Exploring Panama

Tuesday morning and we were having a cup of tea in the cockpit when Ricardo (the dockmaster) visited in the club launcha.    He informed us that Soltino would come by Morphie on Wednesday to have a look at our damage and that he was the best guy in the area.   Excellent news.   We had been told by a number of cruisers not to stay at the Balbao Yacht Club as it was rolly;  had a lot of commercial traffic;  the staff weren’t friendly;  security was a problem;  and they charged to use the fuel dock etc etc.    Well we have found nothing but friendly people who are anxious to help us and when we filled up our diesel cans yesterday it cost us just the price of the fuel.   Yes it is rolly at times when the ships go through but actually it is a bit exciting watching them….and all for only $26 a night.   And as for security problems….there are drug dogs sniffing luggage for those getting on and off the ferries and there are police / army guys and girls everywhere!    

We kept ourselves busy doing a few boat jobs before we headed off later in the afternoon to go to the large Admiralty chart shop here in Balboa.    We were disappointed that they didn’t have any charts to show us – instead they could print them off for us.  But we wanted to look at the detail on them before purchasing.  We have two sources of electronic charts plus large scale physical Pacific planning charts topped up by pilot guides for detail in each anchorage.   We didn’t want to pay $50 per chart without checking that it actually added any value….they couldn’t even tell us the scale of them.  So we left disappointed and empty handed.

Back to the yacht club – well actually it is just a bar / restaurant with a causeway and water taxi service – and we had a bucket of beer and a basket of chicken wings.  The only downside to this place is the menu – everything comes deep fried unless you want a burger.   Later on we headed back to Morphie for an early night and enjoyed watching the ships moving through the channel.

Wednesday morning and Soltino came by as promised.  He said he could fix it – no problems – except that they don’t have coloured gel coat here in Panama.   So it’s white or nothing.   Fine…we just need to protect the area…so we agreed that he could do it in white and a price for the repair, finish and polish.   In the meantime Richard was doing some boat jobs down below while I went around the decks cleaning the topsides and the rail. 

Soltino went off again to get his tools / material and about an hour later he returned.   He rubbed down the area and applied the first coat…and then went off by water taxi again.   Then he came back later on and rubbed down and applied another coat.    Then went off again….this time for lunch…. and returned and rubbed down for the final time and applied wax.    He did a good job, bearing in mind he was balancing over the water on the transom, and whilst not perfect it will keep us going this season.   And all for the bargain price of $45 including tip!!!   Morphie will have to bear her white ‘battle scar’ until we reach New Zealand where we can get a ‘proper’ repair.

For the rest of the day we dozed in the cockpit…and read books….   During the day a boat called Stella Maris ran aground behind us – hard – on a falling tide.  This guy hasn’t had the best of luck so far – he was on the flats anchorage awaiting his canal transit when he had engine problems so had to return to Shelter Bay Marina and was charged a $500 ‘delay’ fine by the Panama Canal authorities.  So finally he reaches the Pacific and runs aground….he had to stay put on the shoal until the tide filled in.  The tidal drop is 16 feet here and the mud extends out quite a way from the shoreline which, I guess, catches many people out being used to the minimal couple of feet tide on the Caribbean side.    Anyway, apart from this bit of excitement, we just chilled for the remainder of the day on board.   

Thursday morning we had a decent breakfast before going ashore again.   This time we were heading to the nearest supermarket.  We got a taxi and the driver agreed to wait for us for no charge so off we went.  This was another Rey supermarket but had a different range so I was excited that, finally, I could find some suitably-sized foil containers for our pre-cooked passage meals to be frozen in.   Well…I was…until I got to the till.   The foil containers were not marked up properly – and the scanner didn’t work.  The numbers that had been printed on the label didn’t work either.   So we couldn’t buy them despite the shelf having the correct price.   Too difficult for them to work out so annoyingly I had to leave the one item I really needed behind.    Grrrr….

We headed back to Morphie and chatted to some guys from Wales – check out their huge tug boat that they work and live on – and yes they have come all the way from Hollyhead as they have picked up some work here.   We also saw that Stella Maris was being hauled out of the water…so he must have done some damage whilst aground.    Not going too well for that guy!   Back on board we chilled for the afternoon before we went ashore again for happy hour and a bucket of beer before coming back for the night.

Friday morning and we needed to get back on line as we had a long list of things to do.  We gathered all the laundry together and headed ashore.   Found the washing machines hidden away on the dock near the works yard – cheapest ever at 50c for a washer and 75c for a drier – and then we walked up to the restaurant.   There is internet in the anchorage but, even with our long-range aerial, it is really slow and unreliable.  So we spent most of the morning in the restaurant between visits up and down the stairs to the dock and the washing machines.    Finally….come about 2pm…we had achieved everything we needed to so we headed back to Morphie laden with clean laundry and called it a day.   Sitting in the cockpit later we watched Stella Maris get relaunched and he promptly headed towards the shoals again….and got warned by the locals to turn around.  He did take notice and managed to pick up a mooring ball without any further incident thankfully.  

Saturday morning and we were up very early and got a taxi into Panama City.    We wanted to go on the double-decker bus tour which costs $35 each for a 24 hour hop-on hop-off pass.   Well…we found the ticket office and it was closed….so we had a coffee and some pastries for breakfast and returned to the booth.   By now it was 8.45 am and the ticket booth remained firmly closed despite its eight o’clock opening time.   While we were waiting we kept being asked by taxi drivers whether we would like a personal tour for a discounted cost of $70.  The bus didn’t show, the booth didn’t open, so we decided to go for the private tour having agreed our own itinerary.   

So we took off and the first stop was the Chinese monument by the Bridge of the Americas with views over the canal area.    The taxi driver was a bit bemused that we didn’t want to go to the visitor centre at Miraflores Locks – not sure he understood – but we certainly had no desire to go back there again LOL.  

After that we went down the causeway towards Flamenco Island stopping off at the convention centre and a market getting ready for its influx of tourists for the day.   All were selling the same tourist tat.  

We ended up visiting Flamenco Marina – really nice looking but not yacht friendly unless you are a superyacht and can afford the $5 a foot daily charges.   We spotted the cruise ship off in the distance….so that’s what the market was really for….and the duty free shop was getting ready to open.   Again we confused our taxi driver by saying we didn’t want to go to the duty free shop but would like to visit the chandleries instead!   There were three and we managed to get something in each of them….including a few things that had been on the ‘nice to have’ list since the summer.    

Moving on we headed towards the old City – passing the ‘dangerous’ slums on the way – and got out for a walking tour.   This part of the City reminded us of what both Havana and old San Juan could look like….with beautiful buildings everywhere and lots of restoration going on.   And spectacular views across to the modern skyline.  It was lovely to just wander the old streets admiring the boutique hotels, stylised eateries and the Panama Hat shops.  Feeling pretty tired and hot we ended up in a bar with swings and had a couple of cold drinks to rehydrate before moving on.

Next stop was the fish market…..smelly and hot….but fascinating nevertheless….

After that we headed towards the modern city of skyscrapers although, close up, many of them were showing their age.    Fascinating shapes though….    

We took in the sights and ended up going into Trump Towers to get a view over the ocean and, of course, whilst inside we had to take a look at the Casino although I didn’t stop to play….    Oh yes, and what do you think of the statue in the foyer?!?    And, if you fancy living here for a minimum of six months, you can rent a high specification 2 bed 2.5 bathroom apartment with ocean views and balcony for $2700 per month.  Not bad for a bit of luxury eh?!?

We got dropped off at the end of our tour at the Multicentro Mall – and wandered the shops.   Richard managed to get a couple of pairs of new shorts that he was in dire need of…but nothing for me.    We wandered around the top-end stores and found a cheap department store that had another couple of things we needed – like a new bucket and toilet brush.  Seriously!!!   Anyway….shopping done….hungry and tired we looked for somewhere to eat.   Nothing in the food hall really talked to us so we ended up in the Hard Rock Café and shared a BBQ ribs / chicken combo with salad.   Was lovely!

Later on we got another taxi back to the yacht club.  Walking down the dock we spotted the Norwegian families catamaran that we had last seen in Shelter Bay…tied to the dock here.   We bumped into Soltino and he said that they had hit a channel marker and took a lump out of one of the keels.  They hit the dock in Shelter Bay as they left the marina too….   This young family are heading across the Pacific towards Easter Island – we have real concerns about their capabilities!!! 

Anyway, we headed back to Morphie and that is where we stayed.  Had been a long day but at least we had seen some of Panama whilst here.  

This morning, Sunday, and we’re doing final jobs as we head out tomorrow bound for Contadora, which is one of the Las Perlas islands.    We have chosen this island as our staging point before leaving for the Galapagos.   

We need to clean Morphie thoroughly before we arrive in the Galapagos – particularly the hull and the bilges – as they get inspected on arrival and, if they fail to meet the required standard, we will get sent 40 miles off into the ocean to clean them again!!!    There are other things we need to do too…..such as organising our rubbish according to their rules….putting up some signs….creating and boat stamping a self-certified sanitation certificate…and on it goes.   So we think we’ll be there for a little while getting all this ready.   The Galapagos are some of the most difficult islands to visit because of their uniqueness and the cost of entry / officialdom reflects all that.  Hopefully we’ll be able to get internet in Las Perlas so can update you again before we leave.

Bye for now