02/04/2012, Las Perlas Islands
Here is a video made by Carl & Cristina of S/V Bamboleiro, for Lisa on her Birthday!!! It's really wonderful, thanks guys!!!
01/27/2012, Pamana City, Panama
Domingo bringing spinach to the Lisa Kay
Nov. 19, 2011
Panama; Land of Islands, Malls, and People
Never before have I felt such a distinction as we passed from one country to another. Immediately as we crossed into Panama, we started to see fish, dolphins, and no more long line fishing vessels. Phew...the world is right again. Deserted islands with white sandy beaches, palm trees, and emerald green water enchanted our eyes and minds. The chain of deserted islands as you enter into northern Panama just seemed to go on forever. Ben was so excited he was like a kid in a candy shop. He loves being an explorer. One of his best discoveries was quicksand in the Islas Secas. He could have stayed on the beach forever, playing in the small river that ran out of the island on the beach therefore creating this liquefaction of sand. I, however, had met my annual contribution of blood for the no-seeum/mosquito community and we dinghied back to the Lisa Kay for a boat cooked dinner. Larry and Ben= 0 bites. Lisa= 54 bites (mind you this was a quick cursory count by Ben only in areas that weren't covered...if 'ya know what I mean.) I looked like I had the chicken pox! Every night for a week, Larry would patiently dab cortisone on each spot when the itching became too intense.
Islas Secas was actually our third stop in Panama, the first being Isla Parida and the second Isla Gamez. Parida was beautiful, but a bit wild and rolly due to the current weather conditions. That's the way it goes with anchorages, one day it can be the most amazing, calm, beautiful stop with incredible snorkeling, and the next day with a slight shift in wind or ocean swell and it can become a washing machine. Isla Gamez was truly picture postcard perfect though. We had never seen anything more beautiful when we pulled up. Excitedly we got on our bikinis, lowered the dinghy and...here pulls up a panga full of eight men who proceed to jump out on OUR private beach(!) unloading several coolers and immediately stripping down to their underwear (ewww!). "No way," said I! "I am not going on a deserted island like that with all those men!" Knowing they were just daytime tourists we thought we would just wait 'til they left, taking advantage of the time while we waited for them to leave and doing school with Ben. Several hours later as Ben and I are sitting in the salon we hear a sneeze outside one of the portholes. Hmmmm...that's weird. I stick my head out above, look around, see the men still on the beach... but I didn't do a head count. Several minutes later Larry comes out from our cabin thinking he hears a noise. Going up on deck to look around he suddenly yells at me to come up and help. Turns out one of the men has decided to swim out to our boat but is now drowning and barely has been able to cling to our dinghy, for God knows how long. Larry and I, with much difficulty, are barely able to pull up this wet, slippery, VERY large man, and next thing we know as he topples inside our dinghy he says in a thick accent, "I am Russian!" Well, I didn't care if he was from the moon because he was drunk, I mean REALLY drunk...like falling down drunk and he shouldn't have been swimming. We pick up his other friend who had supposedly swam out to rescue him and drive them both back to the beach. I am angry, to say the least, and storm up on the beach looking for the panga driver who brought these men out here for their "drunk fest". When I find him, in my best Spanish I try to explain how dangerous this is and he looks at me and says in perfect English, "I know, I can't get them to leave." So, this goes on for a few hours more. Our special Russian friend tries to swim back out to us several more times. Their panga driver intercepting each time, only he could not pull him into the panga by himself so he would just have him hang on to the side and drive him back to the beach. (See the picture in our photo gallery to believe this!)
Our next stop was Islas Secas, which I mentioned before with the quicksand and itchy things. I don't feel totally comfortable in this chain of islands we are traveling through. Not sure if it's just me, or the constant gray cloud cover that gives you this ominous feeling. The water is emerald green, it is beautiful, I have never seen anything like it. However, slightly murky with the runoff from land, lot's of debris in the water, and the quite frequent log/entire tree to maneuver around. With it still being rainy season, every hour of every day is sort of touch and go as to whether we are able to get off the boat, snorkel, explore the islands, and stretch our legs. Each time we did manage to get in a snorkel, the jelly fish stings would run us out of the water pretty quick. November is just the wrong time of year to travel through these islands and really enjoy all that they have to offer.
Coiba Island we did not want to miss. This is a national park which a lot of sailors miss because it is rather expensive to stop here. Just to anchor, they charged us $180/night, plus $20/adult. Ben was free. We talked them into letting us stay for two nights at this price. Woo hoo! There were several park rangers/men that just hang out on the island (we're not sure!) who just sit around with a sort of "guerilla" type look, one of them taking us into a very dark room ('ya know, the kind that has the single light bulb hanging from the ceiling?) and proceeded to write our names down in a school book folder and take our cash. Oh well, after all we came all this way, wouldn't want to miss it right?! Coiba is the largest island in Central America and was inhabited as early as 500 BC. The island held a penal colony from 1919 until 1995, at which time the Panamanian government decided to remove all the prisoners within the next 2 ½ years. Apparently many of the prisoners tried escaping from the island, swimming to their death trying to reach land unless an unlucky fisherman happened to find them and then I could only imagine what happened. Yachts were warned at that time to not pick up anyone they found drifting in the water. All of this prevented exploitation of the island, preserving the ancient forest and wildlife, making it the perfect spot now for its ecotourism and scientific research. To me, it still felt a little creepy here. Getting in a rather challenging, muddy, slippery hike to the top of the island and then finally some better snorkeling later on made us feel better, however being able to see the crocodiles just around the corner certainly added to my uneasiness. I suspect the scuba diving from here is amazing.
We moved on after two days, still in the rain and the murky waters from all the runoff because of the rains. Dodging whole trees floating in the water, we were now just seeking a peaceful, non-rolly anchorage for a much needed good night's sleep. Ahhhh...Bahia Honda was just what we were looking for. Once inside the bay the conditions were pond like. Immediately we were greeted by two canoes, each had been dug out from a single log. Was this the infamous Domingo, an elderly man that lives on the shore of this beautiful bay that we have read about in our cruising guides? No, Domingo was apparently resting, but his family that came out to say "hello" assured us he would be out to see us in the morning. Domingo's sons, daughters in law, and grand children were lovely, and certainly were not shy about asking for some needed supplies! What was the first thing they asked for you ask? Cookies! We were delighted to lighten our boat, knowing that whatever we gave away could be replaced as soon as we reached Panama City. Flashlights, batteries, medicine, long sleeved shirts, hats, fish hooks, reading glasses, rice, beans, and spam were just a few of the items. I promised them fresh baked cookies the next day. Ben never fails to amaze me in how giving he is. Here is a kid who has given up so much to live on a boat, yet he will part with his favorite toy cars, sunglasses, fishing lewers and the occasional fishing pole, knowing that by having these last two items can be the only way they might be kable to eat. In turn they asked what our needs were, offering eggs, fruit, fish, and a promise of spinach! That night we had the best night's sleep feeling safe, secure, and kind of loved by this family.
Waking up the next day, being Thanksgiving, we felt a little melancholy for our family back home. But soon enough Domingo showed up with a huge bowl of fresh spinach (see how happy I am in the photo above!), 2 pineapples, limes, oranges, and grapefruit. He had been suffering from a cough so we made him tea with honey and lemon, and gave him cough syrup and cough drops. We visited for quite some time, us with our less than mediocre Spanish, and Domingo with his non-existent English. I'm not really sure what we talked about but in our eyes he was a legend and we were tickled pink to entertain him! "Get some candy", he said. Candy? We've been sailing for almost a month, our food supply is critically low...hmmmm...well, if I chop up marshmallows, mix in some chopped up baking chocolate and add butterscotch chips would that work? Sure!! And off we went with Domingo, up a river in our dinghy to an indigenous village to bring our candy to the children. Now we're talking Thanksgiving! Sharing, giving, smiling, admiring how others live in a world very different from our old life.
Another great night's sleep and we leave our peaceful anchorage and are off to Cebaco Island, where the books say there is a barge that you can sometimes purchase drinks and fuel...specifically Diet Pepsi...because Larry has been out for days and is truly in withdrawal, and fuel would be nice. We are running low and we're about to round a notorious point and sail over 100 miles up wind and into a strong current.
It is so rainy, visibility low, rolly seas, but we manage to pull into the unprotected bay where the barge is, anchor, drop the dinghy and...no fuel, no soda, no supplies whatsoever. Next week, they say, that's when "the season" begins. So, off to Bahia Naranjo, to drop anchor again for a night's sleep and then our big passage around Punta Mala, Panama City here we come! But ughhh!! Things have gone from bad to worse. It has not stopped raining, and I'm not talking light rain people, I'm talking biblical rain, FOR 24 HOURS! The anchorage we are in is not comfortable due to the direction of the swell, and we cannot get our anchor to bite. All this = major ughhh! And, a lot of worry...and a lot of, "What are we doing?" Cruising is definitely NOT fun at times like these. Our feet have not touched land for days, we've been eating canned food for a week, it's gray and rainy outside and everything inside the boat is damp. Ughhh! I mean I really love my husband and child but being confined like this in such a small area can really push the psyche to it's limit. Larry thinks we should leave our anchorage and peek around the corner to see what the conditions are like. "Are you kidding me," says I? I cannot see the bow of our boat from the cockpit and am not comfortable driving our boat out into a shipping lane where we know there are huge container ships heading to Panama City and yet they won't show on our radar because all we can see is rain! So, we sit...and sit...with no internet...no contact with people...no idea what is going on with the weather. Oh, did I mention the satellite TV works great, except while it's raining? So after the second night, "What's that?"...the rain is starting to lighten..."Let's take off at first light in the morning". And, off we go...hopeful.
So, let's talk about Punta Mala. First off, this translates into "bad point". Need I say more? Now, most sailors treat points on land with a lot of respect. High winds and large waves tend to occur where ever the land protrudes out into the ocean. They call it the "cape effect". The wind and water accelerates as it is compressed while it crosses over the point of land. In addition to this, the equadorian current runs up the coast of Panama, follows the curve of this country and heads straight down this section of coast that we are trying to sail up! Did I mention we were low on fuel? The first part of the day was pleasant enough. The water literally looks like chocolate milk. There are so many waterfalls spilling off the steep cliffs into the ocean, it is spectacular. We start to breathe easier. By 1630 (4:30 PM) from the log book Larry writes: Boat speed - 6.8 knots. Conditions - raining. Wind speed - 8 knots. "Approaching Punta Mala. Hope visibility improves as this is the most dense area for shipping leaving the Panama Canal." We motor on, still hopeful. Log book - 2110 (9:10 PM)Boat speed - 3-4 knots. Conditions - cloudy. Wind speed - 20 knots. "2 knot current on the nose with steep breaking waves slowing us down to 2.5 knots at times. Seem to be making 3.5 knots. Lots of shipping traffic to the east. Breaking waves over bow. Companion way boards in place." (This means he was concerned with getting water IN the boat...never a good sign.) 0045 (12:45 AM) I write: "AWFUL WIND AND SEAS!" Later at 6:10 AM I write: "Sustained 27 knot winds." (Which probably means we have gusts up to 40 miles an hour by the way the water is spraying/slapping our cockpit). Let me sum this up in English - we got our asses kicked! It was SCARY! It was dark, there was poor visibility, the seas were crazy, the wind was roaring, the boat was being tossed...it was awful. AND we knew we were low on fuel. (You're probably wondering where Ben is during all of this? Well, he sleeps...sometimes for 12 hours...must be nice.
My next notes say: November 30, 2011 -1045: "Almost there! Can see skyscrapers! Wow! Food! Drinks! Movie theatres! Shopping! I'm in love already!" Now, you're probably thinking I'm a rather shallow person with those types of observations. But, when you really haven't been a part of civilization for almost a month... when you get excited because you see a plane fly over head...well it's the little things...'ya know?
Bottom line is, we survived. All the other boaters we've met have their own unique story about coming around Punta Mala. Some good, some not so good. But, when you have to hail the Flamenco Signal Station (the equivalent to the air traffic control for the approach to the Panama Canal) to ask for permission to enter the canal area, when you see the Panama Canal in front of you and catch a mooring ball at the base of the Bridge of Americas...it somehow makes it all worth it. We've accomplished something that most people would never even dream of and for us...no matter how tired and beat up we are, we're glad we did it.
Pictures for this section are in the photo gallery under "Western Panama"
12/31/1969, Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean
This is a test, this is only a test. Had this been an actual blog you would have been instructed where to read for unofficial information.