We headed back to Linton Bay to get our Panama cruisers permit which we had been told can take up to three weeks to come through. We liked Linton Bay, especially the ramshackle cruisers bar that had an honour system for coffee and produced magnificent burgers and pizzas from a very humble kitchen. After a few days Ian from Blue Infinity turned up and we got a few boats jobs done while waiting for the permit to come through.
In Colon – our nearest town- they have the 2nd largest duty free zone in the world. It is massive and covers over 2 sq kilometers. You can get everything there duty free including designers clothes, computers, alcohol and household goods. 6 of us set off one morning and headed into colon by bus to go to the duty free zone principally to buy a computer each. We were inundated with electronic shops so just chose one at random. We walked out with three new laptops, two new phones, two new speakers and all the paraphernalia that goes with such items. The sales guy must have thought all his Christmases had come at once! The prices were so low, Ian’s new Samsung cost only $300 and our laptop only $400. About a third of what we would normally pay. We bought two more sheet sets, some Christmas decorations and lots of alcohol. Between the six of us we bought about 30 litres of spirits…. a great days shopping. Weirdly though there were no restaurants in the zone so we had to leave to have lunch and head back to finish our shopping. When we came to leave we opted for a maxi taxi and were told we had to pay a bribe to get the alcohol out which was odd as it was a duty free zone! The bribe amounted to only $5 each which we think went straight into the taxi drivers pocket.. ..
We sailed down to the small town of Portobelo to visit the famous church with their ‘Black Christ’. This life-size statue was found on the shores of the town harbour and has become famous throughout Panama. Every year thousands of pilgrims come to Portobelo walking from as far away as Panana city and crawling on their hands and knees for the last mile having hot wax dripped on their backs. Criminals also join the pilgrimage and this atones for all their sins during the year.
After all the pilgrims have crawled into the church the statue is usually carried through the city on a large float but this year they cancelled the parade due to COVID. Everyone wears purple and there are many sellers selling religious artifacts on the streets. It’s a great fun day and this little town came alive – 8 of us watched the pilgrims and then found a sweet little bar to have a few beers.
We were also shown a paved sundial that has been built into the ground and uses the church spire as the dial. It wasn’t sunny that day so we couldn’t actually tell whether it worked but we assumed it did as the locals were justifiably proud of it.
After a couple of weeks the permit still had not arrived so we decided to head west and visit the Bocas del Toros group of islands and get them to email it on to us. On the way we stopped at a lovely little island called Escudo de Veraguas. We stayed for a couple of days and explored the unusual coast line dotted with caves and tiny little beaches. There was a small village on one side but it was deserted on the southern side.
Panama has so many islands to explore but many of them are uninhabited – some of them have caretakers for a few months of the year and some have very small villages that are not self sustaining. They don’t grow many vegetables or keep stock. Some charge tourists to coming and most just fish for a living.
We spent a few days at Bocas del Toros – a small hippie type town dominated by backpackers. Very colourful and full of bars and dive shops. We liked the town and they had some really adorable houses.
We had come to Bocas to check out of the country and had been told that you could also check out at the Red Frog Marina a couple of miles away. We thought this option sounded easier so we took Indian Summer over there to sort out the paper work. We discovered that the marina is named after a tiny little indigenous bright red frog and is actually a private island with lots of private villas. No cars just golf buggies and the marina customers can use all the facilities like the pool etc. It was just beautiful and we even saw SV Delos in there. I had followed Delos for years while I was planning this trip and never thought I would actually see them. We didn’t meet Brian and Karen as they were away but it was really good to see their boat.
Sadly they cannot now check out boats at Red Frog so we went back to Bocas to check out. We didn’t really understand the working hours here – sometimes their lunch hour stretched to 3 hours and 3pm was considered going home time so we had to plan our visit carefully. Our permit eventually came through and we were able to show the Port Captain that we had been legal here in Panama. He hummed and harred, pushed papers around and grunted but did begrudgingly say he would organise our Zarpe (the paperwork we need for entry into another country) we needed copies though and to print off the permit beforehand – so Ian went down to get the copies and I sat and listened to the port captain whinge that he was hungry, had missed his lunch and where was my captain!! I gave him a banana and told him Ian would be back soon. When Ian did come back he moaned that he should be going home by now (3.50pm) as it was a Friday! His sugar hit from the banana must have worn off! We then raced to the airport to get our passports signed and were told we had to see customs. A custom official rocked up and took ages to go through our paperwork. At one minute past 5 he claimed it was now overtime and we must pay $US55! We hadn’t got any cash left as we were leaving at first light so that upset him. You don’t pay to check in and out of Panana so it was a bribe anyway. He refused the offer of a banana!
On the way back we saw some kids fishing.. We had really enjoyed our 6 weeks in Panama but it was time to move on. We would be back next year to go through the canal but we were very glad we had explored some more of the country. It is truly a wonderful country.