Wednesday, September 22, 2010

To Isla Parida, last stop in Panama.

High tide this morning was after 8 AM a very decent hour to move on. Camacho was sitting in a bench in front of his house waving good-bye. It took 5 hours to get to Isla Parida where we would start our crossing to Costa Rica at 3 in the morning tomorrow. We are anchored at Bahia Escorpion, beautiful as well as all the islands we have seen. As soon as the anchor set, Matt made his traditional dive, Samantha follow, Trini and I. We swim around the boat for a while. It’s so beautiful, so perfect, but something feels wrong. There is always the worrisome of sharks surrounding us or less dangerous, but awfully annoying jelly fish or who knows.

We got back on board, had lunch, got on the dinghy, rowed to the beach where we played search for fresh water and took pictures. Out of nowhere a little boy, maybe 6 yrs old with a machete on a shoulder and a bucket in his hand walked by. We talked to him, his name was Boni, he showed us a place to get honey, he didn’t talk much, but what he said was very useful, he said for example that one can swim in a lagoon close to his house, but never, NEVER in the ocean, the crocodiles are BIG… I felt the blood circulating faster as I hyperventilate with the thought of “how could we…” What would we have done if…” “Dumb tourist…” A good advice is to always talk to the locals before swimming, before eating, before you start the fun!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bolivar Camacho

Better known as Camacho is a well spoken, generous, local man we met the first time we cruised up this river. He gave us fruits and invited us to his place. We told him we would be back and he remembered. We just came back from his house. He owns 11 acres of an island where he has plantations of corn, lemons, bananas, pejivalles, sugar cane, mangoes and more, he has chickens, a cat and 2 pigs. He occasionally has boas, Panamanian jaguars, scorpions and “chitre” (no-see-ums), not really intended. He chooses to live by himself, but has a wife, 7 children, more grandchildren and great-grand children who live in the area. He confesses he loves the quietness of the jungle and the farm work, but he gets his social fixes with the cruisers, fishermen and the family that visits on weekends and holidays.

We walked up the hill to his house where he gave us a tour, there were 2 buildings and a few chicken coops. The house in the front, overlooking the water was for guests, the house behind is where he had his bedroom and a kitchen. It was fascinating for me! He explains in a soft, pleasant and confident mode how his day develops; gets up, lights up the fire, places the pot on one of the racks, puts the coffee in the sock and prepares a delicious coffee to start his morning, he will then work on a culinary project, maybe make some coconut oil, work on the production of “chicha” (fermented drinks) or smoke a fish. He then goes harvest, plant, feed the animals or visit someone. When is time to rest he will come back to the kitchen, sit on the hammock, turn on the radio and light up his pipe. He says, he never feels tired, he loves his life as it is and I can tell. He has had an interesting life; as a military man he was in the Middle East, then he became a police officer in the province of Chiriqui and now that he is retired he is a farmer. He received some training on how to survive in the jungle and share with us some of the trick… a little late, considering we are heading to the dessert.

Again it is simplicity that captivates me about this man and his life style!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The alarm goes off, its 5 in the morning, it’s time! It’s time to return, its time to hoist the anchor and leave the quite bay of Honda, but more than that, its time to start facing home. Despite the controversial feelings, we are heading back to Boca Chica, Panama. The boat is loaded with coconuts, sugar cane, a huge papaya, bananas (guineo and red), cucumbers, cilantro, lemon grass and spinach. Domingo and his family made sure we had plenty to eat and plenty to remember them. Last night there was a feast at their house with “cambute” (conch) and lobster, freshly caught, coconut rice with freshly squeezed coconut milk and homemade bread. We provided the Coconut-rum mixture, the wine and a pasta salad “American style”.

The house was a happy place. Rosalin and I in the kitchen, she demonstrates the cooking and I, with the wine in my hand, observe, taste, wonder and ultimately, learn. The kids are playing circles and dancing in the living room, the men are outside listening to the life lessons given to them by Domingo. We ate; we complimented the chef, did a classy lick of fingers and heard a few more stories. The rain has slowly been announcing that we must retreat back to the boat, we procrastinate the moment of Good byes. I would like to say ‘”we’ll be back” and avoid the feelings of guilt for making old Domingo be sad. He asks again and again if we could ever be back, again and again my heart sunk. The rain has slowed down, but the tide is way out and still going. It’s a now or get stuck moment. The dingy was sinking itself in the mud. We exchanged addresses, pictures, hugs and be well and good fortune wishes and… we left!

When to go?

As it is right now, Yacht Path is late 10 days from the original date of September 15th. According to what we have been told informally we should expect the Cargo boat to be late 6 weeks. If there is a good place to wait until they show up, it is here. In Bahia Honda. It is safe, it is beautiful, we have been more than welcome by Domingo and his family and we are keeping our expenses to the minimum. The dilemma is that if the boat is on time we don’t have much room to spare. It will take us about 2 weeks to be back in Golfito, Costa Rica. We will call the company on Friday and if there are no changes to the date as of then, we will be heading back on the 13th. Sadly! We will have to say goodbye sooner than we would like. Domingo keep asking when are we leaving and wishing we had a plans to come back, wishing we could stay.

We called Yatch Path and the boat is on schedule, we must depart on Monday the latest. Sunday preferably. Part of me feels happy that we are moving forward with the plan, but part of me feels sad, will we ever sail this way again? probably not...being here gives me the sensation of an open world for me, how can one turn away from such sensation?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Laundry day

The trip to the laundry is about a 10 minute dinghy ride to the nearest waterfall. The soap, the oxy clean, the bleach, the smelly softener and the brush are all in the buckets, the clothes are loaded, the kids are in! We proceeded to our destination. I debated on whether to through all the clothes into the puddles or into the buckets full of water for soaking. I need to look as if I know what I am doing, but the truth is I have no idea; will the clothes end up cleaner than before? I don’t know, but for sure they will smell better. These are my suggested steps:

1. Put water in the buckets
2. Put the color clothes in one and the whites in the other
3. Pour detergent
4. Let it soak
5. Grab, pull up and push down a few times
6. Turn load clockwise and counterclockwise a few times until you decide what the next step should be…
7. mmm…think like a washing machine!
8. Change the water
9. Toss the pieces high up in the waterfall so as they slide down the get and extra scrub
10. Toss it up again, catch them at the bottom.
11. Soak them a little longer
12. Add the Softener (my favorite part)
13. Let it soak into the fabric for a while
14. In the mean time lien against the rocks and let the waterfall massages you.
15. Sit on rock and apply the happy watermelon face shampoo on your hair (no need to say that is the girl’s shampoo). Close eyes, put head back and let the water flow down your hair a couple of times, then apply the extra volume, deep moisturizer Pantene conditioner and repeat the rinsing process… remember the clothes!
16. Squeeze water out of the clothes, put in buckets, put on dinghy, head back to boat and hang on the bow with the stains facing inward or otherwise, others may judge you ability to live in the wilderness!

The cutest part of our laundry day was Samantha doing the Barbie dolls clothing, She scrub, tossed, squeezed, soaked and hanged those 1 or 2 inches pieces of pants, dresses, skirts and swimsuits. I guess it’s a start!

Learning survival techniques

The secret of survival here is to learn from the local people on how to eat the local productions and using basic staples. It’s only a matter of time before one becomes use to, but more time than we have. Being in Bahia Honda with Domingo as our host has been one of the best experiences we have had. There is so much knowledge in this person and generosity to share it with us that we can only bow our heads in act of grace and feel the blessing. Just today we had a lesson on “how to make coconut milk” to be used later in a delicious rice meal. He opens the kitchen door that overlooks at the bay and where the chickens and dogs are all attentive for any tossing that may come their way. He pulls a little stool, on top he places a board shaped as a cutting board with a serrated blade at the end of it (chuzo). He sits on the main part of the board, holds the coconut white meat against the blade and scraped all the meat in less than a minute. He then transferred this bowl full of coconut shavings to the sink, covered the coconut with water and began squeezing the milk out of it. When the coconut was light in weight it was the sign that all the milk had been extracted. From this simple process 3 are the potential productions; coconut milk, coconut oil and coconut pulp. See.. a few more classes like this and we will not have to depend on grocery stores.

Other foods and recipes he and his family have shared with us were the pifas, also known as Pejibayes, Sugar Cane, Fruta de Pan, Hojaldes de Maiz, Platano Rojo, Mince and others, but the most interesting recipe so far, although unlikely for me to ever try out is the “Revive Muertos” (The dead man revival). Supposedly this soup is highly nutritious and it has amazing curative powers. It is great for the treatment of those recently hospitalized:

1. Catch a cute little pigeon, male or female.
2. Clean the feathers
3. Boil some water, add oregano, salt, pepper and any spices of choice
4. Add the pigeon
5. Serve hot!
6. Garnish with parsley!..hehe

SOS.. shopping!

Now for me, with the “sophisticated” lifestyle that I love (comparatively speaking), being here became a problem when I sent Matt to the store with my skimpy list:

12 Eggs
1 Loaf of whole wheat bread
1 box of milk
1 Lb of chicken
A can of condensed milk (for Coconut drinks)

…and he came back almost empty handed.

To the rescue… there was Edwin! Domingo’s Son in law, who works as a Boat Captain and travels to Puerto Mutis (2 hours away) several times a week to pick up scientists to bring them to a hotel around the corner. He offered to pick provisions for us! I made a list and he was able to find all the items with the exception of the bread. This was specially ordered from another town; Santiago… aaahh! I can only dream of having a walk down the isles of Safeway (the supermarket) spending 15 minutes in just the bread section trying to decide between the 12 grain, the potato, the buttermilk, the sourdough, the whole wheat, the enriched white, the freshly baked baguettes and the others I can only dream of good quality, well presented, shiny, waxed produce… I won’t even go to the other isles in this description of my dreams.

Salmonete and Bahia Honda

Each town has one store, one Play Park, one school, one soccer field, one health center, lots of children, lots of chickens, and colorful clothes hanging outside the homes. It’s hard to take my eye off the camera. The beauty of this places, not only is the composition of Nature, but the simplicity of the people’s life. Besides a doctor and a dentist, could they be better off with more? I wonder… I would load the school with computers, a science lab, musical instrument, Art supplies.. I would bring a supermarket, a toy store a clothing store… but that’s me.. already contaminated by civilization. (I am not saying I don’t like it… I do, but clearly, my life does not depend on those as I have proven myself in this trip). The kids here learn to fish, preserve nature, grow a garden, they learn basic skills to survive. Do they need to learn about google? do they need to dress in fancy clothes, do they need to know about iPods and Polly pockets? Knowing more will facilitate or complicate their circumstances? I truly don’t know!

The children

The girls have had several forms of interaction with Domingo’s grand kids; Melanie and Daisy, playing soccer, watching movies, sharing cookies, playing Barbie dolls, Polly Pockets, dancing or just looking at each other and giggling. They have also interacted with the children in the towns of Salmonete and Bahia Honda. Many children, I mean many. The island has 800 people of which 200 are kids.

There have been many times where the local kids stared at Samantha and Trinidad as they recognized them as being foreigners and so different, but nothing like in the towns in here. There is a small feeling of celebrity when the kids come running to the dock to receive us and then they follow us every where we go. It is a feeling that increases my confidence to interact with them, but it becomes totally overwhelming to the girls. Typically, they want to get close and touch the girls’s hair, they are curious, they want to hear how they talk, and they want to make friends. The case was a little different in Salmonete, another town up the river, where the children gathered by the slide to watch every step Samantha and Trini took. They kept their distance. I didn’t want Samantha and Trinidad to feel intimidated and it was working well, Trini was even making the kids laugh. It was great until she tripped and fell. The laughs became evil in Trini’s perception, but the kids realized her sadness as the crying reached the higher decibels and they stopped. At that point I quit trying to blend in.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Domingo Gonzalez and family

Upon our arrival we were received by the man of the guidebooks; Domingo. He introduces himself as the man who provides the fruits and vegetables to the boats. He points out that the anchorage is safe and that right in front of his house is the spot or anywhere in front of his property. He owns a large portion of what we can see in this bay. It used to be a popular anchorage some years back, 15 to 20 boats would be sharing this jewel of a place, but now, he wonders “what is happening to the boats they are not coming as much as they used to? It’s starting to get lonely” , He enjoys the cruisers company and makes a portion of his living selling produce and trading. He has made very good friends through out the years. He remembers most of them quite well, what they liked, what they bought and how long they stayed. We must make a good impression so our cruiser friends who will make it this way in the future hear no gossip about us.

In his 70’s Domingo still climbs the coconut palm to retrieve some coconuts for us and uses his machete to get stocks of bananas to satisfy our cravings. His day starts at 4:30 AM with a shovel and a rake in the field of the spinach, bell peppers or cucumbers. If he needs supplies or to make a phone call, he gets into his dugout canoe and rows with his one oar to town; an island 15 min away. There is no weather condition that could possible affect his agenda, he loves the rain. He is a hard working man, with experience in all trades; from fishing, gold digger, carpenter, chef, farmer and more. I find something new in every one of our meeting, very humble and wise with a practical vision of life. “No es proooobleema!”

He lives in his house with his wife; Cornelia of over 30 years, Son; Nelson, daughter; Rosali, son in law; Edwin and grand children; Daisy and Edwin Jr. Next door lives his son; Kennedy, daughter in law; Olivia and grand children; Melanie and Kennedy Jr. With the exception of Kennedy Sr., we have met them all.

Rosali and I spent some time by the creek doing laundry… well, she was doing the laundry and I was doing the watching and chatting. She made it look so simple and fun, I really wanted to take over her load, but she may have felt uncomfortable. We had a nice and relaxed visit (despite all the scrubbing and squeezing). Her husband, Edwin, invited Matt, or Matt invited Edwin to go fishing in the dugout canoe… theirs. It was a successful outing! They caught more than 30 littlelus fishelus. (I better get the real name…”Jurel”) of which Matt came home with 7 that reside in the fridge until we get the scoop on how to cook such specie. Olivia, Domingo’s daughter in law, rowed to us yesterday to introduce herself, to offered fruits for sale and ask if we had ice we could share. Ice in here has a silver value; for them to get ice or any cold item they have to travel by boat 2 hours to the bigger town. Our freezer is the size of a shoe box, pretty small, but we manage to produce 2 trays of ice every 3 days. We gave one away and we got a papaya, bananas and fish in exchange.

Bahia Honda

After 3 hours of sailing from Brincanco Island we entered Bahia Honda, which is sadly, but gloriously the furthest we will get into Panama, at least by boat. A beautiful bay with a good anchorage, well protected by the green mountains and small islands. Outside, the swell and the wind are unbearable, those are my worse cruising nightmares. We are glad to be here!

Pillows arranged on my back, knees up, feet down, laptop on my stomach in the salon trying to catch up with all this writing ideas that chase my thought all day. Matt is tinkering with the oven who has decided to stop working for me… He just found mercury splattered on the bottom of the stove. It doesn’t look good for my baking career. Samantha and Trinidad are playing with Barbie dolls, trying to decide on names for them; Ginger Snap and Daisy. The different shade of grey in the clouds and the constant threat of rain, which comes and goes make it the perfect time to be functioning this way. The Bay is peaceful with just enough motion to remind me of a lullaby my mom used to sing to me to sleep. A coffee should wake me up… or one of the girl’s screams… oops it just happened, the latest, unfortunately. Double oops! The oven is dead! Bummer! No more pies, oatmeal cookies, casseroles, cakes… CALORIES… Ok, It may be a good thing!!!

Island hopping

Isla Venado, Isla Cavada and Isla Brincanco
6 days
Nice anchorages, bad weather, big swells in between the islets.

All Matt’s fantasies and pretend play of being stranded on an island when he was little, or…until this day, have become partially real during our passages in Panama, I say partially because we are not really stranded and I am probably not the Bo Derek he had pictured. So here we were in the islands searching for water, creating ways to collect it with bamboo and old leaves to redirect the flow, making ropes out of vines, building fires, washing the clothes in a waterfall, fishing, snorkeling, finding shady spots to relax on a swaying hammock and best of all doing it all for free. I must confess though, the fishing… what a disappointment. All we have gotten lately are the “rejects” (Bonito, Jacks and the ones the fish book describes as “it may taste good when there is nothing else to eat”). Matt discovered that fish go crazy with pork meat… he saved a few pieces from his dinner. As soon as he put the hook in the water with the meat, a big number of fish would come around and take it. Matt said to me very proudly “the pork is working great!”, my words back were… “its working great for the fish, but no so good for us”. I must have discouraged him because the fishing ended and no fish was put on the table.

I would imagine that as time goes by, adventures like this at a cost like this won’t be able to be repeated. Many of the islands have been purchased by foreigners and it is only a matter of time before they find a way to make money of the visitors. Other islands are in the hands of the government who has transformed them into National Parks, making them either a no landing zone or the fee to enter is unaffordable. Such was the case of Isla Coiba. It would have cost us over $100 a day to be there. We skipped several with sorrow, but I guess we don’t have to see all the islands to feel that we have seen paradise, we don’t have the time to see all the islands and we don’t deserve to see more beauty than what we have already seen!

The murder case

Pedregal was a good place to do laundry, touring inland and to provision inexpensively, but I felt that our safety was threaten due to the piracy stories we heard, one of those, the most recent and the creepiest was the murder case.

Father, son from Denmark and daughter in law from Panama, living in a sailboat for quite sometime, anchored close to the town for a little longer than 3 months, the son is shot in the back, the wife (daughter in law) hit on the head and the father killed with a shot in the leg. Who did it? It’s still a mystery. I have heard three versions, theirs and the one of the locals. Their story is that the attackers were 5 men who came to steal. They took a laptop computer and nothing else. The locals theory: The son killed the father as a result of a dispute or they were involved in some dark business and the killing was a retaliation or a warning. It seems as if the shot to the father was not meant to be a shot to kill, because it was to the leg, but he didn’t get fast enough medical attention… In any case, there was a murder and it was here.

The day we left, we were caught in a heavy down pore that forced us to anchor for the night. I was awaken by the VHF radio around 1 AM, someone whistles, he is calling someone else. 1001 thoughts went through my head; it’s a code!. Ganymede was right behind us, but too far away to feel that we were safe by number....I realized the story had left me extremely paranoid. Although I tried really hard to disregard the radio I couldn’t and I had to go outside the boat to make sure no one else was around.. surprise! There was a little fishing boat, a “panga”, maybe 100 feet away from us, just floating. I let Matt know about them and I went to bed hoping that they were just plain, good old fishermen but at the same time, I run a mental inventory of all our weapons of defense. Matt on the other hand, remained on watch. He would get up at different intervals to make sure they were keeping their distance.

The morning came and they were gone! I concluded: they were plain, old fishermen and/or we were surrounded by forceful guardian angels. Later that morning we were blessed by the approach of a local man in his boat who came with a bag full of fruits and a stock of bananas that currently hangs on the back of Endurance. His name was Bolivar Camacho, known as Camacho. He chatted with us for a while, invited us to his farm near by and gave us his version of the murder case.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Express update!

We just checked out of the country of Panama, we will be sailing to Golfito Costa Rica where Endurance will experience an adventure of her own. She will be loaded onto a shipping boat. She will be heading to La Paz, Mexico on the 21st of September. We are looking forward to running into some of the friend who started the sailing adventure with us!