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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