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.
I’m not going to lie,I wasn’t able to sleep properly from the time we were measured until we actually exited the canal. It was one of the most awe inspiring things and terrifying too!
So, on Friday and Saturday we spent the day trying to get groceries (a huge shop from super 99, hot sun burning down and a taxi telling us he would take us for 4 x the cost it should have been so I got stubborn and we walked, I don’t think I have ever been as happy to put the bags down and Phil’s arms do look a few inches longer because of it), do laundry so everyone had clean sheets (Marcelle and I had another adventure to our local laundry shop and the most delicious cold pop in the world) and organize the boat so the line handlers we had coming to join us actually had some space to call their own (a bit tough on our tiny boat!). It was a bit overwhelming trying to imagine 6 people on our poor little yacht! Finding line handlers was tougher than it seemed, even though we have some lovely friends in the anchorage but Pers and Allan were heading off through the canal the day before us and Bruce and Marcelle 2 days after, not enough time to get through and get yourself organized. Luckily the internet is an amazing tool. Late one night figuring we wouldn’t find anyone who could help near the anchorage I answered a post on lonely planet and the next day we had an email from Mike asking if he and his dad Paul could come along! Amazing, the dates worked out perfectly and we had our line handlers! Just one more to find, so we finally bit the bullet and called Franscisco (who we hired our lines from) to hire one for us. He brought a seemingly lovely Samuel (who didn’t speak a word of English) and we had everything sorted.
Sunday morning, bright and early we headed into Colon to sort out that last bit of paperwork, but even though the canal runs 24x7 the offices do not and so after a frustrating 45 minutes and after meeting a lovely official who couldn’t actually help us with anything we went back in our taxi and were told to come again around 10 am. Still doing okay for time, we didn’t have to get to Flatts until 2 pm.
9 am the VHF (radio) squawks to life and it was Mike and Paul who had made it early, the stars!!! We got them onto the boat and settling in and by 9:30 Phil and Mike headed back into Colon to the offices while I got to know Paul. So lovely to have company! I think I would have gone crazy waiting alone because 9:30 came and went, then 10 am (our appointed time for meeting Samuel) by 10:30 I headed over to the dock (and was told to pay $3..00 for approaching land, a new fee they had just implemented making me supremely happy to be leaving Colon) and found only Mike and Phil. The office mission had not been the raging success we had hoped for and were told to come back on Wednesday. So, back to the boat and more waiting, good company helped but by lunch time which is significantly closer to 2 pm and still no Samuel I was getting nervous. Phil headed to shore to wait for a while (as he had already paid the $3.00) and I tried to get everyone sorted for the transit.
Meanwhile back at the ranch an inflatable pulled up, with 2 men and a very cute little boy, Robin explained that his transit had been delayed and his friend Norberto was hoping to go through the canal. I said jokingly (at the time) we are going in 2 hours but if we get stuck we will come and find you and sent him to ask the other boats we knew were heading through. It wasn’t so funny by 1 pm, still no line handler and when we saw Norberto again it was a sign, we went straight over and in less than 30 minutes he was packed, had said goodbye to his friends and was on our boat ready to go!
It was the easiest leaving I had done (Paul and I timed the boys) they lifted the anchor, put away the portabote and we were off! We had our anchor down in Flatts long enough for a late lunch and then we saw the pilot boat screaming towards us, terrifyingly big with a huge black bumper and no fenders. Our pilot leapt with the skill of a flying squirrel onto our deck and before he had even landed he had said “Lets go, what are you waiting for!” Once again it was boys to the rescue, our anchor came up, engine growled to life and we went flying toward the canal.
It seems that the deal is that if the yachts can get there on time, the big boat has to wait, and we made it! There were three boats heading through the canal, us, a giant catamaran and a small Canadian fishing boat. We were the first to tie up along side the cat, it was more like a dance than a docking because all three boats were still in motion trying to stay centred in the middle of the canal which actually looked like a small river. Once we were all rafted we drove as a unit into the lock proper. It was huge and awe inspiring. I can’t believe they conceived of something so outrageous 100 years ago, or had the foresight to build it so it is still usable for ships today. We followed a big ship called Elsbeth in and the guys doing the lines on the shore who were employees of the canal threw us our lines. 4 lines to hold 3 boats, 2 at the front corners, 2 at the back. We only had to handle 1 line because the catamaran was so big the back line went back to her. The lines were thrown down with monkeyfists (big knots) and it seemed like they landed all over the boat. Fast as a blink Norberto had tied our line to theirs and the other line was passed back and the guys on the wall started to pull up our lines. The trick with the canal is to keep the lines tight so you stay in the middle of the lock as the water fills in. For the first day that meant taking up the lines everytime there was slack as we were lifted 85 feet. So we were set, I looked behind me and slowly so slowly 2 giant doors started to close. At first it seemed like nothing was happening, perhaps that spot on the wall was getting closer to the water, maybe there was a bit of turbulence and then they turned on the tap. Apparently it takes 53 million gallons of water to get through the locks and after watching it bubble and boil I can believe it. It felt like we were skating a bit, sliding a bit closer to our wall (gasp) and then a bit farther away. Phil says we were never closer than 20 feet away, I swear it was 5, so we will average it out at 12.5 feet, so close! Our advisor was… nice? Alert (most of the time), and a control freak! As long as he was paying attention I felt okay. The advisor on the middle boat was directing the show and had great English making things much easier and the boys did a great job of keeping the ropes tight, even if I did remind them a few times to haul in the rope and make it fast.
3 hours, that’s it, start to finish and we were sitting up 85 feet watching the doors open and driving into lake Gatun, a quick untie and drop of the anchor and we had time for a beer before the advisor left. I was exhausted, and we were only half way there!
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.
Dear Panama Canal, we are hoping to come and see you around mid afternoon tomorrow. Please be nice to us!
So... we have 4 giant lines on board, 6 tires, 4 fenders, 2 soon to be made friends on the way, 1 young and only spanish speaking line handler and meals in progress....
So, the plan is that we are going to be entering th Gatun locks and will be lifted 85 feet in 3 steps to the Gatun lake where we will spend the night (but not go swimming because it sounds like there are crocodiles in it) the chambers can handle ships up to 950 feet and a width of 106 feet (so our 34 x 10 should be quite spacious I think!). 52 million gallons of water will take us from one ocean to another, hard to believe. we are heading southbound are most likely going to be following a big ship that is already in the lock. As the water fills up, we tighten the lines to make sure we don't move from our position. The next day we motor 30 miles to Pedro Miguel lock past the smithsonian tropical research institue and finally the milaflores lock which has 2 chambers (we enter ahead of the ship in this one it sounds like). Then we are out, finding a mooring or anchoring spot and in the pacific, simple as that! We'll let you know
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!
San Blas, Panama
New country, so strange again to arrive somewhere new. It took two nights and a day to get here, we have decided that whenever we sail the first 2 nights are the hardest, so we are both wiped! So nice to be in clean water, so strange to not have any language skills (still working on that). We made it to porvenir and have cleared in… I think that is becoming rapidly the most expensive part of our trip by far. We’ve already had two canoes come and try to sell us Molas and fish…Hopefully we’ll be visiting lots of smaller islands where people actually live. Seems that there is a $5.00 charge to visit each island on top of our clearing in fee… yikes.
The guides talk about parrots and monkeys, hope to see some! Other than that, the immigration office was amazing, a window out to the sea and a palm tree, tropical paradise for sure. Sounds like people here have a good quality of life too, hopefully I’ll slow down after a good nap and be able to relax and enjoy the slower pace of life.
A proper weekend, so lovely to have a break. We are enjoying our anchorage away from everyone else. I woke up this morning to watch the sunrise and a kuna canoe sailing past… It was beautiful! Last night two Kuna Indians using very strange small pieces of lumber paddled over to the yacht, Phil said, funny looks like they should have an outboard, and they did, with some difficulty we realized they had run out of gas, so Phil gave them some of ours and we got a fish in return, I filleted my first little guy! He was pretty small, only good for an appetizer, but a delicious one at that.
Delicious dinner on the bbq and a good breeze. Today, I’m going snorkelling, trying to get odd jobs done, like going through the food cupboard (found a moldy box of dried pasta, how is that possible), cleaned out the cockpit (found ANOTHER dead flying fish, gross) and sorted through a few other things, tonight, oiling some of the teak but most importantly, SNORKELLING!!! And hopefully visiting a deserted island!
Feb 3, 2011
We have been to three anchorages so far, and I think it is safe to say we both miss “home” our deserted island near sugar island. We picked up anchor on Tuesday after a blowy, windy and grey few days. It was so great to have a secure anchorage to wait that out and also a good lesson for me to remember that it is the weather that decides when and where we are going, not us (a humbling experience for miss Type A). So, anchors up we headed past Green Island (sounded lovely in the cruising guide but was a parking lot filled with 21 boats) an up to Cocos Banderos, another lovely spot, not as sheltered and not as many boats to look for Bruce and Marcelle, didn’t see them, hoping htat they were tucked away somewhere safe and sound for the windy weather.
We headed down wind to Rio Diablo, a more modern village to our East. Such a different place and how much things are beginning to open my eyes for the many different ways people live. This modern village had women that didn’t wear traditional dress, cell phones, satellite tv, electricity, it also had no running water or indoor plumbing. Bathrooms were small rooms on stilts above the ocean, not sure what people who lived inland did. I met some lovely little kids, lots of them shyly saying Ola as we walked past. Stopped at a small shop, kind of, a thatch hut, with a counter and bought a few delicious tomatoes. To collect water for washing and drinking they had to paddle their canoes across a stretch of fairly sheltered water toward Rio Diablo, if they had an engine they got the poles out and poled across the sandbar, once in the river it was probably at least a 20 minute paddle far enough upstream to collect clean water. We had a hilarious time trying to pole our flimsy little origami boat over the mud, the paddles had holes in them where they pin together and those filled with mud, splattering both of us with each paddle.
The river was magical, so many birds, the sounds were incredible and the peace after being in the village with the generator and the sounds of people. The thing that was most amazing about it was the smell. Oh I wish I could bottle it, it smelled like Magic… flowers, fresh, clean, pure. Trying to capture what the river did for our souls is impossible. We met a man filling his buckets for home, the canoe was full and he was having his bath he told us with a grin.
The only not amazing thing about the river was the bugs. I have no idea what bit me, I know that Phil has a few bites but my legs are COVERED and I don’t think I have ever itched this hard since I had chickenpox. I wake myself up scratching, I haven’t realized I’m cheating until I realize I’m rubbing my legs against something slightly scratchy, oh the itch… So glad I was wearing a long sleeved shirt, I don’t think I will ever go without bugspray on a river again!
So now we are at our newest deserted island, Going for another swim in the cloudy, cool windy weather. For a tropical paradise I feel like everything is in grey. Hopefully we will go to a traditional village and another river before we have to leave for Colon. I’m falling in love with the Atlantic more and more every day.
I will miss it here
South America, sweltering days and lovely cool evenings. This has been such an amazing city to visit, both Phil and I are going to be sad to go. It is a place we could both have stayed longer if not for the cost of import duty on the boat (which you need to pay if you stay longer than a week). What to tell you, the sea is the colour of tea here, I thought it was all pollution at first now I realize that a lot of it is just the muck being stirred up from the waves that build up because of the trade winds pushing them down. The anchorage is surprisingly quiet considering it is smack in the middle of a big city. We have felt really safe walking around 98% of the time the other two percent was fine, just wouldn’t want to try it at night.
The old city is beyond beautiful (see the pictures). I think the most incredible part is that behind so many of the doors that are right on the busy street are these huge airy courtyards, that look so cool and calm, with trees in the middle of them. I wish we had managed to be invited into one. But alas, not this trip.
The food is INCREDIBLE and often unidentifiable. Favourites have been the lady with the frying station on the road, fresh salsa (red and green) and corn tortilla things??? With mince and an egg inside deep fried, or the round ones which have potato and mince, a steal at 1500 pesos. It is the first time I have held One hUndred Million (Pesos) not quite dollars but who’s counting. Other favourite lunch was the typical Cuban lunch, soup (broth, cilantro, lime, carrot, potato, plantain), followed by rice, salad, beans and we had chicken but I’m dying to have the fish (it is whole and apparently really delicious) and amazing pizza at an Italian place which we are hoping to revisit in an attempt to eat well on our next passage.
The culture here is in the air and everywhere, tour boats heading past playing latin music, ladies in the department stores wiggling away to good songs. Fruit carts, Donkeys, and a different city depending on what hour of the day it is and so many unidentifiable fruits, I’ll try to take pictures and get suggestions!
We have met some other lovely people and even had our first ever visitors to the boat tonight, Marcelle and Bruce (from Australia sort of). Lovely to have our boat nearly shipshape and to be tucked int eh light sunny downstairs enjoying nice company. Andrea, they loved our curtains!!!!
The language barrier has been hilarious, lots of pointing and speaking loudly which makes everyone feel better. The yacht club is also funny, I was dreaming of showers and cocktails and lovely tables, even with table clothes, instead we are in the middle of a rebuild so there are tarpaulins, rebar and a fridge with nothing in it. They do have showers though (only cold water that comes out of a hose in the ceiling (not so fancy but so nice to have all the water in the world!).
Our local grocery store is like the Colombian version of Miles Market, a bit upscale but not overly expensive compared to the other ones, and on our trip to Exito today (the cheaper supermarket) I saw a rat (although it might have been a dog it was so big) and phil saw cockroaches, so I;ve decided any extra money is well spent at the Carulla (our local one).
Things are different too, we haven’t had to go to immigration for the first time ever, we have an “agent” David (sounds like Davide) who has taken our passports to get them stamped and brings them back to us. We were trying to find him today to get our exit stamp, hilarious… he said he would be at the club by 8 am, so we arrived at 8:20 and sat on our plastic chairs on the concrete under the tarp, no sign of him and by 10 am we had given up. Difficult to call as we don’t have a phone and can’t really speak enough Spanish to use someone elses phone. So we gave up, and walked ot the shop to get some breakfast (banana and mango juice), as we were leaving we heard honking and shouting and there in the parking lot was David… when do you wnt to leave he asked,,, tomorrow??? We said, where are your passports, so there in the middle of the parking lot, we hopefully completed our immigration stuff!
So many other little tidbits, like the lovely man that collects garbage and takes laundry on his bike with a huge front basket, always smiling and playing tricks (like my uncle Abbey) and has the BEST green elf hat in the world! The man that tries to teach me a bit more Spanish each day, the orange juice guys that squeeze a fresh orange into the cup before filling it with chilled orange juice, the music, the parrots, the heat. Finding a bench in the park and realizing if you stayed there long enough you could have icecream, juice, lunch a new hat, tshirt and necklace but not buying any of them!
Sometimes I have an urge to buy a souvenir just to remember, but I realize this place is so much more alive than that and we will never forget it!
So, trying to get organized to get out of here…. San blas Panama next… hopefully with our pizza in tow (if we can get one tomorrow!)