03/23/2012, Pamana City, Panama
Lisa waves goodbye to Panama!
March 18, 2012
Ready...Set...Let's Cross The Pacific!
We have a REALLY big announcement! Are you sitting down? Are you excited? Can you hardly stand the anticipation any longer? WE have decided to cross the Pacific!!! Now to you non boaters, that means sailing the longest ocean passage in the world. It means we need to be confident that we can handle anything that is thrown our way because a rescue, if needed, won't be available. We need to be physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to be alone for approximately 23 days at sea. And to our fellow boaters...well, you know what it means in terms of preparation on the boat...and I won't bore you with the details of how much fuel we're putting on or my grocery list, etc...etc...We have matured enough as sailors that as long as our vessel stays afloat, we'll survive. We won't die if we don't have a certain food item or run out of something. We won't die if our water maker stops working because we will always make sure to have enough in reserve. And on and on and on, I think you get my point. It's kind of like having a baby, you can't totally wait for the right moment, because there will ALWAYS be something. But the one thing I know for sure is that we are not getting any younger and this is not an easy lifestyle and is definitely a young man's sport. We just plain old need to get the show on the road.
Panama has changed us, and not necessarily for the better. It is clearly evident that cruisers are not very welcome here. There really is no place for us, and like I said in my earlier post, most cruisers cannot afford a $3000/month slip in a marina. Actually I don't mean there isn't any room here because there is plenty in the anchorages, however being able to land your dinghy somewhere to get to shore has become very complicated. On one side of the causeway in the Las Brisas anchorage the dinghy dock has sunk. Therefore you tie up to something that is still floating there offshore and then step, one person at a time, into a tippy plastic dinghy and pull yourself to shore with a rope. Sounds like fun with 15 bags of groceries and 20 lbs of laundry, doesn't it?! On the other side in the La Playita anchorage, as with most things in life a few people have spoiled it for all of us. Originally the cost to tie your dinghy up to the marina dock was $35/week. Well, in "true cruiser fashion" a few people were too cheap to pay and have now spoiled it for all of us due to the implementation of a locked gate, increased prices, and the need to wear a silly paper wristband all the time. I can't say I blame the marina at all, however if they had initially enforced their rules it wouldn't have gotten so out of hand. People stealing fresh water from the dock hose hasn't helped the cause as well. Four months ago, when we had our passport stamped at immigration, the cost was ten dollars each passport. Now suddenly it is one hundred and ten per passport. Wow, that's quite an increase. So, the thought of going through the canal, which is very expensive and suddenly the country has implemented new rules that started March 1 here as well which are not very favorable for us small boaters (like you have to be able to maintain 8 knots and make it through all the locks in one day or you are charged extra), getting beat up with wind and waves in the Caribbean (this year has been particularly boisterous), spending almost a year in Colombia (during another rainy season), then coming back through the canal to Panama City (ewww) next spring and preparing to cross the Pacific is just more than we can bare. We are tired of the black ash falling from the sky all over the boat everyday from distant crop burning. We want out, and we want out now. We are SO ready for a different culture, language, food, topography. And, we want to stay close to our good friends Cristina and Carl on Bamboleiro, whom have just taken off to the Galapagos Islands, and our new friends Mark, Sonia, and Oscar (age 11) on Xanadu who happen to be from my birth country, South Africa. Ben, Larry, and I love them all, what can we say. It just wouldn't be as much fun if we weren't able to explore the Polynesian islands with them. There you have it...in a nutshell. Once again, the reason I write a lot of this is because I feel it is important for fellow boaters to be aware of the little nuances that go with a certain area. No cruising guide will tell you these things.
Our goal is to leave in two weeks. We are awaiting a shipment of some much needed items, (like hair color for me!) the most important being a satellite phone. Nowadays with a sat phone we will have access to current weather reports and be able to communicate via the internet, as well as of course be able to make an emergency phone call if needed.
In the midst of making this big decision and having a thousand things to do, Larry has come down with some sort of a cold/flu virus thingy that has really kicked his tush. After several difficult phone calls trying to make a doctor's appointment on day 8 of his illness (which is always scary in a foreign country and which means because I can't speak Spanish fast enough the operator/receptionist simply hangs up on me) then finally being passed off to a very gruff man (who actually turned out to be the doctor) we finally made our way via taxi to a medical clinic downtown. After walking up six flights of stairs (mind you the second floor is really just considered the first floor here) because the elevator was out, we stepped into a very small, plain office. The receptionist/medical assistant was taking a patient's blood pressure with some difficulty. She had the pediatric part of the stethoscope on the man's arm, and one side of her stethoscope had come detached from the part that went in her ear. Finally after Larry could watch no longer her stood up, fixed her instrument and told her that might help. I took one look at him and said, "We don't have to stay, I can find you another doctor." Well, we stayed, and were very we glad we did. The doc, Dr. Antonio Suescum, turned out to be very thorough and a VERY interesting man. He is retired now, but said he can't just sit at home and do nothing, therefore he continues to see a few patients. He thought we were absolutely nuts to be traveling on a boat. His son is currently in Florida preparing a vessel to do the exact thing we are! He is responsible for starting the first paramedic program in all of Latin America. AND, he wrote the original algorithms that are still used to this day around the world in emergency cardiac medicine. Oh, and yes, Larry is gonna live - just a nasty virus.
I would like to close this post with a poem Ben and I studied yesterday from my new favorite poet, Langston Hughes. The title is the Long Trip, and it sums up perfectly what we are soon to be taking on.
The sea is a wilderness of waves,
A desert of water.
We dip and dive,
Rise and roll,
Hide and are hidden
On the sea.
The sea is a desert of waves,
A wilderness of water.
03/04/2012, Panama City, Panama
Now which wire is the one?
March 3, 2012
The Joy of Cruising?
To be a good sailor, you have to be the eternal optimist. According to our Webster's dictionary, that would be a person who is inclined to always take a hopeful view. Now it's pretty easy to have a hopeful view about most things in life like, I hope our kids graduate from college, or I hope to be a grandmother someday. But when you live on a boat, and are 100% dependant that the systems will work for daily existence, and you are continually hit with system failure...it's hard to be "that" optimist. And that's where we are right now. We are in a slump...to say the least. We have had one thing after another go wrong. Larry tackles each problem enthusiastically, bless his heart, and he can usually fix most things, but with the cost of parts and having to hire the occasional mechanic or woodworker etc... it gets really expensive. And so it goes, as we sit here in not-so-lovely Panama City, waiting (im)patiently for new canvas to be sewn (this is a good thing though as our old dodger was literally falling apart) trying to make all of our repairs but things are breaking faster than we can get them repaired. Ugh! Sorry, I don't mean to be such a whiner. I know a lot of people would dream of having our life, but as I've said before...it's not easy.
Panama City is just exhausting...and dirty...and has some really rude people, and some of the worst restaurants I have ever been to with really bad service, and horrible traffic, and some really aggressive taxi drivers who charge you triple the rate a local would pay - just because you're a tourist. This city is missing some of the common sense things like a sign on the outside of the building that would actually say "Immigration", for example. Efficiency? It is unheard of here. And to top it all off, most people do not speak English. Now that is my problem I know, I should be able to speak the language of the country I'm in, but boy does it make it hard. I know just enough to get myself in trouble most of the time. So at the end of the day I usually end up with a pounding headache asking myself, "What are we doing?" On the other hand, we have met some very nice Panamanians, and some very sweet taxi drivers. We have amazing gelato several times a week having several ice cream shops to choose from, and we have our very best cruising buddies here with us who continually supply us with love and support.
So, what all has gone wrong you ask? First off our generator started acting up in November. It just randomly wouldn't start. No generator means we can't run the water maker to fill our tanks, we can't keep our refrigerator and freezer cold, we can't turn on the air conditioners, we can't recharge our house bank of batteries so that we have electricity for the rest of the day, we can't run the washing machine, AND we can't watch TV! Next, we blew our high pressure hose on our water maker. It is a stainless steel hose that handles 1500psi having special fittings which, of course, they don't have in Central America. After several stops at hydraulic stores to no avail, and keep in mind what I explained earlier about taking a taxi around this city, we ended up at an auto supply store that was able to do a crude repair to get us by until we could ship a new hose in from the states. Thankfully there was a very nice customer there who spoke English and was able to translate what we needed. Shipping is a whole other story. Another words for you American folks, don't ever complain about the United States Postal Service. Our next hair raiser was a little incident that happened on our way back out to the Perlas Islands. All was well, we were happily motor sailing along, Ben just caught a fish and released it and we were about an hour away from Isla Contadora where we were stopping for the night. Larry goes to shift the gear into forward after having it in neutral for a few minutes while Ben made his fish release and...nothing happens. Uh-oh, this is not good. Larry tried to figure out what was wrong but couldn't. Our engine would go vroom, but the boat wouldn't move in the water. Well, we are a sailboat after all and these are truly the times when you can feel that you are in God's hands. The wind was perfect for us to sail right into the anchorage, the anchorage was virtually empty, and we had two friends already there to standby in their dinghy's in case we needed a nudge to stay off a reef or if we lost our wind when we got into the lee of the island. It could have been so much worse in the wrong conditions. It turns out that the propeller shaft separated from the transmission. Four big bolts had apparently overtime loosened and through vibration fell off. Boats have sunk from this because if the propeller shaft works its way all the way out then you suddenly have a 1.5" diameter hole in the bottom of your boat with water gushing in. Once again, thank you God, for protecting us from something that could have been much worse. Larry was able to find 3 (of course) out of the four nuts that came off. So, here we are, in the middle of nowhere, trying to scrounge up a nut that can get us by until we return to the mainland. That was a good 8 hour day of hard labor for Larry to get us going again and go we did - this was on our way to our Darien trip that I last wrote about. If you recall from my last writing, this is where our dinghy engine troubles began. Upon return to the big city, frustrated that our brand new, expensive outboard was not working, going back to the Yamaha Store to nicely explain this in my best Spanish and also dreading the thought of humping the 79 lb engine onto land and to the store was cause of a lot of anxiety. Turned out they were very nice and helpful and the blame was all on us - water in the engine. We're not sure if we got some bad fuel or if when we swamped the dinghy several weeks before that did it, the bad was on us and we owned it for the tune of $54.00. Continuing on - the moody generator that has been giving us trouble for four months now, has really taken a toll on us. Grateful that we have a terrific mechanic, Kenny (507) 6648-7202) who has painstakingly troubleshot the problem; we think we will have it resolved in a few days. Throw in a few days that one of our toilets refused to continue to work and our fresh water pump that supplies the sinks, showers, and toilets with water mysteriously would not stop pumping yet wouldn't pump out any water, and you get a clear picture of the joys of cruising.
Now all of this would not have been so bad if there was a marina to pull into here, plug into power at the dock, and have access to fresh water. There are two marinas here, Flamingo being a nice, easy place to pull into for diesel/gas/water, but does not have any slips available for the transient cruiser. La Playita Marina is a new marina that opened about a year ago but you wouldn't know it by the conditions. We have had a slip there three times, anywhere from a couple of days to a week, but it is really expensive - like $3000/month - and really pretty yucky. The marina manager, Jose, has made me so uncomfortable by kissing me on several occasions (in a too friendly manner) up near the laundry room, that it has really creeped me out and Larry would like to inflict great bodily harm on him. We never greased Jose's palm, which now we understand might be the problem, as he will not give us permission to come in and even get 100 gallons of diesel. Whatever, but it just really leaves a bad taste in our mouths for Panama City.
We usually are able to see the beauty in most places that we go so I apologize for sounding rather negative here. I do feel a responsibility though, for our fellow cruisers, to kind of give them a heads up if they are heading this way. I also can say that there are plenty of cruisers here that absolutely love it, and are spending an extended amount of time here.
Thank you; Eyes of the World - Rick and Karen - for your ever positive attitude, help, donations of spare parts etc..., Kenny - who has gone above and beyond as a mechanic, Rapscullion and Precious Metal - Henry and Pamela - who went through every spare nut and bolt on their boat to fix our propeller shaft, Stolen Kiss - Cheryl and Peter - who came over, took his shirt off and said, "Let me at it", and Rachel lll - Sylvia and Mark - who are so proud that they rescued a firefighter in distress when our dinghy engine died one night and we were floating out to sea! All of you have earned as we like to say, a lot of "boat points", which essentially is good boat karma!
Hopefully the next time I write, we will have transited the canal and are basking in the glorious Caribbean waters of the San Blas Islands.
02/07/2012, Darien Province of Panama
Febuary 7, 2012
Into The Darien We Go
The Darien area of Panama is an impenetrable jungle in the south only reachable by boat or plane where the indigenous Wounan, Embera, and Kuna Indians live in settlements scattered along the numerous river valleys. The Pan-American Highway, which runs continuously from Alaska to southern Chile, has its only interruption here originally because the United States wanted to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease from South America, therefore creating the Darien Gap. Environmentalists have since jumped on board wanting to preserve this amazing jungle area. Between the pictures in our Panama cruising guide and visions of a National Geographic experience, Larry has pressed hard on Ben and I to travel here on the boat. "No way" said Ben, "I don't want to see naked people!" It did sound intriguing and as we talked about going here with more of our cruising friends, peaking their interest as well, a group slowly formed and we left together on the day before the Superbowl for an unknown adventure.
Pax Nautica, Eyes of the World, and us were anchored by Saturday afternoon by Isla Iguana, excited about our new surroundings as well as sharing Ben's yellow fin tuna for dinner that night that he caught along the way. My first fish ever that I have filleted! In usual Ben fashion he says, "I HAVE to get off this boat and put my feet on land!" So off we go in our dinghy to check out the little island near Isla Iguana called Isla Iguanita. We notice right away after we land a dog off in the distance. Hmmm...is there someone here? We proceed to walk around the entire island, only seeing lots of birds, doggie footprints, and an old fishing net that at one time someone had tied three hammocks out of between some trees. Making our way back to the dinghy, there is the dog lying close by. At closer inspection, it is the skinniest, mangiest thing with a horribly damaged eye that is about three times the size of the other. It doesn't want to run away from us, but it doesn't want to come closer either. We send Ben back to our boat to get fresh water and dog treats. The poor thing could not get enough fresh water. Later that evening as we enjoyed the most delicious fish EVER, our friends teased me lovingly that only I could come to a remote area of the world and find an abandoned dog on an island. Just another thing to haunt my thoughts when I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot sleep....
The next morning, up early, we return to the island with a large amount of rice with chicken and carrots, and a 5 liter bottle of water with the top cut off that we bury in the sand so the dog can't knock it over. He was sitting on the beach waiting patiently, staring out at our boats. We all take off together in our own dinghy's to explore the mangroves up one of the many rivers. We see quite a few birds and have a lot of fun but are kind of surprised to not see any other wildlife. On our way back we stop at a small village on the water's edge. The people stare out their windows from homes that are built on stilts. As we slowly make our way up the beach, waving, saying, "Hola", and handing out candy to the children we quietly assess in our minds how welcome we are here. Turns out the people were delightful and had a wonderful sense of humor. We could not believe how charming some of the homes were, just in the little details. On our way back to the boat suddenly our brand spanking new 15 horse dinghy engine decides to stop working. Fortunately Val and Stan from Pax Nautica noticed and quickly turned around and gave us a tow home...sigh...just another thing in the long line of things that have gone wrong with our boat lately. We host a Superbowl party that night, Lion's Paw having pulled in that afternoon joined us as well, having a wonderful time enjoying it with our friends somewhat in disbelief that here we are, anchored in the middle of nowhere being able to watch this...satellite good!
Monday morning, after serious discussion and planning with our fellow cruisers to plot our course up the Rio Tuira to reach the town of La Palma, we all weighed anchor and followed each other up - having to remind ourselves to breathe as we slid quickly through the swirling brown water from the rising tide. A boater's worst nightmare is running aground, therefore we take navigation very serious. Our charts on our electronic chart plotter are off here, meaning you can be in the middle of a body of water and yet the chart will show that you are on land...or vice versa...which can be somewhat unnerving. But, with the help of our Eric Bauhaus - The Panama Cruising Guide (a must for any boater coming to Panama) we drop anchor by this quaint, pretty good size town built up on the hillside in a bay. Next thing we know, here come the kids paddling up in their cayukos. We invite them up on board and enjoy a couple of hours of their company giving them candy, popcorn, and water as they fished over the side of the boat with Ben. From the ages of 10 - 15 years, they were delightful. As usual, Ben was very generous with his fishing lewers and almost every kid went home with one. The souvenir of choice here are the beautiful baskets that are handwoven so tightly that rumor has it they can hold water. A few different women paddled up to sell their baskets, coming up on the deck as well, and somehow we ended up with a puppy sniffing his way around! Our fellow boating friends I'm sure we're looking through binoculars chuckling as our boat was sinking lower in the water with the weight of all the people! With a polite, "Okay people time to go, Ben has school now!" They all loaded up in their various boats and paddled away with smiles. The three of us felt really good.
Tuesday morning we were happy that Mark and Sylvia, our friends on Rachel lll, had arrived for "the adventure". We were to be picked up on the beach in a cayuko and be taken for a two hour ride up a river to visit the Wounan village called Puerto Lara. Rick on Eyes of the World had been kind enough to offer to pick us up and drop us off on the beach, therefore our dinghy would not be left there all day while we were gone. Now let me explain, there is a significant tide change here, I think about 13 feet at the time, so once again you have the homes that are built on stilts to accommodate the water when it comes in. There are even small huts/outhouses that are built the same way, thus probably allowing everything to drop through to the beach/water below (you get my drift). Well, when Rick dropped us off I took one step out of the dinghy and immediately sank to my knees in the muddy, gooey, (shi_ _ _) guck! Then I started falling over and put my hand down ending up with it up to my wrist. Oh my God... I think I'm gonna die! I yelled at Rick, "Do NOT bring the others here," and we slowly traipsed up trying to find more solid ground as we looked for our cayuko driver. I wished we had taken pictures because it would be really funny now, but at the time I was mortified. A nice lady offered a small bowl of water for us to wash but I did not have the heart to use any of her limited fresh water supply and when we followed our driver back down to get in his boat we just washed off on the river's edge. (Oh people, if you only knew how far I've come!) After picking up the other cruisers and filling up with fuel (you have to look at the pictures of this!) we are on our way for the adventure we've come for. Now if you've never been in a cayuko - it's like being in a really wobbly kayak- only with a big engine on it. As long as you're moving it's not so bad, but when it slows down, and if anyone even slightly shifts their weight, you feel like it's going to tip over. After the long, pretty uncomfortable ride, pinching myself occasionally - thinking I can't actually believe I'm here, we pull up to the indigenous village of Puerto Lara and are immediately greeted by a half dozen topless women who are covered in tatoo's, Wounan style, which is a sort geometric print painted on by a sort of indigo dye. The village looks charming with the huts built high on stilts and with thatched roofs. The people are so warm and have a wonderful smile. We each get a tattoo of our own, a tour of the village by the "president", an opportunity to buy their local crafts, a performance of a native dance, and a lunch of chicken and rice that has been cooked over a wood fire in the community hut. Pretty primitive stuff although it looked like the people were doing well and were happy. About 80 - 90 people visit a year so they don't quite have the touristy thing down and I thought it was a bit pricey for what we saw however it was authentic and we are certainly glad we came.
Leaving the next morning with the outgoing tide was very exciting to say the least. I took the helm, and we had a good track on our chart plotter to follow, only needing to make one small course change where we had hit a shallow spot on the way in. Again, I have to tell you, a narrow channel with this bubbling, swirling milky brown water is a hard thing to drive into, purposely. Then the feeling...with the engine idled down yet we're sliding through the water at 11.5 knots, it felt the same as when I've been driving in a car and accidently slide on black ice. "There's no steerage", I tell Larry. "Well speed up", he says. "Huh?!" The current is going faster than we are, therefore if I don't speed up I can't steer. Phew, we make it through, and all take a deep breath. Larry's mission at Punta Alegria, our next anchorage which is in the middle of nowhere, is to see a Harpy Eagle. Mark and Sylvia on Rachel lll are approached first by a cayuko driver and arrangements are made to take all of us to an Embera Indian village this time, up another river. We had a lot of fun on this ride, and I just couldn't help but laugh as the engine died for the umpteenth time and we would just drift silently like a scene from a horror movie in the Amazon, bumping into logs and hidden obstacles in the water making an awful noise as we grind over them. By this point I so wished I had brought a flask of something strong that I could nip at. I was starting to feel done with our "adventure".
Click here to ride in the cayuka
The village was sweet, slightly different tattoos on the ladies, same drooping boobs. We hand out small toys, candy, paper and crayons to the kids. Same style of huts and thatched roofs, chickens and skinny dogs running around, and even a pig - that we fed m & m's to - I think it thought it had died and gone to heaven. The kids were like, "What are you doing??!! Feed ME those m & m's!!" Larry and Stan from Pax Nautica got their wish, a hike was arranged for early the next morning with a guide to see a Harpy Eagle. It is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, and among the largest extinct species of eagles in the world. Excited for the next day we are invited aboard Pax Nautica to share a lasagna that I had put together earlier and celebrate a successful trip with some champagne as well. It is very dark out, a little windy, and there is quite a current running through where we are all anchored. Larry had taken off our (heavy) 15 horse motor on our dinghy and put back on our slow but "old faithful" 5 horse. I in the meantime had sent the champagne ahead with Rachel lll since we were a few minutes late and we had a lot of food to carry. The three of us jump in to the dinghy to bash our way to Pax and...the motor dies! (To our mothers, you probably shouldn't read this next part.) Okay, we remain calm, Larry tries to start it over and over with no luck. The oars get pulled out and as Larry starts rowing we are thankful for the four things we did right. We have oars, we have an anchor, we have a flashlight, and we have a radio. I'm sure a lot of us cruisers go out and don't have any of these potentially lifesaving things. Hey, we also have the food but I gave the champagne away!!! What was I thinking?! So, Larry is huffing and puffing, rowing like a madman...against the wind...against the very strong current...he asks me, "How am I doing?" I say, "You're not getting anywhere! We're just drifting farther and farther away!" We call for help and Mark on Rachel lll slowly motors out, looking for our light we're flashing in the distance. It seemed like an eternity for our hero to arrive, and for him to tow us back took even longer. By the time we reached Pax Nautica we were all soaking wet and I was quite shook up. This was the first time I started to think, am I ready to be finished with this cruising life? Does this fall into the category of not having fun anymore? We wouldn't have died. We either could have tried to steer towards a piece of land as we were getting sucked out or if it was shallow enough we could have thrown the anchor out and waited for the tide to change and then start rowing again, but still...Looking forward to sleeping in the next morning and having an easy day on the boat while Larry hikes away, at 4:45 AM we hear someone pounding on the side of the boat and calling Larry's name. It was Victor, Larry and Stan's cayuko driver for the day, an hour and fifteen minutes early because he doesn't own a clock of any kind and didn't want to miss the job! We brought him inside and gave him coffee and breakfast. He was very sweet and this was just another thing we tucked away in our minds to laugh about later. Stan and Larry ended up having a terrific day, were absolutely exhausted from their 12 mile'ish hike into the jungle aaannnddd...no eagle. They did encounter a couple of mean dogs followed up by two Guerillas, not Gorillas, with rifles. They seemed to be familiar with the guide, not sure if they were some type of security or what, but it was a reminder to the men that Colombia is nearby and there can be trouble with drug runners in this area. Needless to say, us wives gave a huge sigh of relief when they returned safe and sound in the late afternoon.
We all kind of split up the next day with the exception of Rachel lll and us who headed back to the Las Perlas island of Contadora. Carl and Cristina on Bamboleiro was waiting for us with open arms and Ben was especially excited to get back to swimming, snorkeling, and killing fish to eat with them. I can't even begin to describe how much Ben loves our Bamboleiro friends. They are truly the perfect younger couple, where Ben can act his eleven years of age and they don't mind, teasing and laughing right alongside him. We are grateful everyday for our cruising friends, never taking any moment for granted as we know how fleeting they may be as the wind can blow us in any direction at any time. Panama is a huge jumping off point, some people heading to the Galapagos, then Marquesas and French Polynesia, or to Ecuador for the upcoming rainy season, or North - back up to Mexico or the west coast of the States, or through the Panama canal and either turning right or left. We fall in the "going through the canal" group, then hanging a right to the San Blas Islands for a few months. From there...we'll keep you posted!
Photos for this update are found in the gallery section "Darien Jungle"
02/02/2012, Panama City & Las Perlas Islands
Panama City Night Lights
Dec. 2011 - Jan. 2012
The Pearls of Panama
Wow. After traveling for a month by ourselves, seeing very few people and then suddenly being in Panama City, all we thought initially was wow! The shock of being around so many people, cars, traffic jams, noise, was somewhat overwhelming. We tied up to a mooring ball (this was no easy task due to the tight space and the speed of the current) almost directly under the Bridge of Americas, which essentially is the entrance to the Panama Canal. Huge, and I mean GInormous container ships and cruise ships and tug boats and pilot boats are zipping by. It really is a sight to be seen, and felt, as our boat would rock back and forth from the wakes of these ships. We radio for a water taxi to pick us up to get to land because there is no place for us to land our dinghy. We walk up to the Balboa Yacht Club office to check in and they are just so casual. Now let me explain, when you first enter a new country you always feel a bit of apprehension until you are officially checked in. We have already been in Panamanian waters for several weeks and are anxious to be legal. First off, the nice lady in the office asks us how long we are staying..."We're not sure," we say. No problem, pay before you leave, just not on a Saturday or Sunday because she's not there. Huh? We explain we still need to officially check in to the country. She says, "Huh?" It was like no one had ever asked her where to go. Someone else finally is able to explain to us to walk up the ramp and look for immigration, near the laundry room. The very business- like woman in immigration, who spoke only Spanish, and whose office was literally the broom closet, looked at us like I was crazy when I tried to explain in my poor Spanish that we needed to check in. After a few words, she stamped our passports and said, "Adios". Hmmm....we chuckled to ourselves and said, "That was easy enough." We excitedly walked to the yacht club restaurant for a meal and INTERNET! We had been out of touch with the world for what seemed like forever. And, that was the beginning of one bad meal after another here in Panama. Bummer, because I was so looking forward to some great meals, but I'm starting to lose hope. And worse yet, not only is the food bad, the service is deplorable. I don't know how to explain it, but you feel bad even asking for a glass of water. It's like you're putting them out if you order something. It's the strangest thing. A waiter will never ask you if you would like another drink or dessert. I'm not sure if this happens when the tip is automatically included, or if it's just the attitude of the people. Sigh....
The next morning we head off to the Port Captains office, catching a ride from a very nice ex-pat who had been living in Panama for ten years. We are all dressed up, which now means Larry is in long pants and a shirt with a collar, me in something other than a tank top, and Ben in a collared shirt. And all of us in shoes other than flip flops. This has all brought on a huge protest by Ben, but we have read in our books and been warned by other sailors about how proper this country is. The Port Captain couldn't have been nicer, even driving Larry to an ATM machine to get cash to pay for our entry fees. While I waited the secretary downloaded a load of Spanish Christian music on our memory stick because I had noticed she had her bible at her desk and asked what chapter she was reading. I have to say, as I am writing this at a later date, we have met some of the nicest people in Panama. My other observation is that I no longer feel like a tourist here, nor do I feel like we stick out like a sore thumb. It is just much more international here. I almost jumped over the counter and hugged the first Chinese person I saw, making me feel like I was back in the Bay Area. However not as many people speak English, or they don't let on that they do, which can make it a little more challenging when you're trying to get things done. It's totally my own fault. I should have this language down pat by now. Another sigh....
Anyways, now that we are all checked in and legally here, or so we think (more on this later), we jump right into reunions with old friends and a slurry of social activities. Once again, and I know I've said this before, but I feel like a child on Christmas morning when we meet up with our long lost boating friends! Dave and Renae on Bella with their new puppy Maggie, and Rick and Karen on Eyes of the World have been in Panama City for quite some time and we are so excited to have caught up with them! We share laughs and tears, joy and frustration, many meals (and lots of wine!), and just plain old good conversation, with an understanding of each other and what this lifestyle is like. And, they all love Ben, which warms Larry's and my heart.
We are also now suddenly thrust into the Christmas rush. Panama City has several very large malls and by the amount of people in them there is definitely no recession here. It can take what seems like an eternity to drive downtown in a taxi, and I need to add that these are the most aggressive drivers I have ever seen. If we don't get our act together, and catch a cab before 1 PM, they just simply will refuse to take us downtown. The infrastructure here has not kept up with the population boom, but as I write I believe an underground subway is being built. The Panama City skyline is a sight to be seen. Massive high rises are built, or are in the process of being built everywhere. And what is strange, which took me a few evenings to figure out, is that at night only about a third of the windows are lit up. You would think it would just be spectacular at night, but it sort of disappoints. In other words, a lot of the buildings are empty. So, I guess that level of the economy has yet to catch up. How is the grocery shopping you ask? Well, I am a happy camper here. I can find almost everything I want, and for much more reasonable prices.
December 23rd we excitedly picked up our daughter and boyfriend Seth at the airport for eight days of Christmas fun! While we were still in the big city we did a complete tour of the highlights in one day, including a hike in the Metropolitan Park - seeing sloths and many other kinds of animals, a visit to the old ruins of Panama Viejo which had been burned down by Captain Morgan and his pirates in 1671, the Miraflores Locks including a wonderful lunch at the restaurant that overlooks the ships as they pass through, then wandering around Casco Viejo which the pirates developed and settled in to have a better view of the bay and potential invaders. There is so much history here and it really was a fascinating tour. The town squares and statues, the cathedrals, the narrow streets and some of the newly renovated buildings are charming and make your imagination run wild with what this area must have been like in its time. For Christmas Eve dinner, we went back to the Casco Viejo area and ate at the restaurant Las Bovedas, which was an actual dungeon hundreds of years ago. After barely making it back to the boat in a taxi, yes I am convinced we will probably die in one someday, we all fell in to bed exhausted...except Ben...who was so excited for Santa to come he could hardly sleep. At 4 AM I was rudely awakened by big feet pattering on the deck, then Ben rushed into our cabin claiming Santa had left a note for him telling him to look up on deck for something too large to fit below. Yes, Santa brought Ben a 15 horsepower engine for the dinghy! No gift has ever delighted our child more! We can now zip around anchorages, pull away from shore quickly if needed in breaking waves, and skurf behind our dinghy - which is like water skiing only you are being pulled on a surfboard. Super fun!
Christmas day we head out to the Las Perlas Islands for a week of fun in the sun! These islands are gorgeous, with white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, the best snorkeling as of yet. This is what all of us cruisers have been searching for since we left the west coast of the United States. Ahhh..."Finally!" we all say, giving each other an understanding nod. Bella is here as well, and we are also delighted to hook up with our old (young) friends, Carl and Cristina on Bamboleiro, whom Ben has really developed a strong friendship with. (You can read about Bamboleiro's adventures by clicking on their link on the right side of our blog.) We spend our days looking at colorful fish, swimming, kayaking, working on our tans, seashell and sea glass hunting, skurfing, and of course eating and drinking. Ben has made it his personal mission to feed us all by spear fishing. A spear gun is what he decided to spend his Christmas money on from his grandmother, and I have to say he is a good shot. Carl and Ben are quite the team, always coming back with fresh fish and usually some oysters to throw on the grill.
Watch this video of Ben fishing offshore!
Jessica and Seth had a vacation of a lifetime and we were so delighted to spend the holidays with them. Sadly we bid adieu on December 31st, looking forward to the promise of another visit in an exotic location. Ben, Larry, and I, exhausted from all the fun, spent a quiet New Years Eve on the Lisa Kay. Watching the magical fireworks fall over the Panamanian skyline we each thought to ourselves...what will the new year bring... what amazing people will we meet...what adventures lie ahead of us as we set sail again to new and exotic lands? To quote a saying from the John F. Kennedy, "We have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea - whether it is to sail or to watch it - we are going back from whence we came."
Happy New Year family and friends! We wish you happiness, good health, and prosperity in all things important!
Pictures for the blog are in the gallery "Pearls of Panama"
11/20/2011, Golfito, Costa Rica
Monkey in Manuel Antonio Park
November 20, 2011
Goodbye Costa Rica
Suenos to Quepos was a quick, six hour, uncomfortable run, which made it seem much longer. Motoring in a steep swell, on our beam, never makes for a comfortable ride. The boat rocks back and forth, beam to beam, and every dish, glass, can, pan, bottle, and toiletry is tossed within its' compartment making a loud crashing noise. But, as awful as it sounds it doesn't create the anxiety it used to with us because we know what's going on and we're not afraid. I have complete trust in the "sea worthiness" of our vessel, but what I don't trust are long liner fishing boats!
We are 12-14 miles off shore, and there are these thin sticks sticking up in the water now and then, with a small black triangle hanging sideways simulating a flag. Sometimes we get excited when we see one with two black flags ..."Does that mean it's the end of the line?" But I'm talking tiny, people! You could so easily miss this tiny black dot in the ocean and not realize that you're running into a trap, miles and miles of fishing line, an inch or so under the surface, that has fishing hooks hanging off of it to try and catch fish...or birds...or turtles...or sharks? These hooks are very indiscriminant. We try, we stand on deck, we look through our binoculars, trying to figure out the web they have spun and which way we can go without getting caught up and wrapping one around our prop, therefore making us a sitting duck. We stop the boat, we back up, we turn left or right, we proceed with great caution. But all of this leaves us with a very sour feeling in our stomach. This is ridiculous. Who has the right to do this? I'm not talking 40 or 50 feet, I'm talking miles. And they're out here at night too, in the pitch black. I'm really, really tired of this. It just seems like the water around Costa Rica is dead. We have not seen a dolphin, whale, or turtle, nor has Ben caught a fish. It's kind of eerie. We know that Costa Rica has sold out to the Chinese and is allowing them to rape and pillage off their shores, so is this what the locals are having to resort to get something to eat? (Please read Ben's article on shark finning for more on this subject)
We pulled into the new, sort of completed marina in Quepos and paid for two nights, almost $400. Even though it is nothing to write home about the staff was really nice. It is just nice to be tied up to a dock sometimes and stop the motion of the ocean, if you know what I mean. We were super excited to do a tour of the Manuel Antonio National Park and it did not disappoint. Hiking around felt really good on our sea locked legs, and the animals were everywhere. Ironically, we actually saw the most animals in the busiest areas of the park where the most people were. Monkeys, sloths, raccoons, pesoti's, and deer. The monkeys and raccoons were stealing peoples backpacks as they rested on one of the many beautiful beaches, people were hand feeding them, it was kind of sad. It did not seem natural at all and we wondered, where are the park officials and why is no one monitoring this? I have to say it was kind of weird.
We pulled out the next morning at 0600 heading for a safe anchorage called Drakes Bay for the night, as we continue to work our way to Panama. We are trying to only travel during the day so we have better visibility for those, "you knows". Then on to Golfito, our last stop in Costa Rica.
More long liners, more stopping in the middle of the ocean, exasperated. This time we were traveling around 3-4 miles off the coast thinking we might avoid them. Nope. Only this time we were determined to just take our boat hook, pull the line up and cut it with a knife. However, this time we could always see a panga off in the distance, and we would just aim our boat at them (probably scaring them to death!) getting as close as we could and raise our arms as if asking the question,"Where should we go?" They would nicely guide us, or point us in a safe direction. I still felt like my blood was boiling.
Golfito is our last stop in CR. This is where we will officially check out of the country and get our International Zarpe. It's kind of a cool stop. VERY wet. We made several hikes up into the rainforest, seeing titi's, apparently the smallest monkey in CR, and toucans! Very cool. And, something I had been dreaming about for a long time, a tour of the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary by Carol who runs the center. We were picked up in a panga and driven around the peninsula for about 45 minutes to this stunningly beautiful little bay where she lives and nurtures various wildlife that is brought to her. These animals have either been injured in some way and hopefully rehabilitated and released, or have been confiscated from people who have kept them illegally therefore rarely being able to be released due to the emotional trauma that often accompanies the captivity. We loved every minute of our tour and instantly connected with Carol. Kudos to you Carol, for devoting your life to these animals in need. You are awesome!
Bruce, the owner of Banana Bay Marina where we anchored in front of, was so helpful and nice. We really appreciated him. Check out was a breeze, and we were on our way at 0415 the next morning...in the pitch black...rain...fog...with Larry standing on the bow with a flashlight, giving me direction on where to go through our headsets, as I steer blind. One way or another, Panama...here we come!
For pictures go to "Goodbye Costa Rica" in gallery
11/08/2011, Bahia Herradura, Costa Rica
National Geographic M/V Sea Lion in Los Suenos
November 8, 2011
Los Suenos, The Dreams
We have "dreamed" of coming to Los Suenos for 15 months, that is since we met Zephyr! Zephyr happened to be one of Ben's instructor's when he took sailing lessons at the Puerto Vallarta Yacht Club last summer and we instantly fell in love with her. She ended up living with us for a week, as the summer camp finished, filling in as our surrogate daughter as we miss our own Jessica so much. Since Zephyr (I just love saying her name!) is from the Los Suenos area, we vowed to her we would come to visit...and here we are!!
This was only about a three hour passage for us across the Gulfo de Nicoya and we screamed. Yes people, we actually sailed! Sometimes hitting 8 knots! Just us and the breeze, it felt like a beautiful thing. We had a lot of fun. And after anchoring in Bahia Herradura and paying a $200.00 fee to Marina Los Suenos for the privilege of using their dinghy dock for a week, who do we run into but our Zephyr!
Now let me tell you, it is stunningly beautiful in this bay, surrounded by steep, very green mountains. Stepping on land at the marina is like stepping into "little America", and it kind of takes you back for a moment. But the village they've created is lovely and everyone was very nice. We just weren't used to so many gringos and such a large upper scale area. This is truly a sport fisherman's heaven.
There were two things that Ben was so excited to do with Zephyr. One being the first kid to try out her first Opti sailboat for the youth sailing program she is starting up, and then surfing of course, at the well known Jaco beach. He had such a great time, and even mom and dad managed to get in a little surfing as well! Meeting Thomas, Zephyr's fiancée, sharing great meals and catching up really meant a lot to us.
Before we left Islas Tortugas we ran our water maker to refill our water tanks. After two hours it just stopped working (sh_t!). Now at anchor in Bahia Herradura, Larry is troubleshooting the problem with help from Rich Boren from Cruise RO Water & Power. Rich has been great and we love our 45gph water maker we bought from them and installed in Ixtapa last year. After some elbow grease the water maker is up and running and off we go to Quepos, and Manuel Antonio National Park for some flora and fauna...with full water tanks!
See Los Suenos photo gallery