Jungle Trails And Tree Frogs

Red Frog’s property includes several miles of jungle trails, and Scott has been interested in exploring them since we arrived. He finally decided to up and go…on a fully sunny, 90 plus degree day! After walking the roads that run through the resort property (a nice, uphill warm up), Scott came to the area where the trails began. The path followed along streams and through open areas, and changed from grass, to mud and leaves along the way.

 

The trail also connected to many of the island’s beaches, offering beautiful views.

As usual, Scott passed many 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 with sweat, 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 in any weather, along a 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.

 

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

 

They were so tiny!

 

With our mission a success, we made our way back down the lush path and out the gate.

 

We’ve only had a chance to scratch the surface of nature in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, but what we’ve seen is beautiful. One could spend months exploring the area, and not get bored. Here are more photos.

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

 

Red Frog Marina

Two days after I arrived back to Bocas, we moved over to Red Frog Marina. We’d enjoyed Bocas Marina’s close proximity to town, and their weekly bbq nights, but the property was very small, and gave us little room to stretch our legs.

We made a short, hour long  trip over to Basimentos Island, which is part of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, to settle in at Red Frog Marina, part of Red Frog Beach Resort. The vast property is being developed with many homes, as well condominiums, while still keeping a remote island feel.

After we arrived, and were settled into our slip, DeCi, the dock master, took us on a golf cart tour of the Red Frog property. Built  amid a rain forest, the resort community also offers a spa, zip lining, jungle trails, horseback riding and soon a pool and beach club.

Here  at the marina, we now face the mountains of Panama, which are very visible each morning. The marina is also more protected from wind, wakes and swells, so the Aluminum Princess is happily tied behind us.

The property here is beautiful. Just walking the path to the office area is relaxing and scenic.

There are several beaches within easy walking distance, and also a few beachfront restaurants. The trees along the many roads are full of birds, lizards and sloths (we have yet to see monkeys).

I caught this guy having some lunch.

Just off of Red Frog beach, there is a path that leads to an observation deck. It’s most always a shaded, breezy spot, and we enjoy stopping to cool off and take in the view.

Back at the beach, there is a weekly bonfire each Saturday. We went for a bit our first week here, but the heat of the fire soon had us moving on, as we noticed the sky over the beach at sunset.

And of course, we rented a golf cart for a few hours one sunny day.

We rode past the many houses that line the hills. There are generally three levels of development; upper, middle and beachfront. The upper and middle seem to be mostly complete, while beachfront lots wait to be developed.

One lot in particular had an especially great location. It sits toward the top of a hill, with much more open space than the rest. Framed by thick, tropical foliage, the views across the water were breathtaking!

We’ve been told that someone has purchased the lot, so I’m glad we had the chance to sit up there and appreciate it.

There is also a Jungle Village, with several homes and rental bungalows. They share a relaxing pool with, of course, a view.

We parked the cart at Red Frog beach, and had tacos at Nachyo  Momma’s, which had been recommended by many cruisers at the marina. It did not disappoint, and I was especially happy to get a great meal at a place that also shares the same name with one of my favorite Baltimore restaurants!

The roads here are dirt, gravel, mud and ruts for now. The plan is to pave them all with brick, a monumental undertaking! They have built their own brickworks, and are making all the bricks her on the island, saving much money on shipping them into the country. Still, a monumental task!

For the most part, we enjoy the roads being unfinished as we walk the property, except for the occasional muck and mud after a good rain.

However, they do not make for a comfortable golf cart go. We’ve rented carts on other island with tires and suspensions better equipped for bumpy, muddy roads. Our little cart was more challenged, and it wasn’t my favorite ride…give a listen:

Aside from our wanderings, we’ve made some new friends here, and are having fun spending time with them. The weather has been beautiful, but brutally hot. When the sun is out, you feel like an ant under a magnifying glass, and walking on decks or piers without shoes is like walking barefoot on the surface of the sun.

Thankfully, by 5pm the heat wanes a bit, and people venture out. We usually make a happy hour cocktail and walk to the beach, or meet other cruisers at a gathering spot along the main pier. The people, sights and sounds here at Red Frog marina make the heat bearable, and we’re loving our temporary rain forest home.

Here are many more photos of Red Frog’s property, and the beautiful views.

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

Exploring Bat Caves In Bocas

With more free time his hands, during my absence, Scott ventured out with our friends Jack and Monique (s/v Aloha), to visit some 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.

Armando pointed out  sloths, frogs and other creatures on the 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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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 chance missing my flight, due to heavy traffic across the city, I chose to spend the night at a hotel. My friendly cab driver, Willie, dropped me off, and promised 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 are again required to pass through metal detectors (after taking off  shoes, belt, etc.), have their body “wand-ed” and carry-on bags x-rayed and, dispose of all liquids! 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.

Of course I was welcome to leave the gate area, to get a drink, some food or use the bathroom, but I’d have to go back through security again, and the line had gotten much longer, so I chose to sit and wait. 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 Annapolis, referred to as the sailing capital of the world, and also 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. Scott and I learned so much from their experiences, and soaked up as much information as possible from them over the years. We spent hours catching up, as I relayed all that we’d experienced since leaving home.

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!

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

Next up, Ocean City, on Maryland’s eastern shore, where my college roommate and I worked thirty years ago during summer break (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 groups 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. 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 aboard 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 have had 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!”

Scott’s Bachelor Days

While I was in Baltimore, Scott enjoyed some serious bachelor time. A conversation two weeks into my trip home went something like this:

Me: How is everything?

Scott: Ok, but the boat kinda smells.

Me: Have you done laundry? (keep in mind, I’d been gone for two weeks)

Scott: I’ll probably do it tomorrow.

Me: Are you showering regularly?

Scott: Well, maybe not as regularly as society would like.

Me: Ok, so the laundry stinks, and you stink and therefor the bed sheets also stink. Maybe this the cause of said smell.

Scott: And I may not be rinsing the sink as good as I should, ’cause it kinda has a smell, too.

Me: Please pay someone to clean the boat before I come back.

Scott’s answer to the squashing the smell? When I talked to him the next day, he’d sprayed some body spray into the air conditioning vents, so the smell would travel down into the stateroom. I told him I was actually fine with that, but to still do the laundry, and shower more often! Thankfully, when I came back, everything smelled and looked normal.

Pete, our neighbor across the pier, had to empty his fuel tanks for repairs. With nowhere to put it, and time getting short, he offered it to us…free of charge. Scott just had to get it from Pete’s boat to ours.

After waiting in vain for the mechanic at the marina to help out with pumping the fuel, Scott went to town and bought 100 feet of hose, removed his pump from our engine room, assembled everything on the pier, and pumped 350 – 400 gallons of fuel from Pete’s boat, across the pier and into our tanks.

Before beginning, Scott moved all of the fuel we had into one tank, just in case Pete’s fuel wasn’t the cleanest. As always, Scott filtered the fuel down to 10 microns as he pumped it, and said that it looked great. It was a bit of a hassle, but the process saved us approximately $1,000.00!

There were also several excursions on the Aluminum Princess while I was gone. Scott’s first outing was to the Snyder Canal.

Bocas del Toro is home to Panama’s first man-made canal. The Snyder Banana Company received permission from the Colombian government in 1899 to construct a canal from near Isla Colon to nearby Changuinola, in order to develop banana plantations on property recently obtained from the estate a German banana grower in the area.

There needed to be some way to transport banana bunches to ships waiting in Almirante bay, so construction of the the Snyder Canal began. The United Fruit Company purchased the Snyder Banana Company in 1899, and completed the canal 1903.

In addition to bananas, the canal was used to barge construction materials, supplies, bridge and steam locomotive parts and personnel to Changuinola. A telephone line was installed along the length of the canal, to communicate the control of heavy barge traffic.

Bridges and railroad systems were eventually built, connecting port facilities to plantations from Changuinola to the Costa Rican border 30 miles away.

 By 1909, with the railroad system in place for transporting bananas to newly opened port facilities located on the mainland, the Synder Canal was declared obsolete and was abandoned.

Referred to as “the other Panama Canal,” the Snyder Canal parallels the Caribbean coast, not far from Bocas del Toro. These days, the shoreline has grown into the canal in many spots, making for interesting travel. Scott also passed several local Indian homes on his journey.

As most of the land along canal is also fronts the Caribbean Sea (canal on one side, Caribbean Sea on the other), Scott noticed many investor signs along the way. It seems that they intend to eventually develop the shoreline here.

As the canal ends, the water opens up again, with field-like grasses on either side.

Scott next traveled the Rio Banano, a small, natural river nearby. Unlike the man-made canal, the Rio Banano is thick with mangroves. They crowd the shoreline, and hang down from above like tropical stalactites.

Scott navigated the twisting, turning path through the muddy, sediment-filled water. He hoped that his prop didn’t snag anything along the way, not wanting to put his hand in the murky water to free it.

Scott loves a good day of exploring, and enjoyed discovering these two interesting waterways. Here are more photos of his Aluminum Princess excursions near Bocas.

“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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Anniversary To Us!

Yesterday we celebrated our nine year anniversary. The weather was far better nine years ago, when we were wed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

After thinking we had to put our celebratory dinner on hold, due to hours and hours of biblical rain, the waterworks finally subsided in the late afternoon yesterday and we hopped a water taxi to town. We enjoyed margaritas,  Indian food for dinner and a brief walk through town before taking another taxi back here to the marina.

The past nine years has been full of fun and laughter, new experiences, time with friends (old and new) and of course this incredible adventure….Cheers to nine years!

“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.

Image result for aerial view of isla colon, panama

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 resembles 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 my height-challenged legs.

Scott 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.

The three of us are settled in, and enjoying our stay!

Here are more photos of 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!

We’ve settled in at Bocas Marina, with the Panamanian courtesy flag flying in our rigging,  dwarfed by the gaggle of sail boat masts around us. We’re short, fat, different and proud!

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

Our Final Push To Panama

Our passage to Panama was, in a word, terrific! We raised anchor at 7am, and followed both the way points and our track coming into the Albuquerques, traveling right through the reef, stress-free this time.

(If you were following our track on the Delorme link, the Albuquerque Cays are not visible on Google Earth, so it appeared that we were just dead in the water for five days or so. Our zig-zag track leading to it was our path through the coral.)

Scott estimated that the trip would take 28-30 hours, based on us traveling at an average speed of 6 knots. We actually averaged closer to 7 knots, and spent much of the trip at 7.1 and 7.2, with the current in our favor for a change. Considering that our paravanes cost us a half knot of speed when they’re in the water, traveling 7+ knots was fantastic!

The winds were at 13-15 knots as we left, and they dropped to nothing by the late afternoon; the seas followed suit. For much of the late afternoon and evening, our wind gauge read 0, a beautiful sight. Our trip went so smoothly that I was able to catch a nap in our bed, versus the couch. Howard got restful sleep, and was alert and mobile later, begging us for food.

Scott put his lines in the water, with fingers crossed that we’d catch something to fill the freezer with. Almost immediately, one of the lines began to whiz. It was a sizeable sailfish, that we weren’t interested in eating or taking the time to catch. However, that fish had our lure, so Scott began to reel him in. Unfortunately, the line snapped and the sailfish swam of….with our lure. Skunked again.

Just after dawn the next morning, the coastline of Panama came into view.

As the sun rose and we came closer to the coastline, the air smelled clean and fresh coming off of the mountains, similar to the awesome pine smell that greeted us in Guanaja.

As we approached the Bay of Almirante, several small hotels appeared along the shoreline. A large barge replacing navigational buoys passed by us, and those things are much bigger out of the water. We took turns venturing out onto the bow, admiring the coastline, breathing in the terrific smelling air and enjoying the sunshine.

We couldn’t stop looking at the mountains, with their peaks disappearing in the clouds. Later, Scott realized that the lower hills are in Panama, and the higher ones we were seeing are actually in Costa Rica, as the country’s border is very close.

Once inside the bay, the water turned glassy calm.

The color here was more green and didn’t appear to be too clear, until we saw two dolphins headed our way. As they approached the boat and dove down, we could clearly see them at least 20 feet down. We expected them to hang around our bow for a bit, but they went right by us, and I thought they’d gone. I turned to see them doing Sea World-type flips some distance behind us, and wished I hadn’t left my camera inside.

Soon Isla Colon, and Bocas Town, came into sight. Our marina is off of the west end of Boca Town, so we had to make our way around to the other side of the island.

By this time, Howard was more than ready to be there.

An hour or so later we made our final turn, taking us past more of Bocas Town, and heading toward Bocas Marina.

Panama was our destination for hurricane season this year, and the goal for end of year one. The original plan was to be here in Bocas del Toro by late June, and make our way toward the Eastern Caribbean in late October.

After being delayed so long in getting here, and not wanting to rush through the country. we’ve decided to linger here until spring. We’ll stay in Bocas del Toro until mid-November, and then move on to explore more of the eastern coast, and the San Blas Islands (sorry, so canal crossing for us). Here are more photos of our final leg to Panama.

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