Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rainy Season

The rains seem to have started in earnest. Most days now, we're getting at least some showers and Friday evening the skies opened and to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning, it really poured. Michael braved the bright flashes and put four big jugs of rain water into the tanks. It seems we are getting some rain each day and trying to get laundry washed and then dried before the next rain.

After a social marathon in Tierra Oscura, which included Barbara's mahjong lesson from Cindy and a group of ladies, we headed back to Hospital Bight and the anchorage right off Red Frog Marina. We needed better internet coverage for upcoming travel plans. Because of all the rain, we've been pretty lazy though we are starting to organize for getting the boat ready to put at the dock and head back to the states for a visit. It's a ton of work to make sure everything is cleaned, closed and secured – especially with the squalls that come through. But having checked out Little Star Island, we're comfortable with where we'll leave her.

Menus aboard are interesting now as we're trying to clean out the refrigerator and eat up the last of the perishables aboard. Don't want to leave anything for unwanted critters to find. It's amazing what creative combos we can put together.

Today is Sunday and that means a dominoes game with the folks on Voyager!

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Photos

We moved back to Hospital Bight and finally have some slow but consistent internet. So Michael spent some time tonight and posted pictures of the "Hot, Hot, Hot" fashion show, our visit to Rana Azul and the frogs from our nature walk in the finca.
They are on the Photos 2 page this time.

Still dealing with no captioning ability, so write your own.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nature Hike

We seem to have settled into the Dark Land/Tierra Oscura anchorage. The folks living here are very welcoming and friendly and we've enjoyed their company and all the information they are providing on the area.

On Monday, we had the pleasurable company of Cindy and her dogs, Arena and Buddy for an incredible hike. She took us to a "finca" (farm)that is owned by a family (now for sale). This finca has many, many groomed trails through the woods. There are wonderful wood built structures around the property. The gentleman who owned the property passed away and he seemed like an incredible guy. He built the various structures so that the local Indians could do woodworking, furniture making and have a place to stay. The woodworking building was filled with magnificent bamboo and local wood furniture – chairs, cabinets, lounge chairs, tables, stools – plus some wine holders and ornamental pieces. It was incredible work.

The property also was filled with interesting trees and plants. There were many fruiting pineapples, banana and plantain trees, noni fruit, breadfruit, almonds, oranges, limes and some strange looking things. As usual, and with Cindy's assurance, we picked some of these strange things to taste. One is locally called a "bittybye" (sp??). It sort of looks like an artichoke with longer, though soft spines all over it. When cut open there is this soft, custard-like white pulp with large black seeds. You scoop it out with a spoon and eat around the seeds. It was quite delicious. We also picked up a ripe pineapple which was less acidic than many and very white inside – and very sweet. It was like going to a great fruit market and we came back with a backpack filled with oranges, limes, passion fruit, pineapple, and this weird bittybye. The oranges were very sweet. Cindy also snagged a breadfruit (not our favorite).

The walk also was filled with interesting critters. There were the teal green frogs with black spots – Dendrobates Auratus (another in the poison dart frog family) and some very small dark blue (almost black) frogs (Dendrobates Claudiae). Butterflies were also numerous thanks to all the beautiful flowering trees. There were the very large morpheus (bright blue on the inside of the wing, black on the outside – but very large) and some interesting yellow with black designs that when they landed they curled like a leaf; a beautiful white with very delicate and intricate black designs and many, many more.

At the end of one of the trails is a stone labyrinth that we walked – it was really lovely. It was a tribute to the owner.

We climbed up this great tower that was built with a thatched roof and quite high. We took a really good walk, enjoying the dogs exploring all the sounds and smells. We loved all the weird bug and bird sounds and found the adventure really worthwhile.
Our hostess, Cindy lives in a house she and her husband built here in the lagoon. We went there for dinner on Tuesday night and it is a wonderful and beautiful home. Her husband was a great wood-worker and many of the touches in the house are quite unique and beautiful. She's a great lady and we've really enjoyed spending time with her.

On Monday night, we invited "Captain Ron" to Astarte for dinner. He is also a fixture in this area and our friends Anna and Ian connected us with him. He is quite a character and very helpful and informative as well. We've really enjoyed being anchored in this area and getting to know the folks. It is quite a social group and they are kind enough to include boaters regularly in their festivities.

It's been warm when there's no breeze but luckily the breeze seems to come when you really need one. We continue to empty the fridge and cupboards as we get the boat ready for our trip back to the states. We'll do the serious cleaning at the very end (why do it more than once!)

Happy Summer!

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Bocas "Scene"

From the Friday night "Hot Hot Hot" Floating Docs fundraiser to the Sunday afternoon bluegrass party at Rona Azuls, we've been taking in the local Bocas del Toro social scene. On Saturday, we pulled anchor and motored through several bays and around various islands to get to an area with multiple names (like most of the places around here). It is called the Dark Land, Tierra Oscura and Laguna Palos.

We anchored in the well protected bay that is surrounded by Panama mainland on one side, with its lovely green hills with a background of higher hills and mountains, and lots of mangrove islands on the other – some large and some tiny. There are several large (by local Panama standards) homes inhabited by ex-pats (US, Brits and other nationalities). There is a restaurant named Rana Azul nestled into the mainland behind a little mangrove island. The place has a few docks, one holding the owner's 41 foot Moody sailboat. The owner is Joseph, an Austrian. It is a lovely open-air restaurant with thatch roof and two large clay pizza ovens in back. The area is nicely landscaped. On Sunday, at noon, it is the weekly gathering place for all the local ex-pats in the area, boaters and a few Panamanian locals. This Sunday was extra-special because there would be bluegrass music. One of the ex-pats had guests who would perform – a father and son duo. The place was packed. We got picked up by Captain Ron who lives in a house nearby. There were launchas, pongas, dinghies and some bigger power boats four deep at the dock.

People packed onto long tables, squeezing in to make room. Beer is cheaper than soft drinks and the special was a beef stroganoff dinner. Having just had beef stroganoff on board Astarte this week, we opted for the pizza. Unfortunately the restaurant's sound system wasn't very good and with the huge crowd there, it was a bit noisy. But when you could hear them, the duo sounded pretty good.

We met lots of the ex-pat who call this area home. They are quite a group and were welcoming and fun to chat with. They offered lots of good information to us about how to get things, how to get around and names and prices of water taxis, land taxis etc. It was good to connect with many of the people who our friends Anna and Ian mentioned to us. Because we are leaving the boat here, its good to make the connections.

After the lunch event, we were invited to go swimming in front of Cindy's home, not far from where we are anchored. So we swam from the boat to the party which seemed to have moved to from Rana Azul to Cindy's house. It was a fun day and we continue to meet lots of new folks here.

It is nice here and we're hearing the howler monkeys on the mainland again which is nice. It is incredibly calm and quiet here compared to being anchored off Bocas Town. The birds sounds are wonderful and the views are magnificent. We'll probably stay here at least through today – perhaps a hike on land.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fun Fundraiser

One of the things we particularly like to do is attend local events. We've been to parades, dance performances, local music events, beauty pageants and dinners. In Bocas Town, we attended the "Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot Fashion Show" for the "Floating Doctors." And it was quite an evening out!

It was held at the Bocas Marina's "Calypso Cantina and Grill" which is a mostly outside venue. One of the docks was converted to a raised runway and stage with the help of beer cases and plywood. Covered in black plastic it was lit with red LED rope lights and big spotlights. Decorated with some local flora, it looked great! Plastic chairs were put all around the stage, though not quite enough to sit the 200 plus people.

Dinner was a nice buffet, but knowing cruisers, they only provided a tiny plate to load up with the salads, cold cuts, lasagna and curried chicken and rice. They did run out of silverware at one point. The entertainment was, well entertaining! Bubba, the local chainsaw artist was doing a demonstration of his "art" which was being raffled as one of the night's prizes. Just before the fashion show would begin at 2030 (8:30 pm), two bathing suited women came on the runway (to music being played by a local band) and one woman proceeded to body paint the other. A few others joined in the painting as well.

Then to the song "hot hot hot" a bathing suited woman came out with a hula hoop aflame and did a fire dance sending the row in front of us scurrying She was very good (she was also the woman who did the body painting and we met her earlier in the week as the yoga instructor, masseuse and person who ran the spa at "Red Frog.")

Barbara was happy because the fashion show started with some very good looking men in swimsuits! The show was very well done and a lot of fun even though we aren't exactly fashion mavens. The models were good looking local folks who seemed to be having a lot of fun and they were well-rehearsed. There were swimsuits (Michael's favorite was the bikini set), casual clothes and even raingear from Helly Hansen, the boaters' loved that (Barbara loved it when the men took off the raincoats and had on boxers or swimsuits!)

Lots of prizes were raffled off and there was also a silent auction. Some of the prizes included dinners at local eateries, dive trips, local art, overnight stays at the hotels, massages, personal trainers and tattoos! Unfortunately we came home prize less but it was fun to see how excited people got when they won! Then, they auctioned a date with the doctor, Dr. Ben, who runs the "Floating Doctors" and he is quite handsome and really hammed it up on stage. We thought of bidding in the hopes of getting our annual physicals for a good price!. The bidding was between two folks and got to $275! Well out of our price range.

It was a fun evening and we called it a night around 2300 (11 pm) and dinghied back to our boat at anchor near the marina. It was a madhouse watching people leaving the event as water taxis were zipping and speeding every which way. Back on the boat, we listened to the music continue for quite awhile and were glad we left when the karaoke singing started!

We were glad to spend some of our limited funds on the night and support the "Floating Doctors." It was an entertaining night and the organization is a good one. "Floating Doctors" is an all-volunteer, non-profit medical relief team who work in remote areas to help in emergency situations (they were in Haiti twice – once after the earthquakes and once for the cholera outbreak) as well as to help provide education and care in remote coastal places. They work off a large motor-sailboat, the SV Southern Wind. Check them out at

After all the excitement of Bocas Town, we moved to the "Dark Lands" on Saturday – more on that later!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Search of the Elusive, Indigenous Oophaga Pumilio

It rained most of Monday – something we hadn't seen much of lately. So we collected water, did some laundry and washed the decks. That also meant that the famous Bastimentos Red Frog might also make an appearance.

On Tuesday, we decided to take a hike into the area rainforest to hunt for the little red poison dart frogs. Covered in bug spray we headed out. We trudged through the grasses (hoping not to find the dreaded “fer de lance”) looking for the tiny bright red frog that is indigenous to this island. We went up a several paths and into some clearings to look. We understood you could see them in the undergrowth. Finally, we spotted one little guy. They are relatively territorial (especially the males), so chances are we wouldn't see a bunch in one spot.

There bright red color does help in spotting them. We hiked around looking for one particular area (which we never found – it was off the only road we didn't go down) where another boater said he spotted several. We did manage to get all the way to the top of the hill and got a nice view amongst the construction of some high end homes and spa.

We had a good hike and ended up with at least one sighting. Of this guy.

We also heard all kinds of wonderful bird and insect and frog calls on the walk. It was good to get out and enjoy a good hike It does get hot here and when we got back to the boat we were ready for showers. Just in time, a big rain and wind squall came and we got more water and fresh water rain showers. Had some old friends Damon and David over for sundowners and it was good to reconnect with them – we saw them last in the Bay of Chilon in Colombia,

Today, we'll probably move Astarte and get a look at another area of Bocas. Its a big place and lots of explore.

Full moon tonight!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Exploring the Bocas Archipelago

Getting to explore new areas is one of the real joys of cruising. Now that we are checked-in to Panama, rested up from the six-day passage, and have the boat back in some order, we are ready to start learning about this area. And boy, is there a lot to learn. Get out your maps – the Bocas del Toro area is in the northwestern corner of Panama, just 30 miles south of the Costa Rican border. Once in the Bocas waters from the Caribbean Sea, you're cruising through two major bodies of water – Bahia Almirante and Laguna de Chiriqui. The mainland and mountains of Panama are visible which give the area a great backdrop. Within these waters there are eight major islands surrounded by another 50 plus cays and more than 200 islets. Many are small mangrove dots in the sea of blue. The area is a bit confusing because the locals, the area's ex-pats, and the cruisers all have different or multiple names for every bay, anchorage or location.

A little history lesson. It was discovered (like just about everything it seems in the Caribbean) by Christopher Columbus on his fourth and final voyage. In the 19th century, immigrants descended upon the area that was populated by various indigenous Ngobe tribes. These immigrants were mainly slaves from the Colombian islands, US and some of the more eastern Caribbean islands. The banana industry brought in more folks and bananas still make up more than 80 percent of Panama's exports.

The present population is made up of an interesting mix of folks – the descendants from the slaves, the Chinese (which seem to own and run every store in the area including what is known as "the Chinese Walmart."), various indigenous Ngobe tribes, many ex-pats from the US and Canada and a mix of Latin Americans. Their language is "guari-guari" - a mix of Afro-Antillean English and Ngobere with a splash of French.

The wildlife of the area is quite remarkable. We are anchored off one of the large islands – Bastimentos where there is an indigenous red frog. This small very colorful frog is from the pumilio family – the poison dart frog. This small one is not quite as toxic as others – unless eaten (so we won't taste). Kids in the area collect them and carry them around in big leaves with a touch of water and show them to you for a tip. Unfortunately they often put the frogs in salt water. There are also monkeys, sloths and all types of colorful, beautiful sounding birds. We took a nice walk across the island yesterday to see the incredible beaches on the other side. Saw a few red frogs (caught by the local young boys) and heard some great birds. We'll take a walk after some rain and hope to see "lots of red frogs" after a rain shower.

Because of the large ex-pat community and cruisers who are here for long periods of time, there are lots of activities in the area. It starts with the morning radio net filled with everything from the local restaurants' menu specials to trivia to all the various events going on (garden club, charity fund raisers, movie nights etc.)

We'll explore the area and enjoy the process of doing so....

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bocas del Toro Arrival

After six days – well, two hours short of six days – we anchored in Bocas del Toro, Panama. We sailed much of the way and managed to not have to stop for fuel in either Providencia or San Andres. The last 30 hours we did have to motor as the Caribbean Sea turned into a windless waterway. We kept hoping for a wisp of air to be able to turn off the engine, but it was incredibly calm. The passage was a very good one – we hit two big rainy squalls (luckily not terribly windy or lightning-filled). They did seem to last forever, staying on top of us and just dumping rain. Wish we had water-proofed the bimini before leaving. It rained as hard under the canvas in the cockpit as outside! It seemed we were constantly drying cushions and clothes after passing through the squalls. Seas were relatively calm except when we had wind. But the boat handles them better when she's under sail – so all was fine.

We arrived just at sunrise off the entrance of Bocas del Toro and made it through the cut and around a few cays to anchor off Bocas Marina. We had barely got the anchor set and a crew of officials were at the boat, climbing aboard. Bocas del Toro does have a reputation of being the most officious (read: expensive) check-in procedure for boats in all of Panama. In fact, under way, we thought of heading to Portobello instead to clear in to the country and then just get a national zarpe to come here. But, because we have to get the boat ready to head to the states and also the winds would be calm for days – we would burn more fuel to go to Portobello and then the 155 miles to Bocas from there. So, we decided to just suck it up and deal with the check-in procedure here(read: more money).

So we get six guys on board, two from customs, two from immigration and the Port "Capitan" (plus the launcha driver). Most speak good English though we were hoping for Spanish practice. Papers start to fly and costs start to add up. One of the customs guys comes below for an inspection and opens all cabinets and engine compartment etc. I think because we hadn't yet cleaned up the boat or ourselves (they did arrive right after the anchor dropped), the inspection went quite quickly. While underway, things get stored so they don't go flying, snacks and water bottles are kept handy, and damp and dirty clothes were still hanging about so the boat was not in the tidiest of shape. When we go in to clear, we are usually all cleaned up, showered, clean clothes etc. But these guys didn't get that treatment.

After they left the boat, and more than a hundred of our favorite dollars was handed over (20 per person plus $15 for the launcha driver), we still had to go to town to complete the process. This meant a trip to the Port Capitan's office to get a new cruising permit (the rules changed yet again regarding cruising permits in Panama – now the permit we had was not valid because we left the country), and we had to complete the immigration process. So we launched our dinghy and outboard and went to town. We went first to get our Cruising Permit ($193), then to buy "immigration stamps" at the National Bank ($30), and then to the immigration office. This gave us a nice walking tour of Bocas Town and a good stretch of our tired legs. But it was warm, we were tired and we had to get a lot done before the noon closure of the immigration office. At immigration, we then had to go across the street to make a copy of the stamps now in our passports ($0.60). With all the legal stuff done (or so we thought), we then picked up some phone cards, cold sodas, fresh bread and fruit and headed back to the boat. We hoped to get fuel at the Bocas Marina fuel dock – but they didn't have any diesel. After getting back to Astarte, another "official" came by from quarantine who took our "foreign" garbage and did an inspection (well not really – he asked some questions about where we bought our food). And he needed more money. After some arguments we handed him $18. ($15 for the "inspection and $3 for our garbage.) So after six zero dollar days for the passage, we were spending money like drunken sailors.

After an afternoon of picking up and trying to get the internet/phone to work, we decided to head in for taco night at Bocas Marina's Calypso Cantina. Heck, we were spending money all day – why not continue???

It was a nice evening where we met interesting folks and reconnected with some people we met in the Bahamas in 2009. It was nice to get some local information about the area and get served a meal and not have to do dishes.

Back to Astarte and in bed for what we hoped was more than three hours of sleep at a time. It was a restful night though neither of us slept quite as "dead" as we thought we would. The body was probably in that 3 hours sleep pattern.

Today, we have to deal with fuel which will mean at least two taxi runs with jerry cans into the gas station in town. Perhaps a little more exploring around Bocas Town and maybe even an ice cream treat!

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Passages - =?ISO-8859-1?Q?=93Where are we?=94?=

We are underway, finally! We left Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras on Wednesday morning around 1115 for the 600 mile trip to Bocas del Toro, Panama. We cleared out of Honduras (one of the best and easiest countries to accomplish that task), fueled up and stocked up on a few last minute items like bread and eggs. We are hoping to make a straight run to Panama without any stops. We don't carry enough fuel for motoring all of it, so we have to sail – but we are a sailboat after all.

Day one was potentially the roughest portion of the trip as we have to head almost due east (into the normal trade winds) to get past mainland Honduras. Then we make the turn to the southeast for awhile and then more south/southwest as we get closer to Panama. We waited and waited for the best weather window – which would mean very light easterlies so that we wouldn't have to crash into winds and seas. Michael picked out a great window to get us started – the winds were very favorable – light and northerly. We actually sailed a good portion of the first day (from about 1400 until 2030). We motored over the nighttime hours as the winds were so light that the sails wouldn't stay full and were banging around. But seas were light so we made good time. Day one – no fish. (we dragged a handmade lure that Walt on "Will of the Wisp" made us and we've named the "Sooper Cooper."

Day two – Thursday – we sailed all from sunup through most of the day and night. We had a small jog through some reef areas that we motored through as the light wind was on the nose. We've had a few squalls – mostly some rain – nothing too dramatic (that's the way we like it – not too dramatic.) Day two - "Sooper Cooper" still the favored lure – no fish. And we are definitely sailing fish catching speed at times.

Day three – still sailing – albeit mighty slowly. The winds are now due north so we are sailing dead downwind. The seas are about 3 feet but at times really cause Astarte to wallow and backfill the main. But we are making steady progress and saving fuel. See our progress on our "where are we" page – we update it daily. "Sooper Cooper" was lost today – something big broke the swivel and the whole lure was lost – so sad, But not long after – we pulled in a huge mackerel on a silver spoon. It's always an adventure landing these things on a rolly deck. But we did land it. Finally the fishing curse is hopefully over. The "Sooper Cooper" must have provided good luck. (Jim E – does that mean Barbara won??)

We are now into day four – it is Saturday. We are checking in daily with two different radio nets to give our position. The northwest Caribbean net and now the Southwest Caribbean net. The net controllers are kind enough to come up twice a day (morning and evenings) and we give them our current position. It's nice to talk with someone and have someone know where we are. We're still slowly sailing and the wind may be backing more to the northwest which may give us a better/faster sailing angle. Unfortunately, the forecast is for south westerlies as we get closer to Panama (that's the direction we'll be heading). So we'll sail as long as we can and save our fuel in case we have to motor the last leg or portion of it.

It now looks like we won't get in until Tuesday at the earliest. The few slow nights have pushed the timing back. But its been comfortable (mostly) though the boat seems to roll more at night (probably because we reef the sails at night for safety – the squalls are harder to see at night). That makes sleeping more difficult. We're doing our normal three hours on watch then three hours of sleep.

Glad we prepped so many meals in advance for the trip – the roll would make it hard to cook. Re-heating is easier.

All is good aboard the good ship Astarte and we hope the weather continues to be kind to us. There is a low sitting over the Caribbean giving us this favorable wind for now – we hope it doesn't develop into something nasty or create too many squalls.

Sailing on...and fishing.

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