Sunday, June 14, 2015

Panama City: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The weather in Panama City in the rainy season is pretty predictable: hot days with overcast overcast skies and a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. The fresh water washes the boat nicely and the clouds create beautiful sunsets. The people in Panama City are friendly and helpful and often speak some English. The buses cost only 25 cents and are air conditioned and go directly to the Albrook Mall which is a delightful place to spend the day. They not only have department stores, but home improvement stores, several high end American stores, food courts, a carousel, and a great supermarket called Super 99. The mall has so many entrances that each one is prominently marked with a huge fiberglass animal to help you find your way. The tiger entrance is right across from the main bus terminal where you can transfer from the city buses to buses into the interior of the country. And taxis are everywhere, so transportation is easy in Panama.


Panama City is a huge international city with a thriving economy based on the Canal, the Colon Free Zone, banking, insurance, shipping, and tourism. However, when Panama thinks of tourists, they only think of the ones who fly in for a week, unload a wad of cash doing prepackaged tours, then go home. They don't think about us cruisers at all. And who can blame them? We represent a very small percentage of the total tourist industry, and we are free thinkers who rarely follow the crowd.

However, we still need basic services like restaurants, grocery stores, laundry, fuel, and repair services. And we usually stay more than one week, so our expenditures could conceivably add up to more than the average tourist. Would if kill the City to put in a few dinghy docks at the popular anchorages?

We are anchored in one of the free anchorages here. It's called La Playita and is just outside a new marina of the same name. To get to shore we must dinghy up to their ferry dock and pay $37.00 per week for the privilege. They will happily allow resident sportfishing boats to tie up to said dock to fuel up, but we must bring jerry jugs in our dinghys since we are not allowed into the marina proper. They also have a laundry room right there, but we are not allowed to use it. So we schlep our laundry out to the road, load it onto the bus, travel 4 km to a neighborhood called La Boca, get off the bus and walk two more blocks, drop off the laundry, then go back the next day to pick it up. Groceries are a similar chore. The best store we've found so far is Super 99 at the Albrook Mall, about 8 km away. They are open 24 hours a day, the bus goes directly to the mall from the marina road, and have decent produce.
The mooring buoys at the Balboa Yacht Club are not reliably maintained and controlled. We went to Las Perlas Islands and they agreed to hold our buoy if we paid for the three days we were gone. Of course, when we came back someone else was on our buoy, so we ended up down with the work boats who run their engines 24 hours a day and kick up huge wakes as they flit back and forth.
Our friends were on a buoy for three days and suddenly in the middle of the night were awoken by horns and bright lights. They had drifted two miles down the channel because the rope pennant was worn through. Thank God the current kept them in shallow water and not out in the channel where a freighter could have run them down. 
The launch (which you MUST use while at the BYC) is unreliable, sometimes coming in 30 minutes, sometimes coming in 2 minutes, sometimes crashing into your hull, and sometimes saying there's too much rain to come get you at all!
The water and the air are terribly polluted here in Panama City because of the many ships, tugs, and pilot boats; the cranes, forklifts, and equipment at the port; all the cars in the City; and refineries close by. Our water line gets dirty with a brown slimy growth just days after cleaning it and the whole boat is sticky inside and out. I just keep washing it with vinegar and hoping we will be to clean conditions soon.

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