We are in the water! Arlen who is coming to help me as crew, and I, were able to get a nonstop flight to Panama. Really nice not having to run around airports looking for departure gates while checking your watch wondering if your luggage made it too.
We spent a day in Panama City taking taxis picking up my shipment of supplies which included a new water maker. Something you don't need in the USA, Bahamas or here in Panama in the rainy season. In the dry season the only option is to go to shore and buy river water. Bought a phone plan and an internet stick for my lap top at half the price of the set up in Canada. The e mail via SSB works great but for us to keep up the blogs, with friends, and family coming and going, we thought it was a bargain. The biggest challenge is understanding the Spanish terms on the menus. "Call not permitted" displays if it fails from no signal. Made me wonder why the call wasn't permitted for half a day until I figured it out. every time you gain signal it chimes and a mesage tells you to check operator messages. Theyn never come.
We took a taxi with our gear across Panama to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon where we left the boat for six months during the rainy season. It faired very well on the inside. We rented a dehumidifier from the yard and drained it out the galley sink. No mold anywhere! Dawn had laundered all things before we left and packed them in "oh my god" size zip lock bags from the hardware store. Everything was just as fresh as when she packed it. The cockpit didn't fare so well. The wood lifted off the cockpit seats so bad that it jammed the wheel in places and pinched you in others. I had to take it all off and start again. We scraped the bottom and painted two coats on the afternoon we arrived and launched the boat the next noon.
The weather looks like it will moderate enough to get east to the San Blas Thursday. Still looks like a slug 75 miles to weather in 15kt winds and 2m seas on the bow. After we get out into it we will have to decide if we should break it into two days or keep on going overnight.
We had planned from home to fly our crew, friends and family in and out of the San Blas (Kuna Yala). Here I have found one of the two small airports is closed causing all flights to be booked up. The air carrier not responding to on line bookings didn't help things. The Kuna Indians have closed the roads in their territory to everyone but Kuna. I was able to get a phone number for the Kuna District office from Gord on Island Dreaming, from Vancouver Island. A Kuna taxi can be arranged through them to get to and from Panama City. Their first language is Kuna, their second is Spanish. I talked to someone in English and got them to agree to a ride for Arlen. On second thought I got one of the marina office personnel to confirm Arlen's booking and to book Dawn for the next day. After listening to him for ten minutes explain the travel arrangements in fluent Spanish he confirmed Arlen's ride. When I asked him about Dawn's he handed back the phone and said the Hotel can arrange it and ran off. That took half a day. Tomorrows plan is to find another unsuspecting translator while Arlen makes a grocery run. Then it's fill the fuel and water, check the weather and cast off the lines. I'll watch for you from the anchorages of the San Blas. Randy
12/27/2011, 9 30.7N:87 37.1W
What have we done? Why did we ever come back? Those are the questions Dawn asked repeatedly after our return to a life seemingly over run by work. At first I laughed at her particular way of asking, but after a few weeks of work I seriously started to wonder as well. Dawn prompted me to wright a closing blog but I was just too far from where we were to get to that place. It has been harder than I expected returning and "fitting in", not that I ever really fit in. Maybe it's because I never fully came back. There is a part of me is still solidly anchored out there watching me go through the actions life here. At work it feels like I'm like a dog chasing his tail. I am running in circles trying to catch up while my brain is spinning between focusing on work and getting back to Nirvana Now where my sole is. Talking with Dawn on the cell phone daily we cheer each other on. Her prospective of life has changed too.
It's Christmas day and the last day of the shipping season for the ship I am working on. We are tying up in Hamilton as I write. My Bags are packed and I'm more than ready to go! Drifting through my mind are lists of projects, of people to invite, and of dates we hope to have them join us. I really should write it all down. I've maxed out my baggage allotment with boat stuff, and the only items in my carry on are shorts and bathing suits. I fly out on the 11th of January to get the boat back in the water, cleaned up and over to the San Blas for Dawn's arrival on the 30th. We will spend five weeks together sharing our joys. We have friends to see and friends coming to visit. There will be familiar reefs to swim over and new places to explore, people to meet, and always molas to buy. I then stay on a couple of weeks to lay up the boat again. I'm not thinking of what has to be done then until the time comes. Meanwhile I'm on my way. I'll watch for you out there. Hasta la vista. Randy
This is our last few weeks in the San Blas and of our one year leave from our usual lives! Feeling bitter sweet about this journey coming to an end. No more sailing until we can make enough money to take more time off! We miss our family and friends but love the cruising life. What is a couple to do! How much money does one need to retire really? Unsure of what the future brings but we both know we want more of this! Had Randys 58th birthday- we celebrated early before Wendy and Jess left. Unfortunately I couldn't buy him a present as there are no stores here! We snorkel on his birthday, looked at the stars of the southern sky from our vantage point near the equator, from the bow of the boat and contemplated life. Have had a few great days at Gunboat Island, snorkelling but got scared - Randy saw this shark that didn't look like a nurse shark. We got out of the water for a day but were back in, our friends Debbie and Breeze from Blue Sky joined us and gave us courage! Spend our time reading, studying Spanish, talking a bit to the locals who come and sell us fish and lobster - though Randy is getting to be quite the spear fisherman, just enjoying life. Happiness - we both have decided we are as happy as we have ever been. Now how to keep that feeling when we go back to the insanity of our old lives, that is the question. We know being well rested, well fed, visiting with wonderful people, appreciating each other and taking good care of ourselves and each other helps. So does contemplation and connecting with the God and the universe and all its glory are some of the keys of happiness for us. It has taken us most of this time off to recover from the stresses of our work and lives. Don't want to loose the feelings that we have now of inner contentment and peace. Love the swimming in 86 degree water. I am mesmerized by squid. They are sooo beautiful, they change color as they fly in the water over different backgrounds and interact with each other and us. Never going to eat calamari again! Randy had a up close and personal connection with a predator of the sea. I leave it for him to tell you about next blog. Our last swim on the coral was fabulous. Started with a dotted ray under our boat and included all my favorite fish on the reef a swim away from our boat in the Holandes. Clouds are breathtaking every day and because of the low lying islands we can see 360 around us! It is the beginning of rainy season so we have lightning like I have never seen before, every night. Bit scary for even a storm buff like me! Many boats get hit each year and loose their electronics. Have had 2 boats hit reefs in the last few weeks. One was destroyed, the other towed back to safety. No lives lost but realize we are living a little closer to the edge than sitting on the chesterfield at home out here! Out last day in the San Blas was interesting. While Randy went to shore to check us out with customs 3 Kuna boats with women and children came to visit me and sell me stuff! I bought from each one beads and things and gave them gifts of clothes and nail polish and make up which they loved! They hung around for a while. Unfortunately they speak Kuna and Spanish. My Spanish is still poor and Kuna non existent so I just sat on the side of the boat and listened as they chatted to each other. Just like they were going for tea at the donut shop! After a while they left, only for one boat to return as it started to rain. They wanted shelter. We got them aboard, made them supper and then sent them on their way after the rain stopped. Tomorrow on our way home! The cats are content enough but looking forward to land more than us!
06/15/2011, San Blas
We are still enjoying life in the San Blas Islands. Our long time friends, Wendy and Jess Meisner, have been with us for the last two weeks marveling at all the wonders here. For them, and myself as well, it is the most different place we have been since we were in West Africa together half a lifetime ago.
Sitting on the boat at anchor dugouts with Kuna men and boys come by selling fish, lobster and fruit, or with women in traditional dress and children selling crafts. Bartering for items in Spanish, which we are making a try at, gets us repeated phrases from the Kuna. We have trinkets for the women and children and our extra clothes for the men and boys. On receipt of these it is not uncommon for them to ask for a shirt if they received a pair of shorts, or for another for someone at home.
There are several villages here that encompass their islands in their entirety. Little laneways weave through the yards of houses and past shops and community huts, most of which are made of cane tied to a frame, with thatched roofs. As we wander by the women rush out with their Molas to sell. Looking in the open doors we see hammocks hanging for beds, cooking pots on walls by an open fire on the dirt floor, and in some, a TV. Those with power have meters mounted on boards or to a stick tied to the hut, the wires run unsupported to the main lines and are spliced in and rapped.
Some days we spend sailing to another tropical is land covered in palm trees, ringed by a little beach. Most days we spent three hours or more snorkeling over the coral reefs looking for lobster or fish for supper. We missed a few monster lobster and crab and speared a few smaller ones, but would have gotten very hungry if we couldn't buy some more.
We took a river tour a ways into the mainland then hiked for several hours over the mountains covered with tropical jungle, flowers, fruit and ants, to a water fall where we had lunch, and jumped of the rocks into the fresh water. The walk back in the hot humid afternoon was splashing down through the river to the local Kuna cemetery where we had left the dugout.
There are forty to fifty other sail boats in the area which makes for some social diversion. We have joined six other couples at a raft up in our dingies for happy hour and potluck supper. Organized by a long time single woman sailor we passed drinks, stories, and plates of food between us. Another night we joined our friends on their boat to celebrate their guest's birthday. After happy hour, with sushi salads and casadias for supper we played maracas and drums while singing along to a Jimmy Buffet concert DVD.
Yesterday we went to the island with the air strip and found the local woman in charge of the flights in her house, there isn't an office, just an air strip. We asked what time to show up. She asked if they had tickets but didn't ask to see them and said half and hour before the plane arrives at 6:30 AM. Standing on the grass beside the runway with Wendy and Jess this morning the agent recognized them and hustled them onto the twelve passenger airplane just as the arriving passengers got off. Nobody asked for tickets or looked at the bags which were being stuffed into the baggage space. On occasion people with tickets have been left behind until the next day's flight because Kuna without tickets have gotten on the plane and taken the seats.
We are on our own now for the next three weeks. After that we head to Colon where we will leave the boat when we fly Back to the Soo at the end of our year of adventure. Thoughts of our return are starting to creep in but not enough of them to depress us yet, we are still having too much fun! Randy
Hi from the San Blas Islands!
We have landed in Panama - 2 ½ hours late, but we got here!! Our Chicago -Texas flight was cancelled, so we were moved to a flight to Newark and then Panama City, Panama. The taxi driver was absolutely wonderful, taking us to our hotel, carrying our baggage into our hotel and chatted all the way. Our hotel was very nice and after a short sleep, we were up and the same taxi driver gave us a ride to the Air Panama airport in Panama City.
We took off on a 6-seater plan and flew down the coast, across Panama and landed on a runway that ran the length of the island. There were 4 Japanese "Peace Corps -like" volunteers on the plan with us, so we chatted almost the entire way with them. When we set down on the island and bumped a bit, the girl in the front seat with the pilot screamed and then apologized for having done so. Randy and Dawn were there to meet us and we jumped into their dingy and motored out to the sailboat. We have explored an island, sailed our way here, and snorkelled as well. A nap was on order for us, too. We just bought 3 lobster and 3 conch from some natives who drove their canoe up to our boat. We paid $15.00 for it all. They will be tomorrow and the next night's dinner. Tonight we head to another island, via dingy, for happy hour and a potluck supper amongst all of the sailing people that are anchored here. This is the life!!
I am already a bit red on arms and shoulders, but I'm using sunscreen. We are loving being with dear friends. I think this will be the trip of a lifetime.
The taxi driver's name is Roger and we highly recommend him. His contact info. Is: mago50hotmail.com
Wendy and Jess
We are sailing the San Blas Islands of Panama which lay no more than five miles off Panama's Caribbean coast, and go from eighty to one hundred east of the Panama Canal. The islands are small and picturesque with palm trees, sandy beaches and surrounding coral reefs. Laying several miles apart at most it is a great place for exploring and swimming as the water is 84 - 86 degrees. The Kuna Indians which live here gained self rule from Panama in the early 1900s and still live their traditional way of life, calling the area Kuna Yala. It also includes about one hundred miles of what is referred to as the Darian, Panama's eastern most province, a mountainous tropical jungle stretching to Columbia. It is still very remote. There are only a couple of roads into the area so the main mode of transportation is by boat, There are also two air strips with the shortest runways I have seen yet, going from shore to shore across islands which are only four hundred yards long. Some of the local traders have open thirty foot fiberglass boats with twenty five to sixty HP motors. They are run from the back, and carry everything from barrels of fuel, food, school children and backpackers to Kuna Yala islands and communities.
At any time you can see several Kuna in their dug out canoes fishing over reefs or paddling miles between islands. The dugouts are very well crafted from what would have been massive trees, as most are about twenty feet long. Some have outboard motors up to ten HP, and some have crude sails. Several times a day they come buy with a few lobster, crab, fish, bananas, mangoes or avocados to sell. There isn't much other food to buy out here. On occasion one of the industrious Kuna with a hut on an island from which they sell beer will have some potatoes, peppers or onions as well. We are eating our way through our lockers of canned goods.
The Kuna women make Molas, traditional squares that appear at first to be like appliqué but are multi layered with the patterns cut out and stitched over each other. Very intricate work. There are several traditional designs which are sewn onto the front of their clothes and other traditional designs for healing and for ceremonies. The women come by in their dugouts and sell them as Molas are one of the main incomes for the women.
The islands are all dry so we have to catch rain water to fill our tanks. We hold one hundred gallons and were down to the point of being concerned as we had only light rains for a week, but then yesterday the clouds dumped on us and we filled out tanks in fifteen minutes.
The Kuna on the islands are usually an extended family group living in several bamboo huts with palm thatch roofs, one hut with hammocks for sleeping and another with a fire for cooking. Rice, beans, bananas and fish are their staple foods. They still live by some of their traditional beliefs and ceremonies, tending to the coconut palms and fishing. Every coconut tree is owned and the coconuts are sold abroad, which is their main income. Most islanders spend part of the year on the mainland with others of their extended families. The children are sent to larger communities for elementary school and will live with family or friends.
There are quite a few sail boats here. Some people staying for several years finding it hard to leave for more than a few months when they leave their boat at a marina and fly home to visit. It looks like we will be part of that community for a little while.