Tuesday, 29 October 2013

One frog two frog red frog blue frog

We have been out "on the hook," as they say, for over a week now and it has been excellent.  We've moved around every couple of days or so, following waypoints that our fellow cruisers Jim and Laura on Nilaya gave us, checking out the far corners of the archipelago.  There have been nice breezes, not too many bugs, and lots of wildlife, including frogs, jellyfish, rays, dolphins, pelicans, parrots and all kinds of little finches. Not everything holds still for pictures, but here is some of what I did capture.

Every island in the archipelago has its own coloured frog.  This cute green guy was on Jackson's Island, now owned by the Smithstonian Institute. On the way back it started to rain and the path was wet and muddy but you could see these guys jumping out of the way of our feet every 15 meters or so.  I didn't count, but I think I saw at least thirty!

He's harder to see, but in the middle of the log, about two thirds up, there is a very dark blue frog, almost black.  The spanish word for frog is rana, so he is rana azul / blue frog, which is also the name of a fun restaurant that we visited last weekend.

This is a strawberry poison dart frog and he lives on, you guessed it, Red Frog Island.  He is a tiny little thing, less than an inch long, but oh so cute.
My initial goal was to find somewhere where we could go swimming once we got out of the marina, which you wouldn't think would be that hard.  We often just swim off the back of the boat if the water is clean.  We dropped anchor at the first spot and the Captain yelled back "look over the side" - jellyfish, tons and tons of them!

It took several attempts to get any pictures of jellyfish that weren't just blurry water pictures.

These guys aren't very big, maybe 5 inches long, but the tenticles will sting, so no swimming off the boat.  We did get a great swim in at Red Frog Beach a couple of days later, though.

For being out amongst the mangroves, we also spent quite a bit of time socializing.  I'm not very good at remembering to take pictures during the parties, but I did get some boat pictures - does that count?

S/V Nilaya, home to Jim and Laura, temporarily anchored next to us in Cindi's Bay.

S/V IO of Cowes, crewed by Stuart and Susie who we met on Moonshadow when we went through the canal.
In other wildlife news, we have new boat pets - two charming geckos that eat bugs and like to chirp in the middle of the night. Of course, in honour of our previous boat pets, we thought it was only fitting that we name them "Phil" and "Jane."

Phil - he's about 2 inches long plus tail, definitely the bigger of the two.  Doesn't seem to eat as much as his namesake, though.

Jane - a tiny pretty gecko, comes out for a look and then goes back in again (probably reading a book on her kindle.)

After getting rid of garbage, bringing on more water, re-provisioning food and a few other boat jobs in town this weekend, we are off to starfish beach this afternoon.  I will let you know if it lives up to its name.

The kind of thing you get to enjoy when you escape the marina.

Friday, 25 October 2013

In the highlands

The Captain's Boquete buddy.

I'm a bit slow on the draw regarding this post, but I wanted to share the pictures from our adventures in the Panamanian town of Boquete, up in the western highlands.  We spent 4 days there, enjoying cooler temperatures than we've had on the coast.

Boquete is well-known as a retirement destination for ex-pats, mostly Americans. The town can be divided into three camps, the Panamanians, the gringo residents, and the tourists that swing through for adventures like climbing the volcano and hiking local trails as a complement to their beach-side adventures elsewhere. As a result there is a strong tourist infrastructure including nice places to stay and eat.

Looking back into the valley where Boquete is situated.

The lovely view at our hostel.

Also an amenity of our hostel! We spent a fun afternoon sitting here in the rain.
Since we were playing tourist anyway, I decided I wanted an experience that you can't get on the boat - so we booked a half day tour including horseback riding and then a visit to the local hot springs. I've been riding maybe ten times in my life, but always enjoyed it.  The Captain had never been, but put on his game face and off we went.

Murphy, the horse I left the stable riding.  He wasn't so keen on me; he really wanted to be relaxing somewhere else, so eventually I switched horses with our trail guide.

I'm in the middle of the picture, blue shirt, light coloured horse. This horse was called Lousia and she was always up for being in front. We rode on a piece of property that had been a ranch and then a hotel.  It had lovely rolling hills, which was more fun with the horses than it would have been if we were walking.

You can see that the Captain is sorta having fun - he did remark that it was similar to sailing - pull the jib sheet / rein if you want to turn - but that a motorcycle always listens and never stops to eat grass.
After getting down off the horses and trying to stand upright again, we were off to visit the local hot springs. After months of living on a boat, it does seem like we were missing the bathtub, given that we opted for the hot tub and hot springs when we had the chance.
Boquete gets lots of rain this time of the year, and our guide warned us that he has seen this river rise over all the rocks right to the edge of the foliage in a flash flood.  He never lets people wade in it after a storm.

The Captain, enjoying a land adventure.

An old farmhouse on the property where the hot spings were located.  It included ferocious geese that told the Captain loud and clear that he was not allowed any closer!  (We have braved the high seas, but were daunted by geese.)

The hot springs were tiny little pools that smelled vaguely sulpherish. We sat in them for a while, but because of our vigorous exercise earlier, we had to go cool down in the river. (No, it hadn't rained yet, we were fine.)

Other then pictures of fresh baked bread from the bakery in town, you've seen the highlights of our Boquete adventures. We've been back on the boat in Bocas del Toro for a while now, but we did leave the marina earlier this week and have been slowly cruising about the archipelago, looking for spots with nice breezes and no bugs.

Friday, 11 October 2013

In the big city

Looking back downtown from the old city that is just now being restored.
We spent three full days in Panama City, enjoying big city life. It is an interesting mix of the old and the new.  The first couple of days we were focused on acquiring boat bits and pieces, and we were largely successful, purchasing a new VHF radio and our third inverter in a month. (Hopefully the last one for a while.) We stayed at the Cruiser's Casa, which is a B&B run by an American woman catering specifically for the cruising community, so she had lots of tips as to where to go for boat parts and life in Panama in general.  It also meant that we recognized several of the other people staying there from boats that we had met, which was an unexpected bonus in the big city.

The number one topic in Panama City right now seems to be the traffic - they have a couple of major construction projects in the city - building new overpasses and a subway system - so traffic can be total gridlock during rush hour.  So we walked a lot, actually faster then taking a cab on occasion.

Panama is a modern city, full of skyscrapers.  I've heard that many condo units are unoccupied, purchased by the very wealthy only for laundering money, not any clothes or other activities of actual inhabitants.

Interesting new Panamanian architecture.

Panama City Cathedral, interesting old architecture.
By the third day we had accomplished all our chores, so we walked down the sea wall toward the fish market and the old city.  The Captain had great fun at the fish market, where we discovered that the lobster available there is flown in from the San Blas (!) and we also ate ceviche at 10 o'clock in the morning. Turns out, we can eat pickled fish anytime...

The newish seawall in Panama City. Reminded me a lot of the Toronto waterfront, although TO doesn't have so many cathedrals in its skyline.

Approaching the old city. Casco Viejo (the old city) has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. My Lonely Planet guidebook (from 2010) discourages walking around the neighbourhood at night.  Now it has 4 and 5 star boutique hotels and lots of funky restaurants, perfectly safe anytime.

Fun at the fish market.

Inky squid - 3 Balboas for a pound.

The outside of the fish market had a long row of shops selling mostly ceviche and sometimes fried fish.

Our overflowing cups of ceviche - $2.50 each. I had mixed and the Captain had shrimp.  Always served with crackers.
The old town was a beautiful place to walk around.  We managed to find a pub serving cheap British beer, ("Yay!" said the Captain,) and some interesting local artisan shops, ("Yay!" said the Crew.)

The powers that be are doing a pretty good job of preserving the old city style and architecture, even if it includes propping up the facade of the building while totally reconstructing the inside. This neighbourhood dates back to 1675 and in many ways resembles the Spanish architectural styles we saw in the old city of Cartegena, Colombia.

Folks back then must not have eaten all their vegetables, (or maybe didn't have much to eat at all.)

The flat arch, which the Captain noticed right away and was oohing and aahing before we even found the information sign.

Extra historical details for you.
 Well, we thought Bocas was going to burn a hole in out budget, but it didn't compare with the big city.  Too many yummy places to eat, taxi fares to sit in traffic and stores with lots to buy.  Time to escape to the highlands of Boquete - pictures coming soon!

"Definetely not in Kansas anymore, Toto." The supercool F&F tower.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


Here is a great photo of the crew of Moonshadow before we went through the canal. We all pretty much looked the same afterwards, except more tired, wetter, and with that sparkle in our eyes that you get from traversing from one ocean to another in two days.

L to R: Will, Tracy (black sunglasses), Molly, me, Scott (behind me), Phil, Deb, John, Susie, and Stuart.
Also, remember our boat pets that were good at doing dishes and drinking rum, Jayne and Phil?  Check out their blog for another version of our two weeks together in the San Blas.

Still enjoying the highlands of Panama in lovely Boquete.  Back to the boat in Bocas del Toro tomorrow.  Pictures and details from our pseudo-backpacker adventures coming soon.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Through the canal (the post)

One hundred years of human engineering still fully operational - that's the best way to describe the Panama Canal. The Captain and I went through the canal this weekend on Moonshadow as line handlers. What does a line handler do, you ask? Well, as the boat is positioned in each lock, there are four big heavy ropes that are attached to each side at the front and back, (that's port and starboard at the stern and bow in boat-speak for you,) and a person stands at each line, easing out the line as the water flows out of the lock, or applying tension to the line if the water is coming in to the lock. Even tension on all four lines keeps the boat steady in the middle, in spite of the swirling water from the flow of the water, and especially when the big ship in front of you turns on its engine!

It was definitely a worthy bucket list experience, in spite of the fact that the first day's locks were done in the dark, and the second day was in the rain. We had great company on board, sailors from all over. John and Deb own the boat and they are American. Stuart and Susie are Australian and Kiwi respectively, and Tracy and Scott and their two kids, Will, age five, and Molly, age four, are also Australian. 

John put together a great montage video of our transit - follow this link to see it.


View from the webcam - we are in front.

The canal machinery -old technology, but still working well!

The bow line handlers - Stuart & Phil (photo credit to John Rogers)

A tanker we passed along the way.