Panama recap, or - flexibility is the watchword!

  Tide wash

Tide wash

"Cruising plans are best set in sand - changeable with the tides." "Cruisers and schedules don't mesh." "You can pick the time or the place, but not both."

Very very true. I think we've used these comments on would-be guests a few times, but it's the first time we've really dealt with that aspect of cruising reality from the point of view of the guest.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned that our plans to go through the Panama Canal with the Totems had been stymied by a longer-than-usual processing time between measurement and transit (and a hard-learned lesson about who to buy airplane tickets from!). I thought I'd share what happened!

Instead of this: 

  Totem's in the middle here

Totem's in the middle here

We had this:

  Anchorage in the Guna Yala (San Blas Islands)

Anchorage in the Guna Yala (San Blas Islands)

Plan A was to go through the canal. No go.

Plan B was to change our plane tickets to be able to go through the canal. No go. (hint - look up prices on sites like Travelocity and Kayak. Actually BOOK the ticket through the airlines. If we had done that, it would have cost us $300 to change our plans.)

Plan C was to drive to Carti, a small Guna village on the mainland about 10 miles from the offshore islands. You may know of them as the San Blas - the indigenous peoples there are the Guna Indians, and they prefer the nomenclature of Guna Yala. They actually administer the territory, though it's officially a part of Panama. No go. The Congreso, the Guna leadership, had decreed that all traffic to the area needed to be that destined for Guna resorts. The taxi companies we contacted were reluctant to risk their ability to take anyone, ever, through the border. This change happened literally 3 days before we were to fly out.

  Map source: http://www.go2sanblas.com/blog-details.html

Map source: http://www.go2sanblas.com/blog-details.html

Plan D was to fly out to the islands. No go. Despite the assurances of many people that such flights exist, we were having trouble finding any. And when we did find someone willing to fly us, when we pressed the question of the Congreso regulations, the communication suddenly dried up.

Plan E was for Totem to head to Linton (just east of Portobelo, which you can see on the map), a town outside of Congreso jurisdiction about 45 miles WEST (downwind) of the Guna Yala, where taxis were happy to deliver us. Then we could either continue the jaunt to Colon (further downwind) or decide to bash back upwind to the islands.

The flurry of emails and messages in that last 2 days was astounding. Someone got through to Carti! Oh, no they didn't! They did, but the Congreso at the border was asking to see birth certificates and crew lists. They did, but the guys on the beach at Carti were charging $100 a head for the 5 minute boat ride out to the sailboat. Oh, they actually didn't get through at all. 

By this time, though (and some of these messages/rumors were shared as we were sitting in the airport in DC!), Totem was underway to Linton. Our taxi driver was getting us at the airport in Panama City and delivering us to Linton. We'd decide on the next 10 days over sundowners in Totem's cockpit that very night. Jeremy warned me (as I'd already figured out) that we may well decide NOT to head back upwind - who wants to beat to windward against strong trades if you don't have to?

Safe arrival in Panama City, then Linton. And after unearthing all the US goodies we'd brought to ease the shock of having 4 extra people on a 47 foot boat (maple syrup! Chocolate chips!), the decision was made. Guna Yala, here we come. So Sunday morning, after Behan and I walked to the nearby village of Isla Grande to see what fresh foods we could add to the Totem galley, we picked up the anchor and headed back into the trades, retracing that 45 mile trek they'd done the day before. Jamie says it was one of the 10 worst trips in their almost-finished circumnavigation.

Was it worth it? You tell me.