Saturday, September 29, 2012

Welcome to South America!

Yes, we're still in Panama, albeit on the Caribbean side. But we recently found out Latin Americans consider the Panama Canal the dividing line between North and South America.

We've technically been in South America for weeks, without even knowing it!

   Anyway, after transiting the canal, we've been resting, recuperating and provisioning in the lovely Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side of Panama.

Shelter Bay Marina

                         It's a super place, and a good value, too. Some cruisers stay
                             here for months,  and we can understand the temptation.

                      Crocodiles and anacondas lurk in the waters beneath the boats in the harbor,
                      rendering the water unsafe for swimming. Fortunately Shelter Bay has a
                  swimming pool for us cruisers. Note the dozens of sailboat masts in the distance.

The restaurant/bar reminds us that "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere."

        Chris catches the Ryder Cup (albiet in Spanish) in the comfortable, modern cruisers lounge.
                               Fun fact: The Spanish word for "bogey" is...BOGEY.   :-)

                    But I've saved the best thing about Shelter Bay Marina for last:

         Check out the mother of all book exchanges! I literally jumped up and down and squealed like a little girl when I first saw it. Then, in silent awe, I reverently approached it like an altar and lovingly took down each book, one by one,  as I considered the possibilities.

     There are also tons of cruising guides here. We fortified Espiritu for exploring the Caribbean with slightly used cruising guides for Antigua, Bonaire and Curacao, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, The Virgin Islands, as well as nautical charts for the Florida Keys.     :-)

   The downside of Shelter Bay is it is in the middle of nowhere -- miles and miles from any towns or people. It's literally carved out of the rain forest, on the grounds of a former American Army Base, long since closed since we turned over the Canal to the Panamanians.

A peek over the breakwater shows a squall is heading our way from across the Caribbean

Captain Chris takes advantage of the weather and takes a fresh rainwater shower

                  Meet our neighbor just up the dock. Yes, you're reading it right. The boat name is
                "Sea Hearse." The rationale for this quizzical abomination is that the skipper's last name
                  is "Coffin." But, I'm SORRY. Are you SERIOUS?!?!?!?!?    LOL...

We spotted an old, overgrown truck trail leading into the rain forest, so off we went to explore it!

                   Almost immediately we spotted a large vulture, wings flared dramatically,
                                                  at the top of a dead palm tree.

           He stood like this, unmoving, for 5-10 minutes as we watched silently.  What was he doing? Was he preening as a sexual display? Or was he airing out his wings in the tropical heat?

                Or maybe he was simply trying to FREAK US OUT.  Anyway, we moved on.

                                          Deeper in the jungle we found an abandoned church.

You can see the shadow of the alter cross on the wall, which was removed when the church was  dismantled

We assume it was an American church related to the Army Base, as the hymnals,
 in English, were left to rot on the shelves

                  Howard, an avowed atheist, surprised us by singing "Blessed Assurance" in a
         lyrical baritone, which echoed pleasantly off the sanctuary walls. The howler monkeys
                  playing in the trees just outside the cracked windows screeched their approval.

The baptism alter with the words "This Do In Remembrance Of Me" lay rotting in a side storage room

A gardenia bush, lovingly planted in the church courtyard,
still blooms years after the church was abandoned

                              We continued on down the truck trail, deeper into the rainforest.

A few moments down the trail, a hawk swept down
 in front of us with a writhing snake in his talons!

                      Lordy, Lordy.    :-)   Well, alrighty then. Moving on down the truck trail...

We came upon this extraordinary set of ant hills built by a community of enterprising Leaf Cutter ants

I thought the whole thing was really spectacular

These ants are amazing. We see lines of them all over Central America.
They use the leaves to cultivate food for their young.

The ants literally carved this trail by going back and forth over the same area -- over and over again.


Look at these amazing toadstools!

              We continued on down the overgrown truck trail, curious to where it might lead.

               Suddenly a manmade structure began to take form before us, growing out of the jungle.
                  Mayan pyramids, perhaps? But there were no Mayans in Panama, that we know of...

      Upon closer inspection we could see that this was a US Army Battery installation, long abandoned. The jungle is slowly but surely taking this land back. One day soon the Battery will be completely engulfed by the jungle.

    I wonder if, hundred of years from now, future civilizations will trip upon this building and wonder who we were, and what we were up to?

  Okee dokee. That's it for now. Our plan is to set sail tomorrow morning for the Colonial city of Portobello, Panama, here in the Caribbean Sea -- then on to the famous San Blas Islands.

Portobello, Panama

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