Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The seas were angry that day, my friends...

                                    Seas so angry, even a fake marine biologist would be a little freaked

               Well, the good news is, Espiritu is safely anchored at Providencia Island, Colombia.

                              Heading north from the Canal, we first visited Isla de San Andres,
                                        then our current home, Isla Providencia.

     It´s been a squally, wet and wild couple of weeks since we first left Panama and headed north. We bashed into 10 foot seas and squalls, which have been pretty much unrelenting. Right now, you can practically set your watch to them. They blow through about every 3 hours around the clock.

   What made our passages extra challenging was the mechanical problems which plagued our motor. First we blew a gasket at 2AM in the middle of a squall south of San Andres. Chris tried to fix her, but unfortunately the motor would not run. So we had to sail into the anchorage at Isla San Andres without a motor, in the middle of a squall, in 27 knot winds. No problem! We got her in and the anchor down.

   After buying and replacing the gasket in San Andres, we headed north to  Isla Providencia. As we were again bashing into north winds and taking breaking waves into the cockpit, the fuel tanks got flooded with sea water, so we had to again sail into harbor under sail, with the motor going in and out, this time in pitch blackness and again in the middle of a 25 knot squall. Fortunately our friends on Talaria and Liberation II came to our aid by jumping into their dinghies and leading us into the anchorage at Providenia by flashlight.

  Let´s hear it for the Brotherhood of the Sea!

  Chris has worked very hard finding the seawater access point and has repaired it. So now, we´re waiting out the squalls and storms here at Providencia Island with several other boats. We are all so very tired of the rainy season.

  We´ve been in the thick of the rain, lightning, squalls, waves and wind for more than 6 months. When will it end?  Staying positive is challenging. But we know that the key to keeping a positive attitude is focusing on the little things. Like bacon.

                                                              Bacon is good

   For reasons unknown, we were priced out of the bacon market in Costa Rica and Panama.We´re talking $10.00 a pound. Lord knows why -- we certainly saw enough pigs sitting by the side of the road in Central America. Anyway, we haven´t had bacon for months.

  To our happy surprise, here in Colombia, a big-ass package of the good stuff is 5 bucks!

   Yee Haw!

    This morning, as the latest squall rumbled and blew around us aboard Espiritu, I cooked bacon. Amidst the happy sizzling sound, and the tantalizing aroma, Chris and I literally danced and cheered with happiness.

  You know the scene in "Swingers" where Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are excitedly driving to the Nevada border, and they cry excitedly: ¨Vegas, baby! VEGAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSS!"

        Well, this was us, except we were yelling excitedly: ¨Bacon, baby...BAAACCCOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!"

  Yes, it had been that long. And yes, it was good.

   I believe it was Bertrand Russell who said that it is impossible to live a happy life without being without something you want. So learning to live without, and learning to make do, has been a big part of our journey so far. And anyway, we all know you simply can´t eat bacon every day, right?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Are you cut out for rainy season in Central America?

                                         A tropical thunderstorm as seen from the space station

     Well, Espiritu and her crew have been in the midst of the tropical rainy season for nearly 6 months now. Without a break, just like the locals.   Hundreds of inches of rain have fallen on us. Thousands and thousands of tachycardia-inducing close bolts of lightning have violently invaded our space.

                                 Yet another tropical weather system looms black on the horizon

  By the way, in addition to ourselves, the tally of our friends on sailboats who have been struck by lightning this year in Central America has now risen to SEVEN.

  We're so ready for it to be OVER.

            I was a big Croc-basher in my former life. But my pink Vans/Croc squeakers have
                              taken very good care of me in these very wet months.

                        Just another sizzling, crackling, grumbling, anxiety-producing night
                                             in Central America during the rainy season

         This photo of dark storm clouds moving in over Shelter Bay marina shows why none of our friends have been struck by lightning in marinas. The numbers are on your side here. You are surrounded by lots of other targets. At sea or in an isolated anchorage, one solitary mast may be the  highest spot for miles around.

           As the last weeks of the rainy season go out like a lion (lightning crackles above and around me as I write this), I ask myself the question:

 Do I recommend sailing through Central America during the rainy season?


 Well, you already know the downsides. The constant layers of mold which blanket the inside surfaces of our floating home anew the morning after scrubbing her clean the night before. The extreme challenge of living in such close quarters day in and day out,  extreme heat and humidity, wind, waves, lightning and squalls adding fear and arguments about how and where to proceed to the mix.

   Looking at the whole thing as the adventure that it is, rather than a slog, can help.

               Having a sense of community is always good for the morale, as we did on
            election night when 25 of us gathered in the cruiser's lounge to watch the returns.

            And, I suppose, being a Democrat meant election night was good for the morale as well...

                                        Bonding with animals also helps:

                       Meet Cooper, the overly-friendly marina dog. He's sweet, but...(and there's no nice way to say this)...he really, really needs a girlfriend. Badly (I'll just leave that up to your imagination to fill in the blanks of this scenario).

  And then there are days like the one recently where we shook off our malaise and frustration with mechanical issues and took off into the rainforest which borders our marina.

                                           This was our reward:

                                          A chestnut mandibled toucan sighting!

       For all of the downsides of these months down here, in the end the huge reward is simply being immersed in nature.

                                            A muddy bog after the days rain

   In the 21st century, the balance has shifted so far that for all practical purposes, nature has nearly completely disappeared from modern society. In modern life, we are completely surrounded by man and his creations.

                                        Great leafy vines creep all the way up this tree

In modern life, nature is but a fantasy -- a dream of the past long gone. But down here, we're literally swimming in it. I have a feeling that after we've survived the rainy season, I'll have the attitude of one who has prevailed through anything hard -- say a triathalon, or childbirth, or obtaining a college degree -- and say yes, yes, YES! It's hard but it's worth it! And it changes you. Forever.

  But first, we must survive the rainy season.  Espiritu's electrical system is repaired, so our plan is to sail North to the Colombian island of Providencia on saturday.

      It's a trip of about 260 miles, which should translate into a 2 or 3 night trip. Looks like we're finally saying goodbye to Panama, our home for the last 5 months. We'll never forget you, Panama.

   Onward!   :-)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

New photo round-up: Panama North Shore

May your trails be crooked, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. 
May your mountains rise above the clouds. 

-- Edward Abbey

                                       Exploring the San Lorenzo National Park

      Well, the uprising in Colon has settled down, Superstorm Sandy has moved on, but Chris and I are still here at Shelter Bay Marina in Colon dealing with ongoing battery problems.

    While we're here waiting for parts, we've had the chance to explore the rustic Caribbean coast of Panama.

              The area we've explored in northern Panama ranges from slightly west of Colon, across the canal and east to Portobelo, and further yet along the coast to the tiny towns of Puerto Lindo and Garotte (neither of which are on the map).

                          A tree groans with fresh papaya in the front yard of this home

                                                    A swing hangs lazily over the water

                                                                 Lost horizon

                                                     Children swim in their skivvies

                                                           Coconut palms

           We were thrilled to trip upon a pair of Shetland ponies! I grabbed a handful of
   grass and slowly, gently approached the little guy to see if he would eat out of my hand...

                                      "Hey, come back!"   Ah, well... LOL...    :-)

          We went on a 12 mile round trip bike ride deep into the rainforest. Our destination was the San Lorenzo Fort, shown above at the mouth of the great Chagres River.  It is the oldest fort in Panama.

                                  Our only company at the Fort besides a snake and dozens of
                        howler monkeys was an armadillo. Who knew they lived in the tropics?

                                There is a bit of fall leaf color change here in Panama

                                                       Rickety dinghy dock in Garotte

    ...and another view (note the shipping palate on the left -- no need to waste perfectly good wood!)

           We were curious about this Star of David cinderblock around a home in impoverished Garotte

                                                            ...and just up the road...

           A street artist draws a family in distress on a wall in Colon. This could be related to the
         recent uprising and shootouts with police, where many were killed, including two children.


                          Yes, I crossed this uber-rickety foot bridge, and lived to tell the tale...

                                                   Dreamy little dinghy dock

                                                             Child's toy gun at rest

                                                             Interesting cloud formation

                                                            Bus stop

                                                Panamanian youth clowning around

                                 Cruiser's hang-out and book exchange in Puerto Lindo

                                                 Dugout canoe as planter

                                             ...and another view...

           And lastly, a sailors favorite thing: