Visiting The Western San Blas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Here are more photos.

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

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!

For now, we’re settled in at Bocas Marina. The Panamanian courtesy flag flies in our rigging, which is dwarfed by the gaggle of sail boat masts around us. We’re proudly short, fat and different!

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