Back in Bocas With MarkJ and Christian

20130907-13 Back in Bocas With MarkJ and Christian

We missed our Johnson ... and he missed us.

Even though he knew it was now Panama's rainy season, he did not care. He said he just wanted to spend time with us and get his Mark and Rita fix. Now that is a true, special friend.

Fortunately, they picked an ideal time, as for the last several weeks prior to their arrival, Bocas had been unusually dry, sunny, and very very hot almost daily.

This was MarkJ's 6th time with us aboard aVida. This time he brought his partner Christian. Christian is much younger in age than MarkJ. He's very mature for his age, sweet, level headed, handsome, witty, and sweet (did I already say sweet?). They and we meshed well together.

After a night of catching up with each other's lives and dancing salsa at a local town club, the following day we took an adventure on ATVs meandering through dirt roads, into the jungle, over poor sketchy log bridges, over to the north side of the island called "Playa Bluff". We drove as far as we could, having to turn back at a point where our ATVs got stuck on bridges requiring us to manually turn them around and with MarkJ almost flipping his bike into a ravine. Our reward was a beachfront bar with rip tide surfs, a swim in a freshwater pool, a Panamian/Caribbean feast at the Playa Bluff resto, and then entertainment by the same live Latin Jazz band we danced to the night before in Bocas town.

The next day we went snorkeling with a guide to Coral Reef, and the Zapatillo Islands, with stops along the way to see dolphins at Dolphin Bay, Starfish Beach, lunch by the beach, and searching for sloths in the mangroves. The waters were warm and very crystal clear due to the lack of rain and silted run-off from the land. But the sea life was limited amounts of smaller fish. It was still a great experience for Christian, as this was his first snorkeling excursion.

MarkJ had his car totaled the night before their travels when a woman ran a red light and plowed into him. Fortunately, he was not injured with the exception of 2nd degree burns on his right hand from the airbag explosive. Blistering occurred several days after, and then came the peeling down to raw skin. So, similar to me, his hand had to be wrapped and water sports limited.

Originally, we thought about allocating several days to take aVida out of the marina, anchor off a nearby island, swim off the boat, giving Christian a taste of the sailing life. Though, we knew the weather prediction called for zero wind and flat seas, so we would be motoring along, in intensely hot temperatures, with no air-conditioning at anchor. And, since MarkJ and I had injured hands making it difficult to swim off the boat, we opted to enjoy Bocas itself, by land, water taxi, and dinghy.

We kept up a busy schedule with some down time for reading, chillin, exploring Bastimentos by dinghy, taking an informative hiking tour of the vast Finca Botanical Gardens on the north side of the island, making a second visit to Playa Bluff for fresh water pool time, enjoying movie nights, and relaxing on Red Frog Beach. Most importantly, we introduced Christian to "smoothie" fruit and rum drinks to the point of his commenting he was all "smoothied" out mid-trip, after downing four of them in an afternoon, very fast. We mistakenly introduced him to our favorite game - Eucher. He was hooked now. Obviously, we taught him well, because by the end of several evenings of play, he and MarkJ as partners were very competitive with us, winning many hands.

We turned them onto the local Caribbean slowww lifestyle, local characters, and the hippie crowd at the Cantina resto, with many nights of talks and drinks with other sailors and the Mgrs John and Alena. They certainly enjoyed many Cantina "Hungry Man" breakfasts whipped up early morning, as well as the standard Friday night BBQ with a live guitar and vocals performer.

They were with us for a week, but it felt like just a few days. We said our goodbyes at the airport, with promises to do it again, and to next time sail aVida with Christian included.

Until the next time, we will miss our Johnson .... and Christian too.

"Rich Coast" - Costa Rica

20130813-0830 "Rich Coast" - Costa Rica

Sometimes you have to take the beaten path or the road less traveled to find the right one. In Costa Rica, other than a few highways that crisscross the country, most roads are not well marked, few are paved, and most are rocky stones or mud. The mountainous terrain resulted in winding twisting steep roads that were fun and sometimes challenging to drive. Since it was the country's rainy season, many roads were crossed by flowing rivers making them often times impassable. Even though we had GPS, the GPS did not know which roads were washed out or impassable, and on several days a "2 hour drive" took 5-6 hours. Rich coast - but Poor roads.

Tica or Tico is the name for a Costa Rican native woman and man. Despite the poor roads, they either drive too fast or too slow and stop and park in the middle of the roads. Regardless, we met many very nice and friendly Ticos everywhere, who showered us with warm smiles and better than average Caribbean service.

So, we take the beaten path and less traveled ones and somehow stumble upon the right ones revealing tiny coves, grand waterfalls, thick lush rainforests filled with exotic birds, howler monkeys, and many unique insects.

Having extra time while waiting out the hurricane season on aVida in Bocas del Toro, Panama, we decided to visit our neighbor's country by flight and then by car, via a four wheel drive of course. Unfortunately, two days before our travels I injured my hand on the boat. So we spent the day before our flight in a poor hospital in Bocas, Panama to have it Xrayed finding out sure enough that I actually broke a bone in my hand below the fourth finger. Since we were flying to Costa Rica the next day, they suggested I see a specialist in San Jose, the capital, as they were not equipped to handle tricky treatment for this kind of injury. The first day in San Jose we found a private hospital who examined my hand and suggested surgery the following day since the bone was dislocated or displaced. Early the next morning I had surgery, full anesthesia, where they inserted tiny screws to perfectly join the bone. I knew my bones have been thinning, so it was bound to happen. Pricey accident.

With only a days delay, we continued our travels into the Arenal Volcano Reserve, north of San Jose and home to Costa Rica's most active volcano, and then over to Monteverde Cloud Forest, est almost 5,000 feet above sea level. We originally looked forward to lots of outdoor activities such as zip lining, whitewater rafting, volcano trekking, scuba diving, etc. However, this hand injury definitely put a small damper on those plans. Regardless, we still sunk into thermal springs at nearby Tabacon, hiked to waterfalls and over many hanging bridges perched above the rainforest canopy, trekked rainforests, went bird watching and on night time turtle egg laying expeditions, and just observed all the nature Costa Rica offered us.

Luckily we had great weather. Sunny skies, humid tropical air with some afternoon refreshing showers, and unusually very little mosquitoes. We learned much about the rainforest wildlife we never knew with many many indigenous colorful birds, insects, flora, and fauna.

From the volcano and rainforest mountain areas we moved onto the northwest coastal region "Guanacaste" named for its abundance of ear pod trees- the national tree of Costa Rica. This region was best for us since it is the driest area of Costa Rica even in the now rainy season.

I am glad I don't wear mascara. Did you know that mascara is made from bat droppings? You ladies think about that next time you apply your cover girl mascara around your eyes and on your eyelashes. However, after a visit to a local Bat Jungle, we learned how important bats are for controlling the insect and mosquito population, how they pollinate many plants and fruits. Many die from the pesticides we use on farms. Bats actually consume each day an amount of insects equivalent to their own weight. "WOW" we said. We love bats now.

Driving en route we visited a very natural "Safari" park with animals imported from Africa such as ostrich, giraffes, warthogs, zebras, deer, and antelope. It brought back memories of our real African safaris, only minus the big cats, buffalo, rhino, and hippos. We also toured a natural zoo monkey farm where they adopt wild animals that are orphaned after locals no longer want them as pets. After they recuperate the zookeepers try their best to release them into the wild, but the pets can never go back- they are crazy from being with humans for too long.

Our next excursion was a river boat ride along the Tempisque river. Fortunately, we were guided by a young local who had eyes like a hawk and incredible knowledge to share with us. I questioned him at every corner and he passed every test enlightening us with facts about the wildlife and origins of words.

That same night we hiked the shoreline to see a large green female turtle dig its nest and lay about 80 eggs before our eyes. Quite an awesome sight. Big white slimy ping pong balls spewed from her behind as she hovered above the large nest she painstakingly dug for hours. Our guide pointed out that they try their best to protect the eggs as the uneducated locals will steal them for food. Costa Rica is very Eco minded as you may know; sustainably-minded, and very conscious about saving resources.

We prearranged most of our lodging at very unique boutique hotels several of which were treehouse cabins in the forest or on the beach in quaint cabins with views to die for and with what we love most -outdoor showers. Surprisingly, Costa Rica has become quite pricey even in the low season, much more than we were used to in Bocas. Seaside we lodged first at Octotal in a very quiet scenic area and then in Tamarindo - a lovely bohemian surfer town. We suffered through two couples massages so far and managed to sail on a catamaran to a secluded cove combined with snorkeling for Mark (relaxing for me). With a Guide, Mark was privileged to catch and hold an octopus and pufferfish - a first time ever for him.

We try to buy from the locals anytime we can whether it be wood carvings, another ankle bracelet or bark art. We also give donations to street performers and people with handicaps and with very little money in their pocket, and tip the very courteous wait staff. Giving just a little back we say.

We moved on south to the NWest coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, still in the Guanacaste province. We drove our four wheel drive meandering again around unnamed roads and were detoured many times around impassible ones as the rivers were rising here in their rainy season. Next stop was Narosa, lodging at a boutique hotel with a spectacular view of two rivers, and the sea of course. We took a river tour with a great variety of bird, insects, bats, and crocks and then walked the beach here in surfers heaven, amazed at how far the tides recede across the beach. Several nights we danced to our favorite salsa music at a small local hangout with some applause from the locals.

Onto Playa Islita - a more remote area on the Nicoya Peninsula. We lodged at a very cool eco-friendly bungalow with our own private jacuzzi perched in the rainforest, close to and with a view of the sea. We love nature so we booked another night tour to see female turtles approach the shore to lay their eggs. Again, for about an hour this Ridley turtle used its hind legs to dig a very large hole and then drop about 50 slimy ping pong ball eggs into it. This time we watched as she fervently scooped sand onto them covering the area entirely and patted it down firmly, even after her extreme exhaustion. With tears in her and our eyes she struggled among the beach debris and returned to the sea. Apparently they will never see their babies who will hatch in about 45 days. Only about 1 in 10,000 survive, due to poaching, and land and sea predators. As adults they will travel as far as India. From there the females will return to the very same beach they hatched at to lay their own eggs. How Incredible is that!

We again suffered through a third couples massage in our bungalow after a relaxing day of down time since there were heavy rains all day. We enjoyed a thermal massage in our private cabin jacuzzi au natural with room service for our evening meal.

We moved on the next day to Montezuma. As we traveled east on the coast of Nicoya the roads just got worse. What was supposed to be a short 1 hour drive turned ugly into a 6 hour painstakingly one. We managed to get to our destination in Montezuma just before dark after backtracking 5 times or more and then moving north to avoid more impassible flooded roads. Several times as we tried to pass the flooded roads, the water was so deep that water flowed over the hood for a few seconds- it would have been a real problem to have the engine get flooded with water in the remote places where we were.

We had difficulty locating our bungalow beachside resort Ylang Ylang but with help from the locals we were instructed to park our 4by4 by a restaurant in town and then be shuffled by a land rover to the resort right on the beach about 700 meters north of the town- there were no roads leading in. The bungalow was quite a treat - a geodesic dome with an outdoor shower facing the sea with a spring water pool. Well worth the beaten path we suffered though all day, the difficulty locating our lodge, and the extra shuttle.

More reading, relaxing, beach walks, and swimming on our final day in the coastal area of Costa Rica. On our last night we played pool at a local bohemian bar and went on our last turtle watching hike. This time, volunteer workers collected the eggs before our eyes and reburied them in designated protected areas. Some of these turtles will lay three rounds of eggs after only one mating ritual per year. Apparently they keep sperm stored in a pouch releasing them multiple times when on shore. One female can feasibly release up to 150 eggs! More incredible ways of nature.

The final day we made our way back to Panama to aVida, with an overnight stop in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Costa Rica was an interesting experience for us. A very small dose of the African safaris we love so much, nonetheless very enjoyable. This country not only offers a rich coast - a surfers paradise, with pristine beaches, and huge pounding waves. It also offers a very diverse wildlife, volcanic mountains, green valleys, and lively rainforests full of every tropical vegetation and flowers you can imagine. In Costa Rica everything grows on everything, from massive python vines, strangler fig trees, bromeliads attached to its host, power lines blanketed with moss, ever expanding anthills, mangrove fields, walking palms, etc. etc. Similarly, Costa Rica grew on us.

Next adventure next week.
Good friend MarkJ and his friend join us in Bocas, Panama for some chillin, snorkeling around the islands, swimming, sun, and just good fun.

6 Week Side Trip - S.Spain, Portugal, N.Spain, and France

20130618-0803 Road Trip Thru S.Spain, Portugal, N.Spain, and France - A vacation within a vacation.

Southern Spain - Malaga, Tarifa, Seville
With the hurricane season upon us, our insurance company requires that aVida be south of the 10 degrees latitude, so we chose Bocas del Toro Marina, Panama to put aVida to rest for the summer. Since Bocas summers are quite hot, muggy, and buggy, we decided to take a vacation from our vacation by travelling abroad. The Caribbean has its appeal, but after spending 2.5 years in the Med, we missed Europe for its history, culture, people, and cuisine, so we planned a 6 week road trip starting in southern Spain, through Portugal, across the north of Spain, up the West coast of France, inland to the Loire Valley, up to the North coast of France, ending in Paris.

So, we begin via flights through Panama City, then Madrid, into Malaga, Spain, where we rented a compact car. Malaga was an overnight stay, a time to recoup from the travel, but quite a lively city rich in cathedrals and old Roman ruins.

The highlight of our entire trip was our visit with our crazy Spanish sailing friends Dani and Bernard - our clowns we call them and in whom "In Wind We Trust". We spent 3 nights in Tarifa, lodged at a seaside bungalow next to Bernard's house (Torre de la Pena) overlooking the bay. We were warmly welcomed by his lovely wife Margherita, their 3 well mannered kids, friendly dog, and very inviting home with a view to die for. The complex of vacation bungalows and restaurant on the beach apparently has much history and political drama today. Margherita and siblings are heirs to their parents' surviving business, and must deal with the operations on a daily basis and long term, at least for now.... Many challenges as we learned more.

Dani joined us the following day.... What a gem. Very warm welcomes and hugs. We dined at his close sailing friend Ebon's sheik apartment, a traditional Spanish feast of paiella whipped up quickly by this master chef. We planned to sail on Bernard's monohull, but unfortunately the weather gods did not cooperate, as huge seas and some heavy winds hung around for the coming days. Instead, the guys sailed on land.... "Blowcarting" is what they call it. Good wind, great speed, but on land versus water, and great fun. The three days we had together, we explored surrounding villages, hiking parks and beaches, dining together and just enjoyed each other's company and families. Especially Dani's charming and entertaining four year old daughter Ines, and his pretty and petit wife Rosaria.

Our good friends spent 3 full days and evenings hosting and entertaining us, we are very fortunate to have Dani and Bernard as friends. After Goodbyes to our friends, we drove our rental car Nwest with a stop in Seville.... A second visit for us, and a chance to see another spicy Falmenco show.

When we planned our trip, we mapped out destinations from 1-3 hours driving time with stops along the way, and 1-3 night stays at each destination. Similar to our voyaging by boat, anchoring at a harbor, although this time by land. We also decided to pre-book many boutique hotels, located in the old towns or by the sea, to maximize our touring time. It meshed well together generally, with minor tweaks along the way.

Portugal - Lisbon, Obidos, Porto
Mark says, we always want to experience something new. Portugal was a new destination for us (except for the Azores). We stopped in many towns; Lisbon - a large, lively city, best to be toured via a hop-on-off bus, Ingles, Cascais, Sintra, Obidos, Nazarre sea-side, stops in Coimbra, Aviero, over to Porto sea-side again. Lots of castles, walled medieval cities, cobblestone streets, great cherry liquor, and Port wine of course. Even though the Portuguese language is oddly different, the service, friendliness, and open-minded people were much admired.

And they drive crazy Fast- In a 120km/hr zone, Mark would drive 130-140 (about 84 mph in our compact car), and many other cars would blow past us like we were standing still- probably 180-220kph. Mark has driven on the Autobahn, and this was even faster. We read that Portugal has 3x the death rate due to speeding vs the rest of Europe... go figure.

Unlucky. Unfortunately, Portugal's larger cities are known for pickpocketing and petty theft. So, unfortunately, my purse, along with cell phone, $500 US, credit cards and driver's license was stolen. We filed a police report, checked each of the places we visited the day before, and then noticed lots of signs warning tourists of theft in the area. With help from AVID admin, we were able to secure a new phone and replacement credit cards for me and have them FedXd to a hotel ahead of our arrival. Whew.

Northern Spain - Santiago de Compostela, Coruna, Viveiro, Oviedo, Santander, Bilboa, San Sebastian
We worked our way from southern Portugal up to the north and drove east to cover northern Spain and its Basque Country. Instead of hiking "The Way", yes we drove it, but we truly felt like we hiked it as we walked many many miles in many villages just about every day. We stopped in the famed Santiago de Compostela, Coruna, Viveiro, Santander, with stops at Covadonga, Picos de Europa, St. Vincent, Comillas, Santillana, and Bilbao.

Europe surprises us time and time again. The drive through northern Spain was exceptionally scenic and rewarding. The winding roads, with breathtaking vistas everywhere, lush greenery emitting fresh pine scents, snow capped mega-mountains, jagged cliff coastlines, old bridges and architecture, etc. etc.

At the end of our tour of Northern Spain, we stopped in the Basque village of Bakio before moving onto St. Sebastian- our last stop. Bakio is Dani's hometown, a small seaside quaint village. Dani arranged for us to be escorted by his fine cousin I - AKITXU. We hiked an aggressive upward climb to the point of St. Juan, an ancient church at the top of a peninsula jutting into the sea. And then we visited Dani's mother who lives in a seaside townhouse, where Dani grew up. A pleasant surprise awaited us there. Dani sent us a published photo book with captions from our sailing voyage last November when he and Bernard sailed with us from Gibraltar to Lanzarote, Canary Islands - a super fun 3 night sail.

SW-W Coast of France - Biarritz, Bordeaux, Angouleme, La Rochelle, Poitiers
We moved onto France. Many seaside resorts including Biarritz, a stop and hike up to the massive Dunes du Pilat, then Bordeaux, stops in St. Emilion, Angouleme, a stop in Cognac, sea side again in La Rochelle, and then to Poitiers. Many of the towns were surrounded by rivers and/or canals, many fortresses, cathedrals, monuments, castles, vineyards, sunflower fields, lively squares filled with cafes, street performers, classical, salsa, and jazz music. Sound, visual, cultural, historical, culinary, and vino overload.

"Have it OUR way". Further up the coast into the heart of France, the bread just got better. We were in "bread heaven", for sure. Even though we had some of our best dining experiences, we also had some of our worst. On many occasions, we asked to be served bread with our wine before our dinner arrives. And many times, our servers said "It'sss NOT posssssible"! We were shocked. On a particular incident, two older Italian couples at a table next to us were served a main course after everyone was finished with their meals. The waitress insisted they ordered the 4th main course, when in fact they did not. We tried to fend for the older couples, agreeing that they did not order and should not pay for the 4th main meal. Thinking it may make a difference, we complained to management, letting them know of the incident, and how it makes for bad business. It is clear that the French arrogance expects you to accept what they present to you- there is no notion of "Have it YOUR way".

France - Chinon, Tours (Loire Valley), La Baule, Dinard (Brittany)
Then we drove inland through the Loire Valley; Chinon, Tours, La Baule; a region just littered with hundreds of ancient chateaus, castles, forts, tiny villages with original stone structures... at every turn.

On to Brittany - Dinard, Dinan, Angers, stops at chateaus in Langais, Azay-Le-Rideau, Usse (Sleeping Beauty inspired from this castle), Montsoreau, Montreuil-Bellay, then over to La Baule with a stop in Nantes. Many, many grand old chateaus, perched on forested hilltops, some over water. It is evident the Brits occupied this place for hundreds of years; the terrain looks almost like an English countryside, with old stone farmhouses, hamlets, walls and cobblestone streets.

The seaside towns manage a dramatic tidal range of about 30 feet. At high tide the water laps at the tops of the quays and hundreds of boat float in the bay; at low tide the waterline recedes 2000 feet, and most of the boats lay resting on their hulls on the mud bottom. Quite a sight.

Lucky. No, we were fortunate. We again frequented several casinos several nights in Northern France, despite their being very small, and with very old slot machines. And, fortunately, we won more than we lost, but not like in Aruba. I topped our last night off with a $400 euro winning. Mark was more conservative, winning in total what I lost. So, overall, we were up only about $200 US.

France - Mont St. Michel, Courselles Su Mer, Honfleur (Normandy)
Mont St. Michel. No cars are allowed on this peninsula, so we parked ours at a nearby lot and were shuttled in. This is actually an island, connected to shore by a causeway, crowning a rocky islet at the border of Brittany and Normandy. Its massive walls measure more than half a mile in circumference and is known to be one of Europe's greatest attractions. We can vouch for that based on the hoards of tourists that invaded its streets. We hiked to the top and its main streets, and then moved on the following day.

I always like to know of the origins of words. Do you know why they called the invasion of Normandy D-Day? D-Day and H-hour denote the moment a military campaign begins. All planning is relative to that moment, ie D-Day + 18 hours, etc. So the military planners can devise a plan, and can change the moment of D-Day without altering the plan. They can communicate the plan, without revealing exactly when D-Day is, until that moment needed. We toured the German cemetery housing over 22,000 graves, the American cemetery where est 10,000 Americans were buried after invading the French northern coastline in 1944, including Omaha Beach, and the sites of German batteries built along the shoreline to battle invading troops. Quite an incredible plan was organized by Churchill to liberate France from the Nazis including a mammoth prefabricated port, and calculated approaches by air, land, and sea from American, British, and Canadian forces. The preserved areas where huge bombs beat the s..t out of the land were incredible to see.

We all dream of being on stage. Well, a night in Honfleur Mark was, literally. We found a great jazz bar where a group of musicians with 3 guitars, 1 harmonica and 1 clarinet were playing. The band took a break, and Mark kindly asked if he could play the clarinet. Having had much experience from his past, Mark improvised on some notes with lots of energy. At the end of his session, the crowd gave him a huge round of applause. It was surreal, but somehow he pulled it off. Try it sometime... only if you can play an instrument of course.

After leaving Honfleur, we took the scenic route along the Seine River, with stops along the way to see many Abbeys, including Villequier, Caudebec-en-Caux, Abbay de Jumieges, and Abbay St. George, one of France's most beautiful ruins.

France - Paris, Back Home Through Madrid (Spain), and Panama City (Panama)
On our return to Panama, we planned a three night final stay to revisit Paris. We booked a B&B near one of our favorite areas - the Latin Quarter and St. Germain. We pre-booked a night of entertainment in the famed Moulin Rouge known for its Cabaret burlesque dance shows, comedy routines, and sexiness filled with handsome men and gorgeous girls, virtually all topless. No wonder Mark had some saucy can-can dreams that night.

We revisited several cave bars, built underground, some of which were former prisons but now are lively jazz, swing, and salsa joints. Walked the Eiffel tower area and many neighborhoods we frequented in the past, took a boat river tour to get a view from the water, enjoyed great dining, and ended our French experience with a relaxing couples' massage at a Six Senses Spa.

The more you learn about the world, its exotic places, different peoples and culture, the more you know how little you ever knew. We had been fortunate to experience Europe again, however, we missed aVida. As we approached the marina, and walked to the Cantina for their Friday night happy hour, we received warm welcomes and hugs from the fellow sailors and the managing couple we've grown very fond of. Kind of like a second family. Some catch up work to do in the coming weeks, until our good friend MarkJ (and new partner) join us again for 10 days early to mid-September. We will share with him the "Hippie" life we have come to enjoy for the time being, and the many water and eco sports available here; sailing, snorkeling, ATV jungle trips, zip lining, caves to explore, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, etc. etc. And just enjoy each other's company.

Bocas del Toro – aka “Hippieland”

20130601-0618 Bocas del Toro - aka "Hippieland"

Ever wonder what it would be like to live in the Hippie era? Well, we have, and are living in one now.

Bocas del Toro, specifically Isla Colon and where we are docked now for the summer - Bocas Marina. The marina is made up of a real sailor community, many who live on their boat docked semi-permanently and/or in-transit to another life or on another next voyage.

We've befriended many other sailors, some newbies, and some really seasoned salty ones, with many stories to share. They are all kind, friendly, and quite open. A resident artist who paints funky seashells into heads of aliens, a fine young couple who manages the Cantina, aspiring to sail around the world soon, but for now they make weekly trips to an old folks home after gathering donated foods and items they need. Several mid-aged single men, lost in their way but are now kin brothers as they gather for happy hour every evening and/or weekly for the Cantina's BBQ. The volunteer floating island Doctor, and a colorful crazy little Mechanic who winds up continuing late night boisterous conversations at the Cantina. And, the local resident dog Josito - old, knarley, but gentle, who we feed any time we can. He seems to sleeps by the end of our dock daily and nightly- go figure.

And the locals on the mainland. An odd Veteran who rides his bike up and down Main street with his pet squirrel in his shirt. A "Weedman" who meets us almost daily trying to sell us you know what. Many friendly small shop owners whom have left their mother country and put up roots in this town, which reflects yet another hippie community. There many fun and lively restaurants and bars, a fine Wine Bar. Most transportation here is by water taxi from one island or one place to another.

We have good internet most days, and have kept busy before we leave for our six week trip in Europe on June 18th. Mark continues his reading, and unfortunately numerous boat repairs- sump pumps, air conditioning pump, hatch roller screens that won't roll, water in the Starboard gear box, oil in the bilge, chafed line replacements, leaky fenders, dinghy cover tear, etc. I crochet a shawl for a future donation to an old woman in need, worked on our AVID 2Q newsletter, and finished an attempt on a first keepsake book of our travels (big job, with 7 more to go).

When the days were sunny, which is about after several days of rain here in their wet season, we took several excursions. A long walk (instead of the water taxi) to the town, through a thick jungle, with a stop at a local Butterfly Farm. We booked an afternoon long tour of a huge Botanical Garden run by an endearing middle aged woman and her woodworker husband. She exuded passion and knowledge of all the plants they placed over 15 years ago when they purchased the huge uninhabited jungle area on the north side of the island.

The highlight of our excursions was an ATV ride through the jungle to Playa Bluff. Mark was in his glory meandering down some semi-unknown trails which turned into tighter trails, and finally walking trails at their ends. Lunch at Playa Bluff, and a long swim in their pool. The rip tides and surf is known to be unfriendly and not conducive to snorkeling. On our return ride, we found a small cove off the beach and got our first very close glimpse of a howler monkey family.

For my birthday weekend, and because we needed to get a diesel fillup at a nearby marina, we left the dock on aVida, heading toward Zapadillo Cays. Zapadillo is a grouping of two small, beautiful, uninhabited islands known for great snorkeling. Our trip was delayed by one day due to a rain front. The management couple of the Cantina was to join us on their sailing sloop. They synced with our plan, and we headed out, aVida stopping first get diesel- we were to meet at Zapadillo. But close to our arrival their sailboat was returning. We had no contact via VHF for some reason. It turns out they were having engine trouble, and decided to try to make it back to the marina before the engine failed entirely.

So, we had the first evening to ourselves alone anchored off the larger of the Zapadillos. Very hot, somewhat tired, we stripped our clothes and jumped into the inviting water. Ahhhh... Then we swam to shore and walked the beach in our birthday suits, freedom.

The following day, rain again - ugghh. We decided to stay a second night hoping the rain would subside. It did, but our attempt to snorkel was not favorable. The water was murky and the waves by the reef were intense, from the previous storms. But at least we had water time again. So, the next day we returned back to the marina, and put aVida to bed again. This was Mark's 3rd time getting in and out of a very tight corner dock, but he handled her well, with no blips on either of our parts.

Back in the marina, nightly happy hours, weekly BBQ, and some days a local African mandolin player, with a fellow singer/guitarist. We continue with our tasks and pack and plan for our Europe trip.

We will miss Hippieland while we are in Europe for six weeks, but we know it and its crazy colorful characters will be here when we return.

Cruising Coast of Colombia, to Panama – San Blas Islands and Bocas del Toros

20130506-0601 Cruising Coast of Colombia, to Panama - San Blas Islands and Bocas del Toros

How many times can we say that people we meet all over the world are generally kind, friendly, and warm. Apparently, not enough. In every new harbor we cruise to and every village or town we visit, we are warmly approached and we are again pleasantly surprised. Whether they are other cruisers, tourists or locals, they have a story to tell, and in return we share ours.

After our goodbyes to those we met, we departed Santa Marta, Colombia the first week in May. Knowing that the rainy season was soon to arrive, the sooner we left, the better.

Mostly we voyaged every day.... long day sails from one desirable anchorage to another including Puenta Hermosa, Isla Grande, Isla Rosario, Puerto Feurto and Olbaldio, Mono Island, Rio Diablo, and many of the Islands of San Blas, over to Bocas del Toros.

Having been to a handful of the anchorages before, we tried to see some new spots, intermittently taking a day or two out from voyaging to see 3rd world Colombian villages, the Kuna Indians of San Blas, several snorkeling sites off pristine inhabited islands, and over to our final destination of Red Frog Beach Marina-Bocas del Toros.

Along our way, the waves were quite calm, with some rain, lots of cloudy days, and as history repeats itself, the winds were light and right on our nose. We were able to get some speed from just our Genny, but the normal pace was about 8 knots, with one engine. In calm weather, we sailed one overnight voyage from the last feasible anchorage in Colombia to Panama to gain some distance, as the coastline offered little if any protective anchorages.

Mark kept busy reading many books, and plotting our course and anchorages, due to undeveloped and unreliable charts available for these areas. I kept watch most of the time, and started another crochet project... keeps me out of trouble Mark says. We both caught some intestinal bug, which kept us busy as well - as you might imagine.

Only one possible major mishap. In the middle of the night, on anchor off a desolate unprotected anchorage, the winds kicked up. Mark awoke after hearing a loud chain sound, felt we were moving, with no help from us. The windless had a mind of its own and began to raise our anchor on the starboard side. He scurried up to see what was going on, until the circuit breaker stopped the movement. He put our anchor alarm on for the rest of the night, since we had a second anchor on the port side set as well. In the morning - we noticed our bridle lines had snapped from all the force of the anchor chain raising. Another fix to do, but was successful - a windless electrical repair and bridle lines retied.

Well, it was the first time we had had a pet on board. On our arrival to the first waypoint in Panama - Obaldio - it was a fairly long process to get checked into the Port of Authority, Immigrations, and Customs. So tired from the voyaging day to day, we were required to visit multiple facilities, and make many trips to the copier to get many copies of our passports and other documents. The officials were quite friendly and even humorous about our trips back and forth to meet their requirements.

We were then shuttled by their boat with 6 soldiers in camo outfits armed with AK-47 machine guns, and a drug sniffing dog, and all boarded aVida. So, it was mandatory to get aVida scoured not only by their armed guards searching every cubby hole and floorboard, but also by their search dog sniffing every cabin. We guessed these people take anyone arriving from Colombia very serious, due to the prevailing big drug problems there. Even though the dog was well behaved, he took the liberty to roll around one of our aft cabins. Probably it was the best bunk he ever snuggled in for quite some time. As expected, they found nothing illegal, and aVida received lots of compliments, as usual.

We arrived in Red Frog Beach Marina, Bocas del Toros, Panama - our final destination - very natural and scenic, but about a 15 minute dinghy ride to get to the inhabited and more lively Bocas Town. Red Frog Beach lies on an island in Bocas area called Bastimentos - beautiful beaches, private villas, two restaurants uninhabited for the most part, and really not much else, all set in a steamy tropical rainforest. We walked the desolate area, and quickly decided this was not a place to park aVida and ourselves for months to come. We checked out the next day after investigating availability at the more popular Bocas Marina- which is a short water taxi or dingy ride over to the lively Bocas town, and a much more colorful marina with many yachties, yet still natural.

We relocated the following day, with a very tight maneuver into Bocas Marina, right next to an artsy bar/resto called Bocas Cantina, run by a very friendly and young Canadian couple, new to sailing, but chillin and working there to save funds for their unforeseen future.

What a pleasant surprise! Our dock was situated adjacent to Javelin, sister ship to AVID, and owned by Chris White the designer of these cats. Unfortunately, we missed seeing Chris by just a few days, as he left Bocas to travel to Alwoplast, the boat builder in Chile, then to Europe, then back to USA for a while. The other sailors teased us on that day of our arrival; they were having a "cat attack", seeing two sister boats docked right next to each other. If we're lucky, perhaps we'll get to see Chris when he returns to his boat safe here in Bocas, in the coming months.

So, for the rest of May to mid June, we'll first get some boat maintenance done, trip planning, AVID work issues, etc. Unfortunately, Mark pulled his back muscles and maybe cracked a rib, so he has some healing to do before we can scuba dive, or even snorkel.

We're planning a 6 week trip back to Europe June 18-Aug 3, because the summers here in Bocas can be quite hot, humid, rainy, and buggy, as we're experiencing already. The plan is to fly to southern Spain to spend time in Tarifa with sailing friends Dani and Bernard, drive the coast of Portugal up to Basque country, northern Spain, and then to the northwestern/northern parts of France to Brittany and Normandy. Lots of work to plan, but we've locked it down in just several days already. When we return to aVida and Bocas in August, we'll see how Panama weather is behaving to explore the other islands of Bocas, and meet more friendly warm people, of course.

Back to the USA 3 Weeks, Side Trip Inland - Medellin, Colombia

20130401-0501 Back to the USA 3 Weeks, Side Trip Inland - Medellin, Colombia

To us, life should always be full of adventures. New or old, in work or play, we find them enlightening and stimulating. So, we search for them, every day.

April 1st, we ventured back to the States for three weeks. Lots to do. We caught up with the business, family and friends, and many many appointments including the dentist, dermatologist, passport, driver's license and cc renewals, vaccines, etc. Every day was packed morning to night with scheduled appointments and social get-togethers. Three weeks went by like three days.

Back to the unreal world April 21st, and back on aVida in Santa Marta, Colombia. More boat work was scheduled - trampoline repair, painting, cleaning, new lines for our Genny, to name a few on our list.

While a bulk of work was to be done with little of our involvement, we planned a four day trip inland to see the other areas of Colombia. After some research, we found the second largest city in Colombia (to that of their capital Bogota), an interesting spot to see. The flight was only an hour long, but the terrain very much different from that of the coastline.

Medellin, in the state of Antioquia, was our destination. Located in the Aburra Valley, at an elevation of 5200 feet nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, Medellin has a year round temperature of 73 degrees, earning its name as the City of Eternal Spring. Lush, green and mountainous, it is huge. Packed in the foothills of this metropolitan city is a combination of brick laden townhouses, high-rise skyscrapers, with a total of three and a half million inhabitants.

We stayed at two different boutique hotels in a very trendy area. Lots of artsy influences from the neighborhood universities. Lots of restos, bars, and many, many people, dressed in fashionable Latino wear.

As we usually do, we walked, and walked, and savored the flavors of this city. We took the Pablo Escobar tour.... a combo of a metro subway to a cable car ride to the top of the surrounding mountain. It offered us quite an impressive view over the valley.

We booked a private taxi/guide for a day to take us about two hours north to El Penol, for an est 700 step steep hike up 650 feet to the "Stone" it is known as, similar to Sugar Loaf of Rio de Janeiro. We were rewarded with stunning views of the region and the intertwining lake below. On the way back we stopped at the town of Guatape for a stroll around its cobblestone streets and colorful housings.

The people in Colombia are generally very friendly, despite the past history of drug lords, drug wars, murders, kidnappings etc. We felt safe at every turn.

The last day of our long weekend get-away, we just chilled, read, and enjoyed an invigorating in-room couple's massage.

Back to aVida end of April. The work continues. We plan to depart Santa Marta 1st week of May, and sail the coast of Colombia to Panama; then San Blas, then Bocas del Toro; a voyage of day trips lasting about three weeks, stopping and enjoying the sights and people along the way. The adventures continue, and we are eager to experience them.

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