Portobelo - anyone got a sailing boat round here ?

Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
Trip End Dec 17, 2008

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Where I stayed

Flag of Panama  ,
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Caught the bus from Panama City to Colon and then on up the caribbean coast to a tiny village, almost a hamlet, called "Miramar". I was supposed to be able to catch a boat from Miramar to El Porvenir at the edge of the San Blas archipelago in order to meet up with the sailing boat which would take me around the San Blas islands and on to Colombia. I had arranged the sailboat back in Panama City through one of the hostels and having spoken to the captain he told me I can get a boat to El Porvenir for $8 from Miramar. When I arrived in Miramar I had the guy who seemed to be the godfather of the village (he owned the restaurant, bar, shop, "hotel" and a boat) trying to tell me there were no boats and I needed to pay him $150 to take me to El Porvenir in his speedboat. He spoke no English and my Spanish is still fairly dreadful beyond the simplest of communication so we werenīt getting very far but after me telling him that I wasnīt paying $150 or even a tenth of that it emerged that apparently there was a possibility to get another boat in the morning for $10 which would leave at maybe 8, maybe 9 or maybe 10. So I agreed to stay overnight in the godfatherīs "hotel" (=2 rooms) and await the morning cheap boat. Went out to look for some food but there didnīt seem to be any open restaurants and the godfather then pointed me to a nearby house ... basically I ended up sitting in a living room along with an entire family eating the same chicken and rice as the rest of the family, with the plate on my lap on one of their towels because it was hot. Had an early night and actually slept like a log before getting up to wait for the boat in the little seating area by the godfatherīs shop, with seemingly half the village also sitting there doing very little other than gossiping. Maybe Iīm paranoid as my Spanish isnīt too great but Iīm convinced the main topic of conversation was me the idiot gringo trying to get the boat to El Porvenir. No boat at 8, no boat at 9, no boat at 10 ... or 11 or 12 ... the godfather shrugged his shoulders and said " Manana ... posiblemente". Then the godfatherīs wannabe-a-gangster son once again raised the topic of $150 for a speedboat - but the idiot gringo wasnīt impressed and getting a little fed up decided to get the next bus back to Portobelo. Several reasons sent me this way - no idea if or when a boat was going to arrive and I didnīt want another night in Miramar, Portobelo had looked an interesting place to stop on the way through on the bus, I already knew that some of the sailboats to Cartagena leave from Portobelo and finally Portobelo has a supermarket, internet café and restaurants that arenīt peoples living rooms! Back in Portobelo I set about trying to organise an alternative boat - after asking around the village, trying a tourist info centre, surfing the net and calling the captain of the original boat (who was actually really nice that I couldnt get there to him in El Porvenir and tried a couple of his mates but all to no avail), I finally came up trumps by calling the hostel in Colombia where I'm planning to stay. The marvellous Cartagena hostel people at Casa Viena gave me the details of another hostel here on the coast at Puerto Lindo which organises sailboat trips and lo-and-behold there was a boat leaving on Thursday with 2 places left ... hooray! Boat sorted and my spirits lifted I could set about checking out Portobelo, which used to the be the caribbean end of the "Camino Real". The Camino Real was the old 16th century road across from ocean to ocean, kind of a forerunner to the canal, which carried treasure and goods for the Spanish and as such was a target for the British to try and plunder, led by famous names such as Francis Drake and Henry Morgan. Hence the Spanish built numerous fortifications at Portobelo, the remains of which can still be seen today around the town such as the Santiago Battery, the Fortress of San Jernonimo and the Castle of Santiago de la Gloria. Portobelo doesn't seem to get many tourists or be particularly exploited or even preserved as a tourist attraction - the local kids play football matches actually inside San Jeronimo kicking the ball quite happily against the walls and the cannons. There was a good mirador (viewpoint) up a short trail above the ruins of the Castle of Santiago de la Gloria, which gave great views over the town, the fortifications and the bay (where Francis Drakeīs body lies after he died of dysentery here). Then on Tuesday I got the bus back to Colon to take the opportunity for the short trip out to Gatun Locks (see my other canal blog entry) and on Wednesday I moved on up the coast to the hostel at Puerto Lindo near to the yacht club where the sailboat to Cartagena leaves on Thursday morning. No more updates for several days now, dear garygapyear blog readers, I am hitting the high seas to South America! :)
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