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Sailust | Panama


Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Cabin fever is begining to set in. I don’t know if my crew mates and their idiosyncracies are truely annoying or if I’m just hyper-senstive and insane. One example is the way in which Larry asks for things. When he’s at the helm, he’ll say things like “a glass of water sure would be nice,” which means somebody should get him a glass of water. I don’t know why he does it. Maybe he does it so that if someone gets him the water, they’ve volunteered it rather than been requested. I’ve taken note of this, and so have the other crew members, and now it’s a sort of a joke. When he asks for something is this manner, I reply, “Do you mean you would like me to get you a glass of water?” When I force him to acknowledge his latent desire this way, out of stubborness, he still sticks to his guns and says “Sure, that will work,” kind of emphasizing the fact that it’s your idea to get him water, not his. When someone else asks me to do something, I’ll repeat the request, Larry-like, just to be funny. Gary will say, “Hey, Sean, can you help me lower the main?” and I’ll say “It sure would be nice of someone could drop the main.” I spend more and more time in my bunk in an effort to prevent my attitude from festering.

Larry and I also got into an argument about my leaving of personal items in the public area of the salon. He’s always finding things and putting them away¬†and getting on our cases for leaving things lying around. What’s worse is he’ll find something of his and then ask me “Why didn’t you say anything?” I understand the need for a tight ship. Because of this, we’ve developed a system: I put all of my personal items that I want to keep in the salon on the counter, above the stairs to my bunk. Everybody else does the same, each with a separate pile in different corners of the salon. My pile usually consists of a book or two, my camera, my ipod, my shirt if I’ve taken it off and my toothbrush. I’ll admit that my pile can sometimes grow large but it’s in a designated location with sufficient room, not out of order by any means. The stuff I keep in the salon are things that I frequently use and don’t want to have to go downstairs for, or things I intend to take downstairs the next time I go down. I think what really bothers Larry is my toothbrush, maybe because it’s the epitome of a personal item. Nobody else has any use for my toothbrush.

Thursday, after arriving in Panama, Larry gets on my case again for not taking my items downstairs and, instead of brushing him off, I defend my position. I say “I don’t see what’s the big deal if I keep my things here. We have plenty of space and it’s all in one place. It may look like a lot, but that’s mostly because I’m good at keeping it all together.”

Then he starts in with what I can tell is going to be a long story from his past. “When I was sailing on [some boat] there were nine of us.” I roll my eyes, I know exactly where he’s going with his story and I already can’t see a comparision between 9 people in a monohull versus 4 people in a 55ft catamaran. I brace myself for more “wisdom” before I try interjecting. “There were two people sleeping on the starboard side. One down here, and one up here in a bunk.” Now he’s going to describe where the other 7 people slept. “Across from them, on the port side, were two more. One on the bench and one in the bunk.” I can’t remember where he said the others slept then he says “…and Gary slept in the bow on the sails.”

I tell him my opinion about the differences between his example and our real situation. I guess he accepts my contention because he retaliates with another argument: “You have plenty of space down there. I built those drawers…” He was right. I have plenty of space. There’s an abundance of space everywhere on the boat, including the salon. I agree with him, “You’re right, there is plenty of space downstairs. However, I don’t keep my things in the salon for lack of space downstairs. I keep them up here so that they’re handy; so I don’t have to go downstairs when I want to use them.” He can’t think of an argument to this so he continues in the vein of there being plenty of space downstairs. I raise my original question, “What harm is my stuff doing?” and I also take the offensive, identifying his things that are left in public areas. I say, “What about your gym bag or your soap that are outside?”

“That’s different,” he says. “That’s in the cockpit. I’m not talking about out there, I’m talking about in here.”

“So I can keep my things in the cockpit then?”

“Sure,” he confesses. I take this as win. He doesn’t excuse his personal items so I take my toothbrush and place it outside. The whole argument was silly and childish. The solitary toothbrush sitting outside in the cockpit looked ridiculous. It also acted as reminder of our little tiff.

The rest of the crew and I were preparing to head to shore before Larry and I started to argue. We were moored in Isla Tobaga, an island 10 miles from the entrance to the Panama Canal. Through the haze I could barely distinguish the high rises of Panama City. Between here and there were tankers of all sorts, anchored and awaiting entrance to the canal. We met up with our friend, Lee, whom we met on the Haha. She flew down to Panama and was crewing for Rick, skipper of Viking Heart. Rick shuttled Gary, Lynne, Lee and me in his motorized dinghy to the shore so that we could check out the island, use the Internet, and mainly, just get off the boat; the last leg had been 5 days, from Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

The island of Tobaga is mostly houses with not many services. Its population is 450. Lee took us on a tour, took us to visit her friend, Joe, who had a house high on the hill. Joe offered us beers and we sat on his balcony looking out on the anchorage. Lee’s socially outgoing and invited Joe to a potluck later in the evening that we were to have on Crystal Blue. We took leave of him and proceeded to walk through the town in search of the Internet. On the way we passed an English couple who Lee knew, and she invited them to the potluck as well. The Internet cafe turned out to be closed, but there was a hotel up the hill with a wifi signal, and Lynne brought along her laptop. At the hotel we ran into the English couple again. We had a few beers and used the Internet before it was time to get back to the boat and start the potluck.

For the potluck, I cooked a Dorado that we’d caught the day before and some black beans with rice, known as gallo pinto. Lee brought potato salad and a salad and we had ourselves a feast. The English coulple showed up but Joe never made it. It was nice to do some entertaining on Crystal Blue. Being designed as a charter boat, there’s plenty of room for bodies.

Friday morning we sailed to an anchorage on the mainland with Viking Heart. Lee and Rick are going to help us through the canal because four line-handlers and a helmsman are required to go through. At 10:30 Gary radioed Flamenco Signal Station to check in with Panama. The man on the radio said a boat will come board us at 1. At this point, I was really anxious to get on shore and wander about by myself. Shower. Check my email. Wash my sheets and clothes. One o’clock came and still no boat. Then two o’clock came. Gary radioed the station again and we get a vague response; the run-around. Come 4 o’clock we realized nobody was coming.

Gary and Lary decide to anchor closer to shore. We couldn’t get the anchor to bite this time. Gary and I manually hoisted the anchor up about 5 times before we got a solid bite. Our final location was even further away from shore than the first. The sun set and the day was a waste. We waited all day long and nothing was accomplished. I was so stir crazy that I decided to get a hotel for my stay in Panama. Gary rowed Lynne and me to shore for dinner and Internet. We ate at this American restaurant called Bennigans. I got an $8 burger and a $3 beer; damn American prices. I didn’t even feel like I was in Panama yet.

We finished with dinner at 10pm and I grabbed a cab to town, with all my bags. The taxista was very friendly. I talked to him in Spanish and he drove me around to probably 8 hotels, all of which were booked. Shit, I’m thinking, I should have left earlier. I decide to go to Casco Viejo, the old colonial part of town, with slightly higher prices, or so I thought. We find a hostel; it was booked. Finally we found a dingy roach motel that had an extra room. I had no other choice, so I took it. I gave the taxista $15 for driving me all over town.

The hotel is an old colonial building. My room is on the second floor. The door is looked from the outside with a padlock. Unlocking it, I push the door open and flip the light switch; nothing happens. I walk around room. The only furniture is a bed, a table and a fan. I notice a naked incandesent light bulb hanging on the wall. I feel the stem for a switch; nothing. Then all the way down the cord; nothing. Finally I reach the plug, hanging over an electrical outlet. I plug it in and the room illuminates. The walls are poorly covered in peeling wallpaper. Whoever put it up, put it on over moulding and even over another door. I hate wallpaper. Why not apply a fresh coat of paint? Maybe they wanted to hide the door. The ceiling is 20ft hight and the wall with the door, accross from the balcony, doesn’t even go to the top. It’s like an office cubicle. A large stately room has been subdivided to make more rooms. I can hear TVs and conversastions from all the other rooms. The bed is neatly made with clean sheets, on top of which is a towel, a little bar of soap and a half roll of 1-ply toilet paper. I open the balcony doors. They’re fastened together with a horseshoe-shaped piece of rebar, threaded through two rings, one on each door. The balcony makes the room OK. I prefer old and worn things anyways. There was once a day when this building stood in glory. Older things are usually better built, too. My neighbors on the balcony next to me are outside smoking. The naked light bulb casts such a bright light that it projects my shadow on the vacant building across the narrow street.

I left the room to look for the bathroom. In the center of the building, still second story, there is a cement court yard. Around it, amongst other rooms, are tile rooms, some with toilets, some with showers. I went back to my room, grabbed my shampoo, the little bar of soap and the towel and took a shower, locking the padlock on my way out.

After my shower, I dressed in my “going out” clothes. It’s nothing special; just jeans and shoes; my only pair of jeans and my only pair of shoes. At the hostel that was booked, I got a map of Casco Viejo. On it was listed 4 bars in the area, which I thought I’d check out. It was now midnight. I go into the first bar I see, which turned out to be Indigo. I order a gin and tonic and sat in the corner observing. The clientele was mostly young and affluent Panmanians. A few girls were speaking English and Spanish. They fit in so well I took them for locals. One of them, a brunette in a white dress, kept looking back at me. I ordered another gin and tonic and moved to the adjacent ventilated smoking room with a DJ and a guy playing conga drums. After a few sips and a cigarette, a guy who was talking with one of the girls introduced himself, for which I was grateful. His name was Arturo. He was Panamanian but spoke fluent English. He introduced me to Rachel, the girl I noticed before. They were all very friendly and we were swapping stories about how we all ended up in Panama. They were curious why I was by myself. Rachel was a student, native of Florida, but had been studying in Panama for three years. She considered it home to her. Through them I was introduced to even more people, all friendly and enthusiastic about meeting me.

At 2am, the crowd was thinning out and the bar was preparing to close. I indicated to Rachel that I was interested in continuing drinking. Without hesitation she offered to take me out more. Arturo drove Rachel and me to another part of town. We stopped at a taco cart in Calle Uraguay, the main clubbing district. But we didn’t stop there, we drove to another place, I cannot remember, and we stayed there till the sun came up. I could tell that Arturo fancied Rachel by his fawning but they weren’t together yet. I didn’t know where they stood, and they were both so friendly, that I made no designs to hit on Rachel, even though I wanted to. At the end of the night I saw them kissing outside. All the while, I was dancing bachata and merengue with a Columbian. Rachel picked her out of the crowd and introduced us.

I took a taxi home alone and slept for 3 hours. In the morning, I had errands to run. I dropped my laundry off at the lavanderia. I stopped by the hostel to see if they were still booked–they were. I went to an Internet cafe, answered some emails, Facebooked Rachel and updated Sailust with quotes from Two Years Before the Mast. I hate transcribing, which is one of the reasons I don’t write as often as I should.

My goal for the next night was to meet up with Rachel and Arturo again. Arturo was performing in a play at 7:30. All I knew was that it was at a theatre called Teatro Alcon. The taxista had no idea what I was talking about. He drove me across town and back twice, going to to different theatres. We asked people on the street and nobody had any idea where it was but offered more suggestions. Eventually I gave up and went back to the hotel. I tried calling Rachel from a payphone but she didn’t pick up. Tired from the night before, I figured I would sleep for an hour and try again. Once asleep, I couldn’t convince myself to wake up again.


  1. Andy of HoboTraveler.com Says:

    Eight dollars for a Hamburger does not make me excited about Panama. I am thinking of buying a sailboat on the cheap. I was in Trinidad and Tobago looking at used boats two years ago. I hope to find some bargains either in Panama or Rio Dulce, Panama. Thanks from Andy in HoboTraveler.com in Guatemala Travel Blog and Hotels

  2. ali Says:

    the argument with larry on the boat brought back memories of when we lived together…what happened to that Columbian girl you met? :b got my ticket to cancun. flying in on jan 11th.

  3. sternbergler Says:

    I hope you took a picture of the toothbrush…sounds like classic Sean! Have a good one in Panama. You gotta let me know if i need to travel there.

  4. anne Says:

    the old toothbrush sighting – sounds like classic Larry! Good for you for putting it right back at him. we have a joke around here too–‘a milkshake would be good right now'(translate:’I would like you to make me a milkshake’)

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