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Kokopelli's Travels
Lagoon 37 catamaran--liveaboard cruising http://picasaweb.google.com/kokopelli37/
Patience is a Virtue
Liz
04/16/2012, West Lemmon Cays, San Blas, Panama

While anchored in the West Lemmons, I took a trip into Panama City with a fellow cruiser while Alan stayed behind and watched the boats. We arranged the trip to the mainland in a launcha that took us to Carti Tupile. The launcha ride took 30 minutes and we arrived ashore surprisingly dry. When we arrived there, the driver we had arranged was no where to be found and we watched other jeeps come and go bring folks in and out. After about 45 minutes, Carol phoned our driver and, with somewhat broken communications, managed to learn that SOMEONE was coming, but not the driver we'd arranged. About 1 1/2 hours later, another driver showed up and took the two of us, along with 3 Kunas, into Panama City for $25 each. The ride takes a winding route through the jungle--up and down steep hills. In the dry season, this ride was fairly routine with some beautiful scenery, but I can imagine that in the rainy season, it could be much more exciting as there were some washed out sections even in this dry season. We arrived in time for Carol's appointment and were able to run all sorts of errands for provisions, spear fishing supplies, 6V batteries for another cruiser, medicine for another cruiser, etc. We enjoyed a nice, luxurious meal in the city. The following morning, our jeep driver arrived at 5:30 a.m. This time it was yet another driver and not the one we'd organized. We'd asked our scheduled driver if it would be possible to stop for coffee. He agreed, but this new driver--although he seemed to be aware of the request--never stopped, but headed straight back to Kuna Yala. We arrived back at Carti Tupile at 7:45 a.m., but this time our launcha was no where to be found. The air was completely still and the no-see-ums were out in force. Unfortunately, neither of us had bug spray. We waited for about 45 minutes and then I phoned Miguel on Isla Elephante. Again, in a somewhat broken communication, we managed to learn that the launcha was coming--and had either left 20 minutes ago or would be leaving in 20 minutes. The launcha arrived about an hour later. HOWEVER, we weren't leaving...we would be waiting until another jeep arrived from the city with more tourists for Isla Elephante. Sigh...patience helps. By 11:30 a.m., we were back aboard our respective boats, but exhausted from the whirl-wind journey to the big city.

Internet in Paradise
Liz
04/09/2012, West Lemmon Cays, San Blas, Panama

When mid-April approaches, it's time to think about doing our taxes and to do that, we need internet access. So, we sailed the 3 hours from the Holandes Cays over to the West Lemmons where there is a satellite internet setup with 3 hard-wired connections powered by solar panels. Isla Elephante in this island group has a small bar and provides many services for cruisers in addition to the internet including propane fills, moorings for folks leaving their boats for a short period, trash disposal, gas or diesel shuttled over from a nearby island, and arranging of launchas (small boats) to take you to the mainland where you can get a jeep ride thru the jungle into Panama City. The cost of internet here is $3 per hour and, after several sessions, we successfully filed our taxes. It's good to have that behind us!

Adventures in Snorkeling
Liz
04/07/2012, Swimming Pool Anchorage, San Blas, Panama

Life aboard is good as we get to snorkel every day--sometimes twice per day! We have found several "new" sites this year that are exciting and different. One of the sites is an intricate series of caves and caverns that leads to the outer reef of the Holandes Cays. For this snorkel, access is tricky and you must weave your way toward the outer reef--dodging shallow sand bars and scattered coral heads. Closer to the reef, the depths increase with some nice sandy patches for anchoring the dinghy. A "slot canyon" with large overhangs and deep caves leads out to the edge of the outer reef. When the winds and seas are up, snorkeling this site would be impossible. But when the weather is calm, as it has been recently, this is a GREAT experience. The canyon is about 4 feet wide at the top with lots of different corals at the surface. About 4' down, the slot opens up with large overhangs and huge caves. When diving down, there are tons of fish--including some nice "dinner sized" snapper, an occasional nurse shark, and other creatures, like lobsters and HUGE bearded fireworms. (Typically, the fireworms are about 3-4" long, but in this canyon, they are 10-14" long and perhaps bigger.) If you are brave, you can dive down and swim thru a cave and up into another opening (or "vent") in the reef for another breath of air. The first time into another portion is a bit intimidating as you can see the light, but you have to hope that the opening is big enough to poke your head out! Luckily I sink when I let out my air as one of the small openings was just big enough for my head and snorkel to poke out, but not wide enough for my shoulders. This meant that I had to breathe out and "sink" without doing the typical jackknife type dive to dive down in order to get back out again. Another of the sites is called "the waterfalls" by the cruisers here. At this site--again on the outer reef and accessible only in calmer conditions--the waves crashing into the outer reef spray high into the air and come over an overhang with a nice air pocket. Swimming against the current created by the crashing surf (the waves crash here even in calm conditions as the seas on the outer reef are always running 3-5' even when the winds are dead calm), you dip under the surface so your snorkel clears the overhanging ledge and come up into the air pocket. As the waves crash on the reef, the water rushes over the overhang creating a thunderous roar and a beautiful waterfall that you are looking at from the "inside". It's always a good idea to have a "look" into the small cave created by the overhang before going "in" as the day we did it, there was a large nurse shark resting on the bottom--wouldn't want to inadvertently sit on it! And, of course, we have continued our night snorkel excursions since the first experience was so fantastic. Last night we had a glorious night snorkel under a full moon. We saw octopus, tons of lobsters--including a slipper lobster, several eels out--many free swimming, spider crabs, along with urchins, sea cucumbers, and brittle stars out "walking". One of the other divers came up and nearly bumped into a huge sea turtle--scaring herself and it so much that it actually "jumped" out of the water making a huge splash! This night snorkeling has become a "tradition" with a 'raft-up' of dinghies with hot chocolate spiked with rum, Baileys, or some other spirit and a snack--last night we had chocolate chip brownies and banana bread. It's a tough life, but someone's gotta do it.

04/12/2012 | Karen and Ralph
Hi guys! Wish we were there! Sounds like the weather has finally improved too. Now I want to come back and try out those reefs, have fun!
Night Snorkeling
Liz
03/29/2012, Central Holandes, San Blas, Panama

A couple of nights ago, we had a "night time" excursion to snorkel on a near by reef. After the afternoon snorkel to the outer reef, we stopped along the way back to the boats to set a large fender on an anchor to mark the shallow reef for the night dive so we could find it again in the darkness. Each dinghy prepared a thermos of hot chocolate and brought along some rum or cognac to add in after the snorkeling. We set out just after sunset and anchored near the marker buoy. We waited about 10 minutes for the darkness to settle over us and everyone slipped into the water with their dive lights. At night, the reefs are alive with creatures that remain hidden during the daytime. We saw several lobsters out walking, including a slipper lobster, eels, tons of brittle stars crawling over the reefs and about a dozen toadfish (Sapo Bacon). It was incredible! After circumnavigating the shallow patch reef, we returned to the dinghies and rafted up to enjoy the spiked hot chocolate and some banana bread and chocolates with the moon glow on the water.

Elegance in Paradise
Liz
03/23/2012, Central Holandes, San Blas, Panama

The typical day for us often ends with a happy hour celebration of the sunset. Sometimes we join with other cruisers on the beach to enjoy cocktails and snacks and burn trash. Other times the happy hour may be aboard a fellow cruiser's boat. When attending any sort of happy hour, folks bring a snack to share--often nuts, cheese & crackers, or other simple snacks--and whatever they want to drink. Drinks are often beer in a coozie or a rum drink or wine in a plastic "sippy cup". This week we attended an couple of amazingly sophisticated happy hours aboard our friend Carol's catamaran. In lieu of the typical "bring your own drinks and snacks", she completely hosted the happy hour for all! The first experience included champagne in real GLASS flutes in which a preserved hibiscus flower was added. The bubbles in the champagne bubbled thru the flower and slowly opened the bloom. The "snacks" weren't the typical happy hour fare--there were dolmades, bacon wrapped water chestnuts and pineapple chunks, hummus, olive tampenade, etc. AMAZING! The second happy hour was a "martini party" where Carol mixed lime drop martinis followed by 'crantinis'. This was a fabulous treat in real, crystal martini glasses! WOW! Who has that much glassware on their boats??

Net Control
Liz
03/18/2012, Esnasdup, San Blas, Panama

There is an Eileen Quinn song that many cruisers know called "Radio Widow". This song talks about how usually one person seems to get "into" the HF radio aboard--participating in morning "nets" and sending email, etc. There are multiple nets for various regions and various purposes throughout the world. Many of these nets are conducted on the SSB for which there are minimal licensing requirements-- particularly for the ship's station when transmitting in foreign countries and a general radio operators license which is basically good for life. However, to REALLY open yourself up for another whole slew of nets, you need to get your HAM license (general class or above). Some of these HAMs are pretty serious folks and there was even a MORSE CODE net--can you imagine...listening to dits and dahs before coffee in the morning and trying to make sense of it? Some people love it! And, there are nets that run 24/7, so you could theoretically listen and talk--using up endless amp hours all day long!! Here in the San Blas Islands of Panama, there are 3 main nets folks listen to in the morning--8 a.m. Caribbean Breakfast Club (HAM), 8:15 a.m. Southwest Caribbean Net (SSB), and 8:30 a.m. Panama Connection Net (SSB). Basically, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., your day is booked with a standing appointment for all of these nets--emergency/medical traffic, weather, tracking folks & talking to far away vessels that can't be reached on VHF radio, questions/info, buy-sell-trade items. To me, the HF radio has been a way to keep track of other cruisers you are trying to meet up with or to track friends on their passages. It is a source of weather, and now, with the Pactor modem, the ability to get text emails and weather grib files. It was really a "tool" and not a "toy". With our first cruising mentors, we used to tease each other that some day we'd be "net control"--the guy who runs the net, recognizes the boats calling in, and lets them run their traffic. The net control person tries to keep "order" on the net so it doesn't become a free-for-all. I can honestly say that I certainly thought I would never be a net control. Sigh. After operating as the weather person on the Panama Connection Net for Sundays, I got graciously forced into taking over as net control when Lila, the previous controller, returned to the US for the rest of the season. Now I'm the radio "geek" and Alan is the radio widower.

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