Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day

We hope Santa found everyone' s house and that he delivered! Hope the weather cooperated for your travels over the rivers and through the woods.

We managed to travel as far as an island (after a dinghy Santa run with cupcakes), for a wonderful potluck with other boaters and Kuna. It was a tasty afternoon and the weather cooperated long enough for the potluck. It had been a sunny, rainy, breezy day.

Michael cleaned half the hull (which was still carrying dirt and grime from Cartagena) and Barbara did baking and cooking and cleaning. The cell phone towers weren't cooperating too well – but we did manage a few calls before the towers gave up the signal.

Hope everyone can relax before the next big event – New Year's!

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Friday, December 24, 2010

HO, HO, HO

Merry Christmas to you! We wish you all a very happy holiday enjoyed with family and friends. Eat lots of Christmas cookies, raise a glass (or two or three) of champagne or your nog of choice, and get kisses under the mistletoe. It's a time to celebrate and know we are thinking of you all and wishing you the merriest of holidays.

Our Christmas celebrating began last night with a dinghy raft up. More than a dozen dinghies rafted together and shared wonderful snacks and cocktails as the sun set in the Eastern Holandes islands. In the middle of a raft up, a boat that was coming in ran hard aground on one of the reefs, so many of the dinghies left the raft up and went to the rescue. Way too many chiefs giving orders. The Kunas also joined in and it was quite a sight and the raft up had a front row seat. The boat was finally freed and the Spanish couple form aboard came by the raft up with a bottle of rum after they were safely anchored.

Today (Christmas Eve Day), there will be yoga on the island at 11 – a treat for Barbara's back. Michael will be working on yet more projects. He got the wind generator re-mounted yesterday – all went well and today he'll tackle the head sail furler and greasing the outboard lift. Barbara will be baking some Christmas cookies and cooking for a feast aboard "Ivory Moon" (our Australian friends that we reconnected with here.) It should be quite a table of treats and we're looking forward to the evening's company and festivities.

Tomorrow, there will be a potluck in the afternoon on the island and perhaps a fun gift exchange. We're helping to organize that festivity. Barbara got permission from the Kunas on the island to do it there.

The sun is shining and the temperature has been in the 70s thanks to a cool north breeze.. We're hoping that the squalls stay away through the holidays.
We hope if its not warm where you are – you have a warm place to enjoy – perhaps a crackling fire. Remember to leave out a s snack for Santa and his reindeer!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Panama Holidays

What a lovely gift we got yesterday. We had the most lovely sail from St. Ignacio de Tupile (or Tannaquetupu) to Nargana. The winds were blowing out of the northwest about 10-15 and we were close hauled most of the way but it was the first day we had the motor off almost the entire time. Because this leg is in pretty open water – protected by reefs and islands now and then, the seas were a bit confused and sometimes steep – but Astarte loved sailing.

Let's go back a few days. We arrived in Pinos and stayed two nights resting up from the passage and Michael did some projects (oil change and water filter change). Barbara did some baking, laundry and organizing. We never got hit up for a Kuna fee (nor did we go on the island). The days were rainy and grey but we were in a pretty spot and enjoyed watching the Kunas glide past and fish. On Monday morning bright and early, we pulled anchor and headed up the chain. Our original plan was to spend more time in this part of Kuna Yala and explore a bit, but we decided that we wanted to Christmas with friends. So we ended up moving on more quickly. The first day took us between islands and Kuna villages with interesting names and stories. After about 35 miles, we dropped the anchor near the village of St. Ignacio de Tupile (Tannaquetupu in Kuna) – but everyone calls it Tupile now. It's a crowded little community and we watched a non-stop ulu (their canoes) traffic jam. They usually get water via a pipeline (as in small pipe) from the Mono River on the mainland out to their island. Unfortunately, the massive amounts of rain they've had in this area has broken the pipe so the Kunas must row up the river and fill buckets and row back to their vllage. So the stream of people – men, women, children, in all sizes of ulus and "launchas" row back and forth. The ulus are quite low in the water as they row back loaded with big buckets, barrels or jugs of water. They bail and row, bail and row, bail and row across to the village.

We did get hit up for the Kuna fee but managed to negotiate down from $10 to $5 because we would only be staying one night. Another Kuna came by offering to bring by lobsters or crab the next morning and tried to sell us molas as well. We are back in Kuna Yala!!!

On Tuesday morning, again, bright and early, we pulled anchor and headed towards Nargana (also called Yandup and Akuanusatupu – two islands attached with a bridge) near the Rio Diablo. We've been here many times and its one of the few places to get fuel, phone cards and some provisions. The sail over was really enjoyable – a quiet, motor free day (saving fossil fuel and boat $$). We went past many pretty islands and reef areas.

We got into Nargana a bit before 1500 and instantly started on getting into town. The dinghy had to be inflated and hoisted, the outboard Yoshi put back to work, Michael put the diesel on deck into the tank and we headed to town. We were able to get some diesel (cheaper than Colombia). Frederico, a Kuna we've met and visited with several times while here in Nargana, met us at Pacos (the fuel dock) and proceeded to walk us all over town and help us shop. Thanks to his escort, we discovered a new bakery (you would never find it unless you knew where it was, with freshly made bread. In Nargana there are several little panaderias (bakeries) where you can get bread so it was surprising to see yet another one. These bakeries are huts with a stove. This bread was different than the traditional kuna breadstick style bread – it was actual long narrow loaves – more like french baguette but not crusty. Then we went to a few tiendas for some fresh food. The phone card place was closed. Frederico came back to the boat with us and took our garbage which he burns (we pay for that service).

This morning we need to get propane, a bit more supplies, and phone cards so we can call home for Christmas if the cell phone towers are in service (sometime they are and sometimes they're not). But we need some recharge cards to be able to even try. Then hopefully we'll be done before noon to make it to the "swimming pool" in the Eastern Holandes Islands where we'll connect with some friends and celebrate Christmas.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Return to Kuna Yala

On Thursday, we were preparing to depart the Bay of Cholon for the Bernardos and then on to San Blas (Kuna Yala), Panama. The weather window looked okay – not a lot of wind from the right direction but light north westerlies and the seas were flattening as the days passed. We figured we needed three days if we overnighted in the Bernados, twenty plus miles away – then another overnight at sea.

While flipping the dinghy over on the foredeck, Barbara twisted her back and could barely move. So we stayed put in Cholon another day. On Friday, her back was a bit better and we decided to at least try to make it to the Bernardos and see how the conditions were and how the back coped. It was pretty flat and we had the sails up so we decided to pass on the Bernardos and keep going to Panama. We sailed, we motored when we got under two knots, and we sailed. We fished with our new lures made under the direction of Nigel, fishing champion and star of fishing films in South Africa. No luck fishing and the wind was always just a bit too light or too much on the nose for really good sailing to make time. But we kept moving in the right direction. Seas were about six feet and at times and got confused with wind chop as well.

At 0600 on Saturday morning, Barbara's on watch putting out the fishing line and there is this strange noise. Michael below hears it as well. We look back and there is the wind generator, on the brand new arch hanging sideways swinging with every wave that hits the boat. The blades, still turning are hitting the arch. This is a serious problem. But, the good news, with the new arch, Michael harnessed up and was able to climb up and secure himself and get the wind generator down. It seems the anti vibration rig, an aluminum post that the generator sat on, slipped down the mount and the generator was hanging on its own wire, a hose clamp and the small piece of rubber hose that helps dampen the vibration. Michael secured it to the arch and we'd deal with it at anchor. Disaster averted – the arch paid for itself and Michael proved his skill at climbing and holding on in six foot seas and 15 knot winds.

About 50 miles off our destination (Isla Pinos or in Kuna, Tupak which means whale)., some squalls came .and dumped some rain and heavier winds and seas. We needed to get into the anchorage before dark because of all the reefs around – and it was gonna be close. If we couldn't make it to Tupak before dark, we'd have to keep going up the chain and get someplace else at daybreak the following day. But the squalls gave us a good push and we increased our speed just enough to get to the island as sun was setting. We dropped the hook at 1805, in 10 feet of water and it was calm..

We are the only boat here and we awoke to lots of Kunas working in their ulus (canoes) around the anchorage. Some collecting coconuts from the shore, others fishing. They still amaze us as we watch them paddle these heavy dugout canoes with such strength and grace. Its a cloudy day and we'll sit here and organize the boat, perhaps get the wind generator remounted (if the rain settles) and then move on tomorrow.

Another passage made and through an area that often boasts of big mean seas. So we're happy to be back in Kuna land and safely settled behind whale island.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Expedition to Baru

One of the enjoyable parts of cruising is exploring new places. We haven't been to too many little towns in Colombia this time because of all the work projects we had going on Astarte. But today, thanks to Kate and DJ from the sailboat "Hello World," we made our way to the little village of Baru. It was about a 5 mile dinghy ride through open bays and mangrove cuts. Getting there was half the adventure. Some of the mangrove cuts were small alleys through the trees that would be difficult to find if you didn't know. We started at 0715 in order to get there in time for the limited amount of seafood arepas that are made daily by a woman in the town. They are 2000 pesos each (a bit over a dollar).

The town is definitely not a tourist town. Definitely. In fact, other than a few cruisers anchored in Cholon, there are probably very few folks who stop by here. It is a typical small Colombian fishing town. Several tiendas, lots of houses, dirt roads, dogs, chickens and roosters and donkey carts. We tied up behind the house that sells gasoline and fish. We roamed through the town heading first to order our arepas (and some for the entire anchorage!). Then stopped by a few tiendas (which were decorated for Christmas) and looked around a bit. The church was closed and there is a technical school in the town. But most people look like they are fishermen with lots of boats behind the homes on the water.

We went back to get the warm arepas, and then got some shrimp and gasoline. The shrimp is fresh frozen without heads at a pretty reasonable price. They were 16,000 pesos (a bit over $8) for one kilo (2.2 pounds). We'll have them for dinner tonight and see how they are.

The trip back was a bit wet as the wind picked up and the waves were a little choppy. But we made it back and checked off another village in Colombia – a visit to Baru.

Michael did more sewing and Barbara did cleaning and we did a lot of visiting with David and Damon on Braudair who gifted us with some spare knot meters and depth sounders.

Tomorrow the weather looks good enough to head to the Bernardos and then on to Panama hopefully the following day. The seas are a bit high but will continue to settle over the next few days. We want to sail so we'll go sooner rather than wait until they are too flat which may mean no more wind.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bay of Cholon

For the last few years, we've heard people anchored in the Bay of Cholon. We looked for it on the charts and couldn't even find it. But here we are, anchored in this lovely bay that is the playground for Colombians. The water is not quite as clear as we remember in the Rosarios or San Blas, but it sure beats Cartagena's harbor. It's nice to be back to the salt water shower routine.

We've barely got off the boat, except to get in the water and head to a "happy hour(s)." The "happy hour" takes place on an old shrimp boat turned cruise boat turned party boat that anchored in Cholon owned by Robert. He has built a house on the hill known as the "Crow's Nest" with an incredible view on all sides. We'll perhaps climb up there today or tomorrow and get some photos. He's a really nice and interesting guy and on Wednesday night we had a great time. He also put out hundreds of books for people to take (not trade). So, against our better judgment and room restrictions, we took a bag full. We know we can get rid of them in San Blas where there is always a great need for a fresh supply of reading material.

Projects are being checked off the list daily. Michael got out the sewing machine and has re-done the rain catchment gutters with vinyl. Since he's completed them, no rain! So we're certain he's designed rain "deflectors" not "catchers." We looked for terry cloth fabric in Cartagena to make boat cushion covers for the cockpit (the vinyl covers get sticky and we wanted to protect the vinyl longer), but we didn't have luck finding anything. So we made use of two big towels Barbara's sister Carol had given us and Michael made some temporary covers that work great. Next on the sewing agenda is re-doing the aft sun shade to fit the new arch.

We're both pretty much over our colds, so the stay here has been good for that as well. Several large Colombian power boats come in and they party and enjoy the bay but aren't too bad about keeping their distance from the anchored sailboats. They have, unfortunately, caused the price of local lobster, shrimp and fish to skyrocket here. It sounds like the holiday goers just plop down big dollars for a fish or lobsters, so when the local fisherman come by the sailboats, they expect the same $100 bucks for a fish! Ouch! We haven't purchased anything yet.

The shore noises are quite Interesting. There is a very loud donkey or two on shore that make the funniest noises. It's right out of a cartoon – loud, discordant and it just makes you giggle. He seems particularly loud when Michael is on deck doing projects. Hmm!

Unfortunately the weather continues to be bad for our crossing. There is this big trough sitting over the area creating very large seas (12-15 feet) and wind from all the wrong directions. We'll wait – it can't last forever. This is a nice spot to get the last of the barnacle feet off the bottom and continue to work the list of projects down. The San Blas area is wet- it's been raining there non stop with big squalls for weeks. In fact, in Portobello, there were several land slides that killed at least four people. The roads between Portobello and Colon are closed a lot and there is flooding in areas. We heard from some cruisers that even the Canal got shut down due to strong currents from the overflowing rivers and that it was chest deep water in the streets of Colon. So we'll enjoy the sometimes sunny, nice breeze, weather here and wait for the perfect window to cross. We have guests Margaret and Lloyd coming in January so we have plenty of time to get there.

Just cut open a watermelon we bought at the Bazurto in Cartagena! Yum.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Adios Cartagena

We have cleared out of Colombia and have our zarpe in hand and are making our way towards Panama. We heard the barnacles screaming as we moved out of the Cartagena Bay. We had to get the prop and bottom scraped so we could move and got underway on Tuesday (a day later than planned due to a late zarpe – exit clearance). We did last minute provisioning of some bread and fresh stuff on Monday as we waited for final paperwork and then got an early start on Tuesday. We went through the Boca Grande cut to leave. This is a very small opening – an underwater wall protects the bay from pirates and a small hole was blasted in it to let small boats through. It gets as shallow as 11 feet and is only about 100 feet wide so it is a bit tricky to sneak through. You want to be sure the markers are there or you have good GPS numbers. We actually had our headsail up and managed to sail for most of the day.

We are now in the Bay of Chilon, a lovely harbour protected on almost all sides and surrounded by green hills. Lots of bird noises and music have replaced the noises of boats, city and ship loading. It is lovely. We have never been here, but many boats call this harbour home for months and months. The water is clearer and it is pretty. There are about 15 sailboats in here and one large fishing boat turned pleasure boat turned "bar." That would be the "Manatee" where on Wednesday nights, tonight, there is a "happy hour."

We have been approached by several small boats (kayaks, ulus and a man paddling a surfboard) trying to sell us fish, shrimp, lobsters or fresh limes. We're pretty stocked up and the prices seem quite hefty here – so we'll pass. We do like supporting the locals when we can and when we anchor in their water – but we won't pay outrageous prices. We'll talk to some of the other boats around to see what the going rates are on things.

It was a very quiet and peaceful night here. The anchorage was flat, the breeze blew for much of the night keeping it bug free and comfortable. We awoke to lots of bird noises and some music from a nearby boat. But it wasn't loud or obnoxious – it was a nice way to start a beautiful morning.

Now we wait for a weather window (which we thought was today – but isn't), In fact, it looks like we may have to sit here through the weekend. We need at least a two day (preferably three day) window for the passage and we want to sail. The trades should start to blow soon which would be perfect direction – but due to lows in the area the seas are very big and the winds are from the west (the direction we want to head). Plus there is a current – so we don't want to fight both wind and current and high seas to cross. We'll wait – this seems to be a lovely little spot.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

A couple of new photos

See Photos 1 for a few pics of the arch installation.

Still in Cartagena, it is still raining and we still have some food to find. The outdoor market will be a mess in the rain. We are fueled up, and cheesed up and just need some fresh vegies and a zarpe to legally leave the harbour.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Colombia Observations

This is our third visit to Colombia and we do like this country. Here are a few things we find interesting, unusual and curious.

What you Can't Find:

One of the joys of cruising is finding new and interesting items to eat, use for cleaning or cooking. But there are also things you just want because they work and you're familiar with them. One item I can't find is Crisco. I use it to make pie crusts, English muffins and bread and just can't find it anywhere here in Colombia!

Luckily they have lots of wonderful fresh vegetables here but when you need to re-supply your canned goods for a trip to San Blas, don't count on variety here! You can get canned peas, corn or mixed veggies and that's it.

Snacks are different and favorites like peanuts are expensive. Corn chips are impossible to find. Though corn flour is abundant here – easier to find than wheat flour -but you can't find corn chips. All these great fresh and inexpensive avocados for guacamole don't have chips to dip.

Wine and alcohol are relatively expensive here – probably due to high taxes placed on them. The beer prices here are much higher than Panama – but thanks to new rules in Kuna Yala, we'll have to stock up here.

Hydrogen peroxide is another thing that seems to be in short supply. And, thanks to the illegal drug trade, you can't buy ammonia in Colombia. And some stateside over the counter drugs are available only in pharmacies – like eye drops. You don't need prescriptions, but they are more expensive in some cases.

Street Food:
It's wonderful to be in a country where you can get fresh fruit by the piece or cupful. Just about everywhere, there are carts selling wonderful fresh fruit like mangoes, papayas, bananas and watermelon. You can buy these all whole or beautifully sliced in plastic cups. Zapotes, a personal favorite of Dr. Sorkin, our eye doc, are just getting into season and you see them being sold on the street as well. We bought one, but our carpenter told us it wasn't quite ripe yet, so we'll try it later. You can also get fresh avocados, tomatoes or other veggies from carts. Coconuts are plentiful (probably the ones the boats buy from the Kuna Indians in Panama) and the top gets sliced off so you get a drink of fresh coco juice. Plus there are lots of juice vendors selling freshly squeezed limeade, orange juice or a fruit punch made up of watermelon, papaya and other fruits. They sell these juices out of giant aquariums filled with ice and they keep adding freshly squeezed juice to the mix. They are tasty and cost about 50 cents for a large cup.

So you have all these fresh healthy things – and then you also have all the "fried dough" items. There are a large variety of shapes, sizes and fillings of fried dough treats readily available all day. They are long ones and round ones and empanada shaped ones. Some are just corn dough others are filled with eggs, butter or a variety of meats or veggies. They usually cost less than a dollar and are popular items.

Then you have the shaved ice vendors and ice cream sellers. The shaved ices are personal favorites. They pour sweetened milk on the top and it is particularly wonderful.

Parties:

These people like to party and it seems every week there is some type of holiday or excuse to celebrate. Last weekend there was a wedding in a nearby fort (one of the giant pirate ships was docked alongside and tents were set up in the fort area.) They partied until 4:30 in the morning with loud music and dancing. The other night it looked like a 15th birthday celebration was taking place in one of the high rises. Even birthday parties become big events.

There are these open air buses that go around the city that are filled with party riders. As they drive by they all are singing, yelling, and simply enjoying themselves (we think that the rum served on these buses may have something to do with the festive nature of the riders).
There are also the pirate boats that are not only for tourists, but locals also use them for night parties. They ply the bay with live bands or DJs most nights and lots of party-goers.

Fireworks are also a common occurrence here. Last Sunday there were a few displays – so Colombians are a country of party-goers.

Workers:

The country has some wonderful craftspeople and hard workers. Labor is still relatively inexpensive here. Some friends hired a worker to clean the hull and polish stainless and he charged 60,000 pesos a day (about $30). Our arch and carpentry project pwere expertly done at a reasonable price.

Lunches:

One of the things that we loved back in 2001 while here was the daily "comida corriente" (literally common meal, but it's the lunch special). For a few dollars you get a complete meal including a hearty soup, rice, meat or fish, salad and veggie or beans. The price has gone up a bit since 2001 (what hasn't?) but it's still a deal. We always look for places near colleges – because students always know the best prices for the most food!

Water rules:

Water taxis abound here along with a lot of other boating and fishing. And these boats love to go very fast through the anchorage. The bigger the wake the better. They also run at night without any lights. But the water taxis do require life jackets on all the riders! The anchorage is patrolled by the Coast Guard as well – and they are quite friendly.

Fishing:

The netters are fun to watch. Usually there are two (sometimes three) people in open cayucas (large carved canoes) with an outboard motor. They are very speedy as they let out their net, which is similar to a gill net – a long rather narrow net with weights on the bottom and floats on the top. They drop it in a large circle – often surrounding several sailboats in the anchorage. Then, they sneak the boat into the circle and drive around it quite fast with one of the fisherman slapping a large pole into the water. This makes big splashes and he also hits it on the side of the boat to make noise. This action is intended to scare the fish into the net. Then, they wait about five minutes and start to pull in the net going in a circle as one guy pulls in the weighted side and the other pulls in the float side. They seem to average about a dozen fish with each net placement. They are ambitious and once they are pulled in, they move to another location and repeat.

Floating Islands:
Its rainy season and when it rains it is in heavy downpours. This obviously stirs up not only the garbage, fuel and dirt from the streets that then run into the bay – but also the rivers and islands. Large "islands" of vegetation come floating by regularly. These are made up of grass and plants that have broken free from somewhere and start to float picking up additional bits and pieces along the way. Some of these islands are easily 10 to 15 feet long, often catching on anchor chain.

Transportation:

Besides being a great town to walk around – there are many ways to get around Cartagena.

There are water taxis for water routes. There are lots of small yellow cabs (many run on compressed natural gas) that are reasonably priced. You better know Spanish though! The motos (motorcycle cabs) are also everywhere. The drivers all have to wear these numbered safety vests and provide a helmet to the rider. They are less expensive than the cabs and you do take your life in your hands watching them drive about. You can also hop in the back of a bicycle rickshaw. It can handle two people and are sort of covered to protect from rain (when they seem busiest!). City buses are available as well and seem to weave in and out of traffic. The doors and windows are wide open and they always seem pretty packed. Horse drawn carriages are also seen – though these seem to be more of a tourist draw rather than a mode of transport.

In order to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution, the city does limit who can drive on what days. The license plate number indicates what day you can drive. Its an odd / even thing. Odd can drive on odd dated days and even on even dated days. Not certain if this is just for rush hour or for all day.

The country is a wonderful place and people seem genuinely friendly and helpful. You can always tell the folks who are studying English, as they love to practice on you.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Thankful

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. We missed our families and friends over the holiday, but as with most events while cruising, we managed to find a group willing and able to celebrate.

On Thanksgiving evening, a group gathered to go to an Australian restaurant. The Australian chef had arranged to do a traditional Thanksgiving feast with a bit of Colombian flare. The small restaurant was filled with cruisers, oil field workers and Colombian school teachers. Though each group tended to stay to themselves, the restaurant had a warm, happy atmosphere. Football (American style) was also playing on the TV so all the Texans in the crowd were happy to see the Texas / Texas A&M game. The feast included the traditional turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce and the Colombian flare was the lovely pumpkin soup, vegetable mix and rum and lemonade cocktail. It was a fun evening.

Friday, we went to a local dentist for a teeth cleaning. It was okay – though not as thorough as our St. Petersburg dentist's. But it was good to get it done and it was reasonably priced. Then, Michael continued to work on the wiring of the new arch. He was making great progress with the wind generator now working, the radar hooked up and the anchor light working. He continued with the GPS, safety light and stern navigation light. Barbara headed for Casa de Queso – the cheese house. This is a local man who makes his own Italian style cheeses. Good, hard cheese in Colombia is hard to find at a reasonable price and we had heard about this place. So, together with "Miss Kitty" she headed via cab to Bosque where the place is located. It was an interesting shop and Barbara bought some cheddar-like cheese, smoked provolone and some buffalo mozzarella. Before we depart for the cheese-less San Blas, we'll probably make another stop there.

On Saturday, we got caught in a monster rain storm. We've never seen rain dump quite so hard so quickly. We were just walking back from a Home Center store where we had to return a light we had purchased earlier in the week. About six blocks from the dinghy dock, it started to rain, then it poured. We ducked into an open air, covered restaurant along with lots of others. It was lunch time so we ordered the "comida corriente" (meal of the day) and found a relatively dry place to sit. And we watched it rain and rain and rain. It was coming off the roof like a fire hose running at full speed. The streets (which have trouble dealing with even lighter rainfall were turning into rivers. We enjoyed watching a delivery kid on a bicycle coming back and forth wetter and wetter. Hope he was being well tipped for his efforts. He was soaked.

We finally gave up and made a run for it getting as far as the grocery store. Many of the streets we crossed were calf deep in water with a strong current. It was crazy. We got back to the boat soaked and the dinghy was barely floating it was so filled with water.

On Sunday, we had organized a nautical flea market. We promoted it all week on the morning radio net (Barbara getting back into her promo writing mindset). We had lots of stuff to get off the boat – an alternator, a prop that we rescued from a landfill (someone was just going to throw it out so we said we'd get rid of it and had tried to give it away in three different countries – here we managed to actually sell it and make 40,000 pesos!), old line (quickly grabbed), an old fender (not guitar), small bits and pieces. We managed to get rid of a few things and came back with less than we left with. Michael was good and didn't buy anything (a first for a nautical flea market for him).

Sunday evening was the weekly barbeque and potluck. Club Nautico lights a large charcoal grill and everyone brings their main course to cook and a side dish to share.

It was a busy Thanksgiving weekend for the crew of Astarte. We hope yours was filled with family, friends, food, football and Friday Christmas shopping. We're thankful for all our family, friends and readers.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Finito!

The construction projects are completed. On time. On budget. And to our satisfaction.

The stainless steel arch on the back of the boat was done by Bianney Torres and his brothers. The quality of the work is exceptional and they did everything we asked. The design was Bianney's with a lot of input from Michael and it really looks nice. The radar fits and is much sturdier than our previous pole. The wind generator fits, is sturdier and is actually quieter below (yippee). And the best news is that the self-steering wind vane also fits at all points, which at first looked like it might be a problem.

The overall look is clean and we have great visibility. We have spare cleats, eyes and a very cool little barbeque holder. Now, Michael has a lot of work to do. He has to re-wire lots of bits and pieces...the radar, the anchor light, the big aft deck stern safety light, the stern navigation light, and the GPS. He already has the wind generator working though will re-wire it with some new wire in the future.

The other project that was done was some interior woodwork. We closed in the walkway berths for more storage. We had been using the area for storage all ready – but it wasn't very tidy. So we hired Nilson and his assistant Javier to build doors for the lower berth and a board for the upper one. They did the work in solid teak and it really came out nice. It makes the walk through much nicer. We did lose a little space with the construction but it was worth every bit.

Now, as we have to put the boat back together – it forces us to see what we have, what we haven't used in almost two years, what we can get rid of and what we couldn't find last time we were looking for it! It's always good to get rid of things. And because we did find some stuff to say goodbye to– one man's junk is another's treasure – so we're hosting a nautical flea market at Club Nautico this weekend. Maybe we can eliminate some extras and get some beer money.;

We can't believe its Thanksgiving week already. We've been so busy with the construction projects, it sort of just crept up on us. This morning we heard on the radio, the local "Australian" chef will be doing a Thanksgiving feast if they can get at least eight folks – so we'll probably join in and do that!

We still need to get to a dentist for a teeth cleaning and pick up some provisions, get our zarpe paperwork and then we'll be looking for a weather window to move on.

It's nice to be over construction and back at anchor.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Construction Zone

First things first: new pictures on Photo Page 2. No construction yet, just "desfile" or in english, parade.

Astarte is now officially a construction zone. Work on the installation of the arch is underway. We went into the Club Nautico "marina" on Thursday morning thinking the arch might be delivered that afternoon. This was after one of those Spanish phone conversations where we hoped that was what was said. Bianney did come by for some last minute measurements and promised an arch the following day. Michael went with him to his shop to take a final look – which was a good thing. A few small items were forgotten – but he was pleased with the overall construction and look.

On Thursday, when we went into the marina, the slip we were promised had been taken by a boat who just decided to tie up there and then go to a hotel. The funny thing is – the boat is registered from St. Petersburg, FL and we had met the folks in 2001 in Martinique. Small world. But they were in our slip and that meant we had to go elsewhere. We ended up next to a huge catamaran party boat and had to tie one line to their bow, another line to the underwater mooring (a diver from the marina does this for you), and two stern lines.. The mooring was really far away, over 100 feet, because the spot was meant for really big boats! It was a tight fit and when the wind switched about midnight, in the rain, it meant re-tying the boat. So much for the comfort of marinas.

On Friday morning, the boat in our promised slip moved to their permanent slip and we moved to the original planned slip. This was a much better place for the construction as it was farther from other boats. After all the boats moved and we were just getting settled, the arch was being walked down the dock by Martin and Johnny. It was quite a sight. The arch was polished stainless and quite large.

Then the destruction and construction began. First, they had to power up their generator – which meant "jerry-rigging" some wire as our extension cord wasn't quite right. Barbara was certain this would start a fire the way it was rigged! When that was completed they needed to first removed the existing stern rail. This proved to be a much harder project than it should have been. Turns out the existing stern rail and stanchions were bolted in places we didn't know. It required some tearing out of wall boards below to get to these bolts. Noise, sawdust, and just plain frustration was rampant. After having to finally just cut the stanchions off to get to the bolts holding the bases, they were off.
Then the arch was fitted. It was close. The wind vane paddle however, didn't quite clear it completely at one point. Now the tough decision of whether we wanted holes on the deck to show (or be fiber-glassed over) or live with it. We decided to live with it and hope that when the arch was finally installed the windvane would work because it was so close.

It's a day of lots of noise from the generator, drills, grinders, cutters polishers, and music from the nearby boats trying hard to drown out our noise! We don't blame them – but it's making for quite a noisy environment. Rain in the afternoon has slowed progress – but hopefully it will pass quickly and progress will continue.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

In the Washing Machine

Nothing like being seasick at anchor! Well, almost!

Another parade to celebrate Cartagena Independence and continue the process to select "Miss Colombia." This time it was a boat parade. The contestants, in bikinis, are rowed by naval cadets in open lifeboats. They stand at the bow with the support of a bar and a cadet and wave to the crowd as they make their way from the old city to the lighthouse (a few miles). Of course every boat in the general area of Cartagena is out here to watch, make wakes, throw water balloons, play loud music and just have a great time. This all happens at 1400 hours (2 pm). But the boat traffic started much sooner – around 11 am. That meant boats of every size, shape, motor size and speed were zipping in and out of the anchorage. Many pushed giant wakes and others cut very, very close to the anchored sailboats. The police were out in force (also zipping about in the anchorage).

The bad news was the weather. It was a wet, wet day. It rained in buckets and then would stop and then it would shower and rain heavily again. The beauty
queens had to be frozen in their bikinis on the bows of those boats. The Aguila Chicas (that's the local beer and those would be the local beer girls dancing on the bow of a big power boat) were also scantily clad and quite an attraction surrounded by many boats (including many of the navy boats!)

We rocked and rolled all day as the wakes came from every direction. Everything had to be put away like we were offshore. It was fun to watch all the activities and everyone seemed to be having a great time despite the weather. All the big party/tour boats were out including the two big pirate ships. Even small canoes with men rowing were out and about though they looked like they were in mortal danger of being swamped or run over!

Of course in the midst of all these waves and rocking – Michael decided to tackle a huge project which kept him below (at least until the bikini clad beauty contestants arrived) with his body in positions it shouldn't be. He wants to get the designer of the boat alone for ten minutes! He replaced the 1 1/2in. aft head discharge hose – not a pretty project and bad language was heard! But it's done.

Don't know what parties or parades are scheduled today. There were fireworks at 3 am this morning! We couldn't tell what the noise was and woke up to watch the display over the city. I guess that was the finale to the big parties.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Parties, Parades and Projects

Sorry for the lack of entries, but it has been a busy few weeks in Cartagena, Colombia. We're underway with two big boat projects – the stainless arch for the back deck and some interior woodwork. The projects have been a good test of our Spanish language skills (or lack of them).

The arch is being done by the Torres brothers. Bianney, the younger brother, is the designer and a very skilled welder. We've seen a lot of his work. After our initial meeting with him, he came back with a drawing and a price. Some negotiating took place and we settled on a design, price and timetable. We signed a short contract and then had to exchange some more money to pay them the 60% up front. These small businesses don't have lots of stainless in stock so they need some of the money for materials. After that was all settled, we had to remove the radar post and the wind generator mount. This meant we had to clean off the back deck and empty the lazarettes – major projects that got accomplished with some effort but not broken bits or body parts.

We got the poles to the Torres boys – which meant we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies in a dinghy as we headed to shore loaded down with long stainless and aluminum poles, dinghy lift, radar mount and smaller bits and pieces to be fitted on the new arch.

Our next arch adventure meant going to Bianney's shop. Getting there was the first part of the adventure. We handed our cell phone to a cab driver to talk to Bianney for directions. We headed out to one of the barrios (neighborhoods) over rough roads and crazy traffic. We got to the shop which is an open air mud (a bit of concrete) floor and a roof. Dogs and chickens were running through the shop which had lots of interesting equipment. They were using a manual hydraulic tube bender which was fascinating to see at work. We took some photos of the bending project on our arch. Then we hopped a ride back to the marina with Bianney in his car. He had some parts for another boat he had made up. It was good he knew the way, because his exhaust was leaking into the back seat and too long of a ride would have spelled disaster.

The next project on our list was enclosing the bunks in the walk through for better storage. We met with the highly recommended carpenter Nilson and he came to the boat at beer thirty, which we obliged, to look at the project and give us a price. A couple of beers for spanish lessons seems like a pretty good deal. After a day to think about it, we negotiated and settled on a price and some specifics. We had to get him some money, also in advance, for buying the teak and then he was supposed to come back for measurements. He didn't show (after he had our money) but then we connected and he came the next morning. So both projects are underway and we should get them completed within ten days.

Now between trying to speak Spanish to the contracted workers (which is really great for our skills – especially over the phone where charades can't help you!) we are enjoying the city life. We've done some local street treats (shaved ices, tintos etc) as well as some local restaurants. Wednesday night is cruiser pizza night at a local establishment which is always fun. Sunday night is potluck night and then we connected with an Irish couple on an Island Packet who enjoy walking into Centro (an area in downtown). We walked there on Tuesday night to watch dancers in the square (but we were in the wrong square). So, we had a few beers and then had dinner at an Australian bistro that several people had told us about.

November 11th is Cartagena Independence day – and the celebration starts on the 10th and runs through the 16th. It involves several parades, parties, lots of music and some boat festivities. Yesterday we went to the barrios parade – where each neighborhood has a group in the parade – many dancing, great costumes, a few floats with beauty queens and much partying amongst the crowd. We got into town with Lindsay and David, and David turned into a big kid in front of our eyes. Michael was right there with him. They sell these very tall cans of spray foam (sort of like shaving cream) and people spray each other with glee. We got into it with the locals to break the ice. Then the corn starch came out – they rub the white powder all over you. There are also the "black men" - men covered in motor oil and they threaten to hug you if you don't give them a small amount of money. It's all in fun and you can just walk away.

We enjoyed a full day in town ending with a drink in a square (where the dancers we went looking for on Tuesday night performed). We had dinner at a German restaurant and headed back. We were exhausted as we got back to the boat in time for the skies to open up again. With lots of rain, lightning and thunder.

So we've been busy with major boat projects, some less major ones (wiring, installing a new light); looking for boat bits – walking all over in search of filters and bushings and some cleaning, minor projects, and basic maintenance.

We've also enjoyed meeting some new cruisers and exploring by foot the city. Barbara's gone to a local eye doctor (all is well) and was impressed with his skills. Now we need to find a local dentist for teeth cleaning. So we've been doing lots and have neglected our blog – we apologize.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Settling Into City Life

We are well anchored in the muck of Bahia de Cartagena. It's been hot, humid and quite rainy with a regular dose of squalls. Some of the squalls have been exciting with gusty wind and lots of lightning. Some of the gusts have really pulled the anchor chain through the muck of the bay – making it something to look forward to when we have to pull it up (yuck!) We are sitting in a good spot with enough swinging room between boats (we hope).

The bay is fun as there are lots of boats coming and going everyday. We always call the goings on in an anchorage as "bay movies." Well, in big city anchorages – it's like a multiplex theater. Lots of movies everyday! The boats are from all over the world with a plethora of flags flying. That makes time on the docks and in town always interesting with lots of well-traveled folks, accents and stories. We always learn so much from these well-traveled cruisers.

On Sunday, we had an appointment with the DAS agent. That's immigration here. Our maritime agent, Paola, set it up and we cabbed to the location to meet her. Because we arrived before she did, we started to walk towards the building. A uniformed man with a big automatic weapon stopped us. With our beginning Spanish we realized we couldn't proceed until our agent arrived. So we waited and had a few chats with the armed DAS agents who were all very friendly. We chatted (in our Spanish/English/Sign Language way) about baseball, the wild west and Colombia. It was fun. Then our agent arrived and we went into this incredible old building with high ceilings, many carvings and fancy concrete work, beautiful windows – many of old stained glass, and lovely wood and tile floors. It was quite a sight except for the very industrial desks within its rooms. The immigration agent was a very friendly guy – even though he had only two hours of sleep. It seems there are only two agents that handle all the boating traffic – including cruise ships. The day before there were two huge cruise ships in town – so he was one busy guy. But he maintained a great attitude and it was a pleasurable experience.

We cabbed back to the dinghy dock to change out of our "going to officials" clothes and then head into town to exchange US dollars for Colombian pesos. Because it was Sunday, we weren't certain if the "cambios" would be open. There is a big con in town that everyone warns you about - "never exchange money on the street." Banks do NOT exchange money – you can get pesos from ATMs, but they won't take US dollars and give you pesos. We did find an open "cambio" and exchanged some dollars. Now we could buy street food and drinks. We enjoyed a limeade from a street vendor who makes it with fresh limes. Very refreshing.

We tried to make a few calls to Colleen (Hans' daughter) so we could arrange to meet her and deliver her package. But we had no joy. As we walked back towards Manga (where the boat is), we stopped into a store and bought a SIM card for our cell phone. It was an interesting experience and we managed to get it done without any English spoken. Then we went to another spot to buy additional minutes (the first place would only do it with a credit card). Our last stop was Carulla – the big grocery store. We have a "tarjeta de Carulla" (Carulla discount card) which we got on our last visit to Cartagena. We loaded up on some fresh fruit and veggies and called it a day.

On Monday, a holiday here – day of the dead – we did boat projects (laundry and deck scrubbing - thanks to all the rain) and Michael spent hours trying to get online (no joy). Now we have lots of wet clothes and no place to dry them in the continuing rain. Monday night we went out with our agent Paola and her husband Mark and Les and Sara from a boat named "Wild Matilda". We were going to walk into the old city but it started to rain again – and so we went to a great local eatery that Paola knew. You had to buy your beers across the street at a tienda and bring them into the open air (but thankfully covered) restaurant. We enjoyed the local fare and then stopped on the way back in a pastry shop for a dessert.

It was pouring as we headed out to the boat in the dinghy so we were soaked upon arrival. Got the dinghy and outboard up and locked and tried to dry off.

Another rainy morning...so we sit amongst wet clothes. Today we should get the bid for the arch and will decide if we can afford it. Want to contribute?

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back in Cartagena

It was SUPPOSED to be a calm trip. The forecast was for light winds with a westerly component. Seas were supposed to be relatively flat – 2-4 feet. The current was supposed to help us towards Colombia. But, we weren't that lucky...on any count. The winds were easterly – right on the nose; the seas were about 5-8 footers; and the current was against us. Yup – nothing that was predicted came to be. It was a rough trip with steep seas, winds 15-20K on the nose and a counter-current. We tried everything – sailing off course 30 degrees; motoring; and a combo of both. At times we could only make 2.5 knots. At that speed we were convinced instead of two nights out – it would take us three. Luckily, about 0600 the second morning, the wind shifted, the current turned and we started sailing making at one point 7.2 knots speed. That helped and we were actually able to make it into Boca Chica channel into Cartagena at 1545. We were anchored just before sunset. We enjoyed a relaxing evening with a cocktail, chicken curry and an early night of restful sleep.

Cartagena Bay is quite crowded with boats so finding a spot was a bit tricky. We nestled in and set the anchor in the mucky, yucky bottom. This is a very "hot" harbor – not pleasant for boat bottoms or anchors. After a restful night we woke up and a boat nearby was leaving (with much ado!) and we decided it would be prudent to move up a bit and put out more anchor chain. Some storms are predicted (a hurricane that is heading westward but relatively far north). We won't get the hurricane, but there may be some squally weather as a result. So we re-set the anchor.

Luckily the welder we want to talk to is working on a boat right next to us (installing an arch for them) so we should be able to at least have an early conversation with him today (Saturday). We also made contact with a maritime agent to handle our clearance papers – a woman we had met in San Blas, Paola. We were supposed to go with her to immigration today – but two cruise ships came in so we will probably do that tomorrow. Then, on to calling Colleen, Hans' daughter so we can deliver the gift to her from her parents.

Its nice to be back in Cartagena...it is one of our favorite cities, and certainly our favorite in the Caribbean. We'll look forward to getting into the old town and walking around a bit though it is quite sticky and humid.

We made it safely – that's the good news. Astarte is a good boat and after a good night's rest, we're back to normal as well.

Happy Halloween to all you witches,ghosts and ghouls!

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

To Colombia

In the morning (Wednesday), we are planning on leaving Panama for Cartagena, Colombia. The weather looks calm enough for the 250 mile trip from Linton to Colombia. It may be more motoring than we would like - but its better than banging into big seas and easterlies. The winds should be light (5-10) from the northwest. The current is with us so that should make for a slightly quicker ride. Seas should on;y be 2-4 feet. So it sounds good and if the squalls don't hit – we should arrive sometimes on Friday. (In 2001, when we did the trip – we arrived in Cartagena on Halloween night...might be close to the same timing this year.)

The goal is to get there and meet with the best stainless steel fabricator and get a price on building an arch for the aft deck. This will clean up the two poles we now have for the radar mount and the wind generator (plus the outboard lift, antennas, lights etc.). If it fits our budget and timetable – we'll get it built.

We stopped in Linton today from Portobello to see Hans at the local restaurant, His daughter lives in Cartagena and speaks fluent English, Plus she's studying law. We may use her to help us negotiate our deal and make sure we are getting what we want. We'll deliver a mom and dad gift package to her as well from Hans and Endina. It's always good to have a local contact as well.

So anchor up in the morning. We're all legally cleared out (that was another interesting story !!)

See you in Cartagena.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Incredible


The celebration of “El Cristo Negro de Nazareno” was nothing short of amazing. The culmination of the seven day event was yesterday and we ventured into town in late afternoon. The town was packed - tens of thousands of people were everywhere. Many were folks who had walked 20, 30, 50 or more miles as part of the pilgrimage – so many were sleeping in bus shelters, the church and makeshift campgrounds along the side of the road. Whole families had made the pilgrimage. Purple was the color of the day with folks attired in fancy purple gowns with lace edges to plain purple t-shirts sporting logos of sports teams or playboy or TV-shows. It was quite a mix and contrast of cultures.

In the church, the purple robes have started to pile up as people discard them on the steps of the church upon completion of their personal pilgrimage along with the promise to the “saint” that they make.

There were many of the “crawlers” finishing up their pilgrimage on their knees. We stood along the last turn towards the church and watched. Some of these folks were obviously doing it for the drama and show. Others, those without entourages, seemed more faith-driven. The pain on some of the faces was quite obvious.

Throughout the town, there were makeshift “hair cutting” stations – with men cutting hair of other men. Don't know the significance of this but it obviously had some meaning. The booths of food, beer, rosaries, candles, and candies were everywhere. The contrast continued to amaze us – Mickey Mouse knickknacks next to religious items. Beer and scantily clad folks, next to purple gowned, candle-bearing pilgrims. There were many homemade shrines – glass boxes mounted on wooden platforms with the Black Christ statue inside were being carried around or set-up in areas.

Like most huge events, the camera crews, reporters and news trucks were everywhere. In fact, we were approached by one crew t ask us questions (I guess the token gringos at the event). But our Spanish wasn't good enough for broadcast!

As evening wore on – the crowds got thicker. Fire works were set off and people lined the streets. We parked ourselves on a wall along a street (later found out it was the makeshift jail). We were lucky that this was the first street the statue would come down as it makes its way around the town. A 90-year old man sat down on the wall next to us and told us stories about the festival, Panama and his travels. As we waited more crawling pilgrims, people carrying incense and candles, folks with large shrines and statues of the Black Christ and huge crosses started the procession..

Then this remarkable sight could be seen. Over the heads of these folks, in the distance, their was this floating, candle-lit vision that was swaying to music. This was the platform with the statue from the church, surrounded with many candles being carried through the street. The swaying was the result of the two steps forward, one step back, rhythm of the bearers. As our 90 year old friend told us, it was more impressive to see it at a distance than up close and hew was certainly correct. The photos don't capture the sounds and movement which was quite magical.

As the statue approached the crowds got thicker. The statue was surrounded by the National Police arm to arm holding their batons to keep the crowds from pushing too close. The statue bearers did not all have their heads shaved nor were they in robes – but they were working hard – shoulder to shoulder, tightly huddled under the statue platform.

After the statue passed our vantage point, a band of musicians followed. They were playing the same tune to help keep the cadence of the marchers – this slow swaying movement. The band had drums, horns, flutes, saxes and was a motley crew of men and women of all ages. It seemed everyone who had seen the statue pass, then got in behind it to march in the procession. All swaying and many carrying candles, statues or incense – a mass of humanity. The crowd went on further than the eye could see.

We were happy that we went in to experience the event. One of the joys of this cruising life is seeing life and events on these various islands and countries. We've attended many local events and fiestas and you get a good sense of the people. Plus, we enjoy street food and have luckily not had any ill-effects so far from our participation in this cuisine.

This was a fiesta with memorable images for us. One we were glad we attended.
More pictures on Photo 2 page!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Plodding Purple Portobello Pilgrims

Photos in "Photo 2" folder on www.sailastarte.com

Today, October 21st, is the festival of El Cristo Negro de Nazarene – The Black Christ. It is part religious festival and part carnival.

For those inquiring minds, here's the story of "El Cristo Negro."

There are several stories about how the statue came to Portobello, Panama. All the stories do agree that the year was 1658. The statue, which is made of a dark wood thus the "Black Christ" moniker, was carved in Spain. The most popular story is that and was being shipped to the Caribbean and the boat it was aboard was caught in a storm as it approached Portobello. The boat tried to leave the port five times and each time it was sent back into the harbor. The sailors, fearing for their lives, threw the heavy statue overboard and it drifted to shore. (or some say some local fishermen who were distraught by the disrespect of throwing the statue overboard rescued it). Another story says that the statue was destined for Tobago but was mislabeled and sent to Portobello. Another is similar to the first where until the boat that was carrying the statue threw it overboard it couldn't leave the harbor – it threw it over then recollected it and had to throw it over several times so it could depart. Whatever the truth of its beginnings, the statue holds a power over many Panamanians.

Miracles have been attached to the statue. Upon its arrival in Portobello, there was an epidemic of cholera. When the statue was placed in the Church of San Felipe, the epidemic ended. The festival started last Friday and reaches its peak today – the actual fiesta day. Many people walk 53 miles from Panama City, or 22 miles from Colon (Sabanitas) to the church. Some wear ornate purple robes similar to those on the statue. Many crawl the last mile to the church on their hands and knees (or butts). The reasons for such a pilgrimage are many. Some do it as penance for wrong-doing; others are looking for help or a miracle; and some do it simply as a show of faith.

There are stories of miracles amongst those who make the pilgrimage. One woman asked "The Saint" as the statue is familiarly called, to cure her mothers of cancer. The mother's cancer was cured and since then the woman makes the pilgrimage every year. Another salsa singer credits "The Saint" for saving his career from drug addiction and continues to make the pilgrimage annually and has written a song to El Cristo Negro called "El Nazareno."

The stories abound also that a promise made must be kept. "El Cristo Negro cobra" - the Black Christ collects his dues. The story of the man who asks to win the lottery ($2000) and promises to paint the outside of the church in return. He indeed wins but fails to hold up his end of the deal. He in fact, brags to friends that he never intended to do the painting. The next year, he returns with the same request and same promise. On his way home form the festival, with the purchased lottery ticket in his pocket, he is killed in a traffic accident. The winning ticket was found in his pocket.

The Black Christ name is credited to a US Serviceman who during WWII came to the festival on leave and was so taken with the statue yelled "Viva El Cristo Negro" and the name stuck.

Many of the pilgrims wear the purple robes on their pilgrimage. At the end of the celebration at midnight, those purple robes are left on the steps of the church. Tonight, after a mass at 6 pm, the statue is lifted on a platform and at 8 pm leaves the church on the shoulders of 80 men. These men are honored to be selected and in a procession around the town, they carry the statue for hours. The step is a three steps forward, two steps back march. This is either similar to the way processions in Spain happen or as we were told, it replicates the statues washing up on shore in the tidal movement – forward and back. The statue is returned to the church at exactly midnight. It is said that it cannot be returned earlier as it gets too heavy to bring in if its before midnight.

Along with the religious meaning of the fiesta – there is also a carnival atmosphere – which makes for quite a contrast. Booth after booth is set up on every square foot of space in the town selling food, beer (60 cents), ice cream, and candies. Plus there are kiosks selling candles, rosaries, Black Christ statues, pictures, medals etc. Some sell sandals, hammocks, Jesus T-shirts and clothing. Shaved ice sellers have little carts with giant blocks of ice that they carve into cups. You can get your toe nails painted purple for the celebration. Loud music is blaring from speakers playing reggeaton, rock, salsa very loudly. And more quietly from the church, you can hear litanies and hymns being sung.

Religion meets partying...it is quite a sight. We've enjoyed some delicious street food the last several days as we've roamed around the town. Today is supposed to be the big day with 30,000 people expected in this tiny town. Some say, El Christo Negro is the patron saint of pickpockets, so we'll be careful not to bring in anything but some food and beer money and our camera.

Check out PHOTOS 2 – some pictures of the pilgrims and street vendors have been put on the site www.sailastarte.com.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Back in Panama and Back Aboard Astarte

First - new pictures of the trip to the states on the website. www.sailastarte.com

After a wonderful whirlwind visit to Nashville and Washington DC to see moms, sister, brothers, nephews, niece, in-laws and long lost friends we've returned to Panama and found the boat safely sitting on its moorings in Panamarina. Meaghan's and Matt's wedding was a great event and congrats to the couple. Thanks to everyone for their hospitality - Gen, Trish, Carol, CVD and Chris for the meals; Derek and Margie for the meals, house and all the running around errands; Matt and Meaghan and their families for the wedding events; Mark and Kathryn for the storage and delivery of all our shipments… and everyone for their hospitality. We're sure we missed someone.

As with every trip stateside, boat parts and items that are difficult or expensive in foreign lands were ordered. Kathryn and Derek were kind enough to be our delivery points and at each place lots of goods were gathered or bought. We told everyone that we brought back a metric ton and a half of boat parts. It seemed close - thank goodness Delta still doesn't charge for overseas bags - we maxed out. Then we got to Panama City and bought even more - hoses, wire, oil, filters, zincs, and most importantly; fish catching devices - a new spear gun, as well as a restock of beer, wine and some tinned goods. Unpacking everything and finding room aboard Astarte for all the bits has been a challenge. We have a long list of projects now to complete with all these new parts. Michael's already completed a few projects - the sink water faucet has been replaced and the mast's roller furler has been cleaned and greased up. But lots more to do.

We had only two days once back on the boat and had to leave the "marina" so we came back to Portobello where we'll do another provisioning run. Unfortunately our timing isn't great - there is a huge festival here - the Christo Negro (Black Christ). It is a pilgrimage to the Black Christ church here in tiny Portobello. They say 30,000 people come for it - and though mostly a religious festival - there is an abundance of eating and drinking and music. It started this Friday and ends next Thursday. The checkpoints on the road have already started which slows traffic to a snail's pace. The roads will close on Wednesday and Thursday as the pedestrians and pilgrims (some on their knees) make their way into the town. We will try to see if we can provision on Monday - but may not have much luck finding any driver wanting to make the run into Colon. If not, we'll wait until the festival is over.

Booths are set up all over town with local fare. We love trying the local delicacies and have already enjoyed one meal on Friday night. Plus the beers at the booths are 60 cents - a new personal best! We've connected with our friends Lelia and Jeff from Ivory Moon here in Portobello - so it's been a fun reunion.

Its rainy season now and the rains seem pretty consistent. We're able to fill our water tanks with rain water and even get some laundry done. It's amazing how musty things get in the tropical rainy time. Drying clothes is the issue. But, we take advantage of every break in the clouds and hang things out.

So, we're ticking off projects and trying to finish up a re-supply of food and then we'll be on our way again.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back in the U.S. of A.

We're back in the states. First stop is Nashville for a visit with Michael's mom/brother and Margie - staying at their fabulous new home. And then off to DC for the big nuptial event of Barbara's nephew Matt to his lovely bride-to-be Meaghan. Excited to see Barbara's whole family. Hoping the weather cooperates all around. We're also thrilled about seeing some old friends we haven't seen for decades. It's a whirlwind trip and thanks to Kathryn & Mark, we'll be loaded down with stuff to take back to Panama and Astarte.

Back to the blog when we return…(or perhaps sooner!)

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Sounds of Simians

We're back in Puerto Linda - or Linton as it's known in the boaters' world. This is a nice inlet against the mainland of Panama and surrounded by several islands including Isla Linton. Because we are now back near the mainland we are back to monkey country. Los monos (monkeys in Spanish) are abundant here.

The howler monkeys make their huge growling noises all day - though they are especially vocal early in the mornings, in the evenings and whenever it looks like rain. Though in summer, they seem more vocal than they did in winter. Perhaps it's the season of "love" for howlers.

The Linton spider monkeys are still on the island and still inhabiting the deserted house/research center. You can see them on the roof and they come out to the dock looking for handouts when they hear the sound of outboard motors. Guess it's their "Pavlov's bell."

And a few days ago, when we were taking the dinghy from Astarte through a small, very jungle like, mangrove passage to get to Panamarina (where we'll be keeping the boat when we head back to the states next week), we saw our first white faced monkeys. They were jumping from one side of the water cut over the trees to get to the other side. They seemed to think Michael (with his "white face" was a new alpha male invading the territory and seemed to chase the dinghy through the woods. We had heard that the white faced monkeys could be seen here - but this was our first sighting. We got pretty close to them.

Getting the refrigerator and freezer emptied has put a damper on our meal selection. We're simply eating what we got! Last night we treated ourselves to dinner out at "Hans" on shore and had scrumptious meals (they always taste better when you don't have to do the cooking or cleaning). The meals were huge - we had shrimp and chicken dinners complete with a huge helping of fries and big salad and six beers for under $20. The bad news - they had no ice cream for dessert!

The 50 miles here from Chichime was uneventful. We started with having a great sail with full main and genoa but the wind died and changed to be "on the nose" so we ended up motor sailing. It was good as we needed to fill the water tanks in that beautiful clear, deep water. Had two fishing lines out and Mark's survey is right - there are no fish here! Not even a bite and we went over several nice banks. A big thunderstorm grew over the mountains and came offshore getting us a bit damp - but it cleared just in time for us to enter the reef area around Isla Linton and anchor.

It's pretty crowded here - but many of the boats are uninhabited. It seems that this is a popular spot to leave your boat at anchor. So though a crowded anchorage, not many people around.
We head into Panamarina on Wednesday. Hope Tropical Storm/Hurricane Matthew up north doesn't stir up the seas too badly. We could get a big roll where we're anchored and that wouldn't be fun.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

New Pics, well some at least!

There are some new pics on the picture page. Oops, but Michael didn't look at the correct album and some were doubled up. Oh well. At least there are a few new ones.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beautiful Downtown Chichime

Together with seven other boats, we're anchored between Uchutupu Pipigua and Uchutupa Dummat (that would be large and small Uchutupu) in an area known as Chichime. A reef surrounds most of the archipelago. The islands are filled with coconut trees and have a few white sandy beaches. It is quite beautiful and one of the "popular" spots - as it's a good jumping off spot for either Linton/Colon area or to Colombia. Backpacker boats often stop here - so several "single-handers" hang out here as the bikini clad lasses are good scenery.

There is no permanent village on either island, though there is a small "Kuna Beach Bar" on the tip of one. It has one large wooden plank table and some wooden tree stumps as benches. A propane refrigerator keeps the beer kinda cold. You can get beer for a dollar and that's about it. When we went ashore for an evening brew, we were told that the Panamanian President, Martinelli, was here at the bar the weekend before hanging out in a swimsuit chatting up the backpackers and "regulars." His wife was buying up molas from one of the areas master mola makers, Venancio. She supposedly cleaned him out.

At the East Lemons, we did attend a birthday bash for 10-year old Joshua, from Southern Belle. It was a fun event with both cruisers and the local Kunas attending. It included games like pin the claw on the crab, a piñata, tug o' war (you definitely want those strong Kuna on your side - rowing and poling those ulus make for strong men, women and kids), volleyball and of course cake and goodies. The piñata was the most fun as all the kids participated in knocking it with a stick - but when it burst open, you should have seen the adult Kunas run and start grabbing the candy, elbowing kids out of the way. It was very funny - they do love their "carmelas" (that's what they call candy or sweets).

We met some interesting folks - one was a boat with two kids aboard who were about to complete a five year circumnavigation (when they get to Southern California). They had great stories and info and shared all their electronic cruising guides from around the world with us. One of their kids got hurt the other day and needed four stitches and went to the clinic in Nargana. For all of $28 the kid got stitched up and some meds! That's in the middle of nowhere.

We had a nice sail to Chichime and will be here only for a few days awaiting a weather window so we can move to Linton then Panamarina where we're leaving the boat for our trip to the states. We're working through a lot of supplies to clean out the fridge and freezer and also some canned and packaged food we've had on board awhile. You can certainly do that here in Kuna Yala with no handy stores. Though the veggie boat came by the other day and we did get some fresh pineapple, oranges, limes and a few potatoes and onions and eggplant for the Rosetti treat. Lucky we still have a bit of cheese! Bread also got delivered to the boat right before we left the Lemons.

We should leave around Wednesday. Today, Michael will clean the prop and the hull a bit and check things out below the waterline. And perhaps an earned brew from the "bar" (we're just about out of beer on board!)

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Kuna Bread, Kuna Bracelets and Kuna Events

The Kuna Indians are one of the last indigenous groups who have maintained a lot of their culture and that has come with rules set down by their ruling structure. The "congresso" as it is known, is the group made up of area "sahilas" or chiefs. Each island or community also has its own congresso to rule that specific community. Recently it was announced that the congresso has decided that Kunas can longer buy beer. It also announced that on the truck ride from the island of Carti to Panama City (the only way to get to PC from here other than airplane or boat) would cost both gringos and Kuna the same. In the past, gringos paid $25 plus a bunch of fees ($2 airport fee, $6 Kuna fee). The Kunas paid $12 and the airport fee. Now everyone will pay the same - $12 plus fees. Can't believe the Kunas are actually cutting back on a way to get money.

We have been hit for a $24 Kuna fee for anchoring for a month. They are getting more organized with fancier launches and ID cards.

On many of the islands, the Kunas retain much of their culture with dress and makeup. But we have definitely noticed that the younger Kunas are getting more "westernized." Fewer women are wearing the traditional mola dress and leg and arm beads. Few men wear the red face paint. They still seem to work at the crack of dawn and go fishing in their ulus or collecting coconuts or bananas.

Yesterday Janni came by with fresh Kuna bread from an island that was a bit of an ulu row away. Her husband is the baker. The bread was the traditional Kuna shape (a cross between hot dog buns and bread sticks) though a bit larger than many. It also was a bit pricier (twenty cents a piece vs. the five cents we paid in Nargana). But it was fresh, it got delivered to the boat and it was tasty. It also meant Barbara didn't have to bake bread (yippee!)

Yanni and her friend also came by to sell molas and bracelets. They were not dressed in Kuna attire but rather more typical 20 "somethings" from the States. Barbara picked out a bracelet but needed them to alter the size so that the design would fit her wrist (a bit larger than Kuna wrists). Yanni and her friend measured the wrist and promised the bracelet the next day. It was indeed delivered but the design still didn't line up, so they went back to try again. She would come back when she came to pick up the cell phone she left at another boat to charge. She did return and after a few tries tying it correctly, the bracelet got attached and is quite pretty. They do get tied on permanently and hopefully it will last. The last time Barbara got a bracelet it finally broke (in the middle of the night with beads everywhere).

Charging cell phones is a new "tradition" for Kunas - they buy and use cell phones and then get gringos on boats to charge them, as most islands do not have electricity. We've charged our share of Kuna phones - sometimes we trade and get a few limes or something - but most of the time we just charge the phones. Kunas, because their society is a communal society and all is shared, are not obviously grateful when you do something for them. The other day we charged two cell phones for a young Kuna woman who rowed over. When she picked them up, we didn't get a thank you, or even a smile. It is kind of strange. When we do get grateful Kunas - we are thrilled!

The other day there was a small event (oversold by Breeze on "Blue Sky" as something bigger) on the Nuinudup. It was supposed to be a big burning event where piles of palm fronds get burnt with a Kuna running with a lit torch through the island at night. However, there was only one big pile burnt and no torches being run about the island as promised. Oh well - the big fire was fun to watch.

We are in the East Lemons comfortably anchored and enjoying an anchorage with only four boats (so far). Our anchor yesterday was wrapped around a rock and we ended up close to a boat named Gris Gris. But we got it unwrapped and pulled back to where we were supposed to be. Over the last several days, we've done several full 360 circles so obviously we found one of the few rocks to wrap!

All is well, we'll move on after the weekend filled with those big sport fishing boats is over. Next stop is a place where we guess they may frequent.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Gourmet Fish

Michael went hunting to a new reef and came back to the boat with a Bar Jack (also known as Cibi Mancho, Reef Runner, Skip Jack, Bahamas Runner or Caranx Ruber for our marine scientist types) and a lobster. He killed, cleaned and cooked the Bar Jack (which was about 2.5-3 lbs) and it was VERY tasty. Our fish book said it was "excellent" in the food category and the book was correcto! The night before we enjoyed another helping of the Black Grouper Michael got in the Western Holandes.

The variety of fish and seafood we've eaten since we've been out has been nice. Whether we've caught it on a line (not often lately), speared it, shared it (when someone else had caught something), been given it or bought it - we've enjoyed a nice mix of fish and seafood. Mahi, tunas, grouper, snappers of many varieties - (called Pargos in the Latin countries), barracuda, wahoo, hogfish, parrotfish, lionfish, schoolmaster, mackerels, jacks, plus a variety of lobsters, crabs, conch and octopus. And who knows what we've been served in restaurants! We've enjoyed almost all of it - and some more than others. Last night's Bar Jack is definitely on the list of good eats!

We moved to a new place on Saturday morning - it's called the "hot tub" and still in the Eastern Holandes. It's a pretty spot but cagey to get into as it's surrounded by a reef and has many patch reefs and shallow spots within. It is very pretty and the view of many islands is quite nice. We were worried about bugs though as there are islands with lots of mangroves - but it wasn't too bad the first night (a few no-see-ums) and the second night was fine thanks to a nice breeze.

The weekends in Kuna Yala get strange. We don't know if this is a "summer" thing or year round. If it's year round it is a new phenomena since we were here last October to January. "Weekend warriors" show up - people in large, expensive, flashy sport fishing boats roar into the islands starting late Friday and leave on Sunday afternoon. They seem to head to the Eastern Holandes, Coco Banderas and Green Island. They come en masse. Someone said in the Coco B's that helicopters kept landing on one of the islands (scaring the Kuna women living there to death) for one of the boats. They run generators all night (to keep the air conditioning going), loud stereos and many big spotlights and in the water lights. They seem to have "issues" with anchoring correctly and often put out two anchors in busy anchorages where everyone else has out only one. (Matt R- this means they will swing differently when the winds and tides change - which can cause crashes). They don't seem to have charts - we watched them from our hot tub spot aim right for us, thinking we had a good spot - and we're surrounded by the reef. Suddenly they'd stop right before they'd hit. No wonder that boat hit the reef last weekend - and the poor reef got the worst of it (see previous entry). And finally, not only are these boats noisy and pushy - they also have these jet skis and big dinghies that tow around boogie boards and skiers. We watched one jet ski come toward us in the tub and run aground on the reef (then stood on the reef to get his ski off), then he hit the sand bar at least three times - stirring up the sea grass.

It makes you wish for a stinger missile.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Bird on Board

We've had bats, a snake and bugs aboard…crocs swimming by … and now a very pesty and persistent bird. Here in the "swimming pool", there is a fearless brown bird(maybe a grackle) that hits up the cruising boats at anchorage by coming below decks in search of crackers and treats. We woke up the other morning to find him aboard Astarte scrounging around in the V-berth. Barbara screeched. The bird screeched. Michael woke up. He has since tried to come aboard on more occasions(the bird, not Michael) - one time making it below again while Barbara was in the midst of kneading bread dough who ended up trying to scare him off, getting flour and dough all over.

It's never dull aboard the good ship Astarte.

Barbara traded a haircut the other day for dinner and we had the "mayor" of the Eastern Holandes and his wife Debbie aboard for a lovely dinner last night. Good haircut as well!

Michael's been exploring "arches" on boats - as we're thinking of having one built on the stern of our boat. It's a good excuse to meet new people as well and get some good info. It's a big decision and we're going back and forth about what we need or want and whether we should do it. It's certainly much cheaper to do in places like Colombia or Honduras rather than the states.

The last few days have been very hot and sticky. The heart of summer in the tropics.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The "Big" City

It was time to head to the "big" city of Kuna Yala - Nargana. This is a fairly large Kuna village (actually two islands connected by a bridge) - where the people have chosen to live in a more non-traditional Kuna way - a more "western" lifestyle. They have a big generator plant so the islands have power and many huts have television, radio, and cell phones abound. There are several tiendas (small stores), a bank (no ATM but an armed guard), a few bread "panaderias" and even a couple of restaurants. You can get gasoline and diesel here from Paco and lots of Colombian trading boats come in loaded with plastic goods from China as well as fresh fruits and veggies. So you can pick up some supplies in Nargana. We needed some fuel as well as some fresh fruits and veggies. As we arrived Frederico came out in his ulu (we've met Frederico before - he offers services like getting your fuel, taking your garbage (which he burns) and giving tours up the river). He came aboard for awhile and we visited. He's practicing his English and is always helpful with local information.

We had lunch out (not very good) and got some diesel, bread and fresh veggies. The bread is interesting. Traditional Kuna bread is like large bread sticks - or small hot dog buns and that's pretty much all you can get. Some tiendas also make "rondos" which are more like small dinner rolls. It's always fun to walk around the island and having been in Kuna Yala for awhile, you start recognizing people and they recognize you. In fact, two Kunas yelled to us and reminded us they saw us in Esnasdup where we gave them some water.

We stayed a night in Nargana and went back to town in the morning for some additional diesel and bread. When Barbara went to Tienda Eides to get "rondos" she was asked to help with English lessons for the tienda owner's (Juliano) wife. She's a teacher in town and they have just started teaching the children in the school English - but she has to learn it first in order to teach it. She's taking a University course and was struggling. After diesel, bread and English lessons, we upped anchor and headed out again - destination Green Island. As we got close, we saw a large power boat anchored there and jet skis zipping about. No thanks! So we went back to nearby Esnasdup to revisit the two large crocs that call that area home.

Sunday ended up being a stormy afternoon - with some heavy winds and squalls. It was a scary looking sky with a big black line of flat clouds literally rolling towards us. Hurricane Asarte hit with winds at 80 gusts to 100 - though most of the rest of the anchorage saw a steady 25 with gusts to 30. There were three boats including us in the anchorage and the middle boat drug a bit towards us - but everyone was on board their boats and under control. After the storm passed we re-set anchors.

The no-see-ums bugs arrived in Esnasdup and we decided it was time to leave on Monday morning. So we headed back to the Eastern Holandes. It would be good to get in the water again - without fear of giant crocs. Barbara's ear is still bothering her - so she's staying dry for the time being (swimming that is!!) The evening dinghy raft-up-finger food-potluck happened as usual on Monday nights in the anchorage and we always enjoy the social time. We may organize a fun night snorkel with a group this week as well.

The boat bottom needs cleaning again and Michael's tackled one side already. A million dollar sport fishing boat was on the reef as we came into the Holandes. Guess the KH left in the middle of the storm on Sunday with no visibility and ran full tilt into a reef. The Kunas were literally cutting the reef away from the boat - hacking it up to free the boat that had been on there for more than 30 hours. This morning it was finally gone though we saw them still working on it at midnight last night. The poor reef.

There is a fearless bird that's in the anchorage and seems to love going below deck on boats. He was aboard ours (in the main salon) this morning. Scared Barbara - who has had a few bad bird experiences. Have to keep the screens in!

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Waterspouts and Rain

A large waterspout was spotted over the Coco Banderas - not far from Esnasdup where we are anchored. It was quite a sight and we were glad to not be caught in it but rather looking at it. We've had a few rainy days in Esnasdup and cleaning has been the order of the day with all the "free" water. There have been a few close lightning storms which can be scary. Michael's still trying to solve electric meter issues and Barbara's baking up a storm.

We've enjoyed watching the Kuna Indians fishing and diving in the area. It's been interesting (and disappointing) to see that many of the ulus (canoes) are now equipped with outboards. We miss seeing them paddle the ulus as they are incredibly skilled paddlers. In fact, in the Lemons, there was a small five year old albino Kuna boy who could handle a large ulu by himself - rowing all over the anchorage to visit the boats. He was paddling good distances and very stable in the boat standing up, paddling alongside our boat and just being able to handle this large, heavy dugout canoe. Michael decided that this five year old could kick his butt! They paddle the ulus from the back and only on one side using a J stroke to keep the boat straight. We've watched them paddle fully loaded ulus (loaded with bananas, coconuts and even rocks) against wind and waves and maintain a steady pace. As they paddle, they also seem to manage keeping the ulus from flooding - using a coconut husk they bail pretty consistently. So it's normally, paddle, paddle, paddle, bail. Paddle, paddle, paddle, bail. With the outboards now, it's not as enjoyable to watch these graceful craft and boatmen at work. Over time, it will also be interesting to see if the Kunas (who are all quite fit) will start gaining weight.

The Kunas line fish in many of these anchorages. They use a treble hook with a small piece of white plastic, toss the line (no rods and reels) and then work the line with a steady jerking motion. They seem to consistently bring in small fish using this technique. Some of the Kunas also set small nets - both hand held nets (two Kunas and a net with sticks) as well as some larger set nets. It's quite a sight watching them bring in full nets into a rocking ulu.

Of course, we have the option to buy these fish as well as the lobsters and sometimes crab that they catch. The lobsters and crab are gathered by the Kunas who dive the reefs. They do this with limited gear - usually just an old mask.

While the Kuna men seem to fish, the Kuna women continue to try to sell their crafts - the molas and jewelry that they make. Sometimes they'll come out in the ulus with their goods to sell - also proving themselves to be excellent boat paddlers.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

One Crocodile. Two Crocodiles.

Or in Panama: uno crocodillo, dos crocodillos. We've moved from the Western Holandes to the East Lemons with a quick stop in the West Lemons. Now we are settled in Esnasdup. We had to do a few circles before we entered this island as there were big rain storms around us and visibility was difficult. We didn't want to end up on the reef like "Surprise." We haven't had any big rain for weeks and finally when we needed to enter a tight anchorage, there it was.

This was one of our favorite spots during our last visit to Kuna Yala. Back "in season" it was quite busy with at least six boats here. Now we are anchored all by ourselves. There are two islands, a cut and a double reef that protects it all from the north east, and west. We are sitting in the cut but well away from the islands to avoid any of those nasty bugs. It is flat calm here and after the last few nights in the East Lemons where we had a roll - this is very pleasant. We had a very rainy day on our arrival - and collected lots of water. Barbara did laundry under way and of course, that caused the rain - the clothes wouldn't dry for days!! We did manage to collect buckets and buckets of rain water which was great as there was a lot of laundry piled up waiting for some good rain. It's supposed to be rainy season - but we've had very little - it seemed it was always about a half mile away! So the collecting was good.

We woke up to a sunny, flat day. That's when the crocs were spotted. One was quite large. We wondered why there weren't more boats here! One boat on the morning net said they didn't stay here for fear of losing their boat cat! We'll have to do croc watch while showering!

We've had lots of Kuna visitors here - a lot of the Kunas fish this reef so they all stop by the boat to sell you fish, lobsters or crab; get a glass of water or just say hello. Some ask for your aluminum cans which they sell to the Colombian trading boats. - that's the island way of recycling (and for us getting rid of them!)
We bought five lobsters for $9 from one ulu - they always look bigger when they're in the ulus.

We're still fighting electrical issues on the boat - fix one thing - another goes bad. Also, our computer died yesterday - luckily we have a back-up. It just went dead while Michael was typing some e-mails. Now we have something else on the list to get while back in the states. More boat units (that's what we call dollars - $100 dollars is a boat unit).

We're sitting in paradise. Who can or should complain?

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Surprise. . . . Grounded on the Reef!

Really, grounded on the reef. But not us, the sailing vessel "Surprise." About 2030 last night, we heard a call on the VHF radio that a flare had been sighted on the reef between The Eastern Lemmon Cays and The Western Holandes. Also the boat that saw the flare could see the lights of a boat. So a call was put out for anyone who had a dinghy big enough to go out and try to lend assistance. Our engine is too small, but Michael offered to go along with Philippe from Renegade. It was dark - though a full moon night it was quite cloudy and windy with lightning in the distance. A perfect setting for a movie-style rescue.

Wolfgang (who we had just seen aboard Astarte for sundowners) from Genesis also went along. The three of them sped off to see if they could be of any help. Turns out that "Surprise," about a 28 footer, was stuck hard on the reef. He somehow thought he could make landfall in the San Blas Islands of Panama with out any charts!!! In the dark!!! When they arrived, the owner was in the water trying to push his sailboat off the corals. It was stuck hard, with a coral head lodged between the rudder and keel, and the water was shallow enough to stand up in. The noise was very disquieting - this grinding of a boat on coral as it bounced up and down against hard rock. The rescue was made all the more "interesting" because of the several languages involved. "Surprise" was Brazilian but also speaks Spanish, Philippe speaks fluent Spanish and English, Wolfgang is German, with English and some Spanish, and Michael only has English and a tiny bit of Spanish. By the time the "Renegade" dinghy got tied to "Surprise" and ready to try and pull it off the coral, a Kuna Indian from the nearby island and a Swiss couple from Saluna had also arrived to help.

The only(!!!) anchor aboard "Surprise" was set off the stern and the rode attached to a sheet winch to try to kedge it off the reef. That didn't work even with the help of a 15 hp outboard on the dinghy. The next try was to tip the boat by using a halyard and line and try to drift it off the reef at an angle. They attached an extra line to the main halyard and used the dinghy to tip the boat over to the side by pulling on the line that goes to the top of the mast. That worked. The "Surprise" anchor was left in place (having been released from the sailboat) as Surprise was pulled into deeper water. It turned out that the anchor was stuck in the coral, but no one had a float to tie off the rode. So "Saluna", stayed with the anchor holding on to the rode. At this point Wolfgang was aboard"Surprise with the young Brazilian and Philippe and Michael went back with a Kuna Indian to try and retrieve the anchor. The Kuna dove the anchor three times but could not free it from the coral. It was left with a life jacket attached to the line for retrieval the next morning.

By this time the unfortunate Kuna noticed that his Ulu (canoe) had floated out of site. They had no idea where it had gotten to, but hopefully it will be recovered today.

Because "Surprise" only had one anchor (now buried in the coral reef), he needed to borrow one. Philippe offered his spare anchor and Michael offered his third anchor rode. So as "Surprise" was slowly motoring back to the Eastern Lemmons, Philippe and Michael sped back to the anchorage to set the borrowed anchor and rode. "Surprise" was put to bed at anchor and all was calm and back to normal by about 2300. All in all, a very successful outcome. Everyone returned safely and the owner of "Surprise" was very grateful.

As of this morning, the Kuna Indians recovered "Surprise's" stuck anchor. He returned the borrowed anchor and rode and immediately decided to go to Por Venir to check in. He still has no charts, and after watching him get the anchors up, not a lot of experience. And the big news:. . . . . . .this was not the first time he has had "issues". He had already lost a boat, a 40 footer in Cabo San Lucas Mexico.

As our good friend Gene always said: "God looks out for fools and sailors." We really hope the Kuna gets his ulu back.

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