Thursday, January 28, 2010

All Tied Up

We've continued to explore the Linton area by foot - taking some long hikes in search of the two-toed sloth (not the same family as the five toed sloth who "naps for peace.") No luck yet - we hear we have to get an early start to see them. We did see lots of incredible birds and butterflies though. The countryside is very hilly and lush.

We've also moved from behind Isla Linton to a small marina "Panamarina" (cool name). It's a dock-less marina - you tie up to mooring balls and they line the boats up nicely and have quite a system. They tie you to four mooring balls - two on the front and two on the back - port and starboard on front and back. We are quite close to other boats - but it seems to be a good system. We've had some wind - but the boats seem to sway at a minimum and all is good. We are very close to mangroves on the stern so the no-see-ums (or chi chis) did get a bit bad the other night. The marina is run by a nice couple who have a good French restaurant as well. However, we are "emptying the fridge and freezer" so we're eating what's there.

We'll leave the boat here as we head to the states for our three coast visit in two weeks. For a cruising budget marinas and trips home take a toll - but we do want to see the "moms" and have to check on taxes, our house and get some doctors' appointments in. It will be a wild trip - three coasts in two weeks. We pray that there won't be a massive February storm anywhere while we're there. One day travel delay will screw things up badly. It'll be like the old days for Michael and I - on a lot of airplanes, in different cities in a few days.

We're looking forward to seeing people - but not necessarily the crazy trip.

Today we finish putting everything below decks - outboard, canvas, water jugs, line, etc. This is a relatively safe place - but you don't want to make it easy. We'll tie the dinghy semi-deflated on deck and hope to get a ride to shore from someone bright and early tomorrow morning. Then it's a bus to Colon and a bus to Panama City. We have to overnight in PC because of an early Saturday morning flight out of Tocumen Airport (in PC). It always is an adventure.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Adventures Abound!

It's been a busy few days exploring the Isla Linton area of Panama. It's always fun to get into a new place and meet some new people. This is an interesting area - there are about 20 boats anchored here - many have been here for months and some even years. A lot of people build homes and settle in this area.

Isla Linton (to the northwest of the anchorage) has an old research building, now deserted, on the island. It was a Florida State University project (or so the sign states). There are spider monkeys on the island that come out to the dock regularly and we hear can chase people and sometimes steal things from their dinghies. We've seen them once and they are quite tall and walk very upright with their long tails straight up and curled behind their heads. It's quite a site. We went over to the dock to see if we could get them to come out - but no luck.

So with no luck seeing "monos," Michael decided to do some tricks himself. That would be a slow motion fall out of the dinghy, backwards. We were trying to get the outboard on the dinghy and it was rolling pretty good - and so he did the 10 point backwards flop into the water…fully clothed. That meant a quick shower and change before we could continue the trip to meet some friends at "Hans' Restaurant." Here you can get a really frosty tall neck Balboa beer for 75 cents.
You tie up to one of his small mooring balls and then pull to shore with the help of a rope hanging from a tree and tie a second line to shore at the restaurant.

Barbara joined some women to play dominoes on Tuesday afternoon at a home on shore. The house is an animal "sanctuary." There was a magnificent toucan (named Sam). Seeing that bird close up is really something - the design and colors on its beak and feet are really quite like an art piece. There was a parrot that spoke Spanish and sang in English. About six dogs (they baby sit dogs for yachts that leave for periods of time), chickens, chicks, and I understand a sloth every so often (but didn't see that myself). I guess one of the neighbors has about five sloths as pets!

We took a long walk (up a few hills - I admittedly missed those hills while in the San Blas) and saw a remarkable huge butterfly with bright blue wings on the top and dark on the underside. We also saw some hummingbirds and bright colored unidentified birds. We can hear the howler monkeys in the evenings and mornings - and boy do they howl.

Yesterday (Thurday), we did the Colon trip adventure. Colon is about two hours away by bus. The bus picks you up close by Hans'. We caught the 7:30 bus (getting there way too early). It's a brightly colored (inside and out) old school bus. They pack them in - luckily we got a seat. You bounce along these curvy streets, going quite fast. The trip in took almost two hours - two hours of wild sightseeing. The area is mostly hilly and very green. Lots of cows of different varieties graze the fields. There are pockets of "ex-patriot" houses - these are the big American homes in gated communities, which stand out from the "locals" smaller homes along the roads. We got dropped off at the bus depot which is quite a sight with all these very colorful school busses. Each bus has different paintings on the outside from mythical to Disney to religious to scenic to a mix of everything. The bus we road in on had fuzzy dice hanging from the mirrors and lots of purple feather decorations inside.

Colon is an interesting city. It has a very bad reputation as seedy and it looks it. They say to be very careful in Colon and there are many stories from cruisers of getting mugged in Colon. We wouldn't want to spend a lot of time there - and certainly not after dark. We went to get some wire, hose and check on battery prices. We also wanted to see what the busses were like and where to catch the bus for Panama City when we head back next week to catch a plane back to the states. Looking for our re-provisioning options in Colon was also on the list. We got a name of a place (Garcias) to get the wire and luckily as the bus went through town, we saw it and walked straight to it from the bus depot. We found the wire, hose and fittings there - unfortunately they didn't have any of the wire size Michael wanted in stock. What's fun about these adventures is that our Spanish is weak - and very few of the people in these stores speak English. So we do lots of hand gestures (and Michael brought along a piece of wire and hose to show which really helped). But there always seems to be a customer nearby who speaks some English and steps in to help. People can be so nice. We got the hose and some fittings here - and then went across the street to "Casa de Batterias" (house of batteries) to look at batteries and see if they had the right size wire available. Batteries - very, very expensive. Wire - very, very expensive. So we went back to "Garcias" and Michael decided going up one size in wire would be okay. But, they also didn't have that size. He opted to go down a size (it was still much, much better than what he currently had running) and luckily they had that. So we got that and they crimped on one side's fitting. Then we were on the search for a new Panama flag as ours was totally blown apart. We asked at Garcias where we could find it (Our Spanish good enough for this question). They told us where and we had them write down the store's name. And believe it or not - we found it! And they had one flag left for $5. A bargain! So far all was going smoothly, quickly and we hadn't been mugged.

We did a little veggie shopping in an open air market and searched for a "Tropic Gas" to American tank propane/butane fitting and hose. This would allow us to be able to get Tropic Gas tanks and fill our American style bottles for cooking fuel. We found a hardware store with a man who knew exactly what we were looking for - but that he didn't have. He directed us where to get it - but it was a long way off.

We found a bakery for some bread and then we figured we could catch the 11:30 bus back. What was good was that we didn't need any cabs in Colon and safely made our way through the list of things we needed to get. We decided it was too far to go and check out the groceries as we were loaded down with wire and hose and didn't need anything immediately. We'd figure that out later as we had several weeks before we'd actually do the shopping and could talk to a lot of people prior to that adventure.

At the bus depot, we found our bus - checked with the driver to confirm - and then went in search of something to eat as we skipped breakfast. Michael found a nice fresh fruit cup with papaya, watermelon, melon and pineapple for 35 cents. We had packed some granola bars and went to the bus. Lesson learned - get to the bus early, and put your stuff on a seat to reserve it. We should have done that as we were stuck in a small seat (designed for two very small children) over the wheel hump. So we crammed into that as two larger adults and curled up with knees up and bags on top of us.

The trip back was on a smaller bus, less comfortable (and the trip in wasn't exactly a luxury ride) and more crowded. The bus was for very small people and the seats were hard. They packed them in and kept stopping to pack more in. Of course, everyone is also loaded down with stuff because that's why you go to Colon - to get stuff. By the time we got back - we were ready for one of those very cold Balboa beers at Hans'. The bus trip is $2.50 each way which is a bargain for that length of a ride.

After uncurling from the bus and shaking out the leg and butt cramps, we looked forward to our beer. "No beer" said Hans' daughter. "What?" we cried. This was truly devastating. We settled for some very tasty, freshly made watermelon (sandia in Spanish) juice. We also splurged on a huge lunch at Hans' - three pork chops with onions, rice with beans, French fries, salad. Our bill for two huge meals and two fresh juices was $14. That would be our lunch and dinner.

We survived Colon and learned a lot. It was another fun-filled adventure day. They just keep coming. We also think a bat ate some of our bananas that we had on deck. Cool.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An All Day Sail

We moved outside of Kuna Yala yesterday and are now anchored in a steady roll off Isla Linton. This is a pretty little harbor surrounded by green hills on the mainland and the island. The island has monkeys - so we're excited about going ashore to see them. (Nina - Michael will get a picture if we see them). This morning we woke up and heard howler monkeys off the mainland. Cool.

Let's step back - we spent a few days in what looked like a boat parking lot in Chichime. The ARC (an around the world boat rally with 31 boats participating) had at least 20 boats at this anchorage (coming in after we were nicely settled). We came in and there were 12 boats - and at one point we counted 36 boats. We had boats just about on top of us - and being Europeans - they liked taking showers naked. And unfortunately - they were like the men who wear BH's - they shouldn't have been!

We snorkeled around Chichime and found one GIANT lobster. Of course, Michael wasn't prepared for "hunting" so we just got to look at it. Nearby was an equally GIANT barracuda - probably in a relationship to protect the lobster.

A boat we met in 2001, "The Road" (Royal Order of Ancient Druids) came into Chichime so it was fun to reconnect with Taffy and Shirley and their African Grey parrot "Rubbish"

After a few days in the crowded Chichime, Monday morning we started before the sun came up for a 45 mile trek to Isla Linton. There was an anchor drill aboard another boat at sunrise in Chichime (no surprise as it was packed). We got out cleanly with no issues and headed out. We were able to put up our sails soon after passing the reefs and we sailed the entire way. We hit speeds up to 7.2 knots - but had a steady 6 knot sail with reefed sails. The seas were about 6 feet but it wasn't terribly uncomfortable and it was great to sail the entire way since we hadn't been able to do that.

The really big news was that "Otis" our windvane steering device worked well! No longer do we have a thousand dollar hand hold for getting off and on the dinghy. It really worked and kept us on a pretty straight course for the whole trip. We also had luck with Tommy's lures. The good news was we caught three mackerel, the bad news: they were all really, really small.

We made our way past islands, reefs, banks and rocks and settled behind Isla Linton. Today we'll move into the harbor a little more to hopefully get out of the roll. Seas are supposed to pick up over the next few days and the roll where we are could get mighty uncomfortable.

We have lots to do to get the boat ready for us to leave it for two weeks soon. Michael wants to do a little re-wiring before we leave and we're working hard at emptying out the refrigerator and freezer. It's nice to be in a new place -but we already miss the beautiful San Blas.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Cruising Fashion

The cruising lifestyle is filled with individuals who are - well, individualistic. They sail their own direction, dance to their own music and live a free-spirited life. So when it comes to fashion aboard, there really should not be "fashions do's" and "fashion don'ts". It would be contrary to the lifestyle. BUT. . . there are some things that are just plain wrong.

Let's start with men's "banana hammocks" - those are the t-back swimsuits that put a string up the butt crack and has a tiny pouch in front for the man's "john henry." Why are the men who strut around in these suits, the ones who simply should not. Are there no mirrors on those boats? Today, an older gent on a boat filled with backpackers, had on an orange BH. If that wasn't enough to turn heads, he added a bright pink big hat so you would surely take a gander. Now it was something we just didn't need to see in this paradise of Chichime. He had a big gut and not the most attractive buns for showing off. But there he was, proudly strutting his stuff. The other week, another gent on a French catamaran had on a bright red BH - and again, not the body to go with it! I want to know why the really good looking guy in the East Holandes, that did yoga on his foredeck and was an expert kite-surfer - why didn't he wear one instead of the baggy shorts he wore. Nature is all out of balance here.

I'm certain Michael will point out some equally off kilter female fashion faux pas. There are certainly women wearing string bikinis who should put on some additional clothes.

We moved from the East Lemmons to Porvenir where we got our "zarpe" to clear out of this district. We'll be leaving on Monday or Tuesday to head towards Linton and Colon - which is a different "port" district. It's an excuse to get more money from the boaters. Our zarpe cost $12.70. When we get to Colon we'll have to clear in there and pay more money. Panama is turning out to be quite expensive for all the clearing in fees, Kuna fees and clearing out fees for the various districts. The Bahamas holds the record for $300 for 6 months - but we're guessing Panama will come close to that.

From Porvenir we dinghied over to Wichibwala in the hopes of finding some Kuna bread (no luck), but we were able to get some flour - so I'll continue to try to perfect my bread baking. I'm gonna attempt hamburger buns next!

From there we got back to the boat and then headed to Chichime - a new island for us. We are anchored here with about 12 other boats. The anchorage is between two small islands and behind a large reef. The waves are crashing over the reef as it's still quite windy - but it's a beautiful place. We'll probably get a snorkel in tomorrow and then get the boat ready for the all day trip towards Isla Linton.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wind Blown

O.K., this isn't complaining (Jim B.), we just want to keep you posted.

It is hootin' in Kuna Yala. For the last several days we've had lots and lots of wind. It's hard to get things done when it's blowing so hard and so consistently. In these low islands, there isn't much protection from the wind - though the reefs certainly keep the swells and waves at bay. The wind generator keeps overheating in the heavier winds - its seems at a steady 25 knots after 10 minutes it goes into overheat mode - spinning and making a high pitched noise. We try to catch it and turn it off prior to that point - but usually we're too late! We want to take advantage of the wind to charge up the batteries, make RO water and just generally keep things charged - so it's bad when we have to turn off the wind generator because of too much wind. Michael is still trying to hunt out a battery issue and at this point we're hoping for some wiring problem rather than bad batteries. Replacing a wire is much cheaper than replacing a bank of batteries.

Snorkeling is also difficult in the heavy winds. It kicks up silt and the water's visibility drops substantially. Plus, getting out to the reefs in the breeze and anchoring the dinghy can be challenging.

The wind has us a bit boat bound - but we've still managed to socialize quite a lot. We had Honore and Walt from Will of the Wisp over for dinner; then went to their boat for a really scrumptious lobster pasta feast and dominos; and tonight we're heading for sundowners on Sapphire with Bob and Sandy.

Luckily a veggie boat came by yesterday and we stocked up on some fresh stuff. Being boat bound means we've also been doing a lot of baking - with some bread challenges. Running low on flour though … so we may have to resort to Bisquick biscuits…

Just a note for those who have sent us notes via winlink or sailmail. It seems we've had some that aren't coming through. So if we don't respond to you in a few days - resend it! Sorry if you're mail has been lost in the air in Kuna Yala someplace. We love getting notes and don't want anyone to think we're ignoring you!

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sailing Around the Islands

It's been good sailing weather the last few days as the winds have picked up and, until today, we were heading in the right direction. We've been saving that diesel and acting like a real sailboat - even putting both sails up! It's been short runs from Nargana to Esnasdup to Salardup and now we're in the Eastern Lemmons (spelled that way).

We really enjoyed our time in Esnasdup - anchored on the outside of the island behind the reef. There were some magnificent snorkeling spots and we tried three different reefs - all quite different based on the depth and shelf. The winds were calm enough during most of our time there that we were able to go on the outside of these reefs for some good exploring.

Now, we're back in "civilization" with 19 other boats anchored in a popular spot. It's nice to now know many of the boats here and the folks on board. Its going to be a windy few days - good for the wind generator (at least until it gets past 25 knots then we have to shut it down). Glad we're not offshore though - the seas are predicted to hit 20 feet! Yikes - wouldn't want to see that. There are all these cold fronts coming down and getting to San Adreas and Providencia Islands just north of us off the Nicaraguan coast. Folks on those islands are preparing for several days of gale force winds and big seas.

We'll settle here for a few days as we prepare to head west and to Linton. We have to get there by the 24th or so of January.

Lots of little projects on board getting done - and as we approach a year on board cruising - we're starting to go through things we haven't yet used and determining if they need to be on board. The goal is to start clearing out the V-berth (attic) and lightening the boat.

Hope everyone is staying warm - we hear the states and Europe are mighty cold right now. Florida has swimming pools that are getting icy - brrrrrr. Stay warm.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Out on the Reef

We recovered from the holidays and hope you all can say the same. All our decorations are put away! We made a trip from the "pool" to Nargana and did laundry up the Rio Diablo. If you have to do laundry by hand - this is the way to do it. Dinghy up the river and enjoy the tadpoles, fish, birds, butterflies and landscape while agitating and rinsing. This time we threw the cleaned clothes on top of bushes to start the drying process. (Got an interesting bug on board from the laundry - it looked like it was a gold bead - but it was a bead that started to move when picked up. It was an all gold beetle of some variety. It was tiny but beautiful and really looked like shiny gold.) We had loads and loads of laundry with guest towels and sheets as well as weeks worth of our clothes. It took most of the day for this project - but it was pleasant. Plus the outboard Yoshi got a fresh water rinse and so did we! No crocodiles or monkey sightings to report.

We went out to dinner in Nargana as well with Jim from "Wonderland" - and by Kuna Yala standards it was a bit pricey - $39 for 8 beers, one lobster dinner, one fish dinner and one octopus dinner.

After our Nargana outing, we headed back to Esnasdup - an island west of Nargana and this time instead of nestling behind the island, we decided to anchor in front of it and behind a giant reef. It is a magnificent view - forwards and backwards. Because it's been relatively calm for a few days, we've been able to swim to the outside of the reef and explore the deeper shelves. A great collection of coral and fish to see. Hawk's been hunting - but no joy for the dinner table (joy for the fish however!)

It's been fun to explore the various reefs around this pretty island. There are six boats here - and on Monday night, one boat invited everyone over for sundowners and snacks. It was a great feast and fun group. We finally got to meet Brian and Debbie on "Uhane". It is a boat we had seen often at the Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg, before we left. As well as a friend of a friend of Richard and Rene! We've also worked on cleaning the hull - a never ending project - but it looks pretty good now.

We'll stay here a few days to clean the dinghy, polish some stainless, get a few boat projects done and hopefully explore more reefs. The Kuna's come by regularly and we splurged on a lobster feast the other night. The boat's oven has been getting a workout as well - Gibson's bread recipe continues to work (thanks Dave); a Dutch whole grain bread was tasty; and, a first batch of English muffins was tested and they are yummy (and you can even make the Astarte version of 'Egg McMuffins'). So lot's going on aboard and we continue to eat well.

Stay warm - we're hearing it's mighty chilly in the states and Canada - even in Florida.

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010!

Happy New Year to all. We wish you a very healthy, happy, adventure-filled, fun 2010. It's hard to believe its 2010.

We celebrated the departure of the old year and the bringing in of the new, with an international crowd in the Eastern Holandes. We started with a great potluck feast aboard Vagabond with Lili, Otto, and Paul and Maureen from Calypso. Then, about 50 boaters gathered on the little island after 2000 (8 pm). One boat brought in a generator and strung up lights and a sound system. It was very festive. Everyone shared treats and had adult beverages in hand. Some brought in old flares and shot them off as midnight approached. The full moon (a blue moon - a second full moon in the same month) shone brightly in the sky. Some had a stash of fireworks that they set off. A few built a life-sized "doll" - a coconut headed, yarn-haired, paper-stuffed shirt and pants that got thrown in the bonfire at midnight. People were invited to write on the doll anything they wanted to be "gone" in 2009 and those things would be burnt. The thing (with a bit of help from gasoline) went up instantly.

People danced on the sand and partied until 0300 under the moon and sparkling lights. We actually made it past midnight and were back aboard Astarte around 0100. It was a very fun evening. The crowd was filled with Aussies, Germans, Swiss, South Africans, Canadians, Americans, Panamanians and certainly others. That's really the fun of cruising.

We hope for a 2010 that is filled with good news on every front globally - peace, economic recovery, health breakthroughs, environmental successes and genuine happiness worldwide. To all our friends, family and readers - we hope your own wishes and dreams will come true, and that everyday will be healthy, happy, and filled with wonder. We are grateful to be starting 2010 in paradise.

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