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 Last Weeks In The San Blas Islands

Our last few weeks in the San Blas were spent revisiting several anchorages and saying final goodbyes. I had spread the word for cruisers in the area to gather for a Mardi Gras celebration on Barbecue Island, located at the head of the swimming pool anchorage. We had a terrific turnout, with nearly 40 people arriving by dingy. It was a fun and festive evening!

 

Our friends Tate and Dani (s/v Sundowner) were entertaining their friend, Michele, who was visiting from New Orleans, so several of us gathered at our usual beach spot for afternoon drinks, bobbing and of course some trash burning.

Scott and I brought Micah along, who was aboard Dauntless, our fellow Krogen, and we were all thrilled to have Debbie and Reg join us, from s/v Runner. They have been living at anchor in the swimming pool for almost ten years!  Everyone enjoyed time in the water, and the fun lasted until after sunset.

The forecast called for winds to increase in the coming days, so the following morning we headed just around the corner to the hot tub anchorage, which usually offers a bit more protection from winds and the current that comes with it. For this go-round however, the hot tub was still considerably wind-chopped. In addition, the sun decided to take a break, and windy, cloudy conditions lasted for nearly ten days.

We had sizable neighbors just outside the anchorage, in the form of several large charter yachts. I named this one “Little Titanic.” It was a beautiful yacht from the 1920s, completely refitted in 2003, at what I’m sure had to be an astronomical cost. Speaking of astronomical, $500,000.00 (yes, half a million U.S. Dollars) will buy you a week-long charter….for eight guests. I was happy just to enjoy the view.

Several of our cruising friends waited out the windy weather with us in the hot tub as well. We passed time visiting each other by dinghy, and dealing with the ongoing internet challenge. Our friend Jon spent much time at what we called s/v Prism’s “internet cafe.”

There were several boccie matches on the large beach of a nearby island, an afternoon trash burn at the nearby lazy river beach (you can ride the current, just floating along, around the end of the island) and Sea Life hosted our friends in the anchorage one evening, with Scott making his now-famous quesadillas.

The winds began to die just in time for us to head back to the Robison Islands. A regatta was being held, made up of local Gunas in their sailing ulus. Our friends Ted and Barbara (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) were also in the Robisons, with things for us from Panama City (yes, you always take advantage of having things brought from the city!).

On our way, we decided to make a stop at the Carti Islands, to shop the tienda there. Many friends frequently mentioned it as one of the best locations for produce in the San Blas. We anchored right off of the island, which was crammed with houses and other buildings. Thankfully, it didn’t take us long to locate the ice machine we were told to look for, which marked the pier leading to the tienda.

As we approached, I thought we must have been coming up on the wrong location. Surely this store wasn’t going to have much, other than junk.

Inside, we were impressed with the variety and amount of produce jammed into the small store with dirt floors. There were large bags and boxes full of tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, as well as apples, bananas and papaya. A large cooler contained plenty of parsley, celery and culantro, and an abundance of pineapples and netted sleeves of garlic hung from the ceiling beams.

The small store also carried a decent supply of canned food, rice, sodas, cleaning supplies and similar shelved items. We arrived at Carti, shopped and were back on board raising anchor within two hours, and then continued on to the Robisons.

Unfortunately, we decided not to fight winds in the open water, to arrive in time for the regatta. Many cruisers who were already on the Robisons’ side of the archipelago, with a more protected course, had come for the event as well. Most arrived the day before the regatta, and the anchorage was much more crowded than in our previous visit.

By the time we anchored, the main dock on the largest village was crowded with dinghies and ulus, as everyone gathered for an awards celebration. When the party broke up, I was able to get many photos of the colorful ulus sailing away from the village.

Ted and Barbara came over to deliver our requested items from Panama City. We thanked them for their efforts with dinner aboard, and were treated to another full rainbow over the anchorage.

The next morning, we made the 90 minute trip back to Porvenier, with fingers crossed to get ourselves cleared out of Panama. Several dolphins joined us along the way, and they caught our eye as looking a bit different from others we’d seen. They had white speckled bodies, and after some checking, we discovered that they were spotted dolphins.  One of them was completely content to swim upside-down for an extended time alongside the boat. Dolphins….always amusing.

Inside the office, it took some doing to get our exit stamps. The officer was concerned about our paperwork. We had recent exit and re-entry stamps (from my adventure to Panama City with Howard), but our customs form had us checked out three months prior to those dates. Scott explained that the discrepancy wasn’t Panama’s concern, as we weren’t coming back to the country; it was an issue for the agent in Colombia to deal with. He finally got the message through, and the officer stamped us out of the country, but not before confirming one more time that we would not be coming back to Panama anytime soon.

From Porvenier, we began a San Blas farewell tour. Our friends Dani and Tate were anchored in the eastern Lemmon Cays. They had recently decided to sell their sailboat, Sundowner (setting their sights on a larger cruising boat), and the Lemmons anchorage provided a short sail to the mainland for meeting potential buyers. It would be our last chance to see them, and since the anchorage was just 90 minutes from Porvenier,  we headed their way.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to the Lemmon Cays without some time in open water between reefs. Scott decided that since  it was only a short stretch, we could forego putting the paravane birds in the water. He quickly regretted the decision, becoming seasick in the rolling swells. Not wanting to lose speed or time by stopping to put the birds in, Scott instead chose to battle his stomach for the 30 minute open water ride.

I still had some ground beef stashed in the freezer, from Bocas del Toro, so we invited Dani and Tate over for a burgers. The two of them were some of the first cruising friends we met in the San Blas, and we were going to really miss seeing them regularly.

The next morning, our friends Chris and Anne (s/v Mr. Mac) hailed us on the vhf. They had just arrived in the Lemmons, and were anchored right near us, stopping on their way back to Bocas. Mr. Mac would be stored for the summer at Red Frog Marina, while Chris and Anne headed back to North Carolina.

A plan was made to meet at the small restaurant nearby for happy hour drinks, and then back to Mr. Mac for dinner. The four of us met during our stay at Red Frog, and immediately hit it off. It was a treat to have them in the San Blas for much of our stay, and we’ll definitely miss our time together.

From the Lemmons, we made our way to anchor in the swimming pool one last time. Several of our friends were there, giving us the chance for more goodbyes. Another large gathering was planned for Barbeque Island, to celebrate all cruisers with March birthdays. This included several of our friends, so we made our way ashore for one last potluck happy hour.

 

We spent a few more days at anchor in the pool, managing to squeeze in a final trash-burn gathering on one of the local beaches (cocktails included of course), before saying final goodbyes to the people we’d become close with.

Our friends Julie and Tom (s/v Gris Gris) have spent many years cruising the area, and were immediately welcoming when we arrived. They shared their extensive knowledge of the Guna people, and helped with many San Blas cruising details during our stay.

Our beautiful, Trinidad-born friend, Sharda, had worked many years in bakeries, much like myself. We hit it off, trading recipes and tips, with our husbands reaping (or should I say eating) the benefits of our friendship.

With the farewell tour complete, it was time to make our way further east. We would head for some of the more remote anchorages and villages in the eastern San Blas, while waiting on favorable weather to head for Cartagna. It was definitely hard to leave this beautiful place, and all of the great friends we’d met during our stay.

Here are more photos.

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

A Fellow Krogen Comes To The San Blas

Scott regularly follows cruising and trawler websites, as well as several blogs. During our refit, and over the last 18 months or so of actively cruising, the various sites and forums have been useful sources of information and first hand knowledge. One of the more interesting blogs is that of Duantless, another 42′ Kadey Krogen trawler.

Richard Bost began cruising with Dauntless in the Bahamas, and then traveled back up the east coast to New York. After his “shakedown” cruise, he headed for Nova Scotia, and then crossed the Atlantic (traveling alone from the Azures to Ireland). Richard wintered in Ireland, and then spent time extensively cruising areas throughout the North and Baltic Seas.

Dauntless returned to Ireland for maintenance and repairs, and then continued on, making stops in France, Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco and the Canary Islands before crossing back over the Atlantic, and into the Caribbean. After spending time in Martinique to rest and refuel, Richard planned to head for the Panama Canal, stopping in Cartagena along the way.

Scott and Richard had been communicating through Trawler Forum for about a year, trading information back and forth. When logistics for stopping in Cartagena became an issue, Scott convinced Richard to make a detour, and come to the San Blas for a visit.

As Dauntless approached the San Blas, we kept an eye on Richard’s progress through the Delorme link on his blog. We noticed him stopped in Nargana, and realizing that he’d been informed we were there, Scott contacted Richard to let him know that we were now in the Eastern Holandes. It wasn’t long before we spotted Dauntless making her way into the swimming pool anchorage.

Once they were anchored, Scott went over to officially welcome Richard and his nephew Micah to the pool. They had traveled straight through from Aruba, so we made a plan to meet aboard Sea Life for brunch the next morning, giving the two a chance to rest up.

In the morning, rested and refreshed, Richard and Micha joined us for brunch. With full bellies, the inspection of Sea Life began.

 

Then it was back over to Dauntless, where Richard and Scott compare boats and notes.

 

The two enjoyed exchanging information, learning much about how each boat was outfitted. Unfortunately, Richard was on a tight schedule to make his Panama Canal date, so it was a short San Blas visit, but we enjoyed meeting him, and Micah, after following Dauntless’ adventure for the last several years. It was also nice to have another trawler in the anchorage, among all the sailboats!

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

 

 

Dinner And Drama

We enjoyed getting to know Michele, who was visiting our friends Dani and Tate (s/v Sundowner), so before she left to go home, Scott and I wanted to have the three of them aboard Sea Life for dinner. Unfortunately, when date night came around, Dani wasn’t feeling well, so Tate and Michele joined us as a twosome.

The four of us enjoyed dinner, and Howard amused us all with his usual antics. He tends to burn off his evening energy by racing around the decks like a maniac, before jumping from the cockpit, to the rail, onto the grill, and then launching up to the flybridge. Because we had guests on board, he was extra wound up, and had too much momentum going from the rail to the grill. Instead of landing on it, he sailed past….and into the water.

Luckily, Scott and Tate were outside, and realized that Howard had gone overboard. They began to try and locate him in the water, while I yelled to them to get a towel (A cat can grab the towel with his claws, and hang onto it as you pull him in. We used this tactic on one of the three times Howard went into the Baltimore harbor).

Scott and Tate spotted Howard swimming off of our port side. On top of it being 10pm and dark (why do things like this always happen in the dark?!?), there was a bit of current running through the anchorage. With the Bengal breed being part of his make-up, Howard is a good swimmer, but Scott was concerned that the current would be an issue. As I was still yelling to get a towel, he thrust his hand into the water, hoping to pull Howard back on board.

As Scott reached toward him, Howard bit right into the last two fingers of his right hand, puncturing the pinky, and tearing through the ring finger. With his bloody finger, Scott was still trying to help Howard, who was now attempting to get hold of our inflatable dinghy. Realizing that his finger needed immediate attention, Tate took Scott inside to help wrap the wound.

By now, I was out on the swim platform, and Howard had made his way around to the back of the boat. As he bit at one of our fenders hanging in the water (we later realized that he popped it; jaws of steel), I realized that Howard had not intentionally bitten Scott. He was just desperately trying to grab hold of anything he could with his teeth, to get out of the water as he swam. Howard grabbed right onto the towel that I threw in the water, and I was able to pull him up onto the swim platform and into my lap.

Michele tossed me another towel, and Howard stayed in my lap as I began to dry him off. Once he’d caught his breath, we moved inside, and I went over his fur with “kitty wipes,” so he wouldn’t ingest too much salt as he continued to dry himself off.

Meanwhile, Tate had helped Scott wrap his finger, and was now attacking drops of blood on the saloon rug with hydrogen peroxide (It took the spots right out, along with those on Scott’s shirt; a nice little trick to remember). He suggested that Scott immediately start taking an antibiotic, so I unearthed a bottle of Cipro from our stash of drugs.

Not fifteen minutes after coming out of the water, Howard was crying for food. He wolfed it down, followed by some water (Maybe he was trying to get the taste of salt water out of his mouth?). Once things had settled down, Tate and Michele headed back to Sundowner. Tate was a huge help, and Michele went home with quite a story!

The next morning, being concerned about a cat bite in salt water, I suggested that we try and raise our friends Ted and Barbara (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) on the vhf. They are both doctors, and I wanted to make sure that we treated Scott’s wound correctly.

We were able to reach Ted and Barbara, but because they were several islands away, and our vhf antenna is not nearly as high in the air as that of a sailboat, it was a very, very hard to hear them through the static. Fortunately, our friend Judy was anchored nearby (s/v Chinook). She heard our struggling conversation, and stepped in to relay the conversation for us through her vhf radio; this was a huge help.

Both Barbara and Ted asked Scott several questions, gathering information about the wound. They instructed Scott to add 1500 milligrams of Amoxicillin per day, to the 500 miligrams of Cipro that he was already taking. The two drugs together helped fight any possible infection in a more broad spectrum. In addition, Scott was told to soak the finger twice a day with a diluted iodine solution, and to not fully close the finger up for several days. This would allow the iodine soak to really clean out the wound.

Barbara and Ted suggested that Scott may need a few stitches to close the wound on day three or four. This posed several questions: Do we make the costly trek to a hospital in Panama City, head back to Nargana, and have it stitched at the clinic there or take our friend Chris (s/v Mr. Mac) up on his offer to close the wound (Between our two boats, we had everything needed for this.)? Of course, Scott was voting for option three. Chris had only stitched up lab animals, but skin was skin….right??

Thankfully, we didn’t need to put any of the options in play. Judy came over to take a photo of Scott’s finger on day three (which I had still not looked at…gross). When she sent it to Barbara and Ted, they said that the finger looked great, and instead of stitches, Scott could get just use a sterile-strip to close the wound (thank you to our friend Maria, who is a nurse, and stocked us up on many emergency items before we left home!).

Of course this meant Scott was out of the water for at least two weeks, something he was not happy about. However, during his entire “sentence,” the winds picked up and it was mostly cloudy, which somewhat softened the blow. Scott’s finger healed beautifully, and he and Howard are still friends…for now.

Nargana, Our Visit To The “Big City”

After our friend Karen headed back home, Scott and I decided to head over to the “big city” of Nargana. On the morning net, we regularly hear cruisers mention stopping at the larger, more populated island for fresh produce, water and other items. At only an hour or so from our anchorage in the Coco Bandero Cays, we thought it was time to check out Nargana for ourselves.

One of several larger and more populated islands in the San Blas archipelago, Nargana is joined to the neighboring island of Corazon de Jesus by a covered, concrete bridge. Here’s an overhead view.

Being a “big city,” we were greeted by a sizable cell phone tower, but unfortunately I still struggled with a decent signal (what are these stupid towers made of??)

Not long after we had anchored, a local man stopped by in his ulu. Frederico lives on the island, and offered his help with anything we may need during our stay. His primary income comes from offering laundry service, but thankfully we have a machine here on board. After chatting with Scott a bit, Frederico told Scott where to land the dinghy when we went in for groceries, and then made his way back to shore.

Never meeting a river he didn’t like to explore, Scott took off the next morning to see what the nearby Rio Diablo river had in store (I stayed behind, to fight with the maddening, in-explainable internet service). He found the usual thick jungle-lined shorelines, but also discovered several graveyards through the trees.

Toward the end of his exploration, the sun came out brightly, casting beautifully clear reflections in the water.

That afternoon, we headed into town in search of fresh produce and bread (Guna bread is made with coconut water, and it’s the best!). As we approached the dock, there was Frederico, waiting for us to land. His house is located on the the outer edge of the island, with a view of the anchorage. He’d seen the dinghy heading into town, and came to offer us a tour. Having no idea where to go in search of produce and bread, we thought, why not, and accepted his offer.

Frederico walked us down one of the island’s main streets, passing a heated volleyball game and many gardens.

We ended up at the water’s edge, where there were several graves. Frederico explained that the raised burial sites were important people, but we didn’t quite get the who and why.

He showed us a beach where many turtles come to nest and hatch each year, and then we made our way back to town, walking an old airstrip that used to service the island.

Our quest for bread and produce was lengthy. We’d had no success on Nargana, so it was across the bridge, to try our luck in Corazon de Jesus.

The bread wasn’t too difficult to locate on Corazon de Jesus, although we’d never have found it on our own. Many of the bakeries and tiendas are run out of, or blend right in with homes on the island.

Finding produce was not as easy, or productive. We’d seen several supply boats in town as we came in, but there was nothing to be found but some beat up cabbage, carrots and potatoes. There’s always talk of fresh stuff disappearing the day after it arrives here, and apparently this was true.

After walking both islands in the midday heat, we enjoyed a beer in the shade with Frederico before he walked us back to our dinghy. He raises funds to aide the handicapped people on both islands, and we were happy to donate to his efforts as a thank you for his help in town. I snapped a photo of our friendly guide with Scott, who is a giant in the San Blas; for that matter, in all of Mexico and Latin America.

Our last quest was for gasoline, and we’d been told that Paco’s was the only game in town. Frederico hopped into the dingy to help us locate the pier (again, we’d have never found it on our own). It was quite the place, definitely not your usual gas station. While gasoline was siphoning out of a barrel and into our jerry cans, Frederico grabbed a seat.

With two out of three things checked off our list, we headed back to Sea Life. Off of our bow was the crowded Nargana shoreline, but behind us were beautiful views of scenic islands in front of the mainland mountains.

Before leaving the next morning, I sent Scott back into town to get some more guna bread, so we could stock the freezer. Again, Frederico was there at the dock to greet him, and it was a good thing. They visited seven places, before finding bread. Apparently, it’s not usually ready until early afternoon; very different from the bakeries in other countries, where fresh loaves are available first thing in the morning.

With the big city visit complete, we headed back to the swimming pool anchorage. Our friends Dani and Tate (s/v Sundowner) were expecting a guest with provisions in tow, and some of the loot was for us. On the way, Scott decided to put his fishing rods out, to see what might happen.

As luck would have it, he snagged a little tunny tuna. The poor thing threw up some icky liquid, as I performed my designated “documentation-of-fish-catch” photos. Knowing that Dani and Tate are fans of sushimi, we decided that the fish would make a nice welcome dinner for their guest.

We arrived just in time for Michele’s arrival to Sundowner by panga, and headed over to collect our goodies. It took a little leg work and a bit of water travel, but we had quite a productive and satisfying 48 hours: bread and gasoline in the big city (along with some river exploration), and now butter, pretzels and bacon! Here are more photos.

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

Our First Visitor!!

Not long after we began our journey, and were spending the month of December in Key West, Florida, several friends visited us during our stay; a quick, easy trip, no customs and warm weather.

Of course, we had a great time with everyone who came to Key West, but we’ve been anxious to have visitors during our travels through Mexico and Central America. While these locations aren’t as developed with resorts, or easy to get to as more familiar locations in the Eastern Caribbean, the towns and anchorages we’ve been to, and their gorgeous surroundings are not to be missed.

We also looked forward to having friends on board, so they could experience a bit of our life at anchor. To date, we’ve been alone on our journey aboard Sea Life, but that was finally about to change!

Our friend Karen contacted us, wanting to visit in February, and I excitedly pitched her the idea of meeting us here in the San Blas. Aside from my sister, Sally (who has traveled on her own to many far-reaching locations, including New Zealand, Thailand, and most recently Antarctica), Karen is one of the most adventurous people we know, so I was sure she’d be up for the adventure. As expected, she jumped right on board with the idea, and would be our first “official” visitor!

Karen’s journey began with a flight to Panama City, where she took a day to explore a bit. Our friend and provisioning master, Emilio, arranged for Karen to see some historic sites of Panama City, as well as a visit to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama canal.

The next morning, Emilo arrived at Karen’s hotel with a carload of provisions for us. Karen had arrived with two bags in tow, completely filled with items we’d requested and ordered from home, carrying  just a backpack of things for herself (and a pair of flippers). Her bags were loaded in with our provisions, and she and Emilio were off to meet Nacho, who would then drive Karen across the mountains to the Carti docks.

During the drive, Karen re-channeled her high school Spanish, and with a bit of Google Translate help, she and Nacho chatted (he remembered driving me…”Oh, the cat!). Along the way, they stopped for a priest and a young man who were walking on the side of the road, hoping for a ride. Nacho turned to Karen and said, “Miss Karen??” It was Karen’s paid ride, so it was her decision whether or not to let them in the car. Not wanting to say no to a priest, Karen gave her ok, and the two additional passengers hopped in.

Once at the dock, Nacho helped Karen find her panga, which we had pre arranged. There was some initial confusion as to which boat was hers, but finally all bags and provisions were loaded aboard one of the waiting boats. Karen would be brought out to us in the Robisons. It meant a short panga ride (20-30 minutes), and a chance to see the rural Guna villages.

We’d been in touch with Karen since she arrived in Panama City, and also along her journey over the mountains, so as the approximate arrival time for the panga drew near, we kept our eyes peeled.

The expected time passed, and then some more time passed…and then some more time. Eventually, our cell phone rang, and it was Karen (we were shocked to have enough signal to receive the call!). She informed us that the panga couldn’t find our boat among the others, and the men wanted to take her back to the dock…what?!?

Clearly, the panga was in the wrong location, as we were one of only five boats in the huge anchorage, and the only one that wasn’t a sailboat! Scott quickly began listing off the islands near us (using both “English” and Guna names for them), and also nearby rivers, hoping that the men on the panga would realize where they needed to go.

When that didn’t work, he went into navigational/survivalist mode, asking Karen questions, trying to find out where she was…”When you left the dock, did you head right or left?”…”From which side of the boat were the waves coming at you”… “What side of your face was the sun on?” This proved challenging for all involved. Karen now had us on speaker phone, and we could hear the men yelling back and forth at each other in frustration.

After talk of leaving her on the island where they currently were (wherever that was), we were finally able to communicate our location using Bradeo’s name (Scott’s village tour guide). We hoped that there was only one Bradeo (and that it wasn’t a name like “Joe”), and Karen would be headed in the right direction.

It wasn’t long before we spotted what had to be her panga on the horizon, and were soon unloading Karen, her bags and all of our provisions; her 20-30 minute ride had taken almost 90 minutes. After a bathroom break, and a cold beer, we took some time to relax before our friend Ted (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) came over in his dinghy to take us over for a walk through the largest village near us.

We were not permitted to take photos in the village, but enjoyed walking among the houses and saying hello to some of the Gunas. Our long day ended with dinner on board and an early night. Things were so crazy, I failed to get any photos of Karen’s arrival.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed back to the Holandes. The wind forecast was predicted to be perfect for Karen’s stay, so we were headed for the swimming pool anchorage. Unfortunately, during our short passage between the reefs, in open ocean swells, Karen became sea sick while trying to check emails (the price for working during vacation!). After emptying her stomach over board, she retired to the guest stateroom, to sleep it off.

We arrived to a fully cloudy, rainy afternoon in the swimming pool, which never happens! However, Scott spotted a Triggerfish under the boat, and decided on an alternate form of entertainment for amusing Karen. While she kept an eye on the fish, Scott set up one of my frozen lobster tails in the water for bait (great). He speared the large Trigger from our swim platform…dinner and a show!

The rains finally ended, and we were treated to an amazing, full rainbow over the anchorage, that faded and then brightened again for quite a long time…welcome to the San Blas, Karen.

Keeping the underwater show going, Scott next lowered the Triggerfish carcass into the water, to see what it might attract. Karen and I were relaxing up on the flybridge, when I noticed Howard in front of me, leaning over so far that he was practically hanging by his toes. I went to grab him, and realized that we had company in the water below.

Two blacktip reef sharks had turned up to sniff out our offering. Howard moved downstairs, and out onto the swim platform for a better look. We quickly squashed his fun, not wanting him to be the second course!

The sharks were sizeable, approximately six feet in length. They would bite at the carcass, but were easily scared off by seeing us above.

By dusk, a third shark had joined in, and we enjoyed a shark-filled sunset.

Check out our “friends” at the bottom of the photo.

Just before the sun set, one of the sharks finally mustered up enough courage to snatch the prize, and just as quickly as they came, they were gone.

The next morning was sunny and bright, and the swimming pool was living up to it’s name; the visibility was insanely clear. We were anchored in ten feet of water, and I could easily see right over the side of the boat, down to the sea floor below, which was littered with sand dollars, conch shells and other interesting stuff.

Karen joined us in the dinghy, as I passed out baked treats to our friends in the anchorage, who we hadn’t seen for awhile. By the time we were through, Venancio, the master mola maker was coming through in a panga. He came aboard, and Karen took time to choose some of his work to take home. Much to Scott’s chagrin, I bought another beautiful mola for myself.

It was now time for water play! Scott took Karen snorkeling on the reef behind our boat. He’d find interesting things to show her along the way, and also snagged some trinkets from to floor below us.

Next, Scott took Karen to the outer reef, for a change of scene.

Karen and I enjoyed some time “bobbing” on our water loungers, and watched a large yacht at the back of the anchorage lower one of their several tenders down into the water. If only the Aluminum Princess had it so smooth and easy going up and down!

I’d rallied a gathering for cocktails and sunset on one of the nearby island beaches, and we headed over to our waiting friends.

Our friends were very welcoming to Karen, as cruisers are, and we all enjoyed a great evening.

Another beautiful sunrise over the anchorage brought a plan to change location.

With the calm wind forecast, we decided show Karen the Coco Bandero Cays, it’s beautiful island views and my favorite beach. Before leaving, we were lucky enough to catch a veggie boat coming into the anchorage..who came to us first!!! We hadn’t seem them before, but were glad for the chance to stock up before leaving. Their daughter swam around the panga while we shopped, and then practiced her motor-starting skills.

With fresh produce on board, we left the anchorage, bound for the Cocos. Just around the corner, our friends Jon and Shannon (s/v Prism) came into view, on their way back to the pool. We waved and snapped photos of each other as our boats crossed paths.

Karen stayed off of the internet, escaped sea sickness and we  enjoyed the scenic ride to the Coco Bandero Cays.

The next day, Karen and I spent the afternoon on my favorite beach, while Scott went out to hunt the reef. We had the beautiful little island all to ourselves.

There were more snorkeling outings, and we also took a dinghy ride around the area, passing over some massive coral. Aside from that, our last day together was spent walking the islands’ beaches and bobbing in the water. We also introduced Karen to the official cruisers’ game of Mexican Train dominoes!

After the crazy panga ride to the Robisons, we arranged Karen’s return pick up through Nacho, thinking that using a Guna driver to set up a Guna panga would work better. We also assumed that Nacho would keep things on time, to avoid waiting at the docks for Karen.

Nacho informed us that a panga would be at the boat to pick Karen up, in the Cocos, at 6am on Sunday morning. Scott thought this suspect, as the sun doesn’t even come up until 6:30am, and the area is much too full of coral for a panga to come out any earlier, even for locals. We expected to see the ride arrive closer to 7:00.

Seven am came and went, so Scott and Karen made their way in the dinghy to the beach behind us, for a cell signal to contact Nacho (Seriously, on board…no signal at all…just behind us on the beach…terrific. The only thing in between us and the tower?…a spindly island. Scott’s convinced that the palm trees here must be lead-lined).

As soon as they left, our friend Ted (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) hailed us on the vhf radio. There was a panga alongside his boat, and he was fairly sure they were looking for Sea Life, and Karen. I was afraid to ask where Ted was anchored, fearing that it was hours away, but he replied that they were in the nearby Western Cocos…whew!

I relayed to Ted where we were, and thanked him for sending the panga in the right direction. Hearing all of this on the portable vhf, Scott and Karen were already headed back to the boat. Ten minutes later, she boarded her ride for the mainland.

In just over an hour, the appropriate time for a ride from the Cocos, Karen was back at the Carti dock with no issues, and on her way over the mountains with Nacho. Aside from having to stop and wait for Nacho to get his breakfast, her trip went smoothly, and she arrived at the airport in plenty of time for the flight home.

The crew on board Sea Life, including Howard, spent the rest of the day relaxing, and enjoyed another beautiful sunset.

So, I think all of the San Blas experience boxes were checked during Karen’s stay: seeing a Guna village; getting sea sick (could’ve skipped that); spearing fish; seeing sharks; eating fresh-caught lobster, fish and crab; snorkeling, hanging with cruisers at a beach gathering; bobbing; having a private beach day;  seeing a long-lasting, full rainbow on the water; purchasing molas, playing Mexican Train dominoes, buying food from a veggie boat and taking in lots of gorgeous views!

Karen quickly adapted to life at anchor with us during her visit, learning where things were, dealing with generator day, helping with laundry, tolerating Scott’s yes’s and no’s on board the boat (yes, you can take all the time you want choosing a beverage from the Engel cooler, but shut the refrigerator door immediately!), helping us prepare to get underway and  personally dealing with the Congresso, when they came for their monthly anchoring fee!

It was so great to see our friend, and have a “piece of home” on board for a bit. We greatly appreciate that Karen rose to the challenge of visiting us in such a remote location, and hope she survived to visit us again! Here are a few more photos.

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

 

 

 

Christmas And New Year’s Eve. In The San Blas Islands

We’re alive and kickin’, here in the San Blas islands! Internet service is more available than expected, but usually requires precise placement of a cell phone (used as an internet hot spot) at the highest outside point possible. It’s a familiar sight here, to see phones encased in plastic bags, hanging from, or being hoisted up a mast. At best, the service comes and goes, making uploading challenging, with the strongest hours coming in the middle of the night…oy! Some people have boosters installed on board, to up the strength of the signal. Others travel to anchorages that may have better service.

We do not have a booster, and are trying not to spend our time chasing the internet, so getting a signal worth doing anything, for any amount of time, is basically a crap shoot.

I’ve finally caved, and have spent several all-nighters (with nap breaks during weak service periods) while we’re in a location with decent service, to catch up a bit, and share what we’ve been up to for the past two months. Yes, I guess I could have written a post without photos attached, but that would just be mean.

We made our way from Linton Bay, on Panama’s mainland, to the eastern Holandes Cays in the San Blas islands, where we anchored in the Swimming Pool. Named for it’s shallow, clear blue water, the pool lives up to it’s name. The anchorage provides an nearly 180 degree view of the surrounding reef, and the breaking waves are easily heard day and night.

The views behind us were just as beautiful, with the colors of patch coral in the distance.

On our first morning at anchor in “the pool,”  we had a visit from Venancio, one of just a few master mola makers in the San Blas. We’d been told to keep an eye out for him, and were surprised to see him so far east.  Venancio told us that he makes the eight hour round trip to the eastern Holandes from the island where he lives, just once a week, so we were lucky to catch him.

Venancio came aboard with a trash can full of molas, and some beaded bracelets. He took each mola out, and explained it’s design as he laid them out for us to see. They were beautiful; full of color, and all hand stitched.

We chose several of our favorites, and then Venancio packed up his trash can, loaded it aboard the ulu (wooden canoe) and covered it well, protecting the molas from the salt air and spray.  Mola purchase in San Blas..check.

The week before Christmas, we heard a general announcement on the vhf that there was going to be a cruiser gathering on Barbecue Island, located at the front of the anchorage, just behind the reef. We were excited to meet the other cruisers in the anchorage, and arrived with an appetizer to share with the group. The weather was perfect, and we met many new friends. (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

Once the sun set, locals on the island, who run a small “resort” (I use that term very loosely) lit a bonfire for us. Their fire starting was far from skilled, as we watched them spray the huge pile of wood and palm fronds with gasoline! (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

As expected, Scott spent many hours in the Aluminum Princess, exploring the anchorage and the area around the expansive reef.

He always has his pole spear handy, as his snorkeling outing often turn into hunting expeditions…many times successful ones!

Scott dropped a lobster head into the water behind the boat, to see what might bite. It seems that Triggerfish find them pretty tasty. Regulars here in the San Blas refer to Triggerfish as “Bob.” Maybe because there are many in the waters here…not sure. Bob likes lobster.

On windy days, current would run through the anchorage at close to four knots, making swimming very challenging. Scott’s solution was to take the Princess to one end of the anchorage, tie himself to it with a 30 foot line, and drift along behind it, as the boat made it’s way back through the anchorage in the current.

He  caught quite a few very large conch like this, having just enough time to get to the bottom and grab them before being pulled along. Neither of us were up for the job of cleaning conch (eewww), so we shared them with some of our new friends in the anchorage…and joined them for some fresh ceviche as a thank you!

We would get regular visits from the Gunas, in their ulas (dugout canoes). They usually had molas and jewelry for sale. We already had more molas than needed, but were happy to fill their water jugs with fresh water, and occasionally a juice for small children. They also took our aluminum cans, to sell to the Colombian trader boats who recycle them.They both row and sail the ulas, and the women’s traditional dress is beautiful.

There is no trash removal service here in the San Blas. Bottles are broken into pieces (the theory is that the pieces will eventually turn into sea glass) and dropped overboard when in deep water (at least 150 feet), along with steel cans (anything that will rust away). This isn’t just practice reserved for the San Blas islands, the U.S Coast Guard has similar requirements for trash removal offshore.

All other trash here is burned. Being new to the San Blas, we weren’t sure which beaches were acceptable for this, as all of the islands here are owned by Guna families, whether they are inhabited or not. Until we learned the rules of trash burning etiquette, Scott improvised.

Channeling his inner “MacGyver,” Scott fashioned a rack from a wire coat hanger (I’m shocked that we had one on board, although he probably had it squirreled away for just such an occasion),and placed it in the bottom of an old varnish can. He punched holes in the bottom for air, and voila!, a burn can for the grill was born.

This would have been the perfect solution if we burned every day, or made less trash, but we do neither of these things. Instead, Scott would spent two hours or more burning everything from paper to an old pair of shorts.

Positive…our trash burned down to a tiny pile of  ash. Negatives..it took hours, and we had to close up the saloon, to avoid being choked out from the smoke.

Luckily, or new-found cruiser friends invited us to join them for a trash burn run. We followed them about 20 minutes from the pool, to a beautiful spot, where they meet to burn trash. Fires are made near the waterline, so that high tide will wash away the leftover ash.

We soon realized that trash burning here is a social event. Once the trash has burned, and while we wait for the ashes to smolder and cool, it’s time for bobbing with drinks in the clear blue water; now that’s my idea of a day’s work!

By the way, wearing some kind of shirt is a must in the water here  (unless you’re our friend, Sharda, who is blessed with skin from Trinidad!). I learned this the hard way, frying my shoulders and back from the reflection of the hot sun off of the water.

When we first arrived, there were few boats in the anchorage  here, but during  the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. the numbers grew.

 

Of course, Christmas would not be complete without lights! We lugged along our holiday lights, and Sea Life was quite a festive sight in the anchorage. (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

After enduring a stretch of windy weather in the pool, with the accompanying currents and insane salt spray, we decided to change locations for the next go-round. After the new year, we headed around the corner to the Hot Tub (yes, from the pool, to the hot tub..tough times).

With more protection from the winds, the water in “the tub” is much calmer, and the current much less strong. In addition to more beautiful views, the water is supposed to be warmer than in the pool, hence the name. However, we found it to be much cooler…ahhhh, refreshing.

 

 

Scott found a great honey hole around the corner, catching lobster and Lionfish. They are invasive, so he tries to kill them whenever he can. Lionfish are also good eating, but challenging to clean, due to their poisonous dorsal fins.

Once again, Scott used lobster tails for bait, and attracted a huge Bob! He grabbed his pole spear, and shot it right from the cockpit, without even getting wet. Unfortunately, Big Bob did not go down without a fight, flopping and bleeding all over the cockpit when Scott removed the spear tip.

Scott delivered this massive fish to our friends, Jon and Shannon, on s/v Prism. They were waiting for a new dinghy motor, requiring them to row everywhere.

In case you’re wondering, Howard is enjoying life in the San Blas. He keeps an eye on us from one of his favorite perches, up under the solar panels, and loves when the fish light goes in the water each night.

So our first few weeks in the San Blas were off to a great start. We made many new friends, and enjoyed the beautiful views. More to come, as we explore new anchorages. Here are more photos.

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