Loading Map

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bahia San Telmo, Isla del Rey

18 January 2009

In my haste to get the Isla San Jose blog posted I neglected to mention the most memorable event of John's birthday. We had arranged via email to rendezvous with friends via HF radio, setting two times and frequencies to try. Both the morning and evening schedules worked perfectly and we were able to chat with Roy and Marlene of Damiana (formerly of Jellybean) and their guest, Tammy (formerly of Secret o' Life). Three years ago in Mexico John and Terry Bingham learned that they shared their birthday, and Marlene was quick to rally the cruisers anchored in Santiago Bay to a restaurant meal in honor of the coincidence. This year Tammy and her friend Holly joined Damiana in Belize where they scattered a portion of Terry's ashes at Rendezvous Cay (NE of Placencia) after which we joined them via radio for a birthday toast in memory of Terry. It's a connection we are proud to honor.

We departed ISJ earlier than planned Saturday morning after a report from Dale on Parrot Bay (on his way to San Lorenzo, Honduras) that conditions were excellent for sailing. A good north breeze with only a foot of wind chop made for a boisterous sail east across the channel to Isla del Rey. John had the fishing lines out and released a few skipjack before finally getting something worth keeping. I'm calling it a red snapper since it was very red and John thinks it was a type of snapper. As usual we were momentarily joined by dolphins taking advantage of our bow wave, and then conditions calmed as we neared the island. We rounded the southern tip of IdR to turn north but didn't make much headway against the ebb tide so we motored for half an hour to clear the worst of the current. Then it was smooth sailing up big Bahia San Telmo where we anchored under sail off the beach at Rio Cacique.

We can see the village of Esmeralda off in the distance (which means more people out and about in pangas), and the first thing I noticed was a man and two dogs working the brush line at the top of the beach. I figured he was just looking for treasures amongst the plastic trash, or was gathering something or other. Five hours later two boys with a dog paddled up in their small wood canoes. Since I was in my bathing suit I let John go up to answer their repeated shouts of "Hola!" while I listened in to the conversation from down below. Amongst other chit-chat was their question as to whether Ziggy was for us to eat; did we want to buy a small iguana for $5; and that they used the dog to hunt iguanas which they then take home to eat. By then the man from the beach was passing by in his large panga and the boys quickly shoved off from Nakia yelling at him for a ride back to town. He slowed to pick them up - canoes, dog, and all - and raised a large iguana for John to see. I find it disconcerting that the idea of killing iguanas for food bothers me since I'm certainly no vegetarian, but this is one type of cultural exchange that I would rather do without.

I finally finished reading "The Path Between the Seas" by David McCullough, an excellent history of the Panama Canal, and a must read for anyone going through it or spending time in Panama. Among more important things, it also helps explain why we haven't seen any mosquitos here. In fact the only problem we've had was with no-see-ums at Isla Cana. Unless we're on shore after dark we really haven't been bitten anywhere else. I forgot to mention that we found a few ticks after our hike on ISJ. We were careful to strip down on the beach and shake out our clothes to prevent taking any ticks back to Ziggy, but we had to pick one off of John while we were still riding around in the dinghy.

Ziggy is doing well and getting fat from eating too much fish. We recently switched from clay litter to clumping which is a much finer type of "sand." It's great in that it has eliminated all odor but he tracks it everywhere and we are constantly sweeping up after him. He's a crack-up at night when he eats dinner, takes care of business, and then bolts from his box like a race horse out of the gate, ready to do some sprints with his feather toy. In lieu of his grass, he's been munching on pineapple tops when we have them aboard. So we finally gathered up every pet store and SolMate grass seed starter kit and tossed them over a bag of potting soil in the old plastic dish pan. John covered it all with a net to keep Z. out until it fills in, but some has sprouted and is already pushing up against the net. I saw an ad for a nursery in the city so I predict we'll eventually dump this and buy something hardier that will stand up to his abuse better than spindlely wheat grass.

Linda and John


Isla San Jose, Las Perlas

14-17 January 2009

Isla San Jose is a very large privately owned island with a big bay and white sand beaches on its eastern side. We had some swell in the anchorage but not enough to break out the rocker stopper. We anchored in one lobe off a small beach while Patrick and Rebecca of Brick House were anchored to the SW off the big beach. Over drinks that evening they told us about a trailhead at the palm tree grove which leads to a gravel road. There is a very old sign saying, "Privado, No Entrada" but it was upside down so we took that to mean the owners might not be too serious about trespassers.

BH had warned us about the ticks and scorpions they experienced so we covered up with shoes and socks and lots of DEET. Even so, it was creepy walking through the tall grass and I wished I'd worn long pants and my heavier hiking boots for protection. John carried a small stick for knocking out any errant spider webs. Once we got to the "road" (more like a gravel driveway)and turned right, it wasn't so bad. The lanes were tree lined and shaded by the tropical deciduous forest which covers this area. There are many lush, "Cousin It" trees interspersed with an equal number of trees missing their leaves during what is now the dry season. The "Cousin It" trees are what I think are trees buried under a heavy layer of parasitic vine, but I haven't gotten close enough to any to verify this yet.

We hadn't walked far when we reached a fenced field of banana, papaya, avocado, and orange trees. The barbed-wire fence was also wrapped with cloth, we assume to prevent the resident pigs from entering. There was a small hut with no one about, but a fire was smoldering where brush had been burned. We had turned off the gravel road onto a smaller dirt lane covered in dry leaves when a burst of rustling noise in front of us made us freeze. We were shocked to see a 5' snake racing across the road right in front of us. It was black with lighter color on its belly (maybe yellow) and as thick as a child's arm. What a way to get the adrenalin pumping! I was sorry we saw that right off the bat because we jumped at every noise for the rest of the walk. John soon found a longer stick with which to sweep the dead leaves out in front of us as we walked.

It only took about 15 minutes from the beach through the grass to the road and in another 30 minutes we were at the one room shack visible from Punta Popa de Barco as you enter the bay. Along the way we also passed a grass airfield (which was active during our stay; there were one or two landings each day) where we made another right turn; we saw two more snakes, but these were thinner and longer than garden snakes, and one was dead; and we noticed leaf cutter ant trails which led to an entire city of a dirt mound. The shack has a split personality because it looks like a typical shack from a distance. But up close you can see that for such a simple structure, a lot of care went into building it. The porch and interior floor are tile covered, as are the floor and walls of the unfinished bathroom. The exterior walls are of tightly placed small bamboo pieces and the wood frame is in good condition. The typical tin roof is steel framed and looked water tight. It looks as if it's been there quite awhile, but not as if it's been occupied yet. The walk was very pretty and not hot at all since we were in shade most of the time.

The day after the birthday walk (John celebrated his 45th on January 15) we washed the car and trimmed the hedges. In cruising life this means we took the motor off the dinghy, rowed it to shore, turned it upside down, and scrubbed all the green growth off the bottom. We are still trying to get rid of the barnacle butts left over from Bahia de Caraquez where, even though we raised the dink out of the water each night, the marine growth was horrendous. John heroically scraped off all the barnacles before we left Ecuador, but they leave a footprint that he dubbed barnacle butt. He thinks they make it easy for a new barnacle to start life on the dinghy, so it's important to get those off too. As for the hedges, that involved taking a scrub brush and green scrubby pad to Nakia's waterline. The boot stripe (the dark blue painted stripe which separates the bottom paint from the white hull) is a magnet for growing strings of green mossy grass and scum. Although it looks very shippy when it's clean, we'll probably do away with the boot stripe next time and just bring the bottom paint all the way up the waterline.

Later that day we took a ride down to the bay south of Ensenada Playa Grande to see the resort buildings. There's a large two-story long house with an impressive tin roof overhanging the wrap-around porches, a few modest individual cabins, and a boat house full of jet-skis. A few sport fishing boats are moored in front of the resort, and the guidebook says they host fishing tournaments. The anchorage is more exposed there so after taking a quick look, we were happy to return to our calmer bay for one more night.

Linda and John


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Isla Pedro Gonzales

We had a nice lazy sail (jib only) from Bayoneta to PG over some more shallow depths in murky water to get out of the Casaya-Viveros island area. Then we were back in deep water (70-90') again and could relax for awhile. PG is another island with a couple of white sand beaches backed by several palm trees. The beaches in this area disappear at high tide when the water reaches all the way up to the rock or tree line. We've been timing our visits to arrive at the end of a falling tide, and it's amazing to see how quickly the beach is covered again by the rising tide. The white sand is especially beautiful and quite a contrast to the fine grey sand we've found in deeper water, which is very sticky and holds shoes and anchors extremely well.

In addition to the murky water, we've been stung a few times each by something like a string-of-pearls jellyfish. I'm not sure that's what it actually is, but it's a yellowish string of something and stings for awhile. Fortunately the sting is gone by dinner time so it's more annoying than painful. Last night we had a great show of mobulas, the rays that look like baby mantas. There were a couple of dozen swimming around the anchorage with their wing-tips occasionally breaking the surface, and a sometimes jumping in the air making a nice plopping splash.

Someone is making a fantastic effort to keep the beaches here free of garbage. The mangroves and other brush have obviously been cleared back from around the palms at the beach. The guidebook says that there are some plantations nearby, but we're not sure why they would keep up the beaches unless it's to promote visits from tour boats. Whatever the reason, it's a lovely change from the most of the other beaches.

Linda and John


Isla Bayoneta

10-13 January 2009

We enjoyed our second stay at Contadora and spent most of the time catching up on internet with the Wifi connection we were able to pick up from the anchorage. Then we spent three nights at Isla Bayoneta where there are several white sand beaches in the area to explore at low tide. We liked the first one we visited on the west side of Isla Gibraleon best. It was a long white sand beach and John found a turtle nest that looked as if it had been dug fairly recently. It was too rough to make it around the corner of Bayoneta to the western beach where there is supposed to be especially good shelling. Even though I'm trying to cut down on my collecting we'll have to save that for another visit.

We made our entrance to Bayoneta on a low rising tide because there are many rocks and reefs. We didn't have any close calls but the water is such a murky green color that it's almost impossible to see anything even in depths of less than 15'. This also means that we haven't been doing any snorkeling, though we did get to see a few spotted eagle rays in very shallow water during our beach explorations.

Our last evening there Ziggy was making "I see a bird" noises while intently looking at the solar panel up on the sissy bar. I assured him there was nothing to see and picked him up to prove it by tilting the panel down towards us. Of course a small tern/gull fluttered up into the air and Ziggy was anxious to get it. John had to finally shine a spotlight at it to get the bird to fly away (the idea being that you ruin their night vision and they can't re-land on the boat; this is what we do to keep frigate birds from roosting at the top of the mast when we're doing night passages). Another life saved, and we could go to bed in peace.

Woke up the next morning to find the bird just waking up to dawn on the solar panel. It's a good thing Z. hasn't learned how to climb up there yet!

Linda and John


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lost Days, Lost Dollars

It took forever to get out of Panama City but here we finally are at Isla Contadora in the Las Perlas islands. It will take us a few days to catch our breath and get back to that cruisin' feeling again after the mind crushing stress of city life. We are so not used to that anymore.

It feels like all we did was wait for buses, take buses, and spend money in between buses. John found boat parts and we did a couple of big shops at the warehouse stores. We got into a rhythm of getting off the boat before 8:30 (when it's easiest to catch a bus out of La Playita) to shop or run errands in one section of the city at a time. We shared taxis back from the big shops but most of the time we tried to bus both ways. By Noon the city buses (old U.S. school buses painted like low riders) are packed and you don't want to have to squeeze through the aisle with your hands full of shopping bags. So we did a little grocery shopping with each of our forays for other things in the city.

Panama City has at least three mega malls and we visited the Albrook mall last week. Very upscale, it was a maze of brand name stores like Nike, Hillfiger, Columbia, etc. But the Columbia store didn't even have a sale rack and $50 shirts have never been in our price range even when we were working. Who shops at these stores here?! We then discovered the El Dorado mall where I bought tank tops for $2 apiece. Most of the cheap clothing sold here is Made in China but it's possible to find some U.S. "seconds" in the local department stores. We even saw O'Neill board shorts for $2, but I know very few adult women who belong in board shorts and besides, Sherrell says they're too hot to wear out of the water!

We managed to track down an alternate laundry place thanks to Sarana's copy of the Lonely Planet. Here's the process: Load laundry bags into dinghy and ride to dinghy dock. Schlep bags up ramp, through parking lot, and out to main Amador road. Wait for and flag down bus (which is sometimes nothing more than an old passenger van). Disembark after 20 minute (.25-.50) ride to Cinco de Mayo Plaza. Walk up Avenida Central to the big Super 99, turn right on Calle 27, and walk about three blocks to Avenida 3 Sur. Lavanderia America is across the street (about a 15 minute walk from the bus stop). They have plenty of washers but only two dryers so doing it yourself can take awhile. Drop off service costs about $3 per load (wash, dry and fold) but this involves a return trip the next day for pickup. So ideally we would drop off the laundry, shop, go home by bus, and return the next day to get the laundry. Oh, and don't forget - daytime temps are in the mid to low 80's and we are wearing "normal" clothing to try to blend in better. John wears jeans and polo shirts and I wear capris with any kind of sleeveless top. We try to avoid wearing nylon shorts in town because none of the locals do. We go through a lot of clothes when we make trips into town!

Now for the fun stuff. We enjoyed a delicious cruiser potluck Christmas dinner at the Balboa Yacht Club. Sarana and Nakia both brought homemade dressing, Blew Moon made a broccoli salad, turkey and ham were provided, and I ate my fill of pumpkin pie. The following Saturday Houston and Gail went with us to visit the Miraflores Locks at the Canal. We arrived too late to see any big ship transits but we found the museum very interesting. NY's Eve we went out for dinner with Sarana and Blew Moon on the Amador causeway after which we did a bit of bar hopping until the fireworks at midnight. We stopped to watch an impressive display of flashes across the entire city front, with the best show coming from the Milleflores.

John sold our old solar panels (two 55 watt panels in parallel) and bought a new one (130w) to replace them, which meant making mounting brackets and moving the snap apart hinges which the brackets attach to on the dodger. He also finally found an oil pressure sender right there in a fishing store on the causeway. He installed that and it tested fine on our way here to Contadora. We spent one morning inventorying our two deep storage bins under the Pullman berth to try to get rid of a few things. And last Saturday I joined four other cruisers in a trip to Happy Copy to copy charts of the South Pacific. That was quite an undertaking since we were each contributing charts to be copied but not everyone wanted copies of all the charts. Thanks to Leslie on Carina and Michelle on Warrior for keeping track of that project! My next job is to take careful inventory of all our charts to see what else we might need just in case...

We're happy to be out of the city until the end of the month when we hope to receive two new steel propane tanks on order from the U.S. We'll kick back and explore more of the Las Perlas Islands until then.

Linda and John