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Panama City: Gateway to the World

Liz Clarke Braves Panama City’s Taxis, Ships and Thieves


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Arrival in Panama City marked my entrance into many new worlds. I had never been in a place hosting such a serious slew of cruising sailors all at once. Panama City is a crossroads, not only for traveling boaters, but for the world in general. Massive ships from all sides of the earth, carrying every sort of commodity imaginable pass in and out of the channel leading to the Panama Canal. Their sheer size was humbling, but the notion that these ships were essentially the “veins” of modern trade around the world gave them an even greater aura of significance. Safely anchored in Playita de Amador, well clear of their path, I gained a new appreciation for these great beasts of the sea.

The city itself amazed me, too. There were gourmet markets, fine restaurants and museums, and massive malls. Public transportation was cheap but often frightening. “Red Devil” buses hugged corners like it was the Indy 500, while the taxi drivers used their horns in place of their brakes. Sometimes I just closed my eyes. For not being much of a city girl, I certainly delighted in finding some of the luxuries of home.

After goodbyes with Heather, I found myself among a pandemonium of sailors all readying their boats to head for various destinations. The anchorage was overflowing with sailboats, with probably close to a hundred spilled out nearly to the Canal channel. This was the junction and the high season for boats to leave for the South Pacific. Many had just come through the Canal from the Atlantic, others were preparing to pass to the Caribbean, and there were those staying in the Pacific but stopping to provision or retrofit in Panama City, like myself.

When the United States operated the Canal, they connected Flamenco and Perico Islands to the mainland via a two-mile road built atop a jetty called the Amador Causeway. The two places for sailboats to stay were on opposing ends of the Causeway - either on a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club up the channel towards the Panama Canal or at the “free” anchorage called Playita de Amador, on the tip of the Canal’s Pacific channel. The only drawback to Playita was that there were supposedly rampant outboard thieves, making it necessary for me to pull my 25hp Yamaha off the dinghy each night.

I spent almost three weeks at Playita and finished up my stint with a week at the Balboa Yacht Club, being shuttled to and from Swell by BYC’s guapo “lancha” drivers.

The VHF radio was the information and communication highway for this multinational medley of sailors. Everyone tuned in to channel 69 at 8 a.m. and listened to one boat host the “morning net,” in which people asked each other questions, exposed bargains they’d discovered in the city, and tried to sell, trade, or buy things from each other. There were flags and languages from all sides of the earth - Poland, Austria, Germany, Australia, Ecuador, England, France, China, Sweden, South Africa, and New Zealand. I even saw a boat from Budapest!

Jagwar Ma

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