Monday, May 26, 2014

Bocas del Toro

I can’t believe a whole month has passed already.  Time flies when you are not working and just sitting around doing nothing!!!
Well, after we left Shelter Bay Marina we spent 2 days anchored up the Rio Chagres.  Gorgeous wide river with jungle all around.  Very quiet with no one else around except a few researchers from the Smithsonian Research Center.  We took our boat all the way down to the damn which dams off the water for the canal.
 Then we did go exploring by dinghy into the jungle.  We heard howler monkeys but none were visible.  If you have never heard one, they roar like a lion.  Very loud and scary.  I would have called them Lion monkeys.  We ran into a whole nest of little black bats and saw some beautiful birds.  Unfortunately, we did not get to see Toucans, like our friends who had been there 2 days previous.

The damn at the end of the Rio Chiagres that creates Gatun Lake which is the longest part of the passage of the canal.

We are taking our dinghy in the jungle down the canus .  see our outboard

A nest of little black bats.  My head was right under them as we passed under the bridge.

So then we sailed for 2 days, stopping at islands at night to get to an area called Boca del Toro.  It is a huge archipelago of  islands right off the mainland of Panama, almost to the Costa Rica border.  It is a really cute tourist town, which has become very popular for backpackers.  There are lots of hostels, little local restaurants and gift shops.  Lots to do between surfing, beach stuff, aerial trams, music and parties at night etc.  It really caters to the young.  We had several boat projects to work on so went into Marina Carenero to get the jobs done.  Mary, who runs it is an SSCA cruising station host and was very excited to have us come in.  Together we planned the first ever SSCA GAM here on the island.
A not very good view of downtown Bocas Town.  Sort of looks like small town USA

As usual though you see those gift shops really unique to the Caribbean

Lots of hotels and hostels along the waterfront.  Again not the best of pictures
 After we got several projects done, we decided to go with friends: Jan and Bruce on Celtic Rover for a road trip to Costa Rica.  There is no real harbor for us to take our boat there on the Caribbean side so we took a bus to San Jose, the capital.  It took 2 water taxis and 2 buses and 6 hours to get there but Costa Rica is beautiful and so lush green with rainforest throughout the country.
 One funny  story where the joke was on us.  We got a taxi at the bus station in San Hose telling him we didn’t have any Colones (Costa Rica money).  He told us it would be $50,000 Colones to the hotel and he would take us to a bank machine on the way.  We stupidly let him know we did not understand the currency exchange.  Since we had just been in Colombia dealing with thousands of pesos to the dollar, we didn’t think much about the $50,000 colones.  After he left and we paid him, we talked to the hotel clerk who said it was suppose to be $5,000 colones.  We had paid him $93 for a 10 min taxi ride that should have been $10.  At least we could split the stupidity between the 2 couples.  Boy, did we learn quick.  I am sure he took the rest of the day off and went on vacation.
 We stayed at an old hotel  called Don Carlos, which  use to be the President’s house.  It was just full of Spanish d├ęcor, paints, mosaic tile, fountains, statures etc.  (see the pictures).  It is located in the old are of San Jose so we did a lot of walking around to see the parks, museums, old buildings etc.
One of the stain glass windows inside the hotel

Many of these types of statues throughout the hotel but this one greets you as you enter

There swimming pool.  The size on the wall says swim at your own risk, no lifeguard.  I would have trouble swimming one lap.  

View of the lobby.  The second floor window was actually our room overlooking the lobby

One of many mosaic walls throughout the hotel

Outside along the wall were all these paintings of Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha

Small ones as well as large ones

I only took these pictures.  There were actually about 10 of these telling the story as we walked down the street

Check out the little red devil sitting on the roof of this house in San Jose

Here it is up close.

 We even went to the zoo.  It’s not very big but really had some exotic birds and animals that are native to the area.

Beautiful Macaws

Mating Parrots

Lonely toucan

Capuchin Monkeys all over the place, playing and showing off.  

He was really showing off, looking at us upside down

Another breed of monkey but not a howler.  They are black

 The next day we bused it up to La Selva, a world famous biological research center deep into the rainforest.  Researchers and universities around the world come there for tropical research projects.  We stayed overnight in a camp like atmosphere and then took a 3 hour tour with a guide through the jungle.  No his name was not Gilligan.  Anyway, our biggest surprise was about 8 howler monkeys with babies came out of the jungles and swung from the trees, putting on a regular show for us.  Unfortunately, I screwed up the settings on my camera and my pictures were not very good.  We saw lots of tiny red frogs that are extremely poisonous.  They are the size of a baby finger nail but their skin reeks with poison.  Tribes used to take the frogs and rub them on the ends of darts for spear hunting.  We had to be careful as they run across the paths that they didn’t touch us.  No open toed shoes for us. (see pictures)

Howler monkey but not a good shot.  They are very black

Jan and Bruce, our traveling buddies crossing the bridge at the campsite

The poisonous red frog

Ugly little white bats found under a huge leaf

We had a long bus ride back to Boca but had a wonderful time.  We would highly recommend Costa Rica and definitely Don Carlos hotel and La Selva.
Mary Robertson from the Marina Cay Carenero picked out 2 restaurants beside each other on the beach to have our SSCA Gam.    For those who don’t know it is the Seven Seas Cruising Association gathering for camaraderie and sharing of information for all the cruisers.  Harry and I have been doing these on all the big cruising areas throughout the Caribbean.  They are always lots of fun.  Well, we ended up with 35 people, a jam session with 3 cruisers who are musicians, playing guitars and bongos  and happy hour drinks all afternoon.  It had rained all morning but the sun came out for the afternoon making for a great party.  We raffled off a bunch of stuff from the marinas and actually acquired new members and renewing members.  So all went well.

Mary, looking very sociable at the registration table

The cruising musicians jamming

Cruisers socializing at the Gam
After that event we were doing boat projects to get ready for our next big passage- 610 NM to the Bay Islands of Honduras and then up the Rio Dulce for hurricane season.  The problem is the weather is not cooperating so here we sit with 2 other boats who are going with us.  We are all getting cabin fever with the non- stop raining.  We do go play dominoes with the other cruisers and walk around town a bit but I have actually run out of cleaning projects and Harry has run out of boat projects.  We are reading book after book.  He just took on a 1300 page Tom Clancy novel and is already more than half way through.
So I will send this out while we have internet and won’t write again until we are tucked away safely up the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mainland Panama and the Canal trip

Boy, are we ever trying to get the most out of Panama.  There is so much to see and do.  We know we can’t eat the whole elephant nor can we afford the whole elephant so we are trying to get the most out of it as we can.  Sailing the San Blas Islands was just awesome not only because of their beauty but the serenity, the Kuna Indians and their culture, the perfect weather and the fun of snorkeling and swimming in crystal clear waters.  If you ever want to just do a getaway vacation and just relax, come here (no 5 star hotels but total relaxation).  The Kuna’s are very peaceful people who live a traditional life but also very friendly and helpful. 
Now do you see why people come to the San Blas Islands

I had to slip this in.  This is what Harry looks like every morning talking on the SSB to all the nets and working on the computer at the same time.

A typical Kuna village, very crowded and actually pretty dirty
Kuna Indians in their dugout canoes. this is their mode of transport.   I had to take this pic from a distance

So we finally decided it was time to leave Kuna Yala and do some real site seeing of the mainland of Panama.   Also, we needed a bank machine and some food on board.   So we had a fantastic beam reach sail from the islands to Portobelo, our first real mainland stop.  It is a famous historical town for 2 reasons.  It was discovered by Columbus on his 4th trip over in 1502 and  then became one of the most important sites for transferring riches from South to North America.  From this port tons of gold and silver were shipped off to the capitals of the Spanish empires.  The wealth in this town was so strong that it attracted pirates such as Henry Morgan on the Spanish Main who, with 460 men managed to overtake the town.  His demand for 100,000 pesos which he received, kept him from destroying the entire population.  After that attack, forts were being built all around the harbor.  Harry and I managed to explore all 4 of them.  2 of which included pretty steep climbs but fantastic views of the harbor.  (see the pictures)

Just wanted all of you to see, I finally had to start doing my own laundry
Of course with Harry's help
Check out the speakers in this trunk.  This was at a soccer game and you could hear the music in the next county.  It did tend to draw a lot of girls around there.
A bunch of us cruisers having a barbecue on the beach.  Really fun time

This are the local buses, all painted up and privately owned so they can paint anything they want on them.  Called chicken buses

View of the harbor from on top of one of the forts

We took our dinghy down one of the rivers to find monkeys and birds.  Not much luck but beautiful scenery

We were hiking to the top of one of the forts.

These are how cashews grow.  One nut under an apple looking type of fruit.  It is amazing that you only get one nut out of this.  Can't believe they aren't more expensive then what they are.

The famous Captain Jack's bar in Portebelo.  It's where all the cruisers hangout

The big gang of us all playing farkel and having a great time.  Some of these folks are ones we crewed with across the canal and others we have been buddy boating with.

The bridge we had to cross to climb to the top of a hill
The other reason for its importance is the church of the San Felipe de Portobelo.  It is the home of the Black Christ of Portobelo.  This statue has become holy and worshipped because of the miracles attributed to it.  Every Oct 21st, the Festival of the Black Christ is celebrated.  People walk on their knees from as far as Costa Rica to pay their respects every October 21.  It makes me want to stay here til October just to witness the celebration. 

We have all been warned to stay away from the downtown part of Colon because of the crime and if we do go there, take taxi’s.  Well, we had to check into the country and get our cruising permit so we took a 50 passenger local bus with about 200 other people to the bus terminal of Colon and caught a taxi who didn’t have a clue where customs and immigration was and didn’t speak a word of English.  After ½ hour of driving around and him asking 4 different people he got us to immigration.  The fare was $2.  We then found out we must got to customs first.  So off we went to find another taxi.  This time we really got lucky.  We found a driver who speaks English and takes all the cruisers from the marina into customs.  He got us there, stayed with us, helped interpret and got us back to immigration.  Tito was our man!!  Customs was going to take all day and said we would have to come back at 3pm to get our papers and immigration closes at 3pm.  So I did some whining and tried to force a few tears saying we had been up since 4AM and came all the way from Portobelo etc, etc.  She felt so badly, she said: O’well, I will do them right now.  I am beginning to find out that being a “little old lady with white hair pays off”.

The next adventure was our 2 day trip through the Panama Canal.  Wow, what an experience.  Harry and I functioned as line handlers on a boat called Tiger Lilly.  Lilly and Tom are friends of ours and needed 1 more person so we came as a set.  It took 2 days through 6 locks including an overnight anchored in the middle of the canal in Gatun Lake.  We had agents on board for both days and also some trainees.  Then Tom’s brother and another friend from Florida also were onboard.  So needless to say it was a busy boat and everyone had to be fed so I was the galley maid along with Lilly and we cooked up a storm.  Feeding 7 men is not an easy task.  The agents were so very friendly and very professional so it made it fun.  We did a lot of waiting for locks to open and close etc.  Lilly and I did not have to actually handle lines so we took a ton of pictures between us.  It’s pretty intimidating when you have a huge container ship about 10 feet behind you squeezing into the lock.  We can now check off one more adventure on our bucket list.

Lilly feeding the agent and one of his trainees

Coming into the canal at night with the gates closed

Now the gates are opening

We are rafted up (nested) with another sailboat as we go thru the locks

Bridge of America we went under at the end on the Pacific side in Panama City

Tom and Lilly the owners of the boat we crewed on.

Huge container ship just 100 feet behind us in the lock.  Check out the paintings of dolphins and fish on the haul

Tom made Harry in charge of all the deck work.  They were getting the boats rafted up.

We really took about 100 pictures but I tried to pick out just a few that you could see what goes on.
They dropped us off in Panama City, we got a hotel room and spent the next 2 days touring the city.  It is a very beautiful modern city  with tons of highrise buildings and some very old historical sites dating back to the 1600 and the Spanish invasions.  Of course I took a ton of pictures but won’t post but a couple.  Panama city is very safe, not like Colon.  We felt comfortable walking around at night and seeing the sights.  Then Monday we had a driver named Roger, who speaks English, took us shopping to provision.  After about $700 worth of groceries etc we came back to the marina where our boat was safe and sound.

One of the many Cathedrals in the city

Ruins of the old city in the 1600's before the city was moved to a saver area.  this was all left behind with a population of 10,000 people

Harry with a Dragon outside one of the restaurants

The Presidential palace

View of the city, quite impressive

Kuna Indians come into the city to sell their wares

We climbed Mt Ancon and this was one of the views of the city.  It was a very overcast day.
Next adventure is taking our boat down the Rio Chagres to hike through the jungle!!  Next blog the end of May