Posted by: Sailing Camelot | July 30, 2012

July 4th to 8th – Bahia Honda – Panama

 Our 4th of July celebration (or lack thereof) involved a short hop from Isla Coiba –which we decided not to visit after all- to Bahia Honda.

Just entering the large bay put me in a festive mood, thanks to placid, clear waters,  picturesque surroundings and a lot of birds flying around.


Winged Welcome to Bahia Honda!


A member of our Welcome Committee

Yes, we agree, this is a good place to stay for a few days.

Down goes the anchor and up come the Diet Cokes, a quick toast in celebration of our own Independence.

It’s a very quiet bay, but soon we receive the first of a steady stream of visitors.

Aboard a small dugout canoe powered by a tiny outboard motor, an older gentleman and two little girls come by to say hello and welcome us to their neighborhood.

And so we meet Senior Domingo, owner of a sizeable chunk of land and of the cute little house we happened to “park” in front of, and two of his many granddaughters.


Senior Domingo’s House


He singlehandedly and meticulously cultivates his property, and he’s very proud of it, his love for his land clear in his expression and his words.

The fruits of his labor include cilantro, corn, oranges, bananas, coconuts, grapefruits, limes, spinach, beans and much more.


Locally produced Spinach, Cilantro, Corn and Limes made their way to Camelot


In his late seventies, this man has a lot of spunk and a quick wit, is deeply in love with life, curious about the world but content in his own, and enjoys working hard.

Shortly after he leaves we meet his son Kennedy, also arriving by dugout canoe –the most common mean of transportation around here.


Kennedy and Tom hanging out on the boat


From Kennedy we learn that spacious Bahia Honda is home to about a thousand people, that there are no roads and therefore no cars, and any kind of business is conducted by boat.

Sent by the government, a small medical team comes every two months to check on the population, but if you have an emergency it’s a 90 minutes trip to the nearest hospital.

They do have their own cemetery, though, a small island in the bay…


Cemetery Island


The biggest island in Bahia Honda is called Isla Talon, referred to the locals as “The Pueblo”  -The Village-, and it’s the residents’ focal point: there are two churches (one Catholic and one Evangelical), a primary and a secondary school with living accommodations (paid by the State) for children who come from afar, the one and only telephone booth and a few dwellings.


El Pueblo, the Village on Isla Talon


The only “store” is a hole-in-the-wall that doesn’t really offer much more than a selection of beer…

Curiously, this tiny village hosts five bars and at times the easy access to alcohol causes a few problems. Senior Domingo particularly views alcohol as the root of all evil and he’s probably right.


Camelot, the floating alternative shopping center…


Camelot quickly becomes the “satellite supermarket”: we have a lot of stuff they don’t and once word gets out the pilgrimage starts. It also gets to the point where it’s more convenient to come directly to us rather than risking a 10 minute trip and a waste of gasoline to go to the store and be disappointed anyway…

Onions, garlic, gasoline, laundry soap, coffee, batteries, flashlights, hats, candy, medicine, school supplies, and more … Our own supplies get quickly depleted, but I know we’ll be able to provision in a week or two, so I give freely of what we have.

On the other hand, I now have bananas, oranges, grapefruits, avocadoes, limes and coconuts for at least a month…


Fruit, the main currency in Bahia Honda Fair Trade


One other young man from across the bay approaches our boat while fishing, curious about us.

Ismael Calles is a farmer but also a local artist. He carves wood and brought us a selection of his creations hoping to sell us something.


Ismael Calles, local artist who carves exotic woods from trees growing on his property


A few of Ismael’s creations. Yes, we did tell him to correct that little mistake…


Of course I’m a sucker and end up buying one of his cedar carvings for 20 dollars and a pound of coffee…


A Pelican guarding (or stalking?) the fish in the bucket on Ismael’s canoe


There isn’t much else for us to see and do here, and quite frankly relaxing is out of the question, so we let Domingo know we’ll be leaving soon. 

The day before our departure he invites us over to his home and takes us on a brief tour of his property, so we can see his pride and joy: the hill where he cultivates all he needs to provide for his family.


Part of Domingo’s property, extending as far as the eye can see.



Domingo and Tom in the orchard. Notice the steep incline where his corn grows…


He’s particularly proud of his corn, which he vigorously defends daily from a few very dedicated bobcats.

I’m just amazed at all the hard work he does with his bare hands, without the aid of any modern tool and on such steep grounds…


If I were a Bobcat, I’d be more interested in these two than a field of corn.. Just saying…


As a parting celebration he makes us a mug of cream of corn which tastes delicious, while he shows us a stack of “boat cards” he collected over the years. (Note: a boat card is a business card showing the boat and crew’s name and details).

There must be at least 400 cards in his stack, which means as many boats have visited his neighborhood over the years.

We add our own to the pile, without holding much hope to be somehow remembered. But I could be wrong, because Domingo comments on each and every card he handles, at times mentioning the people and sharing a memory of their visit – even as far as 20 years ago!


The men shooting the breeze on Domingo’s porch. Wait, there was no breeze…


We had a good time meeting all these very interesting people: they’re modest but not poor, and are good, honest and hardworking people…

We enjoyed their company and I know Domingo has enjoyed ours, but as he asks us to spread the word among the cruising community to visit and stop at his place I can’t help wondering…

Are we all just a convenient supply-boat in their eyes or a welcome distraction from their hard lives, or both? I’m mildly ashamed at my cynical thinking, but I can’t help it.

After all these people don’t have many options as far as distractions go, and they showed us nothing but kindness.

Regardless, we piled even more unforgettable moments in our memory bank.


Leaving Bahia Honda behind, open seas and more adventures awaiting us outside that narrow strait…



  1. Sounds fantastic to me. Needed some motivation today………….three more months and we will be back to our beloved White Shell……….sure am looking forward to it. Would love to do a full year like you guys. getting tired of coming back to this culture!!!! You are blessed being so able to bless these folks and share with them. Good on you both.

    • Hello Tom, My name is Nixsa N Lock. I am Domingo Gonzales’s daughter. I am the oldest child he has, I live in the States. I am currently residing in Albuquerque New Mexico. I have been in the States since I was 18 years of age. You probably wonder how I got here. I got married at that age and came to live in the States with the husband. I am pleased to hear that you and your crew were able to visit my love Island of Bahia Honda. I am amazed as well as you are, as to how many “boat cards” my father has collected over all these years. He is a wonderful man and he has always been the same way at heart. The only thing that has change for him is that he has gotten older. My father is a very lucky and wonderful man, a man that has shared his dreams, experiences, and love with everyone that comes close to him. believe me you are very lucky as well, just to be able to meet and come close to an individual as wonderful as my father. Would love to hear from you.

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