The Canal and the Caribbean.

Portobelo Travel Blog

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The Gatun Locks looking towards the Caribbean/Atlantic side.

Hello all,
I woke up this morning and decided to stay in the Colon area for another day.  But I wanted to do it cheaper, so I started searching on the internet.  Turns out I was paying $18 more per night in the Melia Panama Canal then the online rate.  I tried to get the internet price at the front desk, but they claimed that they could not do it.  So I made the reservation online, and then gave them my confirmation number at the front desk.  What a pain, but it worked.

I couldn't really tell after checking in because it was dark, but the hotel itself is actually beautiful.  It is situated on Lake Gatun, surrounded by tropical jungle, and on the grounds of the former US Army base Fort Gulick.

Same ship headed off into Lake Gatun and towards the Pacific.
  There are alot of these 'reverted areas' in the former Canal Zone, and they have the feel of a planned community in the states.  Very strange.

I went to visit the Panama Canal today at the Gatun Locks.  These are the biggest of the three locks in the canal, and this one complex does the job that two sets do on the Pacific side.  They were quite impressive to say the least, and they really allow you to get very close to the action.  The guide sounded very excited about the recently approved canal upgrades in the next 10 years or so.  They will add a larger set of locks on each side to increase the size of vessels that can utilize the canal.  Very expensive upgrades indeed.

From there I drove up the Costa Arriba to Portobelo, a cute little faded port town about 75 minutes from Colon.

The ruins of Fort San Lorenzo in Portabelo.
  The area is very lightly developed, and the road quality trends downward the further you go.  But after you get there you are rewarded with many impressive ruined old forts in and around the town.  Basically, the Spanish kept building the forts and the English and the pirates kept knocking them down.  Henry Morgan once took over Portobelo for 15 days, before tiring of the place and moving on to destroy Panama City.

I stopped for some seafood just west of town at El Torre restaurant.  But with my belly still full of complimentary breakfast buffet all I could manage was a delicious appetizer of Ceviche, and a fresh mango juice.  Very tasty stuff, and obviously very fresh.

Another shot of San Lorenzo in Portobelo showing these huge cannon.
  By then I was feeling the call of a nice Caribbean beach. 

But first let's talk about the rainy season.  So far it is really living up to it's reputation!  Yesterday and today both have been punctuated with torrential downpours several times during the day.  Today's first rain came at about 9am, and it was of moderate intensity.  Then there was a nice rain-free window until about 1pm, at which point Portobelo received a deluge.  It pretty much came out of nowhere, and lasted about 20 minutes.  After that the sun peeked out again and stuck around for about an hour, feeling confident in the weather I pulled up to a nice little white sand beach west of Portobelo.  I no sooner put the rental car into park when the rains came again.

This was quite a downpour on the way back to the hotel.

There were about 15 people at the beach, and about half of them seemed unimpressed by the rains and continued to swim.  As there was no lightning in the area, I decided to follow the lead of these locals and jump in myself.  It was a beautiful feeling, and the rains didn't last long anyway.  The sound of the rain drop crashing into the dense jungle foliage around the beach was rhythmic and soothing, and the differing temperatures of the rain and the sea water was refreshing.  The rains stopped and started a few times before the big one came.  This rain was accompanied by cloud muffled lightning and rolling and crackling loud claps of thunder.  Now, I do believe I've heard something about the potential dangers of swimming in a lightning storm, but again nobody else seemed to mind, so what the hell.

View of Lake Gatun from a nearby hill.

 
As dusk fell I dried off, took inventory of my half dozen or so sand flea bites and drove back to the hotel.  Along the way I stopped at the local supermarket to check out the selection of local rums.  Something about the climate makes me crave the local stuff.  Blame the Philippines trip last year and their insanely cheap and tasty sugar cane juice for my new addiction.  I settled on a bottle of Ron Abuelo's Anejo Reserva Especial for $2.50.  I am currently drinking it with some Panamanian 'Uni Cola'.  Very tasty.

The Caribbean influence is certainly here.  The hotel lobby is filled with a group of about 50 people in traditional Carib type dress celebrating something.  The little kids are adorable in their brightly colored ensembles.  They are all just running around being kids, so it's very loud right now.

I'm still not sure what I'm going to do tomorrow.  I might cross back over the isthmus to the Pacific side to do some exploring.  I will have to hope I can find some decent accommodation west of Panama City, because the reasonably priced rooms in the city seem to be all taken.  Wish me luck!

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The Gatun Locks looking towards th…
The Gatun Locks looking towards t…
Same ship headed off into Lake Gat…
Same ship headed off into Lake Ga…
The ruins of Fort San Lorenzo in P…
The ruins of Fort San Lorenzo in …
Another shot of San Lorenzo in Por…
Another shot of San Lorenzo in Po…
This was quite a downpour on the w…
This was quite a downpour on the …
View of Lake Gatun from a nearby h…
View of Lake Gatun from a nearby …
These guys were scrubbing these sa…
These guys were scrubbing these s…
This is how the employees get from…
This is how the employees get fro…
Portobelo
photo by: AndySD