Saturday, January 2, 2010

Exploring Panama

S/V Aspen – January 2, 2010 – Log #23
Position: 9 degrees 22.1’ N 79 degrees 57.0’ W
(Cristobal/Colon, Panama)

Welcome to 2010 and the continuing saga of the voyage of Aspen! (There are pictures that go with these stories posted on our blog if you are interested.)

Yes, we are still in the same place, tied securely to the dock while the strong Christmas winds and huge sweep across the Caribbean Sea.

Except for the Panama Canal, the riches that were once Panama are no longer. We rode with some new friends and visited the countryside in their jeep. It was great having someone else drive us around!

Our first visit was to Portobelo. Portobelo, the most important port in the new world from the 1500's to the mid 1800's is in ruins. The old forts that lined the harbor are silent, long ago destroyed by pirates and the ever present jungle. In it's heyday gold and silver was literally stacked high along the streets and businesses in this city by the sea. Much of the gold and silver came overland from the Pacific side of Panama and ended up in Portobelo, ready to be loaded on sailing ships to make the long journey to Spain.

Well, the pirates had other ideas and then the fun began. Among the most well-know pirates, Sir Francis Drake sacked Portobelo in the 1600's and Captain Morgan literally flattened the city into oblivion in the 1700's. Yet Portobelo would not die, or at least the Spanish would not let her lie in peace. So today we can see only traces of this fabled yet foreboding place. Arrrrrrrh!

A visit to the Church called San Felipe was something we wanted to do in Portobelo. The church was built in 1814 and is home to the famous wooden statue called the Black Christ. This statue has a very mysterious origin, mostly surrounded in legend. It seems that in the early 1800's a sailing ship, bound for Cartegena, Colombia had the statue on board. The ship decided to leave Portobelo but each time it attempted to leave a huge storm would form and drive the ship back into the harbor. After repeated tries the ship was finally able to sail away from Portobelo. Within days the ship sunk and the statue washed up on the shores of, you guessed it, Portobelo! Today the statue is revered by thousands of pilgrams who think the statue has spared them from cholera epidemics and other nasty things. It is pretty impressive sitting on display in it's golden cage!

Our next stop was Colon. Colon is the city nearest our marina and it is on the Caribbean coast. Colon is considered notoriously dangerous by sailors throughout the world. We quickly went through town on the main street with doors locked and our darkened windows disguising our visit. It is said that if you want to shop anywhere you WILL take a taxi, sprint into the store from the taxi, exit the store and throw yourself back into the taxi while slamming and locking the door after you. You would then repeat this maneuver again at the next store you wanted to visit, even if it was right next door. So we decided not to shop here!

Then it was on to the Panama Canal locks. We watched ships cross from the Caribbean to the Pacific in less than two days. The trip around South America would take months and is a very difficult journey for these huge ships. For small sailboats that same journey is the stuff of legends, if you survive! Hmmmm, it seems like an obvious choice to us!

Finally we headed back to our heavily guarded marina on the old grounds of Fort Sherman. Luckily, Fort Lorenzo lies within the guarded boundaries so it is a great drive through the jungle to this old Spanish Fort that stands guard over the mighty Chagres River. Maria was able to finally see this fort since we drove to it, instead of running with me for many miles through the jungle. Maria enjoyed seeing the tunnels within the fort and the view it offered of the Chagres and Caribbean Sea. As we said before, the history just oozes from this place. No, we didn't find any left over gold unfortunately.

We lament that it is 95 degrees everyday with 95% humidity here. But hearing about the snow, ice and frigid temperatures back home helps us appreciate our weather! Remember to look at the website show below for the pictures.

Sail on sail on Aspen…

Steve and Maria

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