September 18, 2006

Providencia to Panama

We had a great time on Providencia Island. We went to horse races on the beach, climbed the peak with the Port Captain (complete with armed escort), snorkeled on the reefs, ate out at friendly little restaurants, and even met the taxi driver's family. 

The driver just stopped suddenly one day, seemingly nowhere near our destination. He wanted us to meet his wife, children, and mother, and we all spent a delightful few moments exchanging pleasantries before continuing on. 

That sums up Providencia: one of the friendliest places in the Caribbean. The winds built for awhile, and a tropical wave passed overhead that later became Tropical Storm Alberto. This let us know it was time to continue south in order to get below the hurricane belt (10 degrees north), which is only a short distance south of Providencia.

In company with Good Karma, we set off with a big wind and a big sea from the east, which soon petered out and we were motorsailing with lightning all around for most of the night. A channel of clear sky through the clouds pointed directly to Bocas del Toro, our Panama destination.

Our dawn arrival was straightforward, though the lighthouse wasn't working, which is rather typical for much of the world. Thank goodness for GPS. We were soon anchored, called customs on the radio and we began to clean up the boat in expectation of the officials. 

They never came. Finally, at about 5:15 PM they all showed up in a boat, and cheerfully cleared us into Panama--they were particularly cheerful because they charged us overtime and therefore had a nice bonus for the weekend. I later made them feel bad for ripping us off, but it seems that is part of ordinary routine in Bocas.

With our wallets somewhat lighter, we soon learned that dollars were readily available from ATM machines in Bocas, and the town was swarming with international backpackers and surfers. With our rip-off introduction we didn't feel too happy about Panama, but things were to change as we explored areas around Bocas and we voyaged on to Colon and eventually the San Blas Islands.