Bocas Del Toro to the San Blas
Yes there is a place called Colon and to be frank, like its name (sounds like ko-lone), it has a terrible reputation for being stinky, dirty and dangerous. Most cruisers avoid it like the plague. Some tell of personal experience of being robbed and advise us to continue to Portobello and provision from there. Even our cruising guide advises to take a taxi from one place to another, even if it is within ear shot (across the street and 2 doors down). On the flip side, cruisers like Debbie "Sweet Dreams" give us all kinds of information and places that we must see or do, and our friends Mark and Michele "Reach" are in Shelter Bay Marina (outside of Colon) installing new equipment after being struck by lightning this summer.. we are encouraged at the thought of an opportunity to exchange a story or two. So, Steve and I decide to take a chance and we drop anchor near Club Nautico, which is next door to the Cruise Ship Terminal across from the port where all of the container ships come to unload their cargo... and "Oh what an experience it is to witness the ongoing operation of container ships entering the channel, being turned by the tug boats and backed into their unloading dock. We have gained a huge respect for the enormity, efficiency and consistency of this type of logistics...consumerism thrives!
Situated on the Caribbean side of Panama, Colon is among the world's largest ports and the Colon Free Zone is the 2nd largest in the world, surpassed only by one in Singapore. We enjoy the performance so much we end up staying here for almost 2 weeks, going into town every second day and returning relieved that we survived another outing. We walk almost everywhere, taxied when we thought it best or needed too because we couldn't lug all our purchased crap from our "I want/need" list. We found Anna at the Copy Matic and signed up for an Airbox account (another way to buy crap and have it shipped to Panama), caught up with Michele and Mark "Reach" after their dentist visit, found the most talked about Oriental Grocery and enjoyed a jaunt through the Centro Market with another cruiser named Billy on "AnneVeraLynn". Billy, introduced us to many local people and walked around town with huge confidence even though he was robbed this summer while anchored in the Charges River. Odd, "AnneVeraLynn" had just entered the Charges the day we headed for Bocas and Billy stayed there for the 3 months we traveled home. He figures that he was just there to long and made himself a target. Although all home (boat) invasions are traumatic, he was not roughed up and lost only his outboard and some minor items.
Although we were asked to line handle we did not take the opportunity. Most cruisers were looking to exchange the favour, both boats going through the canal, taking one boat at a time. We did manage to ferry crew from one boat to another and we were most helpful to co-ordinate a rescue of sorts. Carmelle and Yvon "Taima" (friends of our friends Lise & Sylvain "Vanilla" were anchored, ready to enter the Panama Canal with crew from another un-named French flagged smaller boat, whom had anchored directly (quite closely) in front of us. A few days later they all returned to take that French flagged boat through the canal. Before they left, two other boats came in and they circled several times to chat to them before heading off. The following day, we received a worrisome call from Carmelle. They had only made it to the 2nd lock and the boat's engine had crapped out. They needed help and hoped to contact us to ask if we would ask if someone going through the canal would provide a tow. To make a long story short, many dollars later; the other boat was towed to the Pacific side of the canal by another sailboat and they were all in Balboa and safe. One thing you do not do is brake down while transiting the Panama canal! You pay to be towed to the nearest mooring ball, pay for the mooring ball, pay to discharge the pilot and crew aboard, pay a fine for using the mooring ball, pay a fine for braking-down and stopping the working of the canal...etc., etc... If you need to be towed, it will cost you $27,000.. and this boat was certainly not worth that!.. and now without an engine.. get the picture?! So, even though we spent almost 2 weeks, getting the bee-gee-bees knocked out of us in this anchorage, life was not that bad. It was fun but time to move on.
We headed into the anchorage of Portobello after a not so bad day sail and the boys welcomed us. How wonderful it was to hear the familiar sound of the Howler monkeys... we are home! Portobello is one of the most beautiful anchorages we've encountered and as beautiful it is, we always tend to work on the boat. Last time it was the ports, this time it is the interior varnishing and yes, another problem arose and Steve found himself occupied with the fridge again. This time with the help of Lenny and Sue "Windancer" and Patti and Tom "Liberty", the worry was short term.. But, the catch 22.. we had to go back to Colon; and from Portobello, that meant another long bus ride and another day in Colon. From Portobello, you catch a local chicken bus $3.20 and it takes you along the coast to Sabanitas and then one and a half hours later, you arrive Colon. You get off at the Movil store (a telephone company) and last time we took a taxi two blocks to the bus terminal from there as advised. This time we walked across the street towards the Oriental Grocery and headed left to the refrigerant store and a hardware store. Yes, it was a bit scary. After picking up several supplies for us and other friends, we headed back, walked up to the Rey's (grocery store) to pick up some fresh goods, hailed a taxi to the bus station and caught the Costa Arriba meaning "upper coast" bus. It saved us approx. half an hour on the trip back to the boat. Everything in working order, the next day we said good-bye and headed to our next stop...Linton
We bought a 3ft. Bunch of bananas in town for $3. In this photo you will notice that we have already eaten 3 or 4 bunches from the large branch.
We are serving Banana Pancakes, Banana Rum bread, Banana walnut cake and Banana Daiquiri's and anything else banana's!!!
Boat Ride to Tierra Oscura
Photo..Here we are taking Mary and Willie's skip across to Tierra Oscura (a 12 mile boat ride from Marina Carenero) where we've been told, there is a lovely restaurant Ronna Azul who's specialty is their oven baked pizza's, open only on Sunday and Friday, known for it's different special weekly menus and cooked by a husband and wife team from Germany. It's other draw is that it has become a local hangout for the expats that have taken up residence in this little archipelago called Bocas Del Toro.
As soon as you arrive, you are welcomed with open arms and greeting come from all directions from the patrons. It is very apparent that we are going to have a very good time as well as a great meal.
November/12/2011, Marina Carenero
First one's on the dock today for happy hour at Marina Carenero. You can do what you want here. Some sit under the kitchen/dining hut for happy hour while cooking their dinner on a real stove with oven, or we gather at the picnic area when the whole gang decides to throw a pot luck, or as we have chosen tonight, gather in the wind at the end of the dock. Maybe it's draw is the wind and no chitra's but also because it's a short walk back to L.P...
Remembrance Day .. thank you.
Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Great times ... Arriving to Marina Carenero only to discover that our friends from Shaka were managing the marina. It was in the Bahamas 2010, when we told them about this marina in Bocas. They headed for Cuba and we headed for the D.R... It has been a pleasure to see how much the girls have changed and grown.
We leave the marina tomorrow and will stage somewhere in the archipelago to prepare for our trip to Colon, Panama.
Happy Halloween 2011
Dressed in orange.. here's a pic of us catching the water taxi to Bocas Town from Amirante, Panama after our 4 hour bus ride from David.
Note to all women sailors: When you go home, don't let the local guru hairdresser cut your hair off. It's going to be a real laugh trying to make this mop of hair grow back. Do you like the wings .. ohhh there's so many more photos to come.. this is only after a 2 month growth ... wait 'til the humidity frizz starts taking hold..LOL But hey, it's just hair and although I think short hair is great, it's just easier to pull the whole mop back and tie it in a pony tail. Call me lazy. XO
Why a Whitby?... so many reasons but here's one!
Now, this is my time to really brag.
A couple whom live aboard an Amel, commented; "Can you fit all that shit on board?"
I said YES! and we have another shipment coming Thursday... and another MW order to pick up..
So, here'a another reason I love the Whitby.. We can fit ALL THAT CRAP ONBOARD.... 28 BOXES of PROVISIONS!
AND, that's why we may be a little low in the water.. A big LOL
ps: Our backs are killing us!!!
I paid the kid .75 cents for lugging his 2 bags to the boat/taxi, even after he tripped on the dock almost dumping the toilet paper into the drink.. but he was trying:(. The funny part: I went to collect my 2 computer knapsacks and two large grocery bags full of heavy crap that we lugged from David and this guy (just sitting there) insisted in helping me carry 2 of the bags about 5 steps. This was my last load. I turned to him and gave him the tip (to share with all the other people.. You know, the ones whom actually helped lug the shipment into the water taxi). A laugh was shared that "he" got the money. He even joked about the fact that he would not share his find, but the other guys were looking on. I really hope that he shared the tip :)
We arrived to Carenero Marina early afternoon with a truck load.. slash that, I mean a boat load of crap that we purchased in David... 28 boxes in total. The breakdown ~ $80 for shipment, $20 for the boat taxi and help. . . But that's what it's like to provision here in Bocas town, Panama.
Info for those traveling to Panama
October 17th, 2011
Panama City, Panama
This is just as much for us (a record of events packed with useful information) as it is for those reading....
Here's what we've learned from our trip back to Panama.
Some Do's & Don'ts.
1- Day of departure:
Pack a sandwich in your carry on, bring a book and $2 CDN (toonie) for the cart.
2- Leaving T.O. International, arriving Panama, first stop-over Newark Liberty International, NJ, USA:
Don't arrive at the required 3 hours ahead as suggested by the airlines. After collecting your ticket, you directly enter US Customs. Once you've done that, you sit & wait. Eat the sandwich here or next stop (we took ours all the way to Newark and ate a late lunch).
3- Plane to Newark (50 minutes): Refreshments only.
4- Newark airport:
Don't buy duty-free liquor. Everything is cheaper in Panama City but in the San Blas you can only get rum, beer, box wine called Clos and sometimes vodka (buy Scotch for Steve).
5- Upon arrival to Panama City:
Follow the crowd through the airport (no-one seems to direct you) and line up for Immigration.. "Tourist" (don't mention the boat); just put down the name of your hotel in Panama and the complete time frame of your stay.
Next, you collect your bags and line up for Panama Customs. Your bags get scanned one more time. Once done, walk through to the street.
6- Getting a ride to your hotel:
The guys at the airport (with the vests on) will direct you to a van type cab. There are plenty of yellow cabs and other cars dropping people off and they will try to get you to go with them. We don't think that's a problem but I believe they are not supposed too. The guys with the vests are very adamant that you go with whom they suggest. We did, and cab fare $28US ($25-30 is normal). No tip.
7- Your hotel:
We arrived late. Don't be surprised if Panama looks like it's sleeping. When you arrive to your hotel, the baggage guy will take you to your room and do the regular routine..tip $1US is normal.
8- Stay at the Hotel Milan:
Just trust us! This is the best for your buck, safe and clean.
We've checked out Las Vegas & El Parador (we stayed here this trip) all on the same street, all ~$65.
The Costa Hotel is closer to the Albrook Airport (Air Panama) and we have stayed here too. It's a good location to get to Air Panama (next day, 6 am flight to the San blas). It was okay (carpet floors and an old, deteriorated bathroom) but it's not near the down town area and it's hard to find a place to eat. We ate at the hotel.. the free breakfast was top notch for Panama/US standard hotel breakfast fare but we did not like the dinner menu. The staff are great.
9- Getting next morning flight from Albrook Airport to the San Blas Islands:
Taxi should cost $2 to $5US. The Costa Hotel has free shuttle but only at certain times. Getting a taxi is easy, but if you want help the staff will call you one. Make arrangements the night before.
10- Air Panama:
~$39/person to get to the San Blas Islands. Bags: 25 lb. bag limit plus a purse and/or knapsack carry-on. The flight ~1 hour.
Sit back and enjoy the ride. We have only taken Air Panama from Bocas del Toro to Panama City (and we had a short stop in Costa Rica..unannounced). It's beautiful countryside views for a while and then clouds as you pass over the mountains.
*I would like to take the opportunity to thank Mum for getting out the bread in the morning and suggesting that we make ourselves a sandwich. Our plane was delayed and we enjoyed eating our sandwiches at 2:30 pm in Newark (after arriving at T.O. International at 10 am to fly for an hour). However, our connecting flight was also late, so our stop-over was reduced (our stay in Newark was only 2 hours instead of the original 4 hours).
So far, our trip to Panama has been great.
The weather sucks but rain is to be expected this time of year and it is living up to expectations. However, as you all know, Steve and I are not made of sugar and we are happy to be back in temperatures of 26 °C.
This photo is of our day's work (9 hours of shopping). The first truck load to be boxed and shipped (via another larger covered truck) to Bocas Town. Unfortunately we found out today, that this load will arrive before us... the truck left this afternoon. We called Toby (a Texas born X-Pat who helps cruisers out with this sort of thing) to remind her that she forgot to pick-up the stuff stashed at our hotel. Stuff we brought from Canada and stuff we purchased at another grocery... No worries. the next truck load will be shipped next Tuesday.
the Multi-National Cafe, right next door... cheap and muey bueno!
The next day was supposed to be a rest day but we ended up at a fabric store a short walk from the hotel where Marg impressed the owner with her knowledge of fabric and we purchased the Sunbrella canvas for our sun awnings. In the Caribbean it is wise to have a large sun block over the whole boat or you roast. After lunch we took the long walk up to a major shopping area. I prefer to walk if we can just to get a look at the city, unfortunately David has very little to recommend it for. It seems to be a dirty dilapidated place. But it does have the shops that we need and between the two large Home Depot style hardware stores we were able to tick off all our items on the hardware list. So with a full taxi and Spanish lessons from the friendly driver we arrived back at the hotel after a successful day.
Panama City to David
Our flight arrived in Panama City late Sunday night and we arrived at the hotel well after midnight, although we were tired we couldn't get to sleep until three am. After the complimentary breakfast at the hotel we walked a couple of blocks in the rain and decided to that it would be a waste of a day in Panama City and that we could rest in David. We took a taxi to the bus station and we were just in time for the 10am bus. It turned out to be the premium bus so it was a little more expensive at $15.25 each for the 8 hour trip. It was a beautiful, new double-decker highway bus and we were assigned seats in the top cabin. Since no one was sitting in the front, we soon moved there and sat over the driver with a panoramic view of Panama as it went by. We had a lunch break about half way at a bus stop which served cafeteria style food at very reasonable cost. The food was surprisingly good. We arrived in David about 5:30 which was nice because it was sill light out and grabbed one of the many taxi's at the station to the Hotel Castilla and after a good meal at the restaurant next door and a trip to the super market down the street for necessities (beer) we called it a night.
Hakuna Matata... We're good to go back to Bocas Del Toro, Panama!
We've decided to wait until after our Canadian Thanksgiving .. gotta get one more sweet cob of corn and fresh green beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, new potatoes, sugared yams, sausage stuffing, succulent turkey and one last piece of pumpkin pie!
Can't see them. Here's the close-up pic. of mum and baby monkey.
Bocas Del Toro (Bull’s Mouth)
Photo from Galivant.. monkey mum and baby in the trees..
Hope I'm not plagiarizing .. here is some info I gathered along the way..
Located 32km from the Costa Rican border, the Archipiélago de Bocas del Toro consists of six densely forested islands, scores of uninhabited islets and Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, Panama's oldest marine park. Bocas is Panama's principal tourist draw card and we found, while talking to many X-pats whom have lived here for the past 10 years, there have been quite a few changes and some wonder where it all went wrong. However, a fair measure of authenticity still remains even though there is the presence of development... mostly low key. We notice the absence of mega hotels and perhaps that has helped preserve the archipelago's idyllic beauty. Even the most developed of the islands, Isla Colon, has an appealingly slow way of life (avoiding a small stretch along the main street that follows the water front, full of salespeople flogging a reduced rate for a dive boat or a sail around the islands for a snorkel etc..). We have enjoyed the anchorage outside Bocas marina which is closest to town. It's not noisy at all except for the occasional band coming from a nearby restaurant. We have not gone to Isla Carenero yet, but it looks like it may be a lovely, peaceful haven... lying just across the bay from Bocas. It is there that we will leave Lion's Paw to visit Canada soon and i will write about that later. For now we are enjoying Bocas.. the not so big town.