A Postcard from The Spanish Main


The trade wind blows moist on the Caribbean side of Panama, stirring the palms of the tiny coastal fishing village of Portobelo, but it isn’t enough to put more than a ripple on the plate glass sea.

It’s difficult to believe this quiet settlement was once the port of entry and exit for all of Spanish South America. Portobelo was the terminus of the Las Cruces Trail, stopping point of the yearly galleon fleet that hauled gold looted from the Incas across the briny deep to enrich the coffers of the Kings and Queens of Spain.

Beside the narrow coast road, a row of rusted cannon peers over the moss-choked walls of San Geronimo fortress. Water laps gently at the foundations, and the cries of distant children carry across the harbour. Grass grows between the flagstones. A windowless room holds a tourist afterimage of initials carved on stone and an acrid smell of stale piss that bakes in the hot dead air.

In the ruins nothing stirs. My shuffling feet scuff gently upon that weighted silence that clings to dead places.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

1 Comment

  • hello,
    coach murdock, you paint an interesting picture of that place. after your description, not sure if “dead place” is accurate, though.
    seems fairly alive, the way you tell it!


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