The Hitchhiker in Panama Bonus Material
Thanks for reading The Hitchhiker in Panama! Like most of my stories, I based this book’s setting on a place I’ve traveled to.
In 2016, I transited the Panama Canal twice, and then sailed across the Pacific Ocean. In 2017, I sailed across the Pacific Ocean again.
Here are some pictures and stories from my own adventures to help you get a feel for what it was like for Lila.
Howler Monkeys and the jungle
Sailors in the marina find a variety of ways to occupy their time. Jungle walks were my favorite, and just like Lila saw howler monkeys, so did we. Honestly, the noises they make are terrifying, and they really sound like Jurassic Park. Listen to a howler monkey.
Eivind’s Favorite Recipe
Eivind’s a big fan of carbs and cheesy goodness (can’t blame him). When my husband and I crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, he insisted we buy a can of spam, mostly, I think, because he liked the romanticism of it, the ‘roughing’ it attitude.
It is very important to have canned meats on board, for emergencies or quick and easy meals. But we carried that tin of spam around for at least two years, until finally I said ‘enough’ and cooked a spam, pasta, and cheese casserole.
Here’s a recipe for Spamaroni.
What will we do with a drunken sailor?
Intrigued by this sea shanty? They’re all the rage right now, but here’s a classic version of the Drunken Sailor sea shanty.
Can you really hitchhike the Panama Canal?
Yes, you can.
Just like in The Hitchhiker in Panama, every boat that goes through the canal needs to have six people onboard: one advisor, one captain, and four linehandlers. Most small sailing boats have two permanent crew – the couple that own the boat. Therefore, the boat owners have a captain and a single linehandler. A boat’s agent (different from the advisor) will offer to hire linehandlers, locals who get paid a few hundred dollars per trip and sleep in the cockpit.
That’s where the marina in Colon comes in. It’s the most popular stop for sailboats before the canal, and yes, just like Silver Lining, boats do get ‘stuck’ there for a year or more.
But the boats transiting the canal are usually passing through pretty quickly. And going through the Panama Canal can be a really big deal and a major milestone for sailors. Therefore, it’s a great idea to get practice.
When my husband and I arrived in Colon, we looked for linehandler openings to get some experience before our own canal transit. We found friends of ours going a week before our transit, and we went through the canal with them, sleeping in a guest cabin and catching lines in the canal. We stayed a night in Panama City on the other side and then caught the 7 am glass-ceilings tourist train to Colon.
And ultimately, this made our canal transit a lot easier. We knew what to expect and had an inkling of what our transit would be like.
When we went through ourselves, we did not hire linehandlers. We had already notified friends of our plans, and several said they wanted to fly in and transit the canal with us. We had four of our friends fly in, so we even had an extra linehandler!
Going through the Panama Canal twice was an experience I’ll never forget.
Panama City and Rooftop Bars
After a successful Panama Canal transit, the crew of Eik go out for the evening in Casco Viejo, a tiny neighborhood in the city with fantastic views. And so did we!
Of all the cities I’ve been to, Panama City was a pleasant surprise, and is one of my favorite cities. It’s fairly clean, has a lot of historic significance but also modernity. The food was amazing (ceviche!) and the subways clean and cheap.
What’s it like to sail 25 days at sea?
I am a world circumnavigator and professional sailor. The most I’ve been at sea in one go was twenty-six days, sailing from the Canary Islands to Miami. It was only the two of us onboard – me and my husband.
Our own Pacific Crossing was nineteen days. We sailed from the Galapagos to French Polynesia. A year later, we crossed the Pacific again from San Francisco to Hawaii as paid crew.
As Lila learns, ocean crossings can be incredibly boring. We take our shifts, eat food, and entertain ourselves.
Seasickness and drooling
Don’t ask me how I know.
Homage to King Neptune
Sailors like to mark significant events, especially if it means drinking. I’ve sailed across the equator four times, and each time, we do a bit of pomp and circumstance. We try to time it to happen during the day, and we eat special food, pop some sparkling wine, or – as with our first equator crossing – do a talent show.
We lip synced to a cover of Party Rock Anthem. It was awesome, and yes, video proof exists.
Now it’s more fun if we do it with someone who’s still a pollywog (someone who hasn’t crossed the equator). We get to play King Neptune’s representative, dress up, judge their talent show, and present them with a certificate.
Crashing the Spinnaker
With fewer people onboard, sailing with a spinnaker is difficult. While my husband and I sailed from Saint Helena (a small island in the South Atlantic) to Brazil, we had the same issue that Eik had; our tack line chaffed and we had to get the spinnaker down ASAP. Just like Lila experienced, our spinnaker got jammed on the way down and went overboard. With just two people, it was one of the scariest moments of our circumnavigation.
We fought to keep the spinnaker on board, 100% focused on it. When we could finally get the sail on deck, we were shaky and scared. But with no land for thousands of miles, you clean up, fly a different sail, and keep going.
Landfall in Fatu Hiva
The crew of Eik first reaches Polynesia on the island of Fatu Hiva. It’s pretty far east, but a tiny and remote island. Fatu Hiva is really hard to get to if you don’t have a boat, as there is no airport.
A first day on land after an ocean crossing feels so good, and to have that day be in such a beautiful and idyllic place such as Fatu Hiva is truly spectacular. When we arrived, we enjoyed a swim in the bay, ate some pompelmoose (aka pomelos) and hiked to the waterfall.
Fatu Hiva is a sacred place for sailors, and will always be in my heart.
Inspiration for the characters
Here are some Pinterest boards I made with character and location inspiration: