Saturday, March 12, 2011

Colon, Panama

Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama---We are in a prison. You wouldn't know it safely wondering about the Marina. But when you leave by bus or taxi, you pass the gates with guards and guns. Fences that separate us from the real Panama. This compound used to be Fort Sherman, an American base. Now the apartment buildings are crumbling, the tennis court has not been used in years and years and this waterfront property seems like a ghost of the past. But a little past that opens up to Shelter Bay Marina, a place to wait for your scheduled time to go through the canal. After waiting six days, ours is today!

Cargo ships outside the canal
 Getting here was exciting as the cargo ships anchored and moving around the entrance were double the size of what I experienced in Gibraltar. Our captain tells me it is still nothing compared to the Suez Canal.

We passed them all with Captain Andy at the helm and expertly maneuverer into our reserved dock berth at the marina. After six days at sea, it was nice to be on land...especially when it came to the hot shower at the marina---and this one has one of the best, with huge rain shower heads.

One marker for the entrance to the canal

The first thing we found out was the entire country was on holiday for Carnival so arriving on Sunday meant Monday and Tuesday were shot. Then Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and again, most everything official was closed. This meant we could not process the boat's paperwork to get though the canal until Thursday.

View when crossing the canal by vehicle.
 The city of Colon is on the other side of the canal. The marina runs a bus to a shopping district 3 times a day for $8 round trip. A taxi costs $40. Weaving in and around the forest at the fastest possible speeds is something I have gotten used to with the crazy driving practices all over the world.

Cargo Ship goes through the canal

Road to drive over the canal, blocked by ship.
  However, waiting for a cargo ship to pass in front of you was a new experience. There is a one lane bridge that vehicles can pass over the canal right next to the first lock. A green light says the in-bound traffic can go. The out-bound must wait. If you hit is wrong and a ship is passing, you wait about 25 minutes.

The first trip to buy groceries, Jake and I took the bus and saw two monkeys. Well, Jake saw one run across the road and I called him a liar, then I saw one going into the brush, actually, I really only saw a monkey's butt. But it was a monkey and I had to apologize to crewmate Jake.

Once at the "mall," and I use that word loosely because for American standards, it was a shabby outdoor group of stores in a long row. But, soon I discovered how cheap prices are here. Shockingly cheap. $1 for a top, $2 for a t-ship, $10 for name brand men’s surf shorts, $10 for good jeans, $10 for leather shoes of a million designs, I was in shoppers shock.

 We had been warned about Colon. Muggings, taxi hijackings, lots of drugs, but the shopping "mall" was safe-ish, and it was during the day. But I am definitely "on guard" and even have a fake wallet, with expired Visa gift cards and other fluff for a hold up just in case. We walked around, bought food (again VERY cheap) and caught our marina bus back. Easy.

Shelter Bay Marina: Colon, Panama.
 Safe back in the marina "prison."

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