Our peregrinations in Panama continue, but no longer in Caribbean waters. The Panama Canal provided safe passage to the Pacific Ocean, and here we remain. Since leaving the quirky, touristy and beautiful archipelago of Bocas del Torro we have roamed through some stunning parts of the country including Escudos de Veraguas, Panama City, and the Pearl Islands. There is so much more to Panama than a canal, and those hats. (Which, incidentally, originate in Ecuador….) But of course one has to wear one when in Panama anyway, as any self respecting stereo typical tourist will attest! Conveniently for me, my well worn fedora finally disintegrated in Panama, opening up a shopping opportunity and I did not waste it! Justifiable reasons to buy anything other than food and boat parts are few and far between. And so I promptly acquired a feminine version of the very practical Panama hat. My sun ravaged Aussie face is once again shaded, possibly too little too late?
After an end of season party with some new friends and acquaintances from the Panama Posse, we will now head for Costa Rica to meet our new crew.
Transiting the PANAMA CANAL! Oh my goodness this was an incredible experience, and I would love to do it again, immediately! I am sure that without the first timer nerves it would be even more fun. I hope that we can assist another boat as line handlers soon, as it really does help knowing what to expect when in those locks with an enormous container ship breathing down your neck as it looms over your match box sized boat! We had a great crew of line handlers (you need 4) including an experienced Aussie sailing couple who had done it all before, and were great reassurance to have on board. One thing about the transit experience that seemed absurd but true, is that most cruisers are more worried about what they will feed the canal authority advisor for his three meals aboard than anything else! Huge container ships, locks, heavy monkey fists hurled at your boat/head from a great height…. None of those things are as worrying as pleasing the notoriously fussy advisor’s palate! Apparently if the food is not up to scratch, the advisor may choose to order a pizza to the boat, but the $10 pizza incurs a $354 dollar delivery fee!! Our advisor was friendly and helpful, with a distinctly unfussy palate, as he devoured a second helping of my dubious spag bol! Crisis averted.
Whilst still in the Caribbean, we accompanied another cruiser on an overland bus/boat trip to David. (Pronounced Dahveed, if you want a local to understand you.) Some of the beauty and challenge of being somewhere far from home, and more often out of your comfort zone than in it, is that you have to learn new rules and ways of doing things all the time. To make the bus trip to David, we had to go to the water taxi station several days in advance; present our passports, pay in cash, and the keep track of FIVE different paper tickets to be presented on the day of travel. Sometimes it seems that there might be more efficient ways of doing things, (and this occurred to me more than once as the lady at the ticket booth laboriously copied out our names and passport details FOUR TIMES on the two sets of tickets required for our outward and return journeys) but I have noticed that here, as in Spain, people are very happy to wait for the many things that take (an inordinate amount of?) time. We have had to learn this, and be prepared to enjoy long chats with random strangers with whom we spend the odd hour or two in the queues of daily life. I was astounded by this in Spain, where the enormous two story supermarkets/department stores often had queues of 20 trolleys, their drivers passing the time amiably with other queued shoppers. One day I had quite an indepth conversation about Australian rock music with a Spanish gentleman who was much better versed in this topic than I! Anyhoo…. our journey to David began with an hour in a water taxi to the mainland, then we were jammed into an old yellow taxi with other commuters to the frenetic but efficient local bus terminal where we boarded a crowded old minibus. The road to David was windy and scenic, and gravel in several long stretches. It climbed high into the Cordillera Central that forms the spine of Panama, and were pleasantly surprised to actually get quite cold inside the bus. We had a couple of pauses in the 3 hour trip, during which hawkers provided the opportunity to buy single serve cakes, chips, lollies, bread, fruit and veg and drinks. They pushed their offerings through the bus windows, as well as coming on board the tiny mini bus and squeezing around the passengers and luggage. Surprisingly many people bought refreshments and a few groceries, just like popping into the supermarket on the way home from work I suppose?
Insect bites!! Not that we are unaccustomed to them really, but Magnus had several VERY painful bites from something that probably fell from a tree he was walking under, brushing through the leaves a bit. Panic set in when it seemed that a couple of the little devils were stuck in his hat/sweaty hair, and they were not happy! Attack is their best form of defence, and attack they did. Magnus had some painful evidence of their tactics for several days, and developed a nervous twitch when near foliage for about a week!
Making a “visa run” to Costa Rica made us feel like teenagers and fugitives, especially when we were held up at the border. We had checked out of Panama, but were not allowed to enter Costa Rica until we could show a ticket out of the country, despite our hired car being parked mere metres away where we had left it before we WALKED over the border! Bureaucracy! After sorting out a refundable ticket, we checked in, then checked out of Costa Rica, and walked back to the car. Our objective of securing a further 3 month tourist visa was achieved, and the border security official had done his job. On another note, just prior to our entry to Costa Rica while moving in no mans land at the border, Magnus took extra biosecurity precautions when he walked through a truck weighbridge and as a very unexpected bonus, received a good dose of pesticide/herbicide spray from underneath. Maybe it will prevent any further insect bites for a little while?
Spearing our first fish! We acquired a Hawaiian Sling thrown in with a drogue we bought second hand about two years ago. We have tried with it a bit, using an old exercise band as a sling and Magnus finally got one; a Yellow finned Surgeon fish in the marina just behind the boat. They are so named because they have a scalpel like blade near their tail, capable of cutting through a leather glove to the bone!
Having a turn at hosting the morning cruisers radio net. We have benefitted from listening and contributing to many of these in our travels, and so with the help of experienced net hosts, I had my first turn. It might be a useful skill to contribute somewhere else along the way? My Aussie accent and quiet voice are not ideal…. but it is the bad jokes that are the real problem I think.
Looking around the city of Colon at the northern end of the Panama Canal. The faded beauty was founded as a railway terminus, expediating the rush to California for gold. Now things seem centered around canal operations, and some parts are in disrepair. We were cautioned about the city being dangerous, but were sensible/lucky and suffered no harm.
A surf lesson In Bocas. We are both up for a challenge, and so enjoyed a surfing lesson in baby waves near Carenero. I only got smacked hard once, and we both stood up many times. Low and wobbly, but upright! I hurt myself much more doing a gigantic belly wacker off the boat the other day. I have never been very good at a simple dive, and thought I should improve this status before it was too late, but I think it already is. The day I tried my first dive in years, Magnus thought I had thrown something heavy overboard, but it was just the sound of the BIGGEST and most painful belly wacker you could hope to see. My whole front, from face to toes, was red for an hour or so, and quite tender I must say.
Two new marina experiences; one bustling, staffed by energetic, knowledgeable people, and “can do” attitudes from everyone; staff and cruisers alike, and another, more laid back marina on the Pacific side, where we made firm friendships over many shared meals, taxis, movie outings, and walks. It’s a quiet time of year, but the community spirit among the small group was very warm and strong, held together by the “mayor” of the marina. As a bonus, both marinas had nice pools, although, like most boaters, there was not much time to use them.
Sailing to Escudos de Veraguas. Simply the most stunning island, water, and snorkeling we have seen. The water was indescribably beautiful, glimmering a deep aquamarine to a deep emerald green, contrasted against red cliffs and ferociously bright green foliage above. Every time we puttered along the shore in our dinghy it was hard to know where to look as the visual beauty was overwhelming.
The Pearl Islands; island after deserted island of tropical paradise.
Dolphins. En route we had many large dolphins close by, sometimes jumping, and some playing along at the bow for a little while. I counted 10 in the bow wave at one time. These moments always invokes a child like joy and state of awe, running around the boat looking, pointing and shouting, even though we have seen dolphins many times now.
Wildlife. Whilst here we have seen monkeys, (White faced Capuchin, Howlers) Leaf cutter ants, an Agouti, and iguanas. No crocs thank goodness.
Spending days schlepping around on foot, by bus, and uber to MANY hardware, marine supply, and autoparts shops trying to find simple parts, like oil filters, often to no avail. It is really hard to find out where to buy specific things, and we have found it near impossible to buy many things we need. There are lots of shops, but its a puzzle to know which ones have what, and then we have to actually get there. There was ONE of the required oil filters in the whole of Panama City, and by the time we began the 2 hour trip to get it, it was gone. So Magnus took a second trip into the city another day to buy one from a fellow boater. Even locals just order things in, because supply is so unpredictable and sporadic. So boat repairs have been a bit hit and miss in Panama, just doing what is possible with what we have.
We broke the glass presso coffee pot! First world problem, and no biggie really, but we cant find another one for love nor money! The main problem is we just stocked up with cheap coffee in Colombia. So, never one to waste things, we are now drinking it directly from the thermos, grounds and all! You get used to it, and apparently it’s quite good for you in moderation!
We had to put a big jack fish back in the water, for fear of ciguatera. It would have been better to release him alive, but we could not identify him quickly enough.
First mate having “a fall” when out running. The hard landing on the nose was not fun, and other scrapes and bruises hung on for a few days, and foolishly I had a COVID booster in the opposite arm to my sprained? wrist, so was a bit useless for a day or two! (NB; my brother informs me that when over 50, you no longer just “fall over”, oh no, it’s much more serious, you are described to have “had a fall!”) 😂
We have had our small share of wildlife on the boat, most notably two small lizards, but read that a BOA CONSTICTOR was found on a boat in an area that we had recently anchored in. Apparently they climb up the anchor chain. In our boat, that would have dropped it through the hatch directly onto our bed! Argh! That would have been a test!
We have made several friendships with itinerant dogs, When walking, often a dog comes along with us for an hour or two, and then drops off, usually in the vicinity they joined our walk, and often to join another walker. One night when the kids were here a dog fell deeply in love with them (or baby Nate?) and followed us back to the boat. During the night he barked to come aboard, and tried several times to jump onto the boat, landing in the water. He swam around appearing unperturbed, but we walked with him towards land so he could climb out, but he immediately came back and repeated the performance. All this splashing, barking, and whining did not endear us to our marina neighbors, who thought he was our dog. It turned out that he came from another island, and had probably swum the several hundred meters over as an outing. He was collected by his owner the next day, to everyone’s great relief.
Having an impromtu drink with a couple of other boaters that turned into a soaking. Part of a passing tropical wave caused strong winds and rain, blowing them right underneath the lovely sheltered outdoor area we were sitting in. NONE of the tough sailors would make the first move to seek shelter, so after about 15 minutes we were all soaked, and I had to call it, realising that no one else would. The tough sailors hurried ahead of me, let me tell you, jokingly acknowledging on the way that none of them could move first! We retreated inside dripping and laughing, and continued our chat.
FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:
Sushi in David. We were guided to a brightly lit, fast foody looking cafe by a local, and we were grateful. The tempura veggies were close to the best I’ve had, and I’m a bit of a tempura devotee.
A fragile confection of cream, sponge and strawberries chosen from a decadent selection at a pasteleria in David. Even in supermarkets there are always many delectable cakes and pastries to resist.
Israeli meal in Bocas. The falafel was fresh and minty, and a welcome change from boat food, or fries.
Spanish Mackerel – caught from the boat. A particularly delicate white fish, perfectly cooked with a subtle mustard cream sauce. Mmmm!
The biggest lobster I have ever seen, bought for fresh air from a fisherman at Escudos de Veraguas. It was also the first lobster I had ever held, and it was a painful experience! The tough fisherman’s hands from whence it came gave me no indication that when it landed in my soft grasp that it would be quite so sharp! I nearly dropped it as it wriggled around digging its prickly antennae deeper into my fingers. The fisherman were kind, and along with their amusement at my shreiks, they gave me a bag to transport him in.
Fish from the local fish market, straight from the fishing boats on the beach, our first try of pago, another delicate white fish.
Peruvian food in an elegant restaurant. Superb seabass in a creamy sauce, and a exquisitely subtle chicken and yellow pepper dish. The service was perfect; polite and prompt.
Eating out the boat pantry food, including many nice dahls from Magnus, and some cracking hummus. No socialising for a few days, but GREAT hummus!
A revival of a teenage sleepover brekky. This happened out of sheer desperation, peering into the tin cupboard, dreading the thought of more tinned peas and corn. A lightbulb went off when I spied the tinned pineapple, and I remembered a morning in about 1982 when some one elses’ Mum served 5 giggling girls a ham steak, cheese, and pineapple on toast. This was a good boat food find, as it works well with tinned pineapple rings and spam type ham. Doesn’t sound appealing? Its all relative.
Boat kitchen attempt at a local dish called Old Clothes, (Ropa Vjeja) with about half the ingredients – not a success. Actually tasted a little like old clothes TBH. Still “in development.”
Raspao, a cool local treat of shaved ice served in a cup, with fruit and or syrup, poured on top. and if you are lucky, some condensed milk for extra sweetness. Super refreshing drunk in the beating sun, in 100% humidity.
Super cute food art by a talented boater friend.
Potluck BBQs in Vista Mar marina with other boaters, Always interesting food and conversation around the shared table. Conversation examples include the origin of the term “head” when referring to a boat bathroom. Apparently in old ships, seamen had to go to the head of the boat to relieve themselves, hence the name. Another topic this week was “worst crew stories”, and one captain’s worst crew member was a Russian swimwear model. We wondered what his best crew was like?
Hull cleaned at anchor
Stainless steel polished
Kitchen bench resealed
Bow propeller battery replaced
Purchased spare part to fix leaking rubber propeller seal. Fixing TBC, but at least we have the part.
Dinghy engine repaired. Magnus is sure that he has finally solved the last problem, ensuring that our temperamental dinghy motor and its revolving cast of carburetors will forever be reliable now. If only. We have rowed more that we have used the motor lately.
Dinghy repaired; punctures patched and side ropes replaced/spliced/whipped.