A trip to the Panama Canal and beyond travel blog

Colon bus


Blue fish


Fabric panels

The view from the bathroom

Getting geared up

There she goes!

The alarm went off at 6:00 and we dragged out of bed, showered, and down to the lobby for breakfast. Nice spread with fruit and eggs. Small but OK. Then packed up our stuff and down to the lobby.

Kevin was waiting for us. He seemed nice – an American from Boston in his 30s. Seemed like a nice guy. The other person on our tour was Albert from the US too – he was in Panama after spending two weeks on a farm in Costa Rica. Nice guy and well travelled. Then off we went!

We drove across the isthmus in about 90 minutes to the Caribbean on a new highway – Kevin said it used to take three hours or more to do the trip as little as four years ago. The area was rather undeveloped for tourists so there were few people – even for a Sunday. The area was quite pretty with resorts and nice houses on the coast and poorer, smaller homes inland.

We drove along the coast for a while and finally ended up at the dive spot. After a short delay we got into our suits and got our snorkel gear and got on the boat. A quick 15 minutes across the sound to a small inlet with a beach. Right off shore was Drake Island – a small place named for the old sea captain who frequented these waters.

Then the fun part. Albert and Kevin got in the water and started off. Minna started by putting her head in the water and trying out the snorkel. Then she tried swimming with it. Since she had a long standing fear of water it was quite a feat! Kevin and I went out to the coral reef and saw lots of fish and coral. Minna stayed in the shallows but became quite good at snorkeling. The only problem was that I again skinned my toes raw. Oh yeah – and the battey on my underwater camera went dead. Quite nice water and area. By the time we were done a crowd of mostly scuba divers had shown up and gone under.

We got back on the boat and went a short way to another reef and swam for about ½ hour with all of us going together. Minna had become quite proficient at snorkeling – and she seemed to have surprised herself! We saw many of the same things as the other reef but in more profusion. Even got to see a lion fish (an invasive species but quite remarkable in appearance).

Back to the dive center to shower, change, and have some lunch. Nice pan fried fish and rice and a “salad” of sorts. Fish was very nice. Minna had a Coca Cola Light (no diet in Panama!) and I had a lemon orange Fanta. Then off to Portobelo.

Portobelo is a very old harbor town used by the Spanish as a fortress and transshipment point for goods from the Pacific and interior. It was raided and sacked seven times by pirates and the British. The last fortress built was still in existence today – a world heritage site but in very bad condition.

It is a very small town with maybe 50 houses. There is a cathedral there as well as an old customs house. A few people were selling tourist souvenirs. Minna bought a fabric panel that the people in this area are famous for their needle work. The town itself seemed very poor with trash all over the place, especially in the streams that seemed to be sewers as well. An extensive harbor held quite a few boats – including a wreck that had partially sunk four years before.

Then off to the Canopy tour. About a 45 minute drive back the way we came then over a very bumpy dirt road. Two parts – both on steep hills – were paved. We got to the tour company and used the toilets. Interesting in that 1/3 of the back wall was open to the jungle.

Then up the hill and we got geared up for the zip line. Again Minna has had a long fear of heights so it was quite a leap of faith for her. There was good safety gear and the guides gave good instructions on what to do. One guide would go first, then the three tourists, then the other guide would follow.

Minna went first. As she zipped into the jungle she screamed in exhilaration because she knew right away that it was going to be a lot of fun! And it was! We did nine total lines and it was a blast. We were quite disappointed when it was done. Minna especially was disappointed that it was over. Great fun!

Then we took off the gear and headed back to the city. We took the guides (on the roof of the van) and a couple with their child inside the van. After passing several cars on the very narrow dirt road we dropped off the folks and drove back to the highway. We ran into a heavy rain storm on the way back, but that was the only rain of the day.

Back at our hotel around 4:00 we cleaned up a bit, loaded up the pictures, and went to the roof of the hotel to have a mojito or two and do the trip journal. Quite a nice view of the city and a bit of the harbor.

We wandered down the street a bit later and had a late dinner at Mandolo's - a nice local restaurant. I had a great seafood soup and Minna had a chicken consume. We had a dessert of three milk pudding. A fun day!

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