After a frenetic couple of days in Panama City, we are very relieved to depart the anchorage at La Playita (made uncomfortably and sometimes dangerously rolly by the antic of the heavy supply vessels that charge through the anchored yachts, leaving them pitching and tossing in their wakes).
Thanks to some very good information on the morning VHF radio net and a detailed document put together by long-term cruisers on the web, we were able to avoid the worst 'innocents abroad' mistakes whilst we navigated our way around the city for provisions and other last-minute items. The yellow taxis, for example, are unmetered and require a good dose of price-haggling before climbing in but we discovered the delights of the 'One Dollar Taxis'; with these, on certain main routes into the city, you hold up one finger to hail a cab and if the driver returns the one-finger salute (index finger!) then you climb aboard (alongside any current occupants) and pay just a dollar each. Thanks, also, to the advice on the radio net, we avoided the Icom dealer (poor customer service, apparently) for our malfunctioning radio and took it instead to a repair shop called Codesa who found the fault and repaired it for $50; their novel final heat-soak test was to blast a hair dryer at the radio to ensure that all the solder joints and circuits were sound.
Even pre-armed with some knowledge, Panama City is a tricky place to get around and we experienced the first of the rainy season downpours whilst we were in the centre, sheltering in a shop selling the widest range of fabric imaginable (we'd gone in for some net curtain material for additional mosquito screens) for nearly an hour whilst the street outside turned into a raging torrent of water. We had a bit of a sense of humour failure after leaving our last supermarket for 4,000 miles (this really concentrates the mind when writing shopping lists!) to find it nigh impossible to flag a taxi at 5.30pm on a Friday; we stood there for nearly an hour.
So, as we said, it was great to escape the City, leaving the mass of moored ships awaiting their Canal transits, to motor south-west some 30 miles to Isla Contadora in Las Perlas islands. The archipelago has dozens of islands and, unlike the Caribbean side, a large tidal range (around 4 metres between low and high water, rather than the 40cm we've become used to). The absence of swell is quite a contrast to the Caribbean, too, and the water is absolutely flat calm here; unfortunately there is also no wind at the moment and none forecast for the next few days so we think we'll spend some time exploring the islands and hope to get a breeze later in the week to head to Galapagos.
It now feels as though we are very much heading into the wide blue yonder, away from all the delights (?) of shops, internet and traffic. Our next leg, to the Galapagos Islands, is about 950 miles so, depending on when the wind makes an appearance, will take us about 10 days. We'll spend a week or so there before heading further west with the next islands, the Marquesas, a further 3,000 miles away. We'll be in Tahiti by late June, our next proper shopping opportunity, so Maunie feels very heavy at the moment, laden as she is with full tanks of fuel and water and lockers stuffed with tins of food to supplement anything fresh that we can buy at the islands.
Psychologically, it feels slightly odd to be turning our back on 'civilisation' (even if it's as chaotic as Panama City) and to be heading off into MAMBA (miles and miles of bugger-all). Thanks to the sat-phone we'll keep updating the blog regularly but we do now feel a slight sense of isolation here. So, please, do send us an email of news from your world, plus any questions and suggestions for the blog; having spent a lot of time at work managing the deluge of emails we do now find ourselves looking forward to news so a few recent news updates from home and from friends and relatives around the world have been great to read. We can't read comments posted on the blog whilst we're outside wifi range so our email is maunie (at) mailasail (dot) com – written like this to avoid the spam bots, so you'll need to turn it into the normal format. We look forward to hearing from you.