Portobelo – the not so beautiful port
So we moved on from the comfortable, flat, sheltered, scenic anchorage of Linton in search of an ATM machine. The small town of Portobelo came well recommended offering everything we needed - cash machine, bakery, a couple of cruisers bars, some Chinese grocery stores, historical ruins – what more could we want?
Our first priority was getting some money but this turned out to be just a tad harder than it should be. When we first arrived the one and only ATM machine (stand alone – no bank) was accepting cards, printing a receipt, giving cards back but not dispensing money but then it was debiting your account! Luckily we heard this on the morning “Cruisers Net” before we too fell victim and inserted our card. So in order to get some much needed funds we spent $3 of our remaining $9 and travelled to the closet working ATM an hour away on the bus, thankfully it did have money!
Alas the ATM saga doesn’t end there, we needed more money late last week, the machine had been working again but then ran out of money last Thursday. We understand it was still empty on Friday night when 2 men were arrested trying to steal it and put it on the back of a truck – said machine is now completely out of order and we had another bus trip to get more money!
The history and ruins
There are some interesting ruins around the harbour remaining from the days when riches were shipped by the Spanish from here. Christopher Columbus first discovered the bay in 1502 and recognised its importance as a safe harbour that was easy to access. Many years later when the Spanish stripped South and Central America of its gold and silver the area became one the most important sites for storing then shipping all the bootie back to Seville in Southern Spain. Fortifications were built then strengthened to keep pirates out – in particular Sir Francis Drake who made several successful attempts to steal the gold from the Spanish who of course had already stolen it from the indigenous people.
The forts are easy to access and once upon a time had excellent informative plaques in Spanish and English telling the history. Sadly everything is in a state of total disrepair and it appears little is being done to preserve this heritage. There is also the handsome Customs House building from 1630, guide books tell us that it has been beautifully restored, well whoever paid for the restoration needs to take a good look and find out where their money went – it didn’t look like it had been restored in the last century. It has that very well weathered, crumbling and neglected look to it that we loved about many of the buildings in Europe.
More rubbish rantings!
The rest of the town has a “wild west frontier” kind of feel to it, almost as though everyone is just passing through. But it eventually grows on you and really could be quite a nice spot with a touch of t.l.c but everywhere you look is just a shambles. Nearly all the buildings are concrete block and plaster and most are falling apart, several have already fallen and lie derelict. Rubbish is absolutely everywhere, every now and then it looks a little cleaner but soon after it was just a big tip again.
The residents have no sense of pride in their environment and obviously no concern for the health issues all this decaying rubbish brings. There are no bins anywhere and the collection point for rubbish bags (including those of us cruisers who pay $1 a bag to leave it) is on a vacant lot adjacent to houses and the Port Captains office – right “downtown”! Big black buzzards or maybe they were vultures hover overhead waiting for the next instalment to arrive and stray dogs scavenge thru the pickings, it is so bad it is almost unbelievable.
An American owner of one of the local bar/cafe/backpackers hostel Capt Jacks endeavoured to do his bit to help clean up Portobelo and employed someone to work full time removing the streets of their litter. The new employee worked a few days, collected his pay, then disappeared with tools of the job supplied by Capt Jacks, never to be seen again! And so the rubbish keeps piling on up.
The Black Jesus
There is more to Portobelo than ruins and rubbish, there is a church in the town square with a statue of the “Black Christ” in it. There is many a tale of where this statue came from and when it first appeared but it has developed into a major pilgrimage site for Central America, with thousands visiting each year hoping for a miracle.
Boring things like The Weather and Boat Jobs
So we have stayed in Portobelo nearly a month now, our least favourite anchorage in Panama but our longest stop, something doesn’t seem quite right there. Generally the wind is from the east/north east and then it is a comfortable and flat anchorage, however with a westerly in the bay or even miles offshore, quite a chop and sometimes a swell comes in making it rather uncomfortable and on a lee shore, never something we like.
The days have passed quickly enough, there is always something to do/fix onboard. Plus skipper has been lucky to find El Castillo a local bar with English owner who has been showing all the European Football Cup games live and we finally managed to get a sim card for our dongle so have internet access once again.