Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving, Sailas, Caciques, Neles & Nuchus

November 24, 2007  Saturday
Kanlildup (a/k/a Green Island) San Blas Islands, Kuna Yala
09.28.762N; 078.38.158W      Traveled 11.9 NM from Devil Cays

After the no-see-um attack in Snug Harbor last Saturday morning we motored 16.3 miles to Niadup (Ticantiqui) at Devil Cays.  BLUEPRINT MATCH followed closely behind us.  Paul said that hand steering is tiring and difficult to stay perfectly on course like the auto pilot.  There was a large swell across the beam and we were glad that this was only a 16 mile trip and not 50 miles.  We anchored south of Niadup for Saturday and Sunday nights and motored to Green Island on Monday morning.  It was time to get away from the villages on the islands close to the mainland.

Bill and I did not even go ashore at Niadup.  The village looked uninteresting and there was a lot of smoke; we assumed from cooking fires.  We did not need to buy anything and I did not want to expose myself to more insects, so we just stayed on BEBE.  We did go over to BLUEPRINT MATCH for drinks one evening.  Right at sundown Michelle spotted a crocodile headed from the mainland towards the village.  Paul, Bill & I all thought it was just a log; but Michelle was right – it really was a saltwater crocodile.  Later, as we were preparing to head home I stepped into the dinghy and was waiting for Bill when Paul said “what is that there by your leg in the dinghy?”  I looked down and saw in the darkness what I thought was a medium sized iguana.  You wouldn’t believe how fast I was able to get out of that dinghy and back onto BLUEPRINT MATCH.  Bill couldn’t see what had caused me to abandon the dinghy so quickly, so Paul was trying to show this “iguana” to Bill.  A couple of minutes later Paul started laughing.  The “iguana” was a 2-foot rubber alligator that Paul had placed in our dinghy.   We all had a good laugh out of Paul’s practical joke.

Green Island is uninhabited and several miles off the mainland.  There is reef in various places around the island.  The channel into the anchorage was 113 feet deep with reef on either side, but no breaking surf on the reef.  Visibility was not the best on the day we arrived.  We again put our faith into the waypoints provided in the sailing guide by Eric Bauhaus and arrived safely in the calm anchorage area.  It was raining the day we arrived and has been raining off and on ever since, with the sun breaking through only for a few minutes at a time.   We are very glad to be out here instead of next to the mainland where there seems to be more lightning. 

Paula and Dennis on YEMANJA arrived here at Green Island on Thanksgiving.  We all gathered on BLUEPRINT MATCH for Thanksgiving dinner.  I provided the appetizer of local smoked fish from Iles des Saintes and smoked salmon accompanied by cream cheese/sour cream base spread and capers and chopped red onion on crackers.  It surprised me how much little Seanna and Merric loved smoked salmon.  That is very unusual for 3 and 4-year-old children.  We each brought our own lobsters and Michelle prepared some wonderful seared pork medallions with a fruity rum sauce.  She also prepared salad and baked cauliflower.  Paula cooked some pasta with tomatoes and artichokes.  I provided stovetop stuffing, which was Paul’s favorite.  For dessert, Paula prepared a baked passion fruit pudding; and I made a French vanilla cake with chocolate frosting and a raspberry and lemon curd pie.   (Wasn’t sure that pie was going to be edible because I made up the recipe, but it was darn good.)  It was great to be able to enjoy a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner with such good friends.  We missed seeing our family and having the traditional holiday treats; but it was a great Thanksgiving, even if paradise was a bit rainy.

We had planned to move all 3 boats out to the Coco Bandero Cays today; but the weather is dreary and we heard on the VHF radio that it is rocky and rolly out there today, so all 3 boats decided to stay put here at Green Island for at least one more day.  Weather is predicted to improve tomorrow.  If it does then we will move 20 miles or so to Isla Porvenir and officially clear into the San Blas Islands.  Figure we better do that soon since we are getting into the area where officials sometimes go around and check to verify that boats are properly cleared in.   If we wait much longer to clear in then we might end up paying a fine and be scolded.

Cruisers might want to stop reading here.  The remainder of the log is info taken from the sailing guides for Panama and you probably have already read it.  This is provided for the landlubbers following our travels who don’t own the sailing guides.


The Kuna people do not like the name of San Blas Islands.  That name was given to this area by the Spanish invaders.  They prefer that these islands and the associated mainland territory be called Kuna Yala.  The land is not divided into individual properties and fences are absent.  Kuna treat their forests and lands as cruisers treat an anchorage; tribe members can pass through and benefit, but do not claim possession by industrial development.  The Kuna like visitors but prohibit any non-Kuna from permanently settling or intermarrying.  Foreigners cannot buy land or invest in Kuna Yala.  The Kuna have always considered themselves more closely aligned with Colombia than Panama.  They are normally a very peaceful people but when Panamanian rule was attempted to be forced upon them in the early 1900s, they rebelled February 21, 1925.  The Kuna killed every man, woman and child who was in the Kuna Yala lands and was not full-blooded Kuna.   The Kuna felt that this was the only way to ensure that their heritage would continue in the true traditional manner.   After the rebellion the Cacique declared total independence under the name of Kuna Yala.  When news reached Panama City the government immediately mounted a military campaign.  Only a quick intervention by the United States Navy, namely the USS Cleveland, prevented bloody retaliation.  Panama soon realized that it would just be simpler to allow the Kuna to govern themselves and that has worked well ever since.   First there was partial autonomy; then recognition as an official reserve in 1938; the Kuna constitution in 1945; and the grant of full administrative and juridical powers in 1953.  The rebellion was called “Holocausto de las Razas.”  The flag of the rebellion was a large swastika, which is still seen today in the villages and on the tombs of their most revered leaders.  This swastika flag has no political connection with the later Nazi symbol in Europe.  The Kuna population is now around 55,000 or about ten percent of what they were before the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors.  (And if the number of children that we have seen is any indication, the Kuna population surely is increasing.)

Each village has 3 sailas (chiefs).  They hold the highest level of authority at village level.  Three Caciques (high chiefs) rule the nation as a whole, each representing his part of the land.  One of these Caciques is elected supreme leader of the Kuna Nation.
The sailas are much more than political leaders.  They are also holders of the Kuna spiritualism, medicinal knowledge and history.  Every village has two oversized huts, the congreso and the chicha.  The congreso is like a town hall.  It is a gathering place for villagers most evenings.  A typical congreso finds the sailas swinging in hammocks in the center of the building.  The sailas are accompanied by Argars (interpreters). The Argar puts the sailas’ wisdom into prospective and applies it to the current situation.  Villagers can voice any complaints or comments to the congreso and the Argar interprets the sailas’ opinions about the topic.  The rest of the tribe are seated on hard wooden seats or benches surrounding the sailas’ hammocks.  The sailas sing long sacred songs about their ancestors and past exploits, including battles with the Spanish invaders.  These songs are part of the tribe’s oral history, passed down from generation to generation.  Sometimes the congreso meetings can become long and boring.  As a consequence, certain people are given the task of letting out ear-piercing shrieks at irregular intervals in order to keep everyone awake.

In addition to the 3 sailas, there are also many junior sailas.  These are sort of like executives and are responsible for tasks such as keeping the aqueducts working or building new huts.  There are also sualipetmar, which is a kind of police who carry sticks.  The sticks are status symbols and are never used to strike anyone.  In the most traditional villages the sualipetmar carry certain branches from a special plant that burn and sting upon contact.  These are used to control unruly children. 

The Kuna have an elaborate system of penalties and fines.  These are strictly enforced by the congreso.  A favorite penalty is to collect coral rubble and deposit it in a barrel to be used as land fill.  This explains all the ulus we saw in Ustupu going up the river and returning full of small stones.  The penalty serves for the good of the community.  There is a story of one case when a Kuna man was sentenced to fill ten barrels because he had hit his wife.  He appealed to the congreso, saying that his wife had provoked him.  So the saila decided that the wife must also fill ten barrels as her penalty for provoking her husband’s aggression.

The other big hut in each village is the chicha hut.  Chicha is an intoxicating drink brewed from sugarcane and other special ingredients and is used for spiritual events.  The chicha ritual is held once or twice a year, and required at least a month of preparation.  It is considered sacred.  I won’t describe the chicha making process here because it takes too long; you might be able to find it on the internet.  The ritual can last several days and the men and women are segregated for it.  They do not drink this intoxicating beverage in mixed company.

Since 1925 no Kuna is allowed to intermarry with a non Kuna.  Violation of this prohibition results in expulsion from Kuna Yala.  This has led to a kind of genetic insulation and there are many albinos.  Based on the number of people that we have seen, Bill and I estimate that about one percent of the Kuna population is albino at this time.  BTW, weddings take place only in February each year.  You are not allowed to marry whenever you want to.  Also, public demonstration of affection is forbidden.  Paul & Dennis on YEMANJA met one Kuna man who told of being fined $60 by the congreso when he was caught kissing a girl.  That was a huge sum for a 14-year-old boy, but he worked and saved and paid the fine in 2 years.  Then he was caught kissing her again.  This time the congreso fined him $120.  He again worked 2 years and paid that fine.  Then he was caught kissing the same girl for the third time!  This time the congreso fined him $180!  He managed to finally pay that fine.  And then he married that girl.  They now have 3 children.

The mainstay of the Kuna economy are coconuts, which grow like you would not believe.  These coconuts are traded to Colombian trading boats.  The Colombian traders bring crackers, poor quality canned goods, potatoes, onions, oil, fuel, glass beads, machetes and assorted trading goods.  Each coconut might be worth only 10 cents when the Kuna are trading them to the Colombian boats, but if a cruiser wants to buy a coconut from a Kuna the current price in November 2007 is 50 cents apiece.

Nuchus are small sacred statuettes.  They are usually about 15-inches tall and act as a link between the spiritual and the physical world of the Kuna.  Every Kuna owns one.  The statues are believed to be alive.  There are many different types, some having a stronger spirit while others are weaker.  Some are good and others are bad.  They mystically represent the owner but also have a character of their own.  Nuchus are normally made of a hardwood like purpleheart; but the ones made for sale to tourists are crudely cut from light balsa wood and have no spirit.  If a nuchu is given to you, then it is considered to possess a spirit.  If money is paid for a nuchu, then it has no spirit.

If a child is sick, the father might bring the child’s nuchu to the Nele (medicine man or shaman).  The Nele would then diagnose the cause of the child’s illness, which is usually a bad spirit (surprise,surprise).  The Nele is a powerful and important personality.  Nele often use selected natural drugs to give themselves special powers.  (Hey, this is beginning to sound an awful lot like Clan of the Cave Bear!  Guess some things never change.)  There are 3 main branches of Kuna Nele, each divided into different specialties.  Ones who chant at funerals are especially impressive.  They sing a continuous song for over 24 hours, in a secret language known only to himself and the deceased.  This is intended to help the deceased find his way and not get intercepted by evil spirits that might be roaming around in the different layers of the Kuna underworld.

I wrote earlier about the transvestites in Kuna society.  These are usually the eldest sons of families who have no daughters.  The first-born son often is raised as a girl and taught the economically important skill of making molas.   Supposedly there is also no stigma associated with homosexuality in Kuna society (according to one guide book), although we have certainly seen absolutely nothing to indicate this one way or the other.  As any public display of affection is forbidden, I wonder where the author obtained his source of information for this subject.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ustupu -- visited home of the village chief

November 10, 2007  Friday
Ustupu, San Blas Islands, Panama
09.07.748N; 077.55.710W                 
Didn’t measure distance traveled from Tupbak to Ustupu, but it seemed less than 10 miles.

Yesterday we came to Ustupu from Tupbak, and BLUEPRINT MATCH also left Isla Iguana and moved to Bahia de Masargandi which is nearby.  I did not want to visit that bay because the anchorage is behind the Punta del Nalimunkuet, a/ka Point of the Mosquitoes and that sounded most unattractive to me.  Paul said on the radio this evening that they enjoyed their day there but would be ready to move to Ustupu today.  So we decided to wait until Paul & Michelle arrived before going ashore to visit the village.   It was another rainy morning and it began to clear around noon; BLUEPRINT MATCH arrived in Ustupu in early afternoon and we all went in to check out the village.

Think we finally have it straight on who is who.  Luis is apparently the chief’s secretary.  We met the real chief (sahila) today but could not understand his name; he was like Mr. Cool, wearing dark wrap-around sunglasses and black slacks with ironed button-down shirt.  (How did that shirt get ironed on an island with no electricity?)  He reminded Michelle of Sammy Davis, Jr.—very, very small in stature and very thin and oh so cool with the dark shades.  The sahila does speak some English but not as well as Luis.  All of us had to visit the Panamanian police post and sign in a small book; they did not even ask to see our passports to confirm identification.  Paul & Michelle had to buy their $8 permit to anchor and visit the waters and village.  We think Luis saw an opportunity to get a few more bucks into the village kitty because he suddenly decided we also needed to buy a “permit” to allow us to take photos.  None of the guide books mention any type permit for photography, so we really think Luis made this up just to collect another fee.  But Michelle was quick on her feet.  She paid the $5 photo permit fee and said that we should only need one permit because all 4 of us were together.  No one argued with her logic and we all exited the office and proceeded to take whatever photos we wanted in the village.  Luis did tell us that we must still ask permission of each person before taking his/her photo.  Some Kuna do not want their photos taken, especially the women.  One of our guide books says that no photography of any kind is allowed in Ustupu unless people invite it, and that drawing and painting by visitors also is not allowed.  We did ask women before taking their photos and no one objected; we also took photos of the village itself and no one objected; so obviously this ban on photography is not very strictly enforced.

Luis also escorted us to the gallery of a local artist.  Some of his work was quite striking and perfectly captured the Kuna traditional way of life.  We can’t hang paintings on the boat because we don’t want to put any holes in the woodwork, but Paul & Michelle plan to buy a painting for their boat.  We did buy 3 very small simple items for Christmas gifts since we are going home for the holidays this year.

Little Seanna fell asleep so Michelle sat on a bench to hold her while Merric played with some local children, and Paul went for a walk through the village with Bill and me.  We were all struck with how happy and contented everyone seems to be in this village.  They have none of the modern-day conveniences that we think are so essential for a comfortable life, but they are very happy with their simple way of living.  

This morning Paul & Michelle found the Sugandi Tiwar River that Bill & I could not find the other afternoon.  They told us where to find the opening through the mangroves and this afternoon Bill and I took our dinghy up the river.   This is one of the rivers in which you are allowed to use an outboard engine, but many of the rivers in the Kuna comarca are either off-limits to tourists altogether or outboards are not allowed.  If anyone has ever tried to paddle an inflatable dinghy, then you will understand why we would not try to paddle up a river, even a slow one. 

The river trip was interesting.  There are farm lands on each side of the river.  Mostly fruit such as coconuts, bananas, limes and oranges are grown closest to the river.  Farther away from the river are farm lands where the Kuna grow 5 kinds of corn, squash, yucca, etc.  Supposedly it is a 2 hour trip for the Kuna to reach their main farm lands from Ustupu.  Harvesting of the fruit crops grown along the river is alternated from side to side.  The Kuna will pick fruits from one side of the river until the plants are depleted; then they harvest from the other side of the river, allowing the first side to blossom and replenish.

Also all along both sides of the river are the cemeteries.  The Kuna bury their dead (either underground or, more commonly, in a concrete tomb on a concrete slab) and then a “hut” is built over the tomb.  The hut consists of 4 corner poles, no sides, with a peaked roof.  The roofs are usually made of thatch but a few burial sites had corrugated tin roofs.  Often items are placed on top of the graves.  These items might be something that the deceased cared for when they were alive.  Some of the items seen were bowls and small tables.  Also, sometimes relatives of the deceased will go to a loved one’s gravesite and cook a meal to eat and just hang out with the deceased for the day.  This reminded me very much of my childhood because each Easter Sunday after church we would drive to Buna, Texas, to have a picnic at the old Antioch Cemetery where my mother’s relatives have been buried since the early 1800s.  Having a picnic in a heavily-forested country cemetery where your ancestors are buried was a thing of my childhood.  Bill has always thought this sounded crazy.  Kind of nice to learn that it is also a tradition with these very traditional indigenous people.

This afternoon we went for a walk through the village and ran into Paul & Michelle and their 2 kids.  Their little boy Merric is 4 years old and little girl Seanna is 3 years old.  Seanna and Merric caused a stir among the locals wherever they went.  Several of the Kuna women came outside and grabbed little Seanna and brought her back inside their homes to show their relatives.  They called her a “child of the moon.”  A child of the moon is an albino in the Kuna culture.  Albinos are considered special and sacred.  This concept was also common in several North American indigenous cultures.  Merric is also blonde but they weren’t going after him so much; he was busy playing with the little Kuna boys.  Seanna tolerated all this attention by strangers really well for a 3 year old.

We were all invited to the home of Thomas – did not get his last name.  Thomas was born in 1925 and is the youngest looking 82 year old man we have ever seen.  He has visited almost every Native American tribe in the United States, including Hawaii.  He had been requested to serve as a delegate for each of these indigenous peoples.  He has also visited Germany.  He is likely the most well-traveled Kuna man ever.  Thomas’ wife was dressed in the traditional Kuna attire, as were his daughters and daughters-in-law and other adult women relatives.  The younger girls were dressed in normal western culture attire, but all the adult women wore traditional Kuna molas, skirts, jewelry and headscarves, with the beaded leg and arm coverings.  It was really cool to sit and visit with these people and we took several photographs.  Thomas had 9 children and has 13 grandchildren.  Looked like he probably also had a couple dozen great-grandchildren. 

After talking with Thomas, we are very happy that we were able to visit the Kuna now.  Bill and I fear that the traditional way of life won’t survive too much longer.  The children are required to attend school through 9th grade and those who can afford it then go to Panama to complete high school and college.  This education exposes the children to other cultures and will certainly make some of them want different experiences than the traditional life they are accustomed to now.  Thomas said that many of the young men (teenagers) don’t want to work on the farms and do the necessary communal work for the good of the entire village.  He said they must do this work even though they don’t want to.  Given this attitude and a little more time, the Kuna traditional way of life will change.  What a shame.  The Kuna are the last indigenous people in the Americas who still live their traditional lifestyle.  I would hate to see them lose this wonderful way of life.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Close lightning strike; slight damage to us but lots of damage to our friends

November 18, 2007 Sunday
Ticantiqui (a/k/a Niadup), Devil Cays, San Blas Islands, Panama
09.25.222N; 078.28.974W

I don’t know where our logs last stopped because our computer died (story below).  So I will recap from where I think we last reported in. 

We left Ustupu on 11 November and motored about 20 miles to San Ignacio de Tupile.  We stayed there for 2 nights.  We anchored about 2 miles south of the village and had the entire bay to ourselves.  BLUEPRINT MATCH anchored near Mono Island, so we were within VHF radio range of one another.  Since we were anchored so far from the village, it greatly reduced the number of people who came out to try and sell us things.  Three boys (ages 10, 8 and 4) paddled out; their mother sent them to see if we would buy any of her molas.  The molas weren’t very good quality, so I didn’t buy any.  Just gave the kids some candy and they left.  Later, a woman and her teenaged son paddled out.  This woman had the brightest red cheeks that we have seen so far.  Her cheeks were painted fire-engine red.  She had a gold nose ring and a very colorful outfit.  I bought a child size mola blouse for our granddaughter BeBe.  This mola blouse isn’t as brightly colored as most we have seen and I think it would look cute on her worn with jeans.

On our last day in Tupile we took the dinghy up the Mono River.  This river is the source for drinking water for the island of Tupile; the women paddle up the river in their ulus to collect drinking water and haul it back out to the island.  To prevent contamination of their drinking water, outboard engines are forbidden.  So we had to paddle the dinghy up that river.  Bill decided that he would learn to row the dinghy.  Anyone who has ever tried to row a RIB knows what an almost-impossible task this is.  But Bill did master rowing it in the calm water of this small river.  We saw several strange birds and strange flowers but did not see any monkeys.  When BLUEPRINT MATCH went of the river the previous day, they had seen some small white-faced monkeys.  But the monkeys did not chose to grace us with an appearance.

Then we went to the village on the island to buy bread.  We finally found a “restaurant” upstairs in a building near the police office where bread could be purchased – we just had to wait for them to bake it.  While the bread was baking we walked a short way and watched a PE class at the school.  The coach was teaching them how to play baseball and we thoroughly enjoyed watching this.  Then they held a baseball game – girls vs boys.  This was a hoot.  They were playing with a really thick purple plastic bat and a yellow tennis ball.  Sandals were placed upside down for bases and pitcher’s rubber.  The coach drew home plate and batters’ box in the dirt.  The kids were very careful not to mess up what the coach had drawn in the dirt.  They had just as much fun if not more than the properly equipped and uniformed Little Leaguers back home.  The lady baking the bread sent word that the bread was ready.  So we walked back to her restaurant and purchased 54 pieces of Kuna bread; 34 for our freezer and 20 for BLUEPRINT MATCH.

We motored 8 miles out to Aridup in the Ratones Cays.  BLUEPRINT MATCH arrived there before us.  They had caught a nice-sized fish on the way, so we joined them for a pot-luck dinner.  Michelle fried the fish in a beer batter and it was excellent; salad, fresh veggies, potatoes au gratin and just-baked brownies rounded out the dinner -- topped off with a couple of bottles of good red wine.  A great evening and we enjoyed visiting with Paul & Michelle.  Their Catana 431 is the nicest catamaran that we have ever seen.  It is a very comfortable boat.

A northwesterly swell grew overnight and we rolled and rocked with our stern awfully close the reef behind us.  It was not a pleasant night on such a close lee shore and none of us slept well.  First thing the next morning we hauled in the anchor and motored about 5 miles south to Snug Harbor.  And snug it is!  There are many mangrove covered small islands that comprise Snug Harbor, with deep channels between the islands and lots of patches of reef.  We had the Maxsea track from S/V APPARITION and followed their path to anchor between the 2 largest outer islands.  This was a perfect anchorage while the breeze was blowing, but unbearable when the breeze stopped on the second day due to no-see-ums that lived in the mangroves.  The no-see-ums only come out if there is no breeze.  As usual, I received 50-60 bites and am still dealing with the itching. 

The locals came by the boats and offered lots of crabs and lobsters for sale.  One guy also tried to sell us 6 freshly-caught octopus; but since I don’t have a clue how to clean or prepare octopus, we passed on that.   We bought from 3 different guys and ended up with 3 huge crabs and  eight small lobsters for $5 total.  Then our big splurge for the day was $10 each for two 3-pound lobsters.  Those we split in half and cleaned, and put into the freezer.  That will be Thanksgiving dinner.

Many thunderstorms passed through the area during Thursday night.  About 0300 Friday morning, BLUEPRINT MATCH took a direct lightning strike to their VHF antenna, which was the highest thing on their mast.  The lightning strike caused lots of damage to their boat electronics.  The VHF, SSB, autopilot, laptop computer and refrigeration were fried.  Not sure what else was damaged.  All aboard were fine and that is what is most important.  I do not know where the lightning exited the boat, but there was no hole in the hull.  They have a carbon fiber mast and supposedly those are more susceptible to lightning damage than aluminum masts.  They later learned from Michelle’s dad that this is the second time that boat has sustained a lightning strike.

Luckily, the Catana is also a French-built boat like our Amel; and it also has a Frigoboat refrigeration system.  They have a different model Frigoboat system than we do, but many of the parts are interchangeable.  We have 3 separate Frigoboat refrigeration systems on our Amel.  We have one locker set as a freezer, and it is jam-packed full.  The standard upright fridge is also full.  We were using the second locker as a secondary fridge since I had stocked up so much with fresh veggies just before leaving Cartagena.  We were able to shift stuff around and empty the second locker, so that we could loan the control board for that unit to BLUEPRINT MATCH.  This enabled them to run their freezer all night and their fridge during the day.  So far, this is working well for them.  Everything in their freezer is still frozen rock-solid, and the fridge is staying acceptably cold.  They are expecting a guest to arrive in about 10 days, and she will bring them some replacement parts.  She is also bringing us another control unit for the fridge so that we will have a spare onboard.

Bill went over and helped Paul with the electrical.  Paul probably did not really need any help because he knows that stuff pretty well, but he had already been awake all night and it was a good idea to have a more rested brain working alongside.  Paul & Bill rewired some things and got the boat in “cruise-able” condition; so at least they can continue to cruise and not have to rush off to Colon for emergency repairs immediately.  They will have to hand-steer, but they can continue to cruise and not cut short their time in the San Blas.  They planned to arrive in Colon about the same time we will, so we will probably stay fairly close together just in case they need some additional help or parts.

We thought our boat was fine, but Friday evening we realized that our AM/FM radio is fried and our new laptop is fried.  Bill has not yet been up the mast, but he thinks there is also some damage to our AM/FM radio antenna.   Both the VHF antenna and the AM/FM radio antenna are on top of our mast; they are the same height.  Our boat was stern-to BLUEPRINT MATCH when the lightning struck.  The AM/FM antenna is located on the rear side at the top of our mast.  If we had to lose one of them, I am glad it was just the AM/FM radio.  It would be much worse to lose the VHF antenna and radio.

Bill has checked everything he can think of and has not found any more damage to our boat from this very close lightning strike.  We were anchored relatively close together when this happened.  Good news is that we just bought this computer first of August and it has a 6-month warranty.  We have done some testing and think the only thing damaged was the hard drive.  Bill had backed up everything only days before, so the only thing lost was several days of photos.  Count us lucky.

This morning the no-see-ums came out in full-force shortly after the sun rose.  They were swarming me so badly that I jumped into the shower and then into long sleeves and long pants – in this heat!!!!  We pulled anchor and BLUEPRINT MATCH followed us 16 miles from Snug Harbor to Devil Cays.  There was a large swell rolling across our beam almost the entire trip; not pleasant.  We are anchored behind a small island close to the mainland and the swell isn’t bad back here.  Plan to stay here only a night or two and then move out to some outer island.  We have all had enough of these villages and people visiting our boats.

Tupbak (a/k/a Isla Pinos) up to Ustupu

November 8, 2007  Thursday
Tupbak, San Blas Islands, Panama (a/k/a Isla Pinos)
09.00.061N; 077.45.767W                 
Total distance traveled 172.24 NM from wall entry at Boca Grande, Cartagena de Indias

We exited the break of the underwater wall at Boca Grande and departed Cartagena de Indias at 0900 Monday morning, 5 November.  Plans were to sail straight across to Isla Pinos, a distance of approximately 150 NM.  Paul & Michelle on BLUEPRINT MATCH had left Cartagena on Saturday and were in Los Rosarios.  They planned to leave a bit later in the day headed for the same destination.  We planned to talk on the SSB along the way.  Turned out that we were within VHF range for the entire passage.  We had both waited until today because the winds were supposed to switch back to the normal NNE trades over the weekend, which would have meant this passage would be a downwind sail the entire trip.  As happens so often, reality and forecast did not match.  Winds were on our nose for almost the entire trip.

Another sailor had told us that there would be opposing current until we reached 9 degrees 15 minutes; and that there would be no current to affect us once we were down that low.  From the very beginning we did not make very good time; winds of only 10 knots at 210 degrees, and our course was 239; so it was going to be a motor-sail.  Soon the winds were 20 knots at 230 and our course was still 239, so we took in the mainsail and motored along.  Boat speed was 7.9 knots at 2000 rpm but SOG was only 5.9, so there was 2 knots opposing current at the beginning of this passage.  By 1440 (2:20 p.m. for you landlubbers), our SOG (speed over ground) was down to only 4.1 knots, meaning that the current was increasing.  So we changed course to 185 degrees (headed towards the San Bernardos Isla Tintapan) to try and get farther south and closer to 9 degrees 15 minutes in hopes of getting below the current.  By 1500 (3:00 p.m.) our SOG had increased to 6.1 knots under sail only.  Now, this was much better!

Sailing lasted less than 2 hours.  By this time we were at 09.36.6974N  076.24.9313W.  Boat speed was 7.35 knots at 2100 rpm but SOG was 5.8 knots.  We all hoped that the 20 knot winds on our nose would die down after dark.  Sure enough, by 2245 the winds were down to only 5 knots.  Boat speed was 7.25 and our SOG was 6.2 knots, so still had opposing current of about 1 knot.  Location was 09.36.6974N, 076.24.9313W.  Course 242 degrees.

BLUEPRINT MATCH was 4 miles off our port side by the time we were 15 miles from Isla Fuerte and we were both still motor sailing into the current.  They then sped up for some reason and were soon almost out of sight ahead.  BLUEPRINT is a Catana 431 catamaran and is normally a faster boat than our heavier monohull Amel.  But by 0200 we had caught up with them.  In fact, we were so close that Michelle radioed to ask if we planned to run over them.  So we lowered to 1600 rpm to slow down to 4.4 SOG.  I also changed our course slightly to starboard at 255 degrees.  By 0300 we were down to 09.26.072N, 076.46.140W and still slugging into over 1 ½ knots opposing current, but with no wind to hinder our progress.

At 0900 we were finally down to 9 degrees 15 minutes; that magic number where we had been emphatically assured that there would be no opposing current.  Wrong!!!  Boat speed was 8.15 knots at 2100 rpm and SOG only 6.40.  Wind was only 9 knots and was 61 degrees off our port side, so we were motor sailing without wind on our nose.  So that meant we were still experiencing 1 ¾ knots opposing current.  At 0920 the mountains of mainland Panama were clearly visible through the cloudy rain cells.  Destination in sight!

At 1030 and approximately 25 miles offshore, the current finally was down to only ½ knot against us.  I did not record the precise location that the current waned, but it was approximately 9 degrees 7 minutes.

We arrived at the waypoint to enter anchorage at 1400.  Waypoint is 08.59.2000N,  077.44,6888W.  Distance traveled to this point was 170.8 NM.  It was exceptionally calm for the entire passage; none of the rough seas we had been warned about.  Just wish we had experienced the winds from the forecasted direction; then it would have been a perfect passage.  BLUEPRINT MATCH decided to head toward another tiny island called Isla Iguana.  Isla Iguana normally has breaking water all around it and is too rough because it is so exposed to the sea, but it was absolutely dead calm when we arrived in this area so they decided to try it.  Turned out to be a wise choice as they said it was a picture perfect beach with coconut palms along the shore.  Their kids needed some beach time after the passage.

Bill and I dropped anchor at 1500 at 09.00.061N, 077.45l.767W.  Took us a whole hour to travel 1.44 miles!  Depth under our keel got down to 1.8 feet at one point.   Depth under the keel is 4.4 feet where we are anchored.  Bottom is grassy over light mud and sand mixture.  It is totally flat calm; like being in a lagoon.  We are anchored behind Isla Pinos, which is really named Tupbak. 

Tupbak means whale in the Kuna language.  This island looks like a whale from a distance and has been used as a landmark by sailors for centuries.  In 1571 Sir Francis Drake anchored here and planned his attack on Nombre de Dios from this bay.  Privateers and pirates often used this well-protected anchorage.  We were greeted by a man named Peres in an ulu (dugout canoe) shortly after we anchored.  Peres speaks some English.  He came back the next day and asked us to give him some sandpaper, which we did.  No one else has come out to ask for anything or to try to sell us anything, but Peres asked us both times he visited our boat if we planned to visit the village and when and if we planned to buy any molas.  I don’t think this island sees many visiting boats.  The village appears very poor.

An official from the village also came out in his ulu the next day and requested $8 USD as an anchoring fee.  This fee goes to the village kitty.  His cheeks were painted with bright red circles. The thatched-hut village is off our port side, right on the water’s edge.  We have not gone ashore and probably won’t since it is raining today.  When weather is nice and sunny later today we will move onward to another island.  It is very nice here and we probably should go ashore and spend some money to help the local economy, but we just aren’t motivated to get out in the rain.  The people are quiet with a calm demeanor.  The men paddle around in their tiny ulus and fish with hand line.  The children play in the water in late afternoon.  I cannot believe how easily they lift themselves out of the water and into an ulu, while another boy is standing up in that ulu!  Seems like that canoe would tip over.  But they do this over and over again so they can dive back into the water.  I have seen only 3 women along the shore, but there must be more because the village looks fairly large.  Unfortunately, we are anchored too far from shore to take any photos.

Later…..we motored through the cut in the reef on the northwest side of Tupbak.  Then proceeded to motor up to Ustupu, which is the largest village in all of the San Blas Islands.   The waypoints provided in Eric Bauhaus’ guide to cruising Panama have been dead-on accurate so far.  We are anchored up behind the island of Ustupu.  We put the dinghy in the water and tried to explore up the Sugandi Tiwar river on the mainland.  It is almost spitting distance between the mainland and Ustupu island.  The river is supposed to be marked by wrecks of giant trees washed down during the great flood of 1925 which forced the village to move from the mainland to the island of Ustupu.  We went way up the channel but never found the Sugandi Tiwar river.  Apparently the mouth of the river is so overgrown with mangroves that you must know exactly where to look to maneuver your way through the mangroves to get into the actual river.  We gave up and turned back and meandered around the edge of the village at Ustupu instead.  Little kids came to the water edge and waved and yelled “hola” to us.  One woman motioned that she had molas to sell, but since we did not bring any money we called back to her that we would return “manana” for her molas.

The guide book says that villagers here do not come out to visit yachts.  But since we did not immediately go into the village and visit the sahila, he came out in an ulu and greeted us.  His name is Luis and speaks English fairly well.  We paid the $8 fee for permission to go anywhere in his waters and to visit anywhere in the village.  Luis said that we were the first yacht to visit the village in four months and that they were all excited to see us.  Hope they are that excited because we don’t plan to spend THAT much money in Ustupu.  Luis said he will show us around tomorrow.  Bill understood Luis to say that he will introduce us to the chief tomorrow, but our guide book says that Luis is the chief.  We are a bit confused, as usual.

We can upload this log via satellite phone connection, but unfortunately we cannot upload photos until we have an Internet connection.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Info about the Kuna Yala people of San Blas

November 4, 2007 Sunday

Kuna life:  (all info borrowed from various websites)

Kuna law prohibits fishing in their waters by boats with sophisticated machinery or the taking of anything from the sea that a diver can not reach with air from his own lungs. Scuba diving is not permitted; but you can snorkel in the reef, which is one of the oldest and best preserved reefs in the world.

The men rise early to fish or tend their farms on the mainland, paddling off in dugout canoes that are sometimes equipped with makeshift sails. Fresh crab, lobster, octopus and fish are caught with nets or spears and are exported to Panama City.  For this reason, it is now illegal for tourists or visitors to harvest lobster; you must purchase from a local Kuna.  The larger lobster tails now are exported into the US and can be found at places like Sam’s Club or Costco.  I do hope this does not cause over-harvesting of the lobster in the San Blas and create a lobster shortage like that which currently exists in the rest of the Caribbean.  On their farms, the Kuna men raise vegetables, fruits, coffee and the all-important coconut.  Fifteen million coconuts are exported each year to neighboring Colombia. Coconuts can actually be used as coins in Kuna commerce and have a value of about ten US cents. A soda, which costs about 40 cents, can be purchased for four coconuts on the islands of San Blas!  Because coconuts are such a staple to the Kuna economy, it is illegal for any visitor to pick up or take a coconut anywhere in the San Blas Islands.  It would be the same as stealing money from them.

Women work at making molas, the traditional women's garments.   This tradition is passed from mother to daughter.  If a family does not have a daughter, then usually the first-born son is dressed and raised as a girl; and “she” is taught the mola skills.  One of the best-known mola makers presently is “Mola Lisa” who is technically male, although “she” is considered a woman by the Kuna.  (See, even the oldest societies had tranvestites.) Molas are one of the primary expressions of the visual arts in Kuna society. All genuine molas were created by a Kuna woman as the focal point for her own dress. The designs are always original and are an important way for a woman to express herself and demonstrate her talent and industry in this traditionally matriarchal society.
Molas are panels of hand stitched reverse cloth appliqué, which are sewn into the fronts and backs of blouses.   Molas are always made in a pair; never a single piece mola. Layers of cotton cloth and thread are the only materials used in the process.  Mola designs vary from the abstract and geometric to representations of birds, fish and innumerable other subjects, all different, but all distinctly Kuna.  The designs are based on things that the women see in their daily life.  Shortly after the US involvement during the end of the Norreiga control, one could find molas depicting soldiers and helicopters; because the Kuna women had seen these things and considered them to be part of their lives.

All mola designs are more or less abstract, but many of the most traditional in style are completely geometric, non-representational designs. This type is considered the most authentic, and therefore the most valuable by collectors interested in molas as an indigenous art form.  The favored colors appear to be predominantly orange and black; one rarely sees predominant light blues or pastel colors.

The women also make and adorn themselves with necklaces of sea shells, and chaquiras.  Chaquiras are the bead bracelets worn on women's arms and legs, usually many at a time covering most of their ankles and calves and forearms.  The women often wear nose decorations, either a gold nose ring or a line painted down the length of their nose, but rarely both at the same time.  They also paint bright red on their cheeks.  None of these adornments would be considered attractive in our western culture, so this just goes to prove that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Towns or villages in San Blas are exceptionally tidy.   A traditional Kuna house is made of palm-thatched roofs and cane walls.  Public buildings include schools, health centers and the town hall.  A town hall is a long building with thatched roof and is the heart of each community.  Villagers meet each weekday to discuss community affairs, as well as issues involving neighboring communities and Kuna culture in general. Town meetings are presided over by the village leader known as the sahila.

There are hotels on the islands of Wichubwala, Nalunega, Ailigandi, Nargana, Achutupo and Carti-Sugtupu.  Most Kuna communities have an airstrip, either on the island or the mainland nearby, and are easily accessible by light aircraft.   Eco-tourism is a big deal in the San Blas, in case anyone contemplates a visit to this unique area.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

History of where we are going next

November 3, 2007  Saturday

We got our clearance papers back from the agent in Cartagena, and these papers make no sense to us.  There was supposed to be something called a 60-day cruising permit for Colombian coastal waters.  That is not at all what we received.  We received the normal zarpe showing next destination port of Colon, Panama, via San Blas; plus another 2 sheets of paper that are stamped by Immigration and translate simply that we are leaving Cartagena bound for Colon, Panama, via San Blas.  Arguing with the agent would have gotten us nowhere since this is what he is familiar with as being called the 60-day cruising permit, even though there is no mention of any number of days and no mention of Colombian waters.  Well, we have what we have; so hopefully this will suffice when we finally reach Colon.  If not, guess we will pay a fine.  Certainly not going straight to Colon to clear in and then go back down to San Blas.  And we also are not going down to Obaldia to clear into Panama before going to San Blas.  Wish Panama had waited another year to crack down on their Immigration laws.  (Note:  the laws for Panama have changed several times since 2007 and surely will continue to change again and again.)

Now, a long basic history lesson for the area we will enter this week.  Those of you who have no interest in history can stop reading now.

Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador were originally combined into one country known as Gran Colombia.  During the very early 1800s Simon Bolivar was instrumental in the division of this territory into the 3 separate countries as known today.   But during the 1800s the area now known as Panama was actually still part of Colombia.  There has always been dissension between Panama and Colombia, and the Darien Indians in southern Panama are incredibly fierce people.  The Darien had driven the Kuna (also spelled Cuna) to the Caribbean side of the isthmus.  Even today the Darien control the Pacific side of southernmost Panama and the Kuna control the Caribbean side.  Both indigenous groups have proven over the centuries their total refusal to accept being ruled by a central government.   Both the Darien and Kuna are part of Panama, but rule themselves, each with their own unique style of tribal rule.  The central government of Panama realized after many deaths that the easiest and most logical way to deal with these people was to let them operate somewhat independent.   This has worked well over the past century.  We will write more about the Darien if and when we visit the Pacific side of Panama or if we decide to do some inland travel to the Darien area.  For now, we turn our attention back to the Caribbean side where we will be visiting for the next several months.

The Kuna live in the Comarca de San Blas, which for statistical purposes is treated as part of Colon Province in most official documents.  The provincial borders have not changed since they were determined at independence in 1903.  The other 9 provinces of Panama are divided into districts, which in turn are subdivided into sections called corregimientos.  Configurations of the corregimientos are changed periodically to accommodate population changes as revealed in the census reports.  The borders of the Comarca de San Blas where the Kuna live under tribal rule are not changed by the census count.  Don’t think the Kuna would accept that.  They are not going to give up any of their lands to the central government of Panama

History of Separation of Panama from Colombia (copied from an official Panama government website):
 During the last half of the nineteenth century, violent clashes between the supporters of the Liberal and Conservative parties in Colombia left the isthmus' affairs in constant turmoil. Local self-government for the department of Panama was extended when the Liberals were in power and withdrawn when the Conservatives prevailed. The Catholic Church was disestablished under the Liberals and reestablished under the Conservatives. The fortunes of local partisans rose and fell abruptly and often violently.
According to one estimate, the period witnessed forty administrations of the Panamanian department, fifty riots and rebellions, five attempted secessions, and thirteen interventions by the United States, acting under the provisions of the BidlackMallarino Treaty. Partisan clashes and foreign intervention exacerbated racial antagonisms and economic problems and intensified grievances against the central government of Colombia.
Between 1863 and 1886, the isthmus had twenty-six presidents. Coups d'état, rebellions, and violence were almost continuous, staged by troops of the central government, by local citizens against centrally imposed edicts, and by factions out of power. The chaotic conditions that had prevailed under the federalist constitution of 1863 culminated in the 1884 election of Rafael Nuñez as president of Colombia, supported by a coalition of moderate Liberals and Conservatives. Nuñez called all factions to participate in a new constituent assembly, but his request was met by an armed revolt of the radical Liberals.
Early in 1885, a revolt headed by a radical Liberal general and centered in Panama City developed into a three-way fight. Colón was virtually destroyed. United States forces landed at the request of the Colombian government but were too late to save the city. Millions of dollars in claims were submitted by companies and citizens of the United States, France, and Britain, but Colombia successfully pleaded its lack of responsibility.
Additional United States naval forces occupied both Colón and Panama City and guarded the railroad to ensure uninterrupted transit until Colombian forces landed to protect the railroad. The new constitution of 1886 established the Republic of Colombia as a unitary state; departments were distinctly subordinate to the central government, and Panama was singled out as subject to the direct authority of the government. The United States consul general reported that three-quarters of the Panamanians wanted independence from Colombia and would revolt if they could get arms and be sure of freedom from United States intervention.
Panama was drawn into Colombia's War of a Thousand Days (1899- 1902) by rebellious radical Liberals who had taken refuge in Nicaragua. Like the rest of Colombia, opinion in Panama was divided, and revolts in the southwest had hardly been suppressed when Liberals from Nicaragua invaded the Pacific coastal region and nearly succeeded in taking Panama City in mid-1900. The fortunes of war varied, and although a local armistice gave supporters of the Colombian government temporary security in the Panama-Colón region, the rebels were in control throughout the isthmus. Meanwhile, by early 1902 the rebels had been defeated in most of Colombia proper. At that point, the Colombian government asked the United States to intercede and bring about an armistice in Panama, which was arranged aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin in the Bay of Panama in 1902.

Throughout the period of turmoil, the United States had retained its interest in building a canal through either Nicaragua or Panama. An obstacle to this goal was overcome in December 1901 when the United States and Britain signed the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty. This treaty nullified the provisions of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 and signified British acceptance of a canal constructed solely by or under the auspices of the United States with guarantees of neutrality. (And we all know that the US built first the Panama railroad to handle traffic for the Alaskan Gold Rush and then later built the Panama Canal; but those are future stories in our travels.)
(Aside note:  Several times in Cartagena we heard talk about the United States having expressed an interest recently in helping to build another water pathway between the Caribbean and the Pacific using 2 rivers in Colombia.  Apparently this would not require a huge investment to complete.  This secondary water pathway would be used by pleasure craft and smaller shipping vessels, and leave the Panama Canal for the larger ships.  We have no idea if there is any basis in truth for these rumors.)
All that brings us to Panama self-governance in 1903.  The Kuna won their right to self-government in the Kuna Revolution of 1925, an historic event that San Blas celebrates every February with the local holiday of Mor Ginnid.  During the Kuna Revolution, the Kuna killed everyone in the area they defined as “their land” who was not full-blooded Kuna.  They wanted no dilution of the true Kuna bloodlines.  The officials in Panama realized at this point that it was futile to continue to try to control the Kuna, and the Comarca de San Blas was established.  This system has worked well ever since.
The Kuna are a matriarchal society.  The women control the economy.  When a man marries, he goes to live in his wife’s village.  But each village has a man chief known as a saila or sahila or salia (I have seen various spellings for this Kuna word).  More about all this in future postings.  Strange arrangement but it works well for them.  The Kuna are probably the last remaining indigenous people of the Americas who continue to live a truly traditional lifestyle – no cell phones, televisions, radios, modern conveniences, etc.
The San Blas consist of 357 islands spanning roughly 260 miles of the southeastern Panama cost of the Caribbean.  There are 49 separate Kuna communities in this territory.  Truly a gorgeous place.
We can’t wait to get there!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Time to leave. We loved it here.

November 2, 2007  Friday

We will be leaving Cartagena on Monday morning.   Alberto is supposed to come clean our hull and prop tomorrow.   He does this without scuba gear or Hookla air system; he has great lung capacity.    Definitely need this cleaning done before setting out on the passage to Panama.  The slightest amount of marine growth on the auto-prop causes vibration and slows the revs and speed under motor, so the prop should always be visually checked and cleaned before leaving on a passage.  Bill usually does this by simply diving with a snorkel mask because we normally don’t get a lot of marine growth.  But here in barnacle heaven Cartagena the water is so unappealing that Bill is not getting into it.  Pay a local like Alberto to do it instead.

We will leave the marina dock Sunday morning and anchor out.  The anchorage appears pretty full to me; hope we can find a spot.  Our deep draft limits the possibilities and I hate anchoring in a crowded area.  We will leave our three 110-130-ft lines in the water when we leave the dock.  These are actually six lines pieced together to form three really long lines.  These lines are tied down on the chain anchoring system on the sea bottom that surrounds Club Nautico marina.  These lines have been submerged since our arrival on September 12, and they are covered in barnacles and marine growth that is more than 6-inches in diameter in places!  Cleaning these lines will be a nasty, stinky job!  We were dreading bringing those filthy lines up onto our deck when we leave the dock, but John the dock master suggested that we pay Alberto to clean them for us.  Apparently this is a common practice and well worth the cost.  Wouldn’t tell Alberto this, but we would be willing to pay three times his quoted fee for him to clean those stinking lines for us!   All six of these lines are good lines and we would hate to lose them because of the nasty growth on them.  Two are 3-part plait and two are 3-part braid dock lines, all of which were brand new when we arrived here.  The remaining two lines are our spare genoa sheets.  Landlubbers would probably never guess at the cost of these lines because, after all, it is just various kinds of rope; but the current replacement cost would be more than $1800 USD.  So you can see why we definitely want to save all these lines if possible.

Monday morning should find us wending our way back out through the break in the underwater rock wall across Boca Grande and on our way to the San Blas Islands of Panama.  We have decided to make it a straight passage rather than stop at any of the Colombian coastal islands.  Not going as far down as Zapzurro.  Instead, we plan to head straight across to the Los Pinos channel entering the San Blas.  Should arrive there sometime Tuesday.

There will be no internet access in the San Blas, so this website probably will not be updated after Sunday until mid-December.  I have written a couple of things about the San Blas and captured a few photos from other websites, and will upload those two blogs before we leave Cartagena, but that will likely be the last you hear from us until we arrive in Shelter Bay Marina in Panama sometime mid-December.  However, you can check our positions by clicking on “position report” to the right of our BeBe photos on the main page of our website.  The map on the website can only be updated whenever we have internet access, but the “position report” is updated every time we send/receive email or weather info via SSB radio.  Just click “position report” and then click satellite view and you can see our current location.  There are other links on that report that take you to other services, one of which actually shows the history of each time we change position and happen to send/receive email; but that is too complicated to explain.  Just play with it if you have the time and the interest.

We hope to visit our favorite Cartagena restaurant once more this weekend.  I managed to get another haircut this morning.   We are making the last-minute trips to the supermarket today to stock up on a few things since there will be no stores in the San Blas.  Finally found a use for that dishwasher in the galley – it makes a perfect storage place for the 5 dozen eggs I bought to last us for the next 7 weeks.  (Eggs are not refrigerated here; they last a long time at room temperature as long as the eggs have not been washed or refrigerated.  Once refrigerated, then eggs must remain refrigerated.)  Bill bummed a dinghy ride with Chuck on MAKER’S MATCH over to the fuel dock at Club de Pesca to fill our gasoline jerry jugs today; diesel jugs are already full.  Propane tank was refilled earlier this week.  Only thing that will not get done is re-filling one of Bill’s dive tanks.   This should not be a problem because diving is illegal in the San Blas, and if we have an emergency like a fouled prop Bill has one full tank and that would be more than sufficient for a quick dive to clear a prop.  So all our trip preparations are taken care of and we are ready to move on.

Cartagena has been a real pleasure.  We will return again; next time will try to get a slip at Club de Pesca and see how the other half lives.  We have enjoyed our stay at Club Nautico, but it would be nice to not have so much movement at dock and also would be nice not to have lines submerged.  Club de Pesca has the normal poles out front to tie off onto as you back into the slip, so no submerged lines to get nasty. 

If anyone is thinking of visiting Cartagena, we recommend it.  Wonderful old city and good people.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cartagena folks love Halloween

November 1, 2007  Thursday

The annual Halloween party was held at Club Nautico last evening.  Almost all the cruisers made an effort to dress in costume, and some of the locals wore elaborate costumes.  Every child received a “prize” for something; there was a DJ and dancing.  Of course, Bill and I sat on our butts for the entire evening because Bill doesn’t dance any more – especially not to Colombian style music.  But most everyone else participated in the dancing.  The food served was “typical Colombian fare” which turned out to be a rice dish that was similar to paella and was served on a banana leaf with a boiled egg on the side.  I know that eggs, and especially whole eggs, are considered a symbol of prosperity in a lot of cultures.  Never would have thought of eating a boiled egg with paella, but when in Rome…….   It was nice evening.

For some reason, Halloween has reached Cartagena in a big way.  When walking downtown we saw lots of children’s costumes being sold and Halloween candy on display.  Not sure that they do Trick-or-Treat because we stayed strictly in the marina last night; maybe they just do costume parties and give candy to the kids.  But we did have 2 kids come Trick-or-Treating to our boat – Merric and Seana on BLUEPRINT MATCH looked so cute in their pirate and princess costumes.  I took some photos but I was standing on our moving boat while they stood on the dock, so none of the photos came out. 

Which, BTW, brings up the topic of just how much this boat moves while tied to this dock!  It is incredible.  Not sure why we get so much movement so far up in this bay, but our boat seems to be constantly moving.  We face bow-to the anchorage and half the time it feels like we are at sea.  This morning I was standing in the aft cabin and actually fell down on the bed because the boat was moving so much.  Don’t understand it.

Another pair of my shoes bit the dust last night.  By the time I walked back to the boat the soles and heels of my shoes had dissolved into what looked like sawdust. This time it was my nicest low-heel sandals; ones that I have only worn maybe 4 times since we moved aboard.  That makes 3 pairs of shoes that have literally disintegrated on my feet since we moved aboard.  Salt air destroys shoes?  Or is it the heat?  Any ideas?

We turned in our paperwork to our agent yesterday to begin clearing out of Colombia.  Immigration officials came to the marina this afternoon to match our faces to our passports.  We told them we plan to leave tomorrow so they would go ahead and stamp our passports and be done with that.  Actually, we hope to leave either Sunday or (more likely) Monday.  It is supposed to take 2-3 days to clear out.  We also requested a 60-day Colombia cruising permit and that “puntos intermedios” be noted on our zarpe.  By having these documents we should have no trouble when we clear into Panama.  Without these 2 items, we understand that the Panamanian officials give people a hard time or impose penalties for taking so long to clear in.  They are fully aware that people go to the San Blas Islands and hang out there for weeks (or months or sometimes years) without first going to Colon to properly clear into Panama.  By having the 60-day Colombian cruising permit, we can claim that we were in Colombian waters and not in the San Blas.  Officialdom can be a real PITA.

Yesterday we had yet another obstruction to our saltwater system on the boat.  Wasn’t barnacles this time; it was trash.  The problem was two-fold.  Some small plastic bags had been sucked into the saltwater strainer basket and were blocking water flow.  And tiny bits of debris and pieces of baby barnacle shells had been sucked beneath the diaphragms of both of the saltwater pumps for the heads.  Bill had everything cleaned out and reassembled in less than an hour.  It surprised us how fast the water flowed into the toilets after all those tiny bits of trash were removed from the pumps.  Can’t place the blame for this completely on the dirty water and trash in this bay.  Bet some of that trash has been slowly building up and diminishing the water flow for months and we never noticed it until it reached a critical point.

Now, our international finance lesson for today:  (Apologies to Boyd)

I’m sure that everyone at home knows that the US dollar has weakened worldwide.  It just isn’t worth what it used to be.  Yet another reason that we definitely are not going to the Med anytime soon and are somewhat hesitant about going to New Zealand and Australia.  There are pros and cons involved in this normal currency fluctuation.  It is actually good for the US to have a weak dollar because it brings in tourists (good for airlines, hotel, rental cars, restaurants, retail stores, etc.) and it also makes US products far more attractive to foreign markets because now “made or grown in USA” looks like a bargain to Europeans and others; thus, good for exports.  Also, our national debt is in dollars, not in foreign currencies.  So a lower valued dollar is better when making debt payments to foreign countries or international markets.  The opposite side of all this is that when US citizens are traveling abroad, then their money just doesn’t go as far. 

All that leads up to the following statement.  Bet you would never have thought that the US dollar is weakening against the Colombian peso.  After all, we arrogant Americans “know” that our country is far larger geographically and with greater population and has a more stable economy than a poor, not-fully-developed South American country like war torn Colombia.  Wrong!!  Take a look at the currency conversion history since we arrived in Cartagena.

US dollar conversion rate to Colombian pesos received from ATM withdrawals since we arrived:

9/12   --- 2222.22 pesos for one US dollar
9/20   --- 2142.85 pesos for one US dollar
9/29   --- 2068.97 pesos for one US dollar
10/12 --- 2000.00 pesos for one US dollar  Note: more than 10% decrease in 1 month!!!
10/24 --- 2068.97 pesos for one US dollar
10/27 --- 2051.28 pesos for one US dollar
10/31 --- 2000.00 pesos for one US dollar  Wow!  We are down again!

Panama uses the US dollar for currency, so at least we will not be dealing with lowering dollar value on the currency exchange market for a few months.