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Monday, December 22, 2008

Panama City

21 December 2008

We've been anchored at La Playita in front of the Amador causeway for a week now. This is the largest city we've ever visited in Nakia, and we've had some growing pains in getting to know it. First let me say that being anchored right next to the ship channel is a thrilling experience. We have a ringside seat at one of the biggest crossroads of world commerce with ships passing us going to and from the Canal 24/7. They are a fascinating sight which for some reason I find very moving.

I mean that seriously but it's also an unfortunate pun. Between the ships, the pilot boats, the admeasurer's boats, the tour boats, the Canal Authority boats, and all the other misc. boats going by the Playita anchorage, we are in an almost constant state of motion. Periodically we are rocked by an especially large wake which knocks over cups, slides things around, and makes us lose our balance if we're not holding on to something. So far the only minor casualty is a broken chair arm when a bad wake caught John just as he was sitting down in one of our plastic cockpit chairs. People dislike the anchorage for this reason but there are currently 30 boats here as opposed to eight just across the causeway at La Flamenco. The problem with the Flamenco anchorage is a nasty swell or wind chop which is bad when the wind is out of the north, as it will be for most of the dry season. But that's a good anchorage during the rainy summer.

In both cases this is a difficult place to get anything done. The Amador Causeway is a tourist/weekender oriented strip loaded with steak and seafood restaurants and not much else. There's no Wifi to the anchorage, no laundry, no grocery store, and no showers, despite a $5/day charge to use the dinghy dock (which is accessible to the public and therefore not technically secure). The closest Wifi is at Bennigan's restaurant which is a dinghy ride to the La Playita dock and then a 15 minute walk around the causeway to the Flamenco Marina office where we end up looking straight back out at Nakia in Playita. The more direct route would be to land the dinghy on the causeway itself but that is forbidden and the fine is $500.

We wouldn't be bothered by any of this if there was a dependable bus service to get us off the causeway into town. But the fact that the local cruiser's guide lists 14 taxi drivers must be indicative of something. We had three bad bus days in a row when we first arrived. We waited three different times for at least an hour before giving up and catching a cab. One day we traveled extensively around the city and paid $27 for a total of three cab rides. But our last two bus days turned out better as we figured out that it's wiser to go out before 9 AM and come back in the late afternoon. All the restaurant workers use the collectivos (.25/ride) so they seem to run more frequently at peak staff turnover times. Because of the size of the city many cruisers have given up on taking buses, preferring to hire taxi's at $8-10/hour to take them around on their errands. This is so counter to our do-it-ourselves philosophy that we are determined to figure out the bus system. I simply cannot bear the thought of taking a taxi back and forth just to do my laundry!

We've checked out three of the recommended grocery store chains and basically this is like living in the States. We've seen items that have been missing from our lives for four years, but at Stateside prices (we imagine) we'll go on doing without them. Where we've seriously gone off the cruiser budget wagon this week is eating out. We celebrated our arrival with a delicious Italian meal at Alberto's with Sarana; ate lunches out during shopping days; splurged big time on beers and burgers at a Bennigan's Wifi fix; had a disappointing post-laundry ordeal meal at Mi Ranchito's (which is always mystifyingly packed considering the ho-hum food there); indulged in high end Indian food at Masala (no lunch buffet here!); and I'm working my way through all the flavors of ice cream at Gelarti (not really gelato, but good ice cream).

I'm enjoying all that life in the big city has to offer but John is pining for the slower pace (and calmer anchorages) of the Las Perlas islands. Our new oil sender should arrive before Christmas, and we'll attend a potluck dinner on the 25th with 30 other cruisers at the Balboa Yacht Club. We should be back out in the islands for a quiet NY's eve.

Linda and John