Friday, December 7, 2012

Colon: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

“Colon, Colon!” “Colon! Colon!” the helpers of the bus drivers call. They hang out of the door at bus stops or entice people to get on the correct bus in bus stations. Mark and I had taken the bus to Panama’s second biggest city a few times, either to do some shopping in the outskirts, to change buses in Sabanitas or to run a few errands in the shabby city center. Colon is a dangerous city with a bad reputation. It is the place where the October riots originated and where people (predominantly tourists) are robbed on a daily basis. Some people pronounce it the English way, because it is, indeed, a bit shitty. Not many cruisers take their boat to this area, even though it is a convenient place to get things done. 

The little yellow thingy in the sky finally popped its head back out on my birthday (11/28) and decided to slowly reappear every day thereafter. There are still rainy spells, but the worst is over and we are overjoyed to have the sunshine back. Mark immediately began drying our hole in the back step and I started on the big pile of laundry. A couple of days later, we fixed our last hole with fiberglass and on Sunday, we finally made the move to Club Nautico in Colon. This is the only anchorage with shore access in the busy port. The “Club” charges $3 per person per day when leaving the guarded area. The fee covers a secure spot for the dinghy, garbage disposal and (intermittent) fresh water from the taps.

It is a small anchorage, but not too deep and when we were there, only a couple of other boats were present. When picking up anchor, one has to be careful to not snag the chain or anchor. Our chain was stuck on something, but being patient did the trick. During the three days Mark and I were in Colon, we managed to accomplish more than during a whole month in Portobelo! What would take a full day from there – with the long bus rides and waiting times – would take a full hour here. Because of the unsafe nature of the city center, you have to take a taxi (about $1 a ride) everywhere and no matter where you find yourself, yellow vehicles abound. Since we never take any valuables with us on such trips, I have no pictures of the dilapidated city itself.

Day 1 had us visit the Canal Authority in Puerto Cristobal (signal station). We registered Irie for a future canal transit and were told to call back for an appointment with the admeasurer. We mailed a few postcards from one of the three post offices in the country (and hope they will reach their destination within the month – mail service is non-existent in Panama; nobody has an address) and did a big stock-up of groceries. On the second day we moved to the Flats anchorage, a big anchorage near the entrance of the Panama Canal, to get measured for our transit. Before noon we were back at Club Nautico. We took a 30 cent bus to a home center and another grocery store and a taxi to a fuel station, where we filled all our jerrycans with diesel and gasoline. In the evening, we went out for a local dinner to give ourselves a break from cooking and dishes. Day 3 was a bit less productive with a failed attempt to pay for our canal transit and a three hour wait at the dentist. We did buy some hard-to-find latex gloves in a close by pharmacy, with all the residents’ eyes pinned on us, making us feel not too comfortable. Our pace quickened a bit in this neighborhood. When we wanted to take on some fresh water at the dock, there was none.

All in all, it felt great to finally mark some things off our long list of errands in such a short time. The fact that we barely slept at night, because of the massive wake of pilot boats, the fumes of big diesel engines and the constant noise of banging, welding and humming of cargo ship engines and cranes – usual sounds of an active container port, we took in great stride. We were getting things done and the thought of moving Irie to a much finer place for a few days of relaxation and beauty afterwards kept a smile on our faces!

Irie getting into the maze of cargo ships - a constant beeping of the AIS alarm!

Sunset over Colon from the Club Nautico anchorage

Treading amongst giants on the way to the Flats

Visit from the admeasurer in the Flats

Cristobal signal station - traffic control for the Panama Canal and Colon harbor movements

These channel markers mark the "entrance" to the Panama Canal

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