Two harbors worth visiting between the San Blas Islands and the Panama Canal are Isla Linton and Portobello. The sail to Isla Linton was about 50 miles and only ten more to Portobello. Both are part of Panama, so no clearing in and out was necessary. We have found clearing in and out of every port to be expensive and challenging. Most places take your passports for a day or more and getting them back means finding the person who has them. We are a bit spoiled because Suzanne, our rally leader, often arranges for this to be done as a group. Once, in Santa Marta, we left port without them because they took so long, and Suzanne arranged for them to be delivered to our next port, Cartagena. We would never have risked this if we were on our own.
The sail to Isla Linton was wonderful, but the swells were huge. Shamal, sailing beside us, kept getting swallowed up by the swells. Once we all arrived, the harbor was quite full with so many rally boats; other cruisers hadn’t seen so many boats in one place but welcomed us to the group. Onshore, there wasn’t much to do in the tiny town, but exploring by dinghy was great fun. Our first day, we traveled down a mangrove tunnel to another anchorage, Panamarina, and enjoyed a French restaurant, and on the second day, we hiked to a rickety old lighthouse on Isla Grande, a nearby island which was close enough to reach by dinghy.
Staying in the safety of our dinghy one evening, we watched monkeys frolic. They have developed a reputation of being overly friendly, so we didn’t go ashore near the abandoned home they have taken over. It was hilarious to see monkeys hanging out on the porch, coming and going through windows, as if they were having a party. Seeing them walk so rigidly upright, with tails straight up, made me think they were marionettes. I was surprised to see them scoop salt water with their hands and drink it while they hung from branches dangling over the water. Developing the ability to tolerate the salt is impressive; I wish I could do this.
Bill has not developed the ability to tolerate drinking saltwater, or maybe he just hasn’t tried, but he has proven to be able to tolerate man-o-war stings. While swimming near Alembic, Bill suddenly switched directions and headed quickly back toward our boat. Not knowing why he made this turn, I followed, aware that something was amiss. We climbed into our dinghy and began pulling tentacles from the man-o-war off his legs and arms. He had so many wrapped around him; I couldn’t believe I didn’t get caught up in this, swimming so close to him. The stinging began as soon as the tentacles hit him, and continued to sting for a few hours. Even though the tentacles were gone, they left fine pink tracks which within an hour turned into inch wide paths of goose bumps which were cold and wet to the touch. Weird. Cortisone and aloe relieved the sting somewhat and he was fine the next morning.
Next stop, Portobello, was a wonderful, historic harbor known for its pirates, music, theater, and Christo Negro (Black Christ). The harbor is large and deep, perfect for many galleons to anchor and bring or steal vast quantities of gold.
Huge forts were built to try to stop the pirates from repeatedly raiding the Spaniards here. Much of the music and theater revolves around the marauders. Even the Christo Negro is central to much drama when they bring the statue out for new outfits and parades.
A long bus ride to Nuevo Colon was only $1.80 and provided lively entertainment, as it stopped every 200 yards to collect more people, packing us in to a point where you couldn’t move your arms. We were wedged in so tightly, that we didn’t budge even when the driver sped up and flew around tight turns. No seat belts needed for this old school bus ride!
Unfortunately, the snorkeling was only mediocre due to the huge swells stirring up the water, but Casper, our ten year old rally member, speared his first fish, making our explorations well worthwhile. Our next stop, Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, would be less ideal for snorkeling as we heard there was a resident crocodile wandering about the boats! This I was looking forward to seeing, but from the safely of a dock.
My favorite moments at Portobello were meeting and reuniting with foreign friends. A French family with four girls under ten came aboard one day. What an outgoing bunch! They are overlanders, traveling the globe in a VW van, which has been shipped from Europe to the US and to South America. Their next stop, Fiji and the South Pacific, is too far to ship their sweet home, so they will rent an alternate for this section of travel. Each family member was eager to learn about our unique lifestyle in their own way. Even the youngest, only two, explored the boat with wide eyes while her sisters went on a treasure hunt to “find the refrigerator, the toilet, the silverware, and the ukulele”. And reuniting with Daniel and Drika was a pleasure. We met them in Santa Marta, again in Cartagena, and we always hoped to visit with them again. Something about Drika… she inspired me to think deeply about health, food, yoga, languages, family, and many more things. Lounging on the bow of her boat and taking in her benevolent perspective on life has warmed my heart to a new level.
Now, off to our next adventure: to the Panama Canal!