Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dispatch 32 Panama

December 2 - January 22, 2008
Panama has been a blessing after our Costa Rica experience. Mostly, the weather has been so much more pleasant from the very beginning. We rounded Punta Burica into Panama and immediately, the humidity seemed to drop, the light breeze seemed more cooling, the land showed a little less of the fecund tropicality we had just left in Golfito. Initially, it rained less, but then we had a couple weeks of absolutely nightly rains. We treated these as opportunities and filled every water container each night so we could shower in rain water and rinse our snorkel gear. We learned to leave the bathing suits hanging out on the line. They were rinsed and, in the morning sun, dry by 9 AM, ready for the next snorkel.

And boy, have we snorkeled. Usually, if we find a good spot, we snorkel twice/day with lunch and a nap in between. Our favorite spot has been Isla Granito de Oro just off the coast of Isla Coiba National Park. This tiny island is surrounded by reef and the variety and volume of fish are amazing. Each day we’ve seen turtles, white tip reef sharks, eels and thousands of tropical fish. We have 2 Moorish Idols who guard the area around our mooring buoy for us (Moorish Idols are the most gorgeous fishes and if you watch Finding Nemo, it’s the black, yellow and white tough guy in the fish tank…)

What do we know about the country? Nothing yet. We’ve both read Passage Between the Seas by David McCullough which gives an encyclopedic review of the process by which the Panama Canal was built. It is a fascinating story and we can’t wait to transit the canal ourselves after reading the story. We plan to do that on someone else’s boat as line handlers. Qayaq will stay in the Pacific. We’ve met few Panamanians as we have been cruising quite independently in these uninhabited islands. Those we have seen have been friendly—a wave from a fishing boat. There are many darker skinned people here than we saw in Costa Rica—perhaps a vestige of the workers on the canal from the Carribean islands who settled here and had families.

As we approach Panama City, the Pacific entrance to the Canal, the tides have become larger. On Christmas Day, the tide will be 18 feet. That makes for some very familiar squirrely tide rips amongst these Eastern islands, Las Perlas. We worked our way here and intended to go to Panama City before Christmas, but, it is just too nice to go to the big city and we have stayed in the islands. We have now been 3 weeks without stopping at a store and so we stopped at a resort island here, Contadora. The supply boat comes once/week, Fridays only. The lady at the store told me that she doesn’t know what time they come, sometimes morning, sometimes afternoon. We walked to the store on arrival which was Thursday and decided to return early afternoon the next day hoping to stock up and leave to meet some friends on another island for Christmas. We saw the supply boat off-loading on the beach when we walked by on the way to the store. They hand carry every box and crate onto pick-up trucks that take their loads to the various stores. It is a cumbersome and time-consuming process and, when 3 hours later the store had barely started to re-stock its shelves, we gave up, returned to the boat and vowed to come back in the morning. We did have a much better time of it the next day-welcome to provisioning in Central America. We have connected with some friends from cruising in Mexico and met some new friends who have been cruising for years. Typically, any collection of cruisers results in a party if there’s an event to celebrate. So, Christmas will probably bring a party to the six boats anchored here at Isla Espiritu Santo. It should be fun.

We have written some stuff to reflect our experiences here in honor of Christmas. Christmas in the tropics is always an interesting thing, but the cruising fleet usually decorates their boats and takes it seriously. To that end, we were inspired by one day’s binocular scanning of the shore. While looking to locate the howlers monkeys we could hear roaring in the trees, Richard found an iguana, a very large one, perched in a tree, about 40 feet off the ground. There has been no recent tsunami of 40 feet and we did see one lizard in Manuel Antonio park jump onto a bush and climb to eat some leaves, but this defied the imagination. So thinking about all the things we see almost daily that we doubt our friends and family will encounter in this holiday season, we wrote our own version of:

The 12 Days of Central America Christmas
(sung to the tune of 12 Days of Christmas)

On the first day of Christmas, my true love showed to me:
An iguana in a palm tree
On the second day of Christmas my true love showed to me:
2 moorish idols and an iguana in a palm tree.
…and so on
3 vultures
4 rainy nights
5 moray eels
6 howler monkeys
7 jumping mantas
8 squawking parrots
9 crabs a crawling
10 sargeant majors
11 dolphins leaping
12 pelicans flying

We wish all of you the best in this holiday season, whatever you choose to celebrate. We hope you have good health, loved ones nearby and enjoy warm company. We know whatever company we have will be warm here in Panama.