A Trip Home

I left Bocas del Toro just over three weeks ago for a visit home, and have been on a whirlwind tour of family, friends, shopping and eating since landing in the U.S. My journey began with an hour long flight to Panama City, and some great views from my window.

The coastline gave way to hills and then more populated areas, and as we approached Panama City, I caught sight of the Panama Canal through the haze (at the top of the photo).

I landed at the domestic airport, and my next flight was out of the international airport. Not wanting to miss my flight due to heavy traffic, I chose to spend the night at a hotel. My friendly cab driver, Willie, dropped me off, promising to fetch me at 5:30am the next morning, to beat traffic. After checking in, I decided that the neighborhood was not one I’d like to explore for food on my own, so I settled for a dinner of bottled water and pretzels.

Willie was waiting for me bright and early (or should I say dark and early) the next morning, and I easily arrived at the airport, checked my bags and went through security. With that done, I purchased two bottles of water and headed to my gate, only to have to go through security…..all over again!

At each gate, passengers again pass through metal detectors (after taking off  shoes, belt, etc.), have their body “wanded” and carry-on bags x-rayed. And, there are no liquids allowed! Seriously?? I’d just went through all of this 300 feet earlier, what could I have made or bought in that time that would endanger the flight? I had to throw out both bottles of sealed water…$8.00 in the trash.

So now I was trapped in the gate area. Of course I was welcome to leave and get a drink, food or use the bathroom, but I’d have to go back through security again, and the line had gotten extensive. Once aboard the plane, we were promised the usual beverage service and a breakfast sandwich. Great! I was thirsty and hungry, as my pretzel dinner had long worn off.

Unfortunately, there was considerable turbulence for the first part of our flight. So much so that the flight attendants were told to sit down and strap in. I was less worried about the turbulence, and more worried about dying from dehydration. Finally, two hours into our four hour flight, we were served a small sandwich and a drink, in the usual tiny cup. I managed to get a refill, and when I headed back to use the restroom, asked for still more water.

After a stop in Atlanta, I landed in Baltimore and headed to my sister’s house, in Annapolis. Sally and her dog Cooper were there to greet me.

It was great to see her, and my brother-in-law, catch up and relax a bit. The weather was gorgeous, and I enjoyed a walk around town; sailing capital of the world, and home of the U.S. Naval Academy.

While taking photos of the mooring field, I did a double take. For a second, I thought Scott and Howard had come to meet me!

Look familiar?? Another 42′ Krogen was enjoying some time in Annapolis.

After sleeping off my two days and three flights, I met our friends Kirk and Gisela for lunch. They are our cruising “mentors,” having spent 15 years circumnavigating the globe on their sailboat. We have learned so much from their experiences, and have soaked up as much information as possible from them. We spent hours catching up, as I relayed all that we’d experienced over the past year.

Then it was up to Baltimore, where I made several stops for lunch, drinks and dinner over the next few days, before joining my football gang for the Baltimore Ravens home opener. I walked to meet them for breakfast, happy to be back in the land of row homes and roof top decks.

We arrived at our seats in time for the pregame festivities, commemorating 9/11, and then cheered the team on to a win. It wasn’t glamorous, but a win’s a win!

After a fun, but long day of football festivities, I drove almost three hours south, to my parents’ farm in Virginia. This time of year, the field corn waiting to be harvested makes it hard to spot the driveway!

It was so good to see my parents and spend time…and, to get some proper produce!

We loaded up on corn and tomatoes at the local stand, and Mom made crab cakes, with fresh back fin….de-lish!

Next, it was on to Ocean City, on Maryland’s eastern shore, where my college roommate and I worked thirty years ago (Nancy flew in to go with me)! I have stayed in close touch with the family I worked for, and had a fun time visiting my OC family and friends.

After just a night at the beach, Nancy and I headed back to Baltimore, where I celebrated turning fifty! Nancy surprised me, by having our other roommate, Amy, drive in from Pittsburgh to celebrate.

Friends I’ve known since kindergarten (aka, birth), high school, Baltimore roommates and friends I’ve met along the way gathered for a terrific evening of fun and reminiscing. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate 50 years!

My friend, Steve, has mastered the steel drum over the past few years, and plays with several people at locations all over the area from May through September. He happened to be playing nearby, and I took the opportunity to take some friends and surprise him. Steve is now quite the musician, and we thoroughly enjoyed the music, as well as his witty banter back and forth with the crowd.

Since I’d seen my Ravens play, it was now time for an evening of baseball. I met my friend, Dan, just outside of Camden Yards; Dan and I were roommates for nine years (yes, nine!). We had a great night together watching the Orioles. Unfortunately, my birds weren’t as lucky as my Ravens, and we lost to the Boston Red Sox. However, I still have fingers crossed that they’ll manage to get to the post season!

I traveled to see my friends Bruce and Hallie, and their family, who live just outside of Philadelphia. Bruce made us an awesome Indian feast, and as always, their children Colin and Lizzie kept me entertained. On the way back to Baltimore, I stopped for a quick visit with some of Scott’s family, who were at Scott’s mother’s house. After time with my equally entertaining niece and nephew, I continued back to Baltimore.

Scott and I spent a year at Henderson’s Wharf Marina, before leaving for our journey. We loved the marina’s location, in the historic Fells Point neighborhood, and met many great friends there. I spent a night and then next morning visiting, and stayed over with friends on their boat. The weather was beautiful, and I enjoyed the views from L pier, where we were docked, of the harbor and Under Armor’s world headquarters across the way.

While I’ve been heading in all directions here, Scott and Howard are having plenty of “guy” time in Bocas. Scott usually can’t hold Howard too long without getting chewed on. Howard goes into play mode, since he and Scott are adversaries in epic battles. Scott complains about this, and also comments that Howard doesn’t sleep with us at night.

All of that has changed now that Scott is a “single parent.” Howard now tolerates much more holding (despite still having epic battles), and they are sleeping buddies at night, much to Scott’s dismay, as Howard sleeps on Scott….careful what you wish for!

I have just under two more weeks here at home, to soak up U.S. conveniences and more time with friends and family, before traveling back to life afloat! If interested, here are more photos of my visit home.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Exploring Bocas del Toro

The country of Panama is an isthmus (a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land), bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Bocas del Toro is located at the northwest end of Panama, near the border of Costa Rico.

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Bocas del Toro Province is made up of an island chain off the Caribbean coast, and a section of nearby mainland. The archipelago separates Almirante Bay from the Caribbean Sea, and is made up of 10 islands. It was originally dubbed “the Galapagos of Panama” for its scores of biologically unique islands and islets. Our marina is on the main island of Isla Colon, where the capital, Bcocas Town is also located. The archipelago also includes 50 cays and some 200 tiny islets.

Not surprisingly, during the 17th century, the archipelago became a haven for pirates. They repaired ships on the islands, built others with wood from the forests and fed upon the many sea turtles in the area.

Gold was not plentiful in Bocas del Toro, so the Spaniards did not colonize the region with the same ruthlessness that was seen in other parts of Panama and the Caribbean.

From the 16th century to the mid-1800s, Bocas was little more than an uncharted frontier. Blazing sun, torrential rain, floods, bugs, landslides, and a plenty of feverish diseases made it pretty inhospitable (hmmm, aside from the landslides and diseases, sounds pretty familiar to us!). Later on, a little fishing village settled where Bocas Town is today.

Bocas town

In 1899, the United Fruit Company planted itself in Bocas town and over the next century that followed, it established vast plantations that stretched across the entire peninsula. Based in Bocas del Toro, the company rapidly expanded through Central and South America, constructing elaborate networks of roads, bridges and canals as well as entire towns and cities to house their workers.

However, one by one, plantations began to fall to a mysterious and deadly infection. “Panama disease” was a fungus that incubated in the soil and spread by floodwaters. By the 1920s, the banana plantations had died out.

During World War II, the Japanese cut off the world’s supply of abaca, which is used to make Manila hemp, the raw fiber in rope. Unable to tie their warships, the U.S. government enlisted the United Fruit Compnay to grow abaca on an industrial scale, and  Bocas del Toro was suddenly booming again.

Today, United Fruit is part of Chiquita Brands (based in Cincinnati), and their workers in Bocas del Toro Province grow and export three-quarters of a million tons of bananas annually.

Chiquita

Alright, enough historical tidbits….Now that the Aluminum Princess was in the water, and we’d made a dent in the to-do list, it was time for some exploring. Our first run was an hour-long ride along the shoreline of Bocas Town, just before sunset. Restaurants, hotels and homes in all conditions are crammed together, many  built entirely over the water.

Carenero Island is just off of Isla Colon, and Bocas Town, so we took a spin past that shoreline next.

While perusing the piers of Marina Carenero (because Scott never tires of looking at boats), we noticed this interesting tenting over a boat having work done. It strapped right to the pier, providing a sturdy structure for the work being done inside.

On the other side of the island, as we motored close to some over-water houses, Scott caught sight of a Maryland registration sticker on a small sailboat that has seen better days; neglected boats make him sad.

A few days later we took a longer ride, heading around the corner from the marina and over to the small settlement of Saigon, which backs up to the far side of Bocas Town. Most all of these houses sit over the water, in all shapes and sizes.

Next it was on to Starfish Beach. We actually didn’t see any starfish, just several interesting, low-key restaurants. We made a mental note for a future visit.

On our way back to the marina, we enjoyed views of the gorgeous clouds over the mountains of nearby Costa Rica.

Scott was concerned about leaving the Aluminum Princess in the water for days at a time, and set about devising a way to allow the bottom to dry. His answer? Tie off the bow of the Aluminum Princess to Sea Life’s windlass, lifting it out of the water and up toward the pier. From there, Scott gave it a good heave, and hauled her out. It’s quite a sight, but it works.

While I am visiting friends and family at home, Scott has plans for day-long excursions in the area. Here are many more photos of our first days exploring the waters of Bocas del Toro.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Bocas Town

Our marina is just a hop, skip and a jump from Bocas Town. We’re at the bottom left of this photo, out of sight.

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Being so close makes it convenient for us to go into town for groceries, hardware store items and such. Bocas Town is a low key place, with lots of artsy stores, neat restaurants and people of all types. There is little traffic overall, and sidewalks begin and end, so most people just walk in the street…with or without shoes.

The marina’s water taxi schedule brings us in town midday to run errands, dropping us at a pier right off of the main street.

Our first two weeks here were mostly grey and rainy, making our trips to town sometimes wet, but cool. The last ten days have been much more sunny, and brutally hot (the intensity of the sun here is no joke)! Luckily, we’ve discovered The Pub. It has great margaritas, nice views and a cool breeze in the afternoon as we wait for our taxi back to the marina.

I think we’ve been in nearly every hardware store here, as Scott searches for this and that, while working through his to-do list. They’re packed with inventory, and hot, hot, hot inside. I usually choose to wait outside while Scott shops, to avoid bursting into a soaking sweat. The salespeople often wait on two or more customers at once, which is terribly frustrating to Scott (we also have this problem in grocery stores).

 

Many things catch our eye when we’re in town. One day Scott spied this tiny, clown-car-type work van, making him feel like a giant.

Another day, we noticed what Scott called an above ground dog cemetery…did I mention that it’s hot?

I spied a bit of home when we stopped into Toro Loco, a local expat hangout; Baltimore proudly represented…Go Ravens!

The last marina taxi goes into town at 5pm, and we’ve ventured in once or twice for dinner, when the temperature is much more tolerable. Many more small eateries are open, and the delicious smell of grilled meat is in the air. Most restaurants don’t start to fill up for dinner service until after 8pm, when sounds of music and conversation blurr between the open air seating of waterfront restaurants.

During the day, we’ve discovered a few places with early happy hour specials, giving us a chance to grab an affordable bite before heading back to the marina with our bags of groceries and hardware (there are many backpackers in Bocas, so no one looks twice when you enter a restaurant loaded down with backpacks and bags in tow).

My biggest shock of our cruising journey so far?? Scott choosing to order a sushi special! He proudly picked up a roll with his hand, and applied wasabi to it with a chopstick before shoving it into his mouth.

And, he’s up for eating it again. Will wonders never cease…I cannot even imagine what could top that.

Here are many more photos of our sights and scenes in Bocas Town. (Don’t forget, for those of you who aren’t Google Photo familiar, click on the first photo and scroll through, using arrows that appear to the right and left of the photos. Click on the “i” at the top right corner of photos, to see my rambling comments.)

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scenes From Bocas Marina

Our current home here in Bocas del Toro is in a slip at Bocas Marina. Thanks to the Island Plantation website, for providing a great overview. Our marina is just across the water from Bocas Town, but unfortunately there is no road through the clump of trees that stands between us and the rest of the island.

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So, like most everyone else in the area, we rely on water taxis to get to town. The marina offers a free ride four times a day, which is great, and it’s only five minutes from pier to pier.

It’s relatively quiet here, as many cruisers leave their boats and travel home for hurricane season. The long-term liveaboards here have been very friendly and helpful, with suggestions on where to eat and how to find this and that (hardware, propane, etc.).

Many things are brought to Bocas del Toro, and the marina, from David (pronounced Da-veed). Someone makes the nine hour round trip 2-3 times a week, bringing back whatever is needed or wanted (oil for diesel motors, potting soil, mint…yes, it isn’t sold here on the island; basil, but no mint). It’s not a short hop, but much closer than the 20 hour round trip drive to Panama City. Scott decided to send our alternator out to David for repair, as we had no luck with it in Cancun.

The Calypso Cantina bar here serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a low-key place, that sits on the end of the peninsula, near the pier that leads out to the fuel dock.

Most days, it’s pretty darned quiet at the cantina, but on Friday, they fire up the big grill for barbecue night. Steaks, burgers and pizza are some of the featured items on the menu, and it’s standing room only for grilled food and live music.

Scott and I are addicted to the pizza, with it’s homemade herb crust, roasted veggies, and fresh mozzarella and basil..delish! Each Friday, a different selection of desserts are offered. Last week, I had a hazelnut torte that was the best sweet treat I’d had since the Sugarbakers cake I had shipped to Key West in December (yes, I had it shipped there. I’m telling you, the stuff is awesome).

Every Saturday morning, the “veg” boat arrives. It’s a convenient way for us to load up on some produce, without having to haul it back from town.

The boat is supposed to come at 9am, but island time is never firm, so Scott and I usually grab a seat near the water, and enjoy the view while we wait.

Howard loves veg boat day too, when he gets to enjoy a good chew on a pineapple top.

The water here isn’t very clear at first glance, having more of a murky, green hue to it, but the visibility looking down from the docks is surprising. I’m always amazed at what I can easily see in the shallow waters near the fuel dock.

Icky things bob around in the deeper water.

We pulled into our slip here, so the cockpit offers a view out toward town.

Many different forms of boats go by, with people using all types of paddles. The ladies below are paddling an inflatable, rigid bottom dinghy..minus the inflatable part (they’re sitting at what would be the bow).

This group has lost motor power, so have gone to rowing…with whatever is handy (notice the man in front, using a 2×4). The young boy seems to have the job of figure head.

Scott is in love with the many long, long, long pangas that travel back and forth.

We’ve done a lot of cleaning and maintenance projects while attached to the pier. I have cleaned and washed every inch inside, including walls, ceilings and blinds. The contents of every cabinet, drawer and closet has been emptied out and cleaned, allowing a check for leaks, mold or bugs; so far so good!

A fresh coat of deck paint was applied, especially exciting for me. The before and after was so satisfying!

We enjoyed some lobster for dinner, purchased from a local man who rowed up to our cockpit in his canoe (Scott hasn’t had a chance to scout the area for fish and lobster options yet). $20.00 for four, not a bad deal.

 

Getting on and off Sea Life has been challenging, as our finger pier resembled something out of a fun house. Notice the almost 45 degree slant.

Thankfully, the pier was recently repaired. It’s not completely level, but a huge improvement and much appreciated. It had been a hard go for me, with height-challenged legs.

After a few weeks of boat work, Scott finally lowered the Aluminum Princess down into the water, in preparation for her many explorations while here in Bocas. She sits in an open slip, right across from ours.

So we are settled in here, and are all three enjoying our stay!

Here are more photos of the scenes from Bocas Marina.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

 

 

Clearing Into Panama…Break Out Your Wallet!

After tying into our slip the marina staff promptly called the various officials to come clear us in, and we were told that it would be at least an hour before they arrived. However, just thirty minutes later, they were knocking on our door(Luckily, we managed to put fresh, dry clothes on. Tying up in the heat has us soaked through)!

Four officials boarded the boat, and representatives from the port captain’s office, immigration, customs and agriculture took a seat in our saloon. The port captain spoke the best (really, the only) English, and was primarily there to inform us as to what the rest needed.

He began by saying that they were offering us the “service” of coming out to our boat. Hmmm, “service.” The only two who actually needed to come on board were the customs and agriculture officials. We were still expected to visit the port captain and immigration offices to register the boat, so they saved us no time by coming aboard. It smelled of a way to get some extra cash (ie, a tip), but this didn’t surprise us and we weren’t up for arguing.

As soon as they were settled, Howard came to greet them. He jumped onto the table and right into the face of the woman from immigration, who was obviously not a cat person (why do animals always seem to sniff these people out??). She recoiled and froze, as if someone had thrown a rattlesnake in front of her. The men from customs and immigration, however, were fascinated with Howard, and tried to coax him closer for some petting. Of course, he wasn’t interested in them, only in agitating the immigration woman, who was already not a friendly person.

The port captain didn’t do anything while aboard but translate, which was definitely useful. For this, he handed us a receipt for $20.00; “overtime” service for coming to the boat. It was 11:30 am on a Monday, in who’s world is that overtime??

Madam Friendly stamped our passports, with a written expiration date of 48 hours. We were expected to see her at the immigration office within that time, to pay $105.00 each for 90 days in the country. So what exactly was the $25.00 service fee for??

She conveniently didn’t have a receipt on hand, for the $25.00 “fee.” The port captain relayed that we’d get the receipt at her office. This excuse seemed sketchy, but since we still had to deal with her, we held our tongues.

The agricultural official was hardly interested in the food we had onboard, unlike the close scrutiny we’d had in Mexico. He barely glanced in the refrigerator, waved off looking in the freezer (Scott’s biggest worry area), and briefly looked into one galley cabinet, before declaring us good.

This man was also responsible for clearing Howard. He watched Howard’s agitating antics toward Madam Friendly, and deemed him healthy and fine (maybe as an “atta boy!”). We were handed a receipt of his “services,” in the amount $35.00.

The customs agent was the most thorough, walking through the entire boat with Scott. He opened all drawers and closets, and inquired about liquor. Scott replied that we had “a few bottles” on board, and quickly shifted the man’s attention elsewhere. Unlike Mexico, where there was a thorough investigation of our engine room and motor, this man didn’t go below, or check any compartments under the floor. When through, he handed us a receipt for his $20.00 service.

So now we, Howard and the boat’s contents were cleared in, that just left the boat itself. We were now allowed to raise the Panamanian flag.

The next day, we headed to the port captain’s office in town, to register Sea Life. We dealt with a different port captain, who had us fill out the same form Scott had completed the day before..arrgh! The man was very friendly and helpful, as the two worked together to complete the form. The captain assisted Scott with filling in the Spanish blanks, and Scott helped him with the details of our boat information.

The subject of how to categorize our boat took some time, which seemed strange. As we travel farther south, most everyone assumes that we are on a sailboat. Sea Life is a powerboat, but  compared to those found in the U.S., she leans more toward a sailboat in speed and seaworthiness. However, the port captain didn’t know any of this, and seemed confused by us being on a powerboat, especially one that had come from so far away.

Scott  handed him our boat card, with a photo of Sea Life, thinking it would help. After much hemming and hawing, and discussion with others in the office, we were classified as a sailboat on some of the paper work, and a yacht on other areas. When all was said and done, we handed over $185.00 , and Sea Life was registered for one year.

Next, we made our way to the airport, in the pouring rain, to see Madame Friendly. The port captain had called ahead for us, to make sure that she’d be there, and not away for lunch. We were told that she was waiting, but when we arrived, soaked from our ten minute walk in the rain, she was leaving her office. Pointing to her watch, we were told to be back at 2:00; it was just after 1:30.

Instead of walking back to town to kill time, in the rain, we decided to settle in and wait for her return. At 2:15, we wondered how much longer she’d be, and discussed leaving. She finally showed just before 2:30, and we waited another 15 minutes before she called Scott into her office.

After filling out more paperwork, Scott  handed over $210.00, which cleared us for 90 days. However, I will be traveling home to Baltimore for a visit (I am thrilled to spend time with family and friends. I’m a people person, and miss my people!), which puts a wrench in the works…so she says.

She claimed that once I leave Panama, the $105.00 fee will have to be paid again on my return, even though I’ll be traveling within our 90 days. This rule really smelled bad to us, and I hope that when I actually fly back, that it isn’t the case. Everyone we’ve talked to about our experiences with Madame Friendly confirms my nickname for her…and then some.

After a full day of offices and officials, and a running total of $495.00, we were officially temporary Panamanian citizens. Our travels in Panama will include the San Blas Islands, where we understand that there will be more fees to pay. Welcome to Panama, please open your wallet!

For now, we’re settled in at Bocas Marina. The Panamanian courtesy flag flies in our rigging, which is dwarfed by the gaggle of sail boat masts around us. We’re proudly short, fat and different!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”