We are now Trusty Shellbacks

After bobbing around at the Balboa yacht club near Panama City for a couple of nights we headed over to Isla Taboga to clean our hulls. The town itself is cute and everyone was friendly as we wandered thru the skinny lanes at the base of the hill, which you can climb but sounded like too much work for us in the heat.
img_0364 image Then it was off to The Las Perlas Islands where we caught a tuna on the way, so sushi for dinner, yum. On arrival Brett was up up the mast trying to work out why our wind instrument has just started to play up. Great timing! Maintenance is a never ending job.
img_0377 We cycled around the most populated island; Contadora and were surprised at the large homes, most of which were for sale. Hmmmm. It was holiday time so we watched the bay fill up with large motor boats and fishing boats from the City. Most of the month of November is holiday time in Panama.

Found a Wrecked Ferry in one of the bay's

Found a Wrecked Ferry in one of the bay’s

Las Perlas had lots of nice bays to anchor where we could laze as the weather was pretty benign and there were only a few sailing boats about. Before we knew it we were at the furthest south west island, San Jose and heading out of the Panama Bay. Goodbye to the humidity for now.
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Our trip south to Ecuador was good even though we wish we had dagger boards for that upwind sailing. Took advantage of the currents and tacking West to help with the southerly winds and waves. Saw great phosphorescence in the water, lots of dolphins, a few turtles sleeping and a group of pilot whales that led us towards the equator. The seas seems to get bigger the closer we got, with 6-8ft seas.

Crossing the equator by boat is a big deal for up until that time you are known as a Slimy Pollywog but after crossing the equator you transform into a Trusty Shellback. Brett having crossed the equator last year still partook in the celebration with me with a jig in the cockpit and a toast to Neptune and to finally becoming a Trusty Shellback.

Note Vessel at 0.00.000North

Note Vessel at 0.00.000North

Note Vessel at 0.00.001 South

Note Vessel at 0.00.001 South

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3 sips for Neptune

3 sips for Neptune

As we were partying we look up and there’s this hombre in a very small open boat fishing in the large seas out today; 25 miles from the nearest land and 40 miles from the port entrance. Perhaps he wanted to join the party.

We really felt for this guy out here in his boat

We really felt for this guy out here in his boat

At the equator we’ve passed from the North Pacific Ocean into the South Pacific Ocean and have arrived in Ecuador. Yeah! Looking forward to some land travel.

Moored in the river in Bahia de Caraquez near the bridge, which is brightly lit up at night

Moored in the river in Bahia de Caraquez near the bridge, which is brightly lit up at night

Our Panama Canal transit

We made our transit from the Atlantic through the Panama Canal into the Pacific with friends April, Cain and Malcolm and were joined both days by the same advisor, Harold.

The Seismic Wave Canal Crew in Miraflores lock

The Seismic Wave Canal Crew in the last chamber at the Miraflores lock

Harold our Canal Advisor with Cain

Harold our Canal Advisor with Cain

What an amazing experience with beautiful scenery shared with good friends.

An alligator spotted on the side of the canal, no swimming here

A  small crocodile spotted on the side of the canal, no swimming here

DAY 1 had us being lifted via 3 chambers at the Gatun lake lock up into Gatun Lake behind the ship Celsius Mexico.

These ships are huge when you are up close

These ships are huge when you are up close

We were the only other boat so as we entered the first chamber a line with a monkey fist was thrown to each of our 4 line handlers who had to secure our long lines from the boat to it so that our long line could be pulled back up the wall and walked by canal crew staff to the back of Celius Mexico. Our line handlers were busy keeping us steady as the chambers filled and emptied as necessary to move through the lock.

Malcolm giving everyone a quick lesson on how to set up your lines

Malcolm giving everyone a quick lesson on how to set up your lines

centre tied in the lock - see how far up the lines go

centre tied in the lock – see how far up the lines go

 

 the gates close behind you

the gates close behind you

But watch out, the chamber starts to fill and you need to pull in those lines to keep us steady.

the water then starts churning from below and lines need to be adjusted continually as its fills

the water then starts churning from below and lines need to be adjusted continually as its fills

the chambers full, water is calm and Malcolms happy; no issues

the chambers full, water is calm and Malcolms happy; no issues

April doing her 1980's disco moves, later proving that these gloves helped her hands

April doing her 1980’s disco moves, later proving that these gloves helped her hands

One final look at the Atlantic…

One final look back along the lock to the Atlantic

One final look back along the lock to the Atlantic

Once through the Gatun Lake lock we were moored to a large buoy for the night where we enjoyed a good meal and just a few drinks and laughs.
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 looking very happy after a few well deserved drinks

looking very happy after a few well deserved drinks

DAY 2 started very early (6am) where Cain cooked us all a hearty breakfast to keep us going and help with soaking up all the wine we’d had the night before.
p1110511Our advisor from Day 1 surprised us by returning for the final day of our transit, which was great as he was very friendly and had quizzes to keep us entertained.

The crew all looking very relaxed cruising in Gatun Lake

The crew all looking very relaxed cruising in Gatun Lake

We all took turns driving through the Lake. The Canal ended up closing the Galliard cut as visibility was bad so we had to sit near the Pedro Miguel Locks waiting for our Canal partners to arrive.

 April took us through the misty cut before it was closed

April took us through the misty cut before it was closed

her other half had a nap

her other half had a well deserved nap

We entered the lock with 2 other boats, a tourist boat “Tuira #2” and a maintenance boat with a low platform to tie to, which meant our windows were protected. Yeah! The maintenance boat crew were great as they did everything.

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As the 650ft Car Carrier ship “Clovis Composer” eventually arrived into the lock we watched her tie onto the locomotive trains and slowly fill the lock. Just amazing the sheer size of these ships.
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As the lock emptied we felt like we had to push her back, she was getting very close to us with her crew looking down on us.
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We went through 3 down chambers and before we knew it we had come down from Gatun Lake into the Pacific. Amazing.
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Looking at the Bridge of America's ahead

Looking at the Bridge of America’s ahead

The huge ship Glovis Composer and her crew passed, waving goodbye

The huge ship Glovis Composer and her crew passed, waving

This is a trip we will not forget. Thanks to Harold,  Malcom and April & Cain for their help in making it a fun, safe trip. Thanks also to them for some of the photos of our journey thru the canal.

So its farewell to Panama City for a while as we head South to Taboga Island and then on to the Las Perlas Islands to wait for a weather window to Ecuadorimg_0354

Shelter Bay Marina with friends

We arrived into Shelter Bay Marina at the entrance to the Panama Canal and who did we find but our good friends from Spirit of Argo; Cain, April and “our dog” Quinn. OK everyone around here has adopted Quinn and why not, look at this face. Life is tough.
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April & Cain have been running the sail loft and are doing a great job of helping out cruisers that need work done in a short period of time. Thanks guys for good times yet again and of course our new water catcher. 😉
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As with any marina it’s the people that make it a fun place.
April has water aerobics every day to whip us all into shape for the upcoming sailing season. The pool is definitely a bonus after working hard all day.
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The nights while we were here were full with all sorts of social events incl games night, BBQs, movie nights etc. Even caught up with our friends from Guatemala; Brian & Sue from SeaRose and Stu & Steph from Matador.

Steph, Sue, Vicki, April, Manuela

Steph, Sue, Vicki, April, Manuela

Cain, Malcolm, Brett, Stu, Brian

Cain, Malcolm, Brett, Stu, Brian

Had a couple of great jam sessions at the Marina and lots of musical talent came out to join in. Was awesome. image

Our neighbor, Wakeem has a vehicle and took us out to San Lorenzo Fort past the Marina. It was built in the 16 Century to overlook the mouth of the Rio Chagres, which was used for commerce. The fort was taken by many pirates including Henry Morgan because it had excellent views of approaching ships.
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 On the side of the road we spotted a couple of gatosolo's, similar to raccoons.

On the side of the road we spotted a couple of gatosolo’s, similar to raccoons.

Well alas it’s not all play we had a few jobs to sort, including major provisioning for our pacific crossing. Our poor boat has lost its water line with food and alcohol but at least she’s looking shiny now and everything is in order.

Polishing the boat while in the water is difficult but it's now done, yeah!

Polishing the boat while in the water is difficult but it’s now done, yeah!

Yachts transiting the Panama Canal are invited to leave behind a memorial or lucky talisman of their boat on the outside walls of the Sail loft, so my artistic skills went to work. Here’s our image setting us off from the Caribbean with good luck for our Pacific adventure. p1110080We are ready for our canal transit with som friends who are joining us to do the transit as line handlers.

Visitors from Canada

Our good friends Tim & Kathy from Calgary came to visit us in Panama on the way to a conference in Miami. We had a great time showing them the city and seeing a few of the sights.

out at the MiraFlores Lock

out at the MiraFlores Lock

Our hotel had amazing views

Our hotel had amazing views

Given our upcoming transit through the canal it was great visiting the MiraFlores Locks Panama Canal and watching the large ships come into the lock and slowly lower as the water empties from the lock for the boat to transit through to the Pacific Ocean.
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Walking along Balboa Ave the tide was out so we looked down at a very muddy yacht club. Won’t be going to this Marina when we get to the Pacific. It definitely makes you think about how extreme the tides are in the Pacific.
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Interesting color of water at this fountain

Interesting color of water at this fountain

The seafood market on Balboa Ave is a great place to get fresh fish and have a cheap seafood meal in the various restaurants. A busy place. You name it there are booths selling it; octopus, fish, shrimp,crab, lobster etc.p1110088
Casco Antiguo is always good to wander around and see the old buildings that have been renovated and go inside some of the churches.

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Panamá Viejo is the ruins from old Panama City built in the 16 century and is actually in reasonable shape with an old cathedral that you can climb to see the views.
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Plenty of socializing and catching up of course in various places in the City as you do.

Beer tasting at La Rana Brewhouse

Beer tasting at La Rana Brewhouse

 

The dancers at Las Tinajas restaurant

The dancers at Las Tinajas restaurant

Even took them out to see the boat at Shelter Bay, Colon via the Panama Canal Railway, which links the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean parallel to the Panama Canal.
p1110397p1110400Once out at the boat Brett had Tim working on a few jobs. It was hot and sticky so they got to experience the heat and need for a cool down via a swim.
p1110406So after a few big nights out, sore heads from mixing our drinks we bid them farewell until another time, hopefully in the Pacific somewhere. Thanks for coming to visit. p1110405

Road trip in Chiriquí Province

We took the double decker air conditioned bus from Panama City for $15pp (6 hours) to the city of David, the capital of the province of Chiriquí. David was a good base to hire a car and see the area. It’s also low season so discounts on places to stay.
Chiriqui map

Boca Chica
Heading East from David to Bahia de Muertos on the map above we found Boca Chica, a small fishing village on the Pacific coast. There are a number of hotels and expat homes that overlook the Gulf of Chiriqui Marine National Park.

Looking out to the National Park

Looking out to the National Park

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It’s humpback whale season so off we went on an excursion into the park and were not disappointed following a mother and her calf. Mum swam right beside the boat her tail was huge! Amazing, 😀.
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The driver surprised us by stopping at an island where we met a Ngöbe-Buglé family who look after the island and the caiman alligators that live in the lake out back; 10 of them! The island is apparently for sale at a cool US$3m.

Caiman alligators love crabs see the orange crab legs at front that he has his eyes on

Caiman alligators love crabs see the orange crab legs at front that he has his eyes on

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The Ngöbe-Buglé women and girls wear traditional brightly colored dresses with hand sewn appliqué to make each dress different. As you can see they are not tall people.

 

There are 25 islands in the park and we stopped at Isla Gomez with a small white sand beach with clear water so we could have a swim in the Pacific. A lot of the beaches in this area have a brown sand/ dirt.
p1110188The view from Boca Chica area back towards David and Volcan, you could clearly see the Volcanoes in the distance.
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Volcan
The scenic road up to Volcan, North from David, via Dolega was a great road and very pretty, winding its way through little country villages past waterfalls and many citrus & dairy cattle farms. We found an old walking bridge across one of the many rivers we crossed.p1110099

The trees were in full bloom with beautiful flowers so when we got into the town of Volcan there were lots of decorations scattered throughout town made from the flowers from a flower parade.
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In Volcan we went to the Jansen Family Coffee Farm to learn about the process of making good coffee from arabica and geisha plants and are now a lot more knowledgable about something we drink every day. Emily, a family member, gave us the tour explaining their planting, harvesting, processing, roasting and packaging techniques for their award winning coffee, which is distributed throughout the world.

Jansen coffee farm set in a valley with views to the Volcano when not cloudy

Jansen coffee farm set in a valley with views to the Volcano when not cloudy

Arabica cherries, which produce better coffee, are in bunches along a stem.p1110113The cherries turn red when ready to pick typically in December.image

This whole region has very fertile soil because of the volcano. Most of Panama’s vegetables are grown in the area between Volcan and Cerro Punta, which is on the West side of Volcan Baru.

Volcan Baru

We saw hundreds of different fields of crops, trucks piled with vegetables and processing & distribution plants for fruit & vegetables. Would have been great to buy lots of fresh veg and fruit. Every inch of space is used for growing veg and this is just one small valley.p1110258


 

Even stopped for a walk into Cañon Macho de Monte an area that has a number of hydroelectric stations.

 

 

 

 

Guadalupe
Guadalupe is North of Volcan and Cerro Punta in the centre of the Veg growing area and close to La Amistad National Park where we hiked into the forest and ended up seeing three small waterfalls. We looked just charming in our gum boots and borrowed jackets because it was freezing up there! It’s not meant to be cold in Panama.
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Puerto Armuelles
Puerto Armuelles is on a peninsular shared with Costa Rica and we’d heard there were a number of expats living there so wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Highways of course are not our style so off we went on the back roads. We stopped at a beach area called Barqueta on the coast past David that had a black “very HOT” sand beach, but alas we weren’t that impressed with it. No one was around but it did look like it got very busy given the restaurant seating around.
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Our road trip to Puerto Armuelles continued through some agricultural lands until we were crossing through huge fincas (farms) that used to be owned by the Chiquita Banana Co and crossed railroad tie bridges. Very different passing by banana fields, oil palms, sugar cane and rice fields. I think one of the police guards after the bridge in the next picture was shocked to see tourists as he did a double take and then stopped us to see passports etc asking where we were going.
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Puerto Armuelles is a town that was actually built by the Chiquita Banana Co for its workers, from executives to dock workers but when they left 25 yrs ago the population declined considerably and homes have seen better days. Expats have been buying the old Chiquita houses to fix up, life is cheap, there are English schools and the locals are friendly. A real country feel where horses share the roads even around town.p1110211

We made a trip down the peninsular and ended up going through a secure area where the Petro Terminal of Panama port is. Here oil supertankers come in to load oil via pipelines through Panama from the Atlantic side.
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Sunday is baseball day so typically there are games on at one of the two stadiums in town so we stopped by. They have shaded bleachers and there are beer and food vendors and locals betting on teams; who are very passionate supporters, even rubbishing the umpire.
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On leaving the peninsula we decided to take the highway this time, as its goes past the Costa Rican border. There is a town right on the border where Costa Rican’s and Panamanian’s shop duty free. The actual boarder is a busy place with lots of trucks lined up to go thru the agricultural spray sheds, people walking, duty free shops and cars going every which way.
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Boquete
Our trip to Chiriqui ended in Boquete on the Eastern side of Volcan Baru. Boquete is a cute town set in the valley near Volcan Baru, which has lots of clouds around it in my photo.p1110222

We’ve been here before and had been on a number of hikes in the area. Decided we wanted to do the hike to The Lost Waterfalls, which is in a range that just keeps going up a trail on the side of the hill and you end up seeing 3 waterfalls. Decent hike that’s for sure and very beautiful terrain.
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Waterfall 1, the best, which you actually see on your way back down

 

 

 

 

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Waterfall 2, where they say you can swim in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall but the temp was a  little refreshing for us.

 

 

 

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Waterfall 3 the most difficult to get to as its slippery and quite steep heading up to it.

 

 

 

There are even golf courses in Boquete for our golfing family and friends, you just need to choose your mode of transport around the course.

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The bike maybe on not such a hilly course, but as you can see this golf course is set in the hills.p1110093

Time to head back to the boat to do some jobs and catch up with friends.

Cruising around Bocas del Toro

After an overnight sail from Portobello against the current(!) we made our way West into the Bocas del Toro archipelago in the NW corner of Panama, near Costa Rica. We had been here back in 2014 by land so knew the area but had never cruised the waters. image

We are sure you have heard of and tasted Chiquita bananas, well guess where they are from; yes here in Bocas del Toro. Back in 1890, 2 brothers planted banana trees along the shores of Chiquiri on the mainland near Bocas. Their company was eventually taken over by United Fruit and became part of Chiquita Brands Intl and now this area grows and exports 3/4 of a million tons of bananas annually.

These didn't get exported - yummy!

These didn’t get exported – yummy!

This area does get a lot of rain but what we found interesting was that August / Sept when we are here is lower than the rest of Panama. It’s wettest here during Panamas dry season (Dec. – April) and drier during Panama’s rainy season. May have got something right! 😉 Had a couple of thunder storms rumble the boat but all up it was reasonably dry so we could get out and do things.

Isla Colon
Isla Colon is the most developed of all the islands in the area. The town of Bocas has a real relaxed pace of life with lots of backpackers, surfers, expats and locals mingling in the many bars and restaurants around town. We couldn’t believe the number of Chinese owned hardware stores in town, with lots of marine parts to help cruisers and expats working on their boats and homes. Of course there are also lots of tour operators on the waterfronts ready to take you out in water taxis to see and enjoy the islands.

Arriving in Bocas town

Arriving in Bocas town

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We hired bicycles to go out to Bluff beach on the windward side of the island. The ride was about 40 min starting on a road and went along the coast eventually ending on a sand trail that was a tad difficult to cycle. We passed plenty of restaurants so knew we had options to stop at on our way home. Yes it was HOT! The beaches here have golden soft sand and the water is lovely, a real treat after a hot cycle.

hired bikes $5 for 4 hours and they were perfect beach cruisers

hired bikes $5 for 4 hours and they were perfect beach cruisers

Golden sand at Bluff beach and no ones here.

Golden sand at Bluff beach and no ones here.

We couldn’t resist stopping for a cold one at Scully’s on the waterfront on the way home to meet Steve the owner / pirate with one leg and Milton the parrot.
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We took the boat around to Starfish beach (or Playa Estrella) on the leeward side of the island for quite a few days. Lots of tourists get brought here to laze on the beach, listen to music and eat at the beachside restaurants set in amongst the coconut trees. Even we went ashore for some beach time. Lots of starfish about hence the name.

Looking over to starfish beach

Looking over to starfish beach

imageBastimentos Island
This island is the largest island here and is really lush green (perhaps thanks to rain all year long) with some nice protected anchorages amongst the mangroves. No mosquitos too, which was a treat.

Red Frog Marina in the background

Red Frog Marina in the background

the kayaks were once again great for getting out investigating the bay

the kayaks were once again great for getting out investigating the bay

We even managed to see a brightly colored poison dart frog, thanks to someone pointing it out.
imageWalking through the lush forests of the Red Frog Resort & Marina grounds you pass this sign, “Monkey Crossing” and sure enough we saw a family of monkeys using it and lots of sloths lazing in the trees high above us. Very cool!
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imageThere are some beaches on the windward side of the island, which we liked walking along. The tourist boats love taking tourists to Red Frog and take them to a special dock where they have to pay $5pp to walk across some trail to the beach. We’d kayak into the resort dock daily and ask to walk thru to the beach and it was free. Bonus.

sun setting at Red Frog Beach

sun setting at Red Frog Beach

Cayo Solarte
After making our way thru a small channel between Bastimentos and Solarte called The Gap, which has some pretty large American style homes being built, we anchored on the south side of Cayo Solarte.
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The mangroves are low lying and actually are very picturesque when you look across to the mainland. We had heard the snorkeling was good on the reefs in the area so went searching. We found more jelly fish than anything.



Zapidilla Cays
After cruising to some of the other areas like Dolphin Bay, Johnson Cay and Crawl Cay we made our way out to the Zapidilla Cays; 2 cays that are part of a National park. Very pretty and busy with tourist boats during the day. We kayaked ashore (cost$10pp) and ending up meeting Ben who is stationed on one of the Cays to research turtles. He was in need of a cord to charge his cell phone so we helped him out and in return he invited us back that evening to watch for turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Alas we didn’t see one come ashore but did see tracks. Interesting experience.

Ben was keen for a kayak so off the boys went

We’ve arrived in the busy Colon area.
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Back in Panama City

Back in Panama City and we stayed in the area of El Congrego as its very safe, has lots of restaurants to go to and is central to most of the things we want to do, including visiting dentists and specialists.

The walk down to and along Avenida Boulevard, which is right on the water front is always a treat as there are lots of families out enjoying the pathways exercising and there’s lots to see.

Arriving at Casco Viejo we were surprised how much it had changed since we had last been here in July 2014. It just keeps getting better. The streets look much cleaner as they have now all been tiled, the parks are clean and tidy, the facades of the buildings have been painted and construction is way down. We were impressed as we thought it was going to take a long time to sort this area out.
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The old and the new still exist, amazing the difference

The old and the new still exist, amazing the difference

We caught the metro out to Allbrook Mall, which is a bargain at 0.35 each. Allbrook is also the main hub for the bus station and domestic air flights. We visited the hardware stores getting ready for our return to the boat, one of the only places in a mall Brett doesn’t mind going and boy oh boy he can shop when he wants to…..

You don't see bus stations this busy in Canada.

You don’t see bus stations this busy in Canada.

We hired Rogelio, recommended by lots of cruisers, to take us to Pricemart for food provisions and various other stores for things we couldn’t find at the hardware stores at Allbrook. We filled Rogelio’s van to the top and will call him again for help later. Rogelio – phone 507-6717-6745 or maago50@yahoo.com
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It was back to the boat, which we had left at Panamarina to dump all our stuff off and deal with it. Eeeek!
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I came across this sloth at the marina walking across the road.

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Lots of familiar faces and boats that we know from the Rio Dulce so that’s nice.

San Blas Islands, Panama

The San Blas Islands or Guna Yala (meaning “land of the Guna”) are made up of 370 odd islands, of which approx. 50 are inhabited and are East of the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side. While part of Panama the local Guna Yala Indians have their own rules and regulations and while we were here were in disagreement with the Central Panama Govt. so Govt. offices were closed indefinitely. In the map below The San Blas Islands or Guna Yala is North East of Panama City.

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The Guna people
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The Guna are a matriarchal society where the men move into the brides home and where the women pass down their names and basically rule the roost. The Guna’s total about 50-60 thousand and are one of the most peaceful nations on earth, where crime is extremely rare, homosexuality is accepted as something perfectly normal, and albinism has one of the planet’s highest rate.

 

 

On many of the smaller islands a caretaker moves onto the island for the Guna Yala community for 3 months to take care of the island, gather the coconuts etc.
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Every day men are out at the reefs fishing or snorkeling for lobster, conch and crab. They also collect the coconuts, which is the Gunas main source of income and is used to trade for products with the Columbian trading boats that come to the San Blas regularly loaded with various goods like gas, clothes, plastic bins, food products, beer and coca-cola.

Fishermen heading home in their sailboat

3 Fishermen in an Ulu

The Guna people we met were all friendly mainly coming via ulu to sell fish, lobster, fruit & vege and molas.

the vege boat which also sells eggs & beer; no grocery stores out here

the vege boat is well stocked and also sells chicken, eggs & beer; no grocery stores out here!

this family asked for a couple of jugs of fresh water

this family asked for a couple of jugs of fresh water

fisherman picking out some nice sized lobsters for us

fisherman picking out some nice sized lobsters for us

On some of the islands the Guna have set up restaurant facilities to cater for the tourists & cruisers and in some cases charge you to go on the island or at a few places to anchor out front.

Thatched home/ restaurant on Isla Tortuga or BBQ Island

Thatched home/ restaurant on Isla Tortuga or BBQ Island

Molas
Molas are the most important part of the Guna women’s traditional clothing, and since cruisers and tourists started visiting the islands, molas became an important source of income too. They are made by sewing and cutting different layers of colorful cloth and are usually shown in the form of abstract birds, animals or marine fish on both the front and back of the women’s blouse. They are normally made by the women but Venacio, a well known master mola maker, who I’d heard about, came with buckets of molas with his signature finely stitched at the top. He speaks English and held each mola up proudly telling me the story of it. I did end up buying a few, as you do and glad I did as his were the best I saw.

 Venacio with some molas I bought

Venacio with some molas I bought

Anchoring

At Coco Bandero anchored between two islands

At Coco Bandero anchored between two islands

How can you not go wrong here finding great anchoring places when there’s 300+ islands. In reality the area is not well chartered and a lot of the electronic charts are incorrect but with the help of the Eric Bauhaus guide with charts we were able to find some beautiful islands to stay and enjoy the palm trees, white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

Ogoppiriadup, East Holandes

Ogoppiriadup, East Holandes

Most of the cruiser boats are gone and charter boats are about, but not as many as usual, so anchorages are not busy, perfect! In busy season Nov – Apr we were told some anchorages can have about 30 boats! We spent time at:
The East Lemons: this seems to be a hang out for cruisers and charter boats waiting for their next guests as its close to Carti where it’s easy to collect guests and get to Panama City. We met Denny from Kokomo (http://www.kokomosailing.com) who took us to some great snorkeling in the area.

East Lemmons; Volleyball on the beach anyone?

East Lemmons; Volleyball on the beach anyone?

all sorts of coral formations near the East Lemmons

all sorts of coral formations near the East Lemmons

Holandes: from the west thru to the east with lots of great spots along the way to stop and anchor. Brett liked the reef off East Holandes for spear fishing opportunities and so we spent a lot of time here.

Swimming Pool, East Holandes apparently very popular between November & April

Swimming Pool, East Holandes apparently very popular between November & April

fish for dinner, yummy

fish for dinner, yummy

Coco Bandero: lots of fish life and good snorkeling out at the reef and around the islands. We had spotted rays & turtles right off the boat.
P1100832Green Island: beautiful protected anchorage behind a reef and a good island to walk around.
P1100855Naguargandup Cays: snorkeling on the outer reef had a 20m wall with beautiful bright colored coral. The no-see-ums were a problem here though, as we had no wind so they came along for someone new to munch on. These guys can even get thru your bug screens they are so small!
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Snorkeling
The coral on the reefs in the San Blas was a lot more alive than we have seen for some time and very different at each island. There were some beautiful colors with all sorts of different fish about, even the odd nurse shark lurking. DCIM100GOPROGOPR0384.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0409.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0432.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0426.Brett made sure we didn’t starve by hunting for fish for dinner on the outer reefs.

1 of a few different reef fish we sampled

1 of a few different reef fish we sampled

Finding great spots with the Kayak and snorkeling from the kayak in the area around Green Island.P1100850

At Dog Island the wreck of a cargo ship sunk in the 1950s is now home to lots of fish and coral.
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Weather
Well we arrived in the San Blas in May and stayed through end of June so technically it’s rainy season. We had days of beautiful clear blue sky and no wind but when systems did come in, typically in the morning, the thunder and lightening was intense. On the whole we were lucky and had great weather for the 6 weeks.

looking at a system with a water spout out near the East Holandes

looking at a system with a water spout out past the East Holandes

We really enjoyed cruising the islands and having a huge crystal clear pool to swim in every day.

Portobello, Panama

In order to clear into Panama we had to take the local chicken bus to Portobello, a 30 minute ride, which cost us US$1:25, bargain.

the Chicken buss are all decked out and a great way to get around this area

the Chicken buss are all decked out and a great way to get around this area

Portobello is a small town with a pretty laid back feeling to it. Someone is a great artist so there are all sorts of murals on buildings, a few restaurants and bakeries and 2 supermarkets to get SIM cards and groceries, perfect.

Looking back to Portobello from one of the forts on the waters edge

Looking back to Portobello from one of the forts on the waters edge

Good old Christopher Columbus discovered Portobello back in 1502 and the bay actually ended up being a a huge transshipment Centre because of its harbor and location in the Caribbean. Customs house stands in the Centre of town, on the waterfront and was used as a warehouse for trade and the office for the Governor back in the 1600s. It’s actually restored and while we were there they were working on the brickwork.

Customs house

Customs house

There are also a couple of well maintained forts from the 1700s to wander around and look out to the harbor. There were an amazing number of canons in good condition but still they couldn’t hold the pirate Henry Morgan who took the town.

lots of boats in the anchorage here

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It was back on the bus to Linton to catch up with friends who were in the area and about to head out. Got a surprise when we spotted a sloth climbing into a tree near the Marina. it was a lot smaller than we expected.
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Off to the San Blas Islands.

Road Trip down the Panama Pacific Coast

A friend organized a car for us so we decided to head to the beach area for a break.

In Panama city most people don’t have cars as taxis are plentiful and cheap, while parking is almost non existent. The road system out of the city is a well maintained 4 lane highway all the way out to the beach areas, with lots of signage along the way promoting project developments off the main road. Its hard to imagine that they will all be developed and sold. I love all the fruit stalls along the way.
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Is this a safety concern on the highway?

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We stopped in Coronado to see the building development since 2011, when Brett was last on the Pacific Coast. He was surprised at how much more construction and development there had been since 2011. Some developers bring in a huge team of people to build subdivisions of homes so the area is complete before anyone moves in. Amazing. Not sure if the houses are all sold.
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We ended up staying in Playa Blanca for a few nights. Great views from our room and a long beach to walk along. Love it when you arrive and your hotel room has this cabinet.P1060340

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In Pedasi we rented a place to see the beach area past Las Tablas. There are so many beaches in the area to check out so it was great having a car.

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The pool overlooking Playa Los Destiladeros

 

Playa Los Destiladeros

Playa Los Destiladeros

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The local parrot, nicknamed Pancho by the locals. So beautiful and very friendly. He’s smart as he stops at people’s houses for food.

 

 

 

 

Pedasi is a small village of about 2000 people who seem to be either cattle farmers or fishermen.

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Pedasi Square

The town is very cute with a square where people get together in the evenings. The statue in the square is of one of the past Panama presidents who came from Pedasi and promoted the area. She still lives in Panama.

Packed into a bar to watch a futböl game and met some great people.

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On our first Saturday in town we went out to one of the local beaches to find a huge fishing competition on. No wonder no one was in town. Huge fish were being brought in from the local fishing boats. This tuna was 128lbs once they got him on the scale. If only…..

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We took the advise of a friend and organized private intensive spanish lessons while in Pedasi at Buena Vida Language School. Yes Brett and I were back in school again. Its tough to learn a language as you get older! Feeling much more comfortable.
P1060395P1060391We went out to the famous surfing beach of Playa Venao.  Billabong has actually hosted 2 international surfing competitions here so great promotion for the area.

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Love the signs down near the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

The tide was out in the bay when we arrived and it was hard to imagine this as a surfing mecca. By the end of the day when the tide was back in you could see why it was. The waves were high and crashing constantly. There were so many surfers out riding the waves. We played in the surf and got pounded by the crashing waves.

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The car would not start one morning on our way back and so we got the help of a few men to jump start the car.  Still wouldn’t start so ended up calling the rental company. P1060438

 

The car was installed with a GPS satellite security system to turn it off and as it had not been returned by the supposed contract date they had engaged it. Wow, technology. Mix up on the dates.

 

Well we got a lot sorted in Panama and saw the coast but its time to get back to the boat to see the East Coast of the US.