Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Shelter Bay

So we have now been here for a couple of weeks. Our first impressions of Shelter Bay are that it is well sheltered and safe. There is a slightly more American feel to Panama whereas I think the Spanish influence was more in evidence in Colombia, though having been used to the windy Colombian coast it's quite a pleasant change to get in a sheltered harbour. First things first we had to check in. There is a little shed here which it would be very easy to miss ....this is the Port Captains office. Fortunately he speaks some English so we were able to follow what he was saying. I have been trying to learn Spanish via an app called Duolingo this tells me I'm now 17% fluent in Spanish which in reality means if I'm lucky I can get the gist of what is being said and offer up a few words in return! However I will persevere as being able to speak Spanish definitely puts you at an advantage! Having checked in the Immigration Officer who was very helpful and checked us in for 72hours in which time we needed to go into Colon to see the Port Captain there and get our cruising permit then return back to her with two passport photos for our visa.The Marina puts on a bus that goes into Colon in the morning and again in the afternoon so we duly signed up for the next day. Once we had our cruising permit in our hand we were told to go back to the Office and we would get a three month stamp on our passport. 
                                  The tugs pushing the container ships in place for their transit

So off we trundled the next day,Mauricio the bus driver dropped us off at the Port Captains Office in downtown Colon and after knocking on every office door we finally found the Port Captain. There were quite a few in the Office and it was apparent that something was awry! There was a lot of huffing and puffing and shaking of heads...... A guy called Luis took us under his wing and as he spoke English he was able to let us know what was going on ....the system had frozen!! Just our luck. Luis suggested that we go and get our passport photos for our visa whilst we were waiting ....not a bad idea as he said he would show us where we could do this. Colon is not for the feint hearted, many of the building are falling down,there are people sleeping rough and the general advice is get a taxi to where you want to go, do not wander around with anything valuable and if possible no bags. 

                                        The old lock gates Crocodiles have been seen here!

Luis however told us to stick with him and he would show us the way. As we set off, as it turned out it wasn't far, the heavens opened! I began to resemble a drowned rat but John with his trusty Crocodile Dundee hat did not fare so badly. We got to the shop, one of those Chinese run we sell everything type of shops and I was expecting a booth like you get in the local supermarket in the UK but no we had our photos taken,printed and ten copies cut to size with a guillotine all for $2....bargain! I just kept my fingers crossed that a picture of me hair dripping and soaked to the skin would be acceptable for my visa! So back we strolled to the Port Captain hoping that our cruising permit would be there waiting for us when we arrived, wishful thinking, no such luck! So we waited and waited til finally it became obvious that we would be out of luck today. So determined we would catch the afternoon bus back to Shelter Bay we agreed we would return the next day. Sure enough the cruising permit was waiting for us the next day and with our 72 hours well and truly up we finally got our passports stamped and our visa a week after having arrived. Knowing what we know now, I think we would probably hand the whole process over to an agent to do all the running around .....worth a few bucks just to forego the hassle.
                                                     The new locks ...work in progress

We have now been into Colon and Panama City on the Shelter Bay bus which has very little suspension and we soon discovered if you want to minimise the effect of the bumpy roads try to sit in the front! The trip to Colon involves going on a very small one way bridge through the locks. If you are unlucky enough to get a red light then the wait can be up to an hour whilst they move two supertankers into the lock and finally close the gates enabling the traffic to pass through. It does enable you to get off the bus and watch the tugs stuffing these enormous ships into the locks and the trains tighten the lines to slowly pull the ships into the lock. There are currently new locks being built and a bridge that will mean that the traffic can flow freely .Inevitably these projects are behind schedule but it will make such a difference to the flow of both marine and local traffic. Shelter Bay is in what was an American base, it is now a nature park and there are a few good walk but more of that later.....

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