Monday, April 28, 2008

Now Shelter Bay Marina - soon Peru

We are in Shelter Bay Marina at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal and have had a wonderful reunion with our good friends Benno and Marlene from "Diesel Duck" (that's them with me in the picture here). It's been years since we've seen them but we've always kept in touch.
Tomorrow the boat is being hauled out - up "on the hard" in cruiser language. It will be a crazy day getting the boat closed up but we hope to leave for Panama City by the end of the afternoon. We're staying there for two nights and then flying to Peru on May 1st. We'll be there, treking and sightseeing with our friends Honoree and Walt on "Will of the Wisp" and later Brenda and John on "Willow" until June 21. Then we'll head home to Boston and Vermont for the summer.

A walk on Isla Grande

Isla Grande is a popular vacation spot for Panamanians but is really quiet during the week. It was a fifteen minute dinghy ride from our anchorage at Isla Linton and we spent a half day there exploring.

There are no cars so a well beaten path leads along the waterfront in both directions from the main dock. Surfing is popular at the east end of the island.

There a charming quirky hotel named "Sister Moon" sits on the edge of the cliffs. They have built a one person non demonination chapel or meditation chamber overlooking the bay. You might be able to read the sign if you double click on the picture.

We also took a steep path up to the lighthouse on the northeast end and got a lovely view. On the way we saw superhighways of leaf eater ants. This is truely remarkable. A wide swept path leads from the current tree (their garden) to their nest and the ants march in huge numbers to and fro, carrying their large burdens. Double click on this picture to see them up close.

This area of Panama is in the Colon Province. It has been long neglected by the government. Balboa was on the ship in 1501 that cruised this coast for the first time and he later was the first European to lay eyes of the Pacific. Columbus landed here in 1502.

Sir Frncis Drake died near here in Portobello, once one of the most important ports in the Spanish empire but now a sleepy very poor town. There is a very Jamacain feel to the community with a lot of Rastafarian culture and reggae sounds always in the air.
We set sail for our last passage for awhile early on Thursday morning. It was only 28 miles and another beautiful day. The coast is very scenic and we took a brief look into Portobello. We'll stay there on the way back to the San Blas in the fall. Approaching the breakwater in Colon was very exciting. Over 50 huge tankers were anchored off shore, presumingly waiting for their canal transit.
It was the middle of the day and happily no one was moving so we had an easy entrance through the large cut in the breakwater and motored down to the Shelter Bay Marina. Our slip was easy to access and several folks helped with our lines so we were all settled in by lunchtime. We'll be hauled on Monday, hopefully.

A visit to the monkeys of Isla Linton

Our last anchorage in the San Blas was at Chichime for two nights. We checked out with the Port Captain in Porvenir and then waited there for some good traveling weather. We were buddy boating with "Nautibear" for awhile. It was a lovely morning when we pulled up the anchor and sailed down the green hilly Panama coast. Our destination was Isla Linton. This is a private island owned by Allan and Rosalind Baitel, conservationists working with Florida State University.

They run a animal rescue operation behind their home on the mainland. We had been warned by several people not to land the dinghy on the island. Several people have been bitten by the monkeys when they didn't have food with them (or maybe enough food). Scott was very anxious to see them up close and went over there several times without success.
Our last night Hans called to say he could see them, so Scott was off and enjoyed his visit very much! He offered pieces of banana to the monkeys on his paddle and they loved it.
Hans and Suzanne have kyacks too so we all paddled through a mangrove cut to the Panamarina in the next bay. Jean Paul and Sylvie Orlando, a french couple, run it and it's a wonderful place to have lunch. We had our main meal of the day here. Scott had pate, octopus, and chocolate cake and I had a Caprese Salad, steak with shallots and baba au rum. Unbelievable!!!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Heather's Birthday and yet another repair job!

Another year has rolled around and my birthday celebration was another great one. Hans and Suzanne from "Nautibear" had us over for a dinner on their beautiful Nauticat 42 in the "Swimming Pool" anchorage in the western Holandes Cays. There was fish curry, chocolate cake and champagne. Scott gave me an IPOD! That morning we did yoga on the beach for two hours with Suzanne leading us. They all sang "Happy Birthday" as well. What a terrific day.

Scott has been working for days on our water maker. It came with the boat but has never worked. We really didn't need it before now as water was always available. Here in the San Blas however this isn't true so we were hoping to fix it.
Scott is a big man and even though our boat is bigger than most, the machinery is always in small cramped locations. The water maker was no exception. I took this series of pictures to show you how difficult it could be. Unfortunately it still isn't as he needs to replace some hoses and didn't have them on board!

A visit to a Kuna village, Rio Sidra

About three and a half weeks after leaving Cartagena our water supply started to get low. We carry about 220 gallons of water and that will last us about four weeks with one quick shower a day each and careful conservation in general (wash dishes in salt water and quick rinse only in fresh for example).
The possibilities for water in the San Blas are few and far between. We talked to many cruisers and asked for current experiences on the morning SSB cruiser's net. Most boats now seem to have water makers and other's were jerry jugging water. We've done that and it's a lot of work. We're trying to avoid repeating that experience.

So we sailed over to Rio Sidra which supposedly had a dock with a hose. All the fresh water comes from the rivers on the mainland. It's piped directly from the river to the closer islands. We anchored off the island and Scott took the dinghy in to investigate. The water was deep on the dock and it was calm, so we gently edged it in and tied up. The water pressure however was not enough to bring water in the hose to our tanks. SO out come our little 5 gallon jerry jugs! We had lots of observers in this process. We were the morning's entertainment.

The Kuna People & Molas

The Kuna Indians call themselves the Tule. They inhabit around 40 islands in the San Blas island archipeligo of 400 islands and a large strip of land on the mainland. There are also Kuna further inland in the Darien but 40,000 of the estimated 62,000 live on the islands. They are small and crowded! See my next blog entry on a visit to one of them. Originally they painted geometric designs on their bodies but now these designs are sewn from several layers of bright cloth, called molas.

They cut sections from the cloth to reveal the layers below and then sew the edges almost invisably. This is sometimes known as reverse applique. The whole piece is covered in designs revealing different layers of cloth - either geometric or representational.
Almost all the women sew molas. They wear a pair of them on the front and back of their blouses and sell them whenever possible. Every day, at least once a day, one or more women will come in their dugout to sell you some molas. Some of the master mola makers are men. We bought a number of molas from two, Venancio Restrepo (above left in his boat) from Isla Maquina and Lisa Harris (above right)from Rio Sidra. Lisa is a transvestite. Homosexuality is very accepted by the Kuna and as property passes down in the female line (women propose marriage and a man moves to his wife's family's home), it is not unusual for a man to decide to become a woman.

Cruise ships have recently started to stop here in the San Blas and some women have started to make "tourist molas" - two examples of these are in the top right picture and the one just above right. They are done with regular applique and embroidery rather than the traditional reverse applique. They use simpler color combinations that they've learned will sell well.
Of course they are still lovely. Traditional colors are maroon, orange, black and blue. Examples of these are held by Lisa and Venancio. They are very bright and to most cruisers, irresistable! One commen topic is "How many have you bought? And from whom?"

We're up to 16 on this trip. We also purchased a number of them in Cartagena and had them made into bags, aprons and pot holders for gifts. A few of our new ones are really works of art. All of them are beautifully crafted and charming - and a lot of work!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Kuna Yala, The San Blas Islands, Panama

We left Isla Fuertes at 10 AM and had a great sail almost the whole way. Later that night we had to motor sail as the wind died down but that kind of peaceful eventfree night on the water is very welcome. We took turns on watch as usual and both got some sleep. Early the next morning we could see the mountains of Panama in the distance and soon the palm lined islands of the Kuna Yala (Land of the Kuna Indians), known on most maps in spanish as the San Blas.

We were nervous entering the reef but kept a good visual watch on the water and our navigation charts. Once inside the outer reef there are many small island groups. We were headed first for the Eastern Coco Bandares. It was the perfect time of day for the eyeball navigation necessary to thread our way through the coral reefs into a perfectly protected, absolutely gorgeous anchorage. Friends there on "See U Manana" gave us some helpful advice on the entrance and soon we were anchored in paradise. Several other boats were there although it couldn't be called crowded. Two of them we had met before in Cartagena, both with five month old babies! The scene on the beach nearby that afternoon was charming. That's the two babies having a bath in the water and playing with the four parents on the right (double click on the picture to see a close up of the babies).

This island group does not have any permenant Kuna residents. They come out in their ulas (wooden dugouts) to gather coconuts and sell molas or fruits, fish and vegetables. We bought a huge stem of small bananas and hung it on the back of our boat. Yes, they do all seem to ripen at once! They were green, green, green and then suddenly - they're all yellow. I made three banana breads over a week's time - plus of course, banana pancakes etc.
We did a lot of kyacking around to the islands and reefs for snorkeling. The water was crystal clear and the snorkeling very good. The coral and vegetation was particularily nice although we didn't see the amount and variety of fish we saw in Bonaire. We swam constantly and read the rest of the time. That's "Scott Free" at anchor on the right.
We've really enjoyed our two person kyack and have ventured out into rougher waters occasionally and found it very stable. Scott wants to try some surfing down the waves but we haven't found a good spot away from the coral reefs. We keep it up on the bow tied down when we're not using it and it has it's own sunbrella fabric zippered cover to protect it from the sun.
We didn't move the boat an inch for five days. It was great just sitting still for a change!

Intruders at Isla Fuerte!

Well we've now had our first attempted robbery and luckily it was unsuccessful. Our first night here I woke up to some unusual noises. They were very faint and I listened awhile trying to figure it out.

It didn't sound right so I went into the main salon and up the companionway. A man was standing on our stern deck trying to undo our outboard motor from it's perch on a wooden piece between the stern arch. We looked at each other and I yelled "Hola!". He looked scared to death and jumped overboard. He had a friend in a small dugout canoe below him but missed the boat. He swam to shore and his friend paddled furiously away. Scott then appeared wondering what was going on! .

We called the Columbian Coast Guard on our VHF and they responded immediately. Scott gave them an excellent account of the incident and answered all the questions - in Spanish. Our friends on Vindomar were listening and were very supportive. Roy slept up in the cockpit for the rest of the night to keep an eye on things.

Honestly I wasn't really that upset. These were poor fisherman not professional thieves and that outboard would have changed their families lives. They have to paddle miles out to fish and it's obviously very dangerous and hard. It was a great temptation. I am very grateful that I didn't stand up on the bed and put my head out the hatch (which I have often done to investigate a strange sound) as he would have been only inches away from me.Regardless of this incident we really enjoyed our stay at Isla Fuertes and would love to return on our way back up the coast next fall. There are no cars on the island but lovely paths.

We found the same combination of beautiful wealthy second homes and the local residents. The house at the top right was covered in old newspapers and the small village clean and brightly painted. The home just above right is a typical older construction but neat as a pin. Scott and I walked all over while Roy & Sue kept an eye on the boats and then they took their turn. We visited one small resort with charming rustic two story cottages for rent (see the second picture above left) and a funnny monkey statue welcoming guests to their dock (above right).

The village stretched out along the beach. We bought bottles of ice cold water at the tienda and enjoyed them here. Again after two nights we set sail, this time for Panama. This meant saying goodbye temporarily to our great buddy cruiser, Roy and Sue Potter. We so enjoyed their company both on our Medellin trip and through the islands.

San Bernardo Islands

This group of islands further down the Columbian coast houses both the local fisherman and second homes for wealthy Columbians, mostly from Medellin and Cali. We anchored off a lovely island with a number of beautiful homes but the locals only use it to obtain (from holes dug in the ground!). They live, totally packed together, on a small island nearby - 1280 people, 780 in residence at the moment. At least half the population is under 16. The local school has two sessions a day. We walked all over the island and were welcomed everywhere. The men were gathered on the wharfs talking and the women in front of the homes (see pictures of both below). The kids were all having fun and like kids anywhere acted up for the camera. This boy on the left put on quite a show to the vast amusement of his friends. The children are very charming and we had a lot of fun meeting everyone.
There is a health clinic there and we met the "Doctora". We also observed one of the classrooms in the school. All the kids were in neatly pressed uniforms and discipline was clearly not a problem. One really surprising detail were the paintings on many of the homes - most of secular Christmas. One example here shows Santa Claus above the door! All the homes are painted in bright colors and some were nicely but simply furnished. We saw an occasional TV set. There is a generator for the community that goes on at 6PM and shuts off at 10.
We spent another two nights here. The weather has been so lovely and mild. Scott completed the installation of our new "Super Wind" wind generator so in a way it's been disappointing that we haven't tested it out at higher speeds, but seriously, we're not complaining.
We're sailing next to Isla Fuerte, a single beautiful island 30 miles further SW. This will be our last stop in Columbia as Scott and I are planning to head from there to the eastern San Blas islands in Panama. Sue and Roy will have a shorter passage to the western end of those islands as they have more time in the San Blas than ourselves.