Monday, November 3, 2014

Panama Update

Panama Update -  June 1 2014 thru Nov 1 2014


YIKES !!   Way behind again on blog update and a lot to cover so I will try to not make this a book.  I do put updates on Facebook, but since this blog is my "diary" I need to put down more detail here.   

First, last blog left off where Steve was getting over a nasty infection he could not get rid of.  I am happy to report that the last treatment, back in Nargana in San Blas, was a success and he has not had a recurrence (knock wood).

We spent the next few weeks exploring the waters and beaches of beautiful San Blas Islands. Our first stop was back to Green Island where even though it was cloudy and slightly raining we still went snorkeling. Felt so good to get back in the water and be swimming again. We spent time there exploring the nearby islands and snorkeling. Then went to explore more of the Holandes Cays and Coco Bandero Cays. Enjoying more snorkeling and beach combing, beach BBQ's and even a dinghy raft up to watch a movie shown off the back Ultra, Bill & JoAnne's boat. 

Then it was time to get ready for Sean & Carrie to visit. After a night in Panama City they would get a 4 wheel taxi ride to Carti where we would pick them up. Mainland Carti is really just a parking lot with several docks. The road to Carti is fairly new and even more recently paved, so not such a hazardous drive anymore. We went over a day early so Steve could get one of the taxi's to go to the outskirts of Panama City to get some groceries for their visit. They arrived to the San Blas Saturday June 28th at 9 AM. Shortly after getting them settled on the boat we pulled up anchor and headed over to the “swimming pool” anchorage in the Holandes Cays. It started as a cloudy drizzling day as we sailed over but as we arrived and anchored the sun was shining. Sean & Carrie did not waste any time and jumped in to go swimming as we made lunch. We had great weather over the next several days to snorkel, swim and walk the beaches.   We had wanted to do a river tour of the Rio Sidra with Kuna guide Lisa whom we had heard great things about. With Carrie being fluent in Spanish and Lisa the guide speaking almost no English, it was the perfect time to go. We, along with S/V Ultra went to anchor off the island of Salardup. Thursday morning July 3 Lisa came in her lancha to pick us up and take us to the mainland to go up the river and hike to the waterfall. It was a beautiful day and a fabulous hike and the waterfall was so refreshing. This was / is a highlight to anyone’s visit to the San Blas. The hike takes you past 3 Kuna burial grounds, which resemble little villages as they put up thatched roofs to protect the graves and leave personal belongings of the deceased around the graves. Our guide Lisa had to leave us at the end of the hike to attend her aunt's funeral, so we were able to see some of the preparations for the ceremony that was to take place later that day.  Enjoyed a few more sunny days before going back to Porvenir on Saturday 5th of July. We went by customs to check out, and locate the airport check-in gate so Sean & Carrie would be ready for their early flight the following day to Panama City then back to the states and we would make our way to Colon. 

We were underway by 7:30 Sunday July 6, getting out the pass from Porvenir was a little rough, between reefs, heading east straight into the wind and 6 foot waves. Luckily it was only for about 15 minutes, then we were in deep water and able to turn north and had a nice sail up the coast. We had planned a stop at the Isla Grande/Isla Linton anchorage, but it was a nice day and a good sail so we continued all the way to Portobelo and were anchored by 3 that afternoon.  The next day we went to check out the town and 2 of the 3 forts in the area. Portobelo, once an important town with its beautiful protected harbor has a history with the Spanish and the Pirates. Besides the forts, the small quiet little town is now known for 2 festivals a year, festival del Cristo Negro & festival de los Diablos. Next day spent on the boat doing internet as Steve was sorting out details on selling the house. Several miles west of town is a new Canopy tour, so we got a taxi from town to go do another zip line. Steve & I were the only ones there that morning so had a good time, afterward we had a relaxing time tubing down the river running along the property. After our picnic lunch that we had brought with us, we got one of the guides to drive us back to the main road to catch a bus back to town, another fun day.

The next day we had another nice sail the short distance to Colon, the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. A lot of big ships were anchored out, a few coming & going, it seemed strange seeing so many big ships again in such close proximity. We would be going to Shelter Bay Marina for a few days to talk about getting some boat work done and to make a short trip over to Panama City to sign papers to sell the house back in Kemah Texas. Stopping at the fuel dock first we were in our slip by 2, Thursday July 10. A lovely, but isolated, marina located on the grounds of the former US military base Ft. Sherman. Friends from San Blas Randy & Dawn on Nirvana Now were there getting there boat ready to be hauled out while they went home to Canada and to our surprise friends Olivier & Vivian from S/V Maryann were there also due to boat problems.  The marina provides a free shuttle to the town of Colon which by van is 30 minutes away, so that made re-provisioning easy. It is pretty cool as the road goes over the canal right in front of the Gatun Locks!! The shuttle also took us to the bus station to get the bus to Panama City on Monday July 14. Nice A/C double-decker bus, that for $3.35 each gets you from Panama's Atlantic side to the Pacific in just over 1 ½ hours. Arriving at the huge bus terminal, next to a big mall, we get a taxi to take us to our hotel in town. Just a little after 4, after sitting most of the day we walk down to the waterfront to walk along the beautiful cement boardwalk / promenade that goes for miles. Since it was getting late we got a taxi back to the hotel to change for dinner at one of the nearby restaurants.    Tuesday we are up early to get a taxi to the American Embassy for our 8 AM appointment. Steve needed papers notarized for the selling of the house. It took a lot longer then we thought as someone did not come to work that day and the one person working the front window had to type up the notary information on all the pages to be signed in between helping customers at the window. Not the most efficient system!, but we finally got all the papers signed and left to go to the nearby mall. We were hungry and Steve wanted to review all the paperwork one more time before sending it back to Texas. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the mall seeing if we could find anything needed for the boat. Not having been to a mall for a long time most of the time was spent just looking, managed to get a few things before getting a taxi back to the hotel. Found another good restaurant nearby for dinner. Wednesday afternoon we get the bus back to Colon and get a taxi back to the marina.

Next couple of days spent doing a few things on the boat and meeting with a rigger. This is the second time we have had the rigging inspected and it still looks good. BUT the boat is 16 going on 17 years old so before we head into the Pacific we want to get it replaced. Will do the work on our way back down in a few months.

Monday Ultra makes it to the area and comes into the marina for fuel and to also see the boat yard about future work on their boat. Just in time to join us for the trip up the coast on Tuesday.

We leave the marina Tuesday July 22 around 11:30 for a short trip up to the Chargres river, and are anchored along with Ultra & Kevin on Vagabundo by 2. Ultra puts their dinghy in the water and picks us all up to head over to see the fort Castillo San Lorenzo. It is now cloudy but it is keeping the heat down as we walk the grounds of the fort. The next day we move the big boats up the river a little to do some more exploring. Taking the dinghies up some small rivers feeding into the Chargres. Thursday we tried to snorkel but the river was too muddy from all the runoff from the rains. That night we had a nice Birthday dinner celebration for Steve on Ultra

Friday we were underway early making an overnight passage to the island of Escudo de Veraguas. We were going to make a stop in between off the mainland but decided to go all the way to Escudo. Having a great sail at first, with dolphins swimming off our bow. That night the winds died down and the seas were confused and we had a 2 knot current against us, making for a long night of motoring. We arrived at Escudo Saturday morning and anchored off the west side by 8 AM. Ultra was just an hour behind us, but Vagabundo who did not motor, was not going to make it in until late that night. I swam into shore then Bill & JoAnne picked up Steve and came in by dinghy for us to explore the island. It has a small fishing village but no one was living on the island during our visit. We had a nice afternoon exploring, but the anchorage was very rolly. After me sleeping during our passage the night before then again with the rolly anchorage, Steve & I decided to move on Sunday late morning once the rain stopped. Ultra would stay another day with Vagabundo so Kevin could rest up as he did not get into the anchorage until 10 that night so was very tired. 

We headed for Laguna de Bluefield AKA Bahia Azul AKA Bluefield and were anchored in the nice calm bay by 3 Sunday afternoon. Monday morning we were able to hear some of the Bocas cruisers net, then when we were talking to Ultra who had gone to another anchorage our VHF radio died. Steve spent the morning working on that then we took the dinghy around to explore the bay. Several small communities scattered around this huge bay, no roads coming into the area, people living here are one of the eight indigenous people of Panama. Making their living off the land and fishing. Many go work the plantations in other parts of the country to earn enough money to support their families for the year. Tuesday morning heavy rains, Steve on the internet and satellite phone trying to make sure everything will be OK for the closing on the house as it was not easy getting the tenant to move out.  Afternoon cleared up so went around in the dinghy again. Wednesday hazy gray day so worked on boat projects.  Ulta & Vagabundo got there in the afternoon. Thursday we picked Bill & JoAnne & Kevin up and went to go up a little river. Got the dinghy up a ways then got out and hiked finding the waterfall on the way back with the help of one of the locals.  

August 1, Friday afternoon after the rain we make the short trip over to the Zapatilla Cays. Part of the national park, and anchor off Zapatilla One. Saturday we go explore Zapatilla One in the rain, even with the rain we can see what a beautiful uninhabited island it is. Sunday starts with more rain & clouds but we still take the dinghies over to explore Zapatilla Two. This island has a few park rangers living on it and has a boardwalk thru the mangroves. The sun comes out by mid day. The waters are still stirred up from all the rain & wind but both islands are beautiful and we can see why a lot of people do day trips out here from Bocas.

Monday we have a beautiful day to make another short trip over to Crawl Cay, and are anchored by 10:30. Steve & I snorkel around the boat to check the anchor, and to see how much swing room we have before it gets too shallow. We are good for the night in calm weather. Ultra & Vagabundo arrive and we all have lunch before heading over to the “coral garden” reef to snorkel. We did not know what to expect but were very pleasantly surprised as it was a beautiful shallow reef, SO COLORFUL with about a million brittle starfish. With all the rain it was a little blurry with the fresh water not mixing well with the salt water. Once you dove down a foot or two it was clear. After snorkeling we took the dinghies to explore another nearby island and the restaurants around the area that service all the day trippers coming out from Bocas. 

Tuesday Steve & I move on to anchor by Johnson Cay and explore that area.

Wednesday 8/6 after the rain stops we make the short trip into Bocas Town and the marina stopping at the fuel dock. We are greeted by friends Gina & Bruce from Dream Catcher last seen back in San Andres. We get into our slip right next to Dream Catcher just like last year in the Rio Dulce. Go have lunch with them at the marina restaurant to get caught up. Start getting the boat ready for my sister Carols visit in 2 days. Steve tries to get our internet hooked up and discovers that a connection has melted, so we just have one computer.

Thursday Ultra comes into the marina, we help get them docked then lunch at the marina restaurant again before going into town to check in with the port captain. Panama is one of those places where you need to check in at each major port. Check out the town and the stores to see what is available. Back to the boats where the electrician from the marina found the part Steve needed to fix our internet connection so he spent the rest of the day fixing that.  

Friday we still had the day to shop for groceries as Carol was in Panama but would not get to Bocas until Saturday. Friday night the marina restaurant has BBQ night so we all enjoyed a dinner out. A busy 2 months, the next 3 I have condensed down so you are almost done reading.    

Saturday I meet Carol as she exits the airport, we walk the few blocks where Steve is waiting with the dinghy to bring her back to the boat and get settled in. Sunday we take a water taxi over to Red Frog Beach. Even though the water was a little rough this day we still enjoyed a beautiful day at the beach. Spent time seeing the little town of Bocas, Carol was a little surprised at how few souvenir shops they have here, but she did manage to find a lovely wrap skirt. Took the dinghy over to “Hospital Point” to go snorkeling, winds & waves still up so visibility was not the best, still great to be in the water. Wednesday we leave the marina around 10 to motor-sail back down to the Zapatilla Cays. A nice trip down under cloudy overcast skies, we are anchored by 12:30 off Zapatilla 1. Sun does not burn thru the clouds but Carol goes for a swim anyway between showers and we enjoy a lovely evening at anchor watching the sunset. Thursday the weather is better so we dinghy over to Zapatilla 2 to walk around the island and swim. Back to the boat to go over to Crawl Cay to snorkel the coral garden before heading back to the marina. A farewell dinner out in town before Carol gets ready for her early departure flight on Friday. We had arranged for the marina lancha to take us over at 6:15 AM, in expectation of rain. The lancha has a cover so thought that would be better than our open dinghy. Wearing ponchos the ride to town was in pouring rain with lightning strikes giving us light to guide the way. Usually there are taxis around even at that hour but the rain kept most of them away, so it took a few minutes to find one to get us to the airport. NO problem, Carol was still the first one there, at first we thought the airport was not even open. I guess most of the other passengers knew with the weather the plane would be delayed. And delayed it was for over 2 hours, but Carol still made her connecting flight in Panama City back to the states.

Next couple of weeks spent just hanging out in Bocas, socializing with other cruisers. One rare perfect weather day we rented bikes to go out to Playa Bluff, and had a great day at the beach.

I had made last minute plans for a quick trip back to Texas as my mom's health had taken a turn for the worse. Happy to say by the time I got there she was doing better. We still had some issues with our chart plotters so I took them back to send to Raymarine to be fixed but no way could they do it in time for my return. As always it was great to see family & friends and get supplies hard to come by outside of the US. While I was gone Steve tore the boat apart a little to sand & varnish the salon table and better insulate the freezer and had the boat all cleaned up and put back together by the time I returned September 15th.

Monday 9/22 we made a trip inland to the town of Boquete up in the western highlands of Panama. Nice to be surrounded by mountains in cool air for a change. Known for its coffee plantations it has now become very popular with Ex-Pats retiring in the area and has great hiking trails that bring in the tourists. To get there, we had to get a water taxi to town to get another water taxi to get to the mainland to get a van to drive up the winding narrow road into the mountains. We arrived with the afternoon shower, glad it was short and light as we walked to our hostel and checked in by 3:30. Once unpacked and with the rain stopped we went back to town and signed up for a river rafting trip the following day.  We had a beautiful sunny day for the rafting, and with all the rain it was 3 & 4 class rapids, a great first time experience for me. One section of the river you have Panama on one side and Costa Rica on the other. Our exit drive had us going down a two lane street with homes & stores on one side belonging to Costa Rica and across the street Panama. We went thru 2 border control points but since the rafting company is a familiar van we were waved thru. Arrived back in town for the afternoon shower. It is rainy season in Panama and not too many days go by without rain !!  We enjoyed a few hikes surrounding the town. Thursday afternoon we get a phone call from Bill & JoAnne who are in town ! They were working on boat projects so did not think they could get away, BUT Bill had planned to surprise JoAnne for her birthday and came up to Boquete. We had a nice dinner out to celebrate her birthday, then on Friday went to do a zip line. We were up in the clouds, no rain but still very foggy. Strange going down the zip line when you cant see the end of the line. We headed back to Bocas while B & J stayed a few more days. As much as we loved the cool weather and the mountains it felt good coming back to the boat and the sea.

The end of September and October were spent enjoying snorkeling, when weather cooperated, and exploring the different areas of Bocas and the surrounding islands.

Shopping always takes a long time, when we need or want a certain item we can't just go to the store and pick it up. Here you have to first find the store, as not all have signs indicating what they are. Then you have to search the shelves, as many times things are found in the strangest places.   All part of the hunt !  Many here in Bocas speak English but still many shop workers do not, so that is always a challenge to explain what you are looking for, helps to bring in the item IF possible. Even made another trip to the mainland to go to the “big” town of Changuinola, with about 50,000 people living there they have “bigger” & “better” stores so things not found in Bocas might be found there. They even have a “big” A/C grocery store !!

Always a few boat projects and maintenance things to be done. Meeting different folks from different boats talking about coming from and going to. Time passes quickly. Will do better on blog updates so they are not so long in the future.

Tried to post some pictures ON blog, but couldn't do it , and had trouble deleting and editing pictures in Picasa !!??  Not sure if it is due to our slow internet , will try to do better with next blog , for now just want to get this posted :). 

1 comment:

  1. I have shared data for 198 anchorages from my Trawler Yacht for USA East Coast & across the South Pacific on a new website called

    Its a Free Crowd Sourced sharing platform for navigation information.
    They plug in 72 hour weather & a bunch of features for each anchorage shared by fellow mariners. Its pretty cool & did I mention it's FREE.
    They have over 4000 anchorages globally & it's only new.

    Wish I had access to their info before venturing out as it is so hard to
    access accurate & quality info in many parts of the world.

    Would love to see other owners share anchorages & experiences for fellow Mariners to benefit from.

    I consider it my legacy & possibly the way forward to improve inaccurate charts & publications.

    Captain Todd