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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