The Sailor of Panama

The differences between the anchorage in Balboa on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal and Colon on the Caribbean side are incredible. A 50-mile motor through the canal took us from a post-apocalyptic world of drugs, prostitution, and rampant crime to a cultured, scenic, urban wonderland. Instead of an anchorage constantly under attack from strong winds and choppy waves, our new anchorage in Balboa lashes us instead with the sweet sounds of salsa music and the tempting aroma of food that isn’t Ramen. Rather than fearing for our lives every time we set foot ashore, in the Pacific we are welcomed by a stunning view of the Panama City skyline and the agonizingly seductive glances of the even more stunning Panamanian women.

However, all is not perfect in the Pacific. Much to my horror, I have only recently learned that the water in the Pacific is significantly colder than the Atlantic. I cannot understand how the water temperature can be so cold in the tropics, but every swim is a bracing experience. Considering that every time I need to bathe, I am required to dive into the ice cold water, my already infrequent bathing habits could become positively unhealthy. How is it possible that no one ever mentioned this to me before? The majority of the past week has been spent running around Panama City seeking boat parts and products necessary to prepare for our long passage to the Galapagos and beyond. The hunt for boat parts was made more interesting by the fact that my limited Spanish does not include technical descriptions for products such as stainless steel tubing, hinges, and t-valves. Eventually, with a combination of frantic gestures, crude pictures, and a sprinkling of inarticulate Spanish, we were able to track down everything we needed and visit some of the less traveled sections of the city while we were at it.

On Thursday, we made the long trek back to Colon on the luxury bus to pick up the newly repaired cruising chute. For $2.50, the air conditioned bus makes the roughly two hour journey from Panama City to Colon and even throws in a free movie to help the time pass faster. Not surprisingly, the movies are all pirated copies, although we were surprised that all three movies we have seen on the bus have included nudity. No one else on the bus seemed phased. As I savor my last few days in civilization before embarking on the long passages in the Pacific, I have been lucky enough to meet some friendly locals. In one of the most shocking occurrences of my lifetime, a beautiful waitress actually gave me her phone number without my asking. This was yet more evidence to support the theory that I am much more successful with women who cannot understand a word that I say. I am coming to the realization that perhaps cynicism isn’t the most romantic trait and the less that I reveal of my personality, the better.

In any case, after an epic struggle to communicate, the lovely waitress, Madeleine, agreed to come over to the boat for lunch on Saturday and was even kind enough to bring a friend along to entertain Zach. I guess the lunch was what normal people would call a date, but the awkwardness that accompanies most first dates was approaching record levels due to the fact that Madeleine speaks only a little English and I speak hardly any Spanish. Fortunately, Madeleine was exceedingly patient and incredibly sweet, making the episode entertaining rather than frustrating. It was great having two women aboard and I only wish that they could sail with me across the Pacific.

On Friday evening, the annual Carnival celebration commenced in Panama. After overdosing on Carnival activities in Trinidad last year, I’m wary of getting sucked into another 8-hour conga line. By comparison to Trinidad, the festival in Panama is fairly tame and takes place mainly outside of the city. Instead of dancing to the same five songs and dressing up in ornate costumes for several weeks as was the case in Port of Spain, the residents of Panama City congregate in large groups to be sprayed by fire hoses and to gawk at the few hearty souls that take the effort to don a traditional costume. About the only similarity between the Carnival celebrations in Panama and Trinidad is that the entire city closes up shop. As a result, it becomes impossible to get anything done. Conveniently, this allowed for plenty of time to hassle Madeleine while she worked. However, it would have been healthier for me if she worked at a vegetable stand instead of bar. The comfortable lifestyle in Panama makes it difficult to leave and it is tempting to extend our stay as we slowly work through the few remaining boat projects. However, the draw of the South Pacific is strong and we are beginning to plan for the long passage to the Galapagos. The preparations include provisioning, seeking an Ecuadorian visa, and monitoring the weather.

The long passages ahead will test the boat and the crew and every superstition is being strictly adhered to so as to prevent any unfortunate incidents. In keeping with sailing tradition, we will be sure not to leave on a Friday and not to have any bananas on board. Panama has been great, but there is a lot of the world still left to see.

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