Buenos Dias

I woke up a couple of times during the night to hear it pouring rain on the metal roof (or so I thought).  When we got up at O’Dark-thirty, I realized that the noise was from the river, now swelling from the recent rain roaring past camp.  True to Estefan’s word, it was not raining in the morning.  When we started out at 06h00, the mist was still hanging heavily over the dripping vegetation.  An hour into the morning, I let my attention lapse and rolled over my right ankle.  No!!!  Laying on the wet path, I couldn’t imagine that my hike would end only 3 hours from our goal.  I picked myself up and tested the ankle-it would still hold my weight, but not without barking at me.  I knew what was next.  (I had torn the ligaments in this ankle when I was 16, and after 2 months on crutches it was never the same.  I’ve rolled it several times since, and it’s always the weak link).  Fording the river a half hour later, there was no hopping across boulders, as the water had risen considerably.  The cold water came at just the right time.  When I took my shoe off, I thought Indio’s eyes were going to pop out of his head.  My ankle was already swelling, and blood was pooling at the edge of my sole.  No surprise to me-been there, done that.  Estefan asked me if I wanted a mule to come and take me down.  Well…we got that sorted out in a hurry.  Indio produced some analgesic cream and an ankle brace.  A few minutes later, we were headed back up the hill.  Ciudad Perdida predates Machu Pichu by about 600 years, and the stone “steps” have been there ever since.  Built out of uncarved natural stone, the steps have a very irregular rise and run. The only consistent feature is that they’re very narrow and steep.  We couldn’t help but wonder what coming down their wet smooth surface was going to look like.  I didn’t count the steps, but I’ll take their word for there being 1200.  It took us about 40 minutes of nonstop climbing to get to the top.

We had two-and-a-half hours to explore the site.  Indio led us around and spoke to us about the ancient Tairona people who built and lived in this city of over two thousand inhabitants, pointing out artifacts and explaining the layout of the buildings.  About 80% of the ruins are still covered by jungle, and there are no plans to uncover them.  I won’t try to describe our visit here-it’d be like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone.  You just have to be there.

We were almost to the bottom of the steps when it started raining again, this time a gentle drizzle.  We retraced our steps from earlier in the day, stopping for lunch and to pick up our packs at the previous nights’ camp.  The rain began in earnest.  When hiking up and down the numerous red clay ravines, you had to follow the stream of water flowing down, as it washed away the slippery red mud, leaving small gravel for traction.  Walking outside the water flow was hopeless.  The mud was slipperier than wet ice.  A couple more hours of trekking brought us into our bivouac for the evening.  Lots of smiles and……cold BEER!  The routine was the same as the previous nights, and by 06h00 we were back on the trail.  The day’s 6 hours would have 2 steep “ups” of around 45 minutes each, punctuated by, and ending with a few hours of “downs”.  After the first “up”, we had the option of spending the night at a camp or continuing back to Mamey.  The 4 of us opted for the latter, and a bit after 12h30, we rolled into the restaurant that we had started at four days earlier.  The rest of the gang had been there 20 minutes earlier, and were already at our table.  They gave us a standing ovation and 4 cold beers.  The groups of hikers waiting to go up gave us the eye.  I had a pretty good idea what they were thinking.  “If they could make it, I can make it.”  So glad to lend the moral support.  Back to the Land Cruiser, it was “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” back down to the highway.

True to form, our trip back home was not without incident.  One of the Magic Tour Toyotas was broken down, parked on the side of the road.  I thought we’d grab the clients, squeeze them into our vehicle and continue home.  Nope.  Joel backed up, hooked up a 10’ nylon tow strap and we were off, towing the other vehicle 10 feet away at 45 miles per hour.  That’s not the best part.  Joel got a call on his cell phone.  There was a police checkpoint ahead.  No problema.  It was on a downhill headed to town from the mountains, so they just disconnected the 2 jeeps.  Our disabled pal then just rolled down the several mile long incline and past the checkpoint.  Fortunately, they didn’t stop him.  When the road flattened out, he stopped and we rehooked him and towed him back to town.  Never a dull moment.  Joel dropped us off at the marina at dusk, and that’s the end of our Ciudad Perdida adventure.

-Later

Bueno Dia,

The Girl all bedded down for our 4 (or 5) day absence, the backpacks loaded and by 07h45 on Monday morning, we were ready to roll.  After spending the whole day in bed, Suz seemed to be on the mend from her G.I. bug-at least she hoped so.  Always game, she never says die.  Sue and Mike, our new Australian friends met us on the dock.  We walked out to the marina gate, where we were to pick up our ride to Magic Tour, in uncharacteristic silence.  Turns out that we were all thinking the same thing:  Were we physically and mentally ready for the arduous 4 days ahead of us?  When we arrived at the office and joined the gang that was waiting there for our 2 hour ride up to Mamey, the starting point of our trek, the uncertainty in my mind just blossomed.  There was no one else in the group of 27 people waiting that was less than 30 years younger than us, and boy, were we getting the eye.  In the end, that sealed the deal for me.  There was no way that I wasn’t gonna do this thing.  I’m pretty sure that my Bride was thinking the same thing.  We were split into 2 parties.  Ours had 13 hikers: a German couple, a Dutch couple, a couple from Italy, 2 guys from Sweden, a guy from Belgium, and the 4 grandparents.  Our local guide, Indio got us all briefed through our translator, Estefan, while their intern Juan loaded our gear onto a couple of Toyota Land Cruisers.  Our driver, Joel was a familiar face-he had driven us up to Mompox a week or so previously.

We arrived in the village of Mamey right around 12h00, just in time for lunch.  As we were eating, groups of hikers were straggling in, looking happy but bedraggled.  Lotsa “High-fivin’” was going on, as they had completed their hike.  Indio gathered us up in front of the topographical representation of our hike painted on the wall and took us through the plan.  Today would be a relatively easy walk.  Four hours, with one steep “up.”  The kicker was that there was no cover for this portion.  “Make sure that you have plenty of sunblock on, wear a hat, and drink lots of water.”  It was HOT.  Even though it was kinda hazy the sun beating down was relentless.  The footing was good, however, 2” of fine white dust covered the path which we shared with Pack Mules and motorbikes.  Fifteen minutes into our first steep “up”, our pal Sue said “I’m not going to make it”.  Well, we certainly weren’t going to make the time that the youngsters were, but we were going to do this thing at our own pace.  And so it went.  Rest stops were well planned.  Just when you thought your heart was going to jump out of your chest, there was the rest of our gang, catching their breath, having a sip, and maybe a snack of fruit.  Then, it was off again.  After a few hours, we passed the last spot accessible by motorbike.  After that, we only had to share the path with mules.  We arrived at the first camp a bit ahead of schedule, even with us taking up the rear.

Okay, so here’s the skinny on the camps:  The sleeping areas were like pole barns without walls-roof only.  The beds consisted of rows of bunks, each encased in mosquito netting side-by-side on a packed dirt floor.  The “mess halls” were rows of long tables and benches situated under a similar wall-less structure, with the galley attached.  All open air.  The toilets were in a separate cinderblock building with the “showers” behind.  These did have walls.  The shower consisted of a ½” pipe coming out of the ceiling, supplied by cold river water.  There weren’t many showers, but you didn’t need to worry about somebody luxuriating in the hot shower.  For Suz and I, the drill was simple:  Arrive at camp, grab a bunk, then head straight to the shower while everyone else was milling around.  Rinse out soaking wet clothes (I’m not exaggerating this one-you could literally wring out your shorts and shirt, you perspired so much) in fresh water.  Dry off with chamois (towel too heavy to pack).  Put on long pants and long-sleeved sleeping clothes and plenty of mosquito repellant.  Sit and chat with the rest of the group for a while, then have dinner.  There weren’t a lot of places to sit and relax, as the seats were just wood benches, and the generator went off around 21h00, so it was off to bed.

Several companies are licensed to trek up to The Lost City, and there are only a couple of camps, so we had as many as 50 people in camp at night.  Licensed?  Yep.  The Colombian government is very attuned to preserving their indigenous population’s ways of life.  The trek to Ciudad Perdida goes through indigenous tribal lands, so the number of hikers is limited, and you MUST go with a licensed company.  Forty percent of the monies collected in fees from hikers goes to the local peoples, and all of the camps are owned by them.  (Quite a contrast with the way that the United States treated our indigenous population).  The trail is closed for 1 month per year while the indigenous folks celebrate their religious season.  The Kogi are the tribal group that inhabit the area of the Sierra Nevadas where Ciudad Perdida is located, however the Arhuacas and the Wiwas, also descendants of the ancient Taironas consider the site sacred as well.  Over the course of the hike, we passed by several Kogi villages.  All of their buildings are constructed of natural materials-wood, bamboo, mud and palm leaves.  Several villages appeared to be abandoned, but Indio informed us that the owners were at their other homes.  The Kogi farm at different elevations, and all families have several homes, so that they can follow their crops.  Smoke was billowing out of the walls and roof of several huts as we passed by.  When a family moves back to their house after living away, the vermin are cleared out by starting a smoky fire in the chimney-less building.

05h00 came mighty early.  Happy Birthday to me.  Got a raise today-went on Medicare!  Out of the comfy pajamas and into the soaking wet clothes from the day before.  With humidity in the 90’s, ain’t nuthin’ drying overnight.  Since your clothes are soaked in sweat an hour after walking, it seemed silly to bring all that extra weight in clean clothes for every day.  The exceptions for us were underwear and socks.  T.M.I!  Breakfast at 05h30.  Our group’s departure time was 06h00.  (The different groups had different departure times, so we rarely saw other hikers on the trail).  Well….we were in a rain forest, and it was the beginning of the rainy season.  It started raining in the morning, and rained off and on (mostly on) for the whole 8 hour walk.  When I say it rained, I mean RAIN.  At times, it was tough to see the scenery across the sheer drop-offs next to the path, the rain was so heavy.  No reason to wear a raincoat, as you were wet anyway.  In fact, with the temperature in the 80’s the rain felt good.  The bad news was that the path was pretty steep.  In places where you weren’t scrambling up rocks, you were hiking up (now slippery) red clay.  The combination of water, mud and Mule deposits made a slip-and-fall a scary prospect.  Okay, that was the crummy part.  The good part was a hundred times better.  At times, the views across verdant green mountains and valleys with no signs of human habitation were breathtaking.  The trail, now fully in the rain forest was covered by a canopy of lush vegetation.  Bird songs, insect sounds and the drone of the rain created a sensory near-overload.  Combined with the sound of your footfalls, the rhythm of your breathing and the beating of your heart, you had your own personal mantra repeating itself throughout the day.  At times, you felt like you were the only person on the trail, as you could neither see nor hear anyone ahead or behind you.  The trail paralleled the Rio Buritaca.  At times, you could hear the water roaring 200 feet below you.  At others, the river was right next to the trail.  I think that we forded the river by hopping from boulder to boulder a couple of times during the day.

The morning hike was punctuated by a rest/snack stop.  Fruit was provided, and liquid in the forms of water, Gatorade or soda was available.  We stopped for lunch a little after midday.  Our cook, Maria had gone on ahead of us and had our second hot meal of the day prepared for us when we arrived.  Lotsa calories and protein at every meal kept us all charged up.  Supplies for the camps are brought up on mules, which we encountered frequently during the day, and heard passing by at night.  After lunch, we were back on the trail for 4 hours, again with a rest stop in the middle.  This pattern would be repeated over the next few days.  At one point, we crossed the river on a one-person platform suspended from a cable and hand-pulled by rope across the gorge.  Very cool.  We arrived in camp tired and wet, but exhilarated.  The next day, we would hike the trail and ascend 1200 steps, arriving at the Lost City four hours after our morning departure.  There was an almost audible buzz in camp that night.  Our translator, Estefan assured us that it never rained in the morning up there.  The generator went off early, as it ran out of gas.  We were too.

-Luego

Feliz Pascua!

The Girl was resting so comfortably (and clean) that we didn’t even leave her all afternoon and evening.  Periodically, gusts of wind would race up the bay, causing our wind generators to really fly.  I love the sound of money going into the bank.  I think that we finally have our renewable energy sources tuned in.  The solar panels and the wind generators are at full potential.  We’re covering all of our electrical loads, and putting the surplus in the battery bank.

Warning:  A small bit of tech talk ahead.  I think that I told you that I had rewired our 110VAC watermaker to run off our inverter, so that we could make water while underway without running the generator.  That experiment didn’t work out so well at first.  The watermaker was drawing so much power that the alternator never fully charged the house battery bank, so…the engine start battery (which also runs the CPU controlling the engine) never got it’s share of juice.  As the start battery’s voltage dropped, the low voltage alarm on the John Deere panel went off, signaling that the CPU was not getting enough voltage to run the engine.  (Bad Juju!)  Eureka moment!  A month or so ago, I figured out that I could reprogram the alternator regulator in such a manner that we could overcome that problem.  After a half dozen passages, I can now confidently report that the fix is working.  We no longer regret not purchasing a 12VDC watermaker.

We had a wonderful night at anchor.  Absolutely no chance of rain, so we inflated the Air bed that our pals Dick and Jan bought us and slept up on the boat deck.  Under the full moon, we didn’t see many stars, but it was all good.  Friday morning greeted us with a conundrum.  We were only allowed one night in a bay.  The wind was, if anything, blowing harder than the day before.  We decided to stay put.  If the Coast Guard chased us out, we’d head back to the marina.  After a breakfast of Tuckmuffins (a legendary breakfast treat in my own mind), we dropped the kayaks into the water.  Paddling out to the opening of the bay, the Admiral found that she couldn’t paddle against the (I’m guessin’-30 knot winds).  One gust hit me on the beam and nearly knocked me over.  Back at the Girl, we had a refreshing swim/read/nap afternoon.  17h00 (park closing time) came and went without a visit from the authorities, so we had another quiet night on the hook.

Saturday morning we were up and out in order to get ahead of the winds, which increase as the day progresses.  We still had 20+ knot winds and 4’-6’ seas, but they were on our stern.  After a year or so without fueling, the Girl was thirsty, so we put on 575 gallons of diesel before returning to our slip.  We got our backpacks loaded up for our forthcoming hike to Ciudad Perdida on Monday, then took a stroll through town.  Holy week is a big deal here in this predominantly Catholic country, so the city was rockin’.  We snagged a table at “Ouzo” before the dinner rush:  Crispy pork belly app., Duck Confit Ravioli for Suz and Hornido Sofrito for Yours Truly, all washed down with a pitcher of Sangria de Casa (tinto).

We hit 07h00 Mass this morning, only to find out that the Easter schedule was different than the usual-it started at 06h00.  That turned out to be okay.  Forty-five minutes into the service, Father was just getting warmed up, so we still got an hour and fifteen minutes of religion even tho’ we were 45 minutes late.  Suz looked like Death during church, and she’s been in bed since we got home at 08h00.  It’s 15h00 now.  The lower G.I. funk has been going around, and it looks like she’s the latest victim.  We’ll see about the hike tomorrow………

-Later

Ola, Amigos!

We’ve had a couple of quiet days, just hangin’ on the Girl taking care of the necessaries.  Holly the haircutter invited us to a potluck the other night, and we met half a dozen other cruisers.  Most are on the other dock, so we hadn’t interacted with them yet.  Among a few other pearls of wisdom, we found out that all of them were making water here at the docks, and most of them had been here at least 6 months.  We have never run our watermaker at a dock, for fear of fouling the delicate membranes with any petroleum pollutants which may be in the water.  Long story short, we made water for 7 hours yesterday without any issues.  We still won’t make a habit of it.

Yesterday we rinsed off our trusty little ship and polished some stainless steel.  The dust here is unbelievable.  You can rinse down the decks, come back a day later and still get a wave of brown water streaming out the gutters.  We’ve learned to keep the hatches mostly closed since we were having the same problem inside.  Thank goodness for Vornado fans.  At night, we turn on the airco in our stateroom.

 

We’re into our second day of “Lose incredible amounts of time to computer crap”.  Yesterday, I cleaned up our main navigation black box.  We still had routes and waypoints from Labrador and Newfoundland clogging up the memory.  That went smoothly, just took some time.  Then we started on the PC based program.  I got stuck.  The Admiral couldn’t help.  Then……I know better, but consulted multiple forums and flogged around for a few hours without result.  Suz says that John on Seamantha uses the same program-he’ll know.  What’s Apped him last night.  Talked to him this morning.  All good.  I just heard a “Woohoo!” from the pilothouse while I’m peckin’ away in the cockpit.  Here’s the deal.  There aren’t any official charts of the area we’ll be visiting next (The San Blas Archipelago in Panama).  The definitive cruising guide for the area has been compiled over the years by Eric Bauhaus.  He has taken over a million soundings and created a whole portfolio of charts which can be found in his book “The Panama Cruising Guide.”  These charts have in turn been magically turned into an electronic format for “Open CPN,” an open-source navigation program created by a group of cruisers.  Suz downloaded these on to our nav PC months ago, but never said “Abracadabra!” so our boat did not appear on the electronic chart.  Well, she did her prestidigitating today, and made it so.  When she called me up to the pilothouse a couple hours ago, it was working waaayyy cool.  When she closed the program and tried to reopen it, it crashed big-time.  She’s been up there for all this time trying to resurrect it.  In the meantime, I’m hogging up the bandwidth downloading 650 other charts to the laptop.  Okay, I’m heading up to see how it’s going.  Hahaha.  She’s got GPS position, AIS targets, and depth working on the Open -CPN and the Bauhaus charts.  And you thought that she was just another pretty face.

Well, we spent another day manually entering the latitude/longitudes for waypoints and anchorages in the San Blas islands.  It was painful, (I think that there were around 140- some odd positions) but will be well worth it over the next year.  It was time for a break, so we decided to take the Girl up to a couple of the bays in Tayrona National Park.  We had passed them on our way here and they looked, and we had heard, that they were pretty cool.  Problem was that you need a cruising permit and permission from the Port Captain here in Santa Marta to anchor there.  Our trusty lady at the desk, Kelly failed us big-time on this one.  She told us that the cruising permit could be had in a day, and that as soon as it was in process, we could head out.  We paid for the cruising permit last Friday, planning on heading out on Monday.  Monday morning, we head to the office for our permit.  Kelly’s on vacation for 2 weeks, but David, the Agent here at the marina will handle it.  Come back this afternoon.  The Port Captain had to check with the bank to make sure our $$$ had been deposited, manana.  Tuesday morning.  He’s working on it.  Come back this afternoon.  Manana.  Wednesday morning.  David’s meeting with the Port Captain.  Come back this afternoon.  No can do.  “Can’t we go, since he has our money, and it’s in process?” No.  We’re resigned to not being able to go, and having a cocktail up on the boat deck, when David appears around 17h30 with a gorgeous document in his hand.  Yay!  Weather’s supposed to be iffy-very windy and high seas.  We’d already decided not to go.  Didn’t tell David that.  So, we are in this conversation with him, and he tells us that he’s so happy that we got the permit ‘cause he worked so hard to get it.  His contract here at the marina is up, and his last day is Sunday.  He’s a full-time business student at Magdalena university, and his last year will require his full time attention.  After he leaves, Suz and I decide that we should probably go-it’ll make David happy.  My concern is that David is also the Agent at the marina, acting as the go-between with Customs and Immigration.  I have a shipment of boat parts coming that I don’t want to pay duty on.  Hopefully the new guy knows the ropes and will get our stuff through the maze.

Thursday, 07h30, and I hail the Port Captain on the VHF.  Yep, we get permission to anchor for 1 night each at 2 bays up in the park (The limit is 1 night).  The wind was brisk when we pulled out of the harbor, but nothing really significant.  As we turn the corner 45 minutes later and start heading East, the breeze is picking up.  Picking our way between a rocky point on the mainland and a small island, the sea becomes a washing machine.  Breakers are crashing over the shallows on our port and starboard.  It looks scary, but the guides that we’ve read say that we can go through.  Well…we never see less than 66’ of depth.  Boy, it was kind of a puker.  27 knots of breeze on the nose with a beam sea.  We could hear the cupboards being rearranged, and took a peek down into the salon.  Oh yeah!  Our recliners had slid across the floor, bunching up the rug in the process, but were now stable in the center of the boat thanks to the bunched-up rug.  An hour-and-a-half later, we turned the corner into Bahia Neguange, more or less out of the wind-driven waves.  Up at the head of the bay, all appeared calm.  Before we dropped the hook, we let the boat settle into the wind, and found that the swell rolling into the bay was right on our beam, making for a bit of a roll.  Nope.  Even with the flopperstoppers out, it’d probably be an uncomfortable stay, and we were looking forward to some peace.  Out of the bay and into the one next over, Bahia Gayraca.  Much better.  The swell wasn’t funneling in to this one nearly as much and we had a nice breeze.  We dropped the hook in 22’ of water around 150 yards off the beach and put out 150’ of chain, just in case.  We got the cupboards and inside of the boat tidied up, then took to scrubbing the layer Santa Marta dust off the outside while enjoying the sunny afternoon.

-Later

Buenos Dias,

Our “go to” lady here at the marina is Kelly at the front desk.  (She’s one of the 3 people in town that speaks English-not dissin’, just sayin’).  We have a Q&A with her at least twice a day, and she’s invaluable.  She guided all of our paperwork through Customs and Immigration without us ever seeing an official.  Nice!  She also acts as our go-between with the marina manager and the dock supervisor.  IMHO this place would be lost without her.

Back to our walkabout, the visit to the Museo D’Oro turned out to be a hidden gem.  Besides exhibits featuring gold jewelry (as the name implies), there is a wealth of information regarding the Sierra Nevada regions of Colombia.  The museum also happens to be housed in the building in which Simon Bolivar laid in state after his death in 1830.  Written descriptions in Spanish and English attend each display.  We learned more South American history in two visits than we had in the previous sixty-odd years.

Adjoining Simon Bolivar Parque and adjacent to the Gold Museum is Juan Valdez coffee shop.  This is the Colombian version of Starbucks, with coffee that is ten times better.  Most of the best Colombian coffee is exported to Europe, with the inferior mass produced beans staying in-country, or exported to the U.S.A. The Juan Valdez chain’s aim is to introduce Colombians to their finest coffees. However, it was a total shocker when we were charged 13,000 pesos for a large cappuccino and a large latte.  Ohhh…. That’s around four bucks.  Needless to say, we’re now regulars.  The coffee dude doesn’t ask our names anymore.

In the morning, fruit vendors ply the streets, pushing their handcarts.  Some have amplifiers and loudspeakers over which they hawk their wares in the concrete canyons between the high rises.  Whole pineapples go for 3,000 ($.90 U.S.).  Bananas, Mangos, Pineapples and other South American fruits that I’ve never heard of are equally inexpensive.  After we buy fruit for the boat on the sidestreets, we have a favorite guy by Bolivar Parque that sells plastic cups full of sliced fruits, accompanied by plastic forks for 2,000 a pop.

We’re not really sure what the diving here is all about, but there are several dive operations in town.  We’ve visited a couple of them, and may go for a dive or two while we’re here.  -Keep you posted.

Besides street food, we’ve eaten at a couple of recommended restaurants.  “Ouzo”, is highly rated by both Tripadvisor and fellow cruisers-very good, with Sangria that is superior (or maybe it was so because we had been walking all afternoon).  Lamart, a funky little place recommended by Andrea (up at Minca), served up a mean Ceviche, followed by a very good main course of fish. A couple of other restaurants were good, but not memorable.  The common denominator is that all have been very inexpensive by North American standards ($30-$40 U.S. for 2 drinks, apps, and entrees).  Kinda makes going out a very viable alternative to staying home and cooking.

Back on the docks, we filled our water tanks with the tap water.  No good! No good! No good! cried another North American who had been here for 6 months.  “I was sick for a month, and Nigel, down the dock, ended up in hospital for a week (he has other health issues) from drinking the water.  Sheesh!  What a dummy.  We’ve been drinking tap water since we left home 5 years ago, but this IS South America.  So we’ve just taken on 300 gallons of potentially poisonous H2O in our public health graduate’s pristine water tanks. W.H.O website says that a cup-and-a-half of bleach in each tank should do the trick, so now our dishes, laundry, and skin is whiter than white.  The Admiral does this procedure once a year, so the drill wasn’t unfamiliar.  Meanwhile, we’re buying bottled water.

You know that these two science majors are nerding out on history these days, and our visit to the gold museum just whetted our appetites for some South American rat facts.  After a twenty minute, two dollar cab ride, we arrived at Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino, the estate at which Simon Bolivar spent his last few weeks. The botanical garden there was very much less-than-spectacular, but the colonial architecture and the artifacts on display more than made up for it.  With the help of our sorta English speaking guide, we learned more about General Bolivar, a.k.a. El Libertador.  Our taste of history at the estate provoked us to dig deeper, thanks Google, when we got home.

Monday the 8th, 08h30.  Time for our road trip to Mompox.  Sue and Mike joined us for the 5 hour trip, driving out of the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas, through the lowlands leading to and surrounding the once-busy port of Mompox on the Rio Magdalena. Established in 1540, the town was the major port linking the coast to the interior of the colony. During that period, goldsmithing and ironwork flourished in this center of commerce.  Late in the 19th century, trade routes changed to another branch of the river Magdalena, and Mompox has been in decline ever since.  As of late, it has been increasingly popular as a tourist destination, due to the plethora of colonial architecture there.  By no means touristic(?), I can see this sleepy village exploding on the traveler “must see” scene when the local airport and highway are completed.  We stayed at a small, 8 room hotel on the river in Mompox. It is a charming little property housed in the historic Portales De Marqueza warehouse. Our cook, Margherita served us up a savory breakfast of local fare which generally held us until dinnertime every day.  Jim and Carole joined us, and the six of us wandered town, taking in the local culture.  We visited several churches, took a three hour boat ride into the Pijino swamp, and plied basically every street in this busy little village.  Feeling like we had seen all there was to see in Mompox, Suz and I came home on Thursday, leaving Jim, Carole, Mike and Sue, who were spending another day (Their rooms were prepaid).

Suzanne prepared a fantastic chicken curry yesterday.  Mike and Sue joined us for dinner when they returned from Mompox, as we figured that they wouldn’t want to chase for food after the long drive home.

The washer quit yesterday with a load still in the drum.  Sleep last night was sporadic.  I hate having things broken.  This morning, while Suz was having her hair cut by a fellow cruiser, I pulled the doors and moldings off the cabinet where the washer/dryer sits, and pulled it out so I could take the cabinet apart.  Good news was that the failure was located in the switch that stops the washer when the lid is open.  I couldn’t fix the switch, so I bypassed it by jumping the wires.  All good!  The Admiral says that she’ll enjoy sleeping with the Maytag repairman tonight.  T.M.I., I know.  No worries, I won’t keep you posted.

-Luego

Buenos Tardes,

So… we’re getting ready to start our second week in Colombia, and what a time it’s been.  Right now it’s 92 degrees and 88% humidity at 13h00. It has become pretty clear to this Gringo why siestas are the order of the day here.  I’m hidin’ out, peckin’ away at the laptop with the sweat rolling down my spine.

The crossing was a dream.  We had 2’-4’ seas on our quarter most of the way.  At 06h00 on Saturday morning (36 hours into the trip), we rounded the point north of Santa Marta.  It’s not unusual to have 40 knot winds with the current piling the waves up around this point where the Sierra Nevadas rise up out of the sea.  This passage is consistently rated as one of the most difficult in the WORLD!  Yeah, that includes Cape Horn.  My red-headed weather forecaster and lifelong companion hit the nail on the head.  5-10 knots, 1’-3’ seas, as we watched the sun rise over snow-capped mountains.  I got the 2 Blackfin tunas that we caught filleted and into the freezer as we eased our way down to the IGY Marina at Santa Marta.  After we had the Girl properly secured in her assigned slip, screens and sunshades in place and lounge chairs out, one of the dock guys came by.  He didn’t think that the other guys had put us in the best spot and wondered if we might want to move before it got windy.  Long story short, we moved.  Later that night the wind came up to a steady 27 knots with gusts into the mid 30’s.  At 22h00 Suz and I were on the dock securing extra lines across the slip next to us, happy that we had moved.

Small world time.  We introduced ourselves to the Australian couple on the sailboat next to us.  They told us that they had some friends from Michigan that they had met in Indonesia several years ago and had travelled quite extensively with them.  Suz asked what city in Michigan.  “Grand Rapids” The name of their boat?  “Nepenthe” Aha! Must be talking about Carol and Jim (You remember them-we met them in Guadeloupe a couple of years ago.  You know the couple that started a 2 year circumnavigation and ended it 17 years later.) Well….Turns out that they didn’t go back to land after all, and they were about 20 miles up the coast here in Colombia. The 4 of them had just returned from a trip up the mountain to Minca, and were planning a 4-day jaunt to Mompox(Mompos) the next week.  Carol hoped that our new pals, Sue and Mike would talk us into joining them.  No problem!  Mompox was on our list of places to visit.  We got a hotel reservation, arranged transportation for Sue, Mike and ourselves, and made a plan to meet up with Jim and Carol there.

For the first day or so, we just got the “lay of the land” here in Santa Marta.  We quickly found out that in this city of 400,000 or so, about 3 people spoke English.  Crash the Spanish “How-To” books, and gracias de Dio for Google Translate.  After hitting the ATM, I finally found out what it feels like to be a billionaire.  (A Coke costs around 5,000 Colombian pesos. 10,000 COP is around $3.15 U.S.)  It took awhile to get the conversion thing figured out.  We had planned to do some hiking/touring inland from Santa Marta (hereafter SM), so we checked out the tour operators in town.  We settled on “Magic Tours,” and booked a day trip to the small village of Minca, located up in the mountains around an hour from SM.  It seemed like a good way to check out their operation before booking our big trips with them.

The next morning, our driver was at the marina gate.  We drove through the narrow streets of SM, congested with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and yes, horse and mule-drawn wagons.  It took me about 5 minutes to realize that renting a car and driving in this snarl of apparent traffic anarchy was TOTALLY OUT OF THE QUESTION.  Nonetheless, we popped out the other side and made our way up the serpentine road to Minca.  So what’s in Minca? Not much.  Some small farms, growing coffee and cacao and some small hostels.  It’s known as a hub for backpackers and trekkers, and there are scads of them there.  Suz and I were definitely the oldest non-locals by 30 years.  What’d we do there?  We met our guide, Andrea and our 5 fellow walkers.  Our first walk was to a small coffee plantation, where we stopped and had some killer coffee.  One of our companions was a Brit who didn’t like coffee, so they brewed her a cup of Coca tea.  We also learned that only the indigenous men, not women, chewed coca.  It is legal to grow and smoke marijuana in your home, but not in public, nor is it legal to sell it.  Oh….the useful information tangents that we get off on. After the coffee farm, we hiked for another 2 hours to a small waterfall, where we cooled off under the rushing water.  From there, it was another hour or so to Andrea’s dad’s house on the side of the mountain, where he cooked us a wonderful lunch followed by some cacao drinks. Besides the ignominious moment when Yours Truly slipped off the bridge comprised of 2 bamboo poles spanning the creek, the hour long walk back to the village was uneventful.  I really thought that the least one of my companions could do was follow me in to the drink, or at least suppress their laughter, but no.  It wasn’t to be.  Ego severely bruised, but ankles unharmed (although rather soggy) I trudged (squishelly) down the jungle path.  Our ride arrived, and we decided we’d stick with Magic Tours for our next outings.

The Santa Marta marina is right in the center of town, so walking access is very easy.  Before it gets too hot, our routine has been to put a few miles on and explore.  After our Minca experience, we headed back to Magic with Mike and Sue in tow, to book our hike to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City).  It’s said to be a pretty strenuous hike, so we’ve been trying to get some walks in before, even though we know that we won’t be able to get in shape walking on the flat at sea level.  We’ve got our trek scheduled to begin the Monday after Easter.  We’ll keep you posted.  If you want, you can check out The Lost City at:  https://ciudadperdida.co/

Lotsa stuff here in SM, so I’ll talk at ya

-Luego

Adios, Curacao!

As usual, leaving a comfy berth and heading into an unfamiliar one was kind of a Yin/Yang thing.  On the one hand, we had seen what we wanted to see on Curacao, but the familiar routine was comfortable.  On the other, the prospect of visiting a new island was exciting, but would we really like it?

We decided to shorten the trip by 20 miles, so we obtained an anchoring permit, allowing us to move north up the west coast of Curacao and anchor overnight in Santa Kruz Bay before heading west to Aruba.  The Girl was off the dock at Santa Barbara Plantation at 09h00 and had the anchor down (for the first time) in Santa Kruz by 12h30.  A guy in a tourist snorkel boat comes by and tells me we NEED to leave.  We’re right where he takes his snorkelers to the sunken boat nearby.  Well…..ask me-it’s all good.  Tell me…..we may have an issue. I told him that his snorkelers were welcome to swim near our boat-no problem.  He didn’t like that idea, and as he motored off, he let me know that he’d be back “Motherf#$@r!”.  The Admiral and I didn’t like the idea of sleeping with one eye open, so when he was out of sight, we moved over a hundred feet.  Before dinner, we had a visit from the Coast Guard, as the lady issuing our anchoring permit suggested we might.  They boarded us, checked our papers (which were all in order), and bade us good night.  We were up, and the lines were out by 06h45.  In 15 minutes, the drought was over.  We had a nice 34” Mahi in the cooler, and life was good.  No bites the rest of the trip.  The seas were predicted to be 3’-5’, they were actually 2’-4- all the way over, and we got a nice push from the current.  Aruba Customs and Immigration was a breeze.  After the paperwork, an officer came on board, exchanged pleasantries and sent us off.  The marina was a couple miles away.  We motored over and Med-moored (stern in, bow tied to a mooring) against the wall just inside the jetty with the help of a dockhand in a dinghy and one on the dock.

The dude from “Carvenience” picked us up at 09h30 the next morning, took us back to his office and we were in business with our rental by 11h00.  The first order of business was to find a battery for our engine starting, as our current (no pun intended) one was darn near dead.  Budget Marine had one size 8D in stock, so one boat unit ($1K) poorer, and one battery richer, we were almost good to go.  Almost, because the battery box for said behemoth (156 pounds) has about 20” of clearance above it and is situated at about chest height when you’re kneeling in front of it.  Jair, the manager at Budget said “No problem, I’ll come over after work and put it in for you and take out and dispose of the old one”.  He said that he was really strong, shouldn’t be a problem, but I had my doubts.  The last time that we changed batteries, we got 3 football players from Florida Central to do the honors.  Suz and I managed to get it out of the trunk and down to the dock, then on to the stern of the Girl with the help of a dock hand.  At 18h30, Jair and his wife, Natasha show up, and he’s ready to go.  He couldn’t get the battery down the ladder into the engine room, but this wasn’t MY first rodeo.  I had the salon floor ready to pull up, so we took out the floor panels and lowered the unit into the engine room with ropes, while Suzanne was down below, steering.  That was the easy part.  Now, the battery had to be lifted into the battery box that is tucked back in the corner.  Let’s just say that it took a half hour or so of noodling different ways to get the job done without result.  In the end, pride was the solution.  He said he was strong, he said that he could do it, and by Gosh, he wasn’t going to be humiliated.  Up and in.  We spent the next hour or so chatting with Jair and Natasha about their daughter, Bella, who is an autistic savant.  She was talking by age one, reading before 2, knew several languages before age 5 (self-taught), and is a whiz at math. Of course, we were fascinated and mostly just listened intently while they described their now 14 year old’s exploits.  It seems that her extraordinary talents are balanced against some behavioral issues and present quite a challenge for both her teachers and parents.  We meet some pretty interesting people in our travels. 

James and Pam, aboard “LoveZur” (Thanksgiving dinner in Antigua- 2017), were in a slip around six boats down from us.  After being in Aruba for 7 months, they knew the drill.  Over cocktails, they read us in.  We knew what groceries to buy at which stores, what day of the week that they stocked, Senior discount day, etc.  They told us about the facilities at the two Renaissance Hotels where we had privileges etc. and etc. The island of Aruba is fairly small, so it’s pretty easy to cover the high points in a week.  We drove from the Dutch military base in the south to the California Lighthouse in the north.  We visited the beaches and the “Hotel Zone” on the west (Leeward) coast to the rock-strewn east (windward) shore.  We climbed to the highest point, Mt. Hooiberg and signed up with “Mermaid Divers” to explore the depths. James and Pam hadn’t done much exploring, as he had been dealing with some now-resolved health issues, so we dragged them along on a couple of our jaunts.  Compared to the “B” and “C” of the ABC islands, Aruba is super touristy (like athleticism-Is that really a word?).  Anyway, we hit the tourist spots.  My favorite was the butterfly farm-I had never been to one before, and our guide imparted some fascinating facts about the life and times of butterflies.

We got our boat chores done. I needed to fabricate some attachments for the terminals on our new battery, as the new one wasn’t quite the same as the old one.  It took a little time to find the parts that I needed, but a picture of the final result garnered a “Nice” from Scotty, our “Master of All Things Krogen” guru back in the States. We had also developed a fuel line leak when leaving Curacao the week before. Jair put me in touch with a local guy, Roberto, who made up a new hose patterned after the one that I removed.  Nothing’s ever easy.  The new one leaked at the other end, and I ended up replacing some flared fittings (Also supplied by Roberto) before the Girl was leak-free.  Sheesh!

Okay.  You know the plan.  We are staying in Aruba for a couple of weeks. Wait for a weather window.  Go to Colombia.  It’s been windy as all get out for weeks, with seas to match.  We’re laying in bed the morning of Thursday, the 28th and Suzanne busts out with “I’ve been watching the weather for the route to Colombia for a month or so, trying to figure out a pattern.  The offshore high in the western Caribbean is contracting right now.  It’s too bad that we aren’t leaving today.”  Well…….’Nuff said.  Aruba wasn’t really our cuppa tea.  By 09h00 we had called the marina at Santa Marta.  Yep, they had room for us.  Reservation made.  Told Hans and crew at Renaissance “You know that month’s berthing that we paid in advance……?” New bill computed, refund made by 12h00.  Rental car? “Okay if we bring it back a day early?”  Check.  Mexican rice casserole, Tuna salad, carrot and celery sticks cut (for the ride) Ditto.  Guest stateroom (It’s midship-quieter and less motion while underway) bed made.  We were off the dock at 16h30.  Had to show up at Customs in person and with boat, so a 45 minute ride in the wrong direction to take care of that bit of business. We were enroute to Colombia forty minutes ahead of schedule.  Sunset.  Dinner.  I am off to bed and Suzanne will take the first 6 hour watch, so I’ll talk at ya….

-Later

Adios, Curacao!

As usual, leaving a comfy berth and heading into an unfamiliar one was kind of a Yin/Yang thing.  On the one hand, we had seen what we wanted to see on Curacao, but the familiar routine was comfortable.  On the other, the prospect of visiting a new island was exciting, but would we really like it?

We decided to shorten the trip by 20 miles, so we obtained an anchoring permit, allowing us to move north up the west coast of Curacao and anchor overnight in Santa Kruz Bay before heading west to Aruba.  The Girl was off the dock at Santa Barbara Plantation at 09h00 and had the anchor down (for the first time) in Santa Kruz by 12h30.  A guy in a tourist snorkel boat comes by and tells me we NEED to leave.  We’re right where he takes his snorkelers to the sunken boat nearby.  Well…..ask me-it’s all good.  Tell me…..we may have an issue. I told him that his snorkelers were welcome to swim near our boat-no problem.  He didn’t like that idea, and as he motored off, he let me know that he’d be back “Motherf#$@r!”.  The Admiral and I didn’t like the idea of sleeping with one eye open, so when he was out of sight, we moved over a hundred feet.  Before dinner, we had a visit from the Coast Guard, as the lady issuing our anchoring permit suggested we might.  They boarded us, checked our papers (which were all in order), and bade us good night.  We were up, and the lines were out by 06h45.  In 15 minutes, the drought was over.  We had a nice 34” Mahi in the cooler, and life was good.  No bites the rest of the trip.  The seas were predicted to be 3’-5’, they were actually 2’-4- all the way over, and we got a nice push from the current.  Aruba Customs and Immigration was a breeze.  After the paperwork, an officer came on board, exchanged pleasantries and sent us off.  The marina was a couple miles away.  We motored over and Med-moored (stern in, bow tied to a mooring) against the wall just inside the jetty with the help of a dockhand in a dinghy and one on the dock.

The dude from “Carvenience” picked us up at 09h30 the next morning, took us back to his office and we were in business with our rental by 11h00.  The first order of business was to find a battery for our engine starting, as our current (no pun intended) one was darn near dead.  Budget Marine had one size 8D in stock, so one boat unit ($1K) poorer, and one battery richer, we were almost good to go.  Almost, because the battery box for said behemoth (156 pounds) has about 20” of clearance above it and is situated at about chest height when you’re kneeling in front of it.  Jair, the manager at Budget said “No problem, I’ll come over after work and put it in for you and take out and dispose of the old one”.  He said that he was really strong, shouldn’t be a problem, but I had my doubts.  The last time that we changed batteries, we got 3 football players from Florida Central to do the honors.  Suz and I managed to get it out of the trunk and down to the dock, then on to the stern of the Girl with the help of a dock hand.  At 18h30, Jair and his wife, Natasha show up, and he’s ready to go.  He couldn’t get the battery down the ladder into the engine room, but this wasn’t MY first rodeo.  I had the salon floor ready to pull up, so we took out the floor panels and lowered the unit into the engine room with ropes, while Suzanne was down below, steering.  That was the easy part.  Now, the battery had to be lifted into the battery box that is tucked back in the corner.  Let’s just say that it took a half hour or so of noodling different ways to get the job done without result.  In the end, pride was the solution.  He said he was strong, he said that he could do it, and by Gosh, he wasn’t going to be humiliated.  Up and in.  We spent the next hour or so chatting with Jair and Natasha about their daughter, Bella, who is an autistic savant.  She was talking by age one, reading before 2, knew several languages before age 5 (self-taught), and is a whiz at math. Of course, we were fascinated and mostly just listened intently while they described their now 14 year old’s exploits.  It seems that her extraordinary talents are balanced against some behavioral issues and present quite a challenge for both her teachers and parents.  We meet some pretty interesting people in our travels. 

James and Pam, aboard “LoveZur” (Thanksgiving dinner in Antigua- 2017), were in a slip around six boats down from us.  After being in Aruba for 7 months, they knew the drill.  Over cocktails, they read us in.  We knew what groceries to buy at which stores, what day of the week that they stocked, Senior discount day, etc.  They told us about the facilities at the two Renaissance Hotels where we had privileges etc. and etc. The island of Aruba is fairly small, so it’s pretty easy to cover the high points in a week.  We drove from the Dutch military base in the south to the California Lighthouse in the north.  We visited the beaches and the “Hotel Zone” on the west (Leeward) coast to the rock-strewn east (windward) shore.  We climbed to the highest point, Mt. Hooiberg and signed up with “Mermaid Divers” to explore the depths. James and Pam hadn’t done much exploring, as he had been dealing with some now-resolved health issues, so we dragged them along on a couple of our jaunts.  Compared to the “B” and “C” of the ABC islands, Aruba is super touristy (like athleticism-Is that really a word?).  Anyway, we hit the tourist spots.  My favorite was the butterfly farm-I had never been to one before, and our guide imparted some fascinating facts about the life and times of butterflies.

We got our boat chores done. I needed to fabricate some attachments for the terminals on our new battery, as the new one wasn’t quite the same as the old one.  It took a little time to find the parts that I needed, but a picture of the final result garnered a “Nice” from Scotty, our “Master of All Things Krogen” guru back in the States. We had also developed a fuel line leak when leaving Curacao the week before. Jair put me in touch with a local guy, Roberto, who made up a new hose patterned after the one that I removed.  Nothing’s ever easy.  The new one leaked at the other end, and I ended up replacing some flared fittings (Also supplied by Roberto) before the Girl was leak-free.  Sheesh!

Okay.  You know the plan.  We are staying in Aruba for a couple of weeks. Wait for a weather window.  Go to Colombia.  It’s been windy as all get out for weeks, with seas to match.  We’re laying in bed the morning of Thursday, the 28th and Suzanne busts out with “I’ve been watching the weather for the route to Colombia for a month or so, trying to figure out a pattern.  The offshore high in the western Caribbean is contracting right now.  It’s too bad that we aren’t leaving today.”  Well…….’Nuff said.  Aruba wasn’t really our cuppa tea.  By 09h00 we had called the marina at Santa Marta.  Yep, they had room for us.  Reservation made.  Told Hans and crew at Renaissance “You know that month’s berthing that we paid in advance……?” New bill computed, refund made by 12h00.  Rental car? “Okay if we bring it back a day early?”  Check.  Mexican rice casserole, Tuna salad, carrot and celery sticks cut (for the ride) Ditto.  Guest stateroom (It’s midship-quieter and less motion while underway) bed made.  We were off the dock at 16h30.  Had to show up at Customs in person and with boat, so a 45 minute ride in the wrong direction to take care of that bit of business. We were enroute to Colombia forty minutes ahead of schedule.  Sunset.  Dinner.  I am off to bed and Suzanne will take the first 6 hour watch, so I’ll talk at ya….

-Later

 

 

Goedenmiddag,

Well….I’m still playin’ catchup, ‘cause I was playinhookie for months. I took some editorial liberties with the Bonaire and Curacao visits.  We visited both islands twice.  Bonaire #1 was from October 4th-December 5th.  Curacao #1 from December 5th-January 31rst.  Bonaire #2 from January 31rst-February 27th.  Curacao #2 from February 27th-March 21rst.  Sooo….we had nearly 6 months split between the 2 islands.

For the sake of brevity(?), some stuff was omitted:

The kids’ visits

The flu (or whatever-we had our shots) that put both of us down in bed for a week when we returned to Bonaire after Jeremy and Jodi’s wedding. (Yep!!!)  My cough is still hanging on nearly 2 months later.

Many memorable dive trips

More great restaurants

Lotsa fun with John and Paulette

Gulp! Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!

-Sooner

Goedemorgen,

Well….it’s always nice to get a quick and dirty overview of a new location. The Admiral found an outfit that offered tuktuk tours of Willemstad, so the day after we arrived, we Tucks were tucked in the back of a tuktuk with our new friend Nigel at the wheel.  At 6’ 8”, Nigel hadn’t fit the profile of former tuktuk drivers in southeast Asia, but after he folded himself in, he was one with the machine.  We spent a couple of hours together, seeing the sights, learning some history, and ugh! talking politics. It was a blast.  Note to selves… “Schedule tuktuk tours for the kids.”

Our favorite tour director, Paulette scheduled a dive trip for us with Go West Diving out at Westpunt, the western end of the island.  Marilyn and Steve, friends of John and Paulette’s from 2 other boats joined in, and we car-a-vanned out to west end.  We did 2 boat dives on the dive boat, captained by one certifiably crazy captain-they were delightful.  Of course, you can’t do an outing with J&P without food.  We had a late lunch at Playa Forti restaurant, located on a cliff overlooking the azure blue Caribbean sea. Second note to selves... “The kids will love this restaurant.”  By the way, there was a nice little bay near the restaurant where the fishermen cleaned their fish and threw the offal into the water.  Yuck?  Well no, not really.  The turtles were always present in droves.  The chance of seeing a turtle was 100%.  (third note to selves).

I’m pretty sure that I mentioned that we were moored in the entrance to a large lagoon called Spanish Waters.  The several square mile lagoon made for great exploration, both by kayak and dinghy (cocktail cruises). Literally, 100’s of boats were either moored or berthed in there.

More tourist stuff. We toured the Aloe farm and the Curaloe product manufacturing facility, a commercial Ostrich farm, and the ChiChi studio (Serena’s Art Factory).  Gotta check out the fat lady figurines at:  https://chichi-curacao.com/

“De Koksmaat,” a top-end kitchen supply store was a regular stop for us (you know us, hardware stores and kitchen shops). Owned by Monica and her husband Wilfried (a retired high-end caterer) had a small commercial kitchen in one corner. In this kitchen, he put on a weekly cooking demonstration, each week with a theme.  Wil would cook one course per hour for 4 hours from 1100-1400 every Saturday.  His philosophy was that great food needn’t be complicated to cook.  No, we didn’t hang out for 4 hours.  We’d show up for the last 2 courses, but by the time we left Curacao, he knew that we were coming, so he’d reserve a couple servings of the first 2 for us.  Oh yeah, we bought a few gadgets too.

We’re still looking for fun stuff to do when the kids arrive, so it was our duty to take a day trip out to Klein Curacao, a small island around 8 miles east of Curacao.  Although there are many operators who go there, the gang aboard “Blue Finn,” a 75’ catamaran came highly recommended.  We were rather familiar with the boat, as she came past our dock twice a day-early morning and late afternoon.  The boat had a great playlist and a killer sound system.  Looked like the crew was always having a good time.  It was a no-brainer.  They picked us up at the Girl, then we motored over to Jan Thiel, where we picked up the rest of the touristas.  We had a wonderful day, anchoring on the lee side of Klein.  We had time for a snorkel before lunch was served on the stern of Blue Finn. Afterwards, Suz and I walked this small coral islet to the lighthouse on the far side.  We climbed the lighthouse, snapped a few pics and checked out a shipwreck nearby.  A bit more swimming, then sailing back to Curacao with an open bar with a never-empty glass completed the day.  The Admiral and I decided that it probably wasn’t a great day for our soon-to-be 1 year old grandson or anyone that couldn’t/shouldn’t handle a day of extreme sun. Grandpa and Nanna (did I really say that?) had a great day, though.  (fourth note to Selves.)

Crikey!!  Christmas sure got here in a hurry!  We got the Girl all dolled up a couple days ahead of time.  Suz had her Flamingoes in their Christmas hats and driftwood Christmas tree inside, and I (a.k.a. Clark Griswald) had my strings of lights outside (on a timer, of course).  Off to the States to see the fam, John and Paulette kept an eye on our little ship.

Back from our Holiday foray to the States, it was time for the Pagara celebration.  Don’t ask me-I have no idea about the origin or the meaning of the festivities.  The high point is the lighting of millions (literally) of firecrackers in and around Curacao, with the majority taking place in the Petermaii district of Willemstad.  Strings of firecrackers, bound together in 8” diameter snakes up to a couple hundred meters long are laid out in the streets and lit on one end.  After 250,000 firecrackers have blown, you can’t see across the street the smoke is so thick.  Walking along and following the main fuse is painful, as unlit ‘crackers blown from the main bunch explode randomly in the smoldering ashes.  Okay, those are the big ones.  Smaller strings, maybe only 10,000 or so, are going off here, there, and everywhere for 4 days.  The strings on the sidewalks are setting off burglar alarms, the ones on busy streets and sidewalks are stopping traffic.  Stores pop up in empty locations selling nothing but firecrackers.  Hey, any excuse for a party.

Suz and I were interested in the “Coral Restoration Project,” so got up with Ruud, at his shop Atlantis divers.  There, he taught us how to clean the “trees” that he was growing coral on in the bay prior to transplanting it on the reef.  With the participation of many dive shops on Bonaire and Curacao, the intention of the project is to rejuvenate storm-damaged reefs.  The project is going well, as evidenced by the new patches of vital coral in many areas around the islands.  We visited him several times, cleaning algae off the PVC trees with toothbrushes and scouring pads.

Our kids, Jeremy and Alison are both certified divers, but neither had been diving for years.  We needed to find a place where they could do a refresher dive, and their non-diving spouses/kids could chill on the beach.  Enter Samantha.  We had met her and her partner,on our trip to Klein Curacao. They both worked at, and told us about a dive shop at Blue Bay.  Sounded ideal.  Suz and I road tripped there.  Nice sand beach, palapas, 2 restaurants.  Check.  (fifth note to selves).

Getting’ wordy…

-Later

Ola, Amigos

The thirty-five mile or so trip from Bonaire to Curacao is an easy one.  The wind and current is always at your back, thanks to the Trade Winds.  You (almost) don’t even need to check the weather, just throw a dart at the calendar and go.  Halfway across, we passed another Krogen 48 going the other way.  Chuck and Barb, aboard Tusen Tak were headed back to Bonaire from their seasonal haulout in Curacao for the 8th year.  They went to Bonaire 8 years ago, fell in love with the island and diving, and never left.  This’ll be their last year in Bonaire, as they’ll head back to the States, sell their boat, and R.V. around North America for the next few years.  We dragged lines all the way, and passed through several patches of water that were literally “boiling” with schools of feeding Tuna, but got nary a bite-Boo!  Our destination was Santa Barbara Plantation Resort.  A spot on their quarter-mile long floating dock in the channel leading into Spanish Water lagoon would be our home for the next couple months.  As we pulled alongside, our pals, John and Paulette aboard “Seamantha” were waiting to catch our lines.  Later, they whisked us off to Willemstad, a 30 minute drive, so that we could clear in with Customs and Immigration. Locating the offices would have been akin to the search for the Holy Grail on our own.  Each was on a different side of the harbor, and located amidst a warren of alleys and one-way streets.  It sure is nice to have friends like J & P.  We hadn’t seen them since Martinique back in May, so had plenty of catching up to do.  Paulette, like Suzanne, is a “research queen” and having been on Curacao for 6 months had a ton of local knowledge for us, right down to where to take our dry cleaning.

The resort hotel at Santa Barbara was our choice for the simple reason that both of our kids and their families were coming to visit us (at different times).  Our dock paralleled the sandy beach at the hotel, providing a nice sheltered place to swim.  We had 2 swimming pools and a “splash pad” at our disposal, as well as a fitness center and 3 restaurants (where we received a 20% discount).  If the boat got “too small”, we could always get a room at the hotel to overflow into.  The hotel is located within the Santa Barbara Plantation development, which covers 1,500 acres of the southeast end of Curacao.  There are paved roads with platted building lots covering a small portion of the acreage, but only 50 or so homes have actually been built.  So…….there is plenty of undeveloped “bush”, which makes for lots of hiking and mountain biking. We took maximum advantage of both opportunities.

We had a little adventure on one of our mountain bike treks.  Suz and I were heading down a dirt two-track through the bush on our way to a path we knew.  All of a sudden, a helicopter appears.  It is hovering at about 100’ of altitude, around 200 yards behind us, and sidling sideways, keeping pace with us, it’s gun door pointed toward us.  We had planned on stopping at a rifle range up ahead for a water break.  As we did, the helicopter stopped and hovered.  We figured that these military guys were just using us for practice until 3 white SUV’s roared up the track and positioned around us.  Flak jackets, semi-automatic weapons and faces as serious as a heart attack accompanied the guys that got out of the vehicles.  Hmmm.  “You guys coming up for some target practice?”  After a little discussion regarding who we were, where we came from, and why we were there, we were informed that it was “Not safe for you to be here”, and that we were to leave immediately.  Interesting.  We had been out here several times before, hiking and biking.  On the way home, we stopped at the Seru Boca marina and related our story to Robbie, the marina manager there.  Yep, he had gotten a call about us.  He told us that the military was looking for some Venezuelan illegals who had come ashore nearby, and that the troops should have told us instead of being so mysterious about it.

Besides hiking around our area, one morning we joined a local hiking group to a peak overlooking Pescaidera Bay. The hike was led by a naturalist who stopped along the way to identify and tell us about some of the local flora.  Although there weren’t many English speakers in the group, they were enjoyable to walk with.  Of course, a visit to an island without taking the guy who doesn’t like heights (Yours Truly) to the highest point wouldn’t be any fun at all.  We drove to the west end of the island to the national park there and scaled Mount Christoffel.  Most of that hike was an uphill on a reasonably wide path, but there were parts that traversed narrow (at least to me) ledges along drop-offs, ending with a short climb up the rocks at the end.  I had a hard time enjoying the view, as the Admiral scampered around the edges at the top snapping pics in a 20 knot breeze, because I was thinking about having to get down. (What a weenie!).

Shete Boka is another national park at the west end of Curacao.  It stretches for a couple of miles along the windward shore.  As is typical of the windward side, the land is very rocky and arid.  The sea can be wild, crashing in on the near vertical fossilized coral shore.  The park has dirt tracks which connect several scenic points along the shore, so each can be accessed by driving.  There are also hiking paths, so we had the chance to get around 10 km of walking in.  The wind was really blowing, and we got some good pictures at one of the bokas, where the waves were rolling in to this indentation in the rocks.  At another boka, a cave could be entered from the land, winding down to a small grotto which was open to the sea.  So much for staying dry, as every 10th wave crashed over the flimsy platform, leaving you crouching in 2 feet of water.  Another of the trails coursed inland, and up to a small promontory about a mile or so from the shore, giving us a totally different perspective.  We’d be back 2 more times, as both of our kids wanted to visit too.

Well then, that’s 1100 words, so let’s continue

-Later

 

Pages

Captain's Log

Buenos,

Well…..Bocas Town is an anchorage of convenience-not preference.  No wastewater treatment facility-ALL of the drains empty right into the bay.  We don’t make water, we don’t swim here.  It’ll be our stop for provisioning and internet (Thank you, Golden Grill restaurant).  We had exhausted our shore explorations after dinghying (sp?) over to Lost Boys Blues Bar and Cosmic Crab on Cayo Carnero.  At the Crab, the food was good the connectivity terrible.  Another restaurant/bar owned by U.S. expats holding on by the skin of their teeth.  What’d Jimmy Buffett say?  “Runnin’ from something”?   Anyway, the Girl was talkin’ to us.  ”Get me outta here!”  Suz had heard about a little organic Cacao farm in Laguna Porras (Dolphin Lagoon), and had been in contact with the owner, Julie.  Sounded like a good destination, so we were off, but not before informing David and Donna, aboard “Exit Only” with their son Dave, his wife Sarah and their two kids Zoey and Jocelyn.  Oh yeah, they’re sailing around the world, heading through the Canal as soon as their long-term visas for French Polynesia are in order.  It’ll be their second time around, as their first was when Dave and his sister were kids.

Our visit to Green Acres Farm was the highlight of our Fall cruising so far.  Julie had given Suz the latitude/longitude of the farm.  Although kinda unusual, they made locating Green Acres easy.  When we arrived in the bay, it made sense.  No roads, no town, vague landmarks.  As we studied the place through binoculars from the anchorage, we were amazed at the level of “tidy” that we saw.  Manicured lawn between neatly trimmed bushes, orderly rows of trees and multiple flowering gardens connected by stone-lined footpaths surrounded the 2-story house.  Quite a contrast with so many properties barely holding back the rain forest.  I thought the guy must’ve been a retired dentist or accountant.  Robert, Julie’s husband IS a retired dentist.  They sailed here (That explains the lat/lon directions) around 6 years ago and decided to find some property.  A couple of years on shore was what they were looking for.  Well….two became three, became four, became….  They knew nothing about making chocolate, but hired a local guy to give them a crash course.  There were a thousand or so Cacao trees on the property planted by United fruit years ago, so there was lots of raw material.  The lady that owned the property before them was an avid gardener, thus the lush gardens around the house.  The farm is completely off the grid.  There is no road, nor electricity coming in.  The place is only accessible by boat.  All of their power is supplied by solar panels supplemented by a small generator.  Propane supplies the heat for cooking/chocolate-making.  Robert took us on a walking tour of the farm which lasted around 3 ½ hours.  As you might imagine, he is quite the expert on the local flora and fauna.  The chocolate making?  There isn’t a “season” for cacao.  The trees constantly produce fruit.  Even with 30% of his crop lost to insects and fungus (No pesticides or chemicals are used), that’s still a lot of fruit to pick and process.  Three indigenous guys help with the harvesting and processing.  The processing?  Let me just say that McGyver has nothing on Robert.  He has designed and built all of the equipment that he uses to make chocolate.  I can’t begin to describe the ingenuity it took to create his “factory”, all contained in a 10’x10’ shed.  Just check out the pictures.  When our tour was over, we sampled some of Robert’s chocolate rum mixed with sweetened condensed milk and matched with Julie’s brownies fresh from the oven.  The farm will be changing hands soon, as it’s been sold to a non-profit, Planet Rehab, owned by a couple of guys from the States.  They are planning to maintain the status quo.  R & J came out to the Girl in the evening to share sips and conversation.  Their boat is being refitted, and they plan to resume their cruising after a trip back to the States over the Holidays.  We may see them again, as they will be visiting the San Blas and plan to transit the Canal at about the same time as us in a few years.

Why don’t we make more short and long term plans?  Julie and Robert invited us to a surprise birthday party for their 90-year-old neighbor at “Rana Azul,” a restaurant over in the next bay for the next night.  They told us that the owners, a couple from Luxemburg had a bonafide pizza oven.  All right then, we were in.  We told the crew from “Exit only ” and everyone was psyched for pizza.  We led the way through an uncharted cut to the next bay-Robert assured us that there was plenty of water (and there was).  We dropped anchor in 20’ of water outside the reef, as there was no visibility on this cloudy, rainy windy day.  It was so cloudy, windy, rainy that the party was postponed, as guests were coming from miles around.  Well…Suz and I dinghied in to see about food.  We met Mark, the owner, who informed us that it was “Chicken Night.” Okay, back out to “Exit Only.”  They were set on pizza, and we were in a spot where the wind would blow us into shore if an anchor dragged, so they voted to go somewhere else to anchor.  I went back to tell Mark that we’d come another day, and he told me that they had set a fire in the oven and made dough.  Back to the Girl to pick up Suzanne, and got soaked for a second time beating against the wind and waves.  Suz had called “E O” and they were headed back to re-anchor.  The pizza was great, the beer was cold, and we made some new friends amongst the gang of expats who hang out here.  Participating in the Bocas Emergency Network on the VHF the next morning got Suzanne a new pal.  BEN 13, AKA Captain Ray gave her the coordinates for waypoints leading through the reef near Rana Azul.  It was cloudy, but the wind had abated during the night.  We tiptoed through the reef, and found ourselves in 16’ of calm water right near the restaurant.  Good for future reference.

Suz had heard about a spot amongst the mangroves where there were like a Jillion sea anemones in many different colors.  Exit and we were off to explore.  We got anchored, and did some snorkeling, but were in the wrong spot.  “Exit” checked a spot where a day charter had been anchored earlier and reported a trove of these invertebrates.  Then the sky opened up.  Next morning, the blustery weather continued, so Suz and I decided to head back to Rana Azul and anchor within range of their WiFi router so that we could get some work done.  We followed Cap’n Ray’s course through the reef and dropped the hook in 16’ of water just off the mangrove-shrouded shore.  Suz got some bills paid while I resumed the never-ending task of keeping a coat of wax on Alizann.  We headed in for the rescheduled party and spent most of the evening with Dave and Shellie, whom we had met during our last visit.  Dave and she bought 27 acres on the next bay, and were subdividing it into lots for sale.  I guess there is a HGTV show, Caribbean Life that they were featured in. In the meantime, they had built a “floating house”, and were living the life.  After a few games of pool (Mark has a regulation slate table in his open-air restaurant.  He was a ranked player in Europe before cruising to Panama), Dave looks at Shellie “Did you ask them?”  “No.  Didn’t you while I was in the bathroom?” “No.”  After a night of fun, I wasn’t sure what was coming.  “We have to go back to the States for a couple of weeks in early December.  Would you consider bringing your boat over to our house and house-sitting for us?  We have a 60” TV, hot shower, full kitchen and internet.”  (We’re planning to take a trip up into the mountains and staying for a few days in Boquete at that time, but it’s tempting-Suz and I will have to noodle this one out before we get back to them)

Okay, well it’s been crappy all day after pouring all night, so we’ve been hunkered down leeching Mark and Sydney’s internet (They gave us permission to use it).  It’s been off and on rain most of the day, so I’m still in my boxers cruising the interweb and tapping out this missive.  God bless Suzanne’s sister, Sheila.  She has no idea how many spare parts and miscellaneous doodads will be coming her way before our visit at Christmas.

-Later

 

Buenos Dias,

24 October.  We made all of our “Goodbyes”, and waited semi-patiently for our 15h30 departure time, which would put us into Laguna Bluefield in the Bocas del Toro archipelago by mid-morning.  The weather proved to be benign (as forecast).  Always a question after months of idleness, all systems  functioned well, including the stabilizers that Scotty and I had serviced but not tested.  The new charging parameters that I had set on our alternator regulator were spot on.  The new batteries came up to full charge, and stayed that way throughout the passage.  I went off watch at 01h00.  It was calm and stuffy, so I opened the porthole in the stateroom.  When I awoke at 06h00, it had been pouring for several hours with the wind on the beam.  Try as I might, I couldn’t hide all of the wet cushions, drapes and rug from the Admiral.  Every now and then, we all need a case of “Dumb #ss” to keep us humble.  I have more of those than most.

Laguna Bluefield, an idyllic anchorage surrounded by tropical rainforest was our home for the next 24 hours.  We just napped, chilled and read.  Dolphins danced around the Girl for a few hours and the baitfish “boiled” the water most of the afternoon and evening.  Our next stop was in the lee of the Zapatilla islands ( Numero Uno and Numero Dos).  They are a popular spot for “Day Trippers” from neighboring islands due to their beautiful sandy beaches.  We anchored about a half mile off shore of “Uno”, and dinghied in to a deserted beach where we spent the afternoon.  The morning of the 27th, we were off to Bocas Town.  We tried our luck fishing the Caribbean side of Bastiementos Island with no joy.  At one point, Suzanne looked down from the pilothouse window and saw a Mahi swim by.  Obviously, I was using the wrong lures.  Nearing Bocas town, we realized that we weren’t ready for civilization yet, so headed deep into Hospital Bight on Bastiamentos.  We tiptoed into the uncharted end of the bay, and dropped our hook amidst the Mangrove islets there.  From our lonely base, we explored the bay by dinghy for the next few days.  Oh yeah, don’t forget that it’s still the rainy season.  Just because I haven’t mentioned the fact that there are intense lightning and thunder storms every day doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.  We had a delivery of boat parts and essential foodstuffs ( Gatorade, Reese’s cups, Pop Tarts, horseradish and etc. ) for our friends (from Santa Marta) Holly and Michael on “Pecaro”, that we received from Dan and Jackie at Shelter Bay.  We dinghied the 4 miles over to where they were anchored in Bocas Town to make the much-appreciated delivery.

We hauled the anchor on the 29th, and made our way to Bocas Town.  Since we already had a track on our chartplotter, the trip out of the end of the bay was much less stressful.  It took 2 tries to get our anchor to set in the rubble-strewn Bocas anchorage, under the watchful eye of the USCG cutter “Confidence”, which was riding at anchor in the Bocas Strait.  For the last few days, it’s been the usual “new port” routine, scoping out grocery, hardware and marine supply stores on shore, and generally sucking information out of anyone that would talk to us.  Yesterday, (the 31rst), we did a 2 tank dive with Bocas Dive Center.  The crew couldn’t have been nicer, but the visibility and dive sites left a lot to be desired.  Not sure if we’ll dive here again.

Buenos Dias,

Touchdown in Panama at 20h00.  Customs was non-existent, which took a load off as we had lots of small, but expensive boat parts intermingled with our clothes in all 4 duffle bags.  Olmero was waiting out front, and we soon were off to Shelter Bay.  The new bridge over the canal had been completed in our absence, and the 2-hour trip was cut by 40 minutes.  The fact that we had arrived after the horrendous Panama City rush hour didn’t hurt either.  The sense of relief that you experience at the end of a long trip soon dissipated.  The hotel/restaurant office was closed for the night.  While Olmero got busy dialing, I checked the boaters lounge.  The A/C wasn’t working, but the couches were not occupied.  Looked like we at least had a place to sleep.  By the time that I got back to Suz, Olmero had located the hotel manager, we got our key and were good to go.

The next week was truly all work and no play.  The morning of the 1st, we checked on the Girl, who had been moved from the secure storage area (surrounded by a 12’ fence topped with razor wire, and occupied by 3 “Junkyard Dogs”) to the work yard.  Alizann had fared well.  A fair bit of mold and algae on the outside, but inside she looked and smelled sweet.  Our favorite marine tech and pal, Scotty was flying in from the States the next day, so we got things ready for an efficient visit.  All the tools and toolboxes were brought up from their homes in the engine room, bow thruster props were removed, the washer/dryer was moved to the companionway to facilitate access to the top of the stabilizers, and etc.  Earlier in the Summer, we had shipped a pallet of stuff including our new Lithium batteries from the States.  We located it in a storage bin, and spent an afternoon taking inventory and stowing our new goodies.  It was like Christmas in October.  We reestablished contact with Demaso (Recommended by a cruiser at Shelter Bay), confirming that he would start work sanding and painting Alizann’s bottom on the 4th.

Olmero picked Scotty up, he arrived just after noon, and by 1330 we were off to the races.  Stabilizers off, oil drained, seals replaced, everything cleaned and put back together by 22h00.  I won’t bore you with the details, but it was up at 06h00 and work until after dark for the next week.  Demaso arrived with his boys as scheduled, which was a relief to me, as we had wired him several boat units ($1K) before ever meeting him.  That relationship was not without drama as we went back and forth regarding materials specified, materials delivered, work quality and etc.  He didn’t speak a word of English, and Google Translate didn’t work worth squat for the local vernacular.  Scotty is a machine, fueled by Coca Cola and peanut M&M’s.  We finished the list and many other projects.  By the time he was scheduled to leave, I have to admit I was slap wore out.  We got the Girl back into the water without a lot of drama, and back to our old slip, D42.  As we were tying up we got a reminder to not swim in the marina as a 7’ Crocodile glided past.  It was so nice to move back aboard and sleep in our own bed again.    Still plenty of work to be done before heading out, but there was light at the end of the tunnel.  I put a new control module in our icemaker (found one for $80 in the home appliance parts website, whereas the boat part dudes listed the same part for around $200.  I love part numbers and the internet).  We now have ice.  Recommissioned the watermaker-it’s only making around 22 gal/hr, instead of the nearly 29 that it’s rated at.  Could be that water temperature is a factor, could be that I’ll have to put in new membranes next year.  I’ll send our specs to Spectra (our watermaker brand) and see what the techs there have to say.

The cupboards were bare, so it was time for the next adventure-provisioning.  We tried our luck on the free shuttle bus to Colon, and did pretty well at “Cuatros Alto” Mall.  The meat at the Rey supermarket looked somewhat suspect, so we limited our purchases to a few pounds.  Although Colon is the largest city on the Caribbean side of the Canal, its population is generally very poor, and the stock in the grocery store reflects this demographic.  Our friend, and long-term inhabitant of Shelter Bay Marina (1.75 years and counting), Spencer was renting a van for a run into Panama City, so several of us chipped in and we were off on an all-day shopping extravaganza.  He knew the city like the back of his hand, and was taking requests.  Suz needed an Alcatel hot spot and some SIM cards (our Google Fi phones didn’t work well in the San Blas islands).  The phones in the U.S. generally don’t use Band 28 which is more or less ubiquitous in many other countries.  Don’t ask me-that’s the Admirals’ job, and she gathered info from various sources for 6 months before arriving at this decision.  She had been in contact with a guy who spoke English at the phone store at Albrook Mall.  He got a hotspot and told her that he’d be in to help her set it up.  Yay!  This is a whole ‘nother story, but the Mall is the largest in Central and South America (It’s over a mile long, and several stories high-people literally take a cab to get from one end to the other)  Spencer knew exactly which entrance to use, and 40 minutes later, we had the goods and were headed to our next stop.  We hit a couple of marine chandleries, the Casa de Jamon (for gourmet foods-they had 20 or so Serano hams hanging in one area), the Discovery Center (beyond description-kinda like a cross between Home Depot, Walmart, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  You could find everything from power tools to tampons).  Next, it was time to do some serious provisioning.  PriceSmart-Panama City’s equivalent to Costco.  Of course, Spencer had a membership, so it was “Katie bar the doors.”  We rounded out the day and provisions at a regular grocery store(Riba Smith), which was considerably more upscale than the one in Colon.  Eleven hours after we started, we were back home, and filling Alizann.  The deck fridge wasn’t working-#@%&!!.  I had turned it on several days earlier, and heard the compressor kick on, so I ASSUMED that everything was copacetic.  We jammed everything in the galley fridges and icemaker and hit the sack.  Suz spent most of the next day breaking down large packages and vacuum sealing their contents in smaller aliquots.  I thought that the control module in the freezer was shot (as it had been at Atlantic Yacht Basin after storing a few years ago), but after a bit of troubleshooting, discovered that it was just a cooling fan.  (Which had a feedback loop to the module-making it wonky.)  Off to the Alizann hardware store.  Yep-behind the corner settee in the salon there lived not one, but two 6” computer fans.  An hour later, we had cold.

We were getting closer to being outta there when Windows alerted us that there was a new update that needed installing.  No problem-4 computers updated.  Sonofagun!  The Nav computer (You know the one-it has 2 programs of navigation software, our secondary radar and all of our routes and waypoints on it) wouldn’t even boot up Windows.  This looked like it was going to be a big one, so I started another project.  Two full days later, after Suzanne had burned up the phone with Scotty and Rose Point Navigation’s techs, she had reinstalled Windows, repaired a Com port, found our radar and resurrected some vocabulary from her archives that I haven’t heard escape from her lips in many years (maybe since our eldest was a teenager).  She also now had LED lights in all of her kitchen cabinets, activated by switches on the doors.

Weather looking good for an overnighter to the Bocas del Toro archipelago west of Colon, the Girl is shipshape, so we’ll head out a little…

-Later

A belated Buenos Dias,

It’s like that “Thank You” note that doesn’t get sent right away.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to send it.  Well……I hope that you’ll accept my apologies for the 100th time.  Your recalcitrant, writer-blocked, tongue -tied, lazy blogger is back.  Sheesh!....we’ve already been to the States and back.  Rainy season will end in a month or so, but we’re already on the move.

To recap:

               Departed Hollandes on the 31st of May for a 2-hour run to East Lemmon Cay, where we helped a lady with a severe toothache sort out her medication regimen, and explored on the dinghy for a possible future stay.

               Off to Chichime, where we wedged into a very crowded anchorage.  We did a bit of snorkeling, but never went to shore as it really wasn’t very appealing to us.

               The 4th of June saw us leaving the San Blas archipelago.  We were now on a mission to get to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, the Girls’ rainy season home.  We anchored in Linton Bay, on Panama’s mainland.  It is a very busy little outpost, with a huge mooring field and a small marina.  The whole place looked like it needed a lotta love (and money).

               Next stop was Portobelo, a port and small town, also on the mainland.  We stayed a couple of days, anchored beneath the ruins of an old Spanish fort.  Being a vital port in the Spanish “Triangle of Trade” (Consisting of Santa Maria, Portobello, and Rio Chagres), used to extract the vast quantities of precious metals from South and Central America, it was a juicy target for pirates.  Among others, Henry Morgan had sacked and burned the town.  We explored the ruins and also the town of Portobelo on the other side of the bay.  There, we also got our first glimpses of the “Diablo” buses-ornately decorated school bus-type vehicles which made regular runs between Panama City, Portobelo and Colon.  The paint jobs were crazy.  A visit to the Iglesia de San Felipe was a must, as the statue of the “Black Christ” was ensconced there.  Scores of miracles are attributed to the statue, which was found floating in the bay in the early 1600’s.  Every year, on October 21, thousands of pilgrims from all over Panama converge on Portobelo to celebrate the Festival de Cristo Negro.  While we were anchored in Portobelo,, we had torrential rains.  The runoff from land was so severe that the water in the bay changed from blue to brown.  The lightning was spectacular, but in retrospect, very costly.  When we readied the Girl for departure on the 7th, our primary navigation systems (Chartplotter, Depth sounder, and Radar) were down (and out).  #$@%!!.  That one’s gonna leave a mark on the nestegg.  Fortunately, our PC based backup system was unfazed, so we didn’t have to resort to compass, sextant, and paper charts.

               Dang!  We were here now, but not quite ready for marina life.  So….we passed Colon and headed up the Chagres River, anchoring just inside the bar after threading our way through a tricky passage in the reef.  Sandy and Britt joined us there, as they were on their way to Bocas Del Toro, where they would haul their boat for the Rainy Season.  Suz and I hiked up to Fort San Lorenzo, which guarded this important waterway during the 17th thru 19th centuries.  Britt and Sandy were off the next morning.  Suzanne and I decided to travel up the river to the dam at Lake Gatun.  The trip was about 6 miles up the winding river, with nothing but rain forest/jungle on both sides-just beautiful.  Up at the dam, we watched as a freighter transiting the Canal passed by around forty feet above us.  On the way back down the river, all of a sudden the Howler Monkeys started up in full out four-part harmony.  This was really strange, as it was a beautiful sunny day.  (They usually get rockin’ just before it starts to rain).  Whup! Whup! Whup!  We jumped out of the pilothouse in time to see a military chopper threading its way over the river behind us.  He was so low that he was between the trees on either bank.  Suzanne thought he was going to hit our mast!  He popped up and over us, then he was gone.  Silence returned to the forest.  Guess he just wanted to see what this boat was doing so close to the dam and Canal.  Slip D 42 at Shelter Bay Marina awaited us, so we passed through the reef, and an hour later the breakwall at the southern end of the Panama Canal, entering the small bay where the marina is located.  It is on the property formerly occupied by Fort Sherman, the U.S. outpost that guarded the Caribbean end of the Canal when it was run by the U.S.

The next 10 days were busy, busy, busy.  Here in Panama, the rainy season isn’t just wet…it’s WET!  Mold and mildew are a huge problem when leaving a boat here.  So…….everything came out of every locker and storage space (I have 44 compartments listed in my inventory spreadsheet), the space was cleaned meticulously, then sprayed with white vinegar before being refilled.  The water tanks were drained, opened, dried out and vacuumed.  Fuel tanks were filled to avoid condensation.  Routine maintenance, oil change, filters, fuel filters and water filters were replaced….you get the picture.  Repairs were performed (Yes, the Admiral diagnosed a blown video board in our Nav computer and got one ordered, even though the company was reluctant to send one out to a non-professional).  Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play.  We renewed friendships with other cruisers that we had met along the way, and made some new friends while enjoying Happy Hour at the pool.  The marina general manager, Juanjo, was the manager at Las Palmas where we stayed in Puerto Rico several years ago.  We had a lot of catching up to do.  The week flew by, and we moved to the marina hotel when Alizann was hauled.  We had her shrink-wrapped and put a dehumidifier in the galley sink to keep the humidity down.

The 19th of June came in a flash, and our new driver, Olmero drove us to the airport in Panama City for our flight back to the States.

Okay, I already said we were back, so we’ll get on with this season

-Later

 

Buenos Tarde,

It’s June 1rst, and we’re at anchor at Banedup in the Eastern Lemmon Cays.  Our plan was to move to Chichime today after one night here, but the squalls have been rolling through all morning, with winds gusting to 25 knots and sheets of rain.  It’s certainly not good weather for spotting reefs and shallows, so we moved the Girl to a better spot in the anchorage and will spend another day here.  There are a lot more places that we want to scope out in the next 10 days or so before we leave “Alizann” in Colon, and head for the States.  We’ll be out tomorrow, rain or shine.

We left you in Coco Bandero.  Well, the weather was gorgeous, and the anchorage was absolutely beautiful, so we ended up staying another day.  Coco is one of the most popular spots in the San Blas.  It is the cover photo on the “Cruising Guide to Panama,” and, during season there can be as many as 30-40 boats there.  Besides us, there were 3 other boats.  The anchorage is surrounded by shallow reefs, so we dropped the kayaks in and got some exercise, paddling around the islands and out to the Caribbean on the other side of the barrier reef around a mile or so away.  It seemed like the perfect spot for some aerial pics, so we put “Scout,” our drone up.  I think that he got some good shots, but you’ll have to be the judge.  In the afternoon, we had a visit from Vinancio and his brother.  He specializes in selling Mola’s, hand-stitched artworks of traditional local images.  Much like cross stitching and embroidery combined, they’re created by the local ladies on rectangles of cloth around 16x20 inches in size.  Vinancio is well-known amongst the cruisers, and the Admiral had been hoping that we’d be able to find him.  As it turned out, he found us, thanks to Sandy and Brett on “Halcyon,” who had left us the day before, but had given him our names and location.  My math isn’t that great, but I’m pretty sure that he made around $300/hour in the 2 hours that he spent with us.  When they left, he asked us for one of our boat cards with a note from us that we’d purchased from him.  It seemed strange for us to be giving him a receipt, but he explained that there is so much drug trafficking in this area that he might have to justify to the authorities why he had so much cash.  Go figure.  As they were leaving, I asked him if he knew Apio (our fruit guy).  He asked: “Did you give him any money?”  When I replied affirmatively, he just shook his head.  The next morning, Apio was vindicated.  He showed up with our produce order and got the other half of his money.  We hauled anchor at 1100 for the arduous hour-and-a-half trip to the “Swimming Pool” anchorage in Hollandes Cay.  On our way, we were hailed on the VHF by Tad and Robin aboard “Bisou”, the catamaran that had been berthed next to us for a day or so on Aruba.  They were headed to the same anchorage.

The “Swimming Pool” is another one of the really popular anchorages, and can accommodate 40-50 boats during season.  There were around 10 boats anchored when we arrived, including “Halcyon.”  We were excited, as we had hoped that we’d meet up with them again.  The next six days flew by.  We hadn’t intended to, but the snorkeling, exploring, and visiting with new friends was too good to give up.  Dan and Jackie aboard “Pleasant Living” and Mike and (haircut) Holly aboard “Picaro” from Santa Marta showed up, and it was like old-home week.  Of course, we had to meet Reg and Debbie, aboard “Runner” who are pretty much fixtures in the anchorage.  Although they have been cruising the San Blas for 19 years, they have been at anchor in the “Pool” nonstop for the last 3.  Reggie says that he goes ashore “once a decade,” while Debbie hitches a ride to the mainland a few times a year.  They’ve got a local guy who shops in Panama City for them, and brings provisions out every 2 weeks.  Not my cup of tea.  Diff’rent strokes.  Every evening around dusk, we’d look for the resident Caiman (crocodile) as he/she swam through the anchorage on its way from the barrier reef to who-knows-where.  He was usually accompanied by 2 sharks who glided beneath the boats around the same time.

Before I sign off, let me say a few words about our Panama cruising in general.  Our plan is to spend next season in and around the Caribbean side of Panama, most of the time in the San Blas.  The last few weeks of this year, we’re trying to get a feel for the cruising here and gather intel and make contacts.  At this time, there aren’t many other cruisers here.  It’s the rainy season, and most have headed home.  We’ve had rain nearly every day, usually in the afternoon.  Most days, we can hear thunder rumbling in the distance nearly all day.  In the evenings, we usually get a pretty good lightshow-mostly in the distance, but every so often too close for comfort.  The Admiral says that besides the U.S.A., there’s more lightning here than anywhere else on the planet.                                                                                      As far as the anchorages go, away from the mainland here in the east end of the San Blas they’re very different than what we are used to.  We usually anchor in the lee of a large land mass or in a bay.  Although there are islands here, they are tiny-often no more than a sand spit with less than 10’ of elevation and a few palm trees.  The anchorages are often just spots of water that are deep enough to be navigated, surrounded by many square miles of reef, often no more than a foot or so deep.  It is really strange to look out into the distance and see boats apparently anchored in the middle of open water.  Crazy.                                                                                                                                                

Provisioning here will be different too.  There really aren’t any cities on the mainland here, and none out in the islands.  Several times a day we are approached by local Kuna guys in their ulus and pangas, selling fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you love lobster, this is the place for you.  There are always fishermen coming around with live lobster, octopus and conch, as well as an occasional fish.  This morning, we got a call on the VHF from the sailboat next to us saying that the “Walmart” guy was at his boat.  He had soft drinks, frozen meat, veggies, fruits, beer and etc.  “Did we need anything?”  Turns out that they have been long-term cruisers here as well, and the “Walmart” guy fills custom orders for them on a biweekly basis.  Needless to say, we got his contact info for use next season.  I’m guessin’ that there are more guys out here during season, but I think that we may press the deck freezer back into service and bring out some frozen meat with us, though.                                                                                                                                 

The cell service is virtually non-existent with phones from the U.S.  Up until now, we have had excellent results with our Google Fi phones wherever we traveled-not now.  Yesterday was the first time that we have seen any emails.  Text only.  No images.  Apparently, the phones here are allowed to have more powerful antennas, and it’s necessary to buy a local phone/hotspot to get any connectivity.  We’re getting our weather and texting capability from our satellite device, but we’ll have to do a little more research into our options for communication before next season.  This report will stay in the can until we have WiFi.  That may be much….

-Later

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