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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