Oh how beautiful is Panama

Panama, that is colorful birds with garish whistling tones. Panama, that is shameless extortion by immigration officials, high canal fees, latent criminality. Gladly I left, never to come back. But for three weeks I was happy to be in Panama.

“Who is your agent?” is the standard question in the marina. No normal traveler, the common sense goes, can make all the calls, receive officials, make transfers, rent round fenders and 40 meters of lines, round up four linehandlers….

With 3000 dollars through Colon

I don’t have an agent. My hair bristles at having my trip organized by other people. I want to travel individually. Need my own fenders and lines, want to find the linehandlers myself that the canal dictates. Already without an agent the costs for the canal are astronomical. I have to deposit 3060 dollars in cash at the Citybank of Colon – in the port area of a criminal hotspot.

The Citybank has no ATM. The machine in the neighboring bank gives no more than $250 per transfer, plus fees of $6.50. Each transfer sounds such loud buzzes that all the customers, bank employees and armed Securitas in the bank look to see what I’m doing. Back at Citibank, a bundle of banknotes as wide as a hamburger in my hand, the clerk cancels the deposit and wants me to come back on Monday. A phone number would not answer. I say “no” and make my most annoyed face. In the end it works. On the ship I notice that a hundred dollars are missing. Is that why the official gave me such a friendly farewell?

Oscar, the engine mechanic’s apprentice, feels like going through the canal. He wants to ask three buddies to be linehandlers. I promise him free food, drink and $50 each. The day before the crossing, the canal authority announces the departure time: 4:00 am. Oscar doesn’t back down, I relax. My new pier neighbors, Uschi and Albert, are also up for the canal. With the Advisor, a kind of pilot, we are seven people on board.

The crossing of the canal is very cool. The Webcam picture shows Reykja as the left vessel. See video sometime.

With bunkered vessel into the Pacific

At anchor in Panama City, on the other side of the canal, my journey has changed fundamentally. Now I can’t go back. Ahead of me lies the Pacific, its swells rising and falling. The ship is fully bunkered, water, fuel, canned goods. Marinette asks on Skype if today is the last time she will see me.

I ask my way to the immigration office. The officer charges a port tax of $105.70 and a cruising permit for $185. I am totally extinguished. I don’t want to sail Panama, I want to get out. He shrugs his shoulders. Snorting with rage, I leave his office and go to the ATM. 250 dollars per transfer, plus 6.50 fee… When I return, the official “waives” the fee for the Cruising Permit. I give him six twenty dollar bills with the idea that he will change them. He pockets them and smiles at me. That’s it.

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