Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Goodbye Caribbean - Hello Pacific

22:00, 18 January 2014, Alongside Shelter Bay Marina

My hard drive on the computer has crashed!! And, it would be the one I had been recording the blogs on. The technician gave it its last rites today and took the computer away to install a new drive and operating system. The last 3 weeks have been quite eventful but you will benefit from the usual drivel I write for a more condensed version of what has been going on.

We are back at Shelter Bay, the location we were so eager to leave in early December and vowed not to return to. We arrived this afternoon after a pleasant sail from Portobello. Well, things have changed. We have made a momentous decision….. Fran had been complaining about the conditions we were enduring on this side of the Canal for some weeks. The wind has been blowing much harder, there are lots of clouds an even some occasional rain and the 8-12 ft waves can be daunting. We are not in the best time of year to have a nice relaxing ride north and I must admit that by the time it is supposed to be better we would have had a rather direct trip to Rio Dulce and not have achieved our aim of visiting Cuba, Mexico and Belize. So 2 weeks ago we decided to give up our Caribbean adventure and return to our comfort zone in Western Mexico. We are now faced with a 2400 mile trip to accomplish in the next 2 months. With decent winds we should even be able to make some stops along the way and enjoy some of our old haunts. We have been here for 2 days and already we have a facilitator handling our case. We hope to be able to transit the canal by mid next week, get some supplies on the other side and head north. Ken and Carol (Nauti Moments) have already shown an interest in joining us for a part of the trip. Bill and Janet (Optical Illusion) and their grand-daughter Ashlyn have been sailing with us for the past few weeks and have volunteered to be our canal crew for the crossing while they wait to ship their boat home. 

So, last blog left us on our way to the East Hollandes. We had an uneventful crossing to the “swimming pool” but found that the offshore swells were a lot more substantial than the last time we were here. The sound of the waves crashing on the outer reef was bad enough but the deciding factor was the 2 kt current sweeping through the anchorage, making swimming from the boat a risky proposition. This is where Optical Illusion finally joined us after their drawn out stay in Shelter Bay. The following day we moved to another anchorage close by where there was no current, however, the heavy seas on the outer reefs was churning up the bottom, reducing the visibility in most of the prime snorkeling spots.

Surf on outer reef
After a few days there we sailed to the island village of Nargana for water, groceries and to get laundry done. We anchored off the SW side of the island, adjacent to Frederico’s dock where a large sign stating “Lavomatico” is clearly visible. It appears that Frederico’s wife has the only automatic washing machine on the island and she makes a decent living washing clothes at $5 a load for the cruisers. Frederico is somewhat of a facilitator and escorted us around the village so that we could get all the things we needed. The fruit and veg boat was delivering the following day but there were enough “quality” leftovers from the last delivery to suit our needs. The baker had some fresh kuna bread (like a hot dog bun with pointy ends) so we were happy.

We left the next morning after lugging 15 jugs of water from Frederico’s dock to the boat and filling our tank. Our next destination was the Coco Banderas, another place we had stopped at last year and again, it was a rolly anchorage, forcing us to re-anchor in the lee of one of the islands close to the channel, but again, it was poor snorkling and we only stayed one day.

Back we went to the East Lemmons for a few days of snorkeling and bocce. We had been toying with the idea of taking a tour up to a Kuna village with a guide from The Robeson island group for some time. Several other boats had recently sailed there and were reporting back that it was a great anchorage and that the tour was really good. We followed their recommendation and arrived there on Jan 11th. There were 5 other boats in the anchorage, 3 that we knew. Almost immediately we were besieged by children in Uluus (dugout canoes). Some large, some small but all operated expertly by children as young at 7-8 years old. Most were curious but a few had items for sale: molas, crabs, lobster and bananas and much cheaper than what we had experienced to date. The crabs were quite different from what we are used to but they were the sweetest we had ever tasted, even better than Dungeness crabs and the bananas were a mini-variety, very sweet. We saw a much higher percentage of children with albinism here, a sad reflection on the gene pool.
 Family with Albinism child

Trinkets for sale
The tour to the native village was a long arduous hike along an old banana plantation road that had serviced an American enterprise that had folded in 1940. We also walked along a long runway that had been built for airplanes that required a much longer take off and landing distance than the aircraft of today.

 We arrived at the village after a 90 minute hike from the boat landing. The village of 500 is situated on high land close to a river that is used for bathing, washing and drinking water. We were amazed at how their systems could adapt to the quality of the water but everyone we saw was healthy and happy. The village was clean and the people welcomed us with their wares for sale; molas and other trinkets. There were no domestic animals anywhere, not even chickens so we were perplexed as to what the people survive on. Our guide told us that most families tend a small garden plot with banana trees as their main crop. The fruit is sold or bartered in the Robeson Islands for the staples they use for everyday living, mainly rice and fish. Some improvements were noted. Most houses had solar panels and batteries, “gifts” from some political candidate to obtain votes we were told. WE were introduced to the local chief who promptly took $3 from each of us for the visit to his village. We were happy to pay the fee as it benefits the village. We got back to the boat in the mid-afternoon and nursed our blistered feet.
Kuna village people
 Village sugarcane pree for making the local hootch
Kuna kids by the river

 Kuna galley. No stoves here....
The following morning we weighed anchor. Sailed to Porvenir and obtained our Zarpe (travel document) to Shelter Bay. We spent the night back where we had started at the West Lemmon anchorage. The following morning we were on our way with Optical Illusion. WE stopped for the night at Portobello and resumed our trip the following morning. On or way we passed Warren Peace heading in the opposite direction. Steve and Linda had finally overcome all of their issues and were beginning their Caribbean adventure.

 The old Kuna flag. They had it way before Hitler chose it.

22:30, Tuesday, January 21, 2014 Shelter Bay

 We are ready to leave the Caribbean for the Pacific. Our facilitator (agent wannabe) Roger has done us proud. We scheduled to pass through the first locks tomorrow afternoon, spend the night in Gatun Lake and continue on the following day. WE have our tire fenders and our canal lines and our crossing crew, the Jacksons, who will have Optical Illusion buttoned down tomorrow. They will crew for us and depart from Panama City in a few days. Their shipping date has been move to March so they have arranged for a friend to deliver the boat to the transport vessel for them.
Farewell Kuna Yala, it was a slice!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Wasting away in a Panamanian paradise

21:00, 29 December 2013, Anchored at Salardup, San Blas Islands

It has been a while since my last entry and apart from Christmas and a few outings, there hasn’t been much going on. Our daily routine consists of relaxing onboard, after attending to any projects that need to be done, snorkeling along the reefs and playing bocce ball with the other cruisers on the closest island to the anchorage. Most of the group, that was in the East Lemmons, stayed for Christmas and set up a Christmas pot-luck on the beach with the exception of the Italians. They tend to stick to themselves and had their do on Christmas Eve as is the tradition in Italy. They were nice enough to invite us all but didn’t tell us until the following day. We reciprocated but none showed up, strange….
We also did our Christmas Eve traditional dinner with Fran’s tourtiere. We invited one of the single guys, Gord (Island Dreams) whose wife was away. Fran outdid herself, as usual. As Fran was cooking up supper one of the local Kunas came alongside selling lobsters so we had a “surf and turf” Christmas Eve.

Cruisers' Surf & Turf
The pot luck was a roaring success with about 65 people participating.  As pre-arranged, one of the late arrival boats brought 2 turkeys from Panama City, and, like all pot-lucks, the variety of food was outstanding. Kuna family that lives on the island was also invited. They are a shy people and spent most of their time by themselves but did partake in the dinner. One of the pre-requisites of the dinner was that each boat bring a gift of non-perishable food for the Kuna family. It is difficult to say if they appreciated the gift as they are not a demonstrative people.

We have been anchored off this small island of Salardup for two days. We moved here to be closer to the mainland and Rio Sidra, the home of Lisa, the master mola maker. One of her sidelines is tours up the river and, with 2 other boats in the anchorage there were 6 people for yesterday’s outing. Before we left, however, Fran had to do some surgery. She had left a bilge hatch opened and I stepped into it, cutting my ankle, about a half-inch cut but deep and bleeding profusely. Thank God we have a well equipped first aid kit. Fran took out a suture kit and made her first 2 sutures. Didn’t hurt a bit and 18 hours later it looks great.
The tour with Lisa began with a ride from the anchorage to Rio Sidra, about a 2 mile ride in a panga. We were set ashore about ½ mile upstream and began our trek inland. The well-worn path took us past several Kuna cemetery sites, including the one where Lisa’s parents are buried. The graves appeared to be shallow with a built up mound on which they place the coffee cups and drinking glasses that the dead used. There was also a clay incense burning pot. The entire plot of several graves is covered by a thatched roof with open sides. Lisa said that the more work that goes into the structure, the more the dead appreciate the effort. She showed us her parents’ graves and went into a long explanation of how her people honour their past relatives as often as they can. Lisa actually comes once or twice a week and spends the day making her molas by their gravesite and talking to her mother. Several times a year the family will come and spend the day and cook a meal close by. She also explained some of the local Kuna traditions including the puberty ceremony for the young women that will occur in early January, a 7-day event in which the girl has her hair cut off, she is blackened with charcoal and serves a local hootch to the assembled. There is also a time honoured custom of determining whether the girl is still a virgin. This involved the father doing something to a leaf. Apparently it is quite accurate.

The hike continued for another hour and ½ upstream to a beautiful set of pools and waterfalls inhabited by a mermaid of Kuna legend. We all dove in to the pools, didn’t see any mermaid but the small fish teeming in the pools must be part pirana. Fran was the first to cry out that something was nibbling at her butt. The remainder of us swam for the shallows at that point and the guides had a good laugh. One of the people we were with described the fish as similar to the ones they use in spas for exfoliation.

 The girls posing with flowers called "Marilyn Munroe Lips". 

Mermaid Pool
 For the next hour we made our way down the river, a hard slog over boulders and slippery rocks. Half way down Fran slipped and injured her wrist but it seems to have been just a bruise. When we arrived back to the boat yesterday afternoon my ankle and Fran’s wrist were in pain so we spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening licking our wounds and watching season 7 of Burn Notice.
This afternoon we had a visit from Chris and Doreen on a boat from Vancouver called Tagish, also in this anchorage. We last saw them in Manzanillo in 2009 as they were setting out for their circumnavigation. They have just arrived from Colombia and are going through the Canal in a few weeks on their way to the Pacific and home to Comox by the summer.
15:00, 2 January 2014, Anchored, East Lemmons

It is a relatively calm day for a change. For the past few days it has been blowing anywhere from 15 to 25 kts here in the anchorage. It lay down a bit New Years Eve but piped up again yesterday but that didn’t slow down too many people from visiting and a good bocce ball game on the beach, which Fran and I won….
We arrived here on the 30th after a day-sail from Salardup to Soledad Miria for water. The Island village of Soledad Miria has a small dock with a water outlet. It has good deep approaches and Fran did an outstanding job of coming alongside. It took about 2 hours to fill our tanks and so we had lots of locals come to the boat to say hola, including the local congresso chief. Popular items here are magazines, which we are very poor in but we did manage to find a few. The chief asked if we had any reading glasses and Fran found him a pair that she was no longer using. Fran went into the village on a quest for fruits and Vegetables but found none which begged the question of what these people eat.
We got back to the anchorage at the East Lemmons to meet up with a few boats that had been on the hard with us at Shelter Bay. Lion’s Paw, Rio Nimpkish and Diva had arrived the day we left for Salardup. There seemed to be a sense of apathy for New Year’s Eve and only one boat announced that they were setting up for whoever wanted to come. As it turned out, most of the attendees were back on their boats by 21:00, cruisers’ midnight. We are definitely getting too old for partying. Onboard Gosling we had a quiet evening with Tom and Shirley (Rio Nimpkish) and played Mexican Train until, we too, were yawning too hard to continue. We packed it in about 22:00 (real night owls, we are), Fran went to bed while I stayed up, curious to see a San Blas New Years Eve. Apart from a few hoots and hollers and some distant fireworks it was quiet and calm. I didn’t even wake Fran up….
22:00, 3 January 2014, still at the East Lemmons
Time to move on. We have been here way too long and it is time to make our way to another of our favourite places, the East Hollandaise cays and the “swimming pool” anchorage. We are heading out tomorrow. Had we not arranged for some fuel to be delivered today from Carti we would have departed this morning. Most of the other boats we know have already left. Looks like we will be staying in the Sam Blas area for a while longer. The weather for heading north doesn’t look to promising for the next few weeks and, besides, we just learnt that Optical Illusion left Shelter Bay this morning and are on their way here.
Today’s fuel delivery was quite an ordeal. Mike, on Gilana, knows a chap in Carti who will deliver barrels of diesel or gasoline but you have to commit to a full 50 gal barrel and the boat can carry 5 barrels. We only needed 20 gals but managed to find another boat to take the remainder of our barrel. The big dugout canoe with a 9.5 HP Yamaha arrived about 8AM, thankfully, in fairly calm seas. The process of siphoning the fuel from the barrels to jerry jugs was messy but we only spilled about a gallon of it in the end.
With the move tomorrow we will again be out of telephone and internet coverage.