Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Rosarios & Cartagena – N10.24.508; W075.32.588 – December 4 – January 7 2008 & Beyond.

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 )

The San Blas Islands – N09.31.150; W078.38.884 – October 25 – December 03, 2007

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.

Portobelo – Isla Linton - N09.33.541; W079.35.023 - October 17 – October 24, 2007

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.

Colon / Cristobel – N09.20.814; W079.54.585 Oct 12 – Oct 16, 2007

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.