30th December 2022
Banedup, San Blas, Panama – Rio Chagres, Central Panama via Chichime, San Blas, Panama & Portabello, Central Panama, Panama
Every standard cylindrical coin has 2 sides and each side is said to be different from the other*. If Panama were to be coin then it would actually be cubed shaped as we have seen 6 different sides to it in only a week. We have gone from the near economically inactive Kuna Yala (San Blas) to the global centre of trade, we’ve wandered around desert islands and then been enveloped on a rich verdant green jungle and finally been in places where no history is written, to others which should feature in every history textbook.
With Christmas upon us we were about to knock off 2 sides of the Panama cube. Our little OCC fleet, comprising of Cerulean, Zen Again and Avanti (and subsequently joined by Zelda), had assembled behind a little desert island and found the most idyllic spot for lunch. The usual Christmas rips offs were nowhere to be seen and Ivin served up the most amazing meal, all presented as if we were in a 5-star hotel, with a 5-star view of pearlescent water and glowing skies only separated by a thin line of white sand.
As we came to pay Ivin cemented the Kuna Yala’s reputation of being nearly economically inactive as the bill was as small as Ivin’s smile was big. This was a Christmas to remember, but like all the islands in the San Blas, no history scholar will write about it and this historic Christmas will only be remembered by those who were there.
The little OCC fleet was on the move as Zen Again, Cerulean and Ruffian all had a ‘race’ west. In the light conditions Cerulean zoomed past us and we put their boatspeed down to their waterline length, then the tiny Zen Again left us in their wake and we put their speed down to a lower wetted surface area. These excuses were simply denial** and to rectify the situation we knew that all the critters clinging onto Ruffians hull would need rehoming to the seabed of Portobello Bay.
We became aware of the history that surrounded us the moment that we entered Portobello. Every fort brimmed with cannons which poked out of centuries old balustrades and every vantage point brimmed with forts. In this tiny bay the forts counted 3 and the cannons were countless. There was history to discover, but before we could discover it the rehoming exercise had to be completed.
Armed with nothing more than a plastic scraper and a scrubbing brush we took to smoothing Ruffian’s hull. As Iain dived down the critters were peeled off in great wallpaper like swathes and as Fiona worked the waterline weed was slowly dispatched to the deep. All this activity drew the attention of the local wildlife and they feasted on the nutrients we were displacing and the water slowly turned brown. As Iain dived on the keel time and time again, he took the opportunity to glance up and through this brown murk towards Fiona. This view made it look like she was having some form of horrible bottom related accident.
Ruffian was now all ready to make her escape from the gun strewn bay but those guns needed investigating. History would have it that those guns had defended 500 flotillas of ships over 100’s of years which had been responsible for decimating the gold reserves of Latin America and like the best of forts had never fired a shot in anger.
History had also bestowed on this tiny village a church of unfathomable proportions and inside the church there were some unfathomable relics. As is usual, a virgin Mary, donned in the finest finery and as white as snow was being venerated while in the other corner sat her son. Jesus in this case was different from any other we’ve ever seen. His skin was as black as night and his face carried not a painful stare but a fierce rageful look. There was no white man forgiveness here it was ancient black power.
We had 2 more sides of the Panama cubic coin to see and pushing further west, past an amazing 378 AIS targets, and entering the Rio Chagres we could tick them off. With our hearts in our mouths, we made the scary turn into the tranquil waters of the river and instantly the desert islands felt a very long way behind us. The trees were alive with monkeys, tranquil water teemed with life and this was supported by the lush green forest that towered high above us.
As darkness fell the aquatic life around us took a sinister turn. Shining our spotlight onto the riverbank we saw occasional flashes of red. These were the red eyes of alligators as they menacingly circled around Ruffian without making a sound or stirring the water’s surface. There really were stealthy killers and suddenly swimming was way off the agenda.
The original path of the Rio Chagres forms a big part of the Panama Canal and therefore the Panama Canal wasn’t far away. We had to make a beeline for this artery of global trade and hoped we’d be able to simply ‘walk’ up to it.
With a huge dam stopping Brock’s progress and the water level high above, we decamped to land to find the docks. After weeks on sandy beaches, this decamping clearly took Cerulean by surprise. Their footwear was back on the boat so now, for extra challenge, finding of the Panama Canal had to be performed barefoot***.
Scaling the hills, traversing roads and blatantly hopping over concrete car barricades, we could see our destination in the distance. Slowly, some ships magically rose while others sunk while being watched by the long queue of ships that stretched as far as the eye (and AIS) could see. It felt magical to see this key component of our fragile supply chains in motion and even more amazing that we could simply wander up to it.
The six faced coin that has been Panama has been a crowning glory to everything the amazing country has given us in the months we have spent here. Next on the agenda we’re pushing west to the Bocas Del Toro where we wonder what sort of coins we will find and that kind of faces they will have.
* Technically coins must have at least three sides.
** This is true denial as we’ve sailed thousands of miles with Cerulean and always seem to be attached to each other by bungee.
*** As you’d expect from the ever-prepared Ruffian’s we had shoes, water, coffee and even a handy boy scout compass.
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