Our First Visitor!!

Not long after we began our journey, and were spending the month of December in Key West, Florida, several friends visited us during our stay; a quick, easy trip, no customs and warm weather.

Of course, we had a great time with everyone who came to Key West, but we’ve been anxious to have visitors during our travels through Mexico and Central America. While these locations aren’t as developed with resorts, or easy to get to as more familiar locations in the Eastern Caribbean, the towns and anchorages we’ve been to, and their gorgeous surroundings are not to be missed.

We also looked forward to having friends on board, so they could experience a bit of our life at anchor. To date, we’ve been alone on our journey aboard Sea Life, but that was finally about to change!

Our friend Karen contacted us, wanting to visit in February, and I excitedly pitched her the idea of meeting us here in the San Blas. Aside from my sister, Sally (who has traveled on her own to many far-reaching locations, including New Zealand, Thailand, and most recently Antarctica), Karen is one of the most adventurous people we know, so I was sure she’d be up for the adventure. As expected, she jumped right on board with the idea, and would be our first “official” visitor!

Karen’s journey began with a flight to Panama City, where she took a day to explore a bit. Our friend and provisioning master, Emilio, arranged for Karen to see some historic sites of Panama City, as well as a visit to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama canal.

The next morning, Emilo arrived at Karen’s hotel with a carload of provisions for us. Karen had arrived with two bags in tow, completely filled with items we’d requested and ordered from home, carrying  just a backpack of things for herself (and a pair of flippers). Her bags were loaded in with our provisions, and she and Emilio were off to meet Nacho, who would then drive Karen across the mountains to the Carti docks.

During the drive, Karen re-channeled her high school Spanish, and with a bit of Google Translate help, she and Nacho chatted (he remembered driving me…”Oh, the cat!). Along the way, they stopped for a priest and a young man who were walking on the side of the road, hoping for a ride. Nacho turned to Karen and said, “Miss Karen??” It was Karen’s paid ride, so it was her decision whether or not to let them in the car. Not wanting to say no to a priest, Karen gave her ok, and the two additional passengers hopped in.

Once at the dock, Nacho helped Karen find her panga, which we had pre arranged. There was some initial confusion as to which boat was hers, but finally all bags and provisions were loaded aboard one of the waiting boats. Karen would be brought out to us in the Robisons. It meant a short panga ride (20-30 minutes), and a chance to see the rural Guna villages.

We’d been in touch with Karen since she arrived in Panama City, and also along her journey over the mountains, so as the approximate arrival time for the panga drew near, we kept our eyes peeled.

The expected time passed, and then some more time passed…and then some more time. Eventually, our cell phone rang, and it was Karen (we were shocked to have enough signal to receive the call!). She informed us that the panga couldn’t find our boat among the others, and the men wanted to take her back to the dock…what?!?

Clearly, the panga was in the wrong location, as we were one of only five boats in the huge anchorage, and the only one that wasn’t a sailboat! Scott quickly began listing off the islands near us (using both “English” and Guna names for them), and also nearby rivers, hoping that the men on the panga would realize where they needed to go.

When that didn’t work, he went into navigational/survivalist mode, asking Karen questions, trying to find out where she was…”When you left the dock, did you head right or left?”…”From which side of the boat were the waves coming at you”… “What side of your face was the sun on?” This proved challenging for all involved. Karen now had us on speaker phone, and we could hear the men yelling back and forth at each other in frustration.

After talk of leaving her on the island where they currently were (wherever that was), we were finally able to communicate our location using Bradeo’s name (Scott’s village tour guide). We hoped that there was only one Bradeo (and that it wasn’t a name like “Joe”), and Karen would be headed in the right direction.

It wasn’t long before we spotted what had to be her panga on the horizon, and were soon unloading Karen, her bags and all of our provisions; her 20-30 minute ride had taken almost 90 minutes. After a bathroom break, and a cold beer, we took some time to relax before our friend Ted (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) came over in his dinghy to take us over for a walk through the largest village near us.

We were not permitted to take photos in the village, but enjoyed walking among the houses and saying hello to some of the Gunas. Our long day ended with dinner on board and an early night. Things were so crazy, I failed to get any photos of Karen’s arrival.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed back to the Holandes. The wind forecast was predicted to be perfect for Karen’s stay, so we were headed for the swimming pool anchorage. Unfortunately, during our short passage between the reefs, in open ocean swells, Karen became sea sick while trying to check emails (the price for working during vacation!). After emptying her stomach over board, she retired to the guest stateroom, to sleep it off.

We arrived to a fully cloudy, rainy afternoon in the swimming pool, which never happens! However, Scott spotted a Triggerfish under the boat, and decided on an alternate form of entertainment for amusing Karen. While she kept an eye on the fish, Scott set up one of my frozen lobster tails in the water for bait (great). He speared the large Trigger from our swim platform…dinner and a show!

The rains finally ended, and we were treated to an amazing, full rainbow over the anchorage, that faded and then brightened again for quite a long time…welcome to the San Blas, Karen.

Keeping the underwater show going, Scott next lowered the Triggerfish carcass into the water, to see what it might attract. Karen and I were relaxing up on the flybridge, when I noticed Howard in front of me, leaning over so far that he was practically hanging by his toes. I went to grab him, and realized that we had company in the water below.

Two blacktip reef sharks had turned up to sniff out our offering. Howard moved downstairs, and out onto the swim platform for a better look. We quickly squashed his fun, not wanting him to be the second course!

The sharks were sizeable, approximately six feet in length. They would bite at the carcass, but were easily scared off by seeing us above.

By dusk, a third shark had joined in, and we enjoyed a shark-filled sunset.

Check out our “friends” at the bottom of the photo.

Just before the sun set, one of the sharks finally mustered up enough courage to snatch the prize, and just as quickly as they came, they were gone.

The next morning was sunny and bright, and the swimming pool was living up to it’s name; the visibility was insanely clear. We were anchored in ten feet of water, and I could easily see right over the side of the boat, down to the sea floor below, which was littered with sand dollars, conch shells and other interesting stuff.

Karen joined us in the dinghy, as I passed out baked treats to our friends in the anchorage, who we hadn’t seen for awhile. By the time we were through, Venancio, the master mola maker was coming through in a panga. He came aboard, and Karen took time to choose some of his work to take home. Much to Scott’s chagrin, I bought another beautiful mola for myself.

It was now time for water play! Scott took Karen snorkeling on the reef behind our boat. He’d find interesting things to show her along the way, and also snagged some trinkets from to floor below us.

Next, Scott took Karen to the outer reef, for a change of scene.

Karen and I enjoyed some time “bobbing” on our water loungers, and watched a large yacht at the back of the anchorage lower one of their several tenders down into the water. If only the Aluminum Princess had it so smooth and easy going up and down!

I’d rallied a gathering for cocktails and sunset on one of the nearby island beaches, and we headed over to our waiting friends.

Our friends were very welcoming to Karen, as cruisers are, and we all enjoyed a great evening.

Another beautiful sunrise over the anchorage brought a plan to change location.

With the calm wind forecast, we decided show Karen the Coco Bandero Cays, it’s beautiful island views and my favorite beach. Before leaving, we were lucky enough to catch a veggie boat coming into the anchorage..who came to us first!!! We hadn’t seem them before, but were glad for the chance to stock up before leaving. Their daughter swam around the panga while we shopped, and then practiced her motor-starting skills.

With fresh produce on board, we left the anchorage, bound for the Cocos. Just around the corner, our friends Jon and Shannon (s/v Prism) came into view, on their way back to the pool. We waved and snapped photos of each other as our boats crossed paths.

Karen stayed off of the internet, escaped sea sickness and we  enjoyed the scenic ride to the Coco Bandero Cays.

The next day, Karen and I spent the afternoon on my favorite beach, while Scott went out to hunt the reef. We had the beautiful little island all to ourselves.

There were more snorkeling outings, and we also took a dinghy ride around the area, passing over some massive coral. Aside from that, our last day together was spent walking the islands’ beaches and bobbing in the water. We also introduced Karen to the official cruisers’ game of Mexican Train dominoes!

After the crazy panga ride to the Robisons, we arranged Karen’s return pick up through Nacho, thinking that using a Guna driver to set up a Guna panga would work better. We also assumed that Nacho would keep things on time, to avoid waiting at the docks for Karen.

Nacho informed us that a panga would be at the boat to pick Karen up, in the Cocos, at 6am on Sunday morning. Scott thought this suspect, as the sun doesn’t even come up until 6:30am, and the area is much too full of coral for a panga to come out any earlier, even for locals. We expected to see the ride arrive closer to 7:00.

Seven am came and went, so Scott and Karen made their way in the dinghy to the beach behind us, for a cell signal to contact Nacho (Seriously, on board…no signal at all…just behind us on the beach…terrific. The only thing in between us and the tower?…a spindly island. Scott’s convinced that the palm trees here must be lead-lined).

As soon as they left, our friend Ted (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) hailed us on the vhf radio. There was a panga alongside his boat, and he was fairly sure they were looking for Sea Life, and Karen. I was afraid to ask where Ted was anchored, fearing that it was hours away, but he replied that they were in the nearby Western Cocos…whew!

I relayed to Ted where we were, and thanked him for sending the panga in the right direction. Hearing all of this on the portable vhf, Scott and Karen were already headed back to the boat. Ten minutes later, she boarded her ride for the mainland.

In just over an hour, the appropriate time for a ride from the Cocos, Karen was back at the Carti dock with no issues, and on her way over the mountains with Nacho. Aside from having to stop and wait for Nacho to get his breakfast, her trip went smoothly, and she arrived at the airport in plenty of time for the flight home.

The crew on board Sea Life, including Howard, spent the rest of the day relaxing, and enjoyed another beautiful sunset.

So, I think all of the San Blas experience boxes were checked during Karen’s stay: seeing a Guna village; getting sea sick (could’ve skipped that); spearing fish; seeing sharks; eating fresh-caught lobster, fish and crab; snorkeling, hanging with cruisers at a beach gathering; bobbing; having a private beach day;  seeing a long-lasting, full rainbow on the water; purchasing molas, playing Mexican Train dominoes, buying food from a veggie boat and taking in lots of gorgeous views!

Karen quickly adapted to life at anchor with us during her visit, learning where things were, dealing with generator day, helping with laundry, tolerating Scott’s yes’s and no’s on board the boat (yes, you can take all the time you want choosing a beverage from the Engel cooler, but shut the refrigerator door immediately!), helping us prepare to get underway and  personally dealing with the Congresso, when they came for their monthly anchoring fee!

It was so great to see our friend, and have a “piece of home” on board for a bit. We greatly appreciate that Karen rose to the challenge of visiting us in such a remote location, and hope she survived to visit us again! Here are a few more photos.

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

 

 

 

Scott’s Trip To An Inland Guna Village

Guna villages have not always been located on the islands of the San Blas archipelago. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the small coral and mangrove estuaries of the San Blas were ideal for trade activities of the numerous pirates and traders operating in the region.

By the end of the 18th century when the days of piracy had passed, the Guna people slowly began to move from the protective cover of the jungle to the coastline, and by the middle of the 19th century, they started transferring their villages to the islands offshore.

The Guna Yala forest property extends for more than 1,250 square miles along the northeast corner of Panama’s Caribbean coast. There are still a few villages that exist in the jungles of the mainland forest, and near its rivers.

Gangandi, one of these villages, is relatively isolated, and one of Guna Yala’s poorest communities. It was not far from our anchorage in the Robison Islands, so Scott joined our friends Barbara and Ted (s/v Rosa dos Ventos), and two other cruisers for a tour. They were led by Bradeo, a local Guna who spent many years living in Panama City, before choosing to come back home to settle in the Robinsons.

Bradeo (with two “assistants” in tow) arrived to pick up everyone at their respective boats in an ulu, outfitted with loose boards across it to serve as bench seats. The group balanced on the unattached, wobbly boards as the ulu made a 45 minute ride through open water chop of the Bay of San Blas, then 25 minutes  up a canal once used  by the United Fruit Company to transport bananas, before finally going ashore.

The next leg of their journey involved a 3-4 mile hike to the village. Not long after going ashore, the group walked an old air strip, also used by the United Fruit Company. Previously paved in tar, the runway was large enough to accommodate jets and Scott has since spotted it on Google Earth.

They crossed a stream, noticing two small rails paralleling the wooden bridge across it; the remains of the United Fruit Company’s railroad tracks. The Gunas used these rails to transport  wheeled vehicles across the river, their tires rolling between the beams. Panama eventually built a bridge, to more easily transport construction materials for a new school.

The group continued on, following the wide dirt road through the jungle, eventually reaching the edge of the village.

They first came to the area where a new school was being built. Panama requires the schools to be built with cinder block and concrete.

Scott wasn’t sure it was worth the time, as the current school didn’t appear to be getting much use.

The group walked through the village, passing many homes, several small tiendas (stores) and the congreso building.

Men gather nightly in the congreso, to discuss local events and problems, make decisions on pressing matters and listen to the advice of the saila (Chief).

The saila sings the history, legends and laws of the Guna, and also sees over the day-to-day political and social affairs of the village. The songs are sung in a “higher” language, with specialized words, and are followed by an interpretation from one of the voceros (interpreters and counselors), in”everyday” Guna language..

The group was allowed inside the congreso building, to speak to the saila. Two other chiefs from nearby villages were visiting; a big event. The sailas were all laying in hammocks, and stayed put while talking to the group (occasionally leaning over to spit on the floor), while the voceros sat on surrounding wooden benches.

After their chat with the sailas, the group continue to walk the village. Photos were allowed, as long as the villagers were not in them. Of course, Scott found his way around the rule, and managed to stealthily take some photos, camera down at his side. His results were pretty good, capturing women hanging laundry, children at play and some “lazy” villagers napping in the sun.

On the far side of the village, the group made their way down a hill, to the Gangandi River. Ahead of them, scenic, mountain views; behind them, the village, all but hidden from view by the jungle trees.

Originally located along the banks of the river, the Gangandi village began to experience life-threatening floods during the rainy season, with waters rising to extreme record levels.

In 2010, the elders finally decided to make a move. They suspended hunting and gathering, and tending to their crops, to concentrate all efforts on the monumental task of moving their village from the low-lying river bank, to more steeply elevated land. Teams of men, women and children managed to complete the move within four months, but suspending their food-providing tasks took much longer to recover from.

Today, women and children gather at the river’s edge to collect gravel, which is used to make concrete for construction of the new school.

The gravel is bagged, then hauled (on their backs) to various area in the village, where it is spread out to dry.

The women are paid roughly a whopping $1.50 for every 50 pounds of gravel, with the money going to the village.

After returning from the river, and through the village, the group made their way back to the canal. Bradeo carried bananas and yucca with him for his family, back on the island village.

The group boarded their waiting ulu, and headed back to the Robinson anchorage. It had been a long, but very interesting day.

Here are more photos.

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

 

 

 

Visiting The Western San Blas

After Howard’s Panama City adventure, we headed back to the Eastern Holandes. We were told that Howard’s post-vet photo didn’t come through on my previous post. It can now been viewed, but here he is in all his shaved belly glory, just hours after returning from his adventure.

Our route took us past the Carti group of islands, most of which had densely populated villages. This overhead photo gives you a good idea of just how crowded they are.

I snapped pictures of the villages as we passed by, and of women paddling their ulus.

We moved father east, and chose to travel through the Lemmon Cays along the way, admiring the return of sandy, palm tree islands and beautiful blue water.

We were amused by these two little huts, smartly outfitted with both solar panels and a wind generator, and also a huge sailing yacht!

In four hours time, we were back in the “hot tub,” and delivered goodies from Panama City for our friends Tate and Dani (s/v Sundowner).

After some time with friends anchored in the area, we returned to Porvenier in early February to see Joe, for Scott’s passport renewal stamp.

My passport stamp date is now different from Scott’s, as I’d flown in and out of Panama when I visited Baltimore, so I am now permitted to be in the country on a “tourist” visa (good for 180 days) until the beginning of April . Since Scott was still working with a “mariner’s visa,” (stamped when we arrived by boat in August), his stamp expires every 90 days, so we needed to get his renewed again.

When we arrived at the immigration office in Provenier, Joe wasn’t there, but the young man on duty stamped Scott’s passport with no problem, (and no charge!) and we headed happily back to the boat.

Our supply of dinghy gas was getting low, so Scott planned to make a stop at the nearby island of Wichubwala while we were here dealing with immigration. However, it was now too late for a gas run, so that would have to wait for morning.

The anchorage off of Porvenier is open to the ocean swells, and even with our flopper stoppers in, it was a rolly go; so much so that Scott got seasick. The next morning, he mustered up the energy to go for gas, only to realize upon arriving at the dock that everything was closed. It was Sunday, so that meant we’d be spending another rolly night at anchor.

Our extra day was not completely in vain, as we were visited by the mother of all veggie boats! The National Waiters panga stopped by on their way to the outer anchorages, loaded with produce.  As they cut open the large bags of potatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers and other items to sell us, it was like Christmas! The produce was some of the best we’d purchased so far, including a the longest bunch of celery I’ve ever seen!

After filling our dinghy gas tanks on Monday morning, we left the area near Provenier, passing more densely populated islands. After traveling close to the shore of Panama’s mainland, now in the western area of the San Blas islands, we decided to investigate Nalia Bay.

The bay was lined with beautifully lush rain forest. Since we hadn’t seen that much green in months, it seemed like a great place to spend a few days. We had the bay all to ourselves, except for the few locals who were clearing land up on one of the hills, preparing to build a house; they waved their arms in a hello as we dropped anchor.

The surroundings were gorgeous, and it was a treat to have the area all to ourselves. However, in all our excitement, we failed to realize that our anchorage was also surrounded by mangroves….many, many mangroves…which means biting noseeums!

By the time we had pulled all of our screens closed, it was too late. Those evil bugs, the size of a grain of pepper with a bite like a bee sting, had taken over inside the boat. I spent hours just slapping my legs, trying to kill them as they bit me. Scott chastised me, for not “just dealing with it,” but later we both spent the night in long pants and long-sleeved shirts!

Scott finally snapped, as they bit at his uncovered face, and began to smash all he could see on the stateroom wall. Counting each one, he killed 320…just in our stateroom.

Even though the bugs were miserable, the internet signal was surprisingly terrific considering we were surrounded by dense jungle (I have given up trying to make sense of when, where and how internet signals work in the San Blas). We decided to gut it out one more day, so I could upload photos, and get a blog post or two out.

Scott took advantage of his surroundings, and went off immediately the next morning to explore the bay.

He landed the dinghy in a “mud hole,” and ended up hiking through the surrounding hills.

He came back with some great photos of Sea Life alone at anchor, but his shoes were caked in mud.

An additional day was all we could stand, and the following morning we ran, covered in bites, for open water, where welcome winds blew away the unwanted pests.

We continued to follow the mainland coast, and our next stop was the the Robison Island group, where there were many Guna island villages. Here we chose to anchor just off of the mountainous mainland, near three villages, offering us a beautiful view.

The two smaller islands were each made up of one extended family.

There were many more ulus with sails here (notice the man in green shirt falling overboard…which we saw happen several times, as the narrow boats suddenly shifted).

We noticed many more children than we’d seen before, and it was also surprising to see very, very young children out paddling and sailing in ulus without adults. It’s obviously a much simpler, safer life here.

Our friends Ted and Barbara (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) were here when we arrived. We’d seen them at anchor in Isla Mujeres last winter, but didn’t actually meet until we were both in Providencia in June. It was good to catch up with them, and have friends in the anchorage here to spend time with.

There were several inland rivers nearby, so Scott lowered the Aluminum Princess for some extreme exploring. He traveled miles up the up the Mandinga River, lined thick with jungle vines. It became quite narrow in places, and almost blocked his way in others.

He fought his way past the dead wood coming out of the river, which offered more sandy banks along it’s route.

Howard enjoyed the anchorage here as well, and the many smells coming from land close by. When Scott lowered his green LED light into the water each evening, Howard would go right out to the swim platform, for a look at the fish below. However, he also enjoyed waiting for the fish to jump, from the inflatable dinghy, that spent evenings hanging from our port side.

Scott tolerated this surprisingly well, but became pretty peeved when Howard decided that the tiller for the dinghy’s motor made a good chew toy.

Aside from the sound of people talking in passing ulus, or children playing on the islands, it was quiet, and very peaceful. Being close to the mountains, it was cooler here at night, and the smell of smoke from the villages came gently through our stateroom hatch. It was like we were camping, with the smoldering campfire just outside our tent. These things filled in for the feel and smell of fall, that we miss. Here are more photos.

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

 

 

 

Here are more photos.

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

Groceries In The San Blas Islands

As you may imagine, keeping stocked on groceries and supplies in the San Blas was challenging, to say the least. Although we were glad that Howard’s trip to the vet in Panama City resulted in no real issue, it gave me the chance to stock up on groceries and such. As long as the round trip by water and land was already in motion (to the tune of $200.00+ dollars) it was smart to fill the car and get my money’s worth!

With the trip to Panama City being logistically and time challenging, as well as costly, cruisers usually find other ways to get what they need.

There are several larger islands that have tiendas, or stores, on them. They offer a limited selection of canned items, rice, boxed milk and juice and produce that is more shelf-stable, such as onions, carrots, eggs (not refrigerated here) and potatoes.

Boats from Colombia arrive with supplies for these stores at various times each week, bringing with them, among other things, fresh produce. Scott is amazed that these old, wooden boats (that have seen much better days) make the journey to and from the San Blas, without breaking apart in the big waters off of Colombia.

Unfortunately, the fresh stock is usually depleted within two days, so unless you happen to be very close by when the word gets out about a boat coming in, you’re out of luck.

Many out here use the chance to have things brought to them through other cruisers who may be traveling to Panama City, or through friends (or friends of friends) coming to visit. We have taken advantage of all three of these scenarios to restock on hard goods and groceries.

So….unless you are traveling near one of the larger villages when a shipment arrives, or have some form of Panama City connection coming to the area, the usual cruiser method for getting food (aside from fishing) is the veggie boat.

These pangas visit the many anchorages in the San Blas, bringing with them fresh veggies, fruit, beer, boxed wine, soda and sometimes meat and cheese. Their boats are filled with bags and crates of goods, and many also have “mobile” freezers, that may contain celery, parsley, chicken, cheese or butter.

Some items are weighed by a hand-held scale, and others are sold by piece. We (especially Scott) have become familiar with most words needed to communicate what foods we need. For the rest, we just point.

Word spreads of these traveling grocery stores’ arrival over the vhf radio. You may hear, “There’s a veggie boat in the anchorage!” or, “A veggie boat is just left Esnasdup, on it’s way to Green Island.” Some cruisers even have direct access to the boats by phone, and alert others as to when they will be coming to certain anchorages: “A veggie boat will be in the eastern Holandes early tomorrow morning, around 8am.” Knowing a boat is on the way gives you a heads up to stay put and be on alert, so as not to miss your chance at buying food!

In anchorages farther east, such the Holandes (swimming pool and hot tub), where we spent much time, the boats have to pass through stretches of open ocean, and come less frequently when strong winds are blowing. Between high winds and the holidays, we went almost three weeks without seeing one around Christmastime.

Now don’t get me wrong, we’re by no means in danger of starving here aboard Sea Life. We packed her to the gills with canned and dry goods before coming to the San Blas, along with plenty of soda and alcohol. However, you never shake the panic of not having convenient access to things, especially fresh food.

It has become more and more common for pangas to bring pre ordered groceries out to cruisers at anchor, especially to those who stay out for months at a time, or even year-round. Recently, these boats have even started to deliver diesel, gasoline and water…smart thinking!

The veggie boats usually stop first at cruisers who have placed an order, and then proceed to sell to the rest of the anchorage, usually starting at the front of the pack, working their way back. The excitement of spotting a veggie boat is quickly deflated by having it blow by you, and then watching and waiting for it to stop at all the other boats before coming to yours. Since we usually try to be toward the back of an anchorage, and away from any crowd of boats, we are typically one of the last ones “in line.”

This whole process is incredibly stressful for Scott. Once the panga has been spotted, and identified that it is indeed a veggie boat, he keeps track of it’s progress through the anchorage, eyes peeled through binoculars, trying to see how much is being taken at each stop. I commonly hear, “@#%*@#!, so-and-so just hauled up two buckets full of stuff onto their boat! They just got here yesterday, and we’ve been here a week! We’re going to be last, and there won’t be anything left but some rotten @#%*!

These veggie boats must smell interesting to Howard, because once they’re tied alongside us, he jumps up on the rail, or cries to be held, to see what’s going on. Most of the men were taken aback at first, as Howard is much larger than any island cat (he is in no danger of starving either). We hear…“Grande!” or “Mucho Gato!” Several boats have learned his name, and call out “HOW-arrd!” as he appears.

The usual veggie boat produce choices include: cabbage, iceberg lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and occasionally green beans.

Unfortunately, as you may expect, the quality of these items isn’t always the best. Tomatoes are hard, and very often more green than red. No matter how hard you try, they will not ripen, and instead rot pretty quickly if not used. Carrots and cucumbers can be gigantic, and sometimes bitter as a result.

The outer leaves of cabbage and iceberg lettuce heads are usually peeled off when sold, to exposed the non-wilted, inner leaves. We were so desperate for lettuce after one “dry spell,” that we paid for these sad, little things….the tiniest heads of lettuce ever seen!

Fruit offerings usually consist of pineapple, papaya, apples, limes, oranges, grapefruit, bananas and mangoes (once, I got avocados). The pineapples have been decent, but not nearly as good as the candy-sweet ones we were getting in Bocas del Toro, and the poor apples that I’ve tried are just tart and tasteless. I’m not a papaya fan, and the mangoes are very stringy, making them hard to eat. The damned bananas stay green and hard forever, and then ripen and rot in just days. As a result, we have eaten many banana muffins!

I’ve mentioned before that we have discovered “limon mandarinas” during our travel in Panama. They are about the size of a mandarin orange, and usually beat up-looking on the outside. The inside is orange, but tart like a lime. However, they are a bit sweeter, and juicer than the tiny, key lime-like ones that are also offered, and we’ve come to like them much more. Here’s a quick photo I grabbed from the internet, as we are currently out of them.

Image result for limon mandarina

We’ve gotten good celery and parsley from inside the “mobile” freezer, and there’s almost always “culantro.” It grows wild in the area, and smells and tastes exactly like cilantro.

I once saw shredded cheese in the freezer, and have also heard of people getting butter from it as well.

On one occasion, we were told by a veggie boat that they had chicken (pollo) available. Scott indicated, by putting two fingers toward his eyes and then toward the freezer, that he wanted to “see” said pollo. Out came a whole, dead chicken, and I mean whole…no feathers, but head, beak, legs and feet intact. I was definitely not up for that remote island challenge, so we passed on the pollo.

Overall, there are many more food choices than I expected to get here in the San Blas, and for the most part, we’re satisfied with what we get, and enjoy it. Here’s the result of a good veggie boat visit for us. Notice Howard getting right to work on his favorite…the pineapple tops.

Thankfully, Scott’s prediction of empty bins with only some rotten @*#! left, only happened to us once. There was almost always a decent choice of food left the in the boat when it arrived, and we’d live to eat another day.

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