jump to navigation

Panama June 4, 2004 Español

Posted by Belle in : Panama

June 4

We went into Colon to take care of our visas. Colon is a very very poor, depressing place. Wences told me there are more people unemployed here than employed. Everything looks run down and dirty. Including the people. And there’s a sadness, a hopelessness you see in the pregnant women as they watch over their children playing in the street in their dirty underwear. We’ve been told the crime here is really bad. After we got our visas we went back and started doing the laundry. For the entire yacht club, there is only two washers and two dryers. After half the day we had barely finished just our bedding and towels. We ate in the yacht club. The food seems Caribbean, curried foods, fried foods, and even some asian influence. The yacht club here is the exact opposite of the images those words normally conjure up. It’s dirty, run down, a little seedy. Nobody wears a collared shirt, let alone shoes. But it’s fun to walk along the docks and look at the boats, see where they’re from and wonder what stories lie in each boat. There seem to be more French and Americans here than anything else. And most of them are waiting to go through the canal. We hired an agent to expedite the process. Thank god for that. We heard some stories of people being here forever. We all decided if we had to be here for longer than a week, we’d all go mad.

June 5

Sophia got an early start on the rest of the laundry and I played with Dio. It was another rainy day-so couldn’t’ do so much. I took Dio out in his new yellow slicker (and diapers) to walk around. Little dog tried to bite Dio and I had to kick it away. I think I kicked it rather hard (kind of like I was shooting a penalty kick in a tied game) because that dog stayed away from us all day and even rolled onto its belly whenever I came by. Dio, of course, wants to play with all animals. Unfortunately the animals here are like the people. Dirty, hungry, and hardness by life with out a break. As much as I cant wait to get out of here, I know I should feel lucky for all that we have. Poverty is a terrible thing.

Wences and I had a little date today. We went all of 100 yards to the yacht club’s bar for some fish and chips. We were talking about this and that, how to organize the boat, team management etc. and I could hear something in the background that sounded familiar. That distinct sound of the sports announcer describing a the scene of a horse race. OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!! They’re watching the Belmont! Wences and I raced over to the other side of the bar in time to see Smarty Jones slowly lose his lead and the triple crown. Fifteen seconds. Amazing how those fifteen seconds can change everything. As bad as I felt for smarty and his crew, I felt a different sadness for the winning jockey and owner, who actually seemed to feel guilty that they had won. It made me remember last year when I made mint juleps for Charlie and mei to watch the Kentucky Derby. I didn’t have any because Dio was in my belly. Two days later he popped out! How our life has changed in one year!

Third Week - The Panama Canal

The day finally came when we were promised a turn through the canal. We tried not to
get too excited because we had heard a family on board a 55 foot monohaul called Black Diamond had waited for hours the previous day, but their crossing had been postponed.
Small boats like ours are assigned a boat advisor from the canal whereas larger boats
are assigned a pilot that actually takes over from the usual pilot during the crossing.
You can also hire line handlers at an additional cost. They manage the lines during the lock
which is important because the boat could be damaged. Black Diamond’s advisor never showed up. The line handlers waited on the boat for hours with everyone on Black Diamond. No explanation was given.

June 6th

At about 6PM we motored out of the Colon marina, looking back at all the thin cats and
boats, we hoped we wouldn’t be forced to spend another night there. As we came around the corner we saw the long line of huge boats anchored out in the bay, waiting to go through the canal. These boats are so huge they look like cities at night, with all their different colored lights shining like a mini new york. We waited, enjoying the breeze and hoping for some luck. A small tug came towards us carrying three big, burly looking guys and one small Indian. They jumped onto our boat, put their large shoes on deck, and looked
around the boat. Two grunted hello. One smiled and was very polite (he had eyes for Sophia) and the Indian fell in love with Dio immediately. Dio was fascinated with all of them. I didn’t need toys for hours, he watched them like I used to watch X-files.

But where was the advisor? We waited. We had been told we would be crossing with
Black Diamond. Somehow they were going to tie us together. I didn’t really like the sound of that, but obviously the canal knows what they’re doing. We were watching the sunset when Black Diamond swooped around us. “Anybody seen a canal around here?” The father of the family, who is an expert sailor joked. “I saw it on the chart, but I can’t find it!” We all laughed. How could anyone miss the canal when there was the longest line of huge ships imaginable at the mouth of it. Then another tug boat came. OUR ADVISOR!! The boat had to make a few attempts at getting close to Simpatica, seems the advisor wasn’t expected to jump as far as the line handlers. Finally he made little hop on board. From the way the line handlers looked at him, I could tellthey didn’t like him. He had a baseball cap on, khaki shorts, boat shoes, a collared shirt, and a big bag. As soon as he got on board he took a folding chair out of his bag, and set it up in the most inconvenient place on deck (mind you, we had plenty of room for him on our deck cushions, but he didn’t want to sit with the masses.). You had to carve a whole out of your belly to get around that thing. When he got up to go to the bathroom, I moved it. I caught one of the line handlers smiling, watching me. When the pilot came back he looked at his chair, looked at the line handlers, they were all staring out at the water, and then looked at me. “I moved it.” I said. He never said anything to me after that.

The handlers tied us to Black Diamond with four lines, two lines across and one at the bow
and one aft. We started motoring into the canal. Dio started to cry, time for bed. I put
him down, nursed him, and fell asleep. I completely missed the first lock. By the time
I woke up, eaten their Kentucky Fried Chicken (suggested to us by the agent that helped us
get everything together so we could cross as soon as possible), their mashed potatoes, their
beer. The line handlers had loosened up a bit, maybe because the agent had left for
the day, but they really kept to themselves.The line handlers slept on deck. We gave them
quilts to put down. They were silent all night.

We were now in Gatun Lake. A huge fresh water lake (three times the size of Manhattan) that supplies water to all of Panama as well as the water they pump through the locks. Each
lock required 50 million gallons of water. Quite impressive when you think of it. Gatun
Lake was beautiful. Surrounded by dense jungle. We anchored the boat and got some rest.
That night we heard monkeys shrieking from nearby trees.

June 7th

You know when you wake up at 6:30 AM and you’re already sweating, it’s going to be
a hot day. I woke up to the sound of the line handlers jumping in the water. Seemed
like a good idea.

Our agent came back, baseball cap, chair and all. This time he put the chair in the most
inconvenient place inside. It seemed so ridiculous to me. We have a salon couch that can
seat ten people.Two people were sitting at it. I stood with Dio, inspecting the tiny space
this guy had left open for anyone who wanted to get by his chair.
Not even Callista Flockhart could get through there. I looked at it to see, what could be
wrong with it that this guy doesn’t want to sit there. Any Dio disasters? No. food parts? no. Strange kama sutra books? no. Anything at all? no. NO reason. The line handlers watched me, seeing everything. The Indian nodded his head, smiling.

I brought Dio outside for breakfast. He has a little chair that attaches to any table,
the best thing I’ve every bought. I put him in his chair, took out some yogurt
and fruit and some juice. I asked the men what they wanted for breakfast.They looked confused. “Lo que sea!” (whatever there is) grunted the burliest line handler. He must have weighed at least 250 pounds. His hair was in a couple of braids, Sprewell style. He had a mustache and big cheeks. Dio pointed his finger at him and said something that sounded like a question. Burly guy looked away. Dio asked again. Burly guy couldn’t resist. He looked back at Dio and Dio laughed and laughed, and tried to get away, like he was being chased. Burly guy smiled and then let out a big, warm laugh. Dio broke the ice. Within five minutes he was being passed from one burly guy to the next. They were making little coo cooo noises, tickeling him, talking baby talk, feeding him, teaching him not to throw the spoon down on the ground (unfortunately dio doesn’t seem to remember what they taught him now). Now we were friends.

We motored into the lock, which is about 90 feet wide with men in uniforms on either side.There’s also little trains on either side that pull the big ships across the locks. When you approach the big door that leads to the other side, you see how many feet you’re about to drop. It’s impressive.The line handlers threw the long lines out to the men waiting on shore. They had to keep the lines tight enough that the boat wouldn’t move
too much, but obviously not so tight that the lines support too much weight from the boat. A bell sounds and slowly the water is sucked out. Pretty soon, before you know it, the guys on shore that you were looking down at from the deck of the boat are waving down at you, as you sink into the canal. It happens so quickly.

That morning Wences told me we were going to be going through all the locks in front of a big ship. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but when I saw the ship approaching our stern, I thought I was going to throw up. that thing could run over us and not even know it. And it came closer and closer and closer. When is it going to stop! I started filming, hoping that would somehow remove me from my fear. RIGHT! I could just zoom in and make it look even HUGER.

The second set of locks that day were the Mira Flores locks. I know the name of these because this was where we were told they film the boats and put it on the panama canal website. We all called our families, told them what time to watch. I kept dio awake and got him all excited. We went to the highest point of the boat, I put him on my shoulders, Sophia had a sign that said -hello Argentina!-, and we danced on top of Simpatica. Dio got so into it (put any music on with a good beat and the boy dances-but really dances) he had his arms up in the air, fingers pointing to the sky. He was practically jumping on my shoulders. We finally saw the camera and realized it wasn’t pointing towards us. After all that! Wences immediately asked our pilot to make a call and get them to move the camera. I laughed at the gumption of my husband, thinking, right. Like that’s really going to happen. Wences thinks if he made the right call, he could move the sun. “Tell them that
we have a newborn on board and his grandparents want to see him.” Five minutes later the camera moved. WOW. Maybe he can move the sun, I thought. It was pointing directly at us. WOW. Baby Power. pretty strong stuff. As we jumped up and down, looking
towards the camera, I was so moved, thinking that my parents, sister, brother, and all of wences’s family were able to share this moment with us, I almost cried. Unfortunately, I found out later, some of my family had missed it, thinking they had to subtract an hour because of the time difference. Too bad. At least I have a picture from someone. And more have been promised to be on the way.

The last lock was not so different than the other two that day, except we knew the Pacific was just on the other side. It was exciting. Black Diamond, who was still tied to us, took lots of pictures of Dio. Dio in his pool. Dio upside down, Dio waving to them, Dio posing naked. As Dio swam around his little inflatable pool on deck the guy with the camera on Black Diamond asked if he took his clothes off could he swim in the pool too. “Of course!” I said. But I’m glad he didn’t take me up on it. I don’t think Wences would have been able to take it.

After we were through the lock a tug came to take away the pilot and the line handlers.Then
We motored off to Panama City.

June 8th-June 16th

We’re staying in the Intercontinental Hotel right in the center of Panama City. We’re surrounded by private fishing boats. Wences has been getting things fixed while I’ve been spending the days with Dio and Sophia, trying to stay cool and starting the second draft of the script I’m working on. Having a couple of weeks away from it has really helped. It makes it easier to make changes when you’re more removed from it.
There’s 80% humidity here. It’s unbelievable. We’ve been spending most of the day at the pool so we don’t sweat to death. The air conditioner is one of the things we’re fixing, so being on the boat in that heat, is unbearable.

June 11

Wences brought home two air conditioners yesterday. They’re made for houses, so when we leave we’ll have to give them away, but since we know we’re going to be here for two weeks, it’s worth it. Life with AC is so much better. I realized the heat made me irritable. I’m sure everyone else noticed that too! I would wake up and not be able to go back to sleep. I know it was affecting Dio too. We’re very happy now that we have a break from the heat.

Wence has a friend here who has been unbelievably helpful. His name is Alex. They met at a business course they took together. The first day we were here he brought us one of his wireless internet modems (he’s a techie nerd like wence, and his company makes them), a cell phone, and other techie treats. The fact that I can sit here on our boat and send this document via email from my lap top, is thanks to Alex.

Alex’s wife is 9 months pregnant. I think she’s going to have the baby while we’re here. It will be their third. They have two boys and are hoping this one is a girl, but Amy’s mother thinks it’s a boy, and mother’s seem to know these things. They invited us to their son’s birthday party. Although none of the kids were interested in Dio, he had fun watching them play. He’s been practicing his walking since we got to Panama.

We also spent the day at Alex’s parents house at the beach. It was a beautiful beach. Not many people. I took Dio in for a swim and of course a big wave came and I couldn’t jump high enough to clear our heads. SMACK. He got it right in the face. After that every time he saw a wave coming he would start to shake. Poor little monkey. I kept him in the water for a while until he stopped shaking. He forgot to be scared! How great would that be, if we could all do that!

When we went back to Alex’s parents house, we had a nice lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the mini zoo they have in their back yard. Beautiful birds of all kids, horses, ponies, deer, a monkey, seems like they had everything. I felt kind of bad for the monkey. I’m not really a good zoo person. I always want to set the animals free and would rather not see the animals at all then see them mistreated. The monkey reached out with his arms and grabbed me. AT first I was scared but I realized he just wanted to be touched. When Wence would come by, he would start making a loud screaming noise and pull at me even harder. Alex told us later the monkey doesn’t like men. I brought Dio over to see what would happen and Dio wanted nothing to do with that monkey. And the monkey pretty much felt the same way. The monkey was mad that now my attention was split between Dio and him instead of just on the monkey. At one point Dio forgot there was a monkey in the cage and walked right up to see what was on the bottom of the cage. The monkey jumped down and grabbed his arm. I’ve never heard Dio make that noise before. It was a mixture of fear and anger. So funny. I couldn’t stop laughing. The monkey and Dio looked at me like I was nuts and then they both started mimicking me. Then I really lost it. And so did they. If anyone was watching… they would have good material to commit me!

Amy’s mother had us over for dinner. She’s a very gentle, kind woman, so easy to talk to and very gracious. Amy takes after her mother. They both went out of their way to make things easier for us. Amy took me shopping for new sheets and shoes for Dio. When Dio had a fever she got me an appointment that day at her pediatrician and had her driver take us. So nice. And the pediatrician was great. I’ve never seen Dio so relaxed with a doctor. Dio seems to be getting all of his teeth now. He always has at least two or three coming in. Now his molars are coming in, which is probably what the fever is about. It’s funny. Every doctor I’ve been to when Dio has a fever and happens to be teething at the same time, which has happened every time he’s gotten a tooth, has said , Although there is not enough data to ascertain that teething causes fever and a runny nose, probably your son has a fever because he is teething. I like to make sure it’s not an ear infection, since we swim so much, because one we leave Panama, or wherever, we may not be able to help him right away..

Last night we went to Alex’s parents house for dinner. Very yummy chicken soup that you can add avocados, tomato salsa, peppers, rice and other things too.Very yummy. They served sour sop juice. SOO YUMMY. The house had an amazing view. HUGE floor to ceiling windows overlooking panama from a hilltop. They had some Botero paintings, that Colombian guy who paints everyone pleasantly plump. Wences was thinking of asking the guy to do a painting, but telling him he wanted the people thin. Right. Alex’s sister and family came to dinner too. Alex’s sister was very upset at dinner because the school had invited people to come talk to the children about careers, but they had chosen people who had stupid, hopeless careers. How could that be a good example for the children. What were they thinking! How could they take their money for that! Wences asked what careers. A SCREENWRITER, a priest, and an ENTREPRENEUR! I mean, my GOD! Who the hell wants their children to be any of these things! Alex and Wences started to laugh. Luckily, I wasn’t quite understanding the conversation at that moment. One of her daughters suggested we go and talk about living on a boat. Then Wences said sure! We can do that. And I’ll tell them that I am an Entrepreneur. NO. The grandfather, trying to be accommodating to his daughter and grand daughter and polite to wences said, “You can’t just say it like that. You have to say, I went to university and studied very hard, graduated with honors, and then started my own company which did very well, and that’s why I’m able to take some time off and live on a boat.” Wences and Alex started laughing again. “Well, Wences said, the thing is, I dropped out of school.” The jaws dropped. “No, you can’t say that. Just don’t mention that.” Alex’s sister looked like she was going to have a nervous break down. “And my wife is paying the bills with her script that she’s writing for Gloria Estefan, because she’s a SCREENWRITER. ” All the girls looked at me with new admiration. “OH, you KNOW Gloria Estefan! Can I meet her? Is she your friend? Who else do you know?” It was so funny.

We waited in Panama for three weeks before the company from which we bought the generator and AC were able to send someone to fix ours. They kept putting us off. So frustrating. Had we known we were going to wait in Panama for a month, we would have sailed of to the San Blas islands or something. I know wence felt bad, but it was OK for me because it gave the time to finish the second draft of the Connie Francis script. Hope they like this one!

Now it’s on to the Galapagos! YIPPEE!