Saturday, August 25, 2012

Scratching and pawing our way towards the Panama Canal...

The Bridge of the Americas is not only the gateway to the Panama Canal, it literally connects North and South America. Pretty cool. Now if only we could get under it already!   :-/

   Captain Chris has been working so hard the last few weeks installing and troubleshooting all of our new components after Espiritu's lightning strike. Everyone here in Panama has been wonderful. And our fellow cruisers have really pitched in to help us during our difficult time.

But, I"m not gonna lie. It's been pretty frustrating at times. As soon as we get two new things installed and working, the stove dies, and it's 24 hours of tuna fish sandwiches. The old "one step forward, two steps back" thing.

 Going on a sailing adventure is not easy. Every little task that's simple at home takes twice as much time and effort on a boat. Plus, you're in a foreign country.

So, it can be quite stressful.

 Take our friend Howard, for instance. Before he went cruising he was a master litigator and the Commodore at an internationally known yacht club.

                                                  ....and then he went cruising.  :-)

  So it ain't always easy. And since Chris and I don't drink, we have to find other ways to deal with our stress -- to find another kind of happy hour.

So I've been trying to find little happy hours in the midst of each day.

             Chris and Howard trying on Panama hats. In Panama. (I showed this photo to make the obvious point that Howard is NOT a a crazed alcoholic. He is simply crazed. And we like him like that.)

  Sometimes when the going gets rough during any endeavor, it's tempting to feel like you've made a big mistake, and chock up the whole thing as a soul-sucking disaster.

  So I'm learning that when things get tough down here at sea level -- when I lose perspective -- I should just look up.

Storm clouds gather over the Panama City skyline

This storm cloud over the marina looks like an atomic bomb!\

  There's something empowering about the simple act of raising your head and your eyes to the sky.

One of the countless giant trees here in Panama City

                  And don't forget to look down ('cause that's where the children usually hang out)...

This little Panamanian sweetheart charmed us with her "Bee happy" t-shirt
(although I'm pretty sure she and her Mom do not speak or read English."

                     We met this adorable Panamanian family near the marina one saturday.
                      I don't want to brag, but I'm pretty good at reading children's minds.
                        This little spitfire, for example, is thinking: "(sigh)...GRINGOS..."

            These charming little toeheads are sailing west with their parents aboard Theofania. Their parents left Europe several years ago and have been sailing ever since. Xenia was born in Columbia and little Paulina was born in Panama. They speak Spanish and Russian, and are learning English and French.  (Wow...)

                                   And life continues in the marina...

Our front porch

The U.S. is not the only country where stock brokers buy big boats!

The view from the Flamenco Marina here in Panama City

This sweet Will Smith look-alike shared a giant filet with us from his freshly caught red snapper --
free of charge. Just to be nice. Note the Radio Flyer -- nice touch! 

             We're gigantic Olympaholics, and we fell in love with Jamaica's Usain Bolt,
                                               along with the rest of the world.

                              And we figured that since we were struck by lightning,
                                   then we've earned the right to do "The Bolt" too!

                                We will not quit! We will continue! Onward! And who knows,
                              maybe we'll visit Mr. Bolt in Jamaica when we're in the Caribbean...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Merry Christmas (in August) from Panama!

     It's August 22nd and they're already putting up Christmas decorations in the stores at the mall here in Panama City. OK, I checked the archives...this is officially a record, folks.  YIKES. :-/

             Unbelievable. Please tell me they don't have Christmas stuff up yet in the states...

                Is that a Christmas decoration made out of a dice? I would think you would need
              to go to Vegas to buy one of those...(is it Christmas in Vegas yet? Anybody know?)

                                 By the way, gambling is very popular here in Panama City.

They actually have casinos built right into the shopping malls, like the one above,
 conveniently located right next to the food court

       We're continuing to see evidence all over the place of how the world loves American culture. This ad, apparently for "New York" cologne (do we really want to smell like New York? But anyway, I digress) was in the Allbrook Mall here in Panama City (not far from the Christmas decorations in August and the casino by the food court).

    When I first saw this, I had to ask: Who is that guy in the photo? It's not Derek Jeter or A-Rod. To me it looks like the actor Owen Wilson, who I'm pretty sure was never a Yankee.

    Well, probably only die hard American baseball fans know that the guy in the photo is (long dead and possibly frozen, if you believe the lore) Ted Williams.   Anyway, it surprises me that they would put this display up in Panama. It doesn't seem like it would resonate for people here.

                 I do know that Panamanians are big Yankee fans for one simple reason:

            The legendary closer Mariano Rivera is Panamanian. He's the pride of the country.

             We found this motivational book by Magic Johnson for sale in the mall as well. It translates roughly as "32 Steps to Being a Champion Negotiator." I guess I was surprised to think that Panamanians would even know who Magic Johnson is,  let alone want to get his advice on how to succeed in business...

      In other news, Panama is celebrating their birthday this week. They're like 514 years old or something like that. Way, way WAY older than the US. We went to the town celebration, which was held at the ruins of the original settlement back in the 1500's.

     Notice the ads on the TV news van at the town celebration. They have Spanish versions of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "The Wheel of Fortune." More trickle-down American culture -- even way, way down here in Panama...

    The men who built these ruins were conquistadors from Europe.  There were few native peoples here in Panama when the Europeans arrived, so they found the land pretty much free for the taking.

I loved this soccer field set up right on top of the ancient ruins. It's the old and the new together...

This amazing vine tree was in the park with the ruins. It's gigantic. To my horror, Chris actually tried his "Tarzan" routine out on one of the vines, and lived to tell the tale...

 We met these lovely sisters at the Panama birthday celebration. They were as angelic and graceful in real life as they look in the shot. (This is probably my favorite photo that I have taken so far on this trip.)     :-)     There are thousands of Panamanian citizens of Afro-Caribbean descent. They came here 100 years ago from Jamaica and Barbados to help build the canal.

      We took a cab home from the birthday celebration, but the cab died on the trip. Chris and Howard helped the guy push start it. Many of the cabs here are very old and run down. We've actually helped push start three of our cabs since we've been here...

Fortunately, we have other forms of transportation, thanks to our friends Rick and Deena of Talaria who bequeathed us their portable bikes. We've had so much fun tooling around Panama City! 

...but we have to time our bike rides around the sqalls that come through, like the one above...

The storms come through hard and fast

 But most of our time is spent aboard installing the new equipment. In the photo above, Chris is happily crowded out as some of the new equipment fills the galley of Espiritu.

Monday, August 20, 2012

New photos: Flying bloodsucking lobsters and other tropical horrors!

Captain Chris in his favorite spot -- aloft, amongst the sail and the rigging

   Well, Chris and I remain here in Panama City working hard repairing Espiritu after her lightning strike. We're hoping to be ready to traverse the Panama Canal and head to the Caribbean within a couple of weeks or so.

                    The causeway with the Bridge of the Americas in the distance.
         When we traverse the canal, we will finally make the famous passage under that bridge.
                     Until we do, though, she will lovingly taunt us just a bit every day...

 Since we both had our glasses knocked off our heads in the wild wind and water that is Costa Rica, we headed to the Albrook mall here in Panama City to find an optometrist. We had no idea what to expect with price, etc.

The only difference between optometrists in the states and in the price. Are you sitting down? The complete cost for an optometrist exam and new glasses with bifocals is...


Yeah. I know.    So that was a very happy day.   :-)

     We took a tour of the Mira Flores lockes of the Panama Canal (visible just behind Chris in the photo), just to give us a taste of what we're in for. To gain some valuable experience, we're going to "line handle" for our friends when Swift Current traverses the canal in the coming weeks.

   And of course, the wild nature that is Central America continues to beguile.

On our trip to the Las Perlas Islands, we saw a large group of humpback whales breaching and "fin slapping," as seen above. Such an awesome sight. Noone really knows why they do this. 

Interestingly, the whales we're seeing now in Panama have migrated NORTH from the tip of South America, as shown in this image. So these guys are truly from the opposite side of the planet. 

     We passed this educational sign on the waterfront, which I'm pretty sure says the whales have SPERM where their brains are supposed to be...oh my...YES, ladies, we already knew this about the male sex, didn't we?

I was privileged to have a harlequin frog sighting. They are endangered, so I'm one lucky gal!

Yesterday Chris and I spied a family of tropical Red Breasted Blackbirds on our bikeride

   And now, some tropical wildlife you don't EVER want to see...

This guy, I believe, is called Crustacious Nightmaribus Horribus, or the "Horrible Flying Blood-sucking Lobster from Hell."  Or something like that.   But seriously. Can you imagine waking up to find this guy sitting on your neck?

     Oh, and I love these guys. They're like 3 inches tall and they have these gigantic skeletor-like heads, to reassure you that they're really nice little guys and they mean no harm...

      OK, this is wildlife of a sweeter variety. I got to spend an evening cuddling with our friend Pam's Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Riley. Made me think of family in SoCal...

  Hugs to family and friends. Miss you! XOXO Chris and Liz

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New photos: Tribal Council on Survivor Island, Panama

Beautiful Mago Mago Island in the Last Perlas Islands ("Pearl Island" in English),
site of the 2003 season of the CBS series "Survivor."

  While Chris stayed aboard Espiritu to continue her repairs, I was treated to a two night sailing trip to the Las Perlas Islands with our good friends Howard and Lynn aboard Swift Current.

The Last Perlas Islands are a mere 30 miles south of Panama City.
But with their pristine beauty and isolation, they may as well be thousands of miles away

     Many of our cruising friends whom have sailed south with us from Mexico and through central America have gone directly through the Canal to the Caribbean, skipping these islands entirely.

Honestly, it's a head scratcher. But, we all do crazy things that noone else understands, right?  
               My aim here is to make sure that noone else makes the same mistake.

Our first stop: Isla Contadora

 After being nearly capsized aboard our dinghy several times at the surf beaches of Costa Rica, beaching the dinghy here was a real pleasure. Yes, it's as calm as it looks, folks.

 FUN FACT: Isla Contadora became the new home of The exiled Shah of Iran after he was ousted out of his home country by the Iranian Revolution back in the late '70's. We never saw him during our trip, since we're pretty sure he's dead. But I kept my eyes peeled just in case.

We saw Abe Vigoda in an Upper West Side coffee shop a couple of years ago,
 and we thought HE was dead, too. So one never knows. 


The bustling beach of Isla Contadora

OK, we can live with this!

                    Isla Contadora is the most populated of all of the Las Perlas. There are a few charming waterfront establishments such as this one, the "Restaurant Romantico." Interestingly, many of the businesses on the island have the word "Romantico" built within the name. And why not?

It's golf carts only on the winding roads of Isla Contadora


Orchids take root on the telephone wires

                     Even the weeds are beautiful here! If you look carefully, you'll see a
                    garden variety chain-link fence being overtaken by the flora and fauna...

               We looked for Turtle and Ari aboard this yacht named Entourage, but they
             stayed inside the cabin...probably watching satellite TV in the air conditioning. :-/

Flowers grow right out of the sidewalk on Contadora

Aerial view of the island


And like literally every little town in Latin America, there's a soccer field


       On day two we pulled anchor with our friends aboard Rapscullion and Precious Metal and
                     headed to the nearby islands of Isla Chapera and Mogo Mogo.

Aerial view of the islands

                                 Yes, "Survivor" was here, back when it was still cool (IMHO).
             We stopped watching it after the novelty wore off within the first couple of seasons.

I'm pretty sure this is what heaven looks like

We snorkeled this thriving reef in 85 degree water. Swift Current sits at anchor in the distance. 

We took the dink and went ashore on Survivor Island (Mogo Mogo).
No sign of Jeff Probst or Elizabeth Hasselbeck...

...but I think I might have smelled the remnants of Rupert...

Rupert and Zach Galafanikis: separated at birth?

Anyway, a big hug and special thanks to our wonderful friends Howard and Lynn, who generously took me along for this trip to the islands.

Are they cute, or what? 

So Chris and I remain here in the Flamenco Marina in Panama City working to restore Espiritu to her previous glory so that we can continue our sailing adventure. More to follow...