The first of our big passages hello pacific. I think I’ve been waiting my whole life for you. Here we are on day 5 of the passage and I now understand why people would actually want to travel by sail boat. Flat seas, 10 knot winds from behind, blue skies, amazing. We set off on the afternoon of St. Patrick day. I unfortunately took a seasickness pill that made me loopier than just being at sea, it has so much calmer than our anchorage in Panama city It was heaven to finally be on our way again. Like a weight had been lifted off of us. The first day we each saw a few ships, and then nothing until yesterday. It is sweltering hot in the day but at night time, especially the first few nights it was beyond freezing. T-shirt, long sleeved shirt, fleece, foul weather coat, long pants and rain pants, wrapped in a fleece blanket and still chilly. We are doing watches now. Finally starting to get into the rhythm of it and feeling less of a zombie than those first few days. Phil is on watch from 7-11, I’m on till 2 am, He’s back on until 6 or so, then I’m on till 11 am, then we nap as needed until the next night. Those first few days you feel like the night of the living dead. But we are more into a routine now and feeling better. WE have been away from shops for nearly 2 weeks and still have enough food for an army. Actually worried about eating all the fresh stuff before Galapagos in case they quarantine it and try to take it away. Day one was a lovely sail, day 2 we put up our big spinnaker and flew before the wind, day 3 we put fishing gear over board, Phil caught our first fish ever, a skipjack tuna (about 6 lbs.) within 30 minutes of putting the hook over. With our trusting fishing guide in hand we managed to kill and fillet it and have some for lunch, pretty incredible. I decided I didn’t want to miss out on the fun so I put the line back over, by 6 pm I was reeling in my first catch a 5 lb. yellow fin tuna, delicious. Tried a recipe for ceviche (lemon onion, tom, pepper and raw tuna) delicious, and had the rest marinated in chili sauce the next day with coconut rice from my hand collected and grated coconut, talk about eating local!. Realised we are going to need to work out more fish recipes soon. Yesterday was a day of rest. Our big spinnaker had some pre-existing love wounds on it including a patch that featured duct tape. So we have been relying on the little on. The wind typically fails a least 2 times a day and we’ve used nearly half a tank of diesel so far, with the doldrums left to come. Still have lots on board though. Later that same day we had a pod of dolphins come and ply, there were 5 of them, playing in the bow waves, going from the front of the boat to the back, playing with each other, hey staid with us for 20 minutes at least and it was such an incredible experience, it really felt like a privilege to be out here and see them. That night as I was trying to sleep at 7 pm (a hard thing to do even when exhausted Phil shouted for me to come up. The nights have been so dark, not a star in the sky because of the clouds and no moon so it is hard to tell the horizon from the water, but the phosphorescence has been amazing. Our friends were back, leaping around the boat, we could only see the; bioluminescent splashes where they landed, One of them came like a bullet under the boat; the only thing giving him away was the trail of green. Yesterday was the long liners, from out of nowhere, haven’t seen another person for 4 days this little 25 foot outboard boat comes up to us and tells us in Spanish they have a long line out for fishing. I have never woken up so fast from a nap hearing Phil talking to another boat. That was the first of 5 separate fishing teams, some asked for food, others just escorted us through and past their lines so we wouldn’t snag it or break it and one guy looked really angry when we told him we had no cigarettes on board. My favourite boat was Devino nino jesus. I couldn’t’ imagine being stuck out on the water 100 miles from shore with no shelter, it is hard work. Whatever they were doing with those long lines it was more wildlife than we had seen in ages, big game fish jumping, our first potential shark spotting (just saw a fin from a distance), a school of big fish leaping out of the water like dolphins, incredible. Today is a day for recouping, Spinnaker has been taped, Dishes washed from last nights feast of vegetable stir-fry and homemade apple crumble (which Phil has declared to be his new favourite boat thing), a fried breakfast this morning. It is so much better than just hanging on. I’m typing on the computer in the shade of our sunshade, trying to keep the spinnaker flying as we head ever closer (currently 58 Nm from the equator. We have bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate, but not sure how that I’ll go with our current eta of 5:30 am. Another night watch ahead, a blackness, broken by the kitchen timer ringing every 10 minutes, sometimes a sail change, often watching the birds that pluck things from our wake, the bioluminescence of the waves, or our wake behind us, sheet lightening last night, stars if we are lucky. A quiet, peaceful, happy time. Looking out for boats, but knowing you are probably not going to see them. I love it here, I told Phil I hope that this will be sailing from now on. I know we won’t be that lucky but it has been heaven. Off of the computer, time to check the weather and see where the intertropical convergence zone is, how many more days will we be able to sail before we hit the doldrums? Will try to type again soon.
Being in a big city finally affords the luxury of shops, but every time we head out shopping we realize more and more how lucky we were in Bermuda. The grocery stores all had fresh meat and while you had to pick the vegetables carefully there were always good ones to be found. Phil has come to realize even the boat stores and hardware stores have been vastly better stocked than the ones here in a huge city. It might be that all of the parts are here, just spread out, or they might really not have the selection. In any case, we have been running all over town trying to get all of the things we need for the next leg of the trip.
Marcelle and I had a fabulous adventure to the Mercado Amados (a fruit and vegetable market). After standing on the side of the road for an hour waiting for the bus, the American’s we were with decided to catch a taxi. Really I would have been happy to get in for $4.00 but after the first 2 drove away I would have gladly paid $5.00. But they were having none of it, so we stood and waited for another 30 minutes to save a dollar. The market was impressive, lots of fruit and veg, we got the tourist prices of course but it wasn’t too bad, and the produce was worlds better than what you can find in a grocery store. Laden with bags (including Marcelle’s best buy of the day 4 tiny pineapples for a dollar) we headed to a lunch stall and had our $2.50 for chicken, rice, beans and strangely spaghetti! Neither of us speak much Spanish but we still managed to have a good conversation with the lady who ran the shop (originally from Dominica). The next day Phil and I did our big store shopping, we went to MegaDepo, Panama’s answer to Costco without a membership, it was wonderful! We have eaten through our cashews that Hilary brought us in Bermuda and have finally restocked the supply, found a solar garden light that is our new energy efficient anchor light, went to a hardware store and bought all of the pieces to make a rain water collector and stopped at the nice grocery store for chocolate muffins, nice meat and a few delicious treats for our passage. Met another lady coming back to the boats who refused to pay 8.00 instead of 6 to get home with her $400.00 worth of groceries, I find it hard to understand. Especially when after we eventually got into a taxi, they charged us $ 10 and we were completely laden (including bags on laps and at feet). Anyway, I am glad that Phil and I are together and don’t mind spending on taxis if we really need them, and equally don’t mind walking or taking the bus. Especially in a country where although there is that level of always being pressured to spend, they are also trying to earn a living, costs aren’t so cheap here and gas is expensive. That is my rant for the day. A few more trips to shops close by and hopefully we’ll be able to do some fishing now (Phil has been loving his fishing book), found our bbq gas supplies and a few other odds and ends. We have two more trips planned into the city, one to go to the mall (such a treat to buy everything we need in one place) and hopefully back to the fish market for another chill afternoon.
I finally feel like you are caught up on this place! Sorry for all of the writing, will try not to get so behind again. Hugs to everyone!
First city we’ve been in since Toronto? London? Skyscrapers, taxis everywhere neighbourhoods, a beautiful waterfront walkway, it is really nice to be in a city again. Poor Phil had to make it back to Colon to finish paperwork we weren’t able to sort out because of Carnival, he still had to pay overtime even though the holiday was over, oh well, Panama, land of bureaucracy and as many extra charges as they can get away with. The next day Norberto and I made our way to Vacamonte, to check out a possible place to get our boat hauled out. It was a great adventure a day on the buses and for 25-50 cents each way a fabulously affordable way to see the city. We made it to Albrook mall and then onto the bus to Vacamonte, we went over the bridge of the America’s and into Vacamonte, a small town, I felt like there should be tumbleweed blowing by. We had a lunch fit for kings for $4.00 in an open air restaurant with the most incredible fresh juice imaginable, we ended up having at least 3 glasses each (and I tried a different one each time). I think the trip was worth it just for the juice! We had to get on another bus to get to the port and almost made it, but we got to a checkpoint and the guard came on the bus, pointed at me and Norberto and we were escorted off. Thankful for his Spanish again we were asked what we were doing (trying to check out the haul out facilities) and if we had permission (no) and were told we could wait for another hour for the bus to come back, but we weren’t allowed in without special permission… honestly what a pain in the behind. Meanwhile while we were waiting the guards tried shooting hoops with coconuts (10 cents for every basket, the old guy won the money). We managed to catch a lift with a very quiet guy in a pickup truck and then spent the rest of the afternoon finding our way home on the bus. We got back in time to see bloody Francisco, our slimy line renter/ line handler provider collecting the lines from Phil and giving him a refund, he did not however collect his tires, even though I went back to find him and tell him he needed to come and get them. I shouldn’t be disappointed in humanity, but he embodied everything slimy and corrupt about this place. I’m looking forward to getting back to somewhere a little less corrupt. Friday, our last day with Norberto was another wandering around town day, we found our way to San Felipe, the old part of town with an amazing fish market (although we all decided it would have been outlawed in our respective countries for lack of refrigeration, not including the stall with the ladies screaming and running out, we guessed a rat??? A delicious treat of seafood in a lemon marinade and then beers (Milwaukee draft) served in a Styrofoam cup watching the tide roll in. Guys who would have made Chris cringe fiberglassing their dinghy, no gloves, no respirator and heaps of glass while the tide was out, and scampering to get out of the way while it rolled back in. Then lunch, at the delicious stall, 3.00 for a huge plate of beans, rice and meat. Delicious. Walked into the old town, down to a beach, saw some stalls with tourist things, then a tiny alleyway, filled with shops and repairs places; it was like a secret path, filled with magic. I want to go back. Finally a plan to head back to the hotel district for a drink with Mike and Paul before everyone except me and Phil left panama. Norberto taught me the value in stopping in an air-conditioned restaurant for a beer, of walking and of laughing. Waking up in the morning to watch the sunrise. Then on Saturday, he went home… we both feel so lucky to have had such a great visit and transit with him. Norberto has an incredible business in the Azores whale watching, diving and doing research with the University and we have both decided we would love to go and visit one day! He is one of those people who are genuinely good and will be a friend for a long time I hope. For anyone interested check out his website www.norbertodiver.com
Man alive, we have been here over a week and I haven’t written anything! Hopefully you’ll forgive me. I think I’ve been recovering!
So, first off, let me tell you about the anchorage. It is a mix of boats in transit, boats wanting to be in transit and the weird ones who just like living here all the time. Lots of space on this side, but on the other side of the causeway (literally less than a 2 minute walk) there is another anchorage with people tucked in quite close together called Las Playita. We can hear them on the radio, can walk over to meet them in 5 minutes, but it takes about 30 minutes to dinghy around the point to where they are! The tides here are incredible, apparently up to 5 metres, so anchoring now has the additional calculation of how much scope do we need for high tide (you have to put out 5 x as much chain as the depth we are in). Happily our anchor is set in a lovely spot and we are happily at home.
Getting to shore is a bit of a challenge. It seems that the ramp to the floating dock (and part of the floating dock itself) has collapsed into the sea some time ago, so now you tie up to the floating dock and have to get into a small red dinghy that has ropes to pull you towards shore. I have started to realize more about the tides too, at low tide, you can nearly hop across the gap, at high tide it is a ways to pull. The dinghy is always a bit wet, always a bit tippy and always lots of fun! The stairs are slimy and made of concrete and a good place to meet lots of people. Finally, we are in a place where you can hear any language and it is lovely. We have a place to get rid of trash, haven’t found a place to get water nearby but can go to shore for free!!
There is a local ‘net’ here, on our VHF radio, on the other side it was lonely, no one checked in, here the radio is buzzing all day and at 8 am there is the “good morning cruisers” to let everyone know it is coming. It has been a great resource. Phil and I never check in, just listen to see if there is useful information and the people that have been here a long time are more than willing to share which is good. Where to find a photocopier, what plays are happening in the city, the meaning of a leap year, the weather, things to buy/sell/trade, where to get work done, how to get to an embassy it has all been spouted about on the net. I seriously think some of these people just love to talk. We have cringed a few times at some of the jokes and have heard more than one weird interchange, someone forgetting the name of a place announced she had Cruiseheimers, another person wanting to thank someone for rescuing his dinghy asked for a “round of clicks” the noise that the radio makes when you push the button to talk, and a few seconds of clicking was heard, so strange, but yesterday the weirdest… a new boat (purchased for 2 million according to the owner) came on the net saying he would like to “host a lifestyle party and in the interest of confidentiality click now to let them know if people were interested” I have never heard the net quite as quiet as at that moment. Oh I laughed!
Our little neighbourhood used to be American territory, but since they have given the canal back to the Panamanian’s it has been developed as an upscale tourist area. Lots of posh restaurants, these weird bicycles that remind me of Fred Flinstone’s car (fits four adults, plush two children) are peddled slowly up and down the road. A shoppette, selling bread, and tins of things and beer for a dollar with free wireless where all the cruisers hang out, a few pizza places with wood burning stoves (hopefully Phil and I will be heading there for a date soon) fishing shops, boat shops and some duty free shops. No fresh fruits or veg to be found, but still, you can stay here for a while. We have briefly seen Allan and Pers again before they headed to the Galapagos, have met a few other cruising people and had a lovely surprise from Bruce and Marcelle (from Adventure bound) of 15 gallons of water, an incredible treat! We’ve managed to meet up with them a few times for beers and dinner and are realizing what a community this can be. So, that’s where we are and it looks like we’ll be here for at least another week waiting to see if our boat can get hauled out to repaint the bottom. If it doesn’t work out we’ll just have to clean it a lot, but hopefully we’ll know in a week or so if it is possible! Fingers crossed!
My new little gang of Phil, Norberto and Jen, what a happy group it was and Phil and I have been missing our third musketeer since he left on Saturday. Norberto was great fun, always up for an adventure and our first major adventure was heading into Panama City on the Tuesday of Carnival! Tuesday was the big day, to get all of our sins out before Ash Wednesday and it was such a fun day. The only really sad bit was that the batteries were dead in both of our cameras, what a day not to be able to take pictures…
We had a leisurely wake up, everyone pretty tired from the transit and the late night out. By lunch time we headed to take a taxi, always a bit of work, they ask for 10, you offer 4 o 5, they accept or drive away and if that happens you start from scratch. Such a lovely treat, Norberto speaks way too many languages, Portuguese, French, English and SPANISH!!! So after asking a taxi driver where to go for lunch we were dropped off at a lovely family run restaurant, it reminded me a lot of Angie's and we had a feast! Salad, calamari, steak, it was delicious and we were so full when we left we decided to walk for a while, little did we know we were going to walk the whole city!
Panama city has a beautiful waterfront pathway, a lot of it was closed because of Carnival, we decided to explore the city and just looked down the side streets watching heaps of people walking past us in shorts and bathing suits (not a typical look here where it seems that everyone is perpetually well dressed) towards big water tankers that were spraying down the crowd!
The architecture here is very cool, beautiful buildings, sky scrapers, even one shaped like a screw. We walked all over checking them out and eventually found our way to a small bar that was still open, it seemed like everything else was shut, no traffic on the roads, nothing open so when we saw one open we stopped and had a drink. They had a TV on, everyone was wearing blue and there was a football game on TV. So strange to think we were watching the same game that Tim might have been in the UK! It was Napoli vs. Chelsea and we couldn’t figure out why everyone was cheering for the blue team until we realized we were in a very Italian restaurant!!! So nice to sit in air conditioning, watching grown men laugh and cry and scream at the TV. Just to rest! We wandered through a few open souvenir shops, saw boots made out of Molas ($60.00 each, yikes!) and headed back towards the festivities.
The line ups were amazingly huge, but one good thing about being a tourist, we walked to the front, of the line to ask if we needed tickets, were told we needed ID, Norberto didn’t have his on him and we were sent through the line ahead of everyone.
Kids were running everywhere, with hair dried from being hit with the water trucks and carrying baggies of confetti, or cans of silly string and shaving cream. It was the day for sinning, so if they saw someone as a target they would spray them or throw things at them, everyone was covered in bits of paper and even the adults were getting into the fun. There were young men dressed up as devils in incredible costumes with canes and bells on their feet dancing and scaring the little kids, and we wandered through the crowd toward the beer tents. There are three main local beers we have found, Balboa, Panama and Atlas, and for 0.75 you could buy them at the tents, beers in hand we realized we had walked into a concert. Fabulous Salsa=y, Panamanian/latin American music with a guy rocking out on an accordion and the main singer a tiny woman in a skin tight fluorescent green outfit wiggling like I never imagined possible, I now know where Shakira learned to shake. It was great, a really friendly fun crowd, young, old, middle all dancing and having fun although as we stood there enjoying the music you could never be sure when someone would nail us with shaving cream. There was a very mischievous couple of older ladies with an arsenal of things to throw and by the end of the concert we had all been hit with shaving cream, silly string, baby powder (disastrous when mixed with beer) and confetti. Back to the street with the throngs. It was a main road through town that had been closed off for the party and along the road there were amazing sound systems set up blaring everything from Spanish rap to salsa to who knows. People dancing and drinking, devils prancing by and couples wearing matching outfits made especially for the day. We finally found a quieter place to stop for another beer and saw all of the floats from the parade. I was convinced we had already missed the parade, BUT in fact it hadn’t even started yet! The first costumes we saw were a group of slightly more mature ladies dressed as watermelons, with full red skirts, trimmed in green with watermelon seed shaped sparkles sewn on. Managed to get a picture of Phil and Norberto with them which was great. Then found a lovely spot on the curb to sit and watch. They had another concert going in the distance and eventually as it began to get dark people started congregating near the floats. There was a huge float with a complete band on it, trumpets, trombones and other brass horns. While they were waiting for the parade to start they started playing along with the concert, amazing! I realized the two front floats had the typical Carnival girls on them, in tiny bikinis with enormous feather head dresses looking beyond beautiful. So interesting to see them getting dressed on their float with a whole team putting on the last touches of makeup and straightening their head dresses. They each had a handle to hang onto as the float drove away, and the most beautiful of all seemed quite practiced n looking comfortable, and confident wiggling and waving away, the younger ones gave away how uncomfortable the head dresses were, trying to readjust them and not looking quite as cool and collected as the main girl. Each float had its own music and that was all you could hear while they were beside you, but as they drove off, your ears were filled with the next float. One of them had girls bouncing in time to the music so much that the whole truck was moving along with the rhythm. After the first few well-funded floats came the neighbourhoods. Each area in Panama was represented, some of them had a whole group of 50-100 people complete with drums and music dancing down the street in matching outfits, others were wearing shirts in the same colour and still others were just in regular clothes. One of the groups was led by a tiny girl about 6 years old, wearing a floor length gold evening gown, feathered head dress and strutting in tiny high heels like the most sophisticated 20 year old in the world. Other groups had tiny kids leading the way wiggling in a way I could never duplicate, they are born knowing to dance and it would be so hard to live in Latin America without a sense of rhythm. They moved together as communities, the young and old, babies in arms, toddlers trying to keep up and kids everyone included. It was the most amazing parade I’ve ever seen I think. So inclusive, so fun, so much good music. When it was over, the night was lit up with an incredible fireworks display and then we moved towards the food vendors, a bbq set up with strips of beef on a stick, an amazing dinner, to go with yet another cold Atlas beer. We wandered down the road to the next concert, a man who had originally played some song in the 70s in Puerto Rico; he seemed famous because everyone was singing along! It would have been nice to stay and see more, but we had all decided to start to head home when the babies were going home, it was rapidly changing from a family party to a late night party, more police coming out, with their big scary guns and dogs and as we walked towards the exit we realized that the line up stretched nearly a Km down the street with people waiting to get in. After a taxi back to the dock and a shaky wobbly red dinghy ride we made it back to our Seamonkey and collapsed into bed. I woke up at 3:20 am, the party finally drawing to a close to another set of fireworks. The next morning we looked around our poor boat, confetti everywhere, a blackened cockpit from all of the dirt ground into our feet, clumps of shaving cream ground into our hair and the surprised look of 3 people who had no idea what they had found the day before.
Feb 20, 2012 3 months to the day after we left home!
Okay, really day 1.5
Cooking for 6 people after cooking for 2 is a challenge! We bought heaps of food and looked at the pasta package, it said that it fed 5 and we figured that was 5 small people not famished after crossing half way between the Atlantic and the pacific so we put 2 bags into the pot. Water added half way through and we had enough pasta for 12! Dinner, beer, even a cigar came out and all 5 of us staying on the boat were wiped. Beds were made up on every available space and we all crashed to the sounds of the jungle and the still waters of Lake Gatun. We set our alarm clocks and I think we were all in bed by 10 pm. Everyone had a strange night, the stillness after our crazy wakes of Colon, a new bed for 3 people on the boat and for Paul the sloshing underneath his bed kept him awake (we forgot to tell them that that was where our water tanks were!). With the new day dawning and the sun just starting to rise we once again saw the pilot boat bearing down on us. I was so proud of my boys, every one up and dressed, our anchor half way up, fenders ready, engine going, another flying leap and we had a new pilot with us. The giant catamaran on the other hand was mostly still asleep and the pilot boat had to honk to get people on deck (in all fairness ¾ of the linehandlers were backpackers who spent most of the day sunbathing!).
Williarmo(illarmo?) came flying off of his boat (a solid 3 feet taller than ours) and landed with the grace of a flying squirrel. As he came toward the boat the boys had started to pull up some of the chain (we always have lots out and we had anchored in 40 feet, too heavy for me to pull up without my block and tackle) and he said to wait. So after he landed on the boat he said, “Let’s go, what are you waiting for” with about 4 seconds in between! Then we were off. Our poor little seamonkey, flying along at 6 knots through Gatun lake for hours and hours.
Our new pilot was a very cool guy, lots of interesting tips on the canal, pointed out various sights, explained that while in transit it is illegal to get off the boat even for a swim so that was why the police boats were cruising around at night. Also said since they were widening the canal we were less likely to see monkeys and crocodiles. Oh well. We did see the Smithsonian research institute’s Gaigar station (and now are near the Culebra one), I want to try to get in and see what it is all about, we’ll see if that works!
Drove and drove, hiding from the sun, taking turns steering, pouring drinks and watching the hills and trees and birds go by. We had some lovely little birds come and land on the boat for part of the transit, singing away. Then there were the tankers, I think everyone held their breaths as the car tankers, oil tankers and cargo tankers swept by us heading in the other direction. And before we knew it (but in fact 5 hours after we started and all slightly sunburned) we saw the locks.
For a change we were the ones that had to wait for the ship to come behind us, when we saw it rounding the corner we knew it was time and all rafted up again. This time we drove right to the front of the locks, an incredibly smooth manoeuver. As we came in we realized there was a restaurant with its decks covered in people, hundreds and hundreds with cameras flashing in our direction, we were STARS! They must have been waiting for at least an hour before we started to go down. The ropes flew down and we were in place, so then all we had time to do was watch, thankfully in slow motion as this GIGANTIC red behemoth pulled in behind us, coming closer and closer and closer (looked like the bulb on its bow would tuck neatly between the catamaran’s hulls). Finally it stopped and we were ready to go. When we came into the locks we had 4 employees on land walking with our ropes beside us along the wall, their jobs were to put the loop over the bollard so we would be in place, then ours was to control our accent or decent. The ship had these cool locomotives; they looked like tiny metal rollercoaster cars, with big keys in the side that did the job of tightening and loosening the lines.
We were lucky we had a really good transit, unfortunately some of our friends weren’t so lucky a few days later, coming into the locks on the second day they started to slide back and forth (kind of like if you hit black ice) and one of the boats scraped the wall, yikes. We also read all sorts of horror stories about cables to the big ships breaking and sending shockwaves that pushed the little boats into the doors etc. etc. really reading I should never have done!
Luckily with us all in place all we had to do was ease our lines out as the water drained. This time it wasn’t so dramatic, we just slid lower and lower down the walls, through the first set, then a small motor and then 2 more chambers. Watching doors that had been built to do this 100 years before and seeing those hundreds of people disappearing from view as the Pacific grew closer was amazing. To Paul’s cry of “We’re sinking” we finally were once again at sea level and the doors opened and that was that, we were in the Pacific.
I can’t even begin to describe how lucky we were to find the boys that came on our trip, Norberto, Mike and Paul, our advisors, everyone made it a really fun trip, and to think we almost didn’t make it because we were one line handler short! To make friends with good people and to see something altogether that none of us had ever experienced, it was amazing.
The pilot finally got off, on to his weekend of getting his children ready for school and we motored around the corner and kind of forgot we were in an ocean. We had been so neatly tucked in harbours and lakes that when the first waves hit it was a surprise! It was quite windy (we realized later that is a typical afternoon thing) as we rounded the corner and finally we were in our little bay, Las Bresas, with tonnes of other boats bobbing along. Good anchoring and we even saw Pers and Allan (from Enjoy) our friends from Dominica and Colon.
With that our transit was done, Mike and Paul headed off to their hotel with an offer to come over and go out for dinner, which we gladly accepted and Norberto and I had a swim in the Pacific. Not the cleanest water here, but after being covered in sweat, dirt, slime and sunscreen for 2 days it was so nice to cool off, and man was the water cold! Amazing, we are so close to the Atlantic but it is a completely different ocean, it is still hard to get my head around. After getting a bit more presentable (Phil even put on his proper shoes) we headed to the Marriot. If seeing the Pacific took my breath away, going into a lovely hotel stopped me breathing for at least 10 minutes. So much bigger than our boat! We were in a city. It was overwhelming.
We headed up to Paul and Mike’s room and then Paul did the kindest thing that I think has ever happened to me, he offered me a shower. All the hot water I could use, a plush towel, delicious soap. I have never felt so pampered in my life. I think not having those things for so long made me appreciate them all the more. It really was the best shower of my life! I had told him earlier how much I missed having a bath and he asked me why I had a shower instead, I had to guiltily reply that if I had had a bath I would never have gotten out! And so squeaky clean me and the boys headed off to dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant. It really is one of those nights where everything is soft around the corners, drunk with the feeling that we had finally made it to the pacific. The tangles out of my hair and dirt out of my skin, delicious pasta with mushrooms (which we can never find in shops) and a delicious bottle of Argentinian wine (a red wine, served cold, a bit strange but still). It was a night none of us wanted to end, even though we were all exhausted. We stopped for another beer outside of the hotel and sat laughing and enjoying (it was even worth a second cigar for some, 2 oceans in 2 days and incredible reality). To be surrounded by friends that I hadn’t met 2 days earlier, sitting beside Phil, in the midst of a big city and knowing that one of the biggest hurdles I was afraid of was behind us, I can’t describe it. It was a magical night.
What an incredible place, but definately not in the same way that san blas waswe are anchored at Club Nautico Caribe, a tiny bit of shallow water on the edge of a shipping channel. Every day we see at least 3 of 4 container ships manoeuvring in and out not to mention the cruise ships that dock right behind us! The water is far from swimmable, brown and sludgey with an oily odor but Phil saw a ray jump just behind our boat the other day. Colon is a rough city, barbed wire on every house, even the not so nice ones. We are lucky that we can walk the few blocks along the waterfront and cruise terminal to the grocery store (super 99, great prices and fresh pineapple and strawberries) and lug things back but anything further afield and we are in a taxi.
It has been a funny place, a mix of welcoming and feeling taken advantage of. The anchorage here is crowded. There is one marina but it is expensive and really far away. There used to be a Panama canal yacht club with quite a bit of space for anchoring but in the last few years they were closed down so now we are all at Club Nautico it seems. For $5.00 a day you can park your dinghy, that is about it, extra for water etc. We have been lucky though and have had internet on the boat, a really nice treat.
We first got here and dropped anchor and just watched with our jaws down as the little tugs helped the big ships park. There is a constant hum of the cranes loading and unloading and every once in a while our boat is hit with a huge wake that is really loud from a passing work boat.
On our second day here we decided to take it easy and just have a quiet day. Wouldn’t you know, that is the day the world found us! First Bruce and Marcelle who we hadn’t seen since Cartagena came over, really good to see them again. Then I heard yelling, I thought it was some crazy on the dock and didn’t think anything of it, the yelling continued probably for 2 hours or more! Turns out it was the guy we had phoned the day before to get our boat fumigation certificate so we can go to Galapagos, hilarious… We weren’t ready to have it done and said we would call, I guess he was just really keen! THEN it was the Danes, Alan and Pers, they stopped by to ask us a few questions and after looking at them for a few minutes I realized they had been at the Christmas eve drinks evening in Dominica and we hadn’t seen them since. It is crazy how our paths have all come together and really nice to see familiar faces. The next morning it was quite fun when the Danes, Marcelle and I all went to do laundry, the cheapest laundry ever, 0.50 for a wash and 0.75 for a dry, needless to say we will do another load before we leave!
There are mixed feelings about getting an agent here, the fees are quite high and it can be a bit unclear as to how much help they provide. Phil and I decided to try to sort our transit by ourselves. So bright and early Monday morning we piled into a taxi (which on route picked up and dropped off 2 other people) and got to the dock. We had to get out of the taxi, go to security, show passports, go through the metal detector and WAY down a road along side a huge container dock and finally we were at the admeasures building, but we didn’t know how to get in! We took a look at the door, went to where the cars were, pushed a button and silently, the gates swung open. This pattern repeated itself every time we chose a proper door, but luckily they didn’t unlock the doors we weren’t supposed to go into. It was fast and easy, the girl at the desk spoke really good English and we were told to call the next morning for an appointment to be measured. Back to Club Nautico where we ran into Bruce and Marcelle who took us to the FreeZone with them. What a bizarre place, I think I probably would have died from shock if we had gone there directly after San Blas, Streets and streets of warehouses for wholesale shopping, some of them you could purchase one or two items (I bought myself a watch so we now have 2 alarms on board) but so overwhelming. You could buy anything and everything, Chinese generators, French fashion, name brands I recognized from home for the same price you buy them there. A LOT of shopping but not a lot of buying. I think my favourite part of it was lunch, a fresh falafel pita from a street vendor, delicious!
The next morning we called at exactly 7:30 am (okay maybe a few minutes early) and were told we could get measured, that is when our poor official got so sea sick. Talking to bruce and marcelle who were measured the day after us, their official half fell in the sea getting from their dinghy to the next boat and arrived with a soaked leg and one shoe (luckily the other floated and was rescued). I’m not convinced they pick the boatiest people for the job! Then into the taxi to make the deposit for the canal, uggg. that hurt. Not sure if I felt more or less safe that there were 2 security guards with guns at the ATM and 2 inside the bank, a bit of back and forth and then we were set and paid and that was that!!!
So here we are today! We are scheduled to transit the canal on Sunday afternoon so the first locks will probably happen in the dark (I’m hoping for stadium lighting). Then we will spend the night in the Gatun Lake in the middle and finish transiting on Monday. We have found 2 fabulous line handlers, Mike and his Dad who are coming to Panama on vacation and are going to help us, so thankful for that and todays mission is to find one more so we have 4. The irony is that when rafted together there is a good chance that we will only need 2 people max to actually handle lines, everyone else will be sitting off drinking tea! Today we are going to try to find room for everyones luggage, try to finish off some bits of boat work and start getting food ready for the 6 people I need to feed so it won’t be such a huge job while we are motoring along. It is exciting, overwhelming and the start of the next part of our adventure!
Our last day near Salar started with a boat coming over containing Idelphonso and his brother Venancio, a master mola maker. It was like an art gallery had arrived at the yacht. I saw an amazing number of molas, and they were incredible. I finally picked one but it was a hard decision. After they left and cleaning the bottom of the boat in beautiful clean water we watched another 3 yachts pull into our little bay and decided it was almost time to leave. So up with the anchor and we followed a dolphin out of our bay and towards Isla Maquina a much more traditional town. We dropped our anchor in a mangrove hole they call Gaigar, deep but good holding and right beside a nesting colony of pelicans. Then we decided to venture into town. Well, talk about sticking out like a sore thumb. We arrived in this village on a tiny island and there were huts everywhere, with tiny paths between them. We saw some guys near the dock and asked them where to go, they pointed over their shoulders and then looked away, so we had NO idea what to do next, so we wandered. We saw the congress where we figured we would have to meet the chief but the only one there was a very old man sleeping in a hammock. We both wanted some more fruits and vegetables and bread and figured we’d be able to find a shop like on the last island but no luck at all. We wandered bare paths with children staring at us and no sign of anyone else. So we gave up and just as we were untying the boat we heard whistles blowing. You should have seen my face, I thought they were whistling at us to gather a meeting…. Oh I was red. Anyway, we tried again in broken Spanish to ask for permission to go to the river and finally someone spoke English. He took us into the congress and waited with us for the chief to come. We handed over our $5.00 to anchor and $5.00 to go to the river and told the chief we just weren’t sure when we were going to the river, little did we know the uproar that would cause. Then Rudolfo took us home with him, back on those barren paths, but suddenly a door opened and we were in a much larger compound. We met his beautiful wife and daughter (I put their picture up on the blog) and then the “ladies” came in, 3 older Kuna ladies in traditional molas with all of their molas to show us. Overwhelming, lots of smiles, I think lots of them laughing at me, and then decision time all over again! We managed though and headed home to our boat poorer but richer at the same time. While I was leaving I asked the ladies if I could take their photos, 1 said no, 1 said for $1.00 (I told her I had already given her all of my dollars) but rudolfo’s mother let me take her picture. Then somehow we were back in the punt with our receipt for the river and back to the yacht. Not an hour later we heard an engine, It was Idelfonso telling us we needed to decide when he was taking us on our tour of the river, not quite sure how that happened, but without wanting to upset any elders or chiefs we told him we would meet him at 6:45 the next morning.
Bright and early we headed to pick him up, watched as his family went out working in their outboard boat (one of 4 on an island of 250 people) and families paddled past in their dugout canoes heading ot work in the fields up the mountain.
The river was much smaller and less impressive than Rio Diablo, but the amazingness of the trip was getting out of the dinghy and hiking into the hills. Talking to Idelfonso about his people, answering his questions about if there were coconut trees in Canada was incredible and the views were amazing, we would never have climbed as high or seen as much on our own. It was well worth the money and was lovely company, plus he brought us some of the most delicious Kuna bread we tried.
Once again it was up with the anchor and Phil took me to perhaps the most beautiful anchorage we’d been to, very different than the others, a bay surrounded by Mangroves, no villages near by and 2 rivers. We settled in for a first explore on the river, it was incredible, flocks of birds taking off and calling, so peaceful (little did we know that wouldn’t last) and then, back to the boat to try to cook the Yucca I had bought earlier that day. I don’t know if we weren’t fast enough with the bug screens or if cooking the yucca which took forever made to much CO2 but we were invaded by a herd of No-see-ums and man can they bite. The worst part was they hurt every time they took a nibble. Our lovely anchorage had turned into HELL and it was the first time either of us had been kept awake all night by biting insects. By the next morning I looked like I had chicken pox and we were both scratching away but we managed to gather our strength (and tuck our socks into our pants) for one last river visit. I love the rivers, they are so quiet and magical, we didn’t see anyone else other than birds, a giant gold fish splashing about and 2 small fish that leapt into our boat!
We were finally ready to check out so we headed back to Porvenir, got our Zarpe (leaving permit) and got the boat ship shape. We calculated it would take about 12 hours to sail to Colon so we had to get up at 2 am to leave, luckily we stopped off at one of the villages and bought some Kuna bread provisions. The sail was not so much fun in the middle of the night but beautiful by the next morning, cruising along the coast of Panama. The last hour you could tell we were getting close, we had watched two ships go past us, quite a ways away but we were keeping an eye on them and over the horizon 30 boats came into view. It was amazing in such a different way than the river. More in the next post.
What a day, it started at 7:30 with a phone call to see if we could be measured, they said yes, so we rushed to lift the anchor and we were off! While we were the smallest boat and had no electricity to hoist our anchor we were still the first ones out of the harbour and the first ones to drop anchor at flats F where we waited to be measured. I made signs that said Seamonkey (I think they are quite beautiful) because we haven't put our sticker on yet and then we waited, and waited and watched someone not as good as waiting jump the queue and got in front of us... UUUGGGGG I hate pushy people. Anyway, our guy Daniel eventually came over to measure us and came down below to do paperwork, He was already looking a little peaky and coming downstairs didn't help. By the time we were done he was quite green. I hope the seasickness medicine and cold cloth I gave him helped. So there we are, all measured and calling at 6 tonight to find out when we go through. So back to our anchorage near Club Nautico Caribe we went, but wouldn't you know it another 5 boats moved in today so there is hardly any room here. We eventually found a place to park and made it to the bank to part with too much money for the transit. ouch... Back home and a rest then Phil went to deal with Mr. Fumigation to get our certificate for Galapagos, apparently he was upset that i didn't come too. But we got our certificate anyway. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it was probably the third time I have been left alone on the yacht. Enjoying a most wonderful Skype with my mama when a HUGE HORRID HONK came from behind me, from a giant rusting green hulk of a ship behind me that hadn't moved for the entire week we've been here so far. THen honked and honked and I ran in a circle and had to move. On my own. In 15 knots of wind... without Phil. SO, I remembered to turn on the engine water, then to turn on the battery, then the blower which i subsequently forget to turn off and I started the engine. Then... forward... run to the bow... pull up as much as I could (3 feet, maybe 5 of our 100 feet of chain), Phil says it was probably 5-10 feet but anyway... pull pull pull lock off, run to the back put it in forward, run to the front and I realized it was a lost cause, a shrug to the angry ship, some finger pointing directing them around me,, another angry honk, forward, pulll pull pull and then... oh and then lovely Nicholas from the boat next door yelled over "do you need help" and all I could say was YES HELP so his lovely wife dropped him off and he pulled up the anchor as I drove, Phil came back mid manoeuvring and helped with the last bit, adn now we are back nearly anchored where we were, not as much space as either of us are comfortable with but it will have to do for now. At least I have internet, and a heineken what a day... Phew.. I hope that is the excitement done for now. We phone at 6 pm to find out when our transit will be. I will be glad to have some rest when it is all over and done!