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Ship's Log: Updated December 11, 2008

Framing and Hammering

At the last update the main house poles were planted, concrete was poured around some of them, and framing had begun. Six weeks later, all the house poles are solidly set in concrete, and the skeleton of the house is really taking shape!

Unfortunately, we could have said exactly the same thing three weeks ago...when it started raining! and for all intents and purposes, building work came to a slipping, sloshing, squishing, muddy halt.

But we made the most of the three weeks we did have to work! Tracy has the laser-guided miter saw set up on a temporary workbench on the first floor.

And has made lots of progress on getting the second story framed in and the top floor roof rafters in place.

The view of the front of the house, looking up the hill.

Standing on the first floor looking down toward the bodega.

And this will be the kitchen...

Tracy, waiting out a drizzle. At least it's got a good view!

And, another drizzle--well, OK, it's rain. This time, with Jasmine.

And but for two dry days in December when they could work, the house has mostly just been sitting there since November 18th. There are 15 porch pole holes dug, but it's just too wet to stand the poles up! The rebar is waiting to be painted, then it will go into the holes with the poles for structural support.

It has also been way too wet and muddy to get the remaining bags and new bags and bags of sand and gravel up the hill. So... let's have some fun!

Keeping Up a Tradition--Thanksgiving Week with the Bowmans!

You may recall from last year that the Bowmans made the journey from their home in San Clemente, California to Isla Mujeres, Mexico to spend Thanksgiving week with us last year. We all agreed we had such a great time that we would do it again. True to their promise, they all flew to Panama to meet up with us here this year.

Ah...the best laid plans... well they sure went awry this time!

Thanksgiving week was a complete washout--literally--for the Bowmans coming to Bocas. In fact, that week and the week before were so darn wet and stormy that they have their own whole story! Not to mention the 6.3 earthquake we had at 1am on the 19th...

But Tracy did manage to get himself out of town before the whole of Bocas communication and travel was shut down, and he made it to Panama City to meet them. That part of the plan did work! And, not to let a change in plans ruin a perfectly good reunion, they had a great time exploring Panama City and the Canal Zone, including this visit to the Miraflores Locks. (Thanks for taking all the pictures, Teri!)

They visited old haunts, and showed the Bowman boys, Patrick, 17 and Matthew, 15, where their parents and Tracy used to live while they were all stationed in the Army in Panama in the early- and mid-80's, before the boys were born. (Actually, they couldn't quite visit Tracy's old house, as it is up on Ancon Hill, where the President now lives, and no ordinary civilians are allowed up the hill. So they had to settle for a view from afar.)

No matter where they are, Tracy and Dan manage to have a great time. Even if it is eating unusual things!! (Note that it was raining in Panama City, too!)

A great time, and promises of a visit next year...when we hope not to be in the middle of a deluge of biblical proportions!

Bringing in the Tanks

One of the main systems we need to set up is water collection. And we want lots of water, so Tracy went into Almirante a few weeks ago and picked out two 1250 gallon water tanks, and a 350 gallon septic tank. Our worker and neighbor Joe found a large panga we could rent, and they loaded them up and drove them home. (Yes, in the rain.) The tanks are so big that Joe had to lean around them to see, and to rely on Marcos to holler out if he spotted any obstacles in their path.

But they arrived safe and sound. Tracy and the dogs supervised the unloading. Now all we had to do is bring in a bunch of guys to carry them up the hill!

Done! We are both looking forward to real showers!

And flush toilets! We actually have one of only three septic tanks on the bay. Most locals here just build an outhouse on their dock over the water, or over a hole in the yes, sometimes bringing civilization in is a good thing for an area!

Our septic tank drains out to a distribution box, with three terraced pipes that soak into the hillside. The really, really good news is, unlike virtually all other "sewage systems" in Central America, ours actually works better when toilet paper is flushed down the toilet. Boy, will we feel civilized when this is all set up!

A Place for Rest and Contemplation

One day when it was too wet to work, but the guys were here anyway, Tracy had them build a couple of benches. This one is toward the back of the property, under a couple of the big trees, near bushes that the birds like, with a filtered view of the bay and bodega, and sometimes howler monkeys in the neighbor's trees. They just love those hog plums!

Another project we've been working on is building a big pond.

Bring On the Caimans!

We have two darling little ponds already, but with all the ground water in the low land around the ponds making almost a swamp, we decided to make a real pond, swallowing up the little ponds and big enough to grow fresh water shrimp, some mud-loving fish, and, best of all (well, for Tracy anyway), a complete, top to bottom food chain, which means we expect to attract caiman and crocodiles, right in our own backyard! Just hope the dogs stay alert!

To build a proper pond, all the organic matter has to be scraped off the dirt. A key, or dam, is constructed to keep the water in. An overflow pipe is buried beneath the dam to allow water to escape when the pond is full. Non-invasive plants are planted along the pond shoreline to stop erosion.

We still have a ways to go as far as scraping and preparing. But, once it's done and once the pond fills, there should be a bloom of tadpoles, then the shrimp will migrate upstream to the pond, followed by critters that eat shrimp (us included!), and eventually the caiman will follow. We are also hoping for herons, ducks, and who knows what else. We may stock with native mud fish, or may just let nature take its course and see what appears.

The dogs, exploring what will be the spillway.

Our neighbors do promise that crocodiles will appear, but we are hoping that they mean caiman, which are a bit smaller, and much less ferocious! We had this new bench built beside the pond area; we just need the pond to fill for the view!

Lunch Hour Commute, Buena Esperanza Style

The workers here take lunch hour very seriously. They all leave the work site at noon to go home to the village for their hour-long noontime meal (almuerzo). There goes the fleet! Not a bad way to commute, huh? Well, when it's sunny, anyway...

Transients Massing in Migration

We have vultures here year 'round, and they are big birds! And this time of year, we also get vultures visiting from the wintry north. What astounds is the sheer number we see. For a period of about a week, several flocks, each numbering in the hundreds, would gather from all directions, massing overhead at dusk to form a huge flock with at least a thousand birds, before disappearing until the next evening. Where do they go? we wonder. And what are all those big birds eating??

Sharon's Thanksgiving Week

This is the letter Sharon wrote to family and friends on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. Her week was a whole lot different from Tracy's week!

Hello all,


Long story…and our Internet has been down since the 18th


It may not have made the US news, but we have been walloped with almost 36 inches (that’s three feet!) of rain in the last week and the entire area has been declared a disaster area. The Changuinola river, among many others, jumped its banks and flooded the entire city of Changuinola. They have no power and no water. People have died, hundreds of homes in this small town destroyed, thousands damaged. The mainland road from Almirante to “civilization” (David, Panama City) is completely destroyed in at least four places (think CA 1 and its crumbling cliffs) and there are over one hundred smaller mudslides. Closer to us here, Bocas is out of gasoline, and running out of diesel to run their electric plant, nor is there any way to get any until an alternate means of delivery is found, since the only roads into Almirante are closed, so no fuel trucks can get in. Since all food is also trucked in to Bocas on the ferry, they are worried about running out of food soon, too.


A combination of high winds, high tides and rain caused docks and dock houses in Bocas and nearby Careneros island to float away. Homes that had never flooded had water coming up through the floorboards, the water table had risen so high. Streets were flooded. Our friends had another friends’ boat sink at their dock.


On Saturday night the 22nd, a main cell tower shifted in a landslide, and everyone in the entire Bocas area was out of communication from Saturday night until late Monday night. On Sunday night I turned on our (wildly expensive) satellite phone to call Tracy. And was glad to be able to! We had talked about canceling the satellite phone service a number of times. Tracy kept saying no, it was insurance in the event of a major disaster. How prescient of him!


But why was I calling him, you ask?


Because Tracy told me at 7am on Thursday morning the 20th that he had decided to go into Bocas with Dave, and then catch the bus for David and then on to Panama City, to be sure to be able to meet Dan and Teri and the boys on Sunday the 23rd. To my astonished early morning eyes, by 8 am, he was gone! He said he was afraid that if he waited, he would not be able to get there at all; the weather was already so bad, and predicted to get worse. There was a small weather window Thursday morning, and Dave was going into town and had offered the ride. Tracy jumped on it.


Good thing he did go; hundreds who delayed leaving are still stranded here. And, Tracy was able to do some major PriceSmart (aka Costco) shopping in David on Thursday, and arrange to have the $500 of stuff delivered to Bocas on Saturday—in a deluge, flooded streets and all, but it arrived. (The truck that delivered it came on the ferry from Almirante, and all the trucks on that ferry had to be chained down, the seas were so rough. After leaving Bocas on the return ferry, the truck never did make it back to David; it got stopped by landslides. The drivers had to walk for miles, overnight, over the mountain range, before getting to a place where they could catch a bus back to David. The truck is still there.)


Friends in Bocas picked up our perishables for us on Saturday and stored it (including two Butterball turkeys for Thanksgiving, and many trays of meat in anticipation of having two hungry teenage boys visiting for almost a week), and our friend Dave made arrangements early Saturday morning (before the phones went down) to have his huge delivery and our non-perishables unloaded at a Bocas storage unit—no one could make it into town from down here on Saturday because the weather was so bad. (As an aside, Dave and his wife Kim just arrived a little over a week ago, to move into their new second home--the house that Garry built, that Tracy helped build, remember?) and so their delivery included a stove, refrigerator, mattresses, beds, washer dryer, and thousands of dollars of other “new house” stuff in addition to major groceries.


As I type this Tuesday morning, Dave has left with our workers Joe and Marcos, to rent a big panga, to get the stuff out of the storage unit and bring it down here; this is the first weather window that would allow him to retrieve it, and he is going to get the rest of our stuff as well.


Meanwhile, Tracy met the Bowmans’ plane in Panama City on Sunday morning, but they have not been able to make it to Bocas. The runway here was flooded and the airport was closed, and when that problem was resolved, then the tower lost power and could not communicate with any planes that did try to get in. Obviously no busses are running, since the road is closed (and will be for months, they are saying). There’s just no way for them to get here except by plane right now. And the planes are now completely overbooked of course. We have heard that the small Bocas airport waiting room is full of people camped out there, with nowhere else to go.


So I have been holding down the fort here. I will be very happy to have Tracy back! But there is such a huge backup of passengers on both ends, they do not know when or whether they will ever get on a plane before the Bowmans have to return to California on Friday. If they don’t get on a plane today, they have decided they will stop trying to get here, since it’s not clear at all that they’d be able to get back for their flight out of Panama City on Friday, once they got here. How Tracy will get back here once he puts the Bowmans on their plane on Friday remains a mystery as I write this.


Down here in Green Bay, though, we have been very lucky. We live in a rural area that is not terribly disturbed, so the jungles and mangroves just absorb all the water and honestly, you’d never know anything major had happened here. The bodega is fine, our trails are muddy but intact, our water tanks are full. Our neighbors have lost a lot of plants that were just above sea level in their garden, but no real damage otherwise. Our house, what there is of it, is still standing tall up on the hill.


We had brought in about 20 extra gallons of gas, planning to use it in the cement mixer to plant the porch poles last week, but once the rains started last Tuesday, no more work was possible, so we never used the gas. So I have gas for a while to run the little generator to keep the boat batteries charged, to keep the refrigeration running, to keep the two big turkeys cold. If the gas runs out, I have about 20 gallons of diesel in Landfall’s tanks and can run the main engine on Landfall for a few more days, to keep the batteries charged. The rest of the meat is in the propane refrigerator in the bodega, and Dave exchanged an empty propane tank for a full one a few days ago for us, so we should be OK for another week or so. I have plenty of food, between Landfall and the bodega.


The dogs have (mostly) adjusted to going into shore only once or twice a day. The only really difficult thing for me has been dealing with Cricket. When Tracy left, he left Cricket tied to Landfall so I could keep an eye on it. The problem is, with this much rain, we are always in danger of the bilge pump draining the battery. Not a big problem as long as I can run the engine periodically to recharge the battery, right? Except that the fuel filter is getting clogged, and the engine has also been needing a tune-up, and so over the last week or so before Tracy left, the engine was getting balkier and balkier. Harder and harder to start, harder and harder to keep running. I’ve been using all the tricks I know, to get it started daily since Tracy left.


Well, last night at dusk, my tricks stopped working. It finally just plain refused to start. My worst fears loomed large. No engine means no battery charging. No battery means no bilge pump, means, worst case, I can’t keep up with hand bailing (or don’t notice it in time). Cricket floods in the rain in the middle of the night, sinks, still attached to Landfall. Will it flip Landfall on the way down? Do I cut Cricket loose? Ack, ack, ack! I have had broken sleep every night since Tracy left, worrying about this! Up many times a night, peering through the rain, checking to see that the little red light indicating the bilge pump is running, is still coming on, still working. And until yesterday evening, it was all still working. But now what???


Well, bad luck for them, good luck for me, neighbors Carl and Mary are stuck in David, unable to get back to Bocas. Their launch is at a friend’s dock in Bocas. They recently built a shelter for their boat at their dock, for precisely this reason, to keep the deluges from sinking their launch. So in a mercifully flat dry calm just before dark, I towed Cricket with the dinghy to their dock shelter, where it should stay dry enough until Tracy gets home to fix the engine, replace the fuel filter, whatever magic he does to keep our engines running. There is a spare fuel filter he just bought, up in the bodega, but since he left on the spur of the moment, he hadn’t had time to install it, and I’m no engine mechanic. He is also bringing back with him a new secondary fuel and water separator. (See, we knew we needed it, we just hadn’t gotten around to dealing with it!) So until Carl and Mary get back, Cricket’s safe. So, while this may be selfish, I am hoping they can’t make it back until after Tracy gets here. :-)


Enough for now. Who knows when I’ll be able to get this sent, but I needed to write it down.


Much love,


Meanwhile, Sharon was able to transport the two turkeys to friends Ron and Cynde's house, where Cynde roasted and carved them on Thanksgiving day, and they were taken to the neighborhood gathering of gringos. By then, Sharon was so glum she had planned to skip the whole affair, but Cynde insisted, and sent Ron to pick her up. Glad she did!

And Tracy did eventually get home, on Saturday evening, after two annoying, frustrating days in the Panama City airport.

According to neighbors Sue and George, we had a total of 39.3 inches of rain in November!

The Sun Does Come Out

Stay tuned...

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