Panama’s Insane Rain!

They say that Panama has two seasons, the dry season from December to mid March, and the wet, or “green”, season from mid March to mid December. As you might deduce from their names, the dry season means little or no rainfall, while the green season can mean rain almost every day.

However, in Bocas del Toro, it rains consistently nearly every month, except for September and October. Fortunately, the wet stuff usually comes overnight or in the early am, giving way to the brutal, hot sun. November is a different animal altogether; a rainy season unto itself.

At last check, when we left Red Frog after Thanksgiving, the monthly rain total was over seventeen inches for the month! The rain during November was often biblical. Heavy, driving rain would pour straight down for hours, and the sound was unnerving. Roads flooded almost instantly, and any grass-like surface turned to muck.

Visibility disappears in an instant, and the water turns to mud. For example, now you see it:

Now you don’t:

This nasty brown line floated our way during a recent deluge:

Scott installed a new weather station in November, after our old one gave up the goat. The new one has many more bells and whistles, and greatly appeals to Scott’s inner weather geek. For example, note how it describes a November deluge, using the most weather specific terms (bottom right corner):

To be fair, it definitely was raining cats and dogs, so kudos weather station!

This crazy rain has extended into December, and in the first ten days of the month, we’d already received close to twelve inches! Recently, just in the morning hours alone we had 3.18 inches, and at one point, the rain rate listed on the weather station was 6.86 inches an hour….biblical I tell ya!

It’s definitely the wettest area we’ve ever been to, including any travel by land, car, air or boat before this cruising adventure. As you can imagine, the humidity matches the wetness, turning our decks and lines green, and making daily tasks a challenge. Thank goodness we spent the time plugged in, and able to keep the interior humidity in check with air conditioning.

On the bright side, everything here is beautifully lush and green. Trees and foliage grow thick and tall, and brightly colored plants and flowers spring up from the ground.

We were surprised not to see more fresh, local produce grown in the area, but suspect that too much of a good thing may hinder good veggie growth.

All in all, we’ve become accustomed to traveling with an umbrella at the ready (it’s far too warm and humid for rain jackets, as they become your own personal sauna, despite the best ventilation), and push on, despite the wetness. It beats a 45 degree rain that the northeast can get this time of year, so we try to embrace Panama’s “liquid sunshine”!

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

 

 

 

The rain here in Panama is insane. When we arrived, uring the “rainy” season, but November in particular really gave us a dousing. Heavy rain lasts for hours at a time, flooding streets, and turning grassy areas into muck.

Provisioning For The San Blas Islands

We plan to spend the winter months in the San Blas Islands, located on the northwest coast of Panama, in the Caribbean Sea (more to come).

Image result for map of the san blas islands

The islands are remote and primitive, so Scott and I have gone into “food panic,” buying as much as we can stuff onto this poor boat. The consensus is that there are veg boats (with iffy produce and uncertain selection), and locals selling bread, fish and lobster; aside from that, you’re on your own.

While we were in Bocas, and familiar with stores and stock, Scott and I took the Aluminum Princess on a provisioning run from Red Frog Marina to Bocas Town. We tied to the small pier outside The Pub restaurant, having been told that the expat owner was friendly to cruisers.

Once in town, we hit the ground running. Our first stop was to one of the larger hardware stores, where we emerged with miscellaneous items for Scott, and a huge trash bag full of paper towels and toilet paper. From there, we went to Super Gourmet, who stock hard-to-find and specialty items from the U.S. After that, our two regular grocery stores, ending at Isla Colon, owned by our new friend, Felix.

As we checked out, with two carts full of items, in addition to the pile of stuff we’d lugged in with us and the stack of beer and sodas that Felix had brought out from the back, the girl behind the counter offered to have our pile of stuff driven to wherever we needed to go. Our plan was to take a taxi back to The Pub, but a free ride was even better!

In no time flat, a pick up truck pulled up in front of the store, and three men loaded our endless packages into the back, bucket brigade-style, tossing our heavy items in the air to each other; Scott tried to help, but was politely squeezed out. We’d asked the counter girl about tipping, and were told, “Nothing. This is a service that we provide, free of charge. No tip is necessary.”

Once all of our things were loaded into the bed of the truck, Scott and I hopped inside, into the frosty-cold, air conditioned truck (it was only a three minute ride, but any a/c is good a/c); all of the “loaders” got in as well! As an added treat, the driver serenaded us in Spanish for the short ride, much to the chagrin and groans of his co-workers.

Once at The Pub, all three men got out with us to unload. Scott and I were barely able to grab a bag, as the caravan of Isla Colon employees made it’s way through the restaurant and out onto the pier where we prepared to load the Aluminum Princess ( for a moment, the restaurant owner thought he was getting a forgotten order delivered). The three made two quick trips with our things, and then smiled and waved us goodbye. Wow.

Now that the heavy lifting was done…literally, Scott and I quickly loaded up the Princess, and then took time to have lunch. We were hungry, and wanted to give a show of appreciation to the owner of The Pub, for allowing us to use his pier and haul our things through his restaurant.

After recharging with food and drink, we made our way back to the marina and unloaded everything onto Sea Life.

We then got to work finding space for everything, beginning with loading up the area under the couch. The sleeper sofa in our saloon has been “gutted,” allowing for a huge amount of storage space. I resisted at first, but am now so grateful for all of that room!

I also resisted keeping a log of our food and toiletry stores, but have since come around to the idea. It’s much easier to zero in on where something is, and keep track of what we have, if it’s all written down.

By the way, when you panic about stocking up on food, this is what happens. I’d forgotten to buy spreadable butter, and Scott offered to go back and get it, saying that he’d seen some in Isla Colon. When I unpacked everything, here is what he’d bought.

Notice the amount…..five pounds! Seriously, it’s huge; I measured the stupid thing, to make sure it would fit in the fridge! (it just fits)

Once the couch was stuffed full, we crammed the tower of sodas and beer into the guest stateroom, along with bottles of wine and bags of flour, sugar and rice.

Various things were placed in plastic bags or tupperware containers, and stored in the lazarette, up on the flybridge and in bilge areas. After that, any remaining items were jammed into any cabinet or closet that had an available nook or cranny. Sea Life just kept “swallowing it up,” as Scott likes to say. She’s full to the brim, and we’re heavy in the water.

In addition to and inordinate amount of canned goods, paper towels, toilet paper and various liquids, we’re stocked up on dry goods (pasta, instant potatoes, Bisquick, crackers, spices, etc.), jarred sauces, candy, snacks, cheese, BUTTER, all types of frozen meat and various other refrigerated and frozen items.

We’ve also filled up on as much ice as room will allow. Scott’s anxiety for running out of this precious item is off the charts. He loooves his ice, and we won’t be able to buy it in the San Blas. We have an ice maker onboard, but running it on our batteries for a day yields enough to make two drinks; he’s panicked.

So we’re as ready as we’re going to be, for three or so months of off grid/grocery store living. If we starve, it’s our own fault. Who knows, maybe we’ll open our own San Blas grocery store!

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

 

 

Farewell Bocas, We’re Finally Moving On

Now that Otto has finally passed safely by, the offshore wind and wave forecast for the coming week looks good for us to finally move!

We’re  raising our 350 feet of chain this morning (we were anchored in 70 feet of water), and will begin heading toward the San Blas Islands. Along the way, we plan to anchor in Escudo de Veraguas, a small, isolated island off the coast, which is part of the Bocas del Toro province.

After leaving Escudo de Veraguas, we’ll visit the historic town of Portobelo. The ruins of Spanish forts there have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We’ve been in Bocas del Toro for almost four months, longer than any other stop on our journey so far. Our stay has been wonderful, seeing many beautiful sights and making new friends. We’ll miss the Bocas area very much, but are excited to be moving on again, and to visit new places.

Keep your eye on our Where Are We Now page, to track us as we move!

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

A Thanksgiving Celebration At Red Frog

With Otto making landfall on the Nicaraguan coast, the offshore waters were far from ideal for travel. It was Thanksgiving, and the cruisers at Red Frog Marina were gathering for a potluck, so we decided to join in.

We arrived at the main pier bright and early, and plugged in. It was a hot, humid sunny day..perfect timing for air conditioning!  I spent the morning baking homemade rolls and chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, and at 3pm we headed up to the courtyard area in front of the marina office, to meet the others.

The counter in the laundry area was packed with food, and a table in the office provided a place for the many desserts. There were thirty or so of us, with half the group from countries outside the U.S. We enjoyed each others company, and stuffed ourselves full.

We’d heard that  the surge from Otto had greatly reduced the size of Red Frog beach, so Scott decided to take advantage of easy land access from the pier, and go see for himself. When he arrived, the views were much different than just a few days before.

We’ve learned that the beach here disappears every December and January, due to large surf caused by north winds (as you may imagine, it’s a popular area for surfing during this time), and comes back in the spring. Otto’s surge caused the the beach to shrink earlier than normal.

As long as he was out and about, Scott traipsed through some of the jungle trails again, noticing effects from the surge in some of the lower trails there as well. He also spotted some more dart frogs.

Scott returned from his journey with a souvenir and an idea.

He got right to work with a saw, and in no time, we had cups! (Please forgive my husband’s horrible shirt)

Although Otto delayed our departure plan, we are thankful to have spent the holiday with friends, and to have had just a bit more time at Red Frog.

Here are a few more photos.

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

 

 

A Month Of Holidays

November in Bocas, and in all of Panama, means holidays, parties and a lots and lots of drumming. There are eight holidays in the month, all  marked with parades made up of school bands, with several adult groups walking throughout as well (haven’t been able to figure out who they are, or what they signify).

Practice for the parades begins weeks ahead, with drums echoing throughout town. School bands practice daily on the sides streets, marching down the middle of the road, with no closures or police. It’s like a flash mob parade, appearing out of nowhere, and cars have no choice but to take another road (ha, and they’re aren’t many others!).

The town is awash in Panamanian flags. They hang from buildings, cars, boats, ferries and zig-zag across the main street. Sea Life showed her Panamanian pride as well!

Many stores are open for business, despite the holidays. All of the Chinese-run grocery stores remain open, but the Chinese-run hardware stores choose to close. We assume that people working  jobs that require them to shop at the hardware stores are off on these holidays, but people always want to buy food! Most souvenir and gift-type shops along the main street are open, and as you’d expect, government businesses are closed on these days.

Since most all of the “regular folk” have the days off, local beaches on the holidays are mobbed; much like July 4th in the U.S. The public dock that leads to Red Frog beach was packed with pagas of all sizes.

Here’s a brief rundown of November’s holidays, and what they signify:

November 2nd – Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead): This isn’t a patriotic holiday, but it is a special day in Panama and all over Latin America. People pay respects to their loved ones who have passed away. Traditionally, they go to the cemetery, visit the graves of their friends and family, bring flowers and gifts and make any necessary repairs to their tombstones (like new paint).

Day of the Dead is a “dry” Panamanian holiday. Bars close at midnight on November 1st and stay closed until midnight the following evening. Sale of alcohol in the province of Bocas del Toro is prohibited on this day. Luckily, we did not come to town planning to stock up on alcohol, as we had no idea of the “dry” rule.

November 3rd – Separación de Colombia (Separation from Colombia): What is the nation of Panama today didn’t come to be until 1903.  This holiday marks the day that Panamanian separatists proclaimed their separation from Colombia. It’s a very important part of Panamanian history, and is  celebrated with three big days of dance, party and music.

Novermber 4th – Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day): The flag of Panama was drafted in secrecy and presented the day after the separation from Colombia was proclaimed.

Flag of Panama

The red and blue rectangles represent the liberals and the conservatives, the two political parties of the time. The white stands for an agreement of peace between them. The blue star symbolizes purity and honesty, and the red star authority and law. Hanging it correctly has the blue star and red rectangle on top.

By the way, this is a pet peeve of mine. It makes me insane when I see the Maryland flag hanging upside down. If you’re going to fly it, do it right!

We were in town shopping on Flag Day, and had to weave in and out of spectators. and the parade itself, to get where we were going. When our shopping was done, we watch some of the parade while waiting for the panaga back to Red Frog.

November 5th – Día de Colon (Colon Day): This holiday celebrates the day that the separation of Panama from Colombia was official.

November 10th – Primer Grito de Los Santos (First Cry of Los Santos): This date commemorates an uprising in the village of Los Santos in 1821, and is recognized as the first step toward independence from Spain.

November 16th  – Dia de la Fundacion de Bocas del Toro (Bocas Day): The province of Bocas del Toro was founded on November 16th, 1903, only 14 days after the creation of Panama as a sovereign state. This day also marks the culmination of all the drumming practice that is heard throughout the previous weeks.

Bocas Day features a big parade on Isla Colon with students coming from all over the province to participate. We’ve learned that these kids have good reason to be practicing so much; it’s a contest. There are three categories for prizes: niños (10 years old and younger), colegio (high school) and independiente (adults).

We were anchored off of town on Bocas Day, and I heard the drumming begin at 5:30am! A ferry arrives daily, from nearby Almirante, loaded with trucks full of groceries, goods, and supplies. It also acts as a passenger ferry, but we have seldom seen more than a few people aboard as it arrives.

Bocas Day was much different. The ferry came twice, each time loaded down with many more passengers than cargo. Band members also arrived by ferry, and we could here them celebrating on board, long before they passed us on the way to the dock.

Scott and I went into town that afternoon, and watched the end of the parade. It went on for six hours, beginning at 10:30am, and ending around 4:30. During this time, there were several periods of heavy rain, but the parade participants were undeterred. Later that evening, it rained biblically,  for hours, and we still heard drumming late into the night.

Scott and I meandered through the crowds, watch a little of the parade and enjoyed some yummy street food. I had a noodle bowl, with tender, delicious chicken. Having eaten mystery meat at a previous event, Scott chose a skewer with the same chicken, because the meat was identifiable.

November 23rd – Dia de Bastimentos (Bastimentos Day): Bastimentos was founded in the same month (November) and year as Bocas del Toro, and this is another day full of parades and parties. “Basti” Day is located in Bastimentos Town, which is at the opposite end of Bastimentos Island from the Red Frog property. The little town is much more hilly, and must be a challenging go for those parade kids!

November 28th – Independencia de España (Independence from Spain): What started with the uprising in Los Santos ended 18 days later, in the proclamation of a new nation, independent from Spain: Gran Colombia.  Gran Colombia consisted of modern day Panama, Colombia, Venezuela  and Ecuador. Panama celebrates two Independence days; one from Spain and one from Gran Colombia. Any reason for another parade!

Many islands we’ve visited have celebrated holidays or carnival during our stay, and it’s been fun to experience the sights, and sounds in each location Here are more holiday photos.

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

 

Hurricane Otto Comes Calling

The tropical low that we’ve been watching for the last ten days has finally strengthened into a tropical storm, and  is expected to become Hurricane Otto in the next day or so. For reference, Bocas del Toro is located to the right of “San Jose,” in the little bay (cut-out) on the north coast of Panama.

Current Storm Status

Tropical Storm Otto

Later this week, high pressure is expected to steer the storm west, making landfall north of us, most likely along the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border.

It’s rare to have a named storm this late into November, even in the warm, Caribbean waters this far south. Some tidbits from the Weather Channel:

Prior to January 2016’s strange Hurricane Alex, only 18 storms of at least tropical storm strength had formed on or after November 21 dating to 1950.

Only nine tropical cyclones became hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin after November 21 from 1950 through 2015. The last to do so was Epsilon, in December 2005. 

Only one of those nine hurricanes occurred in the southwest Caribbean Sea, Hurricane Martha in 1969.

The good news is, that as of now we are not in the storm’s direct path, and will instead be getting the “fringe” effects of strong winds and rain. Having owned waterfront property for many years on the Chesapeake Bay, we unfortunately have first-hand knowledge of tropical storm and hurricane winds. The best scenario is to be where we are now, in or off the bottom left quadrant of a storm, where the winds are weakest.

With the increased wind directions more firm, we’ve decided to leave the anchorage near town, as it is very exposed to the west, one of the predicted wind directions. While we are confident that our anchor, the Hulk, will keep us firmly set, the chance of other boats dragging into us is one we don’t wish to take.

Last month, from our slip in Bocas Marina, Scott saw boats drag through the anchorage and into the mangroves during a routine thunderstorm. Our many near miss experiences in the anchorage at Isla Mujeres were enough, thank you.

While should not see big wind and water here in Bocas, the waves off shore are becoming huge, at 12 feet or more. Once the storm passes and makes landfall, it will take days for the seas out there to calm, so we are in another holding pattern.

Our plan is to leave here, and make our way to the San Blas Islands, an archipelago made up of approximately 365 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited. They lie off the north coast  of Panama, east of the Panama Canal (much more on this later).

We’d hoped to be halfway there by now, stopping to anchor at several locations along the way, and arriving in the San Blas before swells from the Caribbean’s Christmas winds increase.

Last week, forecasters weren’t sure if this thing would develop, and if so, where it would go, so we waited; not wanting to be stuck in an unprotected anchorage for days, with strong winds coming at us. This week, and for the near future, we cannot move because of large swells offshore. Yay for us.

We are tucked in behind the mangroves, just off of Red Frog marina. For now, the winds come and go, and so does the rain, but we expect things to pick up over the next few days. On the bright side, it’s peaceful here. There is less chop when the winds blow, and our friends are in view just off the bow.

Howard is enjoying the quieter location, with far few pangas buzzing by, and spends time out on the cockpit. He usually waits for Scott to set up a chair to sit in, and then happily takes it for himself.

The fresh air inspires energetic play sessions with his favorite bags, which is exhausting.

So once again, we’re playing the weather window game, to which there are no rules or time limits. While we wait, there is plenty of rum on board, and movies on the hard drive.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back At Anchor

Leaving Red Frog Marina, we headed back to anchor off of Bocas Town for a few days. I wanted to make a final trip to town, some  fresh produce before we continued on, and was also interested in renting a golf cart to see more of Isla Colon. After that, the plan was to anchor at several places in the area, and then head east along the coast of Panama.

Once again, Mother Nature had other plans. A tropical low was trying to form, just north of Panama, and the timing would conflict with anchoring in areas along the coast, as they don’t allow for good protection in certain wind directions.

The wind forecast was all over the place, predicting very strong stuff one day, and backing down on it the next. There was also a threat of squalls every day, but we are confident in the hulk, and decided to take it day by day, relocating if needed.

We decided to focus on the positives…the weather was breezy, more cloudy and cooler. All good things for being at anchor, and unplugged from air conditioning! We were also just a stone’s throw from a free dinghy dock, so shopping and other things in town were easy and convenient. Anchored off of town gave us unobstructed views of Costa Rica’s mountains on the horizon, and we were timed perfectly to enjoy the supermoon!

So it was time for another golf cart day. There are all-terrain vehicles for rent in town, but I wasn’t interested in driving one myself, and Scott couldn’t guarantee not scaring me to death if we rode together. Helmets are required to ride the ATVs, and I’d be sitting right on top of the motor. Both of those thing spelled hot for me, so a golf cart it was.

The man behind the counter told us that we were restricted as to where on the island we could go, as the carts aren’t built to handle the condition of the roads in some areas. So of course, at the first opportunity, Scott turned to the right when he should have stayed left.

Once on the forbidden path, we passed many signs for Plastic Bottle Village, and it finally came into view.  A community of buildings and houses is in development, with used plastic bottles as core material before they are covered in concrete. The castle-like, quirky entrance was definitely eye catching.

As the roads became more hilly, muddy and bumpy, we passed under a huge canopy of bamboo, thickly anchored in the ground. It was like driving in a fairy tale, and Scott wished he’d had access to bamboo this thick when building a tiki bar each year, for our  summer parties on land.

Not wanting to challenge the poor cart any further, Scott admitted defeat, and we turned around. It was lunch time, and we stopped at Scully’s for a cold drink and some food. Owned by American expats, Scully’s sits on the waterfront, with several inviting seating options.

Sadly, our little cart was not the best built model. It had been stalling on us all morning, when we slowed or came to idle, and the steering was similar to that of an amusement park bumper car. I spent most of the drive holding my breath as we’d make an unexpected, hard swerve toward the edge of the road, with Scott yelling, “I can’t help it, this thing is garbage!”

When we got into the cart to leave Scully’s, it wouldn’t start. Scott tried and tried, and waited and tried, and waited and tried some more, then made a call. A mechanic brought us a replacement cart, and we left him to deal with the dead one.

While this cart definitely ran better, the steering was worse! Scott was too worried that he’d run over some poor person walking alongside the road, so we called it a day, and headed back to the rental shop. Since we’d only had the cart for just under half a day, they refunded us some money, which was fair.

The area has been more than challenging  for Scott, when it comes to spear fishing. There just aren’t many areas to find fish and lobster. However, Scott is nothing if not diligent, and finally came up lucky, bringing home four lobsters, and a black crab.

Howard was fascinated with Scott’s catch, and watched intently as Scott prepared them. Contrary to what you may think, he wasn’t interested in engaging with, or eating the crustaceans. With more than enough lobster,  and because boiling water would heat up the boat, we decided to release the crab.

We picked up many little geckos on our decks while at Red Frog, and one has recently made it’s way inside.  Scott noticed it in the galley, near the sink, coiled up like a snake. Since then, we’ve spotted the little guy in other areas of the boat as well.

Howard has failed to notice our latest stowaway, and he’s in big trouble if I wake during the night to find a gecko crawling across me.

Heavy rain is often visible on the horizon, and the skies become dark each day, but so far we’ve dodged severe weather.

We’ve enjoyed a few more trips into town (Scott actually requested that we revisit sushi!), and I was able to get in another barbecue night at Boca Marina’s cantina. The supermoon caused higher than normal tides, and when we arrived, it was either slosh through the water, or walk across the soggy, muddy grass.

Sadly, their delicious pizza that I came for wasn’t offered, so I settled for a less yummy burger.

Weather threat aside, we are enjoying being back at anchor, and hope to be on the move again soon. Here are more photos.

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

 

 

 

Our Last Days At Red Frog Marina

With our month-long stay at Red Frog Marina coming to an end, we enjoyed some outings with the other cruisers. One evening, a group made the fifteen minute walk to the beach, for dinner at the Palmar Beach Lodge, which sits adjacent to the Red Frog property. The fourteen of us crowded around a long table, and enjoyed dinner.

On Sundays, cruisers, expats and locals head for Rona Azul, a tiny palapa restaurant run by Joseph. He settled here from Germany decades ago, and opened what has become a weekly waterfront destination, tucked away at the back of a cove….off of a cove….off of another cove. Each Sunday, the pier is packed with pangas and small boats, and people spend the afternoon, eating, drinking and dancing.

Scott and I took the Aluminum Princess to Rona Azul one Sunday, and returned a few weeks later on a panga with other cruisers from Red Frog. It was the yearly Oktoberfest celebration, and Joseph’s last day as owner. He has decided to sell Rona Azul, and new owners Mark and Syndey will close it while they make changes.

Our panga ride was a soggy one, as rain fell during most of the 45 minute trip. We all crouched behind our open umbrellas, using them as shields against the rain coming at us. We’ve learned not to wear raincoats here if we can help it. With the heat and humidity, it’s like being encased in colored saran wrap.

We arrived at Ron Azul to a larger than normal crowd, which was no surprise. With the palapa full of people, we headed for a seat at tables set up in the grass outside. There were tarps overhead, shielding us from the rain, which soon let up, leaving thick, soupy humidity, but we persevered .

As we were enjoying beer, pretzels and other Oktoberfest offerings, I noticed a man wearing a shirt from my small hometown of Eldersburg, Md., which is outside of Baltimore. Unbelieveable! I stared for a bit, to make sure that I was reading the shirt correctly, and sure enough, it definitely said Eldersburg, Md. I ventured over to say hello, and learned that his sister lives there…ridiculously small world!

After several hours of fun, we climbed back into the panga, and enjoyed a dry, scenic journey back to Red Frog.

Our friend Sam, who we met through a mutual cruising friend, lives very close to Red Frog. Several years ago, he purchased property here, and is living on his sailboat while building a house. Scott and I took the Aluminum Princess over, to check on the progress.

As you walk through the mangrove-lined pier (I was sure to load up on bug spray when we arrived), the property opens up to a large, open area, lined with all kinds of fruit trees: mango, lime, rose apple, avocado and orange lime. Sam is also preparing an area where he will grow hydroponic vegetables.

The house is at the top of the property, so we made the walk up the hill, with Ruby the dog in tow. I stopped to capture the view looking down over the lower part of the property and out across the water.

At the top of the hill, Sam’s house is still in the framing stage, but the views are going to be amazing. The elevated structure sits among the trees, with a breathtaking, panoramic water view from the front, and the feel of a treehouse behind it.

Behind the house, Sam took us on quite a hike through the brush, down the hill, to a stream at the base of the property. It ends at a shaded, fresh-water wading area, perfect for cooling off.

Back at the marina, a familiar face arrived at the dock.

Playpen was at the end of our dock last October, in Fort Lauderdale. In November, she showed up in the Bahamas with charter guests, as we were anchored near Staniel Cay, and in December, we noticed her tied to a pier at the marina next to ours in Key West. Bocas del Toro? She must be stalking us. After a complete six month refit, she looks great. I especially like the new, blue look (she was all white last year).

For those of you who’ve been inquiring about Howard, he’s still enjoying (tolerating) boat life. Surprisingly, he hasn’t bothered us too much to get outside here at the marina. He seems content to amuse himself with simple, unexpected toys found on board: a boat line (that he tangles himself in, with no help from us), any type, or size, of bag and the empty box that our new weather station came in (his latest fighting arena and nap spot).

Of course, all this play is exhausting, so a nap soon follows.

One day, I caught he and Scott having a “bro” nap in the master stateroom.

While the beautiful property at Red Frog never gets old, we have little interest in getting in the water here. For some reason, jellyfish congregate around the marina in huge numbers; it’s the stuff a Hitchcock movie is made of.

Jellies aside, we have loved our time here, and are going to miss the quiet beauty all around us.

Here are more photos of our last days at Red Frog marina.

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

Our Grocery Excursions To Bocas Town

Here at Red Frog Marina, we again have to take a panga to town for groceries and such. The ride is a bit longer, taking approximately ten minutes. Unlike Bocas Marina, where there were five departures a day, five days a week, here at Red Frog the panga leaves the marina dock only once, at 9:45am, four days a week. It returns from town at 11:30, and then again at 1pm.

Most every day, the boat leaves with a full load of people. The drivers seem to know only two speeds, fast and stop (ok, I guess stop’s not a speed, but you get the idea). This make for quite a “spirited” ride, as we bang our way over the water toward town. I hold my breath every time, praying that the boat won’t break in half. We’ve learned that securing a seat toward the back of the boat makes for a much more comfortable, less back-jarring ride. Spirited driving aside,  the ride to town is a scenic one.

Once at the dock, we all crawl out and scatter like ants to fill our shopping lists. This can be a crap shoot. Deliveries come on all different days, for both fresh food and canned items. Some stores run low or out of stock before others, and they all vary in price by as little as a few cents, to almost a dollar (the same is true for Scott’s hardware needs). As a result, you end up visiting several locations to find what you need. If we find something we may want later, we grab it .

Never knowing exactly how much we’ll get in town, or how heavy our load will be, Scott and I come armed with two back packs (Scott’s backpacking pack, for days we know the load will be heavy), a very large tote, several cold bags and some smaller, reusable grocery bags as well.

All of the stores in town, from grocery, to pharmacy to hardware, are run by Chinese families. They work long hours, usually from 8 or 9am until 10:00 at night. There are at least seven stores on the main street, but three stores have become our favorites:

Isla Colon is the largest, with a good selection of items. Felix, the owner, and all of his employees are always friendly and accommodating. He will also order special request items and have them brought in (like some spiced rum for Scott!). I think he’ll  miss Scott when we finally leave.

Vegetables are located in a separate room, where an employee stands by to weigh and tag your things before checking out.

We go to Christina’s for items that we cannot find at Isla Colon and other things that are a bit cheaper, or if we’re searching for fresh vegetables that Colon may be out of. Here, all the produce is located outside the store.

Super Gourmet brings in items from the U.S. that we haven’t seen elsewhere (Philly cream cheese, decent bacon, certain snacks, etc.) In addition to selling sandwiches, salads and local chocolate, they are very air conditioned! The employees here are crazy friendly, always greeting us with a smile and a hello, as we come in from the heat, drop our bags and suck up the cool air while we shop.

If we’re lucky, we are in town when meat gets delivered, in the form of a whole, bloody side of beef, on a tarp in the back of a truck. The large section of cow is then drug into the store and hung up behind the meat counter, before being cut on site. Needless to say, I have not been craving steak!

You can also purchase one of just about everything. It’s not uncommon to see a six pack of something opened, with one or two cans missing. When we asked to purchase a box of Alieve at the pharmacy, they looked at us like we were crazy; buying just two or three pills at a time is the norm. And if you’re craving a grilled cheese sandwich, help yourself to just one or two wrapped slices of cheese!

Unfortunately, the stores we need are not all located next to each other, or even on the same street, so a hot, sweaty walk is involved. We try to plan our route so that the load is heaviest at the end, but this doesn’t always work out. Many times, I trudge to the other end of town for something I’ve forgotten, my back and arms screaming at me the entire time.

At a steady, sometimes rushed pace, we usually finish in time for the 11:30 panga. Other days, we are affected by island time, and end up waiting for the 1:00 ride. There aren’t many places open for lunch in town, and it’s usually too bloody hot to stroll the streets, so if finished before departure time, everyone gathers at the panga stop in town to wait in the shade (I usually fill my time with wiping the sweat from my body). When it’s time, our group climbs aboard, with everyone helping to hump on the heavy bags.

The 11:30 panga makes three stops on the way back to the marina, to pick up lunches for employees at Red Frog who are working on the resort construction (homes, pool, clubhouse, etc.). We stop once at a place in Bocas Town, pulling up to the pier, as the lunches are handed over.

Next, we make our way over to Basti Town, on the other end of Bastimentos Island from our marina. Here, we make two more stops, to load on more food.

The 11:30 panga is almost always packed full, beyond full, with people, bags and supplies for the resort. Several times, I’ve been terrified the whole way home, that we’ll crack down on a wave and split in half from the weight onboard, sinking to the bottom with the groceries that I hunted, humped and sweated bullets for.

One of the most concerning trips was when we were loaded full of people, many heavy groceries and several 100 pound propane tanks. On our way to Basti Town, we slowed so another panga could transfer someone onto our boat…for real?!?

We then made our usual stops for lunch loading, and took off for Red Frog. The boat was riding below the water line, and Scott was soaked from incoming waves on the windward side as we sped toward home.

The ride goes something like this.

When we arrive back at the marina, everyone again crawls out onto the pier and helps each other unload.

Each time, I count myself lucky that I’ve survived another eventful shopping adventure! Here are more photos of our grocery excursions.

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

Bat Caves, Jungle Trails And Poisonous Frogs

 

Please forgive my lapse in posting! I’ve been riddled with computer issues and internet challenges. It seems that everything is now back on track, and I’m wading through almost 1,000 photos for editing and captioning. Fun, fun! I hope you will all hang in there, while I work to catch you up on our lives here in Bocas.

While I was at home in Baltimore, Scott ventured out with our friends Jack and Monique (s/v Aloha), to visit bat caves in the area. Not being a fan of dark, small spaces, or bats, I was thrilled to miss this outing.

They traveled in the Aluminum Princess through another winding, jungle river, eventually landing at a local farm. Once onshore, Armando offered a tour for five dollars a person. Along the way, they learned about the farm, where he grows coconuts, papaya, pineapple and cocoa.

The cocoa pods provide a sweet treat inside. Locals open the pod, and suck off the sweet, white coating that covers the seeds, spitting them out afterward.

They saw sloths, frogs and other creatures on their way to the cave. Jack spied a fat, meaty, icky millipede-type looking thing, that seemed content to crawl on him; picking it up would not have been my first thought.

It was an easy hike to the caves, aside from some mud, and they soon arrived at the opening. Once inside, it quickly became dark, and Armando provided them with head lamps (Scott came armed with his own, of course). The walls were lined with creepy, spider crickets, and of course…bats.

Water runs down into the limestone cave, and Monique, Jack and Scott walked in as little as two inches near the mouth, to more than waist deep in other spots. In some places, they had to swim, and in one spot, a narrow opening in the thick, stalactite wall hanging from above forced them under water to get below it.

Crawling, swimming and wading through dark caves, while bats fly around your head is not my idea of fun, but these three enjoyed their adventure. Thank you to Jack and Monique, for sharing their photos, as Scott was without a camera while I was gone.

Red Frog’s property includes several miles of jungle trails. Scott has been interested in exploring them, and finally decided to up and go…on a fully sunny, 90 plus degree day! He walked the roads that run through the resort property (a nice, uphill warm up), to where the trails begin. The paths range from grass, to mud and leaves, and run along streams and open areas.

The trails also connect to many of the island’s beaches, that offer beautiful views.

As usual, Scott passed interesting things along the way. There were trees so covered in vines and foliage, that the trunks were barely visible, and others with smooth, soft colored bark. He passed a spot where someone was hand-cutting lumber from freshly cut trees, and came across another tree who’s trunk width was almost more that his height!

Scott walked eight miles of trails in the 94 degree heat, and then made his way back to the boat; clothes soaked through and shoes coated in mud.

Panama is home to several types of poisonous frogs, the most popular being the Strawberry poison dart frog. They are very small is size, averaging approximately two inches in length, and  vary widely in color.

The name “dart frog” comes from the use of their toxic secretions to poison the tips of blowdarts. Species with the greatest toxicity comes from a diet of ants, mites and termites.

Monique, Jack and Scott spotted some of these tiny frogs on their trip to the bat caves. We’d heard that the best time to see these tiny guys is on a rainy day, but our friend, Lewis (s/v Cirque) told us of his favorite spot for a sure-bet sighting; on the trail that leads through Red Frog’s spa.

Scott and I decided to try our luck, and made the quick walk up to the spa. Opening the door mark closed, massage in session, we entered and quietly crept past the building just inside. The path up the hill was lush and beautiful, and the sounds of birds and a small waterfall surrounded us.

With no initial luck, we kept on, past another No Entry sign, and continued to peer our eyes along the banks of the path. Scott continued on ahead of me, and almost interrupted a hilltop massage in session. He silently ran back to tell me that we had to turn back.

Luckily, on our way back down, we finally saw a tiny flash of color, and Scott successfully captured some photos of the little guys.

We’ve only had a chance to scratch the surface of nature in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. One could spend months exploring the area. What we’ve seen is beautiful. Here are many more interesting and beautiful photos.

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