Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SCORE. Fish on the Table

The great hunter went with snorkel and spear yesterday and brought home dinner. Hawk hit an Ocean Trigger - a good sized one - and brought it back to the boat, filleted it and we'll cook it up for dinner. The hunting drought has ended. We saw lots of lobsters - but all too small to add to the dining adventure.

The Ocean Trigger has a really tough skin - making it often a tough fish to spear. Cleaning it is equally challenging for the same reason. But Michael managed to get two very nice filets off the fish - plenty for dinner (and leftovers).

It's gotten quite windy here in the Eastern Holandes - and the seas have kicked up outside the reef. Even in the anchorage it is a bit "noisy" with waves slapping against the hull all day and night. Snorkeling options also get cut down when the wind picks up - so we headed to a reef protected by an island for yesterday's fish catching and snorkeling trip. A tiny fish adopted Barbara and swam with her the entire time - and whenever she stopped to explore a coral outcropping - it would swim in front of her face mask as if asking what the hold-up was.

After a nice snorkel we had a nice evening aboard Astarte with Lili and Otto from Vagabond and a tasty "Mexican" feast. It was good to reconnect with them after spending some time with this South African boat in Curacao.

This morning was yoga in paradise - a windy day but a perfect setting to stretch those muscles. The island this time was filled with students from a large three-masted German boat - the Thor Hyerdahl. They camped out on the island the night before with hammocks strung between the palm trees and a few tents. They were still there and a few even joined in on the yoga session. The boat came into the anchorage a few days ago at sunrise and was quite a magnificent sight. It's a beautiful dark hulled boat and looks like it's right out of the movies like "Master and Commander" or "Mutiny on the Bounty."

2009 is nearing its end…and it'll end with a full moon. Cool.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Kuna Christmas and Boxing Day

We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Talking to our families, it seemed cold in many parts of the US - so we hope you stayed warm with family and friends. Our Christmas was spent with about 25 boats in the "swimming pool" area. It was a warm and sunny day with a nice breeze to keep things comfortable. A potluck on one of the islands was attended by about 60 people and this included a fun gift exchange with some crazy gifts, from bazooka style water pistols to inflatable parrots. The food was tasty including everything from smoked salmon, chicken curry and turkey to lentil salads and quiche. The dessert table was filled with pineapple upside down cake, a yummy pecan pie and cakes and cookies galore. It was a fun event with people from many countries. Lots of Santa hats and festive outfits adorned the cruisers and that evening the boats seemed particularly pretty with their Christmas lights and decorations.

Christmas night brought in a few squalls and one catamaran that had anchored a bit close to us got mighty close when the wind changed directions. But they seemed to be able to sleep through it all - though we were up at 0400 and stayed up on anchor watch the rest of the morning. We couldn't wake the other boat even with calls on the radio (several channels), yelling at the boat and even spotlighting their boat with our mighty spotlight. The wind, rain and our attempts didn't work to wake up the crew who seemed oblivious to the situation. Oh well! In the morning when they finally got up and saw how close we were they let out more chain and went back below decks.

The fleet of cruising boats is international - so there were "Boxing Day" greetings also sent out for December 26th to celebrate the day after Christmas. This is a tradition in the British (and former British) commonwealths (so all the Brits, Kiwis, Canadians, Aussies, South Africans, Irish and others celebrated).

Today, Michael completed a few big projects. Stealing an idea we saw the other night on Calypso, a South African boat, he made some good window "sticks" to keep our hatches open. He also installed a fan to keep the refrigerator compressor cooler. This last project was accompanied by some not so pleasant language, a few more bruises on his head and some contortionist moves. But it got done. Three cheers for Hawk!

So to all - Happy Boxing Day!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve in Kuna Yala

(First, a house keeping note. Please bear with us, we do not have internet access. Anything sent to the, the blog or our aol account can't be checked till we get somewhere with internet. We want to apologize early, if you haven't gotten a personal response lately. We still receive the and addresses on the boat.)

Merry Christmas to all our readers. It is a different Christmas for us this year. Last year we were in chilly New England with Barbara's mom and enjoying family time with her sister and family. That included some Polish Christmas eve traditions; eating lots of cookies and seeing all the beautiful decorations.

This year, we're anchored in the Eastern Holandes, in the area known as the "swimming pool." It's hot and sunny - not very Christmas like. At night, we see many of the boats here all decorated with their Christmas lights - its one of the only ways you can tell it's the holidays. Richard and Rene's visit brought Christmas cheer as they gifted us with holiday stockings and ornaments now hanging on the boat.

Today will be cookie baking time onboard Astarte. With a tiny oven (and one cookie sheet) - this will be a bit more time consuming than normal. Tonight, we'll have some folks over (our old friends Lil and Otto from Vagabond that we just reconnected with, after spending time with them in Curacao).

Tomorrow, there is a potluck feast on the island that we'll partake in and a gift exchange with things from the boat. We've made a copy of the CD that Kathryn sent us as our gift and Barbara's trying to make rope trivets as another gift (not so easy and they're not made yet!) The Kuna's that come by the boat joke that Michael (with his now pretty white beard) is Santa Claus - he's getting good at the "Ho Ho Ho" to get a laugh. He's scared a few as well!

It's a different Christmas. We miss celebrating with family and friends. And, with Michael's dad's recent death, it has some additional sadness. But we are in a beautiful place, doing what we are truly enjoying. We are meeting interesting and wonderful folks from all over the world. Holidays are difficult - but it also makes you really remember what they are all about. This year we weren't at all caught up in the commercialization of Christmas - and making homemade gifts reminds us of college days.

We wish you all a very special holiday and may your dreams be fulfilled.
Merry Christmas from both of us - Michael and Barbara.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adios Rene and Ricardo! Feliz Navidad.

Dear Readers - you are now back with Barbara's (and Michael's) entries. Thanks for the guest blogs R&R!

Richard and Rene said their farewells yesterday from Astarte and boarded the ponga for their boat, then car ride into Panama City, and finally their plane ride home. They fly out this morning back to Christmas in the states. It was a great visit filled with lots of snorkeling and visiting various islands. We covered a lot of area - staying only in one place more than a night! They were good sports aboard - living out of suitcases and having to empty the v-berth each night before being able to climb in. We lucked out with weather - having nice breezes and sunny skies. We traveled a lot - but didn't get all that much actual sailing in - the wind on the nose or the need to make power and water.

The last night unfortunately was a very still night, close to the mainland and that meant a buggy good-bye. The "chi-chis" (no-see-ums) were thick and biting. There seems to be no screen small enough not to let these things in. It was also very still and hot, making for less than ideal sleeping conditions. Plus, Richard didn't feel very well for his last few days on board (probably my cooking!!)

They loaded up the boat with lots of fun treats and goodies and we had a nice (surprise) Christmas celebration with them. They brought Christmas stockings filled with magazines, books, CDs, a beautiful handmade bracelet, ornaments and more snacks! Plus they delivered greetings from many of our "Dolphin" friends. Thanks to all of you for your holiday messages. And thanks again Richard and Rene for the visit.

After R&R's early morning departure, it was time to clean the forward head, shut it down and re-make it into the hanging locker/laundry room. The V-berth was stripped and re-loaded with "stuff" from the aft stateroom (turning it back into the "attic"). Though Nonomulu is buggy (and has crocodiles) we decided to stay the night to keep Honore on "Will o' the Wisp" company. They did that for Michael as well when I went to Panama City - and he went in to meet their guests and re-provision. We all took a dinghy ride over to Acuadup. This is a traditional island and we were shown where the panaderia was and picked up some bread - as well as getting shown many molas and bracelets. Barbara got a bracelet and had it tied on Kuna style by the one of the Kuna woman.

We re-organized, cleaned and relaxed through the hot afternoon. Then we had some squally weather that kicked up the seas and dropped a bit of rain. The wind would hopefully keep the chi-chis away and keep the boat cooler. Honore came over for fish tacos and then the weather settled and the bugs returned. The boat seems filled with these little biters. We called it an early night.

Thanks again Richard and Rene for making the trek to Panama and Kuna Yala. Thanks for all the goodies but, mostly for the company.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Our Adventure Continues

Our plans for Friday fell flat when Lisa our tour guide notified us that her ponga engine was damaged and she would be unable to take us on our planned trip up the Rio Sidra (Sidra River). Lisa did, however, eventually make it to the boat to show us her molas. She is a renowned mola maker and Richard and I bought several. The mola selling process is interesting one. If you don't go into a village to look at molas, sellers come to the boat in an ulu or a ponga (defined previously) and offer to show you their molas and often beaded bracelets both of which they carry in plastic buckets in their boats. Sometimes Barbara and Mike invite the Kunas into the cockpit to show us their wares. We usually look at everything, show them what we want to buy, ask the price of each item, and then try to bargain. Some will bargain, but mostly we have run into fixed prices but they have not been too high. The whole process can last an hour or more. We have walked away from some deals that we did not think were worth the price.

Since we were not going up the Rio Sidra, we moved to the Western Holandes Cays and anchored South of Waisaladup (there are lots of "dups" in this area; do you remember "ooh poo pa dup?"). We had wonderful snorkeling this afternoon seeing lots of colored coral (the pink was especially beautiful) and magnificent fish. After snorkeling the reef on the side of the island where we were anchored, Richard and I walked across the island and then around it. We discovered a small Kuna enclave with about 8 huts on the Eastern end and we noticed a few men, women, and boys who cheerfully greeted us with, "Hola." It is so beautiful here; we could easily be in the South Pacific. We had no idea that Panama was such a beautiful country.

Saturday, we have decided to leave Waisaladup because it's too rolly and the Captain's rule of thumb is "Just one night of rolling and that's it." So we moved to the "Swimming Pool," a large circular area between two islands that is the color of a swimming pool and yes, one of the islands is another "dup," Banedup and the other is Bar-B-Que Island. We snorkeled over some grasses and saw some sea cucumbers called Donkey Dung (Mike claims he has eaten this stuff in Canada) but we passed. We saw lots of star fish that looked gigantic with the magnification effect of the water, sea biscuits, and sand dollars. We had fun swimming along for a while with a large trigger fish. We also found an old fisherman's or navy anchor with a large rode still attached. Many tropical fish had already found a home there. We all like it here.

Sunday morning we snorkeled over a close-by reef that was shallow enough to really look at the fish, coral, and sponges. I also saw two eels which were the first of this trip and a neat scrolled file fish swimming vertically, face down. We played around with some of the feather duster tube worms by touching them so they would retreat into their tubes. A small barracuda passed us by and we went the other way. The fish we have seen are too numerous to list but there are so many beautiful and unusual ones.

We swam so long in the am that we stayed aboard and relaxed that afternoon. Around 4:30 we joined Bob and Sandy from S/V Sapphire (from Tierre Verde) and their daughter Terry and husband Brian and 3 year old son Hudson on BBQ Island for hors d'oerves and drinks and a game of bocce ball. It was fun to meet up with old friends in this remote place. We had a great time on this beautiful little island that is covered with a low-growing grass and shaded with coconut palms; perfect for bocce ball.

Now it's Monday and we put the dink on the front deck for the 20 mile run back to Nonomulu where we will be picked up tomorrow for our trip back to Panama City. We have motored the whole way and made water too. As we were anchoring, some Kunas arrived in their ulu and were selling fish; they had one gorgeous snapper which Mike and Barbara bought for our last dinner on the boat. Richard jumped in for a quick bath while I did some packing. Another boatload of Kunas showed up who are to pick us up in the morning. It seems the plans have changed slightly and they will take us in their ponga (wooden boat with a motor) from Astarte all the way up the river where we will meet our SUV and driver for the trip back to Panama City. This is great news because we will have yet another adventure before going home!

After they leave and just before I am ready to jump in for a bath, Mike yells out that that a crocodile is swimming nearby so we all rush out for a look. Sure enough there is a croc cruising by and my plans for a bath have disappeared. However, there is an alternative since we just had a great downpour and have collected rainwater. I stood on the swim platform, got lathered up and Barbara poured a couple of buckets of pure rainwater over me for rinsing. Doesn't get any better than this.

Then we sit down to our grilled snapper dinner with yellow rice, and slaw, with a lobster appetizer and brownies for dessert. What a feast. And as out trip comes to and end, we thank our host and hostess for providing a fantastic week in the San Blas Islands with first class food and accommodations and consideration for all of our wants and needs. We wish Michael and Barbara Feliz Navidad and Fair Winds. With love from Rene and Richard.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Rene Catching Up with Richard's Help

On Tuesday we dinghied to Carti on the island of Sugdup where we first met the Sailas or Chief who charged us $10 to anchor and $3 each to visit the Kuna Yala museum which was a thatched hut with dirt floor much like the Kuna homes. A young Kuna man who spoke English asked us to sit in chairs as he lectured to us and pointed to objects and pictures explaining Kuna history, customs and lifestyle. We learned about chicha beer made from bananas and sugarcane, that everyone has a spiritual doll called a nuchu that after death is put in a small boat and set out to sea to release one's soul, and that from birth to burial a person sleeps in the same hammock. We saw a communal kitchen hut which makes sense to consolidate the heat in one place. There were many children in the paths between the densely placed homes, and one concrete school which is now closed until March for the dry season.

In the afternoon we motored to the Los Grullos group of islands and anchored between two of them to catch the breezes. Barbara had a swim while others napped, then Richard and I snorkeled to one of the islands and checked out the reef. The opposite island had a small resort where reportedly for $75/night one could stay in a dirt-floored hut with a mattress and receive 3 meals per day. Entertainment there included snorkeling, swinging in a hammock, riding in a ponga (motor-powered local wooden boat) or just veging out. After our showers on the back of the boat, we got ready for a turkey dinner shared with Honoree and Walt from Will o' the Wisp. We had a great evening hearing more stories about the San Blas Islands.

Wed. morning when I awoke I thought we had a beautiful deep blue sky but when I shook the cobwebs out I realized it was the blue canvas shade Mike had hoisted over our hatch! The real sky was beautiful too. We pulled anchor mid-morning and sailed to the Naguargandup Cays, passing Moron Island where Michael wants to be King, and finally anchoring near Salardup. Richard and I caught a quick swim to the island before lunch and then naps after. That afternoon we visited Pixie and George aboard Silver Seas, a 38' Island Packet, who are friends of Elaine and Howard Rothstein. We were interested in checking out storage modifications on their boat and we had an enjoyable hour chatting with them. Thank you Matt R. for the supremo eggplant parmesan recipe that we all thoroughly enjoyed for dinner. Yum.

Thursday we followed Mike out to the reefs to see nature at its best. We not only saw beautiful, living coral, we saw a crab and stone fish hiding inside a coral formation, and many amazing fish and sponges. It was a challenge for us to swim into the current yet we learned how to maneuver with the ebb and flow. We moved the boat to the Rio Sidra island and before we could finish anchoring some Kunas in an ulu (paddled dugout boat) came by to sell molas. There had been others at other sites but finally we decided to buy 4 from Belasario, a Kuna albino who was obviously getting burned from the sun. We gave him some sunscreen and Barbara and Mike added more sunscreen and sunglasses. He expressed gratitude for the purchase as well as the gifts. Walt and Honoree called on the radio to say they had bought crab and lobster for us at a great price. They showed up in the afternoon and the crustaceans were steamed and left for cracking later. The 6 of us went ashore for a tour of the island and were greeted by Ena and Toby who acted as our guides. This island only requested $1 each to enter and we were on our way. Cold beer and soda was needed on a hot afternoon as we walked the dirt paths between the bamboo huts and greeted the many Kunas who came out to see us. There were so many children on this island; 375 in their school we were told. We saw the Congresso hut, the Christian church, school, chicha building where festivals are held, and the communal kitchen. I bought another mola from Ophelia and felt pleased with the day's purchases. When we returned to the boat, Richard, Mike and Barbara cracked and picked the crab, which looks somewhat like King crab, and Rene make slaw. With fresh spinach added to that, we had a feast. Tomorrow will be an exciting day; stay tuned.

From Rene. The SUV trip on Monday, literally across the country, was a highlight for Richard and me. We were so loaded with provisions and our duffle bags that we were afraid to open the back door. Cases of beer, wine and milk were strapped on top and we could only hope that the heat wouldn't cause any explosions. The countryside was beautiful and lush. Initially the road was great. We went from two-lane hardtop to one-lane gravel and then to clay which at points was slick and wet. One two occasions we came face-to-face with road graders. Hills became steeper requiring 4-wheel drive, and turns, tighter raising our adrenaline and fun. And then we arrived at the river, a surprise to me, and we drove right in heading a bit to the right and then turning left to tackle a steep hill, very slick with red clay. Don't need the movies for this adventure. Oh, and along the way we have passed wrecked and now stripped cars that had taken the tumble down one of the ravines! Arriving at the water's edge, Michael was bobbing in the dinghy just off the concrete docks and we began to offload the many boxes and bags. It took three trips to get everything to Astarte and Barbara had the unenviable task of putting everything away. And then she graciously prepared a delicious dinner and we relaxed in the in the cockpit enjoying a wonderful reunion with our friends.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Boatloads of Stuff

From Rene. The SUV trip on Monday, literally across the country, was a highlight for Richard and me. We were so loaded with provisions and our duffle bags that we were afraid to open the back door. Cases of beer, wine and milk were strapped on top and we could only hope that the heat wouldn't cause any explosions. The countryside was beautiful and lush. Initially the road was great. We went from two-lane hardtop to one-lane gravel and then to clay which at points was slick and wet. One two occasions we came face-to-face with road graders. Hills became steeper requiring 4-wheel drive, and turns, tighter raising our adrenaline and fun. And then we arrived at the river, a surprise to me, and we drove right in heading a bit to the right and then turning left to tackle a steep hill, very slick with red clay. Don't need the movies for this adventure. Oh, and along the way we have passed wrecked and now stripped cars that had taken the tumble down one of the ravines! Arriving at the water's edge, Michael was bobbing in the dinghy just off the concrete docks and we began to offload the many boxes and bags. It took three trips to get everything to Astarte and Barbara had the unenviable task of putting everything away. And then she graciously prepared a delicious dinner and we relaxed in the in the cockpit enjoying a wonderful reunion with our friends.
Boatloads of Stuff!

Rene will submit another post soon - but you're back with Barbara for this entry!

It was a Panama City adventure this past Sunday and Monday. The ride in was a trip - I was one of 14 people in a van going over muddy steep, curvy roads and through (yes through) a river. It's amazing. We did get stopped by the National Police twice - once they unloaded everyone and checked all the baggage thoroughly - that is all the bags except my backpack. Interesting. I did see a ROUS crossing the road on the trip out! (Sorry Kathryn and Mark)

Got to PC and started the shopping rounds. It was hectic and Richard and Rene were really good sports about helping. The return was in a small SUV with the three of us, a Kuna and the driver and cases of beer, wine, milk, bags of veggies, giant boxes stuffed with meat (including a frozen turkey to keep the cold stuff chilled), frozen meat (that was an adventure communicating how I wanted to buy the meat, have them vacuum seal it and freeze it overnight!) and lots of staples like flour, sugar, pastas etc. I was amazed it all fit in this car. And I was even more amazed that the car made it through the river which was a bit higher and the car a bit lower.

Upon arrival in back in Carti we offloaded the car with the help of several Kuna and a wheelbarrow. IT took three dinghy trips back and forth from the boat to load it all up. Storing it - that's another whole story - especially with guests and their luggage and all the stuff they brought for us etc. We are piled high on board and sitting yet lower in the water.

It's been great having R&R on board and we're enjoying going to new islands and snorkeling, visiting and eating! We've hit a town in Carti and went to a Kuna museum that shared more info about the Kuna culture. But I'll let Rene share more.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our Guests Have Arrived

Richard and Rene, our good friends from St. Petersburg, the Dolphin Cruising Club and the lovely sailboat "Sea Tryst" have joined us in Kuna Yala. As with all travel, there are adventures from the very beginning. They are now aboard Astarte after a re-provisioning trip to Panama City. Loading up on food and supplies is always adventure. But the additional adventure of getting from SV Astarte in Kuna Yala to PC and back added to the fun. The following entry is from Rene who, together with Richard, will be guest "loggers" for the next few days. It's always fun to have a fresh perspective - so enjoy!

Rene's entry:
We met Barbara in Panama City on Sunday about noon just after returning from a 3 hour walk in Parque Nacional Soberania, an accessible rainforest about 40 minutes out of PC. We saw some beautiful birds and butterflies but we are out of luck when it comes to identification but did see and get a snapshot of a sloth. The best of sightseeing in PC is the Panama Canal. We saw quite a few freighters going through the Miraflores Lockes; what a feat it was to build this wonder. And now additional locks are being built to handle additional and larger ships.

Sun. afternoon we started with lunch at a "Café" that was really a cafeteria with a grill. Barbara and Richard ordered from the steam table and left me trying to order a bacon and tomato sandwich from two cooks who spoke no English and I, limited Spanish. Got that done but the bacon was only warmed for 2 minutes. I did manage to get the bacon cooked longer and it tasted great since I never eat real bacon anyway.

The three of us spent the afternoon shopping for provisions at a large grocery Reba Smith and a Sam's type of store, Mega Depot, where beer, wine, milk, tuna, etc. could be bought by the case. Barbara was also able to replace their broken stereo at a recommended store. The grocery was filled with American products at surprisingly reasonable prices as well as local items and produce. Some produce was high such as cauliflower was over $4. While I sat with the groceries at Reba Smith, Richard and Barbara went to Mega Depot but when finished they could not find a cab to pick them up because of their huge pile. Finally the cab that stopped would not come for me! So Barbara and I got a ride with a different cabbie who at first said no and as we found out, he had just stopped to pick up his wife. He had a 4-door truck so there was plenty of room. After he pulled away and Barbara went to check in to the hotel, she realized she had left her small zippered bag with money and passport in the cab. She immediately went into panic mode and then along with the hotel manager we went into crisis management mode. Shortly thereafter, a call came in from the cabbie that he would return the purse later that evening. This cabbie was meant for us. Barbara left a generous tip and we left for a nice dinner out. What a Wonderful World!

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nonomulu and Snakes

Astarte moved from the Lemmons to the Carti group of islands after filling the propane tanks and doing some serious cleaning. We enjoyed meeting George and Pixie aboard Silver Seas and laughed at the "North Shore" (Massachusetts) connections. Pixie's from Beverly and George is from Danvers - nearby towns where Barbara grew up! We had a nice supper with them aboard their Island Packet 38 the other night and enjoyed hearing those strong Boston accents.

On Friday, we sailed with a nice downwind breeze to the Carti Islands. We are anchored between the mainland of Panama and a small island "Nonomulu." The birds are fun to listen to and watch and it's a pleasant anchorage. Good thing there is a steady wind to keep the bugs at bay - they look like they would like this place! Can't really swim here as the water is a bit muddy from the nearby rivers. But we learned that snakes CAN swim - and do! We found a small boa constrictor on the boat huddled between the rail and a bucket - enjoying the warm sun. We're guessing it swam from shore and climbed up the swim platform and on-board. Michael got a boat hook and carefully (after many photos) scooted him off the boat. He didn't want to leave - preferring the luxury and company of SV Astarte - but we had company coming and it would already be cozy enough without him! So he took a swim back to shore. We watched him go quite a way - and hopefully he didn't turn around and head back. It's kinda scary in a cool sort of way.

We chose this location because it's close to the "aeropuerto" where Barbara will catch a taxi into Panama City to meet Richard and Rene and do some re-provisioning for their visit. The wine supply is just about non-existent! Plus we need some other basics like flour and sugar and noodles. It should be an adventure.

Finishing up the cleaning and organizing for our guests. We bought two nice crabs from the local Kuna fishermen yesterday. It takes awhile to clean them - but they are mighty tasty. This is a nice spot other than the not so clear water (and maybe the snakes). Hope the breeze stays with us and the snakes stay off us.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Night of Rain - Water for Cleaning

We made it back to the East Lemmons in the hopes of filling our propane tank so we won't run out of cooking fuel for Richard and Rene's visit. Guests also mean getting Astarte all shiny and clean for company. Last night we had an 1130 wake-up call with a good squall coming through - but it did fill up a water bucket for today's cleaning.

The heads are all spotless and the headliner (ceiling) and all the wood is all washed. A chili "mishap" required the stove to be removed and some serious cleaning behind it. It was probably needed even without the chili disaster!

It's a hot day - with little to no breeze - not an ideal day for cleaning. But we're running out of time - so it must get done.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Party Time

Yandup and Corezon de Jesus (the two villages that make up what's known as Nargana), celebrated Dias de Madre (Mother's Day) with big fiestas on Monday. There was the crowning of the "Queen Mum" which entailed lots of dancing by the runner-ups, line dancing trough the crowd and lots of cheering and speeches. Some traditional dancing as well as party dancing took place. One side, Yandup, held their festivities in a concrete building so it was pretty crowded. The other side, Corezon had theirs on the outside basketball court. Both places were decorated and quite festive. We went in with the folks from Will o' the Wisp and Wonderland. Fireworks were being set off by kids (and adults) and everyone was drinking beer and seemed to be having a great time. We did some dancing (Barbara and Honore even got some young Kuna teens to dance with them!) It was a fun evening. As it celebrated "mother's day" we wish our mothers' a happy day - Panama style.

After a night of partying, we headed to a new anchorage. We picked a place called Esnasdup. It was only about ten miles away - and we had a wonderful sail (albeit it short) to the new location. No joy on the fishing front. This location is a small group of islands surrounded by a reef (sound familiar?). We are with one other boat on one island and there are three more boats near another reef/island. So you do feel like you have the place to yourself. The water is very clear. We had a nice snorkel and swim yesterday followed by the not-so-nice cleaning the bottom of the boat. After all that activity, we reciprocated with a dinner invite to Honore and Walt and had them over for a chili feast. This was followed by a big domino tournament. It was a good match with the lead changing throughout the game (except for Barbara who maintained last place for all but one round!)

Another fun night - but that made it two nights in a row of staying up past "cruisers' midnight! Today we awoke to a drizzly, grey day. This anchorage is closer to the mainland - so the clouds build over the mountains. Most likely we'll move to the East Lemmons - we need to get more cooking gas prior to Richard and Rene's visit. That is a bit of a challenge here - the local Panamanian tanks use a different adaptor and it's butane. The bottom line is, that you need a special adapter to fill the American style propane tanks. So we understand Mr. G in the East Lemmons has an adapter and hopefully he'll also have the gas. (Getting the two together is always the challenge). Then we'll need to head to Carti by Saturday for the arrival to our much anticipated guests

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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Devil's Laundry Room

We're back in Nargana for diesel and gasoline - meaning the end of zero dollar days in "the swimming pool." We had a large northeast swell on Saturday as we headed the 15 miles to Nargana - but in spite of that, it was a decent motor sail. We ran the water maker underway and had the fishing lines out - this time using one of the gifted lures that Tommy "Boats" gave us. It was called "Lil Stubby" and was the color of choice right now by other boats - purple. We dragged it at perfect boat catching speed. No joy! Maybe Mark's right after his fisheries survey - "there are NO fish here!"

We got to Nargana and anchored further from town - a bit closer to the "jungle." There is a steady breeze so we hoped that would keep the "chi chis" away. (Those would be the blood sucking bugs that leave itchy bumps!) Michael proceeded with fuel runs - at $3.75 a gallon for diesel we burnt through $100 plus quickly. You go to Paco's dock for the fuel (Frederico will deliver it to your boat for $4.00 a gallon). We then went into town - and did a run to Tienda Eides and picked up some nice tomatoes, eggs, and Kuna bread. Had a beer (Hawk) and ice cream (Barbara) with some friends and enjoyed seeing the town getting decorated for Christmas. It seems the Kuna's are quite excited about the holidays with decorated trees in their huts and the town square set up with man made lighted trees (lights strung up poles with a star on the top). It is very festive - but with the heat, it's hard to think its Christmas. The kids are all out school for vacation so there are lots of activities, music and teens and young children running around.

On Sunday, we decided we'd do laundry up the Rio Diablo (Devil's River). We had done a dinghy trip up this river one very rainy day with our friends from Tumshi. But today, we had a mission. A lot of laundry. We had been waiting for rain since Mark and Kathryn left - but Kuna Yala rained itself out ON them! We loaded the dinghy with buckets and bins, lots of laundry, soap, bleach and "stain removers" (like that's going to actually work!). We went quite a way up river until the water got very clear and anchored in the middle. We washed and rinsed in the river - this was the best rinse the clothes ever got! No crocodiles - but lots of pretty bird to see and to listen to as we laundered.

Back to the boat, lines were strung everywhere to hang the massive amount of laundry. Luckily it was a sunny and breezy day - so most of it dried quickly.

Late afternoon, we went into the village again for gasoline, bread (no joy - the bakers didn't work) and dinner out! This would be the first dinner out since Cartagena! We went to one of the two "fondas" in town with Honore and Walt from "Will o' the Wisp" and Jim from "Wonderland". This fonda (restaurant) is run by the local congresso (governing body of the villages). It's under the "pool hall" and next to the Panama army headquarters. There was a bit of a battle between competing "boom boxes" for music rights… of course we thought the guys with the guns would win! Of course that particular boom box was actually in the restaurant so it could get a bit loud. The restaurant is a little covered and open patio with a few tables. We got there about 1700 and the verbal menu for that night included lobster, a crab dish and chicken. No fish. No conch. No whole crab. When asked the price of the lobster dinner - the answer was $4 or $5. Barbara and Honore had the lobster - they were very small (guess the congresso doesn't follow the catching rules) - but very tasty. Michael had the crab "stew" - it was also tasty. A huge platter of tomatoes was also served to the table. Jim from Wonderland treated us all to the dinner (very nice of him). After dinner, we took a little walk around the island and then everyone headed back to Astarte for some dessert and conversation. It was a busy and fun day and we stayed up way past "cruisers' midnight."

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Spared, Not Speared

It was huge. A giant Nassau grouper barely hiding under a ledge - looking at us. Michael with spear in hand, decided to spare the giant's life as he was so magnificent. He wasn't that afraid and he was really beautiful in an ugly kind of way (the fish - not Michael!) The snorkeling was wonderful yesterday - seeing a giant crab (with all it's claws), file fish, giant trigger fish, lots of small tropicals, healthy coral and a variety of underwater "land" scapes. The water was a bit chilly - but it was pretty clear. It was great to get a good snorkel in after several days on board.

Barbara participated in a fun yoga class on the beach on Tuesday - almost every woman from the boats anchored here went in and Suzanne on "NautiBear" hosted the class. It was great to be amongst the beautiful palms on a sunny day stretching into poses like "warrior," "triangle" and trees.

New boats come and go from the "swimming pool" so it's fun to watch the bay movies. It's a friendly group of folks - from a variety of countries. There are Germans, Dutch, Italians, French, Brits and US boats anchored here. The Kunas don't come by very often - so the supply of fish, crab or lobsters is limited. We're getting through our meat stock quickly.

Getting ready for our next guests to arrive - Richard and Rene get to the boat on the 14th of December. They'll arrive in Panama City a few days early and Barbara is planning on meeting them in PC to do some provisioning and heading back in a car with them.

The sheets and towels are all clean so once we get more provisions, we'll be ready for the next guests. Their list of things to bring is getting longer.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In the "Swimming Pool"

Exploring Kuna Yala continues. After several days in the Lemmon Cays (between Tiadup, Nuganachirdup and Koledup), we moved to an area called the Holandes Cays. This is a group of 21 islands (or "dups") behind a 7-mile long protective barrier reef. Most of the islands are uninhabited. There are two main areas, the eastern and western Holandes. We settled in an area called "the swimming pool" between Banedup and Barbeque Island. The water here is the clearest in all of the San Blas area because it is the group furthest from shore. We came in on a cloudy day and had to watch the reefs carefully as it's a bit tricky to get into. We anchored in a shallow area amongst the 15 other boats here. This is a popular spot. Several boats here have "swallowed the anchor" in this spot for many years. One boat has been here for six years!

After settling into our new home, we appreciated why this is such a popular spot - it really is beautiful. There is a pretty strong current, but the water is crystal clear and surrounded by beautiful palm covered islands.

On Sunday, we decided to just get here and relax after the move from the Lemmons. Michael dove the anchor (where is "clap, clap. . . anchor boy??") and did a little exploring of the reef near the boat. He saw two giant trigger fish and lots of little critters. This area is supposed to have terrific snorkeling when the winds settle. It is a breezy day - but that's good for power and comfort. Made a bread (still need to cut into it to see how it came out). We invited Joan and Ted from Panchita over for sundowners. We met them in Cartagena and they were in the Lemmons.

On Monday, it was laundry day! More guests are coming (Richard and Rene) and Kathryn and Mark recently left, so the sheets and towels had to get washed. Looked like a good power day (sun and wind) to make water (of course no real rain since Kathryn and Mark left!) We had to find a bigger bucket than the "Laundromat" that Richard and Rene gave me (two white buckets). We emptied out a big blue tub and that worked for the mattress cover (one load); sheets (another load) and the bucket served the purpose of pillow cases and a few small towels. That was an all day project. Michael made water and Barbara worked on her upper body strength. Between bread kneading and laundry - she's building up some muscles! There are days you miss the convenience of a washing machine!

Monday night was "potluck" finger food (no plates, forks or knives) on BBQ Island. All the cruisers get together and trade books, DVDs and enjoy snacks. There were some tasty treats brought - barracuda bites, crab cakes, conch fritters, fish dip - all from the local waters. We met some interesting folks - people who have been here a long time - and got more good local information. We did our first charging up of a Kuna's cell phone - but failed to ask for payment for the service. Next time, we'll negotiate ahead a coconut or fish as payment for the charging service. Still learning about this whole Kuna economy.

Hardly realize its December first already!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Duck Races and Pig Roast

Thanksgiving in Kuna Yala was different but fun. Though we were without family to share the holiday, we did have a feast with about 23 other boat crews. The menu: roast pig and lots and lots of fabulous boaters' potluck side dishes and desserts (including great pumpkin pie and cobblers). The pig was set to roasting the night before in a hut on shore by "Mr. G" a Kuna entrepreneur.

The day was supposed to start with ulu races that cruisers could be part of - but lack of enough wind cancelled them. At 1400, there were the rubber ducky races. People could (and did) bet on rubber ducks (of various colors, costumes, styles and sizes). There were Santa ducks, Blues Brothers ducks, surfer dude ducks, sunglassed and hatted ducks, yellow ones, pink ones, a red devil duck, a witch duck (of course being from Salem, Barbara placed a buck on the witch); and many, many more. The folks from the boat Panchita had even created a racing form telling each duck's name, number of races raced, winning record and "story." Pretty funny stuff. The bets were placed, the ducks with bets on them were placed in a plastic bin, taken off shore and dumped. The first one to hit shore was declared the winner with a place and show also established. The pot was split - 50% shared amongst the winners; 30% amongst the second place duck bettors and 20% split for the third placers. One of our ducks came in second so we re-couped our bet of $6.

After the fun of the duck races, everyone went back to their boats to complete their side dishes and re-convened on the island for the feast. It was great fun and some of the boaters brought in guitars and drums for entertainment. It was a nice way to celebrate the holiday.

Prior to all the festivities, Michael worked on a major boat problem. After Mark and Kathryn left, we started to shut things down in the forward head and put back the "attic" and "garage." In the process, Michael found a thru-hull issue. It seems one forward thru-hull (the water maker one) wouldn't close or open - it was stuck halfway. That meant we couldn't make water. Because this is below the water line, changing it is an issue. He did buy a new one from our friends on Gecko (Ian had several spares - thanks so much Gecko) and so we have one on board. But good ol' Capt. Hawk did discover a way to work around it and re-plumbed the water maker. This was a good thing as we were almost out of water and since our guests left - it hasn't rained a bit. We even were able to waterproof the bimini (sorry Kathryn and Mark - now you could sit in the cockpit without getting dripped on - at least we think so but haven't had any rain to put it to the test.) Michael got everything running and with the sun and wind we could make power and run the water maker without turning on the big engine.

On Friday, we went to Anna and Ian's boat Gecko, for a "post Thanksgiving" faux-turkey soup dinner. Barbara made a pumpkin pie and the folks from Jammin' made some tasty bread. It was great to finally spend some time with Anna and Ian. We all know each other from past working lives and it was fun to see each other in our cruising life. They were heading back towards Bocas on Saturday, so this would be our last chance. Safe travels to them.

It's Saturday and we'll spend one more day in the East Lemmons and then probably head to the Holandes Cays tomorrow.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bye-Byes, Bocci Ball and "Bonfires"

Our guests Kathryn and Mark departed yesterday (Wednesday) morning about 0900 on a "lancha" headed to Carti and the jungle. Today we awoke to another day of incredible sunshine, warm breezes, and flat seas. Where was this weather when they were here? It never fails. They were great boat guests and we'll look forward to another visit from them someday. Kathryn did a great job on the log the last several days. Now, we have to get everything laundered and ready for our next guests - Richard and Rene in a few weeks.

After our farewells, the purchase of bread and vegetables (along with a whole chicken which we cooked last night - yummy), there was the announcement of a trash burn on one of the islands. We discovered this is not just a way to get rid of your garbage, but is also a social event. We brought our bag of paper and plastics (no glass, cans or "explosives." One person threw an aerosol container in - a real no-no. It was a can of hairspray - who in the world uses hairspray out here??? I haven't even had a hair cut in 10 months!) Anyway, the fire was in full burn when we arrived and then bocci ball teams were created. Folks bring beer and snacks and the games begin. It's a great way to meet the other boaters as well as enjoy some social intercourse. Michael did make his way into the finals with partner Tim from "Hooligan".

It's Thanksgiving but we aren't watching the colorful parades on TV and smelling the turkey in the oven. Our Thanksgiving should be fun - but very different. We'll post the events tomorrow - because who knows if it will all happen or not!

Because it's Thanksgiving, we'd like to share just a few of the many things that we are thankful for:

We're thankful that we can be out here living our dream. We both worked hard and saved up so we could take some time to sail and travel and explore while we are still able to. We know many people dream - but not all get to live their dream.

We are thankful, for our family and friends who have supported us in this dream. Our parents don't see us as often, and we miss the chance to visit them and even talk to them more often. But we have folks who understand and support our dreams. We are grateful for them. We're grateful for brothers and sisters who are helping us in so many ways while we are out here. We couldn't do this without all of them. We love hearing from family and friends and getting the e-mails and notes makes the time out here even more pleasurable. We're grateful for our "loyal fans" and readers of the web page and their wacky comments and questions.

We are thankful when boat projects get done and problems have an easy fix - not always the case. The current broken "thru-hull" is an issue and I'll be thankful if Michael can fix it easily. We're thankful for a well stocked boat of spare parts to make projects do-able.

We're thankful for the local islands and their gracious people who allow visiting boats to have access to and share these magnificent places. It's been a pleasure to meet local people who are so proud of their islands and countries.

We're thankful for patience - the patience to deal with the boat mishaps and projects; the patience to deal with the lack of wind, rain or sun; the patience to deal with each other (especially when anchoring); and, the patience to deal with "officials" who can sometimes change the rules midstream and vendors who don't always support their products.

We're thankful for our health and each other.

Thank you all - and Happy Thanksgiving to each of you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abondanza of Vegetables and Schmutz

Well, on our final day, we awoke to the sun shining, the call of the conch telling us bread was ready at the local island tienda, and the long-awaited vegetable boat visiting the anchorage only one boat away! When it rains, it pours. We had heard of the mythical sun and the vegetable boat over the last week or so, and apparently both are not just figments of the cruisers' imaginations! To top it all off, Michael managed to catch a pineapple floating in the anchorage on his way from retrieving the bread-free food (albeit not of the piscine protein sort!).

We enjoyed our first "dinghy raft up" cocktail hour the other night. This seems to be purely an American thing since none of the foreigners (well, aren't we all???) in the anchorage joined in. The Brit anchored next to us seemed profoundly confused by the concept of the whole thing when we explained it to him and declined, but overall it was nice to hear people's stories and exchange all the dips and snacks that were offered-we also enjoyed watching Nigel, the boat dog, negotiate the dinghies and try for some passed snacks.

Yesterday we tried snorkeling the reef off of Tiadup again and instead of eagle rays, squid, and colorful fish, we ended up feeling like we were swimming in the sewer system-plastic bags, river and ocean schmutz, and some flip flops (which our hosts have decided are ruining the planet, along with plastic bottles, and I don't disagree). Some sort of weird current is creating mats of flotsam (aka The Sargasso Sea) in the anchorage, but even when we got outside the reef there was just a lot of crap in the water and it seemed fresh as well-bummer. But, the poor conditions were not all bad because it sent us off exploring and we found a few other spots that definitely deserved a look and provided us with our colorful fish fix for the day!

So while the weather hasn't exactly been anything to write home about, we've managed plenty of relaxing: reading, playing games (I was officially the big dominoes loser!), and just sitting and chatting over rum drinks and drizzling rain. We got a few good snorkeling group adventures in and saw lots of beautiful sites around Kuna Yala. I'm sure this is one of those areas where "you should have been here 10 years ago…" but the culture (and molas) seems vibrant and there aren't so many other boats that you can't find a parking spot with an unspoiled view (Michael did score us the penthouse suite in our present anchorage-until the current changed direction, and now we're in the basement).

A big thanks to Barbara and Michael for graciously letting us invade their space, maintaining Astarte in excellent form, keeping us well fed and hydrated, and for showing us how this whole cruising thing works. And in spite of our contributions of nuts, pasta, peanut butter, and fishing tackle, we still left them with less beer and rum in their hold than they had when we came aboard, so I'm hoping the supply boats manage more regular appearances! All in all, I'm thinking cruising is a pretty nice gig!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lobster Amnesty

While we are all suckers for good sea critters (both to look at and to eat), we've noticed that the locals are selling some pretty tiny lobsters in these parts. Barbara and Michael had been selective about choosing the big daddies prior to our arrival, but as they entered the more popular anchorages, it seemed the mean size of the offerings was decreasing. This prompted some jokes about buying lobsters and throwing them back-ridiculous in concept, but not unlike what some non-profits are doing with commercial fishing shares in parts of the world.

So when an ulu came by the other day selling crabs and lobsters among other things, we took the bait and purchased 2 crabs and 6 lobsters, most of which were quite small. It was then decided that the two smallest lobsters would accompany us on our afternoon group outing to the reef and be freed. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But it made for a good adventure, trying to find the perfect rock hole for the repatriated langostas. They seemed content (if not a bit dazed) upon arrival on their new reef and we're hoping they will live long(er) and prosper. Their relatives tasted quite good.

As for other wildlife sightings, we saw some reef squid and a few spotted eagle rays, one wearing the bonus of a remora. The reef fish seem to be plentiful here and the corals are quite bright. We're hoping for a bit more sun so that we can get in some last bubble blowing tomorrow.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

"No One's Given Me The Clap Yet"

"No One's Given Me The Clap Yet"

We've left Moron Island and are glad all are aboard. Unfortunately, our trip up the Rio Sidra with Lisa to see crocodiles (and potentially a ROUS) was bust due to some bad storms. So we idled away the rainy day and went ashore on Moron to do some exploring of our own-no crocodiles or ROUSes there and we were glad to leave the rain and murky water behind.

We're now a week into our time on Astarte and have settled into the cruising routine a bit. With this we have acquired specific "jobs." I use that term loosely because it's quite clear that Barbara and Michael have the real jobs dialed and we just try to fill in where we can. As such, Anchor Boy came to life. One of the critical aspects of any type of boating is anchoring; this task becomes even more critical when the boat is your home, reefs are lurking all around, and you want a good night's sleep, free of worry about whether your anchor will hold if it starts to blow. So, to assure a set anchor, someone usually dives in to approve or disapprove the way the anchor came to rest (the joy of the tropics!). Mark, with superb diving abilities, decided this job was right up his alley. With a clap of the hands from Barbara or Michael to signal the appropriate time, Mark dives in and comes back with a full and detailed report of the anchor's position and security. A non-perfect report gets a haul back and reset of the anchor. After our 3rd anchoring attempt at Moron Island, Mark, with fins on and mask in hand, said, "Do I go? No one's given me the clap yet." "I think that's a good thing," was the wife's response.

We're now anchored in one of the "popular" anchorages in Kuna Yala: The East Lemmon Islands. It is kind of like living in a condo complex with the many boats and many people creating plenty of entertainment in the anchorage. We did a nice snorkel yesterday and will try for one or two new spots today. Yesterday we managed a lunch of lobster and a dinner of crab cakes, so, life is good.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Great Lion Hunt of 2009....and other adventures.

There had been some discussion prior to our arrival about the introduction of the lionfish to the Caribbean and what that meant for the local fishes and human swimmers. Forewarned, we brought with us some information on recognizing and reporting these beautiful but invasive and poisonous critters, and also some hints for what to do if you come in contact with them-ouch. After posting the info with the Kuna congreso and announcing it over the Net (a sort of morning radio talk show whereby some people convey pertinent information and others like to hear themselves talk), we figured we were done with it…and besides we had failed the 1st (and only) inquiry for the "professional marine biologists:" What is the incubation period of hawksbill turtle eggs? (The answer is about 6 weeks and at least the question wasn't about %^#&@^ dolphins!)

That failure aside, Mark and I went on a swimming circumnavigation of Olosicuidup upon arrival at the Coco Banderos (the Coco B's)-a very beautiful group of palm-clad islas with turquoise water and cool birds. We got most of the way around, seeing the ordinary cast of characters, when we saw an unusual stump in about 8' of water. Mark dove down and found a lionfish tucked within the root wad. Thus began the Great Lion Hunt of 2009…

After a re-anchoring to take advantage of the primo spot in the small anchorage, Michael grabbed his spear gun and he and Mark set out to slay the dragon. They did in fact manage to slaughter the wily beast*, dragging it through the waves to shore where they shook it vigorously from the spear and gave it a proper burial after pounding it to bits (by the way, this activity is deemed completely appropriate by said "professional marine biologists" given the invasive nature of the beastie-and the PMBs are decidedly better versed in fishes than turtles).

So, to reward our heroic men for making the ocean safer for both man and (other) beasts, we celebrated by having a delicious dinner of sentoya, a local crab that looks like a cross between an Alaskan king crab and a red rock crab and tastes wicked good-and at the fair price of 2 for $5 we couldn't go wrong-except that the shells were hard, very hard!

Another night in the Coco B's saw us trying for a quick snorkel and then a departure for Moron Island-we are pretty sure at least part of the crew may find their people (that would be the part of the crew that repeatedly bangs body parts on any boat part that happens to be standing by)!

*Note: The referenced wily beast was approximately three inches, approximately the size of your neighborhood goldfish…"its fins were REALLY big though"…and those are the poisonous parts!

November 21, 2009

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Molas, Crocodiles, Late-night Visitors, and Rain

It's been an eventful few days here on Astarte, not the least of which was a humdinger of a squall last night at the convenient hour of 0230! Yuck. The dinghy has subsequently been bailed twice and still has a bit of water. The good news is that the water tanks are full, with water to spare! And our drying clothes got a second dousing while on the line. The bad news is that the squall wasn't the end of it and we continue to see the rain fall…and that once crystal water around Green Island has turned to mud. Yuck times two.

Backing up a bit, we did have an encounter with Lisa, "master mola maker and infamous transvestite" (as per The Panama Cruising Guide) before leaving the Lemmons. Barbara has written a bit about the Kuna's propensity for approaching boats and selling their wares. Having read about Lisa just a few hours earlier, I couldn't help but be intrigued enough to see her molas and chat her up (her English is quite good). And she had some very intricate molas. I'm not really a connoisseur and know nothing about the fabric arts (hell, I can hardly sew a button), but luckily the guide books tell you what to look for. My hopes of finding a Mola mola mola (yes, there's a fish joke in there) weren't realized but we did pick up a few nice ones and a very kitchy mola beer coozie! We'll hang with Lisa again when we talk a river tour in a few days.

Still no joy in the fishing world. We've heard reports of a crocodile (a wee pup at 5' in length) in the vicinity-he seems to be a bit of a local legend. Combined with the murky water, the snorkeling potential is rapidly declining, as you may imagine! We were hoping the murky water might lead to some fishing luck (it is looking more like Chesapeake Bay or the Gulf than that gin-clear water we were lured by), but alas even the changing conditions can't dumb down the local stocks enough to take a bite.

Lastly, we heard the saddest tale of woe last evening when we were approached by two Kunas well after dark. They arrived in the midst of yet another squall. They had been out collecting coconuts (Kuna currency, forbidden to visitors) and as they were paddling for home, their ulu (canoe) was upended. While these boats are very cool, we witnessed their lack of stability when the Kuna man selling octopus toppled out of his earlier in the day while trying to close the deal with us-he came to the surface with the octos held high! At any rate, the guys lost all their cocos, one canoe paddle, and some pride. The younger of the two (15) was a bit scared by the whole episode and they decided we were a safe bet. So, they got cookies and coffee, a towel, some shelter, and time to regain their courage while they waited for a weather window to make the 3 hour paddle home (not sure if that was calculated with 1 paddle or two?). The older one (20) was fluent in Spanish so we chatted a bit, at which point we learned about the crocodiles, turtles, and white sharks (though we're thinking some kind of reef shark) in the area-this story was further compounded by a side note whereby their dog had recently been eaten by a crocodile. Hmmmm. Barbara and I (the cynics in this case) just couldn't help but wonder if we were being put on! At any rate, it makes for a good story!

We're hoping for some clearer air and water tomorrow, but are content to read and sip rum punches for the time being.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guests Aboard Astarte

Our guests have arrived - Kathryn and Mark made it to Porvenir and boarded Astarte bright and early Monday morning. The following (entry/entries) will be guest logs from Kathryn.

Buenos dias! After struggling with my ever-diminishing Spanish skills in Panama City, I was glad to board the plane to El Porvenir. Check-in was fairly simple at the airport (the former American military base in the Canal Zone). They bilked us for our extra luggage (gringo surcharge??), but not too bad, and we didn't have to leave all those nuts and that Dunkin' Donuts coffee we acquired behind! Security is considerably lax and they only asked to see the rum we had in our handbags-really, they looked at it and gave back to us. It was a bit disconcerting to see 5 guys standing around fixing the plane before we boarded, but we trusted the pilot and when he gave the okay, we boarded.

While the small size of the Twin Otter was no surprise, what we didn't know about was the size of the runway in Porvenir. I'm pretty sure it would be considered a palm-lined driveway in some neighborhoods. Mark had won the window seat, which left him scanning for coral reefs. I got the aisle seat, which left me looking at the cockpit controls and the approach. I can't say I didn't utter a "Dios mio" under my breath when I saw this thing! We skidded to a halt 50 feet before the beach on the far side. Michael said he saw some pretty green folks deplane-I don't think we were among them, but I'm glad to be avoiding that runway on our return trip. Of course, he just flew back to Porvenir and didn't mutter anything about this runway-obviously he is tougher than I when it comes to sketchy airports! A great start to this adventure, at any rate.

We checked in with the Kuna congreso who lightened our pockets a bit and then it was off to the boat to chill with some coffee and breakfast snacks and watch the rain storms roll in. And it rained. But then it cleared and we took off for the West Lemmons-and as we were approaching, another rainstorm rolled in and this one was serious tropical rain. Barbara bore the brunt of it, being on reef watch on the bow. Though, with a track-line to follow, we anchored without much ado, got settled, and took off snorkeling in the afternoon.

After a scrumptious dinner of lobster and pasta, some good times meeting the Tumshis, and several glasses of wine, we all crashed at cruisers midnight (which fits my sleeping patterns perfectly). A little bit of rain kept us on our toes during the night, but all and all a good rest was had by all.

Today we moved on to Green Island which is a picture perfect Caribbean island. We did a nice long snorkel in the afternoon and Mark and I tried to make up for the lack of fishing joy we had on the passage by trying again from the dinghy-so far we're not bringing much luck to Astarte to go along with all that tackle we brought…there's always tomorrow…

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Treated Like a Rock Star

Michael made it back without any drama. The flights were more or less on time. The weather was iffy for the short flight on Thursday from Panama City to the island of Porvenir. The Air Panama little plane stopped in Playon Chico first and Porvenir second. Not the normal schedule. It missed a couple of other stops because of rain and squalls. It was late getting to Porvenir, but did land safely. Barbara successfully got the outboard on the dink and got to shore to meet Michael. No small feat, doing it alone.

His dad is doing o.k. but is failing fast, so it was a good trip. They had a very good day on Sunday so they had some quality time to share. Marilyn is working hard and is doing everything she can to keep him comfortable and well cared for. We couldn't ask for a better person to provide support.

Michael has received lots and lots of very thoughtful and meaningful wishes from friends and he really appreciates all the kind thoughts. It was a tough visit, but it was something that he really needed to as well as wanted to do.

Tom and Jan were great. They put him up (and put up with him!), lent him cell phones and the use of their computer, ran lots of errands he couldn't get to before things closed, bought many meals and gifts and were very supportive. We don't want to say that the best part was the gift of some new lures, but I guess we just did!

He was a little worried about the hotel in Panama City on the way back. Turns out the Hotel Costa Inn has it all together. He made the reservation on the way out of Panama and was hoping it would work out. They have a courtesy shuttle from Tocumen Airport, the big one, to the hotel. Customs was a breeze. Especially because you can bring in up to $2000 worth of goods without paying duty. He brought in hard cheese, vitamins, roach traps (preventative - not curative!), propane fittings, canvas waterproofing, fishing lures, nuts, and new "not rusty" clothes pins.

He came out of the customs area and was greeted by a very nice man with a big sign with "Michael Hewkins" (so a bit misspelled) on it. He called to Michael (no matter what you do, we look like tourists) and we had a very quick drive to the hotel. It felt like a rock star arriving and being met by a limo! He was in the room before 11p after landing at 8:30.

The next morning the shuttle took him to the small airport where Air Panama flies out of. This one cost $10 but again, was on time and went as planned. The hotel includes a free breakfast, but at 4:30am the kitchen was not open, so they made him a great cup of coffee and toast. All in all, a great experience for the travel home.

We had a big rain day on Thursday. The tanks are full and Barbara is a clothes washing fool. We didn't move, but did move on Friday to the West Lemmons (two "Ms"). They reportedly have lots of bugs, but none so far today, Saturday (probably speaking way too soon). After our projects, we went over to Tumshi and Michael cleaned the carburetor of Freidl's 5hp Yamaha outboard. It actually helped and it runs much better.

Today will be snorkeling and not too many boat projects (some more laundry and maybe a bit of sewing). Michael's glad to be home. Tomorrow back to Porvenir to meet Kathryn and Mark. They arrive on Monday morning bright and early. Sunday we'll empty the "attic" (that would be the V-berth so they have a place to sleep) and the garage (that would be forward head - so they can …). We'll find temporary homes for all that "stuff." With the nor'easter in the DC area - we hope they make it here.

One last note, thanks to Tom and Jan and their computer and internet, NEW PICTURES, no captions.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hope Michael Makes the Flight Back

The last full day/night on the boat alone and I can't wait for Capt. Mike to return. We have a lot to do before our guests arrive on Monday. Today (Wednesday), I was awaken by squalls - wind, rain and a swell coming into the anchorage. It's been raining pretty hard - I need the water so some of that is good - and I've had to bail the dinghy twice so far. I have laundry hanging out from yesterday - it got another "rinse" cycle - but means it'll take forever to dry today. Have more laundry in the bucket - but running out of clothespins!

Otherwise, life on Astarte is reading, writing, bailing, cleaning and some cooking. Nothing new but I am looking forward to leaving Porvenir and seeing some other islands. I'm starting to know all the fishermen here by name.

One interesting thing being talked about on the morning "radio net" is that lion fish (a toxic Pacific tropical fish - often seen in fish tanks) is now in the San Blas. Sightings are reported daily and people are trying to kill them as they displace local fish and take over lobster habitat. They are also very toxic and can cause serious pain and worse! So it seems like the lion fish hunting season is in full swing.

A shout out to Tom and Jan for taking Michael in for his Portland stay and helping with lots of the errands.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Single-Handing: Day Five

Okay, I'm counting down the days. Just two more days and Michael gets back (hopefully) to Astarte. Our friends Friedl and Angelika are now in Porvenir, so I have some help nearby. And some company other than the non-stop Kunas coming buy to sell lobster, crab, vegetables, fruits, molas, bracelets, etc. It really is non-stop. And if you're not on deck - they stay and call you until you come out.

Not much going on - did a small dinghy ride yesterday to run Yoshi and then got the dinghy motor back on board (by myself) and the dinghy all locked up. Also did a short swim. There are lots and lots of small (and some large) reef squids around. They are all around the boat and in the clear water you can watch them.
Last night we did have some good lightning and thunder with some rain this morning.

The other night, there was an incredible sight around the boat. I thought someone was outside because I heard all this splashing - but it was just some splashing fish. And then I noticed the water was "aglow" with phosphorescence. There were short bits, long strands, blinking ones and swimming glows. It was amazing - they were everywhere. It was like an underwater light show. I had hoped it would be that way again last night, but there was nothing. Perhaps it was glow worm sex - being quite close to a reef and also a full moon just passed. Who knows - but it was one of those magical, memorable sights that you enjoy while cruising.

Had company for dinner last night and cooked up a storm. Made my mom's stuffed cabbage recipe and had a lobster salad and a decadent chocolate cake. It kept me entertained (and away from cleaning).

Otherwise, all is safe and good aboard Astarte. She's taking good care of me. I do miss Michael. He'll be back Thursday on the early flight (Kathryn and Mark - it arrives about 0635 and seems to be on-time most days).

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Home Alone

Well it wasn't like the movie.but it is strange to be alone (that would be Barbara) on the boat in Panama. All went well with day one of being a single hander. I did get the outboard off the dinghy and back on the boat - it took some doing. Michael did make it to the mainland and this morning (Saturday) SHOULD be on his way to Portland - an all day adventure. He connected with some old friends from St. Petersburg (Ginger and John) and enjoyed a little time with them in Panama City. They left on the same plane he did from Porvenir - talk about weird encounters.

It's a damp day - not enough for water collection - just annoying drizzle that keeps the solar panels from not working. People come and go in Porvenir - so the "Bay movies" are fun to watch. Our traveling friends from Tumshi will get here Monday - so I'll have some company for at least a day. I'll make them dinner for their efforts to give up good island time to come here.

I did get a few lobsters yesterday (for $3 - sorry Margie) and cooked them up for today's dinner. The Kuna ladies though are persistent about selling their jewelry and molas. They'll stay at the boat for a long time. I hope I don't cave and buy more stuff!!!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dinghy Driving Lessons

Yesterday (Thursday), Barbara took a "crash" course in outboard starting and dinghy driving. Michael tends to always "drive" so she never bothered. Now that he left the boat, she refreshed herself on the how-to's of Yoshi and his particular quirks. Now she has to figure out how to get the outboard off at night and on the big boat - by herself. The Astarte team is a good team and the systems are all in place for two - so suddenly "single-handing" takes some lessons and new systems. But friends on boats are nearby - and the cruising community is fabulous - so everyone is confident.

Astarte will sit near Porvenir for a week - and Barbara will do some writing, cleaning and boat projects. A few books will probably be read as well. All is good and Michael will have the bigger adventure getting in and out of Panama. Already getting the little plane off Porvenir was an adventure - but he did leave this morning (Friday) (90 minutes late) but is on his way to the mainland.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

We Eat Well!!

We've heard from several folks concerned that we are starving out here. Quite the contrary! We are eating very well - and very healthy. The logs indicate great excitement when we find fresh vegetables - but we're easily excited with things like that. They aren't always easy to find on islands, as everyone on these islands is dependant on a ship coming in with provisions. So getting some fresh tomatoes or cukes is always a pleasure. We can find bananas, potatoes, carrots, cabbage and squash pretty easily. Tomatoes and cukes are more of a treat - so we stock up when we see them. So dear friends and family, fear not for our well being, we are very healthy (in fact, healthier than we were in our work/traveling lives). We are well stocked with food and eating lots of fresh fish, lobsters as well as burgers and pork chops.

We also take vitamins.

We are now in Porvenir and legally in Panama. We cleared in yesterday and had to pay extra fees because it was a holiday. This is a five day holiday it seems! So we have paid our immigration fees and paid for our cruising permit and are good for 30 days. We have to renew immigration in 30 days.

We will be in Porvenir for at least a week. Michael is flying to Portland to see his dad who is in the hospital. Barbara will stay with the boat and hope for no storms. It will take Michael two days each way to get to Portland - having to fly out of Porvenir on a small plane that leaves at 0600. But the big plane for Portland (through Atlanta) leaves from a different airport - clear across Panama City (at least an hour away) and that flights leaves at 0830. So he has to do the Porvenir to Panama City flight on one day and the next day the trip to Portland. It reverses on his way back. So it will be lots of travel time for just a few days in Portland.

It is a hectic day getting ready to travel. Finding travel clothes (for cooler weather), luggage and getting all the details of travel together with no internet etc.

It is all part of the "cruising lifestyle" and we wouldn't have it any other way.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy Independence Day - Panama

Today is a big holiday in Panama - it's Independence Day and it was celebrated in style this morning in Nargana. We are anchored very close to the town and last night it was hard to sleep with all the drumming. This morning we found out why. There was a "big" celebration in the town square with drumming, speeches, singing and it ended with a "big" parade that we went to see. We think everyone in town was in the parade - classes of Kuna kids, all in uniform marched together. Boys and girls are in separate classes on the island. The boys had on dress shirts and long navy slacks; the girls pleated skirts and white blouses; the younger children had little uniforms, epaulettes and all - and the boys carried plastic swords and the little girls in sailor outfits carried batons. There were baton squads and dance squads and our favorites were both the cool drum corp in Panama straw hats and neat cotton shirts and the flute/dance troupe that were in colorful Kuna outfits and danced and played as they marched. Unfortunately, we rushed in and forgot the camera.

It was a fun morning that was totally unexpected. There was also a Colombian boat at the dock and Michael scored some cheaper diesel from them.

Yesterday was also a great day. After a walk all over Nargana which is officially Nargana-Yandup and Akuanusatupu - two communities joined together by a bridge. We walked all over the town(s). Much of the town has decided to abandon their traditional beliefs and colorful dressing and is more westernized. There is a bank here, police station, jail, lots of little tiendas (stores), a clinic, several restaurants, a bar and billiard hall and few hotels. Unfortunately no place to fill US propane tanks nor any internet. They have several public pay phones and we tried to buy a cell phone card that would work in Panama - but no luck. The people are friendly and the streets are sand roads and there are no vehicles (on land at least). Many people stopped us on the walk to speak English to us. We even found a little café that served ice cream - 50 cents a scoop!

We got some fuel in the morning from Frederico, an entrepreneur who will take garbage, bring fuel, do tours - sort of whatever you need. After our stroll through the towns, we decided it was time to take on the Rio Diablo (Devil's River) by dinghy. We hoped to see some exotic birds and a troop of white faced monkeys. And perhaps a giant crocodile. We motored up the river against the current - avoiding tree stumps and shallows. At one point, Michael had to get out of the dinghy and pull it over the shallows. Felt a bit like a Humphrey Bogart movie. Once we got quite a way up the river, we saw Kunas swimming, showering and doing their laundry in the fresh water of the river. It was refreshing cooler water. But what about those crocodiles we heard about? Little kids were splashing about??? We continued along the way and several large dugouts with motors passed us. They told us because it was All Soul's Day - they were heading to a large cemetery up the river. The boats were packed and folks had flowers and many were in Kuna dress with the traditional red makeup.
Then it became truly like a jungle movie - the river narrowed, the current got stronger, the landscape got lusher and the rain started. And boy did it rain. And it rained. We swam (after all we were soaked) and we waited on a rocky beach. But the raiin had no intention of slowing. So we decided to let the current take us back down river on a float trip. We could hear the birds and animals more distinctly and saw several varieties of pretty yellow breasted small birds; some red and black ones and we heard a lot of interesting calls.

We rowed and floated all the way back down the Rio Diablo and back to Astarte - soaked. But it was really an interesting adventure. We did see a white faced monkey on a young boy's back in town - as a pet. Not quite the same as seeing them in the wild. Maybe on the next river adventure.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Projects. Cooking. Snorkeling.

The cruiser life is simple. You have an ever growing list of projects - things that need to be repaired, cleaned or replaced. You have to do a daily fresh food check to see if anything is spoiling - and if possible, find fresh fruit and vegetables. You have to plan what you'll eat that day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and prepare it. And you have to plan what other activities will be on the agenda for that day - is it a travel day, a snorkeling day or a social day? Or perhaps a combination of all!

Yesterday (Halloween), we stayed at Aridup and did lots of projects. Barbara cooked all morning - she cooked up beets that were looking like they were starting to soften (the first time she ever cooked beets!); some mackerel that Tumshi provided and made a smoked fish dip; some cole slaw from a cabbage that was on its last legs; and omelets for breakfast/lunch. Michael refilled the grease reservoir for the stuffing box and added lube oil to the engine (though he is still celebrating fixing a big electrical problem that he solved a few days ago) and we cleaned the bottom of the boat. We did also manage to get a long swim and great snorkel in along the beautiful reef that runs around this island. Michael even managed to get to the other side of the reef. It was a good long swim. In the afternoon, we played a dominoes game aboard Astarte with our friends from Tumshi (and enjoyed the fish dip). Michael claimed victory.

Today (Nov, 1st), we'll move on to another small town. We had to change propane tanks this morning - which means if we can find propane there - we'll fill up. We also need more diesel and hopefully it'll be cheaper. It's a long travel day though - we have 25 miles to go and it's through the reefs.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reefs to the Right of Us=?ISO-8859-1?Q?=85?=Reefs to the Left of Us

And Kunas in ulus next to us! We left the town of Ustupu and headed for Bahia Golondrina. This is a mangrove surrounded bay named for the golondrina birds. We have no idea what a golondrina bird is and were curious to see them. The guide book said at dusk they come out in full force. From Ustupu, we had to wind our way past islands, islets, points and reefs to get to Bahia Golondrina. It was a very scenic motor over sometimes very shallow water. Lots of Kunas in their dugout canoes were out fishing or paddling their loads of coconuts and bananas. One island had an interesting "resort" -a row of turquoise colored huts on the water, each with a solar panel on the thatched roofs. It was a very pretty day on the water with the majestic Panama mainland on one side and islands and reefs along the other.

We got to Golondrina and after anchoring, Tumshi and Ti Soaz (the French Boat) thought it might be too enclosed and too buggy in the evening. So after a brief stop there, we moved on towards Mono Island. "Mono" in Spanish means monkey - so perhaps this was an island with monkeys. We got there and anchored in this lovely bay - a bit more open than Golondrina, but still with lots of mangroves. Tumshi and Ti Soaz each caught a mackerel (Astarte is only catching very tiny Tunny). Ti Soaz invited everyone over for a mackerel dinner (with Tumshi contributing part of their large one).

Of course, within an hour of being anchored in this bay (no town on shore) - an ulu with a Kuna man and three Kuna women comes up to the boats to collect the anchoring fee. It's amazing how they do this. So another $8 to Kuna Yala. The women were selling handmade baskets as well - and we got one perfect for holding garlic for $2.

After a night in Mono Island - no monkeys - we moved on again to an offshore island. The destination was Aridup - a tiny island surrounded by reefs. It is a pretty little island (actually a few small islands) covered with coconut palms and little beaches. It took a few tries to find a good sand patch to drop the anchor and get it to hold. Several Kuna fishermen came by selling lobsters or crabs. Another boat came by to; you guessed it, collect the $8 anchoring fee. We bought two lobsters for $7 and enjoyed them for dinner. No luck fishing today (other than another few hook ups with the little Tunny).

We had a great swim to a reef and will explore more tomorrow. One Kuna "salesman" will be back tomorrow with Kuna bread and some eggs. We'll probably spend a few days here if tonight is pleasant.

Happy Halloween to all - we probably won't have any trick or treaters - but you never know!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Rainy Season

A full day of "di" and "malgole" - that would be rain and thunder and lightning in Kuna. It was pretty non-stop. We gathered 12 plus gallons of rain water for the water tanks, plus several buckets for cleaning water. With all this rain - you do find all the leaks on the boat. We discovered on in the clothes locker in the aft cabin - so we had to do some laundry of clean clothes before water stains set in. Bummer. We're running out of places to hang wet things. But then it clears and it's magnificent.

We spent a few additional days in Tupbak - Michael helped a local man - Horation Martinez, repair a few items. He also rowed out and brought his wife's and daughters' molas for us to see. They were quite beautiful and we purchased a few. We snorkeled along a great reef with lots of caves and alleyways carved into the coral. Michael is forever searching for lobster - but has only seen undersized ones.

We enjoyed Tupbak (Isla Pinos) and are glad we stopped there and spent a few days. Many cruisers miss this part of Kuna Yala - and head right to the "popular" spots. We decided we may or may not be back and we should enjoy the spots along the way. Plus, with company coming, we wanted to see if there were places we should try to come back towards.

After our Tupbak adventures, we decided it was time to move to the next stop. We selected Ustupu, the largest village in Kuna Yala. Trading boats come in from Colombia and we are anchored between the dock and an islet, Isla Mosquito (hoping it isn't filled with the biting critters). Just as we approached a big rain squall with heavy wind came in and it was interesting to watch all the men paddling their ulus in from the jungle. They were struggling in those heavy canoes, loaded down with coconuts and bananas. But, they are quite strong paddlers. We anchored and watched the rain come in. Then Michael spotted that the Colombian boat that came in just after us, was selling fruits and vegetables off the boat. He headed in with Friedl and came back with all kinds of goodies - tomatoes, carrots,peppers, cabbage, beets, squash, cukes. It's hard to get fresh stuff on the islands so this was like hitting the jackpot. He also found diesel on the island - which has been an issue. We've had to motor everywhere - so we are getting low on fuel. Unfortunately, it was very expensive so we settled for 10 gallons. He also had to pay the Kuna Yala fee ($8). This is adding up having to pay $8 to $10 at every anchorage. It isn't bad when you stay for several days but the single night stops are expensive. But we're still glad to stop and see these places.

Last night we feasted again on Tumshi - he caught a nice barracuda and grilled up the steaks. It was very tasty. We know we've eaten "cuda" before - but it was always disguised as something else. This was very tasty. Another couple off a French boat joined in the festivities. It was fun to sit at a table with so many languages being spoken.
Today (Thursday), we'll move on again.

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Monday, October 26, 2009


From Mulatupu, we motored all of 7 miles to Tupbak. Tupbak means "whale" in Kuna and the island does look like a whale. It is also called Isla Pinos and was a favorite anchorage for pirates and pillagers because of the pine trees for ship repairs, the good anchorages and fresh water. The island is 500 feet high (oh no, a hill to climb!). We are anchored in a pretty spot near a tiny coconut palm tree island. This area is not as popular with cruising boats - so its just Tumshi and Astarte in paradise.

Coconut palms line the pretty beaches and cover the island. Coconuts used to be Kuna currency and every tree is owned by some Kuna tribesman. You cannot pick up a coconut and take it - it would be considered robbery and when caught there is a $50 fine. The land is divided up and the trees on your piece of land are yours. The coconuts are sold to the Columbian trading ships that come in plus some islands press the coconuts for coconut oil that they sell. Daily, you'll see ulus going by filled with coconuts and also see the outer husks floating by. They only sell the inner nut.

After arriving at the island on Saturday, another Kuna came by to collect the anchoring fee. Kuna Yala looks like it can get expensive if you stop at a lot of islands and have to pay $10 with each stop. This place was actually only $8 and he offered to take our garbage which was good. A few ulus with kids came by as well - they are always looking for sweets. There are a lot of Kuna children.

After a swim/shower, a bit of baking, some outboard repairs and boat cleaning, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner aboard Tumshi. Friedl caught a magnificent tuna - it was huge - just as he was approaching the island. There is some argument as to what kind of fish it was (perhaps a yellow fin). We'll await Mark and Kathryn's visit and a look at the photo for proper identification. It was tasty whatever it was! We tried our luck with a line in - but we had no such luck. Now, Tumshi did have bananas on board and landed one giant fish. So the banana theory still is being tested.

Today, Sunday, we went ashore. We met the gentleman who came by to collect the fee and he took us on a tour of the island. First we had to stop by the Chief's hut for permission. It cost us $2 each for that permission to walk around the island. With that fee, you were allowed to take photographs (not of people) and we got to places that you really aren't allowed. We circumnavigated by foot the entire island - taking us about 3 hours. We went through the "village of the dead" (which is a restricted place according to all the guide books). This is where Kunas are buried - three to a hut. It was a piece of cleared land on a hillside with a wonderful view and actually some grass growing. The walk took us through banana groves, coconut trees, some ancient mango trees, avocado trees, over rocks, through muddy paths (with nasty mosquitoes) - and it was a great lesson in the ecology of the island. One green snake ran over Barbara's foot and scurried off. The guide told Michael (who was trying to get a photo of it) to not to get too close to it (hmmm).

We enjoyed the tour, than sat and learned more about Kuna traditions. Our guide showed us some of the tools they use to make their "sacred" drinks as well as a jaguar skin. We sat near his hut and enjoyed a cold (yes VERY cold) beer for 80 cents each. The beer - "Old Milwaukee." (can you believe that??)

Then, we were invited to come back in the afternoon and look at all the molas made by the women on the island. Molas are one of the main handicrafts for the Kunas and how the women make their money. They wear them as part of their clothing - stitched on as part of their blouses (one mola in front - one in back). The molas are intricately designed, layers of fabric with a variety of stitching. Most are colorful and often depict marine animals, birds, fruits, lizards, butterflies as well as the more traditional geometric designs. The quality of a mola is dependant on many things - the number of layers of cloth; the detail and closeness of the stitches and of course the design. Many sell for high prices and some people collect them. So we went in at three to look at the molas. We were invited to sit in the "congresso" building - a large hut that is their meeting room. While waiting, the women set up their molas outside on the dirt road and then we went and looked at them. It was a bit strange - we felt awkward having all these women waiting for us to decide if we would purchase any. We selected a few and negotiated prices.

Then we went back to the boats exhausted after a very full day in the heat of the tropics. The hike was great - but long and hot.

We'll sleep well tonight - hopefully the rain won't come so we can keep the boat opened.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mulatupu Tour

Our second day at Puerto Escoses began with a choir - monkeys howling with great energy and a large variety of birds screaming their individual and quite unique tunes. It was a magnificent jungle morning. You could watch the Kuna Indians leave the village in their ulus at sunrise and head into the jungle where they tend their crops. It is a peaceful scene as the ulus glide through the water. The ulus are these handsome dugout canoes that seem tipsy - but the Kuna are quite fleet-footed in them and move around as if they are walking on land. They are heavy and the paddles are beautifully carved - and in various shapes. This is probably the preference of the paddler. Some of these dugouts are quite long - perhaps 20 feet.

After a morning getting organized, we decided to head to a reef around the corner and snorkel. Unfortunately, Yoshi (you remember that bad-boy outboard!) decided we had been rowing too much and punished us with a lack of willingness to start. Back on the boat and Michael starts to tear it apart. This is a new issue - some corrosion someplace that won't let us even pull the cord. He unjams that - but doesn't have a flywheel puller(of course a Yamaha specific tool!), so can't open the top to get to the cord and clean it out. He does manage to get it started with a squeal almost as loud as the monkeys in the jungle! But we decide we can't let it sit for any length of time - it needs to be used daily.

So off we go snorkeling. The reef has a lot of algae but it is nice with a variety of coral. Not too many fish. But you can see its lobster country - lots of sea grass and ledges. The water is very warm. We are now in the eight degree latitudes - a new southern record for us - and the air temperature, water temperature and sun are all very hot.

On our way back, in the Kuna village, some fisherman hold up a lobster and yell to us to come over. We do (the call of the lobster). They have a bunch of nice sized lobsters and would like to sell them to us. We negotiate a deal - three lobsters for $5 and head back to the boat for our money. We stop at Tumshi and they decide they want some too, so Friedl and Michael head back. Tumshi gets two giant lobsters for $7. We feast on lobsters that night on Astarte. Barbara makes her mom's bread pudding for dessert (thanks for the recipe mom!) A lovely night worthy of the champagne we popped to celebrate making it to Panama.

A funny Kuna story - a Kuna family canoes to Tumshi to visit - three men, a Kuna woman and a three year old boy. The men drop the woman and boy off on Tumshi - then leave. Yes, leave. They disappear for two hours leaving the woman and boy - neither of whom speak English or Spanish. The woman is in Kuna dress which consists of beaded stocking like leggings that start just below the knee and end above the ankle. They are made of tiny, colorful glass beads in a beautiful design. They are tightly woven on the leg. The blouse is a colorful print loose fitting shirt with billowy sleeves and has a mola (their famous stitched cloth designs - more on those in another post) as the lower part. She wears another brightly colored fabric skirt. She has a gold nose ring and earrings. So they sit on the boat - serve her coffee which she doesn't like; a soda which she does like and listen to the little boy cry a lot. Finally the men return, pick up the woman and leave. They stop by our boat - but we are getting the lobster feast ready - so they don't come aboard.

On Friday morning we depart Puerto Escoses and head to Mulatupu. It is a lovely cruise up between islands, avoiding reefs. We pass islands with interesting names like Suledup, Nianega and Takarkandup. We hide out behind Soskandup for lunch as a rain squall passes. Along the way we pass Kuna villages of Akwakinni, Ular, Kwibgana and Misla which are on points (murru) along the coastline. As we enter Mulatupu, the ulus come out in force. They are filled with kids - some six to a canoe, others two or three. The Saila (chief) comes out to collect his $10 before our anchor is even set! He has his own receipt book - this is a big village! There are about 2000 Kunas in the community, a school and a covered basketball court. Now this is a bit funny as well - as the Kuna are a short-statured people. Only the pygmies rival them as an indigenous people that are shorter. Barbara is actually tall amongst them! So basketball seems to be a sport that they wouldn't gravitate towards - but alas, they love it.

The non-stop boats hanging on can get tiring. You have a sense about what a zoo animal must feel like. They just watch you as you go about your business. The kids are more talkative than the adults - and they are learning Spanish in school so it's a bit easier to communicate. A few even have some good English language skills. It's a bit strange when all of a sudden they say something and everyone starts laughing - you just kind of wonder!

After settling in a bit, we decide to head to town (Michael and Friedl made a quick run in to see if they have diesel - no luck) and they found a bakery with Kuna bread and sweet rolls. Friedl decides to stay aboard Tumshi and three of us go back to town. The town is filled with huts - all close to each other with narrow mud streets. The huts are made of renewable resources - cane and stick walls, sand floors and roofs from a special palm leaf found in the jungle. No commercial fasteners are used - everything is held together by jungle creepers. They hold up in big rain storms and wind! There are a few concrete houses and stores. There are about four small stores that have a strange variety of goods in them. Everything from fabric, ribbons and plastic beads for the Kuna dress to Adidas aftershave, bleach and Tulip brand meats (yech). The bread is 50 cents a loaf and the sweet rolls and donuts were 20 cents each. Panama uses US currency - so no need to mess with exchange rates! We have a tour guide for our walk through the village. Miquel, an albino Kuna teenager - 17 years old is our escort. He speaks very good English, Spanish and is teaching us Kuna words and phrases. He walks us all over town - to the school. Across the big long concrete bridge, past huts, into shops, we meet relatives, we see the monkey at the restaurant - it is quite a tour. We meet some young girls who want their pictures taken - Michael obliges (no surprise there).

After a few hours walking through the muddy, narrow streets we head back. At the dock where we left the dinghy, we have quite a crowd. I guess we were the social event of the day!

We'll head to another island tomorrow (and it'll probably cost us another $10 - this is getting spendy!)

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