Saturday, January 18, 2014

Once Upon A Time......

Once upon a time in a castle overlooking the Caribbean Ocean in Panama was Princess Terry and her fearless friends in adventure. Her faithful Prince Clyde was the chauffeur of the Royal Rav Four Chariot as he led the foursome through a day of tiring adventures. Our friends Allison and Ray Guinn were visiting from Virginia this week to start the process for their pensionado visa with their lawyer. As they needed a break from their tedious days in the immigration office we captured them for a day of sightseeing.

We left the hotel around 9am and set out along the highway to the coastal city of Colon. We drove past the enormous Free Trade Zone, a 600-acre operation that opened in 1948.  The Trade Zone is dedicated to re-exporting a wide number of goods and receives 250,000 visitors a year to it's 1,751 companies within the complex.  As we made our way through the busy streets we passed a number of outdoor markets, tenements, churches and more where locals shopped and waited for buses. Known as one of the least safest places in Panama, we stayed in the car most of time only venturing out only near the waterfront for a few pictures.

Ray And The Princesses Allison and Terry
Even Colon has KFC and McDonalds!

From Colon our plan was to find the third set of locks called Gatun Locks which seemed almost impossible to find, but find them we did. The entire Panama Canal has three sets of locks, the most touristy because it's the easiest to find is Miraflores Locks in Panama City. The second set of locks is San Pedro Miguel which sits along the roadside, and the third being at Gatun.  Each set of locks is paired, meaning that two ships can pass simultaneously in opposite directions for more efficiency.  At Miraflores in the Pacific Ocean the ships goes through a two-stop process, then a one-step process at San Pedro Miguel locks before they're lowered into Gatun Lake by another three-step process. The total lift of each ship is 85 feet, depending on the tide levels at the time. From Gatun Lake the ships can transition into the Caribbean Sea saving about 8,000 nautical miles.

Being residents of Panama we're able to get into the locks free and since Allison and Ray had their newly issued temporary cards, they too reaped the rewards. The viewing platform was packed with tourists and groups from a local cruise ship making us feel like sardines. Eventually we did manage to get a glimpse of the massive ships transiting the canal.  Although we've seen the whole process several times before, it's always amazing to see the ships go through the locks.

Visitor's Center At Gatun Locks

A View Of A Ship Going Through The Locks.....Over The Heads In Crowd

The Three Musketeers Again

A Ship Entering The Locks

The Large Lock's Gate Opening
This Ship Heads Into Next Lock....Notice The Guys On Deck Waving To The Crowd

Clyde wanted to visit the location where the new set of locks is being built, so off we went.  The excavation of this massive undertaking has been going on for years, and like all big endeavors it's met with many problems. But someday when it opens the new locks of the Panama Canal will be able to transit wider, more massive ships through it's huge gates.

One Of The Massive New Cement Gates For The Expansion Project...New Set Of Locks
Visitors Center For New Locks

Site Of The New Locks Excavation Project

Another View
 Clyde Being Silly On A Donkey

Next Clyde wanted to show them a few old forts on the Caribbean side of the country before ending up in the town of Portobelo.  Our first stop was Fort Sherman, a former US Army base that was used as a defensive base for the Atlantic side of the Canal. It was also used as a training center for jungle warfare for some time before it was turned over to Panama in 1999 when US troops pulled out of the country. Today it's home to a number of abandoned buildings, and something we didn't find all that impressive.

Fort Sherman

From there we headed into the jungle to find Fort San Lorenzo and The Castle, for the two princesses on board, of course. Along the way we spotted a sign leading to a beach which we followed down a bumpy, dirt and gravel road. As soon as we all jumped out of the car Clyde and Allison, the photo buffs headed toward the water to snap some shots.  While standing quietly alongside the jungle with Ray, we heard rustling in the canopy high above us.  We looked and watched until I spotted the white face of a capuchin monkey sitting in a tree.  We waved to the others to point him out, and the four of us watched in awe as a dozen or so monkeys entertained us in the trees high above. Allison and Clyde snapped picture after picture, hoping to capture a monkey in the thick brush above. After a while we headed back onto the road to find the illusive castle in the woods and the fort that bears the same name.

The Beach Off The Beaten Trail
Monkeys In The Wild

A White Faced Capuchin I Believe

What we found was a nice display of ruins from the 17th and 18th centuries nicely preserved, and overlooking some of the best views in Panama we've seen in a while. With the clear, blue waters of the Caribbean Sea at the mouth of the Chagres River below us, we walked through the array of forts, castles and barracks left behind from so many years ago. These fortifications created a defensive line of protection around the bay, and protected the harbor on the Atlantic side.


A Cannon At The Fort
The Castle Awaits for The Princess!
More Of The Fort

A Window Looking Out From The Fort

A Caribbean View From The Top Of Fort

On our way back through the jungle I spotted something black in a tree that hung over the road.  Directly above our car was a monkey, perched high on a branch watching us go by. Quickly we all jumped out of the car and watched in awe at the little darling that was just above our heads.  He turned his back to us exposing well, let's just say his male parts, either being shy or afraid?  But then a few minutes later he scurried down a branch right in front of us, stopping to strike a pose along the way, so we could get some good pictures.

Our Favorite.... A Howler Monkey In The Wild
Just Hangin' Around

Striking A Pose For The Gringo's
Although it was getting late we just had to pursue one more stop on our Caribbean adventure which was the port city of Portobelo. The tiny town is home to a large white church called, "Iglesia de San Felipe," which houses the famous statue of The Black Christ. The life-sized effigy of Christ holding a cross sits to the left of the ornate alter, protected by glass. No one knows exactly how or when the Black Christ arrived in the community, or even where it came from but for many believers it's responsible for many miracles.  Every year on October 21, tens of thousands of people visit the church.  Some walk the 53 miles from Panama City, others join them along the way from the town of Sabinitas and many crawl the last mile on hands and knees looking for a miracle.

The Black Christ In Portobelo

The town of Portobelo itself boasts a certain type of charm with it's run-down buildings, locals hanging out and kids riding bikes in the streets. We saw kids playing outside in their underwear wearing nothing more than mismatched socks, yet still carefree and enjoying life. A pet monkey in a cage entertained passerby's in front of one tiny house as we walked the gravel streets. We watched as the sun set over the Caribbean before leaving the little town to find some dinner.

Local Boy In Underwear and Two Mis-Matched Socks

Two Girls Dancing In The Streets Near The Fort
Nearby we spotted yet another castle, but this one served food and drinks.  El Castillo de Portobelo sat just inches from the Caribbean Sea in a rustic old building and was full of old-time charm. We dined on of all things a Thai chicken curry that put a nip on our tongues for something different. Allison had Thai pad noodles while Ray played it safe with a cheeseburger and fries. Even the bathrooms dripped with ambiance with pull chain toilets, and a rustic rock and wooden sink vanity.  The sounds of the surf provided a soothing backdrop as our enchanting day came to an end sipping drinks with good friends, feeling like a princess....along the gringo trail.

1 comment:

  1. Ran across your blog researching a post about the push-button and blogrolled you;

    But the reason I wanted to comment here is because I thought you might enjoy a bit of history involving Fort Sherman and howler monkeys:

    Thanks for all the Panama goodness; it's been thirty years but some things are always tasty as monkey meat outside the Corozal PX...


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