Okay, really day 1.5
Cooking for 6 people after cooking for 2 is a challenge! We bought heaps of food and looked at the pasta package, it said that it fed 5 and we figured that was 5 small people not famished after crossing half way between the Atlantic and the pacific so we put 2 bags into the pot. Water added half way through and we had enough pasta for 12! Dinner, beer, even a cigar came out and all 5 of us staying on the boat were wiped. Beds were made up on every available space and we all crashed to the sounds of the jungle and the still waters of Lake Gatun. We set our alarm clocks and I think we were all in bed by 10 pm. Everyone had a strange night, the stillness after our crazy wakes of Colon, a new bed for 3 people on the boat and for Paul the sloshing underneath his bed kept him awake (we forgot to tell them that that was where our water tanks were!). With the new day dawning and the sun just starting to rise we once again saw the pilot boat bearing down on us. I was so proud of my boys, every one up and dressed, our anchor half way up, fenders ready, engine going, another flying leap and we had a new pilot with us. The giant catamaran on the other hand was mostly still asleep and the pilot boat had to honk to get people on deck (in all fairness ¾ of the linehandlers were backpackers who spent most of the day sunbathing!).
Williarmo(illarmo?) came flying off of his boat (a solid 3 feet taller than ours) and landed with the grace of a flying squirrel. As he came toward the boat the boys had started to pull up some of the chain (we always have lots out and we had anchored in 40 feet, too heavy for me to pull up without my block and tackle) and he said to wait. So after he landed on the boat he said, “Let’s go, what are you waiting for” with about 4 seconds in between! Then we were off. Our poor little seamonkey, flying along at 6 knots through Gatun lake for hours and hours.
Our new pilot was a very cool guy, lots of interesting tips on the canal, pointed out various sights, explained that while in transit it is illegal to get off the boat even for a swim so that was why the police boats were cruising around at night. Also said since they were widening the canal we were less likely to see monkeys and crocodiles. Oh well. We did see the Smithsonian research institute’s Gaigar station (and now are near the Culebra one), I want to try to get in and see what it is all about, we’ll see if that works!
Drove and drove, hiding from the sun, taking turns steering, pouring drinks and watching the hills and trees and birds go by. We had some lovely little birds come and land on the boat for part of the transit, singing away. Then there were the tankers, I think everyone held their breaths as the car tankers, oil tankers and cargo tankers swept by us heading in the other direction. And before we knew it (but in fact 5 hours after we started and all slightly sunburned) we saw the locks.
For a change we were the ones that had to wait for the ship to come behind us, when we saw it rounding the corner we knew it was time and all rafted up again. This time we drove right to the front of the locks, an incredibly smooth manoeuver. As we came in we realized there was a restaurant with its decks covered in people, hundreds and hundreds with cameras flashing in our direction, we were STARS! They must have been waiting for at least an hour before we started to go down. The ropes flew down and we were in place, so then all we had time to do was watch, thankfully in slow motion as this GIGANTIC red behemoth pulled in behind us, coming closer and closer and closer (looked like the bulb on its bow would tuck neatly between the catamaran’s hulls). Finally it stopped and we were ready to go. When we came into the locks we had 4 employees on land walking with our ropes beside us along the wall, their jobs were to put the loop over the bollard so we would be in place, then ours was to control our accent or decent. The ship had these cool locomotives; they looked like tiny metal rollercoaster cars, with big keys in the side that did the job of tightening and loosening the lines.
We were lucky we had a really good transit, unfortunately some of our friends weren’t so lucky a few days later, coming into the locks on the second day they started to slide back and forth (kind of like if you hit black ice) and one of the boats scraped the wall, yikes. We also read all sorts of horror stories about cables to the big ships breaking and sending shockwaves that pushed the little boats into the doors etc. etc. really reading I should never have done!
Luckily with us all in place all we had to do was ease our lines out as the water drained. This time it wasn’t so dramatic, we just slid lower and lower down the walls, through the first set, then a small motor and then 2 more chambers. Watching doors that had been built to do this 100 years before and seeing those hundreds of people disappearing from view as the Pacific grew closer was amazing. To Paul’s cry of “We’re sinking” we finally were once again at sea level and the doors opened and that was that, we were in the Pacific.
I can’t even begin to describe how lucky we were to find the boys that came on our trip, Norberto, Mike and Paul, our advisors, everyone made it a really fun trip, and to think we almost didn’t make it because we were one line handler short! To make friends with good people and to see something altogether that none of us had ever experienced, it was amazing.
The pilot finally got off, on to his weekend of getting his children ready for school and we motored around the corner and kind of forgot we were in an ocean. We had been so neatly tucked in harbours and lakes that when the first waves hit it was a surprise! It was quite windy (we realized later that is a typical afternoon thing) as we rounded the corner and finally we were in our little bay, Las Bresas, with tonnes of other boats bobbing along. Good anchoring and we even saw Pers and Allan (from Enjoy) our friends from Dominica and Colon.
With that our transit was done, Mike and Paul headed off to their hotel with an offer to come over and go out for dinner, which we gladly accepted and Norberto and I had a swim in the Pacific. Not the cleanest water here, but after being covered in sweat, dirt, slime and sunscreen for 2 days it was so nice to cool off, and man was the water cold! Amazing, we are so close to the Atlantic but it is a completely different ocean, it is still hard to get my head around. After getting a bit more presentable (Phil even put on his proper shoes) we headed to the Marriot. If seeing the Pacific took my breath away, going into a lovely hotel stopped me breathing for at least 10 minutes. So much bigger than our boat! We were in a city. It was overwhelming.
We headed up to Paul and Mike’s room and then Paul did the kindest thing that I think has ever happened to me, he offered me a shower. All the hot water I could use, a plush towel, delicious soap. I have never felt so pampered in my life. I think not having those things for so long made me appreciate them all the more. It really was the best shower of my life! I had told him earlier how much I missed having a bath and he asked me why I had a shower instead, I had to guiltily reply that if I had had a bath I would never have gotten out! And so squeaky clean me and the boys headed off to dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant. It really is one of those nights where everything is soft around the corners, drunk with the feeling that we had finally made it to the pacific. The tangles out of my hair and dirt out of my skin, delicious pasta with mushrooms (which we can never find in shops) and a delicious bottle of Argentinian wine (a red wine, served cold, a bit strange but still). It was a night none of us wanted to end, even though we were all exhausted. We stopped for another beer outside of the hotel and sat laughing and enjoying (it was even worth a second cigar for some, 2 oceans in 2 days and incredible reality). To be surrounded by friends that I hadn’t met 2 days earlier, sitting beside Phil, in the midst of a big city and knowing that one of the biggest hurdles I was afraid of was behind us, I can’t describe it. It was a magical night.