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  • Writer's pictureFatjax

Seas and Rivers

Chichime, San Blas to Shelter Bay, Colon

Thursday 1st February - Tuesday 8th February 2024

We left the anchorage at 06:00 under main and jib.  The sail was a close reach all the way which Iain and Dugald particularly enjoyed.  Very straight forward and most relaxing for both.

It was difficult dropping the sails in quite a tight space outside the entrance to the marina with lots of large container traffic coming and going.  Iain helmed as we approached the entrance and the usual controlled panic and frustration ensued while we flake the mainsail.  There were no major incidents, or bruised egos. Perhaps we are getting used to the routine? Whatever the reason, the end of the passage was uneventful and thanks to the very efficient work of Jenevra and Fergus, we managed to fuel, berth and check in before the office closed.  Another seamless operation!

There followed a week of exploring and preparations for our transit through the Panama Canal. Shelter Bay Marina is 21km outside Colon on an old American army base. 

We had a guided tour around the surrounding area and into the overgrown jungle area where we saw some beautiful wildlife, including butterflies, birds and monkeys.

Watching the monkeys swing through the trees was an experience I did not expect. By the time I managed to find the video record button on my phone, the moment had passed and of course, "zoom" was never going to feature, but the trees look majestic!

Every evening we ate at the restaurant in the Marina, forging friendships, old and new.

For me and I suspect Dugald too, the highlight of our stay in Shelter Bay was our day trip down the Chagres River to visit the Embera people who have chosen to live as their ancestors did. Much has been written about these wonderful people and their way of life, suffice to say, I wanted to stay.

While I understand, the whole day was orchestrated for the tourists, we were made to feel very welcome. Without the Villager’s patience and willingness to share, we would not experience their warmth and generosity of spirit.

 As always, The List takes priority over day trips, forcing Iain to stay behind, however, Dugald and I knew we would convey our adventure when we returned.

We travelled to the village in an hand made canoe. Just the sight of this simple handmade dug out, perfectly balanced and without ceremony set the tone for what we knew was going to be a lasting experience

Imagine, crossing the oceans in an over engineered yacht, equipment with every possible modern convenience to ensure our safe arrival. For weeks at a time, we battled with the elements and the vast expanse of water, yet here we were, finding pleasure from being in a simple canoe, within touching distance of the banks of the river, listening to life being orchestrated around us. A most uplifting journey.

This journey brought to mind our many holidays and weekend trips to Stone Point, Walton on the Naze, Essex. This special place is the centre of the universe for two generations of our family. Both Iain and his siblings and our children have spent all their free time sailing just one hour away from our home port, messing about in the calm backwaters off the Walton Channel.

The highlight of every trip was the dinghy journey to the Walton and Fritton Yacht club and funfair at the beach. The excitement would build in Sophia and Dugald as we prepared and launched the dinghy at the prospect of choosing three rides at the fair.

The first stop was always the Red Indian Canoe ride. The sight of our children sitting in a plastic canoe, tethered together, paddling in a circle on a motorised pulley, still makes us smile with wonder and warmth. Having had a true adventure down a big river, almost out to sea, past container ships and cruise liners, we could never understand the fascination of this little, indoor, uncomplicated ride. Sophia and Dugald would beam with pride as they paddled as hard as possible truly believing they were making the canoes go faster.

On this day, sitting in our dug out canoe, Chugging down the river, I finally understood.

We meandered, not tethered, but in convoy with our travelling companions, soaking up the atmosphere and the simplicity of an uncomplicated ride.

We arrived at the landing point to a wonderful welcome by some of the inhabitants. We were shown to the meeting point where, with the aid of our guide, the Village Leader explained their values and way of life. 

The Village Leader detailed how the group operated as a collective and their co-existence with their surroundings.  We were treated to a traditional lunch of fish and fresh fruits, ending with a small dance which of course we were all invited to join. 

As always, the children are a delight.  It would seem they are happy with what they have and find entertainment in their natural surroundings without the aid of a screen or a battery operated toy.

Before the end of the day, we were invited to buy some of the arts and crafts.  Just as in the San Blas Islands, the relationship between Dugald and I was questioned.  Dugald’s heritage could not be placed easily and I was an anomaly.  With the aid of raised voices, sign language and our very limited Spanish, we tried to explain.  Here technology was an asset. A photograph of Iain was produced and all was clear!  We were questioned about intermarrying which seemed to amuse the group and gave us an instant connection. Many questions were asked and Dugald took pleasure in answering as best he could. Was this topic going to become a theme on our travels? For now it was quite an amusement and a great ice breaker. We all laughed and gestured with enthusiasm, not really sure what we were saying, except we were pleased to be together for a short time.

The day was such a delight.

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