Under foreboding skies and torrents of rain — much appreciated in Panama due to the extended drought affecting the Canal — an intrepid few guests disembarked National Geographic Quest to explore the historic town of Portobelo.

We took in the sights of the UNESCO-recognized fortifications. Remembering that this was a favored target for the buccaneers/ English Navy or pirates (depending on your origins), we discussed the attacks by Henry Morgan, Francis Drake, Edward Vernon and others. And yet, not all the destruction was meted out by the aforementioned characters. Given budgetary restrictions, the canal was moved to Colon and Portobelo fell into decay and abandon. When U.S. engineers were building the breakwater for the canal in Colon, several of the smaller fortifications in Portobelo were destroyed for this purpose.

At the newly restored Customs House, a towering building in the center of town, visitors marveled at the conga dance performed by members of the local community which depicted some of their history and traditions. We also visited San Felipe Church where an explanation was given as to why the Virgin had one handcuff attached to her wrist — local lore or an inventive prank?

Sadly we did not happen across Francis Drake’s bones, at rest somewhere on the sea floor here in the sheltered bay. Maybe next time.