It has been a funny place, a mix of welcoming and feeling taken advantage of. The anchorage here is crowded. There is one marina but it is expensive and really far away. There used to be a Panama canal yacht club with quite a bit of space for anchoring but in the last few years they were closed down so now we are all at Club Nautico it seems. For $5.00 a day you can park your dinghy, that is about it, extra for water etc. We have been lucky though and have had internet on the boat, a really nice treat.
We first got here and dropped anchor and just watched with our jaws down as the little tugs helped the big ships park. There is a constant hum of the cranes loading and unloading and every once in a while our boat is hit with a huge wake that is really loud from a passing work boat.
On our second day here we decided to take it easy and just have a quiet day. Wouldn’t you know, that is the day the world found us! First Bruce and Marcelle who we hadn’t seen since Cartagena came over, really good to see them again. Then I heard yelling, I thought it was some crazy on the dock and didn’t think anything of it, the yelling continued probably for 2 hours or more! Turns out it was the guy we had phoned the day before to get our boat fumigation certificate so we can go to Galapagos, hilarious… We weren’t ready to have it done and said we would call, I guess he was just really keen! THEN it was the Danes, Alan and Pers, they stopped by to ask us a few questions and after looking at them for a few minutes I realized they had been at the Christmas eve drinks evening in Dominica and we hadn’t seen them since. It is crazy how our paths have all come together and really nice to see familiar faces. The next morning it was quite fun when the Danes, Marcelle and I all went to do laundry, the cheapest laundry ever, 0.50 for a wash and 0.75 for a dry, needless to say we will do another load before we leave!
There are mixed feelings about getting an agent here, the fees are quite high and it can be a bit unclear as to how much help they provide. Phil and I decided to try to sort our transit by ourselves. So bright and early Monday morning we piled into a taxi (which on route picked up and dropped off 2 other people) and got to the dock. We had to get out of the taxi, go to security, show passports, go through the metal detector and WAY down a road along side a huge container dock and finally we were at the admeasures building, but we didn’t know how to get in! We took a look at the door, went to where the cars were, pushed a button and silently, the gates swung open. This pattern repeated itself every time we chose a proper door, but luckily they didn’t unlock the doors we weren’t supposed to go into. It was fast and easy, the girl at the desk spoke really good English and we were told to call the next morning for an appointment to be measured. Back to Club Nautico where we ran into Bruce and Marcelle who took us to the FreeZone with them. What a bizarre place, I think I probably would have died from shock if we had gone there directly after San Blas, Streets and streets of warehouses for wholesale shopping, some of them you could purchase one or two items (I bought myself a watch so we now have 2 alarms on board) but so overwhelming. You could buy anything and everything, Chinese generators, French fashion, name brands I recognized from home for the same price you buy them there. A LOT of shopping but not a lot of buying. I think my favourite part of it was lunch, a fresh falafel pita from a street vendor, delicious!
The next morning we called at exactly 7:30 am (okay maybe a few minutes early) and were told we could get measured, that is when our poor official got so sea sick. Talking to bruce and marcelle who were measured the day after us, their official half fell in the sea getting from their dinghy to the next boat and arrived with a soaked leg and one shoe (luckily the other floated and was rescued). I’m not convinced they pick the boatiest people for the job! Then into the taxi to make the deposit for the canal, uggg. that hurt. Not sure if I felt more or less safe that there were 2 security guards with guns at the ATM and 2 inside the bank, a bit of back and forth and then we were set and paid and that was that!!!
So here we are today! We are scheduled to transit the canal on Sunday afternoon so the first locks will probably happen in the dark (I’m hoping for stadium lighting). Then we will spend the night in the Gatun Lake in the middle and finish transiting on Monday. We have found 2 fabulous line handlers, Mike and his Dad who are coming to Panama on vacation and are going to help us, so thankful for that and todays mission is to find one more so we have 4. The irony is that when rafted together there is a good chance that we will only need 2 people max to actually handle lines, everyone else will be sitting off drinking tea! Today we are going to try to find room for everyones luggage, try to finish off some bits of boat work and start getting food ready for the 6 people I need to feed so it won’t be such a huge job while we are motoring along. It is exciting, overwhelming and the start of the next part of our adventure!