Rio Chargres, Panama
24 March 2007 | Lat 09 19'N, Long 80 00'W
Greetings from Silkie. We have made progress South since our report of February 2007. At that time, we were on the Rio Dulce, at Mario's Marina, having an easy time living the marina life complete with a pretty good marina restaurant, reasonable prices, access to "town," that being Fronteras, Guatemala, where fresh vegetables are available as is transportation to other places. We were awaiting a package from the States which contained aluminum end pieces for the two top Harken batt cars which attach the top of the mailsail to the mast, one of which had broken. Being in the hurry that we Americans are famous for, we were frustrated that the package had not arrived in Fronteras but was still in Guatemala City and we had no confidence that it would be delivered in Fronteras any time soon so we did the obvious: we haired a taxi and drove the three hours to the Fed Ex office in Guatemala City. Shall we say, it was an expensive trip but well worth it as we did extract our package from Fed Ex , had an interesting ride there and back (surviving intact) and ate lunch at a McDonalds in G. City. Why McDonald's you ask??? Because I wanted to see if a Big Mac in Central America is like a Big Mac in Washington, NC. Well. It isn't. They have taken all the "zing" out of the "special sauce" and it was bland and uninteresting. Don't say I didn't warn you. Now having the necessary materials at hand, we made the repair with surprising little difficulty considering that our mainsail is VERY HEAVY and we had to detach it from each and every batt car before we could replace the damaged one. On February 24 we refueled at the Esso Station in Fronteras (diesel about $2.85/gal) and proceeded down the Rio to Livingston for checkout. Our next destination was the Bay Islands of Honduras, specifically the eastern island, Guanaja. The overnight trip, as is usual for this leg, was directly into the wind and the seas were very confused so we stopped in French Harbor, Roatan (the middle of the three Bay Islands) for an overnight rest and left early the next morning for Guanaja, the most easterly of the Bay Islands. While we were in French Harbor we found that we had to pay $3 to leave our dink at the Roatan Yacht Club dingy dock (not so last year). We later learned that a few days after we left the owner of the yacht club restaurant was murdered. So goes life in the islands.
Our trip east from Roatan to Guanaja (about 30 miles) was still into the wind but uneventful and we anchored in The Bight, the same place where we had stayed a very pleasant two + weeks last year. This year, the boat crowd was mostly monohulls and they seemed not interested in us "whole boat' people but we did have a pleasant time with two cats, one of whom we saw again in Bocas, down the line a ways. Our progress towards Panama was delayed a bit by weather, with strong E, then N winds in the anchorage and the accompanying high seas followed by a unusual wind from the west that lasted at least 36 hours, a phenomena that occurs occasionally after a cold front passes through. Two boats left Guanaja the day the cold front was to come through, despite warnings from other cruisers there, and within about 10 miles turned back when one of them developed a crack in the hull and was taking on water (high seas may do that to you). The second boat accompanied the first to a bay on the mainland and they took shelter there. We heard later that the damaged boat made it to La Ceiba and was undergoing repairs. The next day a mono and a cat left going east. The mono returned after making no progress in four hours but the cat got successfully to the next stop, the Vivorillos . Five of us (four monos and us) left the third day and whereas the other four stopped in The Vivorillos , we continued on to Bocas del Toro, Panama, three overnights later.
It was very nice to see Bocas again. Last year we spent a few weeks there at the Bocas Marina and it was there that we made the decision to sell Morning Star and buy a cat. Bocas is booming. New construction. Land prices going through the roof. The possibility of a 3000 gal/hr water desalination plant going in. Maybe a little cleaner trash-wise then before. We visited again with Camryka and Bold Venture, friends we met last year. It was great to see them again. Mary and Carl/Camryka have bought a hectare of land in Dolphin Bay (about 10 miles from Bocas by water only) and are building a dock and house there. What a gorgeous view they will have! We toured the chocolate farm just down the bay from their land and saw what a beautiful place you can have if you work really hard at it. Then a first for us: we actually left the boat and traveled by plane and then taxi, to Boquete, a small town in the mountains on the south side of the continental divide. Cool, delightful air, beautiful mountains, coffee coffee coffee all around, trees you would not believe including groves of giant eucalyptus and colorful flowers (especially bougainvilleas) everywhere. We took: a coffee tour (plantation, coffee processing plant, roasting plant) that was very informative (do you know that Panama produces some of the best coffee in the world?); a mountain tour by truck through the coffee plantations and the vegetable farms; a Tree Trek outing which included a drive up a steep mountain in a four wheel (or was it a six wheel) drive vehicle straining all the way, then zipping down a succession of thirteen cables from one giant tree across the valley to another giant tree. Lots of gringos moving there and to other parts of Panama, encouraged by the climate, the cost of living and the enticements of the Panama government which offers tax and other incentives. Check it out.
After 13 days in Bocas the itch to move got to us and we set out for Colon and the Panama Canal via the small island of Escudo de Veraguas (where we stayed for three hours, made a $20 "contribution" to the local chief, got our anchor chain stuck around a small coral head, got unstuck after John dove on it and figured out how to move the boat to get us free), then overnight to the Rio Chagres, just seven miles short of Colon and the Canal. So here we are, anchored a few miles up the Rio Chagres beside a delightful English couple in their 49 ft Najad and it is so quiet, so peaceful. The only sounds are the roar (yes roar) of howler monkeys and calls of birds. There are supposed to be crocs around here but neither we nor our neighbors have seen any yet. This river dead ends a few miles further on at the dam which holds back Lake Gatun and makes the lake water available for the operation of the Canal. We are on the very river that at one time was the pathway for the thousands who went from the eastern US to the gold fields of California via boat to this river, then overland on the Panama Railroad, then by boat to California. And before that, this was the pathway for Peruvian gold on its way from South America to Spain. Lots of history here. Those people were made of sterner stuff then I. I'm only glad that I can read about it and did not have to live it. Thank you very much.
So from here we will go to Shelter Bay Marina, located across the shipping lanes from Colon, there will be joined by our friends the Mazers, then through the Canal. We will let you all know when we expect to do that and tell you how to see this happen on web cam. Please keep your fingers crossed for our safe passage through the Canal, the probability of which is fairly high but not certain.
Till next time.
Susan and the other one, S/V Silkie