be a great place for fishing. Oddly enough, on the side of the narrow dirt road there was an old RV sitting in the sun rotting away. It was kind of odd to have another RV sitting around but not have anyone in it. Even before securing a camping spot, Aaron made sure to befriend the local fisherman and set up a trip for the next morning. There was a little restaurant on a hill overlooking the bay that had room for us to park. The owner obliged so we set up camp for several days. It was a gem of a fishing village (really just a cluster of houses) with trucks coming in several times a day to purchase fish directly from the fisherman. When we first pulled in we were invited to a party at a gringo’s house. It was his birthday and they had lots of tuna from a long day of fishing. He had invited his friends and neighbors from the next village to enjoy all the good food. Aaron spent several days going fishing with the locals catching jack, trigger, parrot, tuna and snapper. The last day he was out spear fishing he saw a bull shark that was about 9 feet long. He has seen several small reef sharks on our trip but has been curious to see more. After spotting the bull (one of the most dangerous sharks), he promptly called the boat over and got out of the water. No use to be in the water shooting fish while that big guy is around! At low tide there were plenty of tide pools to explore. I took the dogs down and we explored all the creatures in the pools. Khorrah immensely enjoyed searching out all the pools and promptly laying down in the cool water with a big smile on her face! The last time we were in the Pacific Ocean was in southern Costa Rica where it was VERY warm. There must be different currents, because it was really cold off the Azuero Peninsula! We backtracked on the same road to get back to the village of Los Santos, passing the charming little village of Pedasi. (Local newspapers say actor/producer Mel Gibson recently purchased land near here). That night we knew there would be a procession in the streets of Los Santos, and were headed north just to see it. We looked around for a good camping spot and finally agreed upon Kevin’s Hotel, on the main drag right near the entrance to the center of town. There was a large tree under which we parked for $3 per night. Normally we seek out sun for our solar panels, but we would be driving the following day and the shade was great for the dogs. This is probably some of the hottest weather we have encountered on our trip! That night we went into town and watched as residents created designs with different kinds of flowers on the streets. First they threw down some water to help hold the petals in place and then they piled on bunches of flowers. The procession started from a small church, wound its way through the small colonial streets and ended at the cathedral on the main square. It was lead by a religious leader followed by a statue of Jesus riding on top of a marvelously decorated donkey! Several men held the statue in place as they briskly walked through the village. Behind Jesus and the donkey was the congregation with all the kids dressed in their best Easter clothing. Several little girls were delicately dressed in angel outfits, complete with flitting wings. As the procession made its way through the streets everyone walked right over the floral designs, sometimes collecting flowers from each one. Everyone gathered in the square afterwards eating street food and enjoying the warm April evening. During the procession I met a couple from Maine. Marcie was born and raised in Los Santos, Panama, and her husband Charlie was from the U.S. Marcie had inherited the house she grew up in and they are remodeling it. We visited them in their home which was right near the main square in town. It turns out it was Marcie’s birthday and we celebrated with cake and refreshing ice cream. The events of Semana Santa are spread out during the entire week, with the most spectacular ones being on each weekend. Originally it was our plan to backtrack to the beach for a few days and return to Los Santos for more festivities, but instead we decided to leave the peninsula and head to the XS Memories RV Park near Santa Clara. Most of the Azuero peninsula has been deforested, and is extremely parched and brown with very little vegetation. Unfortunately the scenery is worsened since we are at the end of a harsh dry season. Nevertheless, it wasn’t as attractive as we were expecting and Aaron did not want to stay any longer. We would be in the mountain town of El Valle and hoped to see more festivities there. There are only a handful of true RV parks (with electrical connections, water and dump facilities) in Central America and one of them is located near Playa Santa Clara which is about an hour and a half from Panama City. Our friends who had recently stayed there had varying reports of nightly fees and accessibility to the wireless internet. We pulled into the large lot and were given a nightly rate of $15. They have a refreshing pool, a palapa with hammocks, a large book exchange and the wireless was working. Shirley, one of the owners, was very nice but their food was mediocre and their ½ pound hamburgers pathetic. They also had several Dobermans and we were not allowed to have the dogs outside the RV at all, unless we were leaving to walk them outside the property. We decided to stay one night and then leave for El Valle in the morning. We met several friendly gringos who have houses in the area, and enjoyed a dinner with them before leaving. While looking to purchase breakfast the following morning, Shirley informed us she was leaving for the city and the restaurant was closed. We had cereal in the RV and Dennis, the other owner, came to the RV and asked when we were leaving because they both had to go. Leaving without a shower and not filling up our water tanks, we departed for El Valle wondering if that was really worth $15. While staying at XS Memories we met the owner of a hotel in El Valle, called Los Capitanes. Manny is a salty retired German Merchant marine that owns the beautifully landscaped hotel in El Valle. He welcomed us onto his lush property and found a suitable place for us to park; also allowing us to use his wireless internet. After checking out the serpentarium in town we had a marvelous German dinner that evening at the hotel. It really made me miss the days of traveling in Europe and getting my frequent meals of sausages and beer in the train stations! Manny was a very hospitable host, but we felt like we were taking up too much of his parking lot during the busy weekend of Semana Santa. We had met a woman from Washington State that has a bed and breakfast in town and she invited us to stay with her and her husband at the Golden Frog. Becky and Larry welcomed us and the time we spent together over the next several days was like visiting old friends. El Valle is and has always been the most popular weekend getaway for wealthy people from the city. The refreshing cool climate is a respite from the heat and traffic in the city. The hills are lush and covered with trees, there is ample hiking, hot springs, horse back riding and ancient petroglyphs. Tucked away from “downtown” there is a road called “Millionaire Avenue”. That may sound impressive but it isn’t descriptive enough to imagine the beauty and immensity of these estates. Most of them look like they were taken from the pages of a child’s storybook, complete with a dreamy fog lingering from the latest rain. We enjoyed cruising around the neighborhoods on the motorcycle, looking at the mansions in utter amazement. We got a tour of one of the estates, as the owner is a friend of Becky and Larry. His name is Willy Cochez and he was the first Mayor of Panama City after Noriega was removed. He is now one of the most prominent lawyers in Panama and visits his home in El Valle every weekend. Willy was a very gracious host giving us a tour of his extensive gardens and bonsai collection. His house is situated in such a location that he is able to use the hot spring water to fill his pool! While admiring his gardens we found a tree frog in one of the bushes and I was able to get some great photos. Our first night with Becky and Larry we took them out to dinner at the nicest place in town, the hotel/restaurant Los Lourdes. We had heard about the restaurant from one of the gringos at XS Memories, and she said the food was wonderful and it sounded like the ambience needed to be experienced in order to be believed. We wanted to thank Becky and Larry for letting us stay with them and we thought this would be a treat for everybody! Indeed we had a mouth watering dinner in the beautiful restaurant. Becky and Larry purchased their beautiful property from the former Vice-President of Panama, and added buildings to create more hotel rooms. They have a lovely pool and outdoor seating area as well as a magnificent home with an open floor plan. The RV was situated on the lower level of the property with lots of trees and space for the dogs. They had two dogs as well, one of which loved playing with Skylos. El Valle was inundated the Thursday before Easter by all the tourists from the city. Suddenly this quiet little town was overrun by Panama’s wealthy in their expensive cars and their young kids cruising town in their fancy golf carts. On Good Friday we all went to the small church to watch the procession in the evening. While it couldn’t begin to compare to our experience last year in Oaxaca, Mexico, it was a beautiful small procession that included the majority of the local population. We had scheduled a night-time nature hike after the procession with a guide from the local serpentarium, Mario. We left at 8:30 and had a great hike through the forest, seeing several different kinds of spiders, insects and frogs, some as tiny as the eraser on a pencil! We didn’t see any snakes on the way out and unfortunately on the way back Aaron thinks he planted a sick snake from the serpentarium that we saw several days before. Although we didn’t see as much wildlife as we had hoped, it was fun to go hiking in the jungle at night with the rain to cool us off. We left the cool mountain air of El Valle and arrived in Panama City in about 2 hours. We had heard from friends that recently passed through in RVs that we could camp near the Balboa Yacht Club which is on the causeway at the entrance to the city. It couldn’t have been a more perfect city campsite! We were parked right on the entrance to the Panama Canal in view of the Bridge of the Americas. The pretty sailboats moored at the yacht club and the ships transiting the canal were our view for the following week. We also had a wireless signal from both the yacht club and the TGI Fridays restaurant next door which allowed us to get lots of work done. We were able to fill our water tanks from a house right by the yacht club whose owner only asked for a shot or two of our good Nicaraguan Flor de Cana rum! The yacht club even has coin operated laundry machines so I got all our clothes clean before leaving. The causeway is a narrow strip of land that was artificially created by connecting several small islands with the material that was taken from digging the canal. It creates a beautiful piece of land with a pedestrian walkway along the entire length where locals come to bicycle, rollerblade, walk and run with their family, friends and pets. There are various shops and restaurants to entertain those looking to unwind from the congested city. It was a great place for our dogs since they had plenty of room to run. We couldn’t find any propane between El Valle and Panama City, so we had to search it out in the city. While in a taxi we went by the distributor and obtained a phone number from a truck driver and were told to call them. Since we were not regular customers Tropigas refused to have a truck come by the RV and fill up our tanks. Later that day the Tropigas truck was next door at TGI Fridays making a delivery. Aaron spoke to the driver but he said they couldn’t fill our tanks without an administrative approval. Aaron got them on the phone again and they finally allowed their driver to give us propane. Not long after they started the truck ran out of gas. They said they would be back several hours later, but did not show up. At the end of the day Aaron spoke to a different company, Panagas, and they said they would be there first thing in the morning. Just after hanging up the phone with Panagas, the Tropigas truck pulled in and proceeded to fill up our tanks! It was a bit of a fiasco, but we got our propane and it saved us the daunting task of driving through traffic to get the RV to their distributor in the city. We planned on being in the city for about a week to get lots of different things done both on the RV and researching the cost of shipping the RV to South America. Becky and Larry provided us with the information for a taxi driver they use whenever they need help finding something in the city. He knows his way around, Aaron wouldn’t have to drive the motorcycle in traffic searching out stores and we could use his car for bigger objects we needed to buy. His name is Hector and he charges $10 an hour to take you anywhere in the city. (Panamanian cell: 6697-0770) He also speaks English, so he can translate and negotiate deals for his clients that do not speak Spanish. After spending many hours trying to find an adequate generator, Aaron purchased a small Subaru that was supposed to charge our batteries when our solar panels aren’t enough. We used it at the yacht club and were extremely disappointed to determine it was not sufficient. Having given up on any in-country options, Aaron placed the order for a generator from the U.S.; in hindsight something we should have done way back in Mexico. We were able to get a new screen door slide to replace the old plastic one that broke in Costa Rica. While broken it created a hole large enough for plenty of bugs to enter and for our little dog Skylos to leave the RV whenever he wanted! Aaron was also able to find all the necessary parts and have a seamstress sew a new small awning for our dinette table window. For some reason no amount of caulk could seal the window and water accumulated in the tracks causing it to overflow down the wall of the RV onto our cushions. During the rainy season we have to close that window whenever we leave the dogs inside, which restricts their airflow. Now we have a little removable awning above the window to block sun and rain! Aaron was finally able to find a parts dealer to import the brake discs we need for a reasonable price and they will be installed after we return from Portobelo. After contacting a handful of the companies that could ship the RV from Central to South America (including departing from Panama and Costa Rica), we were given a price-range of $50 to $60 / cubic meter (however the lower price would have additional costs and probably end up being closer to the $60). We are too large for a shipping container and would have to use a roll-on/roll-off ship since our measurements are as follows: height: 3.4 meters, length: 9 meters (with bumper and Motorcycle on back) and width: 2.7 meters (roughly 27 x 10.5 x 8 feet) which totals $4,000 - $5,000 US to ship from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia; one-way. Shipping via container is cheaper and more secure (your vehicle is contained in a box and not open to possible theft as it is on a roll-on, roll-off ship). You also cannot ride with your RV, requiring us to fly with the dogs to meet the ship in the South American port. While researching this trip several years ago we never obtained a cost of shipping to South America, but knew that we were probably too big for a container and that makes it more expensive. We decided we would do our research in Panama when we needed to make the decision about which direction we would turn; either north to make our return trip or south to continue traveling for an unknown period of time. Aaron didn’t think it would cost $5,000 to ship one way, and wasn’t sure how we would manage taking on the gigantic continent of South America since it has taken us 16 leisurely months to drive from the US to Panama. Considering the cost of traveling at least another year and then having to ship the RV north again, we need to make sure we get home with enough money to get us situated and to rebuild a business. For all these reasons we have decided not to take the RV into South America at this time. It is an extremely difficult decision for us that we have gone back and forth on for the last 8 months, and is obviously a turning point in our Latin American trip. We desperately want to travel in South America and are saddened by the idea of turning back when we are so close, but we need to keep our options open for the future. We are so incredibly lucky (after much hard work) that we are able to take this kind of an adventure at this point in our lives. There are several comments made by both locals and expatriates that convey how they think our trip is important as well. We are constantly commended (especially by those that have lived most of their lives) that we have taken a break from our hectic work-driven lives in order to see the world at our young age before we lose the opportunity. So many people plan on traveling after retirement but then life gets in the way and it doesn’t always happen. We will have the rest of our lives to reflect upon our memories. The other comment is surprise and support that our plan was to go all the way into South America. Most people who continue driving into South America are European; they are usually not from the United States. We are not sure why that is, maybe it’s the popular misconception that the further south you go the more dangerous it is and most Americans aren’t willing to take that risk. Back to traveling in Panama . . . We have always heard great things about Panama City and were really looking forward to experiencing its multiculturalism as well as its old and new faces. The city is known as a melting pot of people from different countries that have either moved here to take advantage of incentives for expatriates or they are the descendents of foreigners that moved here long ago. It is a very modern city that has been described as a combination of Miami and New York City. Its shiny skyscrapers are rapidly multiplying reaching further and further towards the hot sun while vestiges of colonial times linger in Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo, two beautiful World Heritage sites. (Viejo means old). Panama Viejo consists of ruined colonial buildings from the Spanish-founded city of 1519 which can now be visited as an archaeological site. After Henry Morgan sacked the city’s original location in 1671, the city was moved to the area now known as Casco Viejo, in many cases stone by stone. Casco Viejo is a colonial neighborhood full of French style architecture from the late 17th century. The buildings are 2-4 stories high with balconies looking onto narrow cobblestone streets, reminiscent of New Orleans. Many buildings are low-income housing, some have been beautifully remodeled into hotels, restaurants and shops and there are several government sites and churches. There are many structures that are not being maintained by their owners and are crumbling to pieces just waiting for someone to come in and remodel them! After I thoroughly enjoyed taking a tour of the photogenic neighborhood, Aaron came to see what is was all about. Way back in Mexico Aaron asked if there are any beautiful colonial cities on the ocean in Central America, and this is it! Casco Viejo sits on a small peninsula jutting out into the sea with magnificent views of the modern buildings of steel across the bay on one side, and the long narrow causeway on the other side. A large part of the neighborhood is a poor part of town, but the area is full of construction as people are buying and remodeling the structures for more apartments, hotels, condos, shops and restaurants. It has most of the tourist attractions in the city and tourists are coming in droves. This colonial city is at the beginning stages of getting a dramatic face-lift and we are excited to see its future. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico has been taken over by retired gringos who have remodeled the beautiful colonial city. It is a very well known gringo retirement community. Granada, Nicaragua is well on its way to completing its facelift on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, also being paid for by mostly gringo expatriates and retirees. We see Casco Viejo in Panama City quickly heading in the same direction as these other beautiful World Heritage colonial towns. As I expected, Aaron saw opportunity in the area so we searched out someone who could give us an idea of land prices and availability. As always, it seems we couldn’t have met anyone better to help get us started on our quest. We were having a drink in a lovely plaza and met Bobby, a local man of 52 years whose family has lived in the area for over 70 years. He proceeded to take us on a walking tour of Casco Viejo showing us buildings and giving us a general sale price while listing the names of his friends and family that owned them. After hearing some of the prices Aaron became interested in getting more firm sale prices and talking with the owners. Bobby said he would talk to the owners of our favorite buildings and arrange for Aaron to meet with them after we return from Portobelo. One of my favorite things to do is sit in a park or square and watch the world go by. There are usually plenty of interesting people milling about whether they are locals or tourists. As I rounded the corner and came upon Independence Plaza in the center of Casco Viejo, its sites put a smile on my face. The beautiful old cathedral is the first thing you see, then the plaza with its bandstand and colorful trees. There were two different trees with bright yellow and bright pink petals. The trees were overflowing with color as the petals fell and covered the ground beneath them like a fragrant carpet. The whole scene was quite enchanting and I walked around for a while taking photos from different angles. I sat down in the shade and saw a businesswoman walk through the plaza. When she walked beneath the falling pink blossoms she smiled and stopped in her tracks. She looked up in amazement and tried to catch some of the flowers as they fell from above. She was thoroughly entertained and stayed for several minutes. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched this woman in her pinstripe dress suit take a few minutes out of her day to enjoy this spring time beauty. You always see kids stopping to catch falling flowers but its pretty rare for a business person to take the time. It was a beautiful part of my Casco Viejo visit. While in the city we met several people at the yacht club restaurant/bar that we hung out with. There is a group of North American salvage divers that are working on removing the sunken ships in the Panama Canal so that it can be widened. They are cutting apart the ships piece by piece so they can be brought to the surface. One night Aaron and I went to Casco Viejo and had drinks at Las Bovedas, a bar/restaurant that used to be old jail cells and dungeons. It consists of three different rooms with vaulted ceilings, the first of which is the entrance and kitchen, the second is the restaurant and the third is the dark bar with lights on the wall that look like torches. When we returned to the RV the salvage divers wanted to go out downtown so we checked out a few bars and stayed out late. We also met Captain Patrick who recently retired from being a Panama Canal pilot. After retiring he decided to stay in Panama and his daughter and grandkids were visiting him at the time. The canal pilots actually come onboard and drive every boat that passes through the canals, only turning it back over to the original captain after it has cleared the Canal Zone. We had a great time chatting with Captain Patrick that evening and we saw him around the yacht club several times before leaving. We also had a visit from some friends that live in the city, but we met them in El Valle. Their entire family had rented out Becky & Larry’s bed & breakfast The Golden Frog for Semana Santa. Some of them came down to the RV in the city and we chatted for a bit before they had to leave. We were looking for places to park the RV while taking trips to the San Blas islands in the Caribbean, Pearl Islands in the Pacific and into the Darien jungle. They have found us a place to store the RV and we have found a vet to board the dogs. We left Panama City at 10:30 a.m. headed for Portobelo and the Caribbean. We planned on staying on the Caribbean side of the country for about a week doing some diving, visiting the Spanish forts of Portobelo and the Gatun locks on the canal. We found a wonderful place to camp right outside the town of Portobelo. Located on your left-hand side when entering town, it is the same turnoff as the police station. A Panamanian woman (Nilda) has her home, a bar/restaurant (only open on weekends) and several hotel rooms. There are showers, bathrooms and water available. There was a large grassy area in which we were invited to park for $5 a night, right on the ocean with great snorkeling just off shore. In fact, you could rent SCUBA gear and swim out to several coral walls in front of her property. We looked across the bay at the pretty sailboats bobbing in the water, and the small colonial town was just around the corner. From our campsite we could see San Fernando fort across the bay. That afternoon we relaxed at the RV with a couple beers and took a late afternoon snorkel with the last bit of fading light. We saw lots of pretty reef fish which was good for me, but Aaron didn’t see anything worth shooting, which meant we had to do something else for dinner! The next day we went into Portobelo to explore the forts. During the colonial period two towns served a very important purpose on the Caribbean side of Panama. First it was the village of Nombre de Dios (Name of God) but it moved to Portobelo in its protected bay after Nombre de Dios proved itself to be a risky location. When the conquistadors were successful in finding gold and silver in Central and South America it was sent to these Caribbean villages in order to be counted and stored until its voyage to Spain. Once the Spanish ships arrived laden with items from Europe like salt, food, glass, weaponry etc. they would unload at these villages and then fill their ships with the gold and silver to take it back to the king in Spain. They needed forts to protect this crucial crossroads, especially after the pirates recognized the importance of all the activity. I recently made an interesting connection with the town of Portobelo. In my early high school years in Washington State I visited a traveling exhibit of a Spanish shipwreck that was found off the coast of Florida that consisted of lots of gold jewelry and household items. When I visited Key West, Florida with Aaron in 2003, I came across a museum for the Spanish shipwreck of the Atocha. I immediately recognized the jewelry and made the connection to the traveling exhibit from years passed. I recently read that the Spanish ship Atocha had been loaded with gold from Portobelo and was on its way to Spain when it sank off the coast of Florida. How interesting to have first come across this shipwreck and its treasure way back in the mid 1990’s and now I am at the site where its decks were loaded with gold! After spending a hot day touring some of the beautiful forts in Portobelo, we were on our way back to the RV when we saw a motorcycle that was packed for long-distance travel. We turned around and found the owner Ben, a Dutch man traveling by himself for 2 years (thus far). He was talking to some locals trying to arrange to get his motorcycle onto a sailboat and get to South America to continue his journey. We told them what we were doing and the quotes we had been given to ship to South America. After hearing the $5,000 quote the locals exploded in utter shock, saying that’s a gringo price and that we should keep researching. Ben felt for us, and encouraged us not to give up either. One of the locals lives in Colon (the port where we would get a ship to Colombia) and has several friends that work with boat captains of shipping vessels down at the docks. He placed a call right in front of us to one of them asking to help us get a better rate. We talked some more about it and the local, David, said he will work with them and try to get us a lower price and maybe even a ship where the dogs and us can ride along, making it much safer (and cheaper). So here we are again at this fence we have been sitting on for the last 8 months! Aaron went to Colon the next day to do some more shipping research while I stayed behind at the RV. Colon is not the safest town, and we thought it would be wise if I wasn’t tagging along while Aaron and the local guys were trying to get a good deal down at the docks. This is a man’s culture and some things are better for Aaron to take care of. Aaron returned from a day in Colon to announce that there was no way for him to just go and talk to any of the ship’s captains regarding shipping the RV to South America. He spoke to several of the same shipping companies he had talked to on the phone and got the same exact quotes. If David (the local from Colon) calls us and says he has a cheap fair to South America we will be interested, but we aren’t going to hold our breath. Thus, it is our decision to not go to South America in the RV. We will have to visit the continent on subsequent vacations. While in Panama City we do hope to store the RV, board the dogs and take a flight to Cartagena for a week or so. At least we will have a taste of South America before heading north! Aaron talked to several SCUBA dive shops in the area and found one that we could dive with (Panama Divers). Normally they bring their clients from the city to the Caribbean to go diving, but we were already on site so the prices are cheaper since we didn’t have to pay for transportation. It turns out they cancelled their dive the day we were to go with them. There was a couple staying at the hotel from Costa Rica by the names of Adriano and Mikaila. (Actually they are both from Padua, Italy and met in Costa Rica). They had already arranged for a boat to take them to a nearby beach (Playa Blanca) so we joined them for the day. There was lots of great snorkeling to keep us busy exploring while Aaron and Adriano spear fished. After several hours Aaron came back with a snapper. There was a charming little swing strung up on a large tree right on the beach with streamers blowing in the breeze. What a perfect setting for an afternoon of snorkeling! One day a SCUBA boat pulled up to the hotel dock in Portobelo and Adriano recognized the dive master from Costa Rica. He had a client that was taking her open-water SCUBA course, so we rented gear from SCUBA Portobelo and joined them the following day. This was our first time diving since getting certified in Bocas del Toro and we were both excited! The water was much clearer and provided amazing visibility compared to the bay in Bocas del Toro. The topography diving off Portobelo was much more interesting including features such as walls, caves and hills of coral which provided lots of interesting areas to explore. Bocas del Toro was more flat and we felt like we were just floating above the ocean floor beneath us. We dove in two different places, the first having a very strong current making it much more difficult to maneuver and stay in one place while checking things out. The second dive was at the Drake Islands just outside the bay of Portobelo. Sir Francis Drake is said to have been buried at sea here in a lead coffin. Although we didn’t see any coffins the scenery was marvelous! Aaron, Adriano, a local named Leo and I rented a boat for a couple hours and went out to some islands that were supposed to be good for snorkeling and spear fishing. We stopped in several different places, most of which had very strong currents. The guys weren’t finding fish of any great size but there were lots of reef fish and coral for me to snorkel in. Aaron finally managed to get close enough to shoot a nice grouper of about 10 lbs. which made for a nice dinner with our friends from Italy/Costa Rica. There were several fish that were very curious about me. In one area of calm water I kept seeing a particular parrot fish and another fish that had autumn colors of dark green, orange and brown. It took turns staring at me and enticing me to follow it through the maze of coral. Every once in a while it would stop, turn around and just stare at me floating above him in the clear Caribbean waters. It appeared as if he was as enchanted with me as I was with him. One of the greatest dramas of our trip has been dealing with the Onan RV generator. It broke in Colorado and we thought it would be one of the easiest things to fix in Latin America. Not so. After multiple mechanics in four different countries, and countless hours of Aaron’s time and money, we decided the generator was dead so we ordered one from the U.S. It was shipped as cargo to Tocumen airport in Panama City and arrived while we were in Portobelo. Aaron got a ride to Panama City with our friends Adriano and Mikaila. Aaron was concerned that we would be charged duties when we shouldn’t be (since the generator is only transiting Panama and is not staying in the country). Aaron called our taxi driver friend Hector to help communicate (in unfamiliar situations we encounter vocabulary which can impede communication). They did want to charge duties, but in the end decided it wasn’t necessary. Aaron cleared customs; put the generator in Hector’s taxi and they drove back to Portobelo. That night there was a nasty rain storm and the following day was rainy and overcast; just in time to get the generator working and charge our batteries! While dealing with the sporadic rain Aaron successfully installed the generator and got it running! Whew! Hopefully that’s the end of that story! After we convinced Nilda that Aaron was genuine in his offer to do odd maintenance jobs on her property she made him a list and he set to work. He was able to help her with things like fixing and installing lights, installing fans and replacing nozzles on several outdoor faucets. Nilda is an interesting woman that has been involved in the recovery of many shipwrecks and their artifacts. She got the Royal Customs House in Portobelo going as a museum and has many artifacts on her property. Some came from a marine archaeology dig and are currently being stored in water tanks so they don’t deteriorate. The staircase in her house is full of artifacts plastered to her wall with items ranging from pot shards to bottles sticking out of the wall. You can imagine that I loved examining them!

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.