Today, we arrived in Colon, Panama, our final port stop before entering the Panama Canal.
And what a difference a day makes. After a very long, recuperating sleep, I woke up in fine fettle, bounding around like a young gazelle and more than ready for the day ahead.
We weren’t due to arrive in Colon until midday, which meant a leisurely breakfast and a chance to sit in on Paul’s Panama Canal lecture.
After lunch, we headed ashore. It had been raining, so the air wasn’t quite as stiflingly hot and humid as yesterday. Unlike Cartagena, access to the town was easy, and not a great stretch. We still had our shopping list to try and complete, and a quick search on Maps.me highlighted several hardware stores between us and the main street, where we were hoping to purchase several rolls of masking tape.
Between us and the main street, however, it was all looking pretty rough, which I’ll come to in a moment; let’s start with the masking tape…
The first hardware store we came to, no-one inside appeared to speak English. Naturally, if we’d been thinking clearly, we would have put a roll of masking tape in our pack so that we could simply whip it out and point to it… but we hadn’t been thinking clearly, and all we had to communicate our requirments were some elaborate miming techniques and mind control…
Happily, despite the language barrier, and a process of eliminating every other kind of tape available until only masking tape remained, we left the shop with their entire stock of three rolls. It was a little wider than we wanted, but at least it was masking tape.
At the next hardware store, several buildings down, on the same road, we were able to whip out one of the rolls we’d just bought, and the lady knew exactly what it was we were after. In fact, it was a much bigger store, and we secretly wished we’d gone there first, but that was okay. Not only were they able to furnish us with a further seven rolls of tape, but they were the narrower, one-inch variety that we were actually after.
There are other things on the list, but these require a shop selling art materials. The closest we came to that was a school supplies shop, but the language barrier in there was even greater than the first hardware store, and the only paper the boy behind the counter seemed able to come up with was not watercolour paper. The good news is that, providing the numbers attending the classes don’t suddenly increase, there’s a good chance we’ll manage with the paper and paint we already have. Masking tape was another thing entirely, though, so I was satisfied that little shortfall has been addressed.
As far as Colon is concerned, I think it is fair to say that, in some respects, it is well named. We had to watch out where we were walking, for fear of stepping in something we shouldn’t, and the views down many of the side streets as we walked, were verging on post-apocalytic.
Yet I also found myself strangely fascinated by the place. It was dirty (Tracey called it ‘Putrid’ and ‘Festering’) and unloved; many buildings looked like remants of a massive fire, blackened, mouldy and abandoned, until you realised that people are actually living in them. And I have to tell myself that this is simply the way they live, and that I should just accept the culture clash for what it is.
Other than a couple of mildly uncomfortable moments, most of the residents we met were very friendly; clearly, they are used to cruise ships stopping off and their passengers wandering through their streets, but there were places were it rather felt like we were intruding on their personal space, since much of their lifestyle appeared to include spilling out onto the street.
We walked down the main street, which was colourful, and visibly changing in prosperity the further we went… and some of the buses were awesome…
We veered off down another side street towards were our digital map told us was a cathedral. At one point, we were stood under a small concrete canopy, upon which water was falling. When we looked up to see where it was coming from – because it was’t raining – we were horrified to see that it was coming from a pipe protruding from high up on the side of the block of apartments towering above us. I’m guessing someone had just flushed the loo… or maybe I’m just being a tad paranoid… either way, we weren’t sticking around to find out; the cathedral was just across the way, which made for a decent photograph.
It wasn’t open, so we weren’t able to see inside it, so we found a bench to sit down on alongside an adjacent park area, and I made a quick sketch of one of the buildings that caught my eye. Actually, it wasn’t so much the building that caught my eye as the mass of cabling that curled around the cluster of telegraph poles located directly outside it, and stretched away, off in all directions.
The sketching didn’t last long because it started to rain. We made our way back towards the main street and completed the walk up to the end of the road, were they have their own small version of the Christ Redeemer statue.
At which point, the rain showed no signs of easing, so we gradually navigated our way around the outer fringes of the town back to the cruise terminal and the Columbus.
Tomorrow is Panama Canal day. With the first lock being scheduled for 6:30am, this means an early night for many folks who will be wanting to see everything that there is to see. Which is why the Captain’s announcement, telling us that we would be staying in Colon port until 5am to avoid any disturbances, at almost 10pm, seemed like a mis-step. I say that because the announcement was piped directly into cabins, so some people might have been rudely awoken by it. To make matters worse, the announcement was then followed by their Dutch and German translations.