Farewell Panama, You Were A Beautiful Host

After spending eight months in Panama, we prepared to leave the San Blas Islands, and head for Colombia. Our original plan was to be in Bocas del Toro by the end of June, and stay for a month. After that, it would be on to the San Blas for the month of August, and then head for Colombia in September. As we’ve well learned, weather rules the cruising world, and as a result, we didn’t arrive in Bocas until the first week in August.

Since we’d arrived late, and paid several hundred dollars to clear into Panama, I told Scott it would be a shame to rush through the country, so we slowed our plan. Almost three months later, we’d grown attached to the laid back, comfortable town of Bocas del Toro, and the scenic surrounding islands. We met new friends, and frequented stores and restaurants in town so much that we were recognized on the street.

We ate fresh made pizzas at Bocas Marina’s barbecue night, got to know most every happy hour special in town (Scott even came to like sushi!) and never got tired of the mountain views.

At Red Frog Marina, we were surrounded by lush jungle rain forest, and enjoyed the short walk through tropical scenery to the beach, for yummy tacos. The staff quickly became friends, and the sights and sounds of the property were truly beautiful.

 

Scott crawled through caves with bats, hiked trails on Red Frog’s property and explored the archipelago with the Aluminum Princess.

We went to Sunday parties at Ron Azul,  attended many happy hours on Red Frog’s dock, survived crazy, crowded, high-speed panga rides to and from town and celebrated Thanksgiving at a terrific potluck with friends during our final days in the area.

It was hard to cut the apron strings and leave Bocas, which will always have a special place in our cruising memories, but there was more of Panama to see.

As we headed for the San Blas Islands, our route took us to more beautiful locations. The shoreline scenery at Escucdo de Veragus was almost otherworldly, and we spent hours in the dinghy taking in the sights.

Portobelo’s harbor was quiet and picturesque, and we enjoyed roaming the ruins of the many forts that surround the town.

At Captain Jack’s, perched on a hill in town, we were welcomed with cold towels, local info., and delicious food. We’d have liked to linger longer in Portobelo, but weather pushed us on.

Next was a pit stop at Linton Bay, for an overnight trip to Panama City, and a visit to the Panama Canal. We spent hours watching the huge ships close up, as they passed through the locks on their way to the Pacific.

Then it was on to our hotel for the night, where we continued to watch the ships pass by. It was also a treat to watch tv in English, and take roomy showers.

Our return trip toward Linton Bay was by train, on the Panama Canal Railway; what a cool way to travel! We spent the entire ride out on the observation deck, getting up close and personal with our surroundings.

We took advantage of a lull in the wind, and enjoyed a calm ride over to the San Blas Islands, where we enjoyed a tropical Christmas and spent almost four months surrounded by gorgeous water and uninhabited palm tree islands.

Scott fished almost every day, catching endless lobster, then using the heads as bait for delicious Trigger fish!

 

There were endless anchorages, some near the lush, mainland mountains and others surrounded by reef and palms. 

We enjoyed getting food from veggie boats, and interacting with the friendly Guna people.

For somewhere so remote, our social calendar was quite busy! We made terrific friends here, who we’ll keep in touch with for years to come. There were many beach parties, as well as trash burning gatherings, which was always a good excuse to bob in the water.

During our time in the San Blas, we had our first official cruising visitor. Our friend Karen made the adventurous journey to see us, and we had a ball catching up, introducing her to our friends, and showing off our “neighborhood”!

Scott continued his explorations, by land and sea, and Howard spent his time in Panama as he does in every location we visit, playing, napping and watching for fishes….and occasionally sharks, and generally keeping us on our toes!

 

 

So now it’s time to move on, and leave where we’ve called home for the last eight months. We could spend years here, or very easily live here. The country is beautiful, and offers much to see and do on the water and inland, as well as in Panama City. Our departure is bittersweet, but we look forward to our next stop, and for the adventure to continue.

 

 

“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!”

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.

Image result for bocas town panama

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!”