Portobello, Panama

It was here that I would find passage to Colombia via a sailboat.  You see, though Colombia and Panama are connected by land, the land is impassable.  There are no roads that connect the two and I’ve heard story upon story of people either legally or illegally traveling from one country to another on foot through the dense jungle and while they lived to tell the tale so to speak, it didn’t sound like anything I’d ever want to try.  So instead I opted to go to Portobello to seek alternate passage.  Again, I could have flown to some part of Colombia, but then I would have missed the beautiful and exotic San Blas Islands!!  More on that later…

Portobello, named by an Italian when he landed on the land and exclaimed “Beautiful port!” in Italian of course, and well as you see by the name Porto (port) bello (beautiful) got it’s name quite literally…  It too is a sleepy little town.  It was once a defense port for Panama and it does still retain parts of forts and walls to protect the area, but of course it’s been damaged considerably.  Not a whole lot goes on per se in Portobello now except one of the largest businesses there is the transport of tourists via sailboat to and from Colombia/Panama.  To be even more specific, if you plan to do that type of travel, the only way to do so is to go to Captain Jacks hostel and wait for information on boats traveling through…

Captain Jacks, man what a fun place!  And if I recall, the ONLY place for tourists to sleep!  Not kidding either!  I seriously don’t think there was any other hostel or hotel in the entire place!!  Captain Jack’s is run by, well, Captain Jack!  A retired sailor, Captain Jack moved to Portobello and opened his restaurant/hostel and really the main traffic to and from his place is from tourists again simply seeking passage to Colombia.  Of course he did have some regulars (i.e. sailboat captains and staff would frequent the bar in search of finding perspective tourists to take to Colombia).

I found out quickly that just about every person who entered Captain Jacks was after the same thing… Or they had already booked their passage (smart people!) and simply needed either a place for the night or to get in touch with their boat.  So it wasn’t very soon after arriving and settling that I started meeting people with like needs.  I met a woman from Germany, a man from Britain and 4 Aussies who all ended up being on the same boat as I picked out.  Truth be told, the woman and I, since we both were travelling alone chose to pick the same boat so that we at least had a “safe” companion to travel with:)  Not that the trip was unsafe in any way, but we were the only females on our boat, and we were the only solo females traveling at that point, so it was nice to have some company in that way.

Anyway, picking the boat and captain/crew was also an interesting time… We did have some reservations about the captain at first of our chosen boat because he showed up at Captain Jacks drunk and only proceeded to get even drunker as we attempted to get our various questions answered… But Captain Jack seemed to vouch for them and after we took a tour of the 38′ sailboat, we thought “safe enough!”.  Plus, boats were not coming and going all the time, so if a decision wasn’t made fast then we could have been stuck in Portobello for quite a while more!  I believe in total I was already there for about a week just waiting for boats to arrive and then getting info on them and when to leave, yada, yada…

The trip was not cheap, but once again an experience of a lifetime in more than one way!!  All food was provided for us and cooked as well so all we had to provide (aside from payment to board) was booze for the trip if we wanted any.  I didn’t end up buying any booze, and well as you can see from the picture below, you will see why… The four Aussies opted to buy several cases of beer each, plus several gallons of rum and other assorted liquors for the 5 day trip… It was by far enough for a whole Army of people!!

With bags packed, booze packed and passages paid, we were ready for the San Blas Islands!

On to Islas San Blas

Back to Panama Quicklinks


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