August 4, 2004
Panama has at least five islands or sets of islands that draw tourists. We managed to visit one of them and that was only by accident. First to those we didn't visit: Bocas del Toro, San Blas Islands, and Isla de Tortuga near Panama City
From Porto Belo it is only a 20 km drive to the shore opposite Isla Grande. On our visit we decided to make use of our time in another way. Nonetheless we got to visit Isla Grande as part of our voyage on the good ship Lady Kis.
We motored into the strait behind the Isla Grande at about 3p.m. on our first day out of Colon. No sooner had we anchored than everyone dived (or jumped) into the water to cool off after a hot morning in the sun. The crew did nothing more than dip in and out while Gerry and I, fresh from our olympic size swimming pool in Panama City jumped at the chance to stretch our swimming muscles. The water seemed clean, very salty, but too deep to be able to see bottom.
We made two trips to shore, both times to the mainland side of the strait and both times to buy food for the rest of the journey, but on the first trip, we got to spend 20 minutes wandering through the village and getting a feel for the place. It seemed to us very poor and not very clean, except for a string of vacation homes on the far edge of the village. They were right on the water and had a small strip of sandy beach. We walked back into the village via the inland street and noted the highway leading to Portobelo, 20 kms away.
The only store in the village was a small market run by a Chinese couple. I learned from the young woman that she had come from mainland China fairly recently, presumably to marry the store owner, but that the rest of the family had been born in Panama. The store had very little to offer, a sure sign that the inhabitants were poor or perhaps that Portobelo was close enough to afford better shopping opportunities.
Storekeeping is often a Chinese pursuit, along with the ubiquitous Chinese restaurants. We always hoped we would find good Chinese food in Central America, but except for in Belize, we never did. Chinese fare seemed to be restricted to Chow Mein (Fried Noodles), Chow Fun (Fried Rice), and Chop Suey (Stir Fried mixture of vegetables and meat).