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!”

 

 

 

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!”

 

 

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!”

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!”