Islas Secas, Panama

 

June 25, 2002. Islas Secas, Panama.

N 7 deg. 59′ 24″
W 82 deg. 1′ 48″

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Last Thursday, we arrived at Isla Gamez and spent one day in a very pretty anchorage off a beach with swaying coconut trees. There was also a mango tree full of fruit and we collected a few. One other tree was full of sweetly perfumed flowers. We learned later that it was the tree frangipane. Its flowers are often used in perfume.

We also collected a bit of dirt from the island and planted lettuce seeds in various spare containers on the boat. It would be nice to get some fresh lettuce onboard. But the lettuce seeds are 2 years old and were cooked in the summer heat of Mexico, so we are no sure they will germinate.

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Saturday, we left Isla Gamez and headed for the Secas islands were our friends on sv Espresso and sv Spray Venture were anchored. We could have spent a lot longer in the Isla Parida/Gamez area but the Secas islands were supposed to be just as nice and we were looking forward to see our friends. Besides, we had hot dogs (a gift from another boat) in our refrigerator (no room in the freezer) to share with everyone before they turned bad.

It was an easy 4-hour motoring trip to the Secas, which did turn out to be as pretty as advertised. The islands are very green, with several beaches, and many protected little coves. The trees growing wild include coconut, mango and lime trees. The water is very clear, with a visibility of about 50 feet, and rich with fish around the rocky edges of the many tiny islands. We went snorkeling for the first time this year and I (Birgitta) enjoyed admiring the colorful tropical fishes, while Clark tried his hand with the spear gun. Espresso and Spray Venture catch fish for diner almost every day. Since they do not have a freezer, it is the only source of fresh meat they have.

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Birgitta showing off her diving suit

The day we arrived, all three boats (the crew of, of course) had diner on the beach, cooked on a beach fire. There was plenty of drift wood to burn and a nearly full moon to provide romantic light. We had fun exchanging stories and planned the next day party for Paul (of Espresso) who was turning 42

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Since Espresso and Spray Venture were somewhat tired of fish, the birthday menu was hot dogs on Bimbo bread (the equivalent of Wonder bread) with homemade baked beans and a cabbage salad. Believe it or not, it was considered a real treat by everyone (except Birgitta who still enjoyed it). Allison had made a nice chocolate cake but it was too windy to keep the candles lit. After this early afternoon meal in the cockpit of Temptress, it started raining and we moved below to play Roborally, a fun board game with many twist and turns (literally). We shoot each other with laser, pushed each other into bottomless pits, got lost many times trying to get to the flag and had a really good time.

It has been raining off and on the last two days and we have been using the water to wash a couple more pillows and all our bedding again. Washing, cleaning, aerating are very important in this humid climate to stay ahead of mold and mildew which grow amazingly quickly on everything: clothing, greasy teak, baskets, leather, pillows, etc. It is nice to have lots of fresh water, and I enjoy the lush tropical forest, but I preferred the dry climate of Mexico. The water is also taking its toll on the boat with teak boards popping out of the deck and swelling around deck fittings causing the bedding compound to be squeezed out in curls.

We plan to stay here for quite a while, likely until Espresso and Spray Venture run out of food (mostly fresh vegetables, since the fish is plentiful). These are idyllic cruising grounds.

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Isla Gamez, Panama

June 20, 2002. Isla Gamez, Panama

N 8 07
W82 19

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Sunrise approaching Isla Parida

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Hello everyone!

We left Costa Rica last night and landed this morning at Isla Gamez in Panama. It is a lovely tiny tropical island nestled close to Isla parida which provide protection from the swells. We will explore it tomorrow. This afternoon we mostly slept to recover from the night crossing.

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Three hours into the trip from Golfito to Isla Gamez, Clark heard a slight change in the motor’s tune and found out that we were out of oil! This is a very dangerous situation as the motor will seize without oil. And replacing a marine diesel engine is extremely expensive, not to mention difficult. We have an alarm that is supposed to tell us when the oil pressure drops but it had just failed and we had not gotten around to fix it (that will teach us!). Clark had fixed another oil leak in Puntarenas and I guess we were not expecting another so soon. So in the rolly seas, around midnight, Clark opened the engine compartment, found the leak and basically created a temporary plug for it by crimping and soldering the leaky copper tube. The tube in question was not necessary for engine operation but supported instrumentation and alternator control. So after fixing the leak, Clark realized that the alternator was not producing power anymore and since the engine requires electricity to run, we were running down our batteries. He fixed that too while I took on my watch on deck. We have spare copper tubing and fittings on board so Clark plans to replace the tubing and restore the original system when we get to a calm anchorage.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, the boat rolled a lot less once we passed Punta Burica (the border between Costa Rica and Panama) and were able to head east on a course much more comfortable.

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We spent a week in Golfito, ordering and installing a new starter battery and a new windlass battery, getting fuel, propane, provisions, visiting the duty free area where good cheap rum was for sale, getting our plane tickets for our trip to the US, doing laundry, reinforcing the dinghy again, and trying to update the website. We did produce the pages for the months of May and June (partial) but were not able to load them at the internet cafe. We are not sure whether Yahoo.com was down for 3 days in a row, or if the internet cafe setup did not allow ftp file transfer. So you will have to wait to see the cool crested lizard picture we got!

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Golfito is a nice little town with everything within walking distance. But it does rain a lot in the Golfo Dulce. Clark installed a rain collection system to funnel the water captured by the sun awning into jugs and buckets. One evening when it was really pouring down, we took our carpets out and washed them on foredeck under the rain, using buckets of collected water for extra rinsing. They are back to their nice beige color. We also took showers in the rain, washing ourselves with plenty of fresh water. It was a little cool but it was nice to use as much water as we wanted.

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We also discovered a new tropical fruit we both like: a mamona. It is a small walnut size fruit with a thin green skin out off which pops the sweet treat. It has a large round pit with a layer of lemony but sweet white flesh reminiscent of a fresh lychee. You can suck on the fleshy pit for a long time, like on a candy, or you can scrape the flesh with your teeth. I have been a bit weary of trying the tropical fruits I usually do not care for them much, but this one was offered by a friendly and determined street vendor on a bus, who showed us how to eat them. Now, we know why there are little round pit rolling around the floor of the bus!

So now we are in Panama, planning to cruise the islands of the Pacific coast for about a month. Since there is only fruit (mangoes, coconut, and papayas on the trees) available until we get to Balboa/Panama City, I provisioned heavily in Golfito and the fridge is really full. Another couple, who had planned to cruise Panama but had to change their plan due to a failed windlass, gave us the provisions they had already bought, just before they flew back to the US. So not all the meat could fit in the freezer and we plan to catch up with our friends on Espresso quickly to share the goodies and have a barbecue party.

We hope all is well with you.

June 11, 2002. Golfito, Costa Rica.

N 8 deg. 36′ 25″
W 83 deg. 12′ 35″

We arrived in Golfito today after 11 hours of motoring from Drake Bay. Yesterday was a busy day. We found out that our two AGM batteries are dead. One of them is our starter battery and we discovered the problem when the engine refused to start.

 

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We can also start the engine with our house batteries so we were not stranded, but we will have to replace them as soon as we can. Our house batteries do not seem in the greatest of health either but hopefully they have another year in them. Because it rains so much here, we have had to discharge the batteries more deeply than in Mexico, where the solar panels recharged them daily without trouble. Now we recharge them during brief sunny and windy periods and when we are motoring, and have to depend on stored power for 2 or 3 days at a time.

Yesterday we also finished the fourth and last load of upholstery covers for the salon couches. They look much brighter! The rainy weather makes the forests here very lush but it also makes mold and mildew thrive. Next laundry load will include our pillows which have acquired a sickeningly sweet yeasty smell which we attribute to some tropical mold. Bugs thrive too. Would you believe that bugs would prosper in crushed red pepper flakes? I noticed that the flakes had caked together and upon closer inspection they were crawling with tiny bugs, different from weevils. The eggs must have been there all along as the container is well sealed. I bought it in the US five years ago. Bugs like cumin seeds too.

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After laundry, we went up the mangrove river in Drake’s bay and spotted several bright green lizards (nearly neon green) which we had not seen before, as well as a beautiful specimen of the basilisk. I never thought I would grow fond of lizards, but seeing so many different kinds scampering around, each with their own character and coloring, is quite fun. The basilisk (triple-crested lizard) is even capable of climbing right up a coconut tree and running on the surface of the water. The lizards are not overly afraid of humans so you can get relatively close.

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We also went hiking along the trail to the Corcovado park, which was following the coast just inside the lush jungle forest. We saw many wild hibiscus and wild begonias as well as pretty much any house plant you have seen in the north, but in larger size. The park was too far to reach in one afternoon but the vegetation along the the trail was similar to the one in the park. Unfortunately, we failed to see the scarlet macaws (red parrots) we were hoping to see on the way. We finished the day with delicious overpriced drinks at one of the resort in Drake’s bay. The bar was overlooking the bay and the lush grounds full of tropical flowers. It seems like a great place for a luxurious get-away vacation far from any city, with nothing to do but kayaking, hiking, diving, observing wildlife and admiring the wild vegetation.

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I have talked about rain a fair amount, but to give you an idea of the volume of water we get, here is a comparison: it rains as much here in a month during the rainy season as it does an entire year in Seattle! (that is 200 inches (500 cm) of rain during the 6 months of rainy season.) That makes the trees grow really tall and green, the lizards quite happy and the molds ambitious. The rains have one positive side-effect (besides water for laundry), it is now cooler. The average temperature during the day is in the mid-eighties instead of mid-nineties (30 C instead of 35 C).

I think I forgot to mention that the large cockroaches that live here are predators for scorpions. They have a neat trick, they land on the scorpion’s back and the scorpion, as defense, tries to hit the cockroach with its poisonous tail, but ends up hitting itself as the dart goes through the cockroach’s wings, into the scorpion’s own body.

Tomorrow, we will go shopping for batteries and food in Golfito which is a small town in the Golfo Dulce.

We hope all is well with you.

Cheers, Birgitta and Clark.

PS: The computer is still working fine (we are babying it) but we have had trouble connecting to winlink by radio which is why you are getting several logs together.

Bahia Drake

June 9, 2002. Bahia Drake, Costa Rica.

We have been in Bahia Drake since Wednesday night and the weather has alternated between heavy rain and sunny breaks. We took advantage of the rain by collecting several tubs of water and of the sun by laundering and drying the salon upholstery which really needed it. The washed fabric is markedly brighter with the silver shine of clean velvet. Since rain and sun often alternate several times a day, we have to keep moving the drying covers back and forth from the clothe line to the protection of the awing. It is rather tedious.

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Today, I was convinced the day would stay sunny and we left the boat with covers and cushions on foredeck to take a walk in the jungle. Of course, it did start raining and the cushions may now take days to dry!

Two days ago, we took the dinghy up a river into the jungle and really enjoyed the lush vegetation. We saw many lizards, including the basilik, a triple crested lizard with a prehistoric look, which we had been hoping to see. It runs over water, climbs palm trees and enjoys sunning itself on rocks along the river bed. Today, we walked through one of the resorts on shore and I particularly appreciated the heavy honey-suckle perfume blooming here and there on the grounds. I did not identify the source of the sweet scent. But, as I mentioned before, the rain cut short our walk and we hurried back to the boat to save our cushions.

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We got creative with a leak in the cabin house. I fixed up a collection cup and a hose to take the leak water to the sink. Just hours latter I went out in the warm rain and really looked for the leak source from the outside. I have been chasing this leak for 13 years. I have fixed at least 3 different places where water is getting in and running through the deck to this point. I found a 4th and put a little piece of duck tape over it. It fixed the leak!!! I will take the house front apart sometime and fix it right but for now it is quite dry and the tape is inside the propane locker so it isn’t visible.

Today was an eventful day on the radio net, as we heard that one boat went on the rocks (but was re-floated successfully), another was hit directly by lightning and lost all its electronic gear, and a third at anchor in Panama was hit last night by a dive boat operated by a drunk local and had a long gash on the hull. Cruising is not without risks.

Yesterday, it rained non-stop all day and Clark decided to make fresh bread, which is always a treat. We had noticed that the bread tended to be bland and did not get any oven-spring during baking and attributed the problems to the high ambient temperature which 1) made the bread rise too quickly, reducing the production of tasty yeast by-products, and 2) probably also evaporated the alcohol also produced by yeast and responsible for oven-spring. So Clark decided to develop a recipe for hot weather bread which involved adding balsamic vinegar for taste and vodka for oven-spring. The resulting bread was quite tasty (even with all-white mexican flour which is particularly bland), but still did not get any oven-spring. Clark has new ideas for next time. But no wonder it is impossible to find good bread in Central America, it is difficult to make!

Since the oven was hot, I decided to make oatmeal raisin cookies. I opened a new sealed plastic bag of rolled oats to find them mildewing and full of bugs. Yuk! Clark threw it overboard and I went to the pantry to get another bag, recently purchased in El Salvador. Well, the oats were not mildewed but the weevils were crawling merrily around. That went overboard as well. I ended up making the cookies with a hot breakfast cereal mix from Mexico containing oats and wheat. The cookies were good after all. Maybe I should just accept a few bugs in my food? Weevils are not toxic. The locals must do it since a new bag of oats has bugs (at least in El Salvador where we also bought dried red beans covered with bug eggs).

Hart Crowser did not have extra work for me (Birgitta) this summer, so unfortunately I will not get a working break this year. I will miss it. But we have decided we still need a vacation from the boat and will be visiting our parents in August and September. We will then cross the Panama Canal in October and head north back to Florida over the winter and spring.

Bahia Drake

June 5, 2002. Bahia Drake, Costa Rica.

N 8 deg. 42′
W 83 deg. 40′ 30″

Last Saturday, we took 2 guided tours through the primary growth forest preserve attached to the Punta Leone resort.

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The resort itself is very large with 2 pools, mini-golf, tennis courts, several restaurants, souvenir stores, etc., located on beautiful park-like grounds. The staff is very friendly and welcomes cruisers to join its nature tours, as long as we spend some money at the bar or restaurant.

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The first tour was at 6:15 AM (except that the guide was late) and we took a leisurely walk through the grounds and then through the primary growth forest. We did not see many animals but we learned to recognize a teak tree and a fire ants tree. The fire ants live in pockets within the trunk of the tree and defend the tree from various attacks. Knock on the bark and the ants come out! To protect the tree against caterpillars, they cut a hole in the attacked leaf … around the caterpillar, dropping it to the ground. But they will not attack the sloth, who also eats the leaves, because the sloth supposedly know which leaves it can eat without damaging the tree. The guide also showed us the tree which provided the sharp spines used by the indians to sew and to make poisoned darts. Another ant you see in the forest a lot down here are the leaf cutter ants. They march in line to a tree and cut bits of leaf and carry them back to their next where they tend farms of fungus on them for their food.

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After the walk, we had a nice brunch buffet at one of the restaurant then played mini-golf for a while. We then decided to take a short walk to see the bamboo tunnel near the resort entrance. It turned out that the resort map was not to scale and the entrance much farther than we thought, but we did see the tunnel, a section of the road with bamboos on both sides gracefully leaning over the road to form a roof. After a total of 4 hours of walking at that point, we went back to the boat for a nap.

In the evening, we went back to the resort for the night tour of the forest. Other cruisers had said it was very interesting but unfortunately for us, the group was large and included children and women wearing flip-flops (to walk on slippery wet ground with snakes and scorpions!) who slowed down the walk. Clark had brought his night vision scope and spotted several nearly translucent tree frogs for us. The guide grabbed one and let us feel the tiny suctions cups on the frog’s “fingers” which enable the frog to hold onto slippery surface.

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Not a tree frog! But this one blends very well with the leaves on the ground.

I did not see the neon green frog with red eyes often featured in nature shows but I was happy nevertheless to have seen a real tree frog. We also glimpsed a kinkajou high in a tree and the guide found a scorpion which he disabled by putting a paper clip on the tail while he showed it to us. Other animals included large tarantulas, the biggest cockroach I have ever seen and numerous millipedes.

We were very tired when we came back to the resort and had the unpleasant surprise to find that the wind had increased quite a bit and the anchorage had become quite wavy. The dinghy trip back to the boat was slow and we had difficulty falling asleep with the waves slapping and rocking the boat vigorously. The wind quieted down around midnight. We slept late the next day and went in for lunch and a walk along the beach. It was a treat to eat out a couple of times! By that time we both had a cold and after all the walking of the previous day, we were feeling sore and slow. We had not walked much in the last two weeks and felt it. The second night at Punta Leone, the wind picked up again late in the night, troubling our sleep, so we decided to leave the next morning and head for the Manuel Antonio anchorage down the coast.

The Manuel Antonio anchorage was worse in terms of rolliness but we had heard so many glowing reviews of the park on shore that we stayed two nights so we could visit it. There was no better anchorage nearby. We did enjoy visiting the park very much. It is relatively small and quite crowded with tourists compared to other forests we have visited, but to our surprise, it seemed to improve our chances of seeing animals because they are used to visitors. Also, whenever an animal was spotted, there would be a small crowd watching it and pointing it to next person coming by. No need for a guide!

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Our hope was to see a sloth and we got to see four! They move slowly along the branches but scratch themselves relatively vigorously. They have long shaggy fur, and resemble a bit a pale teddy bear. We watched with pleasure white-faced capuchin monkeys crossing the trail above our head,

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swinging from one branch to the next easily and passing by us without concern. Many large iguanas were enjoying the sun on the beach.

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On the side of the trail, we caught sight of a crested lizard which was on our “to see wish list”. It moves quite differently from the dragon lizards or the iguanas and has a sharp crest on its head and back which it can flatten against its body. One of the many dragon lizards we saw scurrying around was trying to eat a frog that was nearly a third of his size. We also saw a type of rodent (maybe an agouti?) which was munching very loudly on a tough nut and small bats sleeping on a tree trunk.

The second night at the park anchorage was worse as the waves grew larger. Clark had taken enough anti-histamines for his cold to sleep most of the night but I felt like I was awake most of it. Early in the morning, we took of for Bahia Drake, 50 miles away. It is quieter anchorage but not entirely protected from waves either.

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We may stay here a couple of days to let Clark recover from his cold, which is pretty bad.