Tag Archives: panama

Thinking Outside The Box

A common complaint here, especially among the expat population that huddles, incestuously, in the mountain peaks and valleys around Boquete above the city of David, is about horrible, or nearly non-existent, customer service. In the almost five years I’ve lived here I haven’t found that to be true at all, and today was an example of the good customer service. Comparable to good customer service anywhere. (Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I try my best to speak Spanish with the Panamanians I have to deal with.) Here’s what happened:

Last month I went into David to pay my cable and internet service bill. I wanted to delete the television portion of the service since my t.v. died and I decided I didn’t want to buy a replacement. The girl I dealt with at the Cable Onda office played around on the computer keyboard for a while and said the service had been discontinued and that I needed to bring in the t.v. modem. I asked if it would be okay to wait until the next billing cycle to do that instead of having to make a special trip back to their downtown office. She said it would be fine. But that the internet portion of the bill would be $42.36 since I had signed up for a “package deal” that combined t.v., internet for a monthly total of $50.36. That was all right with me since before I signed on to Cable Onda’s five meg cable internet I had been paying $45 and change for Claro’s USB modem internet which, on a good day, provided me with half a meg speed. What  I’d save not having to pay for the t.v. meant that I’d be getting almost two months of free internet service. I figured I was ahead of the game.

Friday I received my monthly bill and saw that they were still billing me the full $50.36. This morning I put the modem in my knapsack and went to the Cable Onda office. I asked to speak to one of the customer service reps. This time I ended up with a young gentleman who insisted on speaking English even after I’d explained my situation to him in Spanish. He said I’d done it well, but he liked the opportunity to use his English whenever possible. He explained that with the package I had I paid $21.12/month for the television access and $29.24 for the internet. But internet alone was, as I said before, $42.36. HOWEVER, even though I wasn’t going to buy a new t.v. and use the service, he could sign me into another package in which I’d be subscribed to just Panama access to local television shows and that only costs $6.88/month but would leave the internet payment at $29.24 for a grand total of $36.12. A savings of $14.24 a month from what I had been paying and saving $170.88 over a year. Another way of looking at it is, I’d also be paying $6.24 a month LESS than subscribing to internet alone OR saving $74.88 over the year. That’s like getting two months FREE internet service.

He spent some time clicking around on his computer and said I’d only have to pay the $36.10 today and not the $50.36.

Now THAT’S customer service. Do I think the girl last month was trying to rip off the gringo? No, not at all. She was thinking linearly. The book says if someone comes in off the street and wants to subscribe to internet service by itself it costs THIS MUCH. I’m sure customer service reps in a similar situation in the States would have done exactly what she did. I probably would have done the same thing had I been sitting on her side of the desk last month. I was lucky today to get someone who thinks outside the box and who knows that giving the customer a little lagniappe, as it were, results in a satisfied customer. And another thing to consider…the pay here in Panama sucks. The girl and the guy will be lucky if they GROSS $125.00 or $150.00 a week! At those prices you can’t expect them to be doing a lot of thinking at all. But sometimes you just get lucky.

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Getting Around

One of the first entries I posted on this blog was way back in April, 2009.

http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2009/04/29/the-boaters-car-of-pickup-truck/

None of that has really changed, of course, but thinking about living on a boat on the hook again has the whole dinghy situation churning around in my head. Sitting on the back porch of Dos Palmas Hotel in Bocas del Toro you look out at the Bocas Marina and the anchorage.

IMG_0600

Every one of those boats has an inflatable dinghy with as big a motor on it as it can possibly handle. After sailing to Panama at what was probably an average speed of around five miles an hour now that they’ve arrived they have to zip around as fast as they possibly can while the natives, descendents of those who lived here before Columbus arrived in 1502, have a more sedate manner of getting around.

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I’d be lying to you if I said I hadn’t loved my semi-rigid inflatable when I was on my nine-month tour of Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. I enjoyed zipping around in it, the wind ruffling my hair. But times and ideas change.

My first inclination for a dinghy would be one of my favorite designs ever…A Puddle Duck Racer. http://www.pdracer.com/ I’ve written about these so many times in the past that I won’t elaborate on just why they appeal to me.

Here are a few reasons why I think one would be an excellent dinghy.

  • No asshole is going to punch a hole in one like often happens with inflatables.
  • You can row one whereas rowing an inflatable can be a exercise in frustration, especially if you have to row into a headwind.
  • You can sail a PDR. Ive seen, on line, sailing kits for inflatables, but I’m not so sure how well they’d work.
  • You can even put an electric trolling motor or a very small gas outboard on one, too.
  • The thing is so ugly that theft wouldn’t be a worry. Why? Well, because it would most likely be the only PDR around and instantly recognizable as stolen if you weren’t in it.

And the downside of a PDR?

Unless you’re going to tow it everywhere, there’s really no place to easily stow it on board a 23-foot boat with a 6-1/2-foot beam since the PDR has a 4-foot beam. There’s nothing wrong with towing a dinghy. I towed mine for, literally, hundreds of miles without incident.

They’re fairly heavy. I’d be living at anchor in a place with a tidal range of around 19 feet. That means that sometimes when I’d want to get ashore I’d be afloat, but when I’d be ready to return home both boats would be high and dry, or there would be a lot of sand to drag the PDR over to get to enough water to get it to float again. An inflatable would be even worse.

So, what’s the solution? Is there one? I think so. It would be in the form of what is known as a one-sheet boat. That’s one that is made from a single sheet of plywood. Made from 1/4-inch ply one would weigh around 35 lbs. It, too, would be something that wouldn’t be too attractive to thieves, especially if you painted it some garish colors. Here are a couple of pictures to show you what people have concocted with just a single sheet of plywood.

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And this from the designer of the boat above: http://koti.kapsi.fi/hvartial/oss_sam/oss_sam.htm

simprigalter6

Here’s all you need to build one of those: http://www.simplicityboats.com/minisharpie.html

If you find those interesting just Google “One sheet boats” and in the images section there are hundreds to look at.

 

 

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Crazy Boat Idea #???

I don’t know what number it is. Over the years there have been so many crazy boat ideas I’ve lost track. There was the R.V. camper shell on pontoons back in the late 60s. I briefly toyed with converting an oil well jack-up service barge after seeing one out at Breton Island when I worked there. I don’t know how many scow hulls and pontoon hulls I bought plans for. I still have some of them in the back room here. As you know I recently went over to Bocas del Toro to look at possibly buying a Westerly Centaur fixer upper. It was too much fixer and not enough upper so that hit the trash bin of bad ideas. This one, whatever its number might be, just might work.

So what’s the new idea? Well, as my readers know I’ve thought about how much work is involved in producing a hull that would support my shanty boat idea. I thought about how difficult it would be to build a scow hull upside down and turn it over and toyed with the idea of building pontoons in modules. All pie in the sky stuff, that’s for sure.

I thought about trying to find an old hull and putting a house on it, hopefully better than this, but you get the idea:

boat

So where to go from here?

I looked at the boats on craigslist, panama and what few were offered were WAY out of my range. For instance:

four winns

“Quest Four Winns de 26 pies, 10 pies de ancho
Excelente condiciones, vivero, 2 fish box
Baño, servicio, lavamanos, camarote,
GPS Garmin a colore con fish finder y ecosonda,
Radio de comunicaciones i-com, wash down,
Twin Yamaha 250 hp 520 horas
Tanque de 200 galones 2 bombas de achique
Trailer de aluminio.

And they’re only asking $55,000.

Then I was looking at a site called “encuentra 24.” Their listings for “Yates and Veleros” (Power yachts and sailboats) had things like this 38 foot Donzi, a steal at only $95,000:

donzi

Or this 35′ sportfish for a mere $300,000.

fish

Things were looking bleak. Then, for some unknown reason I clicked on their section labeled “Botes, Jet Ski.” The LAST thing I ever wanted was a jet ski. I hate the damned things and I despise the people who have them. But in there I found this:

Ventas de lanchas nuevas (New Boat Sales) Pangas de pesca y turismo

Precio de Venta: $3,500.00.

For those of you who don’t know what a ‘Panga’ is, they’re ubiquitous working craft throughout Mexico, Central America and parts of Africa and Asia. They look like this:

bernal panga There was a price list: lanchas de 18×5.5×3 -2,300.00, lancha de 20×5.5×3- 2,700.00, lancha de 23×5.5×3-3,100.00, lancha de mas capacidad 23×6.5×5- 3,500.00, lancha de 25×6.5×5- 3,800.00, lancha de 28×6.5×5- 4,500.00, lancha de 30×6.5×5-7,500.00.

I’d done some rough number crunching when I was into the idea of building the scow and figured that just for the scow hull itself it would cost me roughly $2,300. And then, of course, I’d have to build the damned thing myself! So paying an extra grand to get a good fiberglass hull built by someone else didn’t seem to be such a bad idea.

Hmmmmm. And the ad said that he was located in David, though I suspected Pedregal was more likely.

I hadn’t given too much though to the panga hulls for a long time. I remember on my first visit to Bocas del Toro back in ’09 standing in the lee of a restaurant and looking at a panga that was all kitted out against the rain and thinking, “I could put a cabin on that and be comfortable.” The problem is, as you can see above, the things are NARROW! The beam of my Nancy Dawson was 7’10” but on reflection I lived for nearly six years in a very tiny space. The overall length on deck was 26′ but the cockpit behind the cabin was a good eight and a half or nine feet, cutting the interior living space down to about 18 feet, and remember, forward of the beam it narrowed down considerably towards the stem. In an earlier blog entry I’d figured out that I’d been living in about 52 square feet of floor space! And yet I was comfortable, never the less.

My plans for a scow or pontoon boat called for about 24X8 with a cabin of about 16X8 or 128 square feet. More than double what I had on Nancy Dawson. If you look at sites like Tiny House Blog and similar you’ll see a lot of these minimalist shelters running around the 100 to 125 square foot range. And costing $30 grand and more, too!

But you have to realize that we’re not just talking about square footage, here. We’re talking about VOLUME when considering living space…length, width and HEIGHT! To keep windage down I would have built the house to give about 6’6″ headroom, so the volume would be 832 cubic feet.

Now, using the same calculations on a panga with a 16′ cabin and 6’6″ headroom you come up with 676 cubic feet. One hundred fifty cubic feet less. Sigh.

How big a handicap is that six and a half foot beam? Depends on how you look at it, I guess. Over in England, Scotland and Wales, they have what are known as “Narrowboats.” These were originally designed as cargo carriers on the extensive canal system that preceded the railroads. These boats have a maximum beam of just seven feet! That’s so they can make their way through the locks on the canals.

I did a lot of rummaging around online in recent days about these boats. The government estimates there are some 25,000 people who live on narrow boats in the country and then there are the weekenders and vacationers on top of that. While most of the boats a quite long, 40 t0 70 feet, there are quite a few smaller boats as well, many of them just 23 feet:

colorful narrowboatsilver-sailsarni

This is the interior of a Springer 23. Quite cozy:

springer 23-2

Wednesday I called the panga builder’s phone number and talked to him, sort of. Talking to someone in a foreign language on the telephone is incredibly difficult. I hated cringed when I had to do it in France and it’s only slightly better here, but I did confirm my suspicion that Sr. Bernal’s operation was in Pedregal.

So, Thursday morning, inspired by what I’d seen on the internet regarding narrowboats I took the 60¢ bus ride to the bus terminal in David, walked three blocks and got on the bus to Pedregal which costs 35¢. I got off 25 minutes later when I saw what looked to be a boat construction site down a side street which would be near one of the rivers in the area. I asked the first person I met if they knew Sr. Bernal who built pangas. They said they didn’t know that name, but a couple of blocks away there was a house that had several pangas in the adjoining yard and perhaps that’s the place I wanted.

I found the place with no problem, and sure enough there were five pangas about the right size there. They were what one would expect of a small operation with so-so quality. They certainly weren’t faired out well. I mean they were rather on the “wavy” side and the gel coat was certainly not of standards we might expect in the States. Of course we’d be paying a lot more for a boat in the States too, so you have to take that into consideration. Pangas are built to two purposes, fishing and tourism. Those for the tourism trade are built with several rows of bench seating. The fishing pangas are an “open” plan. Both kinds have a small enclosed compartment in the bow and a couple of feet from the transom which is cut down a bit for the installation of an outboard there is another full-width partition thus creating an “engine area.” All of these boats were set up with seating.

Heavy salsa music blared out of the open door of the house next door but I finally got the attention of someone inside. They said this was not Sr. Bernal’s operation, but the location where the boats were built was only a couple of blocks away.

 The operation was at the edge of an overgrown and neglected baseball diamond. There were four young men working away at three hulls. The boss wasn’t there but I talked to his brother who didn’t know how much the boats sold for. When asked how long it took  for them to build a hull he said eight days. I gave him my phone number and asked him to have his brother call me so I could find out how much the boats cost. I still haven’t heard from him.
The place I REALLY wanted to go to was a mystery and I didn’t know to how to get there.  Walking down a side street from the first taller (work shop) towards the main road where I figured I’d catch a cab, I asked an old man standing in the shade of a tree if he knew Sr. Bernal who built boats. He didn’t, but a teenaged girl sitting on the front porch of the house we were in front of said she knew. The guy I needed was her cousin! His shop was a good ways away and it would be best to take a taxi, and she wrote down the directions on how to get there. Out at the main road I caught a cab and was at Bernal’s in about three minutes. Pedregal isn’t THAT big a place, after all, but walking in the heat would have been enervating.
Amado Bernal, is a young guy in his early 30s. He was rigging out a 25 footer with a 75 horse Yamaha outboard. The boat had decent gel coat and the interior was finished off well with at least a modicum of attention to craftsmanship. The gel coat inside and out was nicely done, the inside with what we called “spider webbing” which is fun stuff that my friend Stefan and I used to use when fixing up old boats.
Amado said the 23X6.5 hull, with flooring, would cost $3,500. Knock off $300 if I wanted to put in the flooring myself. And knock off another 10% if I paid him in cash. (That was MY idea). The cash thing is that I don’t have a bank account here in Panama. It’s very hard and complicated for a gringo to get an account so my SS checks are deposited in the U.S. and I withdraw cash from ATMs. Only problem there is I’m limited to $500/day. I could go buy a Panamanian bank check, I suppose, but I’ll take the time and the discount.
He wants 1/2 down to get going and it takes him four weeks ( as opposed to one like the other place said) to finish a boat out. The construction is done with hand-laid mat and roving, not chopper gun construction. They will deliver the boat here to Boqueron for $125 and I can finish it out here. I told him what I was planning to do, put up a cabin structure to live in around Pedregal and over in the Boca Chica/Boca Brava area.  He thought it was a pretty cool idea. I like the guy and I’m going to start visiting the bank next week to make withdrawals so I can start the process. I’ve already called MY bank and told them when I was going over to Bocas that I was planning on buying a boat, needed to make a bunch of withdrawals and that the fraud department shouldn’t put a hold on my account for what will certainly look like suspicious activity. They made note on my account so all is good.
So that’s where it stands right now. The picture of the panga with the blue sheer stripe is the boat he was working on. He’d already put up a nice canvas shelter over practically the whole thing and added a nice steering console. This one is 25′. All the hulls have the same beam, they just have a piece that they insert into the mold’s stern to make the different lengths.
I think the color schemes for the narrowboats of England are extremely cool and I would seriously consider doing something in a similar vein. But seeing this is Panama I might do something along the lines of the now-defunct “Diablos Rojos” that used to terrorize the streets of Panama City. They looked like this:
FB IMG_0100pbus_1
Now how cool would a narrowboat be looking something like that?
I know my landlord will be reading this, and I know he wants me to stay here until the house sells.  I can understand his apprehension as he reads this, but all I can say is that none of this is going to happen within the next month or so. In fact, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get things done before someone buys the place and I have to move before I’m ready. I can see this taking a minimum of six months and that’s if I got real lucky and everything went smoothly. And we know things never go smoothly.

 

 

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Rethinking Cruising Grounds

My original plan, when retiring to Panama, was to build a shanty boat and spend the rest of my days in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Well it didn’t happen as my regular readers know. But for four years the idea has lain semi-dormant in the back of my mind. But why Bocas, specifically. Well, in all of Panama there are really only three places that seem to be written about as cruising areas.

On the Pacific side there’s the Perlas Islands. These islands are generally stopped at by people either about to or have recently made a transit of the Canal.

Las Perlaslas-perlas-mapYou might recognize Contadora where the Shah of Iran spent time after being deposed.

Pearl-island-contadora-arial

On the Caribbean side there’s the San Blas Islands, known here in Panama as Guna Yala. It is a semi-autonomous region administered by the Kuna Indians and to visit them you have to get permission from the Chiefs and pay to visit and your stay is limited in length. It’s not a place where you’re welcome to stay forever.

guna yalaguna-yala-explorer-privateThe Kuna are the second smallest group of people in the world after the pygmies in Africa, and the women’s distinctive “molas” make them iconic figures of Panama.

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But it’s Bocas that most cruisers gravitate to.

bocas

Miles and miles of sheltered water cruising with dozens of islands to tuck up to and anchor behind if you’re looking for some peace and quiet:

bocas-del-toro2

Or you can go into Bocas Town if you want to live it up a bit:

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But making that ride back to the mainland after choosing not to buy the sailboat I realized I didn’t want to live in Bocas anyway. Too far away from too many things.

So, where does that leave me? Closer to home there’s Pedregal with it’s marina, Customs and Immigration offices and other Maritime offices.

pedregal

Pedregal is a 35¢ bus ride from downtown David. It’s not a very pretty place, and there is quite a bit of crime here, mostly drug related but it’s certainly not as tranquil as Boquerón. Back in 2009 (has it been that long ago?) when I was doing my exploratory visits to the country I went down to the marina to look around, and dismissed the place out of hand. (Please excuse the misspelling of the town’s name) http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2009/05/14/pedrigal-off-the-list/

So with Bocas off the list I went back to Google Earth and took another peek at Pedregal and saw this:

pedregal delta

Miles and miles of sheltered water in the delta and then to the east comes Boca Chica and Boca Brava.

boca chica

And there are lots of boats here which was a surprise to me…

boca chica boats

Lots of big game fishing goes on offshore from Boca Chica with world records being pulled out of the water. And there are plenty of islands to relax around.

Isla Palenque-Orgullo en Boca Chica-Panama-Real Estate

If anything does come of the boating bug this is probably where I’ll end up. Close to David.

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As Close To Free As It Gets

There’s no doubt about it, Panama is filled with a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables. My friend Omar, in Panama City, or simply Panamá as it’s called here, has been running a series of posts on his blog about a roadside stand near his house where he and his wife buy a lot of their produce: http://epiac1216.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/a-humble-farmers-stand-in-tumba-muerto/

I urge you to go see the wonderful series about this man’s stand and then browse around in Omar’s blog. Remember, when you’re reading it, that Omar is Panamanian born and English is his second language and one he is passionate about.

Anyway, I’ve written about how people in my neighborhood collect the goodies around our barrio: http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2014/06/10/not-free-but-cheap-food/

Now, these stands are all over the place. They’re along the Inter American Hwy, they’re on the city streets of downtown David, and in several kiosks around the bus terminal. I went to the supermarket El Rey, yesterday, and one of the things I wanted was some tomatoes. The ones there were horrible and I didn’t buy any. Today, at the bus station I bought a bag of pibá still hot from being cooked, and a bag of wonderfully ripe plum tomatoes. They were a buck a bag.

Today's bargains

A word about the fan, which I also bought today. Most, but not all, of the buses running from Boquerón into the city are air conditioned. And it gets hot in David, believe me. More so than here where I live, and definitely scorching compared to places like Boquete and Potrerillos Arriba up in the mountains. And even the air conditioned buses often don’t keep the a/c on when they’re waiting for passengers in the terminal. The non a/c buses (actually they have it but the drivers don’t use it to save on fuel costs) are okay while on the move because the windows are opened and you get the breeze. But sitting in the terminal without a/c you need some way to create your own breeze. Many people use a newspaper or something else.

The other day I saw a girl waiting for the bus to come in and she was using a fan. I asked where she’d bought it and she told me about an Indian (India indian) shop not too far from the terminal. I had to go pay my internet bill this morning so I stopped by the Indian shop and bought 3 fans. This one ($1.99) I’ll keep in my knapsack for when it’s needed.

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Too Much Work

I recently learned that a friend of a friend had a Westerly Centaur sailboat over in Bocas del Toro for sale for a very low price. The boat had been salvaged after breaking adrift and winding up in a group of mangroves. The friend’s friend’s daughter had been working on restoring it but had pretty much lost interest in the project so it was possible that the boat might be available.

I did some research on the boat and found that it was very popular and had an excellent reputation. Several had made trans-Atlantic crossings and at least one had done a circumnavigation. I was, of course, interested, and had some email correspondence with Scott about the boat. He wrote: “Be aware it’s a fixer-upper. At one point (before my time with it) the hull was sanded out to be painted, but it never was painted leaving the hull in a camouflage mix of gel-coat, old paint and primers, but physically in pretty good condition,,,, as is the deck. The cockpit seats are shot but wouldn’t require much to replace. It was rigged for an outboard engine.

“There’s only one and a half real problems with the boat… The “one” is the rudder. It was originally mounted in an unbalanced configuration at the back of the “third” keel. It got busted off when the boat went ashore in the mangroves,,, I do have the rudder though. It could be remounted,,, but personally I was thinking of a new rudder arrangement, further aft in a balanced rudder configuration.”
Well, Bocas is a wonderfully beautiful area of Panama, and my friend, the late, great (and I MEAN that) Frank Hilson had said, “I can see you in Bocas.” So I thought I’d go have a look. It would be nice to have a boat again. A “home” and living “on the hook” (at anchor) is as cheap as it gets. And a “fixer upper” at a reasonable price can’t be too bad, can it? I mean, I spent many years of my life repairing and restoring boats, so there’s nothing that would be beyond my capabilities to fix. Besides, it would be nice to get away for a couple of day’s vacation.
I thought there were a couple of good omens as I started off for Bocas Wednesday morning. The bus for David was just getting to the bus stop at the same time I arrived so there was no wait. Then, at the terminal the bus for Bocas was just backing out of its slot when I showed up. It stopped and let me on. I didn’t even have time to buy a bottle of water at one of the kioskos.
In Almirante I bought my ticket for the water taxi that is the only way to get out to Isla Colón where Bocas town is situated. The boat was loading and I was off. My connections the whole way were spot on time.
The next day I bumped into Scott while I was on my way to his wife’s restaurant. We chatted as we walked along, actually I walked, he was on a bike which is the main method of transportation on the island. Scott and Francesca live on Careñero which is an island a couple of hundred yards away from Isla Colón. We were over there in a couple of minutes aboard their panga.
I climbed up onto the dock which is the back porch of their house and looked down and saw the boat. I said, “Scott, I appreciate your time and all, but I can tell you, instantly, that this will just be more work than I want to get involved in.” The boat being offered at $2,500 could easily end up costing four times as much when it was all said and done.
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But that’s okay. And riding back to the mainland I was wondering if I really DID want to live over there, after all. Riding back and forth for half an hour on the water taxi to get to a bus, and then a nearly four hour ride to get over the Continental Divide to David. Did I REALLY want to be in that situation? Not a definite NO, but certainly not an enthusiastic YES, either.
It wasn’t a complete waste. I had a nice mini-vacation and got quite a few pictures including this great sculpture of a man fishing, made out of door hinges:
IMG_0605

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Soccer Mom, Bocas del Toro Style

soccer mom

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August 9, 2014 · 8:02 am