We enjoyed a day ashore exploring some of the city highlights; the canal museum, the old city with its cobbled steeets, ruins and rather lovely churches - one of which housed the most magnificent Nativity themed model village.
From the old town we wandered down to the fish market, admiring the contrasting 21st century skyscraper skyline in the distance.
The fish market was a good choice for lunch - after we had perused the fishy displays within we were spoiled for choice with rows of low key eateries lined up around the edge. We feasted on local cerviche and a seafood soup.
The latter part of the day we raided the supermarkets for supplies to ready ourselves for a week off shore in Las Perlas Islands (The Pearl Islands) - an archipelago about 30 miles off shore.
Our sail out to the islands was complicated by the need to cross very busy shipping lanes. Maybe we were just unlucky with our timing, but the succession of huge ships bearing down on us in rapid succession made us feel like pedestrians attempting to cross the M25. Listening in on vhf radio to the marine traffic one got a sense of the nervous urgent energy on the bridges of some ships. Nobody was going to give way to us, so we were forced to sail in the wrong direction for some time before we could cross safely.
We arrived in the anchorage of the island closest to shore, Contadora, mid afternoon - in plenty of time to meet up with friends already at anchor there to celebrate New Years Eve that night.
Over the next several days we enjoyed exploring some of these islands:- they are surprisingly undeveloped, with few facilities, and although some anchorages were buzzing with local new year holiday traffic, generally the islands were peaceful and gorgeous.
Beaches were empty, and we enjoyed beachcombing, finding some special big cowrie shells along the high tide line. Snorkelling one had to be careful of strong currents. The Pacific has big tides - a contrast to the Caribbean Sea where the tides are slight and therefore strong currents are unusual - and the water has a different quality - said to be because it is nutrient rich, but may be the tidal turbulance, moving over the sand is another factor - whatever, the water seemed different. There were very many fish to watch - millions of small fish moving as a stream together, groups of manta like rays, leaping and frolicking together, and huge sting rays - as well as many other species. But they all seemed less colourful than their Caribbean cousins. Even the parrot fish seemed rather grey. Happy to say that the water was warm....but in the coming months may cool considerably.
We discovered not just one but two islands here are used for filming purposes. One of these islands wouldn't allow us to land on account of on going filming activities - although we anchored in another bay and enjoyed exploring the rock formations and caves by dinghy. Another island was home to the US reailty show "Survivor". It was easy to see why these islands would be so good for these purposes. They lie quite close to shore and an international airport even - and yet remain unspoiled, with Robinson Crusoe style good looks. It was as well that we had stocked up our on board food supplies - the tiny shops we found ashore sold very little.
A weeks cruise in the company of our friends on Venture Lady was a perfect way to end this part of our journey. It was time to head to the marina a short way up the coast (an excitingly fast sail which had us dodging a fishing fleet and keeping the dolphins company). With the boat safe in the marina we headed back to the UK for a 3 week visit to family and friends.