This place is strange, and I mean that in the best of ways. So far, we are kicking ourselves for staying so long in Bocas when we could have been wandering around the ruins of 17th Century Spanish forts and popping in for a look at the Black Christ, which is - and I mean no offense with this - kind of creepy.
|Maybe it's just me.|
Anyway, now that I've gotten the blaspheming against a religious icon out of the way, we heart Portobelo. The locals are way friendlier than in Bocas, and this place is chocked full of the kind of history that little kids actually enjoy hearing about - legends of Spanish gold and Henry Morgan and battles thick with cannon smoke. For two hundred years, the town was sacked by every pirate worth his salt, and you can tell from the number of forts, batteries and castles the Spanish built in a vain attempt to protect the city.
Giant stone walls built from rock and petrified coral line the harbor. Looking up at the hills from our anchorage, we see multiple dilapidated fortifications peeking out from the tumbling green jungle. According to a guy we met on the street (I'm really good with my sourcing, don't you think?), this town was the dumping point for all the treasure the Spanish stole from South America. It was transported by either ship or mule up from Inca territory, and every now and again a pirate horde would barrel into the harbor and blow the place to smithereens.
Basically, Portobelo is a tiny town on the edge of the world complete with rusted cannons. And the old and the modern mix here on an everyday level. Typically, national treasures are roped off from the general population, presenting a kind of sanitized window into the past, but here the two are never far apart. Little kids ride their bicycles through national monuments, and people use moss-covered walls built by Spanish kings as fences. The United Nations has listed Portobelo as an endangered World Heritage Site, but I'm not sure how you could separate the old and the new here without a massive intervention.
To top it all off, Portobelo has bad ass buses. They're decorated in day-glo paint and stickers of cartoon characters and paintings of the Black Christ and naked women. Purple feather boas hang from the giant rear view mirrors, strings of lights flash whenever the driver puts on the brakes and there's always some tunes blasting through mismatched speakers. I'm utterly obsessed.
|This one says "Poison" on the grill. Love it!|