Wednesday, November 12, 2008
As an alternative to sailing throuout the San Blas Islands, you might consider doing what a fellow Canuks from Fernie BC did this past October. Carole Beupre, along with three of her friends and fellow Fernie residents Charity Barkwell, Cheryl Paulson, and Corin Lohman arrived for a two week all you can paddle Kayak holiday experience. We first met up with them during their second week in the San Bals at the Eastern Hollandaise, better known among cruisers as the swimming pool. As they paddled by and noticed our Canadian flag they stopped and said hello and had a visit.
We enjoyed sharing some ice in cold drinks with them as ice was not something they carry in the Kayaks and we all had a few good chuckles at hearing of their experiences to date. We got to know these great kids a little better one day when we towed their kayaks and motor/sailed to Achudup on their final leg (or is that legs, no pun intended) back to the Carti Islands.
The kayaks they brought with them were unique in that they could also be peddled, paddled and sailed and they are inflatable. I even took Doc for a ride and found it to be very stable and a hoot to scoot around in. We also got a real good look at their travelling gear which included some very neat technology in their hanging cocoon tent/hammock, made on Galliano Island, BC as well their water collection systems and marveled at the portability of their unique accommodations which latterly disappeared into a sock for transport. If you are interested in learning more of this type of travel you can contact Carole at South Country Kayak website www.southcountrykayaks.com and email firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of you interested in the traditional Kuna lifestyle you might find a visit to Mamitupu just the ticket. This island is home to a traditional Kuna village as well a small resort Las Cabanas Waica Mamitupu. The general manager Pablo Perez M. is an extremely friendly English/Spanish speaking host. He along with his wife will take care of you. There is a small airport just across a narror channel on the mainland that flies out of Panama City. Do not expect satellite TV or air-conditioning…but you can expect to enjoy the best homemade coconut oil soap and just bout anything else made with Coconut oil. This is a place to bring a good book, hang back in the hammock and let the world go by. You can contact Pablo at www.waica.com or www.geocities.com/maitupu and by email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again for us when Kaija returns to Vancouver to see family and travel with her father to Finland. She will be gone two months and has adequately provisioned KaijaSong for her absence so that Doc and I can return to the San Blas and hang out with our Kuna friend, Augusto at the Wally Lodge situated in the Western Lemon Cays on Tiadup. Augusto makes some of the best sour dough bread you have ever eaten and so I made sure that we had sufficient flour and yeast aboard.
Each day for Doc and me would start with Coffee made aboard and fresh bread made by Augusto and he and I and Doc and his two little canine buddies Kimba and Negritta would discuss the weather for the day and world events. Keep in mind I speak no Kuna and Augusto only a few words of English the conversations would have the occasional lapse which was fine and allowed time to really enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Wally Lodge also offers great sand beaches, hammocks under the coconut palms, and some of the best snorkeling we have enjoyed to date.
For those of you who would like to experience Wally Lodge and are not sailors, it is accessible via a short launch ride from the airport at Porvenir. They currently have two cabanas with three more under construction. Typical fare is $70 per person per day. You can find further information at www.kuna-niskua.com and contact email is email@example.com. The general manager is Juan Antonio Martinez.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Gary’s first Canal Transit
We were very lucky to get a mooring at the Panama Canal Yacht Club. Med mooring with a big back yard for Doc. Gary had an opportunity to do a transit with the S/y Skylax with Captain Rod and first mate Lu. It was a great experience and a good idea to do your first transit on someone else’s boat before taking your own thru. And what I learned is that it is all about the timing…and the pilot is late for it all! Making it 1am before completing the first three up locks…it was quite easy, the key is having line handlers who can pull in the line or let it out corresponding with the flow in/out of the lock. After spending the night on Gaton Lake the early morning transit (7am) became more like leaving at 9am ‘cause that’s when the pilot showed up…but no hassle or worry as long as they are well fed. As long as you can make 8 knots (that’s the regulation, the reality was more like 5 kts) but no worries mate! We arrived to brisk headwinds in Panama and the anchorage of Balboa was not inviting in any way. The 2 hour bus ride back to Cristobel/Colon was exciting to say the least…involving a brutal physical attack, the army and police and a screaming woman…to make a long story short… be very careful in Panama!
This is one of those places that few boats stop at. We were the only boat most of the time here, except the two days that Hocus Pocus stopped by. We walked around the island and not much there, no shells, no beach glass. This anchorage is just 8 miles east of Colon and a perfect anchorage. We had wind from the north and the south and no problems. No bugs and good holding and good swimming for Doc.
When we were last here, it was Black Christ Festival and there were thousands of people here, now it is a quiet relaxed and safe place. We needed some provisions and dog food especially. Stocked up while anchored on the town side and then moved over by the yellow house on the opposite shore. Climbed a couple of the forts and enjoyed great pizza at the Drake restaurant.
Back to visit the monkeys. Yes they are still there and looking for handouts. I have been told that they are howler monkeys and that the owner of the island, Mr. A Bartel, has in the past introduced many injured animals to this island. Animals that would not survive in nature but do all right here. He is said to have purchased iguanas from locals that were selling them for food. The locals damage their leg tendons and if released would not live long in the wild. The island has spider monkeys also that do not come down from the interior.
On this visit, Kaija actually spotted three scarlet macaws flying over to the island from the mainland. And there is another story here. The gentleman, who owns the home with the terra cotta home and walkways, is also trying to preserve some of the wild birds in the area. You will hear them if you anchor here. He is helping increase the genetic pool of many species and the bird are not caged but do return to the roost he has created for them. He rescues birds that have been confiscated by customs agents and tries to help in many other ways. So, in this small area, two people are trying to help with nature and giving back lives to many creatures that would otherwise be killed to extinction.
We were told this was not a place to go, nothing there but mangroves. OK, we will continue to tell that story because it was a perfect spot. S/v Dragonfly, Rick and Cindy were there when we arrived. We had the place to ourselves. No bugs, two beautiful islands to walk around and look for hamburger beans and beach glass. Shells are few. The one island – cay has a lodge on it, Wally Lodge. The two gentlemen working there, Augusto and Sebastian, became friends and Gary’s coffee partners in the morning. They allowed us to use the hammocks on beach, and walk and swim around their cleared area. They cooked for themselves, but when there were guests staying in the cabins, a cook was brought in.
The supply ulu s stops by with fresh fruits and vegetables and other things. We mentioned to Sebastian that we needed eggs and he had his friend stop by and took our order and the next day, we had everything we asked for. Couple of other local Kuna also sold fish.
Again a place we had been before and there were only two other boats here, Wooden Shoe and a power CAT Dedalus. But before we left a few days later there were two more Canadian boats, one from Vancouver and also a Telus employee, the other was out of Abbotsford. Small world. A nice get together was held on shore, and even Peter off s/v Golden and his charter joined us. This was the boat that last fall, had been hit by lightning twice in one month. Doc always enjoys this place because there are five islands for him to swim to and explore. The wind was a steady 14 knots so the water was a little rough but swimming was still good.
This was our second time here. Just as beautiful and quiet as the first time. No sharks this time. The breeze was steady, the snorkeling at the “SEA GLASS” cay was clear and there was glass to be found. Only one or two small pieces of blue were found.
If you need a place to rest, to stage out of, this is the place.
These two cays are very close to each other and the mainland. We first anchored off Uastupu – great coral heads and would have been nice to snorkel, but too rolly.
So we stayed the one night and moved over to the area by the water tower off Mamitupu. The villager that had come out to collect their fee had said this was the better of the two areas to anchor in, he was right.
We watched every morning as the local men went to the mainland to work their “farms”. They would come back later in the day with plantains, coconuts, bananas and sometimes fish. They did not try to sell to us but if we called them over, they were happy to provide things we wanted. – for reasonable fees. One gentleman that came out, introduced himself as Pablo Nunez Perez, and spoke very good English. He had his grandson with him and was promoting coconut soap (nicely wrapped in traditional Kuna fabric) and part of the proceeds went towards the children’s education. This was a person I had wanted to meet and we arranged to meet him the next day on shore. Pablo gave us a tour of the village, introduced us to the second chief, his family and his mother. While at his mother’s home, he had his sister demonstrate how they make the coconut oil and the soap and we were allowed to take pictures, but not his mother. She was very shy.
During our visit, I asked about Senor Martinez, who carved small ulu replicas. Pablo located him and we visited with the 83 year old man, who no longer carves as his eyesight has failed him. We learned how the village had been moved from the mainland 72 years earlier and that he had lived here all his life. On first moving from the mainland, there were 10 families with a total of 60 people and now there were about 1200 souls living on the island.
We were able to purchase eggs, and Kuna bread, and the coastal trade boats stop here to buy the coconuts and they also purchase aluminum cans – pop or beer. So if you go here, save your cans to give to the Kuna instead of throwing them away.
Pablo and his wife run a small hotel at one end of the island and here is the web site:
The airport is a short walk on the mainland side and comes every day at 7 am.
This was a lovely stop just east of the island of Caledonia. We anchored outside of one of the many cays here and just missed the channel that would have taken us into an inner bay. But great anchorage and the scenery was marvelous. These cays are just west of where the first Scottish settlement was established in the 1700’s. It did not survive and many souls were lost. Also a point in history, Caledonia is where the first American expedition to find a ships channel was started in 1853. It is hard to believe that by looking at the profile of the mainland here, that is all mountains, it was thought that they could build a canal. We enjoyed exploring the many cays by dinghy – great places for Doc to explore and Kaija to look for shells, hamburger beans and sea glass. Not a lot of success but good times.
The Kuna village at Caledonia sent out a representative to collect a small fee and explain some of their rules. We were not to be approached by the villagers and they asked not to give candy to the children. There was also a fee if you went into the village.
Friday, May 30, 2008
This great key hole anchorage is a short distance west of Sapzurro in Panama. The local Kuna village is Anachuna and altho we were not solicited by the villagers as in most Kuna Islands, we did pay our $10 visitors fee. We were joined in this beautiful bay by one of the coastal trading boats.
It was here that Doc learned to tow the dinghy. He is a source of constant joy. Well almost constant!
At 4pm, on a dark and gusty afternoon, with reefed main set for the night passage we departed Isla Fuerte. Planning a 14 hour passage across the 83 miles of open water to arrive at the sleepy little bay of Sapzurro on the Columbian/Panama border. We could not slow down! We let out the sails until almost flogging and still we were doing better than 8 knots over the ground. At this speed we would arrive at 3 am…on a lee shore, in the dark, trying to navigate unfamiliar water into an unfamiliar reef ringed bay.
Short of sailing backwards and putting out an anchor to slow our passage, we arrived two hours ahead of schedule off the rocky cliff lined shore of the Columbia/Panama border. Hove to in the dark ahead we could just make out three large fishing trawlers hauling their long nets passing in front of us. We made our way thru and saw the faint harbour lights of Sapzurro Bay.
Passing by the lights into the bay there was not a light anywhere. We slowed to a crawl and almost ran broadside into one of three coastal trading boats at anchor. Luckily, it was not long before enough of the dawn allowed us to find our anchorage and we settled in. Arriving in the dark is not recommended!
Sapzurro Bay is inaccessible by road. It is lined with jagged hilltop jungle vegetation. It is also a border town for Columbia and Panama. There is a steep well-worn path up thru the jungle and Kaija and Doc trekked to the top of the hill. The two guards, one from each country welcomed them and registered Kaija’s visit. Doc settled into the coolest place he could find after the long hot ‘grind’ up the hill.
The Bay is lined with beautiful white sand beaches. On the windward swept side, the constant rolling waves are filled with fresh flotsam from lands afar. The opposite side of the bay is a ‘mui tranquil’ setting and an ideal place for locals and visitors to gather in the cool sands and clear calm waters. Here we met Carlos and family, dog and pet pigs.
In between these sandy beaches lies the quite well organized small village of Sapzurro. Each house is well turned out and many have quite architecturally pleasing accoutrements. Here we met Chile speaks better English than we do Spanish and a good friend of our friend ‘Dennis the Wild One’. Chile was ever so gracious during our stay. We purchased a small piece of local art from ‘Miriam’ and enjoyed a wonderful dinner complements of the sea prepared at a local restaurant where we chatted with a Cindy and Bob from Walla Walla We. They were visiting their son and so impressed with the people and the place, as were we.
We also met S/v Enata from Norway, Lucky and his wife and their 6 month old baby, as well S/v Ahnri from Sweden with Heidi and husband. So with Kaija being from Finland we pretty much had the ‘Scandahoovians represented.
Along with all this good news and fun, of course there must be a little pain. Gary insists on a clean engine compartment, and after each run he makes sure it is. Upon checking the engine compartment we discovered a large amount of transmission fluid evident throughout the engine compartment. What a mess!...We cleaned it up and checked everything and double checked and couldn’t find anything evident. We restarted the engine and immediately saw this ‘jet’ of transmission fluid spraying from the gearbox cooler. We shut down and Gary grunted and groaned and finally got the unit off the engine block. It was upon closer inspection we realized that over time a small hole, the size of a pin, had developed in the casing. This was not good news, and we were facing a major dilemma as we are already nursing our tranny along, and this meant turning around and sailing back into Cartagena with a non-functioning gearbox cooling system. With not many options in store, Gary invoked the ‘dremmel’ rule. When nothing else will do, get Dremmel!. He pretended he was back at the dentist and performed a dental procedure of some sort, enlarging the hole from the inside enough to provide sufficient space for the bonding material we carry aboard called Marine-Tex (this stuff is good!). Long story short, when re-installed, it all worked, and as Capt G is fond of saying…”It’s Alllll Good!”.
This is a place less travelled. We heard about it from fellow cruisers and as we prepared to leave this wonderful little bay and both agreed that this is a place you could spend a lot of time.
Islas Fuerte is located 20 miles off the Columbian coast 40 SW of San Bernardo. It makes for a good sail with the NE trades.
Along the way we saw only two other boats. One was a fishing trawler anchored in deep water and just covered with birds. It was an interesting site. The other boat first seen on the horizon was coming straight toward us, exactly on our reciprocal course. There was something familiar even at a distance, Gary recognized S/v Pangea with our friend Captain Tristan whom we met months earlier in Cartagena. We had lost contact with him and as luck would have it, here we are, miles from anywhere, sailing right past each other. It was a ‘grey poupon’ moment.
After abandoned attempts at ‘rafting’ due to the afternoon swell, we settled on radio contact. We used the VHF and ‘caught up. After a great chat, we set sail and watched Tristan sail in our wake into the horizon.
Two hours later we arrived at Isla Fuerte. This anchorage was pretty much as Tristan had just described, having just spent a ‘rolly’ night. We confirm his findings.
We were greeted by a ponga with a group of local fisherman. They saw that we carried a spare outboard motor. They wanted it!. Over the next couple of days they tried to ‘acquire’ it. It was friendly enough and some cash was offered. It was yet another good reason to have our chief of security ‘Doc’ aboard to discourage any ideal hands of those passing close in the night. A few days later another vessel in the anchorage was boarded and ‘lost’ their outboard. This is not a place we would recommend.
This is an ideal quiet water anchorage with good breeze tucked in behind a breakwater peninsula that extends a mile south and requires a good safety margin to get around. Once inside along the white sandy beach you will find a delightfully quiet anchorage. A great place to rest after a long passage or use as a staging point.
This is a picture postcard anchorage located at the east end of Isla Tintipan. With its white sandy beaches stretching westward ending at a small resort where you can find a cold drink and plenty to eat.
After a lovely 4 hour sail along the Columbian coast, we entered Baru Bay. Thru a narrow entrance past a unique ‘in the water restaurant’, with an overflow of happy bathers splashing and enjoying themselves, we found our friends Sonny & Kay on S/v Valentina, along with Gene & Brenda, S/v Queen Mary and Steve & Mary, S/v Barefoot. They were awaiting a weather window to Cartagena and left the following morning from whence we came.
We spent a few wonderful days in this bay and Doc and Gary soon met Roberto & family who kindly permitted access to their land. He took them to the top of a neighbouring hill and introduced them to his friend Robinson who was the caretaker of a stunning modern home with a 360 degree panoramic view that was priceless.
Roberto’s wife was able to use some galley/kitchen items that Kaija had recently replaced in Cartagena. These wonderful people are kind, humble and generous of themselves and it is a joy to be with them.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Getting your boat hauled is always a somewhat traumatic experience. When you are cruising it is more likely than not a ‘new lift’ to you and each one, combined with the operator seems to have quite life of its own. There are the usual things to consider, protecting the hull from scraping on the cement walls or steel pilings, tugs and other watercraft in the way, the preparing the rig stays for dis-assembly etc. But all of these things are usually quite easy to manage.
We will long remember this haul out experience was one for the books. It started soon after leaving the anchorage with the Pilot guide from the Haul out facility on board to assist in the navigation of some very skinny water. We hadn’t travelled the first mile, when we touched bottom the first of three times and the last one just outside the haul out facility with not much hope of getting ‘off’ the bottom without the assistance of a tug. After a few words between the pilot and the ‘yard’ manager they called the Coast Guard for assistance.
In three years of cruising we have never needed the assistance of the the Coast Guard. Gary worked his ‘MOJO’ and gently worked KS out of the mud (thank goodness for a rising tide and a very happy and well loved little engine that could).
We arrived at the haul facility, which by this time was well aware we were coming, only to find yet another obstacle in the way, another boat sitting in the sling waiting to be hauled. Now we are not talking about a lot of maneuvering room here…and spent the next hour trying to stand still against a building breeze within 50 feet of a gigantic rust bucket of a Columbian freighter that would not have noticed or cared if I became one more scratch on his big red hull.
Finally we got into the sling and after three attempts, two bent stanchions and a four foot scratch in our Awl Grip we are here now, inside the Ferroalquimar Shipyard, which at its very best is like being in the middle of the Gobi desert surrounded by boats. The dust flies continually, and getting work done in the heat and dust is quite a challenge.
We are having the inside of the main salon, re-varnished, the outside bottom, cleaned, painted, the topsides waxed, the deck and rig cleaned and hopefully within the next week we will be ready to re-launch provision and head out of Cartagena back to the San Blas for a couple of months of much need rest and solitude. (Footnote: The varnish work looks great, the rig and deck are clean, topsides polished and bottom paint looks good. Oh and if ever you need work done on a broad range of skills ask for Jaime at Ferroalquimar yard. He is honest, good natured and diligent.
Cartagena is a beautiful city with a great deal to offer the casual tourist whether it be in the choice of foods, music, nightlife, sightseeing and cultural events that are quite different than those we are used to in Canada. We have enjoyed our time and taken advantage of the many offerings during our time here, however, this big city life can be quite strenuous and not anything we really miss, even when you can get internet and pizza takeout which is making quite a concession on Gary’s part.
As we prepare to launch, provision and sail west back into the Island paradise of the San Blas we take with us memories full of fun and laughter and new friends, and a few interesting stories to tell. Hey we survived, unscathed and little worse for wear.
We are just now heading out to dine at what has become our favourite 5 star dining experience here in Cartagena, the Olive restaurant…one of the best Filet Mignon’s on the planet.
Till the next time - Hasta la próxima vez!
One of the simple pleasures for Gary & Doc is the meeting and socializing with other of God’s creatures they meet along the way. This is often the four legged, or two winged version. To date, this has included dogs, cats, birds, horses, pigs, dolphins, sharks, and a Panther in the Chagres river jungle of Panama.
During Doc’s daily walks here in Cartagena he and Gary were adopted by a pack a street dogs along the waterfront. One young sweet little female, we call ‘Senorita’ took a shine to ‘Doc’ and it wasn’t long before Doc and she would be looking for each other during our daily walks. Shortly after she disappeared. They found her a few days later lying alone and in great pain. She appeared to have been hit by an automobile, suffered a broken her hip and not generally doing well. Gary and Doc got her cleaned up, hand fed her, got her stable and visited her daily, working with a young local boy massaging her legs and hips and working with her until she could stand and walk on three legs. She is now up and full of pee and vinegar and doing much better. She has partial use of her one hind leg and strong enough to take care of herself. Next was another small dog hit by a car. He was included in the ‘rounds’ and Gary & ‘Doc’ visited twice daily, feeding and tending to both pups.
The rest of the pack has come to accept Doc and his ‘friend with the food bag’ and soon they were all feeding from the little food piles that Gary would line up and it was fun to watch them all find a place in line.
One of the pack was a rather pregnant little ‘lady’ who was quite stand-off-ish in her matronly condition. Kaija made the connection and was able to hand feed her. Soon enough her pups were born in the parking lot of the neighborhood Police academy. Six little bundles of fur.
One morning as Gary & ‘Doc’ were walking past the Police academy, one of the guards called to Gary and took him to see ‘Lady’ and her pups. ‘Lady’ had a large gash in her right front leg. Despite our attempts to clean and dress her wound it was beyond our scope and unless we did something she would certainly lose the leg, and perhaps her life. We found a good hearted Vet and transported little family to the vet’s office for proper care and treatment. We are happy to report that after a short stay she is much improved and back in the Police yard under the care of ‘Maria’ a sweet angel who works as the secretary for the Police Department.
We were off to the ‘yard’ to haul the boat for bottom cleaning and painting. We look forward to our short re-union in another week when we are again back in Cartagena anchorage.
Kaija made a couple of short day side trips while at the anchorage. She did not, again did not go to the mud bathes but some of the other ladies did. The first trip was out to a small village about two hours by mini bus from Cartagena – San Jacinto. This is a small town where they actually weave the material for the hand-made hammocks. Also the town has many shops for them as well as the special woven hats. There is a small gas station where the trucks, cars, motorcycles and burrows – uhuh I said burrows stop to get filled up…where else?
The other wonderful day trip was by local bus to the Botanical Gardens. Here you are able to see many of the local varieties of flora and trees. Also, there are resident three-toed sloths and birds that build swinging nests. In the midst of all the greenery is a very old church / chapel that is still being used for weddings. Of course, no new place would be the same without finding a new frog.
We also met Hernando…commonly referred to as the one eyed pirate of Cartagena, Hernando if a very large and quite jolly man and if you plan on spending any time in Cartagena he is definitely a must meet kind of guy. His family just happens to be in the emerald business, and Hernando can find you the biggest fattest shrimp in Columbia or about anything else you are shopping for. Kaija manages to leave Cartagena with her Emerald needs satiated. Gary enjoyed the shrimp enough to forget the pain of the Emeralds. Ain’t Life Great!
A word of caution before you read on. Do not attempt this at home!
As momma said…if you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all…well that’s fine, but then you wouldn’t be able to read about it.
We planned to have some interior refit work done while here in Cartagena. Gary had planned and hoped to have this work completed before Kaija returned from visiting with her family in Vancouver. It was all with the best of intentions and meant to surprise, enlarging her bathroom (head) and converting two others into a laundry/utility room and office/nav station.
In keeping with my momma’s suggestion….we chose a carpenter, a canvas fabricator, and a Corian installer. We’ll change the names to Curly Larry & Moe…I think you get the idea!
After reading and re-reading my comments I have just now deleted a page and a half of what could only be construed as ‘whining’. Please read on!
Suffice to say our expectations were quite unrealistic. This is Columbia after all!
To cut to the chase…the particular contractors we chose, do have potential, and it could be said they do good work…when you can find them…and therein lays the rub. Contractors are quite willing to take on the work, take a hefty deposit, then disappear into the ether., and in the case Larry & Moe, they were bad money managers, and the money disappeared before the work was done and our friend ‘Curly’ he took money for product and either the cash or the materials went missing…this was not good! It is amazing to what levels one sinks when trying to get work done by people that have this ‘gringo system perfected’…knowing full well that sooner or later, they can outlast you unless you plan on taking up residency. This attitude is not only acknowledged but seems supported and enabled by the club staff who continue to recommend the services of these contractors and further who suggest that ‘you are not a proper cruiser unless you are used to waiting’. Not a sentiment we agree with or support. In other words, if you are a cruiser coming to Cartagena and hope to get work done, be very careful who you choose, and make sure you are prepared to ‘outlast’ them.
We now have a much better understanding of the intended meaning of the word ‘Manyana’. Many, including us wrongly believing this word means ‘tomorrow or morning time’ as taught. This is not the case. In reality it quite simply means ‘not today, and probably not tomorrow’.
Although we were rapidly increasing our knowledge of the language, more thru immersion then by intention. Despite our best intentions it proved to be a continuous exercise in charades, or perhaps more correctly described as the flailing of the body parts trying to get your point across. This is tough enough when you dealing face to face but almost impossible over a cell phone, when you are lucky enough that will answer your call. Needless to say, some of the finer points got lost in the translation and frustration, Kaija’s bathroom never did get enlarged and other things had to be put on hold, but in the end we did improve our poccitto casa on the water, and after all, that was the goal. A little at a time.
Now back to the ‘Yin’ of Cartagena. We were fortunate that during this period of increasing frustration, we enjoyed many of the cultural offerings available here in this beautiful city. Kaija found a number of other cruisers who enjoy walking as much as she does and seeing the sights at a more leisurely pace. She discovered the best locations for provisioning and made more than a few trips to Home Center, Carrefour, and Contraband Alley and Gary and Doc discovered the best Pizza place, Hamburger Joint and 5 star dining experience (the Olive Restaurant) and Shawarmas ( a pita filled with shaved pork, chicken or both and served with different sauces) , all within easy walking distance of the designated Anchorage area.
Most of our time spent in the Caribbean has been in idyllic paradise island settings. This is by design and we have found the beauty and offerings of privacy and tranquility on this ‘road less travelled’. So we looked forward to our big city visit to Cartagena and the romance and intrigue of its ‘old walled city’. It has not disappointed and is a treat in architecture, antiquities, stone fortresses, scenery, culinary treats, great music and wide eyed friendly ‘amigos’ everywhere you look.
We arrived just prior Christmas and enjoyed the beauty of the lights and the spirit of the season and wonderful music. There are still lights, the music is continuous and as spring approaches there is a good dose of romance in the air as couples young and old meander along the waterfront. It is a wonderful place for a complete immersion in a foreign language experience.
Now before you go thinking that ‘they are living a life of leisure eating bon bons all day’…this is not the case and as in all things there is the balance of Ying & Yang…it was about to be ‘our time of the Yang’…if you know what I mean.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
The Rosario Islands are a small grouping located 25 miles south of Cartagena and a nice stop before getting back into big city living. The water is clear and inviting and the pace is slow and easy. We spent a week enjoying the tranquility (well that is except for one Friday night when the music played on and on and on and on and on…until Sunday morning…which in itself is almost bad enough, but they got stuck on one tune and played it over and over and over and over…I felt led to introduce a well placed flare gun shot into their generator, but calmer minds prevailed (Kaija said ‘no way’) and we all survived intact. One of the real treats was a visit to the local aviary where we were treated to close up and personal visits with birds of species we had never before seen. It was a great place to collect feathers for your cap. A must see if you are ever here. (collage 22 ).
We arrived in Cartagena in time to enjoy the lights and festivities surrounding Christmas. Cartagena is a big city with much history and there is much to see and do. Unfortunately, this year Kaija and I were separated for the holiday as she needed to be with her father in Vancouver undergoing treatment for Cancer. He is much in our thoughts and prayers for a speedy and full recovery and we are ever mindful of just how lucky we are to have our health and strength to be able to enjoy this experience and adventure. (collage 23)
In Kaija’s absence, Gary and Doc are enjoying their bachelor days living in complete chaos and disarray. We have contracted to have some extensive internal modifications done on the boat while Kaija is away, and as I write this, the sawdust is a flying, the hammers are a hammerin, and the walls are a comin down…and in the words of one of the contractors, in pigeon Spanglish…’Destruction Completion’…with any luck, we’ll soon get into the construction phase and get this destruction phase behind us. Living in a 50 foot tube 15 feet wide can be somewhat tedious and testing of one’s resolve. We continue to make efforts to improve the small space in which we live in an effort to keep the enjoyment level high and the dream alive. When all is complete, we will have reduced 4 small heads (bathrooms) to two good sized heads, one nice office, and one laundry room c/w new automatic washer…(no more wringing out the clothes by hand…no joke!) A testament to what can be done in ‘very small spaces’. An update! It is now the last day of January…things were to have been completed prior to Kaija’s return….no way Hosei!...not a chance in Manyana Land…however, we do make small progress daily, and albeit we will be here another few weeks to get all things completed…did I say ‘all things’…hah hah hah…I mean, two out of seven items contracted hopefully will be done…don’t ever undertake more than a handshake in a country where you don’t speak the language…you are asking for a very interesting experience…and altho mostly good…there are those ‘moments’ where you wonder just what you were thinking. Here’s a few pics of the destruction of one head which hopefully will be a lovely and functional nav/computer station. I will post pics of the ‘after’ of the ‘before & after’ if we ever make it to ‘after’. Till then, hold on and keep your fingers crossed for us. (collage 26 )
Finally, on our way to the San Blas Islands of which we had heard so many good things. We were having a truly lovely sail on an almost perfect kind of sailing day, just enough breeze for KS to pick up her head and heel just enough for the added water line length that allows her to settle in ‘for the ride’.
We were busy just enjoying the day when Doc started running up and down the deck, a sure sign that his little dolphin buddies are close by. He must be able to smell their scent on the air, because we had not yet made any visual contact, then all of a sudden there they were, all around us. They jumped and dove and rode our bow wave with seemingly effortless ease. Doc was in his glory and it would seem that somehow he has made a connection with these creatures and they him. At one point however, it required a strong hand to hold him back as he was giving every indication that he was ready to join them and that would have added slightly more excitement to the trip than was necessary. After a long while and many miles the dolphin welcoming committee swam off and we again settled into a beautiful relaxing sail.
We began seeing our first local fisherman out in there cayuka’s, each with different colored sails (usually just an old bed sheet strung between a couple of poles), they would wave and smile and sail toward us offering their catch of the day, most often, lobster, squid, or snapper. But alas, one can only eat so much lobster, squid & snapper…and besides I had a rather energetic Barracuda on the line…not a keeper…we don’t prefer the taste, but occasionally we do cook it up for Doc…he loves it!
We arrived in Porvanir, our check-in stop for the San Blas Islands and did not yet have the hook in the water when we were swarmed by the indigenous people known as the Kuna Indians selling their wares. For many years now the Kuna peoples have been famous for their traditional Mola artwork. These are multi layered embroideries of the highest intricacy and two or three of the Kuna have become quite famous for their work.
After making our first Mola purchases and getting checked in we made our way to a small grouping of islands called Chichime, home to one of the more famous of the Master Mola makers, Liza. (collage 19.jpg)
We joined up with our friends Aaron and Lyla (S/v Blow Me Away) and met Liza whom we commissioned to make a special Mola of our boat depicting Doc and his little Dolphin buddies. We celebrated Liza’s birthday with her and she did a wonderful job on our Mola, a true keepsake. (collage 25)
The San Blas Islands are a chain of small palm treed islands surrounded by gin clear water with island names like Chichime, Tiadup, Olosicuidup and some we can neither spell nor pronounce and then there are the others named East & West Lemon Cays, E & W Hollandes, E & W Coco Banderos, Snug Harbour, The Swimming Pool & the Hot Tub, it is easy to see that many cruisers have found their way here and many stayed affixing names that more suited their purpose.
Almost every island is owned by a Kuna family and with permission you are welcome to visit. We visited many and found the families delightful and willing to trade and give you whatever small items they have, expecting very little in return. This is truly one of the unspoiled places we have visited on the planet…but you can see the changes coming as some are ‘wise to the ways of cruisers’ and are willing to take advantage if given the opportunity.
While we enjoyed the social life and hunter/gathering at the Swimming Pool, we also really enjoyed the Coco Banderos and Lemon Cays. However, Snug Harbour shall remain affixed in my memory as the place where I caught and filleted my first shark. How was it you ask?...well the eatin part was great, but getting to that part was tough and the filleting…hahahahhaa fagetaboutit… if you know what a sawsall is (for those unfamiliar, it is a power tool used in demolition construction)…then you can get the picture…I did not have a knife on board that would cut him…and getting him to stop breathing was no small feat…rubbing alcohol in the gills didn’t stop him…slicing the gills to bleed him didn’t stop him…hitting him in the head repeatedly with a hammer didn’t stop him…and dragging him to shore (no way I was gonna try cleaning him on the boat) finally after cutting half way thru his body with a sawsall …which was the only tool I had on board that would cut thru his hide…finally he stopped breathing and the filleting began….it was a long arduous task…but in the end…the little shark was some mighty fine eating…altho…all things considered…I think I would just let the next one go.(collage 21)
During our six short weeks in the San Blas we visited many of the islands. But there are so many more we have yet to visit and we look forward to doing so on our revisit when we depart from Cartagena in February 2008.
26 miles east of Colon (Cristobel) (The Panama Canal) is Portobello. This small village is famous for the Church of the Black Christ and history tells us that a statue of the Black Christ was stolen from Portobello and catastrofe fell upon the thieves. A second attempt at a theft resulted in similar results. The statue was returned and miraculous healings have been attributed to this religious Icon of the Black Christ. Once a year pilgrimages are made by the faithful dressed in traditional robes of scarlet and purple and gold, walking great distances to pay homage in this sacred place. It is a time of great celebration and fiesta and a great time to visit this small community. The anchorage is less than ideal, facing the prevailing winds and waves and can be somewhat uncomfortable, however, there are a number of stone forts to see and the settings are picturesque.
Only another 12 miles east is probably one of the best and safest all weather anchorages in Panama located at the Isla Linton. Many cruisers find this safe haven and stay for considerable periods. Certainly one of the most delightful parts of the stay is to visit with the monkeys on the island who are quite tame, as long as you are feeding them, but we learned that you do not say, ‘last piece’ in reference to the food offerings. These little ‘monsters’ can become very aggressive as we witnessed with our friends Lyla and Aaron. Unfortunately, we did not have a camera running, but I dare say I do believe I could have won the $100,000 prize on Candid camera’s funniest moments…in the end no harm no foul, but for a few moments, it looked like the monkeys were winning and Lyla and Aaron we way too busy doing the double boogie back step in unison landing in the dinghy, with the monkeys close behind. The only thing that saved them, was the monkeys will not venture into the water, but they were real close to commandeering their dinghy, camera and Lyla’s shoes…you had to see it to believe it… we laughed so hard we had tears in our eyes…all’s well that ends well!...but be warned if you ever go there for a visit, they are cute and taking food from you with such gentle sweet dispositions, you would never guess that beneath that cute, cuddly exterior there lies the heart of a raging beast.
One cannot pass by the home of the Panama Canal without stopping. This was a good opportunity to do a final provisioning before heading out to the San Blas, do our check-out and get last bits and pieces that may be needed including bottom paint for KS. Panama has the distinction of being one of the few places on the planet where you can find/buy anything that is manufactured anywhere, because they sooner or later all pass thru the canal on the way from someplace to someplace. We anchored in ‘the flats’, the cruising anchorage and it was a somewhat rally anchorage being such a busy sea port with everything from huge supertankers and cruise ships to the smallest sailboats. Ships pass by here to go or come from the Canal. As advertised, this is an excellent stop for good provisions in Super 99 and Rey’s. Diesel, Gas & Propane are available here and of course the ‘Duty Free Shopping Zone’.
The Panama Yacht Club is friendly to transient 'yachties' and offers laundry at $1 per load, place to get rid of garbage, good food in restaurant and Internet. Having said all that, Colon is not a very clean city, and not recommended as a safe to walk about. Traffic is at a standstill most of the time, however, we were lucky to find a great taxi driver Mr. Ellington (The Duke) who was not only knowledgeable and friendly, but being a local, knows his way around, as he says, if he can’t find it, it can’t be found in Panama. We highly recommend him and look forward to a revisit with him when we return to this Path between the Seas for our transit to the Pacific side.