31 January 2010

Day 26: Panama to Ecuador – 31/01/10

Mike wakes up not being able to hear properly, a result of last night’s loud music.  At least that’s his excuse for ignoring me when I talk to him!

We leave Panama City around 9 am and start the sail to the Las Perlas islands.  Well, I say sail.  There’s not a breath of wind, the sea is like a mill pond and we motor through the haze.  It’s almost eerie.  We are going so slowly that Mike puts out the fishing line and twice it goes out but we catch nothing on either occasion.

I go to get some bread out of the freezer and discover that it has stopped working again.  Mike wiggles the wire and it starts up immediately so we know it’s not a major problem, apart from the mountain of chicken Jim and I will now have to cook to stop us from being poisoned as it is now in a semi thawed state.  Mike and I will just have to try to remember to check the dammed thing twice a day.  Mmmm.  I think I said this last time and we did it for a while then forgot!  That’ll teach us.

Mike and Jim put out the new sail arrangement – two genoas on the same furling gear so that we can goose wing them in light winds.  The arrangement seems to work well, although the wind is so light it’s difficult to really tell.  At least nothing breaks, always a good sign.

P1020279 Photo:  Two genoas for the price of one

I decide to watch one of the films on my new hard drive and settle myself down.  A girlie film seems a good idea and I select ‘An Officer and a Gentleman” so I can dribble over a young Richard Gere.  When he strides through that factory in his white uniform with those snake hips, it works for me every time.  As usual, I end up in tears which Mike and Jim find amusing when I emerge from my cabin red eyed and sniffing.

While I have been salivating over Richard, we have arrived at Contadora Island.  This tiny island (only three times longer than its airport runway apparently) looks lovely from the boat and we will explore ashore tomorrow.

Jim prepares tonight’s dinner.  Chicken naturally.   He has to change his plans for it though as we are out of the soy sauce he needs for the stir fry.  We have teriyaki chicken and egg fried rice instead.

Our position is:  8 deg 37 min N, 79 deg 02 min W

Distance so far:  1337 nautical miles

30 January 2010

Day 25: Panama - 30/01/10

I’m supposed to meet Judith at 8.45 am to get the bus to Albrook Mall but manage to get a little behind on time.  I get Mike to radio Brown Eyed Girl so everyone hears over the air waves that not only am I going shopping ….. again, but also that I am running late ….. as usual!  This means that as I walk down the dock, I am greeted with cat calls from other crews about my shopping addiction and my propensity for being late!

We miss the bus but get a taxi which costs the same anyway.  As we arrive the doors of the mall are only just being opened so it was just as well we missed the bus otherwise we could have been standing outside in the heat for ages.

The mall is enormous and there don’t appear to be any maps, the normal sort of ‘you are here’ helpful guides, so we end up wandering around in circles for ages.  Judith buys a few bits for her and Joe and I buy yet another bikini and pair of flip flops.

We get back to the marina around 1 pm and I meet Mike and Jim in the bar for lunch and a session on the internet.  Having paid $18 for 24 hours of internet access for the boat, it doesn’t work and we have to use the free one in the bar instead.  Most inconvenient.  The connection at the bar is good but the noise level is high.  Mike needs to talk to the bank and has to resort to shielding the microphone with his hands as just at the point the phone is answered, the local chapter of the Panama Harley Davidson Appreciation Society pull up and sit revving their engines for the enjoyment of everyone sitting eating their lunch!  Thanks guys!!

P1020230 Photo:  Looking like a little rodent eating cheese, Mike using Skype

Back on the boat, we have a little rest as we need our strength for tonight.  We have been persuaded to go along on the Party Bus, a bus which tours around Panama City from 9 to midnight, with loud music, a DJ and a free bar.  What have we let ourselves in for?

Mike goes to the skippers’ meeting in the late afternoon and I put another load of washing on.  My little darling is still working, then around 7.30 pm we go back to shore to go to the drinks party hosted by WCC.  It’s a good do, helped by the fact that they serve Sauvignon Blanc and the nibbles are good and very substantial.

Just after 9 pm, we hear blaring music and see flashing lights – the party buses have arrived.  Mike visibly blanches but gets on anyway.

P1020266Photo:  All aboard it’s party time!

We find ourselves seats towards the back thinking that this is the safest place but it is where all the speakers are so it ends up being the wrong thing to do.  The seating is just a long bench around the outside of the bus with the middle of the bus left open for dancing, something made mildly less precarious by the addition of ropes strung along the ceiling that you can grab as the bus lurches along.  Not a whiff of Health and Safety here.  The dancing starts even before the bus has left the kerb, and the free bar ensures that it is a little more …… energetic …… than it might otherwise be!!!

P1020256 Photo:  Me having a bit of a pole dance (or just clinging on for dear life?)

P1020263  Photo:  It doesn’t take long for Jim to get up for a jiggle

Even Mike has a bit of a dance, which, given the music (some sort of Panamanian disco/rap – difficult to tell as it is so loud and distorted).

Half way through the evening the buses stop so people can get out for a little walk and swap buses if they want to.

P1020265Photo:  Me and Debbie (from Tortola – small world)

Then it’s time to get back on.  Mike and Jim get into the bus from the back but in a knickerless (what else) state, I decide it might be a bit dangerous and go back on by the front door where I am immediately put into the driver’s seat to pretend to drive the bus.  Sharing the seat is Wolfgang, the owner of our sister ship, Destiny, another Privilege 435, and incredibly, hull 24, the one that was built after ours.  We are eventually thrown out of our seat when the real driver gets on and I go back to find Mike, only he isn’t there.  He has got off to look for me and the bus pulls away before I can see if he is on the other bus.  I just have to presume that he is on the other bus anyway.

Until I find him I amuse myself by dancing and chatting away to other crew members and WCC staff.

P1020275 Photo:  Honestly – I am really worried about the whereabouts of my husband!!

When the bus eventually stops back at the marina at midnight, I jump off to look for Mike, and still can’t find him.  I wait by the side of the bus until it has emptied but there is no sign of him.  Now I really am worried.  Then Nick points him coming over.  He had leapt off the bus to go to the loo – there have been no toilets on the buses and on his bus, some guys had resorted to peeing out of the open doorway!  No such lack of decorum from my husband thank goodness.

We wander back to the dinghy, wondering whether Jim will make it back to the boat in one piece.  He tells us that his hips hurt from all the dancing and that he is a little inebriated and must have had 15 drinks.  Ever the master of exaggeration (remember the hundreds of dolphins when there were just 4?) we are not sure about this, but given the slight staggering and the fact that it was a free bar, he could just be telling the truth.

We make it back to Jeannius without getting a soaking, and fall into bed, ears ringing like mad.

29 January 2010

Day 24: Panama – 29/01/10

We arrange to go to the mall with Susan and David, sharing a taxi and meet them at their boat.  The wind has died down a lot, which makes for a comfortable dinghy ride but this means it is stiflingly hot.  Ah well, you can’t have everything.

When we eventually manage to find a taxi, there is no room for Jim so he goes off for a walk, arranging to meet us back at the marina bar in two hours.

David needs to find a metal worker to fix a bent bit of stainless steel.  The taxi driver says he knows the address but it soon becomes very obvious that he has no idea where he is going.  He stops to ask countless people, even borrowing someone’s phone so he can call the place for directions.  We do eventually find the place, having gone round and round in some of the less salubrious areas of Panama City, and they take the part and tell David to return tomorrow to collect it.

We get to the mall and leave Mike and David to go electronics shopping while Susan and I go bikini hunting.  David skilfully only gives us 25 minutes for this so Susan is unsuccessful in her quest although we manage to get into about 5 shops for a scout around.  We meet back up for a drink then split up to do our ‘proper’ shopping.  Mike and I buy some storage boxes.  I am determined to keep our dry food supplies out of reach of insects, although I am sure that nothing less than spraying the buggers with DEET will do this.  After that it’s more food shopping.  How we manage to get it all in one taxi back is amazing.

When we get back to the marina, Jim is waiting patiently in the bar, having had his lunch.  We lug all the shopping along the dock to the dinghy, meeting Judith on the way.  Although we have been in the marina all week, Judith and I haven’t had a chance to chat so I arrange to meet her for a drink once I have offloaded the shopping.  Mike looks less than pleased at having to come back in the dinghy to pick me up.  I have obviously put paid to his afternoon sleep.

I scamper back along the dock to the bar before he changes his mind and Judith and I enjoy a rather strong but delicious mojito and a natter and arrange to go to the mall tomorrow as it will be a long time before we see shops like this again.  Well, for me anyway, as Judith flies back to the USA in March.  I will have to wait until Tahiti or maybe even Australia next summer before I see another mall.

Mike is amazed that I am not late to meet him.  I am deliberately early so as to make up for him having to brave the very wet dinghy ride over.  It is actually worse than yesterday, but at least it’s free.

I put another two loads of washing on, and grin at the machine like a moron.  I think Mike wishes I was always so easily, and so cheaply pleased.  For dinner we eat the delicious Thai curry that the crew from Skylark gave us after I commented how wonderful it was at the Pot Luck lunch.  I wonder what else they can cook?

28 January 2010

Day 23: Panama – 28/01/10

Very early, Mike is up and sorting out his tools for his next visit up the mast.  He hopes to sort out the navigation lights once and for all while we are tied up at the dock.  Peter and Jim are in charge of winching him up.  Luckily it is a calm day and after a couple of hours of hard work, Mike declares the new lights fully operational but his hands are now hurting and he is exhausted from clinging on and trying to sort it all out.

Penny and Peter are leaving today but Penny has hardly finished packing before she is cleaning some revolting dirty marks off the cockpit floor.  Whatever will I do without you, my little cleaning treasure?  It’s like having my sister here!!!

Ruth arrives around 10 am and we exchange Penny, Peter and their luggage for an 11 year old dynamo in the shape of Stephanie.  We are looking after her for a couple of hours while Ruth settles P & P into their hotel.  Stephanie is hoping to go for a sail but we are waiting for the decision on the marina’s pricing policy before we decide whether to stay at the dock or not.  The marina is charging catamarans double what they charge monohulls – $3.50 per foot, which for a dock that has no electricity and until yesterday, had no water, is extortionate.  Andrew goes to argue with them but comes back to tell us that they will not budge.  This means that Stephanie will get her wish. 

We untie from the dock and go in search of the fuel dock.  We tie up, put our order in and are approached by an angry looking man saying he has 20 boats on his list waiting to be refuelled and we are not one of them.  Not our problem, sir.  The office told Mike to go to the fuel dock.  He tells us that we must refuel and go immediately which suits us.  Never have I seen a boat turned around so quickly.  They even have a fuel nozzle which doesn’t make half a gallon of spray out all over the cockpit, and Mike pronounces it to be the cheapest diesel he has ever bought.

We motor out into the bay and anchor where it’s free but it’s pretty rough, although it was flat calm early in the morning.  Stephanie enjoys herself on the boat and even finds a bit more cleaning to do.  I bet she doesn’t do this for her mum!  Mike lets her put the anchor down although I think she finds this more tiring for her toes than she thought she would.  We need to put down a lot of chain!

P1020223Photo:  Stephanie, chief anchor girl

P1020227 Photo:  Giving us a salute

P1020228Photo:  Off on a choppy, wet ride to meet her mum

While Mike and Jim are away, I sit in the shade and watch the second half of our fleet arrive at the marina, having just come through the canal.  I spot Voyager immediately and call them on the radio so they know it’s me waving to them.  David and Susan are on the bow – it’s so good to see them again.  It seems like ages since we saw them in the San Blas islands.  All thirteen boats come in a line, like a load of little waddling ducks, and the fleet is back together again.

Mike and Jim arrive back and the go off to sleep while I write, and then try to publish the blog.  However there are so many photos in it that it keeps timing out and I quickly start to loose my temper.  This is not helped when an official looking boat comes zooming past then stops by us and a guy leans out of the window shouting at me to tune my radio into channel 10.  I do as requested and just hear a torrent of Spanish and have no idea what is going on.  All the racket wakes Mike and Jim and they come up to have a look.  The boat then zooms off again.  Mike checks the charts to see if we are in a restricted area or something but we are not, although he decides to move anyway.  Anchor up, move a couple of hundred yards, anchor down.  Who the hell knows what all that was about!

I manage to get on to Skype for long enough to speak to Johanne and even get video connection.  I haven’t spoken to her for a while so the chat was very welcome.  I turn my computer round so she can see my new washing machine waiting proudly in the cockpit waiting to be turned on.  She is very impressed.  Immediately I hang up I put the washing on.  It works.  I am in love.  It’s official.

P1020229Photo:  The object of my affections

The scary thing is that Mike and Jim seem genuinely enthralled with it too.  Every few minutes one of us opens the top and pronounces it still working.  We grin at each other like one of us has given birth to it.  Sigh.  Such are the simple pleasures of living on a boat!!

We watch the washing machine for so long that we are nearly late for the meal.  The whole fleet is getting together at Alberto’s for the first time since St Lucia.  We get ready but the thought of that now dark, wet dinghy ride into the marina is not enthralling.  I get a towel and wrap it around me so that I won’t get too soaked and off we go.  Luckily it has started to calm down a little and the journey isn’t too bad.

We have a lovely meal and chat to fellow crews we have not seen for a few weeks, comparing notes on our canal crossings.  I show a few of them the photo of me cuddling my new washing machine.  Those whose machines I have been coveting for the last month understand.  Those who don’t know about treks to the laundrette look at me as if I am mad.  I am.  Who the hell cares?

27 January 2010

Day 22: Panama – 27/01/10

We have another trip planned for today – the tour of Panama City – another treat from Penny and Peter.  Ruth picks us up at 8.30 am and drives into the old town, the original Panama City centre.  As we drive around, we can see that parts of it are really rough and run down.  Electricity cables sneak along the outside of buildings where people steal the power from the national grid, but we get further into the old town and towards the sea, you can see that a huge renovation and regeneration programme has been going on and is still going on.

Our first stop is a church.  Mike and I, not known for our religious inclinations nor interest in churches, pull a surprised face but Ruth assures us that we need to see the altar in this particular one as it is made of solid gold (well the gold is about two inches thick). 

P1020147  Photo:  The gold altar

Jim’s new camera is having it’s first outing so he takes a photo and compares it to mine to see if it’s working OK.  If the photos look like shit, it will be operator error not the camera, Jim!  Peter sneaks up on us and snaps a photo.  Are we going to do this all day?

IMG_8845 Photo:  Show me yours and I’ll show you mine – photo-wise that is!

Before Mike gets too uncomfortable, we leave and after a few minutes more driving around, Ruth manages to find a parking spot and we continue exploring on foot.  As we walk along the sea wall we hear a band playing in the distance, not very melodically I might add, and spot in the distance some form of military practising drum banging, trumpet playing and silly walk stomping.  Not sure what is going on but keep up the practise, boys – you need it!

P1020155 Photo:  Playing soldiers or policemen

In the distance, across the bay we can see the new Panama City, all high rise apartment blocks and glass buildings.  Many of the buildings are still under construction, evidenced by the cranes on top.

P1020156 Photo:  High rises and vultures (?) in the early morning haze

New Panama City is beautiful but a stark contrast to here we are. Looking down the narrow, cobbled streets it is strange to see a high rise in the distance, but, as they so often do, they seem to sit well together somehow.

P1020179 Photo:  Old and new in the same view

Walking around these old streets is fascinating.  The finished building are absolutely beautiful, with ornate balconies jutting out into narrow, cobbled streets.  Many of the balconies are festooned with plants and flowers and there are a few with interesting, quirky art features.

P1020177 P1020184P1020185

Photos:  Balcony art

We see the First Lady’s office and the President’s house.  There are lots of guards around and road blocks are everywhere as apparently there has been a recent threat to kidnap him.

P1020174 Photo:  The President’s house taken from beyond the road block

After a drive around the new city Ruth pulls up at a medical centre.  Mike and I need to have the second of our three Hepatitis B injections.  Mike and I walk in and are greeted by a non-English speaking receptionist.  Putting a language barrier and one of these dragons (why are so many doctor’s receptionists dragons?) together is not on but a passing doctor saves the day.  He says he would love to help us but he hasn’t wielded a hypodermic for over 30 years as he is a psychiatrist!

Ruth takes us to another clinic, and a helpful man takes us out the back and through a maze of corridors into another part of the building which turns out to be the Emergency Department of the hospital.  A nurse there explains that if we go and buy the vaccine over the counter, she will find someone to inject us.  We go back through the maze of corridors and find a pharmacy, spend $37 on two doses of vaccine (bargain) then find our way back where we wait outside the emergency doors until someone is ready to see us.  A Triage nurse finds us after ten minutes or so and does the job.  We stand there waiting for the bill but there is no bill.  What value!

Although it’s a bit early for lunch, we go because we have some time to waste until there will be a boat arriving at the Miraflores Locks, our next stop.  A little snack turns into a huge meal, along with another two bottles of wine.  I seem to eat half a cow and a bulb of garlic which is delicious.  It’s amazing value.  Huge main courses for six people and two bottles of wine for less than $75.

P1020187P1020188 Photos:  Lunch – and it’s smiles all round

On we go up the only hill in Panama City.  The views are fantastic, from the city itself, across to the Bridge of the Americas, the Miraflores Locks and the hills of the rainforest beyond.  The viewing station and all the benches have been painted by school children and they look fantastic.

P1020197Photo:  Taking in the views

P1020200 Photo:  Panama City, the old ……

P1020204 Photo:  …… and the new

Next stop is the Miraflores Locks, but this time as a spectator.  When we arrive there are a cruise ship and a container ship going through the locks.  Now I have gone through it myself, watching it seems far less exciting.  I am sure that it is far more exciting to watch all the activity that rafted yachts generate – boats hurtling from one side of the lock to another, probably looking out of control to the casual observer, and being guided by line handlers, but then I am probably biased.  Certainly the people on the cruise ship look less than interested as they lounge on their deckchairs.

P1020212 Photo:  Cruise ship going through the Miraflores Locks

On we go to the artisan market, picking up Ruth’s daughter, Stephanie, on the way.  All the stalls seem to be selling the same things, but some are better value than others.  There are lovely woven baskets, better than the ones we saw in the village but I resist the temptation to buy one as I already have my plate and there are many more countries to buy things from and a limited budget now we are not earning.  Peter however buys himself a real Panama hat although he’s not sure whether he looks a dork in it or not.  I’m keeping quiet, Peter!

Our last stop is the supermarket to stock up on heavy goods (wine, beer, those sort of essentials) that will be too heavy to carry when we don’t have Ruth at our disposal, then it’s back to the boat.

Stephanie, who is 11, is very excited to be on the boat, and charges around inspecting every nook, cranny, seat and toilet.  She even helps Jim and I wash down the boat which is now covered with a fine red powder from the building taking place on the hill overlooking the marina.

Andrew from WCC arrives to tell us about the party being held on Wild Tigris but we are not sure whether we should go with extra guests so we give it a miss.  He reimburses us for all the money taken from us by the many thieving government departments (Sanitation, Quarantine, Customs for the second time) that we have been caught by though, which pays for our meal tomorrow night.

26 January 2010

Day 21: Panama – 26/01/10

Today Penny and Peter are treating us to a trip up the Chagres River to visit the Embera Indian village.  We are picked up at 8.15 am by Ruth, the taxi driver/tour guide that they used earlier in their trip.  Ruth brings along with her another guide to give us even more history about what we will be seeing.

We go on a couple of toll road (the first I have seen for a while) back in the direction of Colon towards the Chagres River then turn further inland.  The road is really bad in parts once we turn off.  This is because the biggest cement plant in Latin America is located here.  The huge lorries have churned up the road and created enormous pot holes everywhere.  It’s a pity they don’t use some of that cements to deal with the problem.  About a mile around the plant, everything is covered in a fine, grey covering of cement dust, a bit like the volcanic ash on Montserrat.  What a blot on the landscape but I suppose it’s hidden away and providing employment.

We arrive at the river, put on life jackets and clamber into a dug out canoe (although a bit of modernisation has taken place as it has an outboard motor).  There is one young Indian guy on the front who acts as a guide and lookout (and it soon becomes obvious why this is necessary).  The other guy stands at the back operating the outboard motor.  As we speed along the river we watch the communication between the two guys.  The one at the front stands to watch the water depth and with a complicated series of pointing, hand signals, waving and whistling, he is able to direct the guy at the back to change direction, slow down, and sometimes pull the rudder up when we hit a particularly shallow patch of water.  A few times, the one at the front actually pushes the canoe through the water when it is shallow and we can hear the rocks scraping the bottom.  As we are two months into the dry season (which lasts 6 months) this is only going to get worse and their livelihood (taking tourists to the village) will stop.

_MG_8757 Photo:  Canoeing with a difference

_MG_8760Photo:  Our canoe guide

We turn off and go up a tributary, stopping after a few hundred yards.  We get out and walk up the river, crossing it at a shallow point and continuing along a rocky path.  At times some clambering is necessary and as I am walking behind our young guide, he stops to offer me a hand and checks I am OK.  How sweet of him to help the old lady!  (Actually he is very sweet!).  Soon we come to a waterfall  but everyone except Jim declines to to swimming in the pool below.

_MG_8715 IMG_8738 IMG_8741IMG_8742 Photos:  At the waterfall, some posing and some oblivious to Peter Paparazzi

We walk back to the canoe.  On the way, both Mike and I have to answer a call of nature, which is much easier for Mike but I spot a huge curved tree trunk and duck behind that, something I haven’t needed to do for about 40 years!

We see men digging in the river, removing rocks and stones from the river bed to create channels to keep the boats going through for longer, anxious not to let their only real source of income go – bringing in the tourists.

As we approach the village, young boys wait by the river side waiting for our motor outboard to create a wake and waves that they can play in.  Immediately we pass, they all leap in with gay abandon.  As our canoe pulls up, the musicians start playing their instruments and teenage girls come down to greet us, shaking hands and smiling, faces tattooed (but they only last a week or so) and exquisitely dressed in patterned skirts and beaded tops.  All this is done for the tourists but they have decided that this is the way they want to earn their living and they do it well and don’t look too bored with the act.

We are given a talk by the chief about their native history and their handicrafts then we are invited to look at these same handicrafts and can buy them if we want. 

IMG_8796 IMG_8799 Photos:  The handicrafts and the way they are made is explained to us

Each stall displays things made by a different family, but they are not pushy and just seem happy if you do buy - no sullen faces if you don’t.

IMG_8807 Photo:  A proud young spear fisherman with his catch and his mum

We look at the souvenirs and handicrafts – I would like to buy one of the woven baskets but the one I like (typical) is $95 so I settle for a nice plate instead.

All around us, life is going on as normal, even though in front of us, it may be being acted out.  We eat lunch of pan fried tilapia fish and plantain which is delicious.

IMG_8809 Photo:  Lunch is served

IMG_8791IMG_8811 Photos:  Village life going on around us 


Photo:  Mud pies are mud pies wherever you live!

Outside the young women of the village perform some dances for us – firstly the eagle dance, then the butterfly dance and finally the flower dance while the men provide the musical accompaniment.

IMG_8813 IMG_8826 IMG_8816Photos:  Music and dancing is provided for us

The next dance is slightly more western with men dancing with women in twos.  This is the embarrassing time as they start to get the tourists up to dance too.  I am approached by two young men, our canoe guide and one more – but the other one gets there first.  Pity, our little canoe guide was very sweet!  We shuffle around, me feeling very silly but all this disappears when I realise that Mike has been forced up too and is shuffling around looking extremely uncomfortable.  Jim is too, but he is enjoying himself.  I do have video of this (courtesy of Peter) and one day I might be brave enough to upload it.  It’s worth a giggle.

We are next taken to the botanical gardens with the medicine man who seems to claim that he has a cure for everything, including diabetes, asthma, cancer and erection problems.  Mmmm.  Not sure about that but he seems very enthusiastic is looks very good for his 78 years of age.

IMG_8837Photo:  The Medicine Man describing his plant potions

IMG_8839 Photo:  Not sure which ailment the Medicine Man is describing here but it looks painful

The journey back in the canoe is a little more hairy as some of the locals jump in for a ride down the river.  This means that we scrape the bottom far more frequently and now that we are flowing down the river as against the current, we also go much quicker but we arrive safely back at the car.

I enjoy the visit to the village.  It could have made me feel cringingly voyeuristic but it doesn’t.  As Peter said, they are playing the game for the tourists, but they know it and we know it and it is tastefully and sympathetically done.  They genuinely seem happy with their lives – the kids go to college and some come back and some don’t but for the most part they are keen to protect their culture and heritage and are grateful for the dollars their performance brings in.  After all, it’s a job.

We drive to Albrook Mall which is the biggest mall in Panama.  I am after another bikini and Jim wants a new camera.  We split up in the mall so that we don’t take too long and Mike comes with me bikini shopping.  A first.  I have never seen anyone look more uncomfortable as he hangs around women’s swimwear but by the time we leave, one bikini bought (XL I might add – how skinny are the females they make these for), I am the one feeling uncomfortable and thinking that I desperately need to go on a very strict diet.  I leave all the skinny sales girls giggling and probably thinking a woman of my age shouldn’t be seen out in public let alone wearing a bikini.  They are probably right.

Ruth then takes us to the supermarket where we spot, of all things, a twin tub washing machine.  A WASHING MACHINE.  I am in love and best of all, Mike buys it  as it only cost $99.  I am a very happy bunny!!!

A great day all round!

25 January 2010

Day 20: Panama – 25/01/10

We are wakened by Jim calling to for Mike to go with him to look for the missing fender that we think we have spotted on the far side of the marina last night.  They get the dinghy down, and as luck would have it, it is ours.  By the time I get up, a watery sun has broken through over the marina.

P1020133Photo:  Sunrise over Flamenco Marina

As we have not managed to get hold of Ruth, the guide we hope to book for a couple of days, in time for a trip today, we decide to have an easy day.  Peter books her to take us to the Indian village tomorrow and for a Panama City tour on Wednesday.

I put lots of photos of Brown Eyed Girl on my memory stick and set out to search for her in the marina.  Luckily I spot Joe walking towards me and with his help manage to find Judith and Tom at the WCC office.  I tell Nick about being fleeced by the government yesterday (the ‘Sanitation Inspection’) and he tells me that it is legit but a new regulation that they knew nothing about and that they will refund our money.

During the morning we are visited by two more legitimate bandits.   The first one is Customs.  Ok, that’s normal.  The second mob is ‘Quarantine’.  More money (of course) and more paperwork.  When we tell WCC they then start to tell all the WARC boats to remove their flags as it is obvious that we are being targeted!

It is a stifling hot day in the marina.  I watch the temperature rise to 35 degrees.  I am desperately trying to sort the blog out which has decided to duplicate everything – almost.  Everyone else goes to the bar for a cold drink and I sit in a bikini and sizzle over a computer.  When they come back we have lunch then we all have a nap.

Late in the afternoon, Mike and Peter sort out the genoa.  At the bottom Mike inserts new internal bearings into the genoa furling gear then he goes back up mast and adjusts the genoa halyard deflector (no I don’t know what that is either).  He fully intends sorting out the mast navigation lights once and for all but runs out of time and he is lowered just as the sun is setting.

P1020137  Photo:  With the light failing, Mike gives up for the day

P1020135 Photo:  Sunset over The Causeway

While they have been busy, Penny has being dying my hair and I have to say she makes a pretty good job of it.  I have bought all the right equipment from the wholesalers in the UK and mixed up the right proportions of dye and peroxide and it turns out well.

In the evening we go to the bar at the marina as we can’t be bothered to cook.  It’s quite an early start tomorrow.

P1020143 Photo:  The crew, drinking again!

24 January 2010

Day 19: Panama Canal Transit (Part 2) – 24/01/10

The day dawns with watery sunshine and a shout from the crew that the new pilot is arriving.  They have been watching the pilot boat pulling up to all the other boats and waking their crews up with a foghorn.  Amazingly, Mike is still asleep and Jim calls down to him to tell him of the imminent arrival of the pilot.  I stay in bed longer, after all, I need my cups of tea before I emerge.  The crew do their best to wake me by pulling up the anchor.  The anchor chain, note, all 270 feet of it, clatters into a chamber just behind my head.  Ignoring it is a practised art and I have perfected it.  Mike does, however, bring me my cup of tea, telling me that the crew are ‘revolting’.  I knew that already!

P1020049Photo:  The dawn of our second day of transit

_MG_8478 Photo:  Up, but not quite awake, armed with a second cuppa

Moses, our pilot, is every bit as nice as Ivan.  We start the engines and begin to motor through the lake (you are not allowed to sail through). 

P1020050 Photo:  A misty morning motoring through Gatun Lake

It’s the second largest man-made lake in the world, and lots of work is still going on along it – dredging, widening, making new channels (some of which have been abandoned).  There are lots of small, uninhabited islands.  One used to have a tourist house on it which you could rent for the day and have barbecues on but since 9/11 it is no longer allowed because the house is so near the vital shipping lane.  It is actually quite disconcerting going through such a narrow space so close to such HUGE ships. 

_MG_8539 Photo:  Little and large?  David and Goliath?  Scary stuff!

What’s even more scary is when we motor past a ship which we passed out in the Caribbean which has now deliberately run aground because his engine has failed and he wants to make sure that he doesn’t drift in the channel (Moses has been listening on his radio and relays this to us as we go past.)

_MG_8510 Photo:  Engine failure – it can happen to anyone

Old ‘eagle eyes’ Mike, armed with binoculars, even manages to spot a crocodile as we go through.  These are normally relatively small but someone was eaten last year apparently so some are obviously big.  Anyway he spots ears, eyes, a snout and a tail and Peter snaps it.

_MG_8556 Photo:  Tick tock

Going through the Culebra Cut, we see lots of white pipes sticking out of the ground and a large machine is shoving even more of them in deep.  Moses explains that they are then filled with explosives and the whole thing blown up to widen the channels.  When you see the size of the ships going through, you realise why they need to do this.

P1020059 P1020060 P1020061 P1020062 Photos:  Going through the Culebra Cut

After about 28 miles and 4 hours later, we reach the far side of Gatun Lake and begin the process of rafting up again with the same two boats for Jeannius to pull them towards the Pedro Miguel lock for the first of the drops down towards the Pacific.  We stop to do this just after the Centennial Bridge.

  P1020069 P1020073 P1020078 Photos:  Rafting up and approaching the Pedro Miguel Lock

Once through the lock we stay rafted as it is only another mile to the two locks at Miraflores.

When we arrive at Miraflores Locks we are very excited as we have told everybody that we will be there.  We spot the web cams positioned at the top of the spotlights and stand there waving.  The crowds in the observation building obviously think we are waving to them and wave back.  I feel like royalty!

_MG_8657 Photo:  Waving to our audience

_MG_8589Photo:  In the locks 

We go through the same rigmarole as before but expect more turbulence as now we have fresh water rushing out to meet salt water although in the event nothing spectacular happens. 

_MG_8669 Photo:  Leaving the locks

We sail out into the Pacific, un-raft from our two fenders (Kalliope III and Skylark) and celebrate with a bottle of bubbly.  Unfortunately, our pilot/advisor, Moses, cannot join us as he is still on duty.

We have our first glimpse of Panama City behind all the industrial looking shipyards and warehouses then we sail under the Bridge of the Americas, and finally turn the corner and enter Flamenco Marina.

P1020108Photo:  Panama City behind the cranes

P1020113Photo:  The Bridge of the Americas

P1020122   Photo:  Panama City behind The Causeway

Flamenco Marina is full of sports fishing boats and huge gin palaces.  This does not mean, however, that the surrounding are fantastic.  We are placed on a floating pontoon that has neither electricity nor water.  We later discover that all the pontoons are like this.  At least the cats get to moor up together, alone at the far end of the mosquito pit.  The monohulls in our fleet are rafted together further along.

We are visited very quickly by an official who says he has come to do a ‘Sanitation Inspection’ for the government.  He checks our yellow fever injection certificates, gives us a completed form and charges us $46.  Jim thinks we have been conned.  I think it is  Kocher but we have been fleeced by the government.  No doubt we will find out.

In the evening we leave the marina and go to an Italian restaurant that Penny and Peter found a few days ago.  The food is excellent and very reasonable, with the bill coming to $82 for 5 of us which included 2 bottles of wine.

P1020128 Photo:  At Alberto’s Cafe

Our midday position is:  8 deg 54 min N, 79 deg 31 min W

Distance so far:  1300 nautical miles