The weather forecasts were positive, so it Sunday morning looked like the ideal moment to leave the marina. While we left the marina, typical German music was blasting through the speakers. Everybody should know that they were leaving after half a year in the marina. We quietly made our way to the open sea, as the electric engines were barely hearable. Then it was time to raise the sails, shut down the engines and to finally sail for real! The first sailing day was alright, we ended at a small island called ‘Escudo de Veraguas’. The island consists of coconut trees, a small jungle and a couple of wooden houses for the handful indigenous families that live here. I took the green kayak to go to the beach and to have a look around. There was nobody there, even the houses were empty. When I returned to the kayak, a small boat arrived on the island with a family. They had bought some groceries on the mainland and returned home after 1,5 hours on the small and old boat. The mother asked me if I was interested in marrying her daughter, I friendly said that I wanted to think about it for some time and that I might come back one day. The father told me that he is going to open a small business on the beach to sell some drinks and food for the small group of sail tourists that arrive here on a daily basis. He would be the first one to sell stuff on the island, so it can really work out.
The life of a boy growing up on a sailboat. Paul is learning to calculate.
Jana and Michel are sleeping like babies
I'm helping the family that just arrived to get the boat on the beach
We slept there for one night, before leaving very early in the morning. The idea was to sail to the Shelton Bay Marina in one day, located just after the opening of the Panama canal. The sea was really tough and we had a so-called cross sea. The youngest one, Miguel, got seasick and all of us didn’t feel really good, so the captain (Jan-Dirk) decided to go for plan B: Punta Rincón. This is an industry port close to a gold mine that is still under construction. When we entered to approach the dock, they immediately contacted us via the radio to ask if we had some kind of emergency. I wouldn’t call the situation a real life/death emergency, but the message to have two little boys on board that have become seasick really helps. The welcome was not very warm, but they were at least not refusing our presence. They actually wanted to call an ambulance and a docter, but the symptoms of seasickness faded away quickly after we had shelter from the open sea, so that was unnecessary. During the hours that we were ‘parked’ at the dock, there were two security guys constantly right next to the boat, and there was even a drone flying around the boat to (probably) take pictures. It became clear that there must be some valuable stuff in those mines, and satellite photos revealed the immense scale of it. We left the dock after a couple of hours and used the anker a couple of hundreds of meters from the port.
Jana and Michel are visibly happy to leave this industry port
We waited here for another day, since the weather and sea conditions did not change. Although the conditions were still not too good when we left, we decided to try to make it to the marina. Waiting in front of an industry port with nothing to go to isn’t a very nice place to wait. A long and bumpy ride to the marina followed but we made it. We sailed through the opening of the Panam canal when it was already dark. You could sea the immense ships on the open sea waiting for their moment to go through the canal, since it is all strictly regulated. A special moment. There was nobody to assist us to the marina, so we had to spend the night on the fuel dock. The next morning, Jan-Dirk safely brought the catamaran to the designated area. The space was tight, but it fitted. The port has a restaurant, a pool, a minimarket, a sailmaker and a location for big maintenance. That’s it. Colón is the closest town nearby, there are daily shuttle buses to this city.
Jan-Dirk (JD), Michel, Jana en Paul
To reach Colón, you will have to cross the canal. You can do this either by ferry or via a road through the locks that the big cargo ships use. It is not uncommon that you have to wait a long time to cross the canal, since there is a lot of marine traffic that has priority. As a solution, the government is constructing a new bridge over the canal, they will finish in June and the president will open it. See the pictures:
The other side
The ferry is still necessary, since the bridge is under construction
The supervising engineer is actually a German who has lived on a boat in the marina for 6 years. I asked him if there was some kind of masterplan behind the construction of the bridge, because it costs almost half a billion dollars and there is nothing on the other side of the bridge. He told me that they are going to construct a new road along the Caribbean coast, all the way to Bocas del Toro, a 10 billion dollar project that will take many years.
The marina is located on a former military base of the United-States, it was the main location to defend the Caribbean side of the Panama canal and they also used it for jungle warfare training. A perfect location, since there is a big jungle right next to the base. The troops left Panama in 1999 and they abandoned many buildings, bunkers and complexes. This gives the impression that you are in ghost town. There is even an abandoned airstrip. Impressive to see.
The little abandoned airstrip
Centuries before the Americans took control over the Canal, the Spanish were obviously dominating Central and South-America. Even then, this location was very important for colonial trade and it was important to defend this position. Close to the marina, there are ruines of a castle/fort that the Spanish built and used to defend the river. It’s currently UNESCO world heritage. Everybody in the marina is dependent on shuttle buses or taxis, but I could just take the bicyle and easily cycle there. A beautiful sight.
The ruines of the Spanish fort
Jan-Dirk and Jana told me that their plan was to leave in about 4 days to the San-Blas islands and that I was welcome to join if I wanted to. A very nice offer and good opportunity to visit this exotic archipelago, so I obviously wanted to join them! I took the extra days to visit Panama-City. A little bit less than 100 kilometers. I cycled over the highway towards Panama-City, which I have always done in Central-America without any problems. Apparently, the rules are bit stricter in Panama, it was strictly forbidden to cycle on the highway. It was Sunday, the toll houses were closed, so I entered the highway without any problems. After about 20 kilometer, traffic police stopped me and told me to leave the highway and take the other road. This other road is known as the road for the pover people, since it’s free to use. I felt much more unsafe on this road. A lot of traffic, very little space and bad infrastructure. And don’t think that they ride slower on this road, because they definitely don’t. I arrived on Sunday the 27th of January, the last day that the pope visited Panama-City. He visited the capital for almost a week, which had a big impact on the entire country. Many pellegrinos (pelgrims) came from Central and South America to see ‘El Papa’, people thought that I was a Pellegrino as well.
The people that have been following me for a longer time might remember that I went to the ‘bicycle nomad café’ in Phoenix, almost 8 months ago (see the blog). I met Erick here, originally a Panamenian. He runs a coffee shop and his brand is promoting the nomadic lifestyle of bicycle tourists. Back then, he told me that I could visit his family in Panama-City, a kind offer that I hear all the time. Something like “I have family in this country and that country, you can stay with them once you’re there”. Many times, it doesn’t work out like that because you don’t stay in contact with everybody that you meet along the way. That’s just the way it is. However, this time it did work out and I met Gerald and Miguel, the brothers of Erick. I stayed two days to visit the capital.
Gerald and I
I was impressed by the scale of the city. Walking past the skyscrapers sometimes gives you the feeling that you’re in New-York City. I didn’t know that Panama-City was such an important financial centre. I didn’t think that the city was very spectaculair, many poorly maintained buildings and a lot of garbage on the street. I accidently ended up in that dark corner of the city where you definitely DON’T want to come.
The antique part of the city was beautiful and it was still stocked with many pelgrims that remained in the city for a couple of days. I visited the interesting museum about the construction of the Panama canal and after Gerald finished his work, he showed me all the corners of the city.
After two days, it was already time to say goodbye and to go back. To be honest, I felt like I had seen everything that I wanted to see in those days. I left on a Wednesday, so a shortcut via the highway was unfortunately not possible. I ate so much for breakfast, that I could cycle five hours straight to reach the marina. The plan is to leave Sunday towards the San Blas islands. If I’m lucky, I can find a connection over there to reach Colombia. If not, I think I will have to fly. We’ll see!