Friday, April 24, 2009


Shopping in Panama City

Panama City is a favored shopping destination for cruisers. Here, we can find all sorts of manufactured goods that we've done without, sometimes for years as in our case!

A typical trip to the market, marine supply store, or even a mall, begins with a dinghy ride into the little harbor from where our boat is anchored. Then, depending on tide - which can be as much as 18 feet - there may be a steep climb up to the plaza. Here I am making the trek at low tide. At high tide, this ramp is almost horizontal.

Next, comes a short walk out to the main street to pick up a bus (25 cents) or a taxi ($4) for a ride to the nearest stores. Along the way we may even spot a sloth up in a tree. Here's a photo of a mommy sloth with her baby dangling from her like a limp teddy bear. Look closely...that appendage is a head and a arm of the baby. Yep. These guys move really s-l-o-w-l-y if at all. I can't belive how slowly they move each limb.

Once at the stores, you have to be careful about what you buy. Like SIP. Would you name a washing detergent "sip"? Especially when it comes in lime flavor/scent?
But for the most part, we actually recognize the brand names because they are the same as back in the states. What fun! It sure makes it easier to shop too. This was not the case in the other Central American countries - it as mostly local brands.

Over at the giant Albrook Mall we can walk all day and still not see it all. On a Saturday, the place is packed with families. The sounds of the carousel, which runs continuously, fills the halls of the mall. The cleanliness, bright lights and colors are a stark contrast to the grimy concrete apartment buildings of the city.

Here, you can buy a tee-shirt with your favorite hero - Bob Marley or Obama? Yep, Obama is much admired throughout Panama and is one of the favorite topics of discussion from the taxi drivers or other local folks we meet.

Huh? What is up with the female mannequins? Really, these buxom babes are all over the mall. I just don't get it. These are used in the windows to display even conservative clothing. Some of the stores cover up the pointy areas. Maybe they were on sale at the mannequin store or something?

After a long day of being consumers again, we limp back to the little harbor and the dinghy dock. At the plaza above the dock there are often other cruisers hanging out and sometimes playing music. But, soon we need to find our dinghy, scramble over all

the other dinghys, toss packages in and zoom out to the Niki Wiki.'s knitting time....

Friday, April 17, 2009


Too Many Bananas

There comes a time when you have to admit to having too many ripe bananas. Yep. That happened to us when we were cruising the Las Perlas islands. All the cute little red bananas ripened at the same time.

What to do? Well, we had banana pudding, fried bananas with brown sugar and walnuts, banans muffins, bananas on our oatmeal, and the best? That would have to be the banana Daiquiri at sunset. Yummy! And because we'd been out cruising for so many days it was time to make Jonesy some hot dog and hamburger buns. Sure wish I could eat wheat too.

Cruising in Central America is a lot different from Mexico. There is a lot more wind and the anchorages are less populated and have far fewer facilities. And, there are much fewer boats in each anchorage. After spending over a week sailing and anchoring around the islands we quite simply got weary of the isolation.

The water temperatures hovered at 66 degrees (brrrrrr) which was far too cold for comfortable full-body immersion in addition to being somewhat murky, so we didn’t have swimming for a diversion. Although we still had fresh fruit (thanks Domingo!) and plenty of provisions (the lack thereof is what drives a lot of cruisers back to civilization), we decided it was time to travel on to Panama City.

How many books can you read, projects knit, or hours spent gazing at the island scenery before it all becomes unsatisfying? The answer for us is “Plenty”…but eventually we are maxed out on those simple pleasures and get restless for new adventures. The big lights and tall buildings of Panama City were calling us so we hoisted the anchor and took off. Okay, so a little of our edginess was over the upcoming transit through the Panama Canal – all the unknowns!

Because there was absolutely no wind, we motored over glassy seas towards Panama City and the canal. We weren’t the only ones. All over the area, huge freighters were also converging on the same small area. Our radar and chart plotter showed the swarm of other vessels – all moving in the same general direction as us but at significantly faster speeds (we were at 5 knots and they were traveling at up to 20 knots!). This was particularly unnerving when they were approaching from behind us. Look out! We are a small, fragile little ship! Our chart plotter software with the new AIS system will identify those“boogies” that are on near-collision courses (2 miles or less) with us. The little triangle symbols flash. Yep, we had lots of flashing ship triangles on our screen.

By 1pm we were in the controlled area of the canal and could see the high-rise buildings of the city in the distance. The bay is the staging area for all ships either planning to go through the canal or just emerging from the down-locks and traveling under the Bridge of the Americas. So, to manage all these vessels, there is a control tower just like at an airport.

We had to check in with the tower and ask permission to travel to the La Playita (free) anchorage for sailboats. Permission was granted and we motored over to the fleet of over 50 other boats. Whew- some other freighter crewman was in the wrong place and was getting a royal chewing-out by the controller! All marine radio communications are in English worldwide (as is air traffic) so we could understand what was being said.

With relief, we dropped the hook in La Playita within sight of the Panama Bay control tower (see photo on top of the little island. Wow, the little fleet here in the anchorage is totally international! We see flags on the boats from many different countries!

Ah! Internet access finally. Yep. Just pick a table on the outdoor patio at the Bennigan's Grill & tavern which is walking distance from the boat (a hot, long walk carrying backpacks that we've lugged in the dinghy and fret over getting wet) No. That's the fancy-schmancy high-dollar marina in the background for folks who have more money than sense. It costs about $200 a night for a boat our size. That's a heck of a lot of yarn!

Speaking of yarn. Here are the latest mittens for the Mittens for Akkol group. All are adult sized for the teenaged kids in the Akkol Orphanage in Kazakhstan. The plain white ones are 100% Alpaca - so soft! Although alpaca is soft, the yarn is also quite inelastic. It shows every malformed stitch and the mittens feel limp when you hold them. Oh well. They certainly are warm.

The white pair with accent cuff is simply some wool from my stash. Also from my stash is the White Lies Designs hand-dyed wool for these colorful mittens. This sport weight sock yarn was incredibly soft and a joy to knit with.

Guess what? There's more mittens on the needles too!

Monday, April 06, 2009


Island of the Rubber Sandal Graveyard

Isla San Jose was the first of the Las Perlas (the pearls) islands in Western (Pacific) Panama that we visited. The group of islands called Las Perlas is not only famous for their pearls and cool breezes, but also one of the islands was one of the early locations for the filming of the TV show "Survivor".

Unbelieveably, this one island is privately owned! Lucky dog. But, thankfully the owners are cruiser-friendly and allow us to anchor and explore their little slice of heaven. We were the only sailboat anchored here, yet we could hear chatter on the VHF radio from some boats in another anchorage. and we never saw another human.

Swimming was a no-go because the water was a frigid 66 degrees F! Really! The water farther north in Panama was 86 degrees, but not here. We know there is a strong current that run up from the south - Humbolt current - that is cold so perhaps that is why. Anyway, with air temperatures in the low 80's we stayed out of the water.

But hiking on the beach and into the interior was definitely an option. After spending the previous several days at anchor in little Benau bay on the mainland stuck on the boat due to high northeast winds we were anxious to get off and move our legs. Oooo...driftwood! I've always loved to explore the clumps of driftwood and other stuff that washes ashore. Even as a kid, my dad would take us to the shore after a big storm in California to see what "good stuff" had washed up.

Now, this was just plain weird. There were not only the usual plastic jetsom tangled with the driftwood, but hundreds of rubber sandals. We found the Rubber Sandal Graveyard! This is where those lost and tossed shoes go to rest in peace. Everywhere that we have traveled in Mexico and Central America, we've noticed that rubber flip-flops are a popular shoe choice (in addition to gold & sparkles high heels for shopping trips into town). So that means that there are a lot of these shoes whose useful lives have ended.The variety was endless! All sorts of sizes, colors, and styles. We wondered if you could search among the piles and eventually find a matching pair!

Anyway, once I had located a really cool piece of twisted driftwood to decorate the boat, we headed towards a path we'd seen that led to the interior of the island.

Well, we hiked, and then we hiked some more mostly uphill. Suddenly we came across a gravel road. Yep, the owner had his construction company make roads for him - and only him - to travel about the island. We came across lots of baby coconut trees. See, the coconuts drop from the tree and then roll downhill to a new location. There, they sprout, and eventually send down roots.

Folks who want a coconut palm can simply pick one up after it has sprouted and before it has taken root. And speaking of coconut palms, the trees have this thatched stuff that hangs from the trunk. It looks like a woven piece of fabric with strands running at perfect right angles! Hmmm..wonder if this is where some of the early humans got the idea for weaving? Some tropical folks have made clothing and shelter "fabrics" from it - called 'Tapa cloth" in the South Pacific.

Soon, we were hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry so we trotted off downhill towards the boat. At the time we were totally unaware that we were bringing home some unwelcome hitch-hikers - TICKS! Oh yeah. The next day I found one tick one me and quickly had Jonesy do a full-body inspection of me. He found 2 more - all 3 were located in the type of skin that is soft, white, and never sees the light of day...if you get my drift. Jonesy's turn - yes he had several too. Nature, ya gotta love it.

Later that afternoon, (before we found the ticks) we dinghy'd over to a cave we had read about. It is in really deep water. The owner of the island has a fishing shack high up on the cliff and all he has to do is drop a line down and let the fish bite! Cool. We motored into the cave, but I got scared. Get us out of here!!! Go, Jonesy Go!

See the dinghy on the shore? See the set of animal tracks in the sand? We think they are sheep! Why? Well, they looked like the size and shape of sheep feet - and we overheard a radio conversation between an islander and another boat about having a sheep bar-b-que. Sheep on a beach?

Okay, now for the knitting. I finished the gloves using the brightly colored solar-dyed yarns and I love them! Even Jonesy likes them! Then I churned out a couple of more pairs (while stuck on the boat in the high winds) from the last yards of my hand-dyed yarns. Yippppeeee! There will be several more pairs of warm hands in Kazakhstan next winter.

Back to knitting and exploring....

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Vaca Voyeurism

"Vaca" is Spanish for cattle or cow. So what do cruisers in Panama City do for entertainment after a long day of boat chores? Go see the cows of course! The Exposicion Nacional de Ganaderia show of Brahma cattle was at the Panama Atlapa Convention Center right near where we were anchored. The kids on the sailing vessel Sailfish out of Canada wanted to go see the cows (and Terry did too even though cows don't produce a fiber for knitting!)

As we entered the grounds, we were treated to a show by horsemen showing the fancy footwork of their "High School" dressage horses. Wow! These beautiful animals were foot tapping and trotting to different beats as the rider gently tapped the horses front legs with a lightweight stick.

Once inside, we settled into comfortable seats and watched the judging for a while. The commentary from the judges was in both English and Spanish so we could follow along. Come on...let's go get some close-up looks of cows...

Now, isn't this one a cutie pie? Take a look at the size of those ears! We just thought that this cow had the sweetest face. But there were more animals to meet so we left the air-conditioned building and headed outside to the temporary stables.

So here I am, just lounging in the, thats not me - those are wide-butt cows. Just a case of mistaken identy, you know how easy it is to get photos mixed up.

The Brahma breed of cattle is very large indeed! This breed is the one that we've seen all throughout Mexico and Central America. We understand that they are heat-tolerant and have very little hair which makes them perfect for hot climates. This was our opportunity to get up close and personal with our future hamburgers and to get our photo taken (Terry & Sailfish kids Sha-wei and Taj).

Also perfect for hot climates are hammocks. The cowboys (vaqueros) had their hammocks hanging in the stables and could take a little rest in them. I would be envious, except Jonesy has installed my hammock on the bow of Niki Wiki so I'm happy.

We also noticed that all of the cowboys' tool/work boxes were crafted from wood. Some were quite simple with lettering or brands carved into the surfaces. But this one below was the most intricately carved box that we saw. Isn't it beautiful - especially for something that is hauled around in a truck and hangs around cattle?

Soon, we had enough of loose cows wandering around, having to step carefully, and the smells of you-know-what in the tropical heat. It was time to go to the Fun Zone!

That's what the kids wanted to do too (really, isn't that strange?). While the kids drove the bumper cars, and us adults enjoyed $1US beers, I strolled around to look at the other rides.

The artwork on all of the rides was very cool! It looked like it was all recently air-brushed and everything was clean. Soon it was time to go back to the boats and eat something that wasn't fried or was meat left out in the open-air, and that we would recognize.
As Sha-wei and her mom paddled their kayak back to their boat, Taj got to ride with us. Not only ride with us, but Jonesy let him operate the outboard and drive the dinghy! Good ride!

It's all right Jonesy, Taj isn't going to run into that anchored sailboat.

Knitting? Not much. There's just so much to do!

Friday, April 03, 2009


Bahia Honda Day 2

The following day, we picked up our new friend Domingo in our dinghy and rode across the Bahia Honda bay to visit a remote village. We had candy and toys for the kids and were hoping to be able to trade some other goods for the wooden carved items which are made by the villagers. There are no roads to this settlement and the only access is either by canoe up the river at high tide, or by horse/burro/foot path.

Domingo guided us into the swamp mangroves, pointing out the way and talking excitedly in Spanish. Over the roar of the dinghy engine and the water splashing up against the dinghy, and my lousy Spanish, I struggled to understand what he was saying. But we were all having fun and that’s what counts.

How Domingo knew where to go was a mystery to us as all the mangrove inlets looked the same. Jonesy expertly maneuvered the dink around the floating rafts of coconuts and palm fronds as I gazed up at the bromeliads growing in the trees. These spectacular flowering plants live upon other "host" trees in tropical areas. Collectors in "Gringolandia" (the USA and Canada) and worldwide will pay large amounts of money for some species of thse bizarre plants.

Where the fresh water river meets the tidal surge, we came upon the little village. The only sounds came from the birds and somebody hammering in the distance. Soon, a group of little children shyly came over to check us out. As Domingo greeted some of his friends, we all handed out lollipops and small toys to the kids. Chickens, pigs, and dogs roamed freely around the village.
Everywhere we went, we came across more kids and horses – even small kids ON horses! They sure do start them off on horseback young in these parts! We saw a baby in diapers (about 18mos old?) sitting all alone on a horse in the shade. Is this the local form of playpen? Horsey baby-sitting?

We wandered along the well-worn footpaths between the living structures handing out the treats to children who quietly approached without a word spoken. Ultimately, we arrived at the homes of the wood carver. But, only the wives and children were home. The husbands had taken their wares out on a selling trip and wouldn’t be back for several days. Dang. In this photo, you can see the thatched roof outdoor kitchen where a pot of stew was bubbling and it smelled so yummy! All throughout the village we could smell the wood smoke from these cooking fires. No electricity, no cooking gas, and no running water is available. But we did find the one public satellite phone booth complete with a sign saying not to hitch your horse to the satellite equipment.

Soon it was time to leave. But instead of heading straight back to the boat, we dinghy'd over to the island in the bay where the town of Bahia Honda is located. This is where most of the people in the bay live. They actually have electricity on the island thanks to a diesel generator. We bought cold Cokes for all of us. Jonesy and I sat on a bench and people watched while Domingo chatted with friends.

It was a good visit for both us and Domingo. We got to see, and interact with people who live so differently than us, and Domingo got to visit some of his friends (the distance from his home to the village is too far to paddle in his dugout canoe).

Plus, we distributed about 15 pairs of reading glasses (from the $1 store) to older folks who could use them (including Domingo!).

When we returned to Domingo’s house, he invited us to come ashore. Unexpectedly, he gifted us with 2 large conch shells and his daughter gave us a giant watermelon! Their generosity was overwhelming.

This baby parrot, which was wandering around the yard, is the family’s pet. He/she certainly wasn't afraid of us at all.

And, this is a photo of Domingo’s darling granddaughter carrying her new purse filled with little toys that we gave her earlier in the morning for her 4th birthday present (recognize it Sandi?). We were invited to her party, but we felt that we needed to make some more progress towards our goal of Panama City & the canal so we had to leave before the big event. Happy Big 4 Birthday Stacey!

Domingo waved good-bye to us from the front of his house on the bay as we pulled away in our dinghy. He, and his family are certainly some of Panama's treasures.

Early the next morning, as we were getting ready to sail off – Kennedy came up to us with more fresh eggs from his chickens and green pineapples in exchange for the used Dockers work pants, a few fish hooks, a lure, and some beans and rice from my pantry the prior day. We are thankful for all of our new experiences we had in Bahia Honda. We learned to eat red bananas, and tasted a slightly different kind of papaya. We ate fresh eggs with the brightest orange yolks we’d ever seen and met a wonderful local family.

Our sailing trip that day was a short one, to an island called Isla Cebaco. Even though the rainy season had started while we were up in Costa Rica with the arrival of thunderstorms and tropical downfalls, we hadn’t seen any rain since we left there. The wind was perfect, and the seas relatively calm. We sailed along and enjoyed the cool breezes. Perfect! This is what we dreamed about years ago when we were still working. Yes, COOL breezes too! Costa Rica was HOT, but we’ve been seeing temperatures in the 70’s at night here in Panama with high 80’s during the day. But, the tropical sun is brutal so we seek out the shade.

Along the voyage, I knit another pair of simple mittens for the Akkol Orphanage. The yarn is some that I solar space-dyed many years ago in an old fish aquarium. I love the colors, but when I knit with it, the colors blend and just kinda look muddy don’t they? But then look at the thumb…it is brightly colored and looks much nicer! These are the bright colors that I saw and loved in the hank of yarn when it was in the dye aquarium.

Fiberly Lesson Learned: when dyeing short length colorways, don’t mix complementary colors as they turn to mud when knit. If you want stripes you need to increase the length of each color section. But, when you have a lemon – make gloves! My next knitting project will be gloves with only the fingers knit with this yarn. That way all you’ll have is the nicely striped colors.

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