Thursday, December 6, 2007

47 miles away and a different world

December 3, 2007  Monday
East Holandes Cays, San Blas Islands

The stars last night were absolutely incredible.  Love nights like that.

Banedup Island in East Holandes Cays is crawling with bugs.   Bill went ashore one day to burn our garbage; I wisely stayed on the boat.  The bugs were so bad that it was all he could do to stay there until the fire burned down.  Beautiful island to anchor near but not suitable for going ashore.  BLUEPRINT MATCH left yesterday morning and their anchor spot was immediately taken by a Nordhaven.  A small sailboat also joined the anchorage.  Heck, and we were thinking we might have it all to ourselves for a couple of days. 

The small sailboat has at least 6 young people aboard and they do not look at all like cruisers – their skin is way too pale.  We think they might be backpackers.   We have heard of the “backpacker boats” and even know one singlehander who sometimes transports backpackers from Colon to Cartagena to pick up extra cash.  There are no roads connecting Panama to Colombia.  This is called the Darien Gap and is very dense jungle and rugged mountains.  There are a lot of young kids backpacking around the US and Central America who want to get down into South America.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to gain passage on a private yacht from Colon to Cartagena.  It is also possible to hitch a ride on a Panamanian or Colombian trading boat through the San Blas Islands and down to Puerto Obaldia, and then gain passage on a private yacht over to Cartagena.  But that is a far more risky way of doing it because very few private yachts visit Puerto Obaldia and the backpacker might sit there for months waiting to find passage.  Anyway, the young people on the small boat anchored near us looked like they might be backpackers.

Later…….   In the afternoon the Policia National visited each boat in the anchorage.  As soon as the small sailboat saw the Policia boat they immediately began hoisting a yellow quarantine flag.  Up until that point they had been flying the Panamanian flag, so obviously they had not really properly cleared in since they were not hoisting the Q flag.  But they gave the Policia a bunch of beer and the clearance “problem” dissolved. 

Shortly after the Policia left the area another “backpacker boat” arrived and anchored right next to us.  What a piece of crap!  It was an old steel ketch about 50-ft long – rusted and looked like no maintenance had been performed in many years.  This boat was full of young people speaking many languages, none of which was English.  The boat flew an American flag but I am 100% positive that this was not a US registered or documented vessel.  A twenty-something woman seemed to be in charge.  She went ashore and filled their dinghy with coconuts.  In Kuna Yala it is illegal to take coconuts.  All coconuts are considered to be owned by the Kuna.  Anyway, she was unloading them onto the deck of the big boat when an elderly Kuna man arrived in an ulu to collect the $5 anchoring fee and probably discussed the “stolen” coconuts.  The young woman started yelling and apparently refused to pay for the anchoring fee or the coconuts.  They immediately pulled anchor and left.  Good riddance!  Glad they left our beautiful little piece of paradise because they were such an eyesore and looked like gypsies.  The Kuna man then came to our boat and collected our anchoring fee.  We gave him some cold water to drink; he looked like he could use a drink of water after paddling so far from the other island to collect the fees.  It did not occur to me until later, but I wish that I had given him $5 for the coconuts stolen from the island by the trashy backpacker boat.  I am certain that this man will report back to his congreso and ill feelings will result against cruisers, especially cruisers flying American flags.  I would gladly have given him money for those stolen coconuts in hopes that it would prevent bad feelings towards cruisers, but I did not think about it until after he had paddled out of sight.

A megayacht that we guess to be about 40-meters anchored in the distance a couple of islands west of us and 5 people came in a large tender to visit Banedup where we were anchored.  Three men took off to walk around the island, leaving a man and woman relaxing in chairs on the beach.  We assumed they were guests on the megayacht.  The bugs on that island are horrific.  Soon the man and woman were back in the tender and driving around the small anchorage.  As they came past our boat for the third time we asked if they would like to come aboard to wait for the 3 men to return.  They certainly were not going back to that buggy beach to wait for them.  So this couple climbed aboard and we enjoyed visiting with them in our cockpit.  Turns out Maris and Liz are the owners of that megayacht and the 3 men walking around the island are part of their crew.   What a change our little sailboat must have been for them from the big $20 million yacht that they own.  They were very nice people; not at all like other ultra-wealthy people whom we have met in other circumstances.   Liz mentioned that they have an American chef on their yacht and are very pleased with him.  Bill started to say that we have an American chef as well.  I am glad that he didn’t actually say that because it would have been in poor taste. They have lived on their boat for 6 years and have covered more than 100,000 miles, including down to Tiera del Fuego.  They are headed to Alaska for next summer.    After Maris and Liz finish cruising Alaska next year they might sell the yacht.  Maris recently bought an airplane and thinks he would enjoy traveling the world via airplane for awhile for a change.  Must be nice to have that much money to live in such luxury.

December 6, 2007 Thursday
Portobelo, Panama
09.33.528N; 079.40.031W      Sailed 68.4 NM

The customs official in Porvenir was scheduled to be out of the office 5 Dec through 10 Dec, and we were supposed to clear out of Porvenir before going to Colon.  We are scheduled to arrive in the marina on 10 Dec, so that meant we either had to clear out on 4 Dec or change our marina reservation to arrive later.  There are a number of things we need to do before our flight home on 19 Dec, so we did not want to cut our time short in the marina.  That meant we had to go to Porvenir to get our zarpe for Colon on 4 Dec.  Unfortunately, the wind did a rare shift to the west on 4 Dec.  This meant we had to motor the 12.7 miles to Porvenir with the wind directly on our nose.  Clearing out was quick and then we high-tailed it over to Chichime to wait for the winds to calm down. 

Dennis & Paula on S/V YEMANJA had attempted to go to Portobelo earlier that day and were forced to turn back because of the high westerly winds.  So they were back anchored in Chichime.  We anchored nearby and Paula invited us over for a shrimp pasta dinner and a game of Mexican Train dominoes.  During the night the winds finally calmed down significantly – still from the west but tolerable.  So by 0700 the next morning we were both sailing towards Portobelo.

We had only 2 hours of great sailing before the winds started getting flukey.  For the next 7 hours we would put out the sails for a few minutes and then furl them back in.  Then the wind would change again and we would again put out the sails, only to furl them back in within half an hour.  This repeated for 47 miles.  We arrived in Portobelo at 1600 yesterday. 

Portobelo is 47 miles and a world apart from the Kuna region of Panama.  First thing we noticed was a cell phone tower.  This morning I sat in the cockpit listened to the sounds of a chainsaw and a very small dirt mover where a home is being constructed nearby.  Even the way the canoes are paddled is different.  We enjoyed the neat little “straight back pause kick” that the Kuna use to paddle their ulus.  They paddle only on one side.  Normally, if one paddles only on one side then the canoe will not go straight.  In fact, it will go in a circle to the side on which you are paddling.  But the Kuna paddle on one side and turn the paddle perpendicular and hold it in that position at the stern of their ulus briefly with each paddle stroke.  This motion acts like a rudder.  They are masters at doing this and can paddle many miles without deviating from a straight line.   This morning I saw only one man paddling his canoe in this manner.  Everyone else here in Portobelo paddles by alternating strokes on each side.  The indigenous people to this region are the Cacique.  Their way of life is very different than the Kuna.  We have not yet gone ashore but Portobelo looks like a normal town – no more thatch huts and colorful clothing – just a normal little town with people in jeans and tee-shirts. 

We are anchored on the left side of the harbor next to the ruins of an old fort.  There are howler monkeys and parrots in the dense jungle covering the entire land next to us.  Portobelo was a very important port during the days of the Spanish occupation, and we can certainly see why.  This harbor is deep and long and perfect -- one can imagine it full of old Spanish ships waiting to transport gold. 

We are now only 23 miles from Shelter Bay Marina.  Plan is to arrive there Monday mid-day.  Hopefully they will have internet and I can get some photos uploaded.

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