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The Two Captains


Latitude: 05-33.097N; Longitude: 087-02.528W
July 6, 2001
Puerto Mutis, Bahia Montijo, Veraguas Province, Western Panama

We glided into Western Panama on June 28th on one of those sunrises where the sea and sky have the same pearly finish. There wasn't enough wind to even riffle the surface, but we had already been motoring for some 50+ hours. While the bad news was that we didn't get much sailing in on this last three-day leg, the good news was that neither wind nor sea was working against us... and the batteries were well charged.

We puttered into the lee of Isla Cebaco, a thirteen-mile long island that lies like a natural breakwater across the mouth of the very large Bahia Montijo estuary. The island was densely green, although unlike Cocos which was a bright Erin green, Cebaco was a deep, late-summer, nearly olive green. And so was the water! Although it was sad to lose blue water again, we had not expected any different from a river basin in the rainy season. The north shore of Cebaco is dotted with small clusters of very simple houses along its length. The locals are known for their boat building and we saw several hulls in process as we passed. The anchoring shelf here is very narrow, and we could not find a spot that appealed, plus as the haze burned off it was very hot.

We continued on and bore north to check out Isla Gubenadora, which lies between Cebaco and the mainland, in hopes of catching more air out in the middle of the Bay. Here we found a charming anchorage dubbed Puerto Viejo on the chart, and, with the hook down and the engine finally off, these 2Cs gratefully stretched out for one of the those post-passage naps that last a day or so! But for the laughter of children fishing from the black rocky beach and the occasional rooster, Gubernadora was a very quiet anchorage. Every morning we would wake to a mist-filled view of bay expanse backed by tiers of mountains and clouds, and the afternoon thundershowers blew around use hardly rocking the boat As always, the passing fishermen checked us out, going and coming with their gill nets, but these guys were so evidently shy, they would turn away even as they almost waved.

After a couple of days we moved on to the anchorage at the NE end of Cebaco, where the slightly more developed hamlet of Platanal is situated on a long green ridge over-looking "El Divorcio" Bay. Here the people were quicker to wave, but the tidal flats kept us farther offshore, and when a squall set us rocking and bopping in the night, we decided to move on up the river the next day.

Bahia Montijo cuts a 15-mile deep wedge into the watershed of Veraguas province. Veraguas, the only province in Panama with both Caribbean and Pacific coasts, has, on the Pacific slope, suffered extensive clearing of the natural forests to make grazing land for cattle. The Bay itself is quite shallow, and over a dozen rivers empty into it from all sides, many of which are navigable at least for a ways. This would be our third river experience, and we are getting a taste for it. Ever prudent, we followed the recommended course in which kept us in 30-40 feet of water most of the way. (Have we mentioned recently how grateful we are for all the hard work that went into the indispensable Zydler "Panama Guide" book? We have used nearly every page of it.) Our ultimate goal was Puerto Mutis another six miles up the Rio San Pedro, which as a major supply port for the area fisherman, has a fuel dock plus good road and bus connections to civilization. Americans tend to think of coastal land as the first developed, bus this whole stretch of coastline, almost all the way to Costa Rica, is very remote, with few or no roads.

Before going on to Puerto Mutis, however, we took a side excursion up a watercourse that led to an inland lagoon called Boca de la Trinidad. Dense mangrove forests, much taller than we could have even imagined back in the VI and matched by root systems able to survive the ten-foot tidal range, encircled the anchorage. We were attracted here by reports of roseate spoonbills, a bird Don had never seen and which I had only seen once. The lagoon was the quietest place Don and I have ever been in our lives! In the early morning there was about 20 minutes of chittering parrots as they migrated inland to feed, and that was IT! Although the boat twirled around with the changing tides - which was amazingly disorienting - it did so without a hint of boat motion! Herons of several colors were the most common bird, plus a few pelicans and frigates. There was no hint of man in sight, no motors sounds or electric lights. (Indeed we'd seen no electric lights anywhere yet, even right off the villages!) We had to go hunt for the spoonbills. We were pleased when we found one, but, after the first, we believed there must be more and puttered deeper and deeper into the low tide flats looking for the telltale splash of pink. Many herons later, our reward: one dead tree with eight pink birds that, of course, all promptly launched themselves and flew away!

We finally made it into Puerto Mutis on Tuesday, July 3. Our hope was to find it to be a secure place to leave the boat for several days while we travel in to Panama City to meet Don's brother Greg, coming from Indiana for a long-awaited visit. Puerto Mutis was an even smaller town than we imagined, a single road climbing at an angle up a hill! The basin off the town was dotted with a couple dozen wooden fishing boats, and we found a spot for ourselves practically on the opposite shore before we felt have enough water at low tide!

Puerto Mutis is a delightful place, albeit very, very small and simple. There are a couple of eating places, but only a few little tiendas with hardly any products to sell. People, however, are very friendly and eager to chat! When we checked in at the police station, the officer promptly called the only American in town, who turned out to be a young man named Tom Just. Tomas, as they call him here, is one of those folks who seems to have been everywhere and done everything. Most recently he has put several years hard work into building a sportfishing charter business based on the wild island of Coiba, to the west of here. We hope to visit Coiba in the next few weeks with Greg, as it's one of the few places in Western Panama with clear water. (See Tom's fantastic website at www.coibadventure.com.) Tom hurried into town on his motorbike, and we three spent the afternoon in Gladys's Cantina, checking out about four different brands of chilly cervesas. At dusk, while Tom went to collect his very attractive youn girlfriend Tyra to join us for dinner, we got into conversation with several other locals, including a rancher and his wife, in "town" for a evening out! Evidently we are only about the third cruiser this year to venture up the river, so we are quite the curiosity! Folks here have a bit of English, which they like to try out, and many have traveled. Several people have actually been to St. Thomas or St. Croix!

As you might guess, the cherished American Fourth of July holiday passed pretty quietly. You might say we celebrated the day in Santiago with lunch at KFC. Oh, well. Last night, the fifth, we did better with a BBQ with Tom and Tyra and their 11-month old Rottweiler Thor (what a sweetie!) at their house. This got going quite late as they feel asleep during the afternoon thunderstorm and didn't wake up until after seven! We, as you might guess, had given up on them by that time, and had made inroads into the pasta salad I'd made. Still, we gathered ourselves up and ventured in. As the shish kebab wasn't ready until 11pm, we ended up eating a whole 'nother meal and got home after one, late hours for these 2Cs! Our final Independence celebration will come this Saturday in Panama City, with what else but a pig roast at our old stomping grounds at Pedro Miguel. Lucky us with these weekend celebrations.

Which suggests, I guess, that after three days at anchor which have run the weather gamut from hot sun to torrential thunderstorm plus six tidal changes, we are feeling pretty good about leaving Tackless II unattended here a few days. Tom is hooking us up with a man he uses named Carlos Iguana who will sleep aboard the boat for two nights, even though no one can imagine a problem with theft. We have meanwhile made a reconnaissance of supermarkets and bus stops in the city of Santiago (the fourth largest in Panama), an hour away from Puerto Mutis by local bus, and our connection point for Panama City. So, given that we survive all the upcoming travels, we should be back aboard as a threesome by Monday night, July 9.



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