Friday, November 20, 2015

Isla Taboga & Las Perlas Panama Pacific


Isla Taboga & Las Perlas Panama

Sunday 25 October thru Tuesday 2 November, 2015

 

Sunday is a beautiful sunny day and Steve makes the decision to go to Isla Taboga as planned.  He ran the engine and the alternator looked to be charging the batteries, so he thought we would be good to go.  The generator was still leaking coolant and would need to be looked at.  So we were underway by 9:30 motoring out the channel next to the Amador Causeway with Panama City in the background.  Isla Taboga is just 12 miles away, we can see it just have to go thru the big ship anchorage to get there.  We are entering Taboga’s anchorage by 11.  I tried to reach the mooring company on the VHF radio with no luck, but there were several unused moorings so we picked a big sturdy one and tied off.

 

We knew with the 15 foot +++ tides landing the dinghy on the beach was not a good option and the dock was not supposed to be used until after 5 when the last ferry left.  Water taxi’s were supposed to be available so we started scanning the shore and water looking for one.  By noon we finally flagged one down so we all went to town for lunch and to walk around a little. 

Carol checked into her hotel and told them she would be bringing her luggage later.  We had a nice lunch at Calaloo Beach Fish Bar & Grill.  We should have worried a little when we saw our water taxi man driving around town in his golf cart, but we thought we would be able to find another.  Youngest brother Walter was going to be on the 4:30 ferry back to Panama City, so he needed to get back to the boat to finish packing up and get back to shore by then.  So by 3 we started to look for a ride back to the boat, this is slow season so NO ONE was around to bring us back.  Walter goes walking to town looking for someone while Carol calls her hotel to see if they can help.  We are a week early for when the tourist season begins and water taxi's would be all around.  Carol's hotel finds someone who comes to us on the dock to confirm we still need a ride, then goes and paddles out in a kayak to the one boat with an engine and comes to pick us up.  Walter back from his search in town just in time.  Back at the boat, we have the driver wait while Walter gets his belongings and brings him back to the dock to catch the ferry, a hectic good-bye to him as he goes to see the sights of Panama City.

 

We launch the dinghy and mount the motor so we can bring Carol & her luggage to shore later after dinner as we enjoy the beautiful full moon rise over the anchorage.  Steve & Stephen take Carol to shore, Steve staying with the dinghy while Stephen helps Carol get her luggage to the hotel, which while close to the dock is of course up a hill. 

 

Monday, Steve and Stephen are going to see if they can find the leak on the generator.  The alternator is back to NOT working properly so we need to find a way to help the solar panels keep the batteries charged.  Steve drops me off at the dock where I meet Carol to do more Island exploring.  We walk across the beach leading to Isla El Morro to hike the trails.  Knowing of the huge tide swings we were aware that we should not take too long.  Carol knew it was low tide earlier, but we were not sure how far into the rising tide we were.  We had to wade back across in thigh high water with waves coming at us from both sides, luckily it was not any deeper and we did not fall as Carol had her phone & NOT waterproof camera in her purse.  A reminder for better timing in the future as big tide swings are new to us.  We dry off, go by Carol's hotel where she changes I check with Steve on the boat to see how things are going, not so well.  Steve had talked to Chuy the guy that runs the mooring company and he gave Steve a # for Skeeter who lived on the island that could maybe help trouble shoot the problem.  Carol and I do a little more island exploring before Steve takes a break to come pick us up to go out to the boat.  We learn that the guys have not had a good day, the leak on the generator is underneath and inaccessible it will need to be lifted to be fixed.   Afternoon swim off the boat then cleaned up for dinner on shore.  Steve stays on the boat, getting ready for the following days’ work assignment.  Carol, Stephen & I go to Carol's hotel for dinner and again have a beautiful view of the full moon.  We are joined at our table by several geckos wanting some leftovers.  Did not realize how much they like sugar as they were fighting over the cheese cake crumbs. 

 

Tuesday we run over to wave good-bye to Carol as she is on the 10:15 ferry back to Panama City where she will meet our brother Walter at the airport for their flight back to Texas.  The ferry drops her off at Balboa Yacht Club where she meets our canal agent Erick.  I had been in communication with him since our transit and arranged for him to meet Carol to pay for our tow, not realizing he did not have our credit card on file. 

Back on the boat Steve & Stephen start to work on the alternator.  As with all boat projects, getting the parts & tools out is ½ the job, transforming the salon into a work area.  Things go well until it is time to solder, then not so well.  Talk to Chuy again and he knows of a place in Panama City that can work on it as you wait. 

NEW plan, Steve will take the Wednesday morning 8:45 ferry back to the mainland & be met by taxi driver, Roosevelt, to drive him to get the alternator fixed then catch the afternoon ferry back to the island.  While Steve is doing that, Stephen & I take the dinghy and go explore the shoreline around the island seeing the backside coves and do some swimming and snorkeling.  Back to the boat for lunch, and a message from Steve saying he will be on the 3 o’clock ferry out of Balboa.  I drop Stephen off at the dock so he can do more sightseeing of the island since he has been working on the boat for 2 days, and plan to pick him up at 5.  I meet Steve at the dock as he gets off the ferry and he gets the alternator reinstalled and it appears to be working.   

 

Thursday we are underway by 9 AM heading to Isla Contadora in the Las Perlas Archipelago.   Part way there Steve is monitoring the battery charge and while it did fine Wednesday and earlier in the morning it now appeared not to be charging.  We actually turn around and start back to Panama City, when Steve turns the engine off and restarts it and the batteries look to be charging again.  So we turn around again and continue on to Contadora.  Arriving on the south side anchorage by Playa Cacique by 3:30.  Greeted by a bunch of empty moorings we again tried to reach someone on the VHF radio but no response so we found a sturdy one and tied off to it.  Stephen swims into shore to see if he can find any info from the Perla Real Inn / restaurant in front of us.  Very nice people but no info on the moorings.  Steve cooks dinner on the boat.

 

Friday, even though we checked the mooring, we were close to rocks on a lee shore so Steve did not want to leave the boat unattended.  Plus he wanted to see if he could find a reason for the batteries not getting a full charge even though the alternator is now working.  Steve gets us close to shore at low tide where we get out of the dinghy and wade in holding our belongings in dry bags above our heads.  Stephen & I rent a golf cart and drive around the island seeing pretty much everything in 3 hours.  Beautiful villas that we think must be multifamily homes, but learn later they are all just single family homes.  It is the weekend and we are surprised how many small private flights are landing bringing people to the island.  We check on the ferry service for a possible trip for Stephen to get back to Panama City for his flight on Tuesday.  Most people just use golf carts or ATV’s but there are several cars & trucks on the very small island.  While visiting Playa Larga we see the beached “cargo” ship on the beach being loaded.  This beach is also where the ruins of the Hotel Contadora Resort are, a once very posh resort.  The ferry that use to bring guest to the resort also sits abandoned on the beach.  Back to the hotel by our anchorage for a late lunch before Steve comes into pick us up.  It is now high tide so we have to swim out a little beyond the breaking waves before getting into the dinghy.  A fun day for Stephen & I.  Friday night the moorings started filling up with power boats over from Panama City.

 

Saturday winds shifted more out of the north east so we have a nice calm anchorage and bay.  Stephen & I take the dinghy across to Isla Chapera where we find several great snorkeling spots, the coral not so great but the fish population is the most I have seen in a while.  Every time we went to a new spot we fell off the dinghy into huge schools of fish, several different kind, and they were not afraid of us as they just swam with us coming so close like they were checking us out.  As we were circling the island we saw the S/V Mandala, the boat that we came thru the canal with.  An Aeronaval boat (maritime authority) was alongside with 2 uniformed guys on their boat so we decided not to stop to say hello.   We stopped nearby and swam to shore seeing some different looking starfish, learning later that the Pacific does have different ones.  Great shells, sea glass and smooth stones were plentiful.  This Island as well as several others was used for one of the Survivor episodes and was privately owned but the owner was arrested and his island seized by the government.  So I guess that is why the Aeronaval guys hang out in the area.  Returning to the boat after a great time to see how Steve was doing checking on the battery problem.   He had spent the day isolating each battery one at a time to see if one was bad and drawing the rest down.  He found one that was bad, so disconnected it and our battery charging ability improved.   A lot more power boats sharing the anchorage with us Saturday night.

 

Sunday we left the mooring to go over to one of the coves we were at with the dinghy on Saturday to anchor.  By the time we got over there a lot of power boats were already there, the day before we saw only 3-4 boats today there were 10-12.   They were all together in one cove and we found a great anchorage in the next cove over.   Steve finally gets off the boat to have a day of fun, a little cloudier today then what we have had.  We took the dinghy back to many of the same spots we were at the day before but very few fish today.  Different tide time so maybe that had something to do with it ?  Stephen & I could not believe the difference, and of course today I have my underwater camera :(. 

All the power boats left as the sun was setting heading back to Panama City or Contadora leaving us with the island almost to ourselves except for the Aeronaval boat and crew down in the next bay, but they never stopped by our boat.

 

Monday we head back to Panama City, bringing Stephen back for his flight out Tuesday afternoon and to get the generator fixed.  We had been extremely lucky weather wise with only one small shower during our transit and a few other small ones in the middle of the night during his 2 week visit to Panama.  On Monday, we were surrounded by clouds and one storm caught us for an hour we had heavy rain while motoring back to Panama City.  It cleared in plenty of time to have great views of the skyline, and off in the distance we got to see a dolphin show as a pod were jumping out of the water and having fun.  Stephen had made a hotel reservation when he thought he would need to take the ferry back when we were staying in Las Perlas.  Even though we were now also returning to Panama City, he kept the room.  After 2 weeks of boat showers, deck showers and even a rain shower he was ready for a real shower and a big bed with A/C.  We anchor at La Playita go in to the dinghy dock to get a taxi to bring him to his hotel.  Stopping by the marina office, we see if there is a slip available knowing it will be easier to get the work done at a slip and we won't have to worry about charging the batteries.  They have a slip for us, so Stephen goes on to his hotel while we go back to the boat to get ready to bring her into the slip.  Once docked and checked in with the marina office we get cleaned up and ready to meet Stephen for dinner.  He takes a taxi back out our way and we walk down the road to meet him and find one of our favorite restaurants called Beirut to have a great last Lebanese dinner together. 

It was great having family help us with our transit thru the canal and Stephen helping with boat repairs.  Having extra time to visit with them afterward was fun, just wish we did not have so many problems, but that is part of our life and why our plans have to be so flexible. 

 

 


 

 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Canal Transit


Panama Canal Transit

October 22, 23 and 24, 2015

 

Three of my siblings were coming down to Panama to be our line handlers for the canal transit.  Brother Stephen & Sister Carol flew into Panama City on Tuesday afternoon to have some time to see the city.  Brother Walter flew in Wednesday evening, then they all came out to Shelter Bay Marina on Thursday arriving around noon on the 22nd of October.   Besides their luggage they had brought 2 big suitcases with items for us and another boat.  First we unloaded those suitcases to be able to store the items and deliver the other boats stuff then got rid of those old suitcases.  Next we had to find room for family’s luggage.  Since they were staying for different lengths of time they all had more than just an overnight bag of a line handler.  We were very happy & excited to have them here to experience this lifetime event. 

 

We had lunch at the marina restaurant, then a walk out on the breakwater, and then a stroll around the old fort grounds trying to see monkeys & sloths. Dinner was on the boat, going over what to expect over the next two days.  Friday morning the family went on another walk checking out the marina sights and wildlife.

 

We leave our slip by 12:45 Friday afternoon to head out to the flats, the waiting area for small vessels and are anchored by 1:15.  We have lunch as we wait for our canal advisor and watch the ships coming into and leaving the Gatun Locks.  Have time to get our lines ready and make the bowline loops required on the end.  Advisor Franklin arrives at 4 PM and we pull up anchor shortly after he is on board and start to head over to the entrance of the lock.  By 5:15 we are rafted up (tied side to side) with Mandala the one other sail boat going thru with us.  We enter behind the Del Monte cargo ship Star Pride.  Mandala is on our starboard side, Ocean Star will be driving the two boats.  We are going into the east lock, so Mandala will get her lead lines thrown first as that side of the lock extends further out.  Lead lines are light 1/4” lines that are used to pull the heavier mooring lines from the boat to the shore to secure the boat in the locks. Once they have their lines, Steve drives us closer to the wall on our port side for us to receive our lead lines.   The canal workers throw the “monkey fist” a small heavy ball attached to the end of their lead line to the boats.  Once we catch those we tie them to the 3 foot loop at the end of our 125 foot 1 inch diameter heavy line that will be used to secure the boats to the lock walls.  At first we hold onto the lead line that we have attached to the blue line, once we are in position the canal worker that has been walking along the lock wall as Steve motors forward will signal us to start feeding the blue line up to them.  They secure it to a bollard on the lock wall and the line handler’s start pulling in the slack to keep us centered.  By 5:30 both boats have their lines and in 10 minutes we are in the first chamber passing the lock doors, 5 minutes later the blue lines have been fed up and secured and we are taking in the slack as the lock doors close and the chamber starts filling with water, raising us 28 feet, 1/3 of the way to reach Gatun lake. 

The blue lines are freed and we pull them back onto the boat, the lead lines are still attached as the canal workers will walk up the lock wall as Steve motors us into the next chamber at which time we will pass the blue line back to them to be secured again.  The doors close and this next chamber fills with water as we go up another 28 feet.  This is repeated once again in the 3rd chamber.  Once we are at lake level the blue lines come back without the feeder line and we motor out of the lock.  Once clear of the lock walls we un-raft from the other sailboat and head over to the big moorings they have in the lake for us to tie up to for the night.   Youngest brother Walter gets to jump onto the mooring as we pass him lines to secure and lead back to the boat.  Glad he is very athletic and was able to do this without any problems.  The advisor has been fed while going through the last lock and he gets picked up shortly after we are moored.  Time for dinner for the captain & crew, looking at pictures and relaxing.  Steve ran the generator to cool the boat down so everyone could get a good night sleep, the next morning he found it was leaking coolant!  Something to deal with later.

 

Saturday, we had been told the night before by the canal authority that our advisor would be arriving around 8 AM so we were up and ready for his arrival at 8:30.  Quick introductions and Walter climbs

onto the mooring to free our lines, then jumps back on the boat as we move away.

 

The next 5 hours we spent traveling through the beautiful man made Gatun Lake, passing ships and islands and a handful of small fishing / pleasure boats.  We learned that anyone with a boat can go into the lake to fish or water ski but for some reason VERY FEW (almost no one) do???  Which is a good thing, keeping the lake unspoiled.  Our advisor tells us that he’s never seen more than three fishing boats while transiting.  We quickly spot 4, then 5 and 6, and it turns into a joke as we question his veracity and/or powers of observation when the number climbs up to 10+.  Other sights along the route are the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on one of the islands that has a huge variety of trees, birds, frogs, bats, snakes and other flora & fauna they are studying.  The prison where Noriega is being held. 
It was a great feeling seeing, and being in, a part of history that changed the world.  Trying to imagine how it was constructed and seeing all the dredging needed to maintain and expand it, a truly remarkable sight.  We lucked out weather wise with mostly cloudy skies keeping the heat down.  We did get a short light shower, but heard on the VHF radio that a few miles behind us got hit with a downpour and 25 K winds, glad we missed that. 

 

Approaching the Centennial Bridge around 1:30 Saturday afternoon, we slow down to just coast under the bridge, the dredge ship we will go into the lock with is a little behind us but the other sail boat Mandala is behind the ship so we need to wait for them to catch up.  Once past the bridge we pull over and wait, our dredge ship passes us and is also almost at a stop waiting for us to get rafted up again.  Once we are rafted up we pass the dredge ship and enter right into the lock, get feeder lines caught and ready to feed the big blue lines back to the lock wall.  We get secured pretty fast behind a 90 foot canal tour boat and then the dredge ship moves in behind us.  Steve had some problems yesterday trying to steer the rafted boats, and noticed at the end of the day it was because the captain of the other boat was also steering, something he was not supposed to do.  Steve asked him not to steer the wheel today, and steering is much easier.

 

On the Pacific side of the lake we get lowered down in the locks.  All goes well in the Pedro Miguel lock.  Once out of the lock we stay rafted up thru the small Miraflores Lake to enter the Miraflores Locks.  The canal tour boat is ahead of us entering in and we go in and catch the feeder lines and are all ready to feed the blue lines up.  I was port side stern with my brother Walter and he had fed his blue line to the canal guy on the wall.  We were just coasting along, gliding to a gentle stop when the advisor on the other boat Mandala told its captain to put his boat in reverse.  Not a good move.  He went too hard in reverse, which started the raft spinning clockwise.  Steve immediately put our boat into reverse to compensate and keep us lined up.  Then either the captain of the other boat or his advisor realized he put too much reverse on and went to full power forward to stop the spinning.  Combined with our reverse that started the raft spinning counter-clockwise.  Steve shifted to forward to compensate again, only to find he had no power, accompanied by a lot of vibration and black smoke from the exhaust.  By that time the raft was spinning counter-clockwise out of control, everyone was shouting, and total confusion reigned!!

 

During this time the boats were moving to the starboard wall on Mandalas side.  Not sure why, but Canal worker released our stern line from the bollard without the lead line attached so Walter and I get that pulled in out of the water, guess they were afraid we would lose the line.  The captain of Mandala was told to use his engine to try to straighten us out but it was too little too late.  His engine was not strong enough to move our two boats.  Luckily they were able to keep the boat from hitting the wall, but it came really close.  They managed on the second try to get another lead line to the front of our boat (our bow line was secured to the wall during the whole ordeal).  We attached it to our stern line and got our blue line back to them at which time Walter secured it around the winches and we had to pull the boats back into position.  Me pulling the line while Walter cranked the winch with all his strength which thankfully is a lot.   Boats secured, we gave EVERYONE at the Miraflores Visitor Center and the folks on the Canal tour boat a really good show. 

 

Time to breathe and figure out what the problem is !! We have a little time as the ship is still coming in behind us and needs to be secured, and the gates closed and the water lowered before we have to move.  At this point Steve is not sure what the problem is, he checks the engine and everything looks OK at idle, but there is severe vibration and no power whenever he puts it in gear, and it is very difficult to get out of gear.  He guesses there is something wrong with the propeller, but doesn’t know what.  Mandala is able to motor us both into position into the next lock and then get us out of the lock where we un-raft and are met by a canal boat to tow us to the Balboa Yacht Club where we get put on one of their moorings by 5 PM. 

 

It’s getting dark, and there is a strong current flowing, but Steve dons mask and flippers and dives down with a flashlight to find the prop totally fouled with old ropes, fishing net and a one liter plastic bottle.  Gets it all cut off and the engine runs fine again.

 

Too tired to go ashore & too tired to fix a new meal so leftovers for dinner.  Steve takes a look at the generator and tightens some more hose clamps again hoping that will stop the leak.  Steve also noticed that after running the engine all day, our batteries were not fully charged as they should have been, another thing to check on in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

 

Sunday we wake to a beautiful sunny day, Isla Taboga and Las Perlas and boat repairs updates to follow.


 

 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Panama Continued


Panama Continued

Sunday 5th July thru Sunday 18th October, 2015



We were back at Shelter Bay Marina after our trip to Colombia for just 11 days. Long enough to get provisions and visit with friends before having Ocean Star ready to leave the dock and head back to the San Blas Islands. After sitting in the marina since January we wanted to test that everything was still working. 
We left the slip at around 11 Am on Thursday 7/16.  We were able to sail most of the way, down to the new marina under construction in Linton Bay, until a small shower killed the wind. We had heard a lot about the marina and wanted to check it out. It's in a great location and looks like it will be a really nice marina once it is completed sometime in 2016. We arrived around 3 PM and there were several boats there that we knew from Shelter Bay and a few new ones we met, it is a very cruiser friendly marina, and we wound up staying an extra day. 



Saturday 7/18 AM as we left the marina we had some storms on the horizon so we anchored for a little while to let them (and their accompanying lightning) pass before continuing on to the San Blas Islands by 10 AM. We were anchored off Green Island a little after 5 PM. I called a friends boat on the VHF radio, Barbara & Stewart on S/V La Luna were anchored off another island nearby. We last saw them in February 2013 in St Thomas when we first started heading west. They had traveled across the Atlantic and back and had just recently came west to Panama's San Blas Islands. It was great to hear their voices again, and we made plans to go snorkeling the following day.



Sunday after a great day of snorkeling with Barb & Stew and John & Lela from Yachtsmans Dream, we moved Ocean Star over to the island Sabudupored, where La Luna was anchored. That night another boat joined us Jim & Cristine from Ullr and we all had a pot luck gathering on Yachtsmans Dream with live music provided by Stew & Jim.



We hung out there for several days snorkeling the surrounding reefs and enjoying having an internet connection. La Luna left a few days later to go to Linton to provision and take care of some boat projects. Yachtsmans Dream also left to head to the Bocas Del Toro area so we asked them to deliver a spear gun pump I had picked up for Ultra in Colon. We enjoyed getting to know Jim & Cristine before they also left for Linton.

Monday 7/27 we went by dinghy to Nargana to get gas. None available until the following day, but we walked around to see a few good changes since we had been there the year before. Dinghy ride back to the boat for lunch and then we were going to go snorkeling again but the dinghy motor would not start. SO GLAD it waited until we were back on the boat to die and not while we were 3 miles away at Nargana or even the ½ mile away where we were going snorkeling.

Steve worked on the dinghy motor, trouble shooting the problem, finished up the following morning by replacing the stator and it was good to go. Steve went back to Nargana to get the gas, then we went to snorkel the spot we had missed the day before. We had clear skies that night to see the International Space Station fly over.

Wednesday 7/29 we went over to the Eastern Holandes Cays to one of the best anchorages known as the “swimming pool”. Friends Marilyn & Kent from M/V Cardea were anchored here and it was good to run into them again.  The snorkeling on the outer reef was great, but my waterproof camera died so not too many pictures. 

Saturday we moved a short distance to another favorite spot called the “hot tub” for some more great snorkeling.

By Monday 8/3 we were low on veggies so we moved over to the Eastern Lemmon Cays by the island of Yansaladup. The “supply boats” frequent this anchorage in the off season more than the other anchorages we were at. Tuesday the veggie boats showed up and we had a great selection to choose from. We met a few other boats that we had talked to on the radio and spent several days here snorkeling the many surrounding reefs. Took the dinghy over to the islands of Chichime where a LOT of boats “live”. This is where locals bring tourists visiting the San Blas and many of the back packer boats hang out, a very crowded anchorage.

Friday 8/7 we went over to the Eastern Naguargandup Cays and anchored behind the reef off Nabadup. The snorkeling by the close reef and the outer reefs were fantastic. This group of islands are further south so wave action was a lot smaller than in the Lemmons. The weather was being very kind to us and we had mostly sunny days with most of the rain coming in the early morning hours. Lisa the Guna guide & mola maker that took us on our river tour the year before stopped by to to say Hi & borrow life jackets for her group going to the river that day.

Tuesday 8/11 our watermaker blew out another end cap. Luckily after the last one broke Steve had ordered a few extra so was able to make the repair after getting to and removing the watermaker. Just the usual “fixing the boat in exotic locations” that is part of cruising.

Thursday we changed anchorages to the Coco Bandero Cays. More great snorkeling and only a few boats until the weekend when 5 big power boats showed up to party for the weekend. 

Sunday we sailed over to Nargana to get diesel and gas then anchored off Sabudupored again. 

Monday back to the Holandes to be closer to the channel out for an early departure on Tuesday.

Tuesday 8/18 early departure, arrived at Linton Bay Marina late afternoon, where we were greeted by Barbara from La Luna in her dinghy helping to push us into the slip against the wind. Wednesday Barbara had made arraignments to go to Colon via Tommy in his truck and had room for 2 more people if we wanted to go. Out of curiosity about the land trip we went and Steve went to have his blood test that was due. The commute from Shelter Bay is much shorter and cheaper !

Friday 8/21 we were back at Shelter Bay and in our old slip by mid afternoon. 

Next couple of days spent washing the boat and doing laundry. Wednesday we took the marina shuttle to Panama City for Steve's follow up visit with his doctor on Thursday. His blood work came back with a very good reading, so NO radiation treatment is needed, we have the green light to move on. 



Friday 8/28, we get busy making plans for me to go to Texas and visit family and bring back any parts & supplies we need from the states. Steve had been having computer problems. We met a couple, Patrick & Sandi on YachtCruz, new to the marina, on the ride to Panama City on Wednesday. He use to work for Dell and knows computers well, so he said he could help Steve get his computer working properly again. Need to be able to shop on line !! Made contact with an agent we wanted to use for our canal transit.

After 9 months of waiting around for medical clearance we were all of a sudden busy with a lot of to-dos.

Wednesday 9/2, my birthday, we took the marina free shuttle back into Panama City. Steve had some errands to run picking up some parts while I shopped for a few things at the mall and had a pedicure. Back to the marina to finish the day off with a little celebration.

The next 2 weeks go by fast as we reorganize the boat as we check on what supplies are needed.



I fly back to Texas on Wednesday 9/16 afternoon. Saying goodbye to Steve at the mall where the marina shuttle drops us off.



The next 3 weeks in Texas go by so quickly!!! Had a great time seeing family in Texas, flew out to Phoenix to see brother, sister-in-law & nephew for 3 days. Got to see a few friends in Texas, but missed seeing a lot of people, just too much to do in a short time and as usual it gets overwhelming. Before I knew it I was packing up to return to Panama. One brother had been planning to visit us and be a line handler when we transit the Panama Canal for 2 years, shortly before going to Texas, youngest brother said he might want to come down for it also, then while home my sister decided to join in and make it a family affair. Too bad 3rd brother and nephew could not have joined in BUT the boat was full to capacity even if they had the time off from work & school. One of the benefits of having family come down for the canal transit was I had help to get all the supplies back down to Panama. I checked 3 bags and left 2 big ones behind to come down with family !!



Back to Panama on Wednesday 10/7, arriving back at the marina around 5 PM. Steve had been busy while I was gone getting his computer to work finally with the help from Patrick. Checking the boats systems and plotting courses. We got things unloaded the following day but it took a few more days to get things stored away, installed and fixed.



Erick our canal transit agent came out to the boat on Friday to complete our paperwork and collect the $2000.00 that it cost us to go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.



The next week is spent getting the boat ready and provisioning with a quick visit to the dentist in Colon to get our teeth cleaned. Steve had come up with the idea for us to use fuel drums to carry extra fuel needed for future travels. That last minute project was accomplished with some fine tuning to be done at a later date.



Next blog will be all about our canal transit.













Sunday, July 12, 2015

Colombia, South America


Colombia S.A. Tuesday 16 June – Saturday 4 July, 2015






We were getting restless hanging at the marina in Panama waiting on a final doctor appointment. Since we missed Colombia on our way west from the eastern Caribbean, having taken the northern route, we decided to take a land trip. Having heard such wonderful stories about the beauty and how safe travel in the country is, we wanted to see it before heading further west. Leaving the boat safe in the marina we caught a flight to Colombia to visit several cities.




After spending the night in Panama City, we had an early 5:45 AM flight out to Bogota, Colombia. The hotel checked us in early and we were in the room by 9. Once “unpacked” we hit the streets to see what we could see. Across the street from our hotel, one of many parks where the “Eje Ambiental” starts. This is a pedestrian walkway thru the city that has pools of water coming up from the cities subterranean rivers. Being the dry season some of the pools were dry but a lovely walk up thru the city to the entrance to Mt. Monserrate and the Sanctuary on top. We rode the funicular up and were glad we had light jackets as the temperature was cool with a strong breeze up top. The views of the city are spectacular, the gardens on the grounds were also beautiful, photo-op heaven. A lovely walk around and some hot chocolate to warm me & my hands. Back down by 1 to find a place for lunch, before our afternoon walking tour of the city at 3. 
 



A lot of cities are offering these “free” city tours by locals, they do a good job and you give them a tip. We found the start location not far from our hotel and signed up for the following days bike tour that they offer (not free) also. Freddie was our guide and we had one lady, Gabby, join our group, it was a great way to get the lay of the area and see where everything was without trying to follow a map. We spent the next 3 hours getting a fantastic tour of the area, seeing GREAT STREET ART, tasting hot chocolate with cheese, some local fruits and a local drink of Chicha (alcoholic beverage of fermented corn, sugar & water) and seeing a local game of Tejo. Described as a game that involved men drinking beer, throwing heavy objects, and explosives (what could possibly go wrong in this scenario), it piqued our curiosity to say the least. The description was accurate, but reality was not quite up to our imaginations. Basically it resembles the popular game of “Cornhole” back in the US. Men take turns throwing about a 2 pound metal disk resembling a hockey puck at a slanted clay covered board about 20 feet away. Instead of a hole, like cornhole, the target zone is marked by four white paper markers. The pucks stick in the clay, and the closest puck to the center wins a point. BUT, if the puck hits close enough to one of the white markers, a buried firecracker goes off, and extra points are scored. (I think it's called “getting more bang for the puck” in Spanish, but my translation could be off). The losers buy the beers for the next round. Back to the hotel to rest a little before going out to dinner, finding a great little place across the park from our hotel that served a great Colombian chicken & potato soup called Ajiaco. 
 



Wednesday morning we are back at Bogotravel for our 4 1/2 hour bike tour at 10:30. Another small group with just one other couple. We covered some of the same area, but with the bikes got to see some areas outside the central historic part of town. Our guide Alejandro did a great job getting us thru the busy city streets and sidewalks in-between construction and a peaceful demonstration. Stopping to sample local fruits and coffee / hot chocolate in a few local spots that I am sure we would never find on our own. Another great way to get to see the area. Made it to the Gold Museum by 4, where we got in free. They have some really impressive pieces, one of the largest in the world of handcrafted pieces, with signs in Spanish & English explaining the history. Back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. We were going to try another near by restaurant but it was closed, so went back to the one from the night before since it was so good, and I could sit by a fireplace, had different meals but just as good.




Thursday started as a rainy day, good day for more museums. We checked out the Emerald museum, on the 23rd floor of the Avianca building, kinda neat with some great pieces showing the history of finding them in the ground to the store shelf. Of course it has a shop selling emeralds, and the clerk was very kind and patient as I looked even after I made it clear I would not be spending a fraction of what they were asking. Always fun to look. While Alice shopped, Steve watched another noisy demonstration on the streets below. These are a pretty regular occurrence with various grievances, demands, celebrations, etc. driving them. This one was in celebration of a soccer star's birthday. Leading the parade was a banner proclaiming “Los Borrachos” (The Drunks), with about 500 people behind. They were very spirited, and very loud with their plastic horns. Next on to the free Botero Museum, with along with many of his paintings and sculptures were pieces from Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Degas & Dali. A very interesting collection, made us feel positively skinny. Weather cleared after lunch where Steve had another Colombian specialty Bandeja Paisa. A huge platter with beef, pork, chorizo, mordilla, chicharron, fried egg, plantains, rice, avocado. He felt rather Boteroesque, so walking off lunch in the cleared cool weather was perfect. 
 





Friday we were picked up at 8 for our 150 mile trip north of Bogota to the colonial town of Villa de Leyva. I thought the weather would be similar or colder, not so, it was dry and warm with cool nights. Perfect temperature, can see why so many from Bogota come for weekends & holidays. The trip there was thru beautiful countryside, farm land, known as the milk capital of Colombia and areas where bricks are made explaining the huge number of brick buildings in Colombia. We made several stops on the way, first in the colorful town of Raquia, known for baskets and clay pots and any other souvenir you could think of. Next Sutamarchain where we got an arepa to eat. Then to a small local winery called Marques de Vila de Leyva and enjoyed the short tour and a glass of their wine. Then to an ancient archeology site of the indigenous Muisca people, similar to Stonehenge with big rock pillars arranged to mark the sun travels, and virility worship as can be seen by the stones shape.    Then to the Terracotta house, an amazingly designed house of clay by a local artist, the rooms are all functional and have some really interesting accessories. Arriving at our hotel at 2:30, checked in & dropped off luggage before going down the street to the main plaza in town for lunch. Enjoyed the afternoon strolling the cobblestone streets and the beautiful weather. Out in the evening on the cool side, a nice dinner out watching the town start to fill up for the weekend. Saturday we spent the beautiful day just walking around again (slowly, the cobblestone streets are nice to look at, but not a lot of fun to walk on). We stumbled on the Saturday outdoor market, filled with vendors fruits and veggies, food, clothing, hardware and so much more. Had fun trying to identify all the fruits & veggies and trying a few. Window shopped more stores and restaurants. Just relaxing in the sun in the cool air and people watching, nice dinner out with a lot more people in town.







Sunday we are picked up at 10 AM for our direct drive back to Bogota, staying at a different hotel. Arriving back in Bogota where it was cold and damp, we just relaxed in the hotel trying to stay warm which was not easy as they only put the heat on from 6 PM to 6 AM, but they had extra blankets. Dinner out was at the downtown Andres Carne de Res DC, a huge 4 floor restaurant, famous for its d├ęcor, table-side entertainment and food. We had the first decent steaks in a long time, meat in the Caribbean can be tough.



Monday an afternoon flight to Santa Marta, arriving at 4:15 then a taxi ride past ocean front highrise apartments and big all inclusive hotels to the beautiful Hotel Boutique Casa Carolina in “downtown” Santa Marta, Colombia’s oldest surviving town. Settled into the room and then a lovely walk along the waterfront as the sun was setting. The Sierra Nevada mountains keep it hot and dry during the days but at night a lovely breeze cools things down, so the waterfront and the streets are full of people enjoying the night. Tuesday we enjoy the activities on the city streets, & check out the marina, enjoying many cups of fresh squeezed limeade along the way. An afternoon dip in the hotel pool before getting cleaned up to walk around to find a place for dinner.




Wednesday we are picked up at 10 for a van ride to Cartagena, the ride along the coastline was nice and we got to see a little of the town of Barranquilla. Arriving at our hotel 3 Banderas a little after 2 PM our room was not ready so they suggested a great local restaurant La Mulata for lunch. They served a traditional Colombian lunch, which is enough for two normal people. We can't understand why all Colombians are not Botero models. Lucky genetics we guess.




Cartagena is a beautiful Spanish town and a world hermitage site. The historic center / walled city has smooth brick streets, flowers growing up the front of colorful homes and buildings and hanging from balconies, every street is full of charm and there are plazas around every corner. The most visited city of Colombia by tourists the streets are busy during the day but come alive at night. Thursday morning we did another “free” walking tour by a local, Edgorolo, whose history knowledge was impressive. Even though we had seen some of the sights the night before walking around, it was great to hear the history behind the wall and the buildings. Everywhere you look, something interesting & / or beautiful to see. We can see why so many of our boating friends that stopped here via boat loved it and did not mind staying waiting on a weather window to leave. We rented bikes one day and rode to the neighboring areas of Getsemani and Bocagrande checking out Fort San Felipe de Barajas. The days were spent strolling the areas, but it was the nights that we really loved walking around watching the street entertainers and people watching. Watching the sun set from up on the wall was wonderful, 5 days went by too quickly.




Monday morning we had a 10:30 flight to Medellin. A little over an hour flight and then a 40 minute taxi ride into the next valley to the city of Medellin the second biggest city in Colombia. We noticed light traffic into the city then after checking into the hotel at 1 and going to find a place for lunch noticing a lot of shops and restaurants closed we found out it was a holiday. Still a good selection of restaurants around our block to choose from. This hotel was located in the Lleras park area of the El Poblado neighborhood, a little away from the “downtown” sights but a great area for hotels, restaurants and bars and safe to walk around at night.




In Medellin, seeing tourists is still a novelty, so many times when we would be seeing a site we would be the attraction for the locals. All of whom were very pleased that we were visiting their city. Still some areas (as with all major cities) safety could be a concern, even during daylight caution and awareness of your surroundings was needed, but we never encountered any problems.



Our hotel was a 20 minute walk downhill to the train (metro) station, where we would buy a ticket COP 2000 (US $0.75) and ride the clean crowded train to our destination. On Tuesday afternoon we met at 2:30 for another “free” walking tour. Once again we were impressed with Hernan's, our local guide, knowledge of the city. This was a big group of 20 and he did a great job keeping track of all of us thru the busy streets for 4 hours, remembering all our names and conveying his love of his home town giving us the bad and the good history. Once again another great introduction to the area.
 



Wednesday, taking the train again, 1st stop at the Jardin Botanico, we have been to a lot of beautiful gardens in our travels, sadly this was not one of the better ones. The grounds were lovely, with a lot of greenery, just very few flowers. For a country whose major export is flowers you would think they would have had some here. Flying over the countryside you see miles of greenhouses down below growing flowers and fruits and Medellin is known for its eternal spring weather, so not sure why the gardens were out of season. It was free and on the way to the next stop and a lovely day to be outdoors.

Medellin's metro system consists of the train that runs south to north and a cable car system that runs up into the hills and the surrounding neighborhoods. This has done a lot to join the poorer hillside towns to the city, allowing easier access to the cities amenities to these communities, and it is fun to ride. At the Acevedo stop we got off and transferred to the cable car to take us up the hillside. The 3rd stop is the town of Santo Domingo where you transfer to another cable car (this one for an extra fee) to go to Parque Arvi. The ride up and the views of the city below were fantastic. The park is huge and a little different as many of the “trails” are roads. At the top of the Gondola, which felt strange riding in without skis, they have local artisans and vendors selling food. Down the “trail” at the intersection is also several local restaurants. We walked down the road a little, noticing a “bus” coming back up so I guess if you did not want to walk back up the road you could catch a bus back to the top. We walked back up and found one trail in the shade of the trees that we enjoyed and just loved being out in the beautiful weather before heading back down to catch the train back to our side of town in time to watch the sun set from our hotel. Cleaned up and ready to walk the streets to find a place for dinner.
 



Thursday we are picked up at 9 by Juan & Ulrich with Guanabana Tours to go on a bike ride called the “Forgotten Road”. Traveling from our southeast side hotel to the southwest side of town up thru the hillside communities, including Comuna 13, which prior to 2002 was a war zone. The government has since cleaned it up, the area has come a long way from its violent past. Not necessarily a place to visit but the locals now live in peace. Up and over Boqueron pass, where we start our downhill bike ride into the next valley over. Descending downhill (Yes!) 40 k (25 miles), & 2000 meters to the town of San Jeronimo. The scenery along the way was breathtaking, making many stops for photos and to give our butts a rest from the hard bike seats during the 3 hour ride. Back in the truck to visit the Puente de Occidente a hanging bridge. Which when built in 1895 was the longest hanging bridge. It has been totally remodeled, with a center lane for 1 way motor traffic and 2 side walkways for pedestrians. We got to walk across then drive back over. Next a drive thru tour of the beautiful colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia. The surrounding area is full of beautiful vacation homes and hotels. Heading back towards Medellin, we stop for a late lunch at a wonderful place called El Llanerito. They BBQ their meat on metal spears angled around an open fire. It was delicious !! Only one meal on the menu, a veal meat plate served with yucca & potato & sauces along with their fresh made lemonade to drink. Heading back into Medellin thru the new road and tunnel they built thru the mountain under the road we rode our bikes on. Back to the hotel by 5:30 after an awesome day. 
 



Friday our last day in Colombia, is a relaxing easy day finding a place for me to get a hair cut, and a manicure & pedicure while Steve patiently read his kindle and waited. Packed up and ready to go before going out for a Colombian dinner. 
 



It was a great trip to a beautiful and friendly country that is happy to welcome visitors and do all they can to make your visit a pleasant experience. There are lots of police and private security guards everywhere, a legacy of their turbulent past, but they're all friendly and we always felt safe and secure.