Log: Updated January 15, 2008
Moving On Again
We know, we know, we haven't even posted an update for Isla Providencia and we're posting an update saying we're leaving??
Yep! One of the drawbacks of staying at a relatively undeveloped island is that communications are not what we're used to. The very few Internet connections in the several shops in town were extremely slow, unreliable, and often simply unavailable. And of course, there is no WiFi out in the anchorage, nor would they let us bring our laptops into the shops to use their connections. Hence the lack of email and log updates. It took over an hour and a half just to upload the pictures and pages for the Christmas update, and after several frustrating sessions trying to get our email after that, we just didn't have the heart to try to do a posting again...So, we are writing part of this update underway to Bocas del Toro, and part of it after our arrival.
And we have arrived--at a cruising destination that has become remarkably crowded since we visited here two years ago! We were extremely fortunate to be able to secure a much-sought-after slip at the Bocas Yacht Club and Marina, and with their powerful wireless signal, we now have much better communication options!
But meanwhile, we did spend three and a half weeks on beautiful Isla Providencia, in a very secure anchorage, and we had some good times waiting out the strong winds and occasionally stormy weather on that mountainous green island.
Our temporary crew Stefan decided to leave Providencia before we were ready to go on to Bocas. He was eager to keep traveling on, and we were content to stay put for a while, waiting out the weather, so we parted ways. While we spent a few good few weeks together and enjoyed his help and company, we are happy to have our home back to ourselves.
Settling Into Providencia Island Time
We finished checking into Columbia late on Monday afternoon, December 17 with the help of our English-speaking agent Mr. Bush. All visiting yachts are required to hire an agent to handle the paperwork for checking into and out of Columbia, we guessed on the theory that the government has made checking in and out of their country so arduous and complicated that only a skilled professional can do the job. It was nearly dark by the time we headed back to Landfall, legally checked into Columbia and ready to take the yellow quarantine flag down.
Now that we've checked out, we think that while the "arduous and complicated" theory sounds plausible, we saw nothing that he did that we couldn't have done just as easily ourselves, and saved the $60. Ah well, "when in Rome..."
Isla Providencia is so different from Isla Mujeres! In addition to being as green and mountainous as Isla Mujeres was brown and low, instead of filling up throughout the day with shopping-hungry tourists like Isla Mujeres, the whole island of Providencia, including all the stores in the main town, shut down between noon and three, a true siesta. The locals are not yet jaded by tourists and easily exchange a friendly greeting on seeing us. Most are fluently bilingual Spanish and Creole English and willingly talk to us in either language. In fact, one day a child asked, in Spanish, what Gellie's name was. When Sharon answered in her best Spanish, the child said with a smile, "Speak English!"
Our Providencia days soon developed an easy routine: get up when we woke up (such a luxury!), make coffee and tea and watch the sun grow higher over the harbor. Eventually Gellie would give us "that look" along with a few special whines, and Tracy would get the dinghy ready to take her into town for her "walk in the grass." Sharon usually stayed on board doing her journal writing and finishing her pot of sweet milky tea.
Tracy and Gellie would usually head back to the boat at the latest by noon, since all but the restaurants close for the next three hours. And there are only a very few restaurants. In fact, we only ate out a few times in the almost four weeks we were there: the first full day we were there and completely out of fresh food, we headed into town for breakfast and ended up with an early lunch of pollo a la plancha. We had a fried fish lunch on Southwest beach, where the guide dropped us off after our hike up the mountain. On New Year's Eve day we took a taxi back to Southwest beach to try the mixed seafood platter at El Diviño Niño, recommended by our hiking guide. (The baby Jesus statue by the entrance holds a fork in his outstretched hand.) And one aimless afternoon when we'd stayed in town too long we stopped in at Miss Eneidy's and had a soapy-tasting bowl of old chicken soup and a dry hamburger, and the beer we ordered never did come.
We really hit the culinary jackpot with Bamboo, the only seafood restaurant within walking distance of town. We got to know the owners, Olivier and Amparo, and completely enjoyed their company. But, it's a little bit expensive, so we only ate there once, though we went back several times for a beer while on Gellie's afternoon walk.
The last time we ate out, our last Sunday night on the island, before heading over to Bamboo to hear a band play (which never showed up, but we had a great time with Bamboo's owners anyway), we ended up at the first restaurant we tried. The owner/cook was just getting ready to close, but she remembered us, and so agreed to stay open if we'd have...yep, pollo a la plancha! Must be her specialty. We were her only customers, the beer was ice cold, and it was really nice of her to agree to feed us, as everything else was already closed at 7pm. This is really not a tourist town!
One of the reasons we liked Bamboo so much, in addition to its gregarious owners, was its location on the seawall walk along Catalina Island where Gellie could run free, and we could keep an eye on Landfall in the anchorage while we were there.
Isla Catalina is just off the northwest end of Isla Providencia and forms the western side of the anchorage. It used to be attached to the main island, but the pirates a while back blew up the land bridge to better secure their stronghold. There is now a rickety floating pedestrian bridge connecting the two islands, and Catalina is a completely pedestrian island. On the north end of Catalina in the olden days is where they would "hang pirates and burn Protestants." It must be true; a sign on the point says so!
Between Gellie's morning and afternoon walks we'd usually do boat chores. Just so you don't think it's all fun and relaxation, this photo will prove that we do in fact do our boat chores. Since Providencia lacks a tourist infrastructure and we hadn't been able to find either a laundromat or anyone to do laundry, things eventually got critical, especially for Tracy in the shorts department. Here he is, toiling away.
Shouldn't we be thinking something like "not using his full potential" here? Sharon was certainly thinking that as she was scrubbing her bucketful of dirty clothes!
We also had to run the engine for several hours every day, as our wind generator and solar panels both are not functioning, the result of an unfortunate plug-pulling while underway from Islas Santanillas. We had to spend several hours every other day making water, as there was little water to be had on Providencia (the locals only get running water every other day), and on laundry day, we had to make a whole lot more water than usual! It takes about an hour to make 6 gallons of water. We were very careful about how much water we used, and continued washing dishes in salt water with a final fresh water rinse.
One of the first things we did after we got settled in was to take a hike to the top of El Pico, the highest mountain on the island.
We took a quick break at an old pumping station that hade been used to pump water from the reservoir on the west side of the island over the ridge to the homes on the east side.
Eduardo, a local young man home for the holidays from his studies at the university in Cartagena, offered his services to show us the way to the top. Since it is "strongly" recommended to use a guide, we agreed to meet him at the dinghy dock at 7:00am. Though as it turned out, his services were probably as "necessary" as Mr. Bush's, having him lead the way did make finding the route up a little easier, and his stories about the island made the hike more interesting, too.
He knew his island facts and history, and told us that there are about 7,500 people living on the island, and the first settlers were the Maya Indians, followed by the Spaniards, English pirates, French, and Dutch, and also merchants from all over South and Central America. His grandfather owned the property where we started the hike, and he had once had many cows, including the only dairy cows on the island.
Early on in the hike he pointed out a thorny tree and warned us not to brush up against any of them because they are inhabited by extremely aggressive fire ants that will swarm onto you and then bite the heck out of you, leaving nasty stinging welts.
Eduardo told us about the 12 different kinds of mango trees that grow on the island, and how he and his friends used to hike all over in search of the ripe fruit. While we didn't find any mango trees that day, the mature, sprouted coconuts he and his friend scrounged for us along the way were unusual, but very welcome!
The view of our anchorage and Catalina Island from near the top was fantastic! Can you pick out Landfall?
Gellie probably ran three times as far as we hiked, in her enthusiasm and excitement at being off the leash and exploring the jungle. She got to chase a few horses, and lizards, and birds, and went scampering off after scents only she could smell. By the time we reached the top, we thought we'd worn her out!
But she was only taking a little rest before being fully recharged and ready to go again!
The barrier reef makes Providencia beaches, snorkeling and diving exceptional.
We left Isla Providencia on Thursday, January 10, 2008 with predictions for a three day fair weather window for our expected three day trip. Mr. Bush walked with us through the formalities for obtaining our zarpe at the port captain and immigration offices on Wednesday afternoon so we could get an early start Thursday morning. Which turned out to be an early afternoon departure, oh, well. We'd waited to get provisions on Thursday morning because the supply boat was expected in; it didn't come, as often happens, but we still had to do the shopping and take Gellie for her last walk in the grass.
We bid our farewells to the other cruisers in the harbor we'd come to know, including Deyal and Dilys on Rarangi, a Kiwi couple on the last leg of their 16 year circumnavigation. They were a big help in sharing advice and encouragement, and they also gave us the weather updates we needed before deciding to head out. We'd had a few sundowners with them in our cockpit and in theirs during our stay, and they epitomize our best concept of cruisers: learn a lot, enjoy the local food and people, and keep it simple. We hope to emulate them, and maybe even see them along their way home to New Zealand.
As Isla Providencia falls astern, we look eagerly toward our next landfall.
Bocas del Toro Bound
As difficult and uncomfortable as the last three passages have been, this one made up for it all in absolutely perfect cruising. Gee, who would have thought that waiting for a good weather window would make such a difference? Ha!
We hauled anchor at Providencia on January 10th under partly cloudy skies and calm seas with thoughts of stopping at the uninhabited Cayos Albuquerque the next day, but after an uneventful and easy night sailing we arrived near the islands with a squall blowing right on top of them, so we gave them a pass shortly after daybreak and kept on sailing. The only way into the cays was by eyeball navigation to get around the many coral heads and reefs, and without the sun overhead we would have been sailing into a minefield. No thanks!
The weather just kept getting better, and our watches passed easily. We did have to run the engine as the winds waned, but at least we were making progress. We didn't see a ship for the first two days; we were "Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!..." (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner) but fortunately, we were not in dire straits like the folks in the poem! In fact, it was absolutely lovely.
The nights were full of stars! With the sliver moon (again on this passage, no moon to help us find our way) setting early, we had the Milky Way to light our path (dimly, dimly!) and shooting stars to help keep us awake through the long nights. Sharon pulled out our star-finder chart, only to discover that it was geared toward latitudes 30-40 degrees, so it wasn't too helpful, but Orion, the Big and Little Dippers and Cassiopeia were easy to pick out.
Off the Costa Rican coast early Saturday afternoon we spotted our first ship of the trip, crossing our bow off in the distance; later on, backlit against the sun, we thought we saw another ship, but when we got closer, it turned out to be a floating tree!
So glad we didn't meet up with it in the dark! We have really bad memories of meeting up with floating trees, as you may remember from our Hurricane Katrina story, so we were happy to give it a pass. But here, excited by the novelty of it, we circled it, took a bunch of pictures, and then moved along.
For the rest of the afternoon we were in a debris field, some sort of current or eddy keeping floating things in a long, wide line. We saw lots of logs, plastics, and fishing debris (fish tails, dead bait fish) and we captured a great trophy, too, a big green buoy, and got to practice a "man overboard" drill to pick it up.
And then we set off to find our way out of the debris line before night fell.
Sunday morning dawned clear and for the first time in almost a month the sun was shining over Bocas del Toro as we sighted land. Gellie woke early, nose atwitch: "I smell the grass! I smell the grass!"
Landfall in Panama!
The sun shone overhead as we picked our way past the reefs into the harbor. And it was crowded! We had been told about one nice anchorage and headed toward it: nope, too crowded. Headed back to the main anchorage, also crowded. Tried to pick our way into the top of the crowded main anchorage to find a spot , but it just seemed too crowded so we backed out and eyeballed our way around a reef to come in to the back of the anchorage. As we eased our way in, Sharon noticed a familiar looking boat with a lot of laundry drying on the lifelines: "Is that Boisterous?" she asked. "Yep," Tracy replied. We nosed in past them, yelled Hello!, and dropped the hook beside them. Greetings, old friends!
We tried to raise the port captain on the VHF radio, to no avail. Oh, well, we really didn't want to get off the boat until tomorrow, anyway, right? Damon from a neighboring boat came up in his dinghy to welcome us and gave us a little info about the port captain. He advised that the office was closed on Sunday and we should wait until they open at 8:30 the next morning; any earlier than that, and we'd be charged $150 in overtime fees. Yikes! Thanks for the tip!
Soon afterward, Laura, Paul and the two youngest boys came over from Boisterous in their dinghy to welcome us and get caught up on happenings since we parted over two months ago in Isla Mujeres. We exchanged tales of woe about all the things that have broken on both our boats since we last saw them, gave cookies to the kids, and talked about current plans. They left, we had a late lunch and a couple of beers and fell asleep early, catching up on all the lost hours from the last three nights' passage.
In the morning we called the port captain and at 11:30 he came out with the customs and agriculture and immigration authorities, and all five of them boarded the boat to check our documents. We welcomed them graciously and all went well. They left Landfall to go check in the guy who came in behind us Sunday night (whom we knew from Providencia). He apparently wasn't as friendly to them as we were, or something, and he ended up getting searched, asked for his whiskey, and in general, had a horrible time of checking in. Hmmm...
As soon as we were cleared to leave the boat we headed in to complete more of the check in procedure and then go explore the two marinas. Well, actually, we didn't explore one of them, after hearing stories about how horrible it was, so we went to the marina we knew was a bit more expensive, but where we could have wireless, water, electric, trash, showers, shoreside toilets, lots of Gellie grass, and nice folks! Also, the place where Chip, Ken and Kathy Carter's friend, whom we met when we were here two years ago, has his house. The office is lovely, the staff are helpful and friendly, and we are happy to be here!
We paid to stay for three months so we'll be here until early April, at least. But we will probably try to stay longer...we really like it here!
And Gellie has her grass!
Stay tuned for an update about our adventures in Bocas del Toro!