Monday, December 10, 2007

: Howler monkeys – growler monkeys? (in Portobello; then Shelter Bay Marina)

December 9, 2007  Sunday
Portobelo, Panama

Portobelo (not Portobello as I previously wrote) is a very small town.  Bill and I cannot fathom why this town has never developed.  It is a perfect bay and close proximity to the Panama Canal.  You can take a bus from Portobelo to Colon for $1.30, where you can change to a nice express bus (with air-conditioning and TV) to Panama City for only $2.50.  Seems a perfect location for a nice marina or tourist resort.  This bay reminds me very, very much of Sopers Hole in the BVI; except Portobelo bay is at least 10 times larger than Sopers Hole.  The Bay of Portobelo was discovered by Christopher Columbus 2 November 1502 during his fourth voyage to the new world.  (I’m sure the indigenous people living here at the time already knew of this bay, but one must give credit to Columbus for “discovering” it.)  Various things happened here during the sixteenth century and the area gained in importance.  Finally in 1597 the official Ciudad de San Felipe de Portobelo was established.  From this port, tons of gold and silver flowed to Seville, Spain, the commercial capital of the Spanish empire.  Portobelo would be a sleepy little town all year until the Spanish galleons arrived with wines and goods from Spain.  Then the town would come alive for the short time that the galleons were here.  They would unload the goodies and load up the silver and gold to take back to Spain.  There was a strong earthquake here in 1882 that destroyed part of the Customs House, but it was rebuilt.

The Iglesia de San Felipe de Portobelo is famous as the home to the Black Christ of Portobelo.  Every 21st October a festival of the Black Christ is celebrated.  Many miracles have been attributed to the Black Christ.  (Funny; there was exactly the same thing in Cusco, Peru.)  There were lots of slaves utilized during the Spanish occupation of this area, so there is quite a mix of races in the current local population.

The pirate Henry Morgan once assaulted Portobelo with a troop of 460 men.  Morgan demanded the payment of 100,000 pesos in order not to destroy the population.  Quite a guy.

Friday we went into town and visited the little museum.  Not much to see but they did have a nice film about the history of Portobelo and it was even presented in English so we could understand it.  The Spanish built several forts to defend Portobelo instead of doing their traditional “walled city” concept of that time period.  I believe Sir Francis Drake died here, but the guide book doesn’t mention that so maybe I am mistaken about that historical tidbit.  Friday was my birthday and Bill bought me a small pocketbook/wallet at a leather shop in town.  We tried to go back to that shop on Saturday to buy several more to give to friends and family when we go home for the holidays,  but our dinghy outboard died.  We were being blown out to sea by the 20-22 knot winds but were saved and towed back to our boat by a Good Samaritan – a guy from the Azores who now transports backpackers between Cartagena and Panama.  By the time the outboard was running again (it was just flooded) and we made it to town, the leather shop was closed.  I am sure that shop will be closed on Sunday and we plan to leave here Monday morning, so guess we won’t be able to buy the leather pocketbooks/wallets to give our family and friends.

Carlos, the guy from the Azores, explained how the backpacker boats work.  Each backpacker pays $250 for transport.  Some of them also travel with motorcycles and those pay extra.  A passage normally takes 5 days because they usually hang around the San Blas Islands for 2-3 days.  The $250 fee includes food and drinks.  Carlos normally carries 5 passengers.  After he pays for the food, drinks and clearing the boat in and out of both Panama and Colombia , he makes between $900 and $1000 per trip.  Not enough to live on full-time and pay for boat maintenance but enough to pay for his day-to-day style of living.  He hangs around the San Blas when not transporting passengers to Cartagena and that is a pretty inexpensive way of life.

The jungle on the mountainside on the east side of our anchorage in Portobelo is filled with howler monkeys.  Man, these little animals are loud!!  Don’t know why they are called howler monkeys because they really sound like a roaring lion.  You would never believe a sound that loud and deep could come out of a monkey that small.  They start growling/howling every time it starts to rain.  This is entertaining to us.  We also enjoy listening to the parrots and unknown birds in the jungle.  It is pleasant to sit in the cockpit with our early evening drinks and enjoy listening to the monkeys and parrots.  I have seen some of the monkeys swinging or jumping through the tops of the trees, but have not have a clear view of one so cannot take a photo.  We are definitely not going ashore over there to seek out monkeys.  I remember all too well how that monkey bared his teeth and tried to attack me in the Amazon Jungle of Peru last year.

We also have enjoyed watching the local men fish from their canoes.  They do it differently than the Kuna.  The Kuna would just toss a hand line overboard from their ulu and wait for a fish to strike.  The Cacique here in Portobelo toss one or two hand lines overboard and then paddle swiftly – so they are basically trolling in a canoe.  They fish in a different section of the bay each day.  I guess this is their native version of fishery conservation.

The small grocery store in Portobelo is owned and operated by a Chinese family.  We assume they are descendants of some of the Chinese workers who were brought to Panama to build the Panama Canal.  It still strikes me as odd every time I hear Chinese people talking to each other in Spanish.  Did not hear them speak to each other in Chinese so maybe this generation no longer speaks their traditional language.

Tomorrow morning we will head over to Shelter Bay Marina.  We made our reservation more than 7 months ago for an arrival date of 10 December.  Bill corresponded with the marina office manager several times during the past few weeks and confirmed that they expect us to arrive tomorrow and stay more than a month.  However, this morning on the SSB Panama Connection Net a man said that Shelter Bay Marina is completely full – there is no more space at their docks.  We hoped that this man was exaggerating.  Bill sent another email to the marina manager today to clarify this rumor and we received a response with a slip assignment.  Yes, they are expecting us to arrive tomorrow.  As usual, can’t believe all that you hear from other cruisers.

December 10, 2007  Monday
Shelter Bay Marina near entrance to Panama Canal
09.22.041N; 079.57.026W           Sailed 23 NM

It was a lively ride this morning.  Seas were 10-ft and winds 22-24 knots.  Thankfully, both were in our favor this time; so no pounding into adverse seas.  At one point we were sailing at speed of 6 knots with only the mizzen sail out!  That is unbelievable.  But at least half of the trip was motoring because the winds were direct downwind.  Couldn’t sail at that point-of-sail unless we poled out the 2 foresails, and that seemed like a lot of trouble for such a short distance.  So, crank up the iron genny.

Anchor was up at 0900 and we arrived at Shelter Bay Marina dock at 1215.  Can’t tell you what a thrill it was for me when we hailed Cristobal Signal for authorization to enter the breakwater of the Panama Canal.  Not sure why this thrilled me so much, but it did.  Maybe because I thought we might never reach this point.  Just inside the breakwater you turn right to get to Shelter Bay Marina, right past the Hazardous Cargo Anchorage for the big ships waiting to transit the Canal.  Shelter Bay is an exceptional marina, far nicer than I expected.  Very, very quiet and protected from any bad weather.  Could not ask for a better place to leave your boat for inland or home travel.  We enjoyed sharing a very good hamburger in the marina restaurant, then got all checked in with the office.  Only complaint so far is that the WiFi is a bit iffy – seems to come and go for no apparent reason.  I stripped the bed and hauled the laundry down to the marina laundry room, where I found a young lady who told me that she was in the middle of laundry hell.  She was using all 3 washers and all 3 dryers and still had 3 more loads to do when those finished.  Figured I would give her another hour and a half.  Then I will go back and stand there waiting for her to finish.
The keyboard on our old laptop decided to quit working today.  And the new laptop has a fried hard drive from the nearby lightning last month.  We must have computer gremlins on board.  Bill already got on eBay and purchased a new keyboard that we will pick up in Houston next week.  EBay makes things so much easier than it used to be to get repair parts for everything.

Looking forward to going to duty-free Colon and to Panama City later this week so we can “pre-shop” before our flight home to Houston on 19 December.  We are hoping that many of the items on our wish list will be available in Panama City so that we don’t have to haul so much back on the return flight.  We think it would be really cool to take the Panama Railroad over to Panama City.  There are several ways to get there, but the old railroad would be our first choice for our fist trip; and it only costs about $22 per person one way.  On future shopping expeditions we can take the nice express bus, which costs about $2.75 each way.  How economical!

Hoping the internet connection is better later tonight so I can upload this log and some photos.  If you are reading this, then it was.

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