Sugar Shack was anchored outside La Playita marina for several weeks. We had only intended on staying here a few days, maybe a week tops, but we were waiting for our house batteries to arrive. It was not too much of a hardship to be waiting here as we know lots of other boats, the marina has a decent dinghy dock, market, laundry, and wifi, and we are close to the bus stop, chandleries, and eateries. I see an adventure in our future, or maybe two.
Matt had started researching how to get 8 new house batteries for the boat in December. It took a long time to find a vendor that had them in stock and then several more weeks to find a vendor who could ship them to us in Panama. Matt found a vendor in Florida, Lauderdale Battery that had 8 AGM A512 Sonnenschein batteries in stock but we needed to find a shipping service. So, Matt set out to find a shipping service which took about 10 days. By the time we got back to Lauderdale Battery they had sold 4 of the 8 batteries-CRAP!
We asked her to place an order for 4 more and to hold the 4 that she had for us. At the time she said the 4 new ones would be in by the end of February. Not too bad as the shipper could get it to us within 10-14 business days which would mean we only have to wait a few days for them on the pacific side of the canal. If all went well….
The boat came with the AGM 512 Sonnenschein batteries and the first set lasted 8 years. We replaced them in Turkey when we bought the boat which was 7.5 years ago. These things last! Our batteries have a little more life in them, but they need to be replaced. So, we wait.
While we were waiting for our batteries, we cleaned up the boat (inside and out), explored Amador Causeway, adventured into Panama City and Casco Viejo (old town Panama), and worked on a few boat projects.
The Causeway was built in 1913 with rocks from the excavation of the Culebra Cut during the construction of the Panama Canal. It joins Panama City with four islands: Perico, Culebra, Flamenco, and Naos. Today, it is a popular tourist destination with eateries, marine shops, tourist shops, ice cream parlors, bike rentals, and activities for kids. It is super convenient for cruisers anchored right outside the marina.
Matt and I took went on a little adventure. We took the bus ($0.25/ea) into Panama City to explore Albrook Mall. A pleasant experience with large, air conditioned buses that takes 20 minutes to arrive. Albrook is the largest shopping center in the region and has over 700 stores among which you will find supermarkets, movie theaters, pharmacies, bakeries, salons, a casino, bowling alley, video game room, 2 trains, and 100’s of restaurants. It’s huge!
My first visit with Matt was to explore and buy groceries. It was a bit overwhelming as we don’t find ourselves in malls much these days. But we did find a lovely eatery, Athanasiou where we stopped for lunch. I know it looks like a bakery, but they actually did serve us lunch too.
On my 2nd visit, I went with Tania, a friend from a boat called “La Vie.” She is a shopper and wore me out, but we had a blast taking fun photos next to the animals that designate each of the entrances.
So, what can $200 buy you in Panama City? (6) Bikinis, (2) Long sleeve BodyGlove rash guards, (3) dresses, (2) sets of King microfiber sheets, (4) embroidered shirts, (10) embroidered hats, (2) bath towels, (1) full set of towels, (1) pair of pants and (1) bra. Yep, I went a little CRAZY!
Matt and I wanted to explore Casco Viejo, so we hopped on the bus to Albrook Terminal ($0.25ea), then jumped on the metro train ($0.35/ea) to Cinco de Mayo. It was not a long journey, but it did deposit us into a very authentic Panamanian neighborhood and shopping district. Maybe equivalent to downtown LA? We walked and walked and walked.
Our first goal was to find the fresh fish and meat markets. We got a little turned around, but quickly found the meat market which was remarkable clean and well stocked. The fish market was across the highway and was equally well stocked and clean. I spared you the photos as you’ve seen them from previous blogs (bad smells, lots of blood, and pieces of animals you wish you could unsee.)
About a 1/2 mile from the markets we came to Casco Viejo.
The original Panama city was founded in 1519 and lasted 152 years. In 1671, the Governor set it on fire before the attack and looting of pirates. A year later, a new city began construction and was founded in 1673. This city, now called Casco Viejo (old town) was build on a peninsula completely surrounded by the sea and a defensive systems of walls. Today, this city preservers the first institutions and buildings of the modern city of Panama.
There was so much history in the buildings and streets of Casco Viejo. It was amazing to see and be a part of as you walked the brick streets. On one side you would have a building from the 17 century and across the street would be a new modern creamery.
The top image is a photo of the ruins of the Jesuit temple and convent built in the 1700’s. It was burned in 1781 and an earthquake destroyed what was left in 1882.
They have gorgeous terraces and balconies, rooftop patios and bars, stone faces, skinny brick streets, and beautiful stone work.
Matt and I walked by an eatery called Diablicos and I could not resist…After all, it was St Patrick’s Day, I am a fighting Irishwoman, it was Lent and I was feeling invincible.
We did not eat at Diablicos, but we did find this totally quaint and delicious place called Mahalo Casco Viejo where we had a quinoa burger with apple chips and an avocado toast with roasted tomatoes. Holy moly it was tasty.
We found a beautiful memorial built in 1921 that pays tribute to the failed French effort to build the Panama canal during the 19th century. It is hard to see from the photo, but there are 5 busts, 10 plaques, a statue, and an 18-meter obelisk.
There are many churches in Casco Viejo, but I only stopped in Iglesia de San Francisco which was an imposing and yet majestic site. I was an awe of the stain glass pieces, beautiful paintings, sculptures, and marble. Everywhere I turned something beautiful took my breath away. I wish I could be here for a Sunday service, I bet it is magnificent.
Matt and I wrapped up our adventure by stopping by the Panama Canal Museum. This museum is devoted to the history of the panama canal and had a lot of interesting facts, photos, and interactive experiences. Including this huge globe which showed the impact of shifting of earth’s plates.
Matt and I stopped for a photo op with Panama City in the background.
Being in the Pacific you have to be aware of the changing tides. We did not experience a huge shift or really any shift in tides while we were in the Atlantic, so this is new to us. Just being at La Playita we have seen shifts of over 5-6 meters (15-18 feet). Here are some examples:
Dinghy dock at La Playita. Look at the ramp that leads from the dinghy dock to the mainland during high tide (top image) and low tide (bottom image).
On the other side of the causeway is another anchorage called Las Brisas and they have a small dinghy dock that is impacted by the tides as well. We don’t anchor on this side because the dinghy dock is not very safe. Dinghies are way too close to the rocks during both tides and we have a long or deep outboard shaft.
Marina Docks at La Playita closest to the causeway during high tide (top image) and low tide (bottom image).
One of the hardest things about being a cruiser is knowing that the people you meet will eventually head in a different direction. Today, four boats left the anchorage, and my heart breaks. I know I will see them again in another country, on another island, in a different ocean – – just not sure when.
- Itchy Foot: Mia, Jon and Teo heading to Marqueseas
- La Vie: Steve and Tania heading to Galapgaos then New Zealand
- Nomad: Steve and Susan heading to Hawaii
- Break Away: Marta and Steve heading to Ecuador
“Itchy Foot” had a bon voyage celebration on their boat and we were joined by “Kokpeli” “Break Away” and “Uno Mas.” Such a great night.
More Adventures in Panama Exploring:
- Frank Gehry’s famous Biodiversity Museum
- Smithsonian Research
- Union Church