16-21 May 2011
I came around the point and had my first glimpse of Portobelo. I was not impressed. In fact I was somewhat taken aback as I motored past the derelict and foul-smelling fishing boats and the permanently moored livaboard boats that cluttered the harbor. This was a mis-conception. After I had been there a few days a bunch of cruisers showed up and crowded the anchorage.
I picked a spot and dropped the hook. I started looking for a dinghy dock or any other sign of cruiser-friendly accommodations. I finally followed a dinghy in and found a dock that charged one dollar to watch your dinghy for you.
The first order of business was to find the famous Captain Jack's hostel and bar. It wasn't too hard to find. There's a big sign on the main road that says, "Capt Jack's - 80 meters" with an arrow pointing the way. You just walk up a steep hill and, 400 meters later, you're there.
The entrance to Capt Jack's
I had met Capt Jack in Cartagena and was looking forward to seeing this famous ex-patriot in his natural environment. He runs a charter service as well as engaging in the trafficking of backpackers.
Captain Jack himself at his bar/hostel in Portobelo
I would spend many a night sitting at that bar. Often arriving for lunch and leaving at 3 in the morning.
It's not a big place. But it the kind of place that made me feel right at home. Beers were $1.50 ($1 during happy hour). Burgers were $4. Mixed drinks were cheap. You could eat, drink, and make merry till the wee hours and still only spend $30.
My first day there I met Vern, the bartender. He was drunker than me by the end of the evening.
I don't think he lasted. The next bartender was Steve. I think he was the permanent one. Vern was just a temp.
Jeff and Jose joined me a few times. But they don't drink much. In fact, Jose scolds me for drinking as much as I do. Still they would come down to use the internet and sometimes to grab a burger.
Jose and Jeff at Capt Jack's
Portobelo is a very old town; even by Caribbean standards. The port itself was discovered by Columbus way back in the early 1500's. The fortifications date from the mid 1700's.
The inscription over the arch says: "1752"
For various reasons this is a special fort.
During several of my many long nights at Capt Jacks I made the acquaintance of some of the backpacker's staying in the hostel. I even broke down once and agreed to take one for a little sailboat ride.
My friend, Joel, enjoying a little sail on Galena
While in Portobelo I finally went up the mast and repositioned my baggywrinkles and replaced the broken port-side flag halyard. Jose saw me up there and, using her super-deluxe Nikon digital camera, took this shot.
Me up the mast working on repositioning the baggywrinkles
Finally it was time to sail over to the Canal and get the paperwork done for my transit. I had done almost none of my own coordination for the crossing so far. I had been using Jose on Stravaig to make the phone calls and other inquiries to find out what I had to do to get through the canal. Now it was time to do my own thing and get myself to the Pacific side of Panama.