12 November 2017 | San Blas
24 October 2017 | Linton Bay
17 October 2017 | Machu Pichu, Peru
15 October 2017 | Ollantaytambo, Peru
06 October 2017 | Cusco, Peru
02 October 2017 | Puno, Peru
29 September 2017 | Ariquipa, Peru
27 September 2017 | Nasca, Peru
20 September 2017 | Lima, Peru
15 September 2017 | Panama City, Panama
06 August 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
17 July 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
07 July 2017 | Gallego Caays
19 June 2017 | Dolphin Bay, Bocas del Toros, Panama
11 June 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
05 June 2017 | Isla Providencia, Columbia
26 May 2017 | Providencia, Columbia
20 May 2017 | Port Antonio, Jamaica
09 May 2017 | Mathewtown, Great Inagua
The San Blas Islands
12 November 2017 | San Blas
We came into Linton in the middle of a downpour and anchored amidst many boats there. I suppose they were all staging for the San Blas or maybe this was their summer hangout. We let the rain fall and the next morning we went into the marina and asked about checking out. The port captain's office was on the marina grounds and we determined that we needed to get our zarpe there and then clear immigration at Porvenir in the San Blas. The zarpe is a clearance document issued by the port captain and is very important to have in the Latin American countries for entry into the next port. It is still kind of unclear but at any rate we got our zarpe for Cartagena and headed out the next day for the San Blas.
Our first stop was Chichime in the islands, one of the western most in the group. The San Blas are an archipelago on the eastern coast of Panama and are the home of the Kuna Indians, an indigenous group who have been very successful in preserving their heritage and autonomy. They for the most part live on the islands and fish the reefs and harvest and collect coconuts to manufacture oil. They are also farmers and many have small farms they work on the mainland every day. They travel back and forth in dugout canoes called ulus. Many have sails and they are very skilled at sailing them around.
The Kuna culture is one of cooperative living and no land is personally owned but every coconut has an owner. Foreigners are also not supposed to take lobster or conch or spearfish. It is a matriarchal society where the women control the wealth of the family, usually wearing most of it in the form of silver and gold jewelry. Generally when a couple is wed they live on the wife's family island.
The small communities are built very close together so there is little room between the huts. A family unit will have several huts made of bamboo and thatched roofs for cooking, eating and sleeping. The huts usually last about 15 years and then need to be replaced. Generally in the middle is a large hut where the congresso meets every night. It is a town meeting where issues and complaints are presented to the chiefs or sailas and discussed. Most communities have a concrete block school where kids go up to the sixth grade. If they want to go further they must go to Panama City and live there and finish school. We got the impression not many do.
The islands are generally small and covered with coconut palms and surrounded by extensive reefs. Looking at the charts is confusing because at first glance it looks as though the islands are large but closer inspection reveals the large areas are reefs and the islands are very small. The water in the outer islands is very clear and the reefs are very pretty with many types of coral and many colorful tropical fish. The area is pretty fished out by the locals and they unfortunately harvest under sized lobster and fish and then try to sell them to the cruisers. The water closer to the mainland is not as clear due to the rivers that flow into the area. Most of the communities are on islands close to the mainland, but some families live on the outer islands as well.
In the traditional villages the women wear colorful mola blouses and skirts and scarfs on their heads. Molas are the colorful fabric creations done by layering different colors of cloth and cutting and stitching intricate patterns. They also have very intricate beaded leggings on their calves which are very colorful. The men are plainly dressed in pants and tshirts. The kids all are running around as you would expect in all manner of clothing. When a girl reaches maturity, she starts wearing the mola shirt and garb following a ceremony.They are very shy about having their photo taken.
The area we've been cruising is the Gulf of San Blas, which is the primary area where most boats stay. There are groups of islands, all with colorful and almost unpronounceable names. Some have Spanish names and Kuna names for the same island. We started at Chichime, then the Lemmons, and then over to the Holandes, down to Coco Banderas, Green Island, the Naguargandup Cays and then to Isla Maquina, also known as Mormake Tupu (mola maker island). We had bought some molas from Vernacio Restropo, a master mola maker, who lives there with his family. We got a tour of the island from his brother, Idelfonso. We also bought some molas from Lisa, the infamous transvestite mola maker from Rio Sidra, an adjacent island. To give you a flavor of the island names, I'll list a few of the ones at which we anchored. Yansaledup, Tiadup, Naguarchirdup, Ukupsuit, Guarladup, Olosicuidup and on and on.
We have found the people to be very friendly and kind to all the strangers around in their midst, but as with all places there are a few bad apples. Frequently the Kunas come to the boat in their ulus to sell lobster, octopus , crabs, fruit , veggies, and molas. In our experience most have been very friendly and honest and we let our guard down when one guy, Apio, offered to bring us some fruit and veggies if we gave him money. We were in the Coco Banderas anchorage and he was supposed to be back the next day with our stuff. Well, we never saw him again and have subsequently discovered that he is famous for that. So if you come here and Apio shows up, tell him he is "un mentiroso y un ledron" (a liar and a thief) and don't give him any money.
This has been a place of contrasts in our experience. It is a pretty place and the people are generally very nice, but the water is frequently filled with trash and we can't get past the locals harvesting immature lobster, conch and fish. They don't seem to be able to understand the concept of sustainable fishing. They certainly have embraced the concept of tourists and dollars. Tourism has become a big deal here and the locals see them as cash cows. There is a charge for everything, even anchoring beside an island. We also brought things to give away to the kids, but we believe in trading with adults. Many times though they approach us looking for us to give them things. We don't mind parting with a few fish hooks or charging a cell phone, but when they start asking for gas or diesel fuel we draw the line. We are hopeful that as we go further east and away from the prime tourist areas, things will improve.
Our plans now are to spend another week or so here and then clear immigration in Provenir and head east along the coast to see some of the more traditional communities. Then we'll jump off for an overnight sail to Columbia and try to be in Cartagena by the first of December. New pictures are in the gallery.
Off to the San Blas
24 October 2017 | Linton Bay
We made it back to the boat with no problems after a night in Panama City and a quick flight. We found the boat in good shape and spent a day provisioning and then left the marina and moved over to the Gallego Cays to dust off the bottom. We had collected a few barnacles and slime after sitting in the marina for 2 months.
The next day we headed out the Crawl Cay Channel and east toward the Chagres River. An overnight motorsail put us off the mouth of the river in the morning. We wound our way across the bar and into the river under the old Spanish fort at the mouth, Fort Lorenzo. We headed up the river past the first bend and anchored. We spent an idyllic few days there watching the toucans in the trees and listening to the howler monkeys. We dinghied up to the dam and walked up to the lake to check out the ships and were chased out by security. We also went down to the fort to explore as well and got up close and personal with a sloth on the trail to the fort.
We then headed around the point and past the breakwater, through all the ships waiting and into Colon harbor and over to Shelter Bay Marina. The marina is very nice with a pool and restaurant, and is full of the typical cruisers that have gotten struck or are staging to go through the canal. We had planned to stay for a week but wound up staying two as we had an opportunity to line handle for a boat going through.
We met up with some old friends we hadn’t seen in a few years and made some new friends as well. The marina is way out in the woods, so there is a bus that goes into Colon daily for shopping trips. It commonly takes you across the Gatun locks, so we get to see the ships and locks in action. The marina site is an old US Army base and there are old roads that are walkable and we saw monkeys and toucans galore. We also took the Panama railway excursion to Panama City and spent the night and then rode the bus back. It’s an excellent way to see the canal and Lake Gatun, and is a beautifully restored train.
One day on the bus back to the marina, we met Bill and Gene from Australia, who were scheduled for a canal transit and needed line handlers so we signed up. On the day of the transit we left the marina at about 2:30 and went out to the flats anchorage in Colon Harbor, where we were to meet our advisor for the first part of the transit. Bill and Gene have been through twice before in the last several years, so they knew the drill. They were delivering the boat, a Bravaria 42, back to Australia to sell, after buying it in Guadeloupe this year.
Our advisor showed up around 4:30, and we proceeded to the channel and up to the first set of locks. We were to go through center lock and two power boats ahead of us would raft together and go through side tied to the lock wall. We would all be behind a ship in the lock. Once the ship was in the lock then the smaller boats moved in. The lock workers throw a small line with a monkey’s fist down to you and then you tie the large line on and they then walk forward into the lock, finally pulling the large line up and putting it on a bollard. This is done for each corner of the boat. Then it becomes a matter of keeping tension on the line and keeping the boat centered in the lock. As the water enters the lock the turbulence is something to behold and we quickly rose to the top of the lock. This is done for all of the three locks at Gatun. As we went from lock to lock the handlers walk the lines forward until the new position is reached and then put them on the bollard. Once through the locks, we motored over to a large mooring buoy and tied up for the night. The advisor was picked up and we had a late dinner at 10 PM.
At 7 the next morning the next advisor arrived and we headed across the lake. There was a steady stream of ships going by as we passed through the lake. We entered the cut at around 2 PM and headed to the Pedro Miguel Locks after passing through the infamous Galliard Cut. We dropped one level there and then went to the Mira Flores Locks where we dropped two levels. Locking down was easier since the lines just needed to be slacked as we dropped. The other difference was that when locking down the small boats are in front of the ship. It’s interesting to see the huge ship coming up behind in the lock being controlled by the locomotive engines called mules.
After passing under the Bridge of the Americas, we were dropped off at the Balboa Yacht club and Molly and I caught a taxi to our hotel and then caught the bus back to Colon the next day. After getting back to Shelter Bay, we readied the boat and left the next day for Portobello. They were having the celebration of the Black Christ there so it was a huge party, and we waited to go in until the next day. We visited the forts and checked out the church.
Now we have moved over to Linton Bay, and will be here a day or two. We are trying to find out the logistics of getting our clearance from Panama to Cartagena. It is apparently something that changes all the time as to where you can do what. We want to avoid having to back track if possible, so we’ll see what they say. Next stop, the San Blas Islands and Kuna Yala.
Machu Pichu and the Inca Trail
17 October 2017 | Machu Pichu, Peru
We got an early start from our hostel in Ollantaytambo to the train station for the ride to kilometer 104 at Chachabamba, an old Incan way station along the Inca trail. The train ride was beautiful as it wound its way up the valley and along the river, the mountains rising almost straight up from either side. In short order we arrived at KM 104 and the train stopped and off we went. There is no station there, the train just stops to let hikers off. We met our guide, Albina, who was waiting for us. We passed through the ruins of Chachabamba, an old Incan village along the road leading to Machu Pichu. The Peruvian authorities are very restrictive about letting people on the trail. You must have a guide and a reservation in order to proceed and the numbers of people allowed is very controlled. Reservations for the longer hikes (4 day) are booked months in advance. Our papers were in order and we passed though the check point and began our hike.
The trail began climbing immediately up from the river. The trail is for the most part paved with stones and there are stone steps in many places. We continued to be amazed at the work that must have been involved in creating this. Up, up, up we climbed into the mists in the mountains. As we walked we passed many orchids and begonias in bloom that were beautiful and unexpected in the high altitude. This is a cloud forest, though, and the humidity and rain allow tropical flora to thrive.
We continued to climb up the mountain and as we turned a corner in the trail, miraculously out of the mist came an Incan city, Wineywayna. It is perched on the mountainside and is almost indescribable in its beauty. There are many terraces and buildings and temples in the complex. Also a series of fountains cascaded down along the steps. We climbed through the city and continued on up the trail, finally reaching one of the camp sites for the 4 day hike and we stopped for lunch and a quick sandwich before continuing on. The weather had been damp and sprinkling off and on, but now became a steady drizzle. As we continued we had been negotiating sets of steps carved into the stone or created out of stones. Albina had told us about a last flight of steps she called the “gringo killer”. We arrived at the base of the steps and up we went. At the top we were rewarded with the entrance to the Sun Gate, overlooking the valley and city of Machu Pichu.
When we arrived at the gate, the valley was filled with cloud and it was still drizzling. We sat for a few minutes and the clouds blew away and in the mist the sacred city was revealed. It was a mystical moment and we were teased with views of the site off and on for a while. Then the clouds above parted and the city was bathed in sunlight, and I have to tell you, it was a glorious sight. We stopped and just took it the view. The mountains jutting up almost vertically and the mists swirling around, gave the scene a surreal quality. As if that wasn’t enough, as we walked down to the city, a rainbow formed over the mountains creating a perfect end to our introduction to Machu Pichu.
We spent the rest of the afternoon investigating the city and its temples, residences, and shrines. That night we slept in Aguas Calientes, a town at the base of the mountain and the next day went back to the site with Albina, who described the various temples and shrines and their significance. Look for pictures of all this in the gallery. After a morning of exploration, we had a great lunch and then it was back on the train to Ollantaytambo and Cusco. We spent a relaxing night in Cusco and then got on a plane to Lima and then back to Panama City and then eventually back to the boat in Bocas.
We had seen so much and experienced so much that it now almost seems like a dream. We will definitely return to Peru. It’s a magical place and we have only scratched the surface.
For those interested, we booked our flights and some tours with Fertur Peru Travel, and Melany Garcia Moore. She was a joy to deal with and will do as much or as little as you want. They offer complete packages all included and high end accommodations or she will book bits and pieces for those on a slower pace. We elected to travel by bus (excellent) and stay in hostels and saved a lot of money and really felt like we got to see the country. For those with time, we feel this is the best choice. Our main source of info was the Lonely Planet Guide and Molly booked most of our accommodations with Booking .com or Trip Advisor. Melany is available at email@example.com.
15 October 2017 | Ollantaytambo, Peru
We went over to Ollantaytambo to spend a few days before walking the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. Tambo is a Quechua word for rest stop and all along the Inca roads there were tambos constructed about a day’s walk apart so travelers would have a place to stay. These were small communities which were self sustaining, but had accommodations for travelers. Ollantaytambo was one of these and it also had a fortress above it. The village or pueblo is a charming collection of old Incan buildings which are now residences or hostels and restaurants. The streets are very narrow and only see foot traffic and all are cobblestone, very picturesque. There is a system of water courses through the village, which served to clear the sewage and also irrigated the surrounding terraces. The irrigation part is still used today and is very functional. The town is nestled in a valley with cliffs all around. On one side is the fortress high above and on the other a granary for storage of food for the Incan soldiers in the fortress. It was quite a climb to see the sites, but well worth it for the views at the top.
We also climbed to the quarry where the stone blocks were harvested to build the fortress and granary. It just about did us in to walk to the quarry, and it is almost unbelievable that the Incas could get the massive stones down the mountain, across the river and then up to the fortress. The altitude is very high here and even though we’d been at altitude for quite some time it had an effect on us.
There was a small plaza at the center of town and we spent some time there watching the coming and going. Adjacent to the square was a market with fresh fruit and veggies and several vendors with delicious street food. Check the gallery for pictures of all this.
Also in town is the station for the train to Aguas Callientes, a small community at the base of Machu Pichu. We are about to get on the train to go to Chachabamba, an old Incan site on the river and its there we start our climb on the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu.
06 October 2017 | Cusco, Peru
We caught an early bus from Puno to Cusco, the center of the Inca Nation. We settled into our hostel at Suecia II and went to explore the town. There are free city tours available with knowledgeable guides done one in Arequipa and so we took advantage of one in Cusco as well. Our guide, Elvis, took us on a and all are done with donation only and are a valuable way to get a basic overview of the city. We had walking tour of the city's landmarks and explained a lot of the Incan history. There are several theories and ideas about the rise of the Incas, but the one Elvis described is as good as any. Around 500 AD the first Inca and his family arrived in the Cusco area, looking for fertile land and a place to live. The Wari culture was in power and had consolidated many of the local groups of people, including the Lima, and Nasca cultures. The Wari worshipped the sun and also had a stone oblisque god they worshipped. The first Inca, Manco Capa'c, overcame the stone idol and became divine and then established the Inca rule. Expansion was initially to gain more fertile land but as time passed each new Inca needed to establish prestige and so conquering new lands became the rule. Over a span of 1,000 years and 13 Incas, their nation encompassed territory in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. They expanded by offering deals with existing tribes and if refused, conquered by force. They were great organizers and governors and took existing technology to much greater levels. The society excelled in mathematics, engineering, astronomy, agriculture, and medicine. They built four main roads going north, east, south and west from Cusco to the ends of their empire. There were numerous secondary roads interconnecting various points. They mapped the sky, not only noting constellations of stars but also the dark areas void of stars. There is evidence in the skulls of exhumed bodies that they also did neurosurgery and trephined cranial bones to relieve intracranial pressure, and there is evidence that many patients survived the surgery as, the bones have shown evidence of healing. They had an innovative way of record keeping using knotted string of various colors, and strung together in long curtains. They also experimented in agriculture. There was already an extensive system of terracing for agriculture and support infrastructure for cities when they took power, but they began experimenting with agriculture techniques to expand the existing technology. There is a ruin at Moray which consists of concentric circles of terraces at different elevations, each with its own microclimate, used to experiment with growing techniques. There are over 3,000 varieties of potato grown in Peru. In the 1500's the four Pizarro brothers showed up looking for gold, and found the Inca civilization in conflict. There were two sons of the most recent Inca vying for power. That conflict and the jealousy of some of the conquered tribes, the diseases brought by the Europeans, and their superior firepower brought the demise of the Incan culture. The Catholic priests along for the ride, tried to stamp out all remnants of the existing culture and replace it with theirs. Their now is a resurgence of the indigenous culture with the language, Quechua, being spoken widely. The Catholic religion, remains dominate. The Incas are probably most famous for their stonework. Evidence of their stone construction is all over southern Peru. There are at least 13 different styles of stone work associated with these constructions. Massive granite stones were quarried and transported to the construction sites and finely fitted to position. The faces of the stone were so finely matched that even a piece of paper will not fit between them. The stone was tapered away on the inside. There is a stone in the wall of the temple at Cusco with 14 angles on it. This type of construction is very resistant to seismic activity. The stones rattle around during earthquakes and settle back into position. In Cusco, the Spanish tore down the walls of the Inca city and used the bases as foundation for their own buildings with mortar construction. These walls regularly fell down in earthquakes while the Inca walls stood strong. We spent our time in Cusco seeing the surrounding Inca sites in the Sacred Valley and enjoying the different plazas, the beautiful churches, and the delightful cuisine. One day we caught a collectivo, a minibus that does a fixed route, to Pisac, at the other end of the sacred valley. High on the mountain above the town is an Incan citadel. There is a trail leading up to the site and we decided to hike up for a look. It involved a 2,000 foot climb, pretty ambitious for a couple of old farts, but we made it and it was magical, made more so by the guys we saw on the way playing Incan flutes with the beautiful music wafting over the cliffs. The ruins were typical with religious areas, altars and such, an observatory, and labyrinths of living quarters. All were built into the mountainside with stone construction and had thatched roofs at one time. After the walk back down we collapsed into a collective for the ride back to Cusco. Another day we caught a collectivo up to Tambomachay, and walked back down to town visiting ruins along the way. Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Q'enco, and Sacsaywama'n were the sites we visited that day. Sacsaywama'n is an impressive fortress that was the site of a huge battle between the Spanish and Inca. Only 20 % of the fortress remains as most was torn down by the Spanish, but it still is impressive. Some of the stones in the main battlements are huge, one estimated at 300 tons. Look for pictures of all this in the gallery soon. All these sites and more can be visited by buying a Boleto Touristica, a ticket to many tourist sites in the sacred valley. We also used that to visit several museums in Cusco as well, including Qorikancha, the famous Inca temple at Cusco. It was the golden city that the conquistadors were looking for and was filled with gold artifacts which were all melted down and sent to Spain. Now the remaining walls are the foundations for the Dominican Church and Convent. We also enjoyed sitting in the numerous plazas in Cusco and watching the world go by. The main plaza, the Plaza de Armas, has the main cathedral as well as the Jesuit Church. These churches were built on foundations of old Inca buildings. The plaza has a magnificent fountain at its center with plenty of benches and trees for shade. It is surrounded by many arcades of shops and restaurants. There are several other nice plazas and parks within a few blocks. We also enjoyed the market, similar to the one in Ariquipa with food displays like art forms. They also had prepared food available that was delicious. Now it's time to head for Ollantaytambo, and more Incan antiquities.
Puno and Lake Titicaca
02 October 2017 | Puno, Peru
After the breathtaking views on the Cholca Canyon and the condors we transferred to a bus to Puno and Lake Titicaca. We almost didn’t come this way and decided at the last minute to check it out and are we ever glad we did. We got dropped off at our Hostel in Puno, the Camino Real Turistica, and after a good nights sleep we got on a boat to see the floating islands of Lake Titicaca and Tequile Island. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America, 190 km by 80 km and sits at an elevation of over 13,500 feet above sea level. Our guide was sure to tell us that the titi part of the lake was in Peru and the caca part was in Bolivia.
There is a large lagoon or bay where Puna is located and a considerable part of the lagoon is filled with reeds with smaller open areas and channels through them. It is here where the Uros people live on floating islands. If you haven’t seen this you wouldn’t believe it. The islands are built by lashing the root balls of the reeds together to form a floating base. These are harvested and cut into rectangular shapes prior to fastening together. Then reeds are put on top of this base and fastened as well. The reeds are continually replenished as time goes on. Houses and other structures are fabricated from reeds on the island. Usually a family group of 10-12 people live on each island and there are about 65 islands total. The people hunt birds and fish, but now are extremely involved in tourism, as people come to see their unusual life style. They also manufacture reed boats and seeing them reminded us of Thor Hyerdal and his theory of westward migration to Polynesia from S. America and the Kon Tiki expeditions. Look for pictures of all this in the gallery.
After seeing the Uros we went to an island out in the lake called Tequile. Approaching it in the boat revealed extensive terracing and when we docked and walked up to a small village we were treated to a fabulous lunch of grilled trout and some examples of the island way of life. The people there live in a communal fashion with everybody contributing to the common good. The women spin wool from alpaca and sheep and the men are excellent knitters. They live and dress in a very traditional way and little has changed for them over the years. Their lives are supported by agriculture and now by tourism.
Then it was back to Puno for dinner and rest and tomorrow we are off to Cusco.