Tag Archives: panama

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.

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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:

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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:
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Soccer Mom, Bocas del Toro Style

soccer mom

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August 9, 2014 · 8:02 am

Forced To Do It

I bought a “smart phone” yesterday. Ugh!

One of the indispensable pieces of equipment in my life has been my iPod. I use it to listen to books I’ve downloaded from Audible.com. I listen at the bus stop and I listen when I’m riding on the bus, too.

A year or so back my original iPod developed problems and I could no longer download anything to it so I went out and bought an iPod Nano. Earlier this week it, too, developed a problem. Something to do with the battery. Couldn’t reset the thing, either. The only way I could get it to work was when it was plugged into power. Letting it sit plugged in wouldn’t give it a charge.

On line it said I could get it fixed at an Apple Store. There’s one in Panama City, but that would require sitting on a bus for 14 hours (round trip) and a couple of night’s hotel stay to get it fixed, however much THAT might cost. It’s stuff like this that have made us a disposable society. It’s cheaper in the long run to just buy new.

So why not just buy a new iPod and save some money? Well, the one thing is the built-in camera. It’s not nearly as good as my regular camera, but that’s heavy, bulky, and generally stays at home unless I really want it. It’s also hard to get good candid photos with it because its size attracts attention, and there’s a photo essay I’ve been trying to get the pics for. I’ll give you a preview…

The Nöbe women wear a distinctive dress but I’ve noticed that their footwear is extremely varied: from rubber boots and flip flops to high heals and everything in between. I’ve captured a few samples but it will be much easier with a smart phone camera because it will simply look as though I’m texting, which is the national pass time of much of Panama.

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I’ll be making another 4-hour passage over to Bocas del Toro in the next couple of weeks and I wouldn’t be able to do it without listening to my books. Right now I’m into Fortune Cookie by Bryce Courteney and narrated by the wonderful Humphrey Bower.

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The Boat Bug Explained…

Arthur Michell Ransome (18 January 1884 – 3 June 1967) was an English author and journalist. He is best known for writing the Swallows And Amazons series of children’s books.

Regarding boats he wrote:

“The desire to build a boat is one of those that cannot be resisted. It begins as a little cloud on a serene horizon. It ends by covering the whole sky, so that you can think of nothing else. You must build to regain your freedom. . .”

He also wrote that the difference between a house and a boat is: “Houses are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you can not think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable, not the animal world, rooted and stationary, incapable of gay transition…The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.”

Despite emphysema, arthritis and the three stents I carry around in my heart I’m not ready for a final resting place. That’s why this blog is named One More Good Adventure.

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Too Much Fun?

I’ve written, before, about a neat, DIY boat called the Puddle Duck Racer.

http://www.pdracer.com/

A few years ago I priced it out at less than $200. I’ve also said that I doubt that there’s a group of sailors who have more fun than the Puddle Duckers.

A PDR is a “class” sailboat, just like an Optimist Pram, but those go for as much as a grand plus. A “class” sailboat means that they all meet certain criteria so that they can compete against one another without a handicapping system. The bottom rocker of all Puddle Ducks is exactly the same.

puddle-duck-racer

Other than that, anything goes…

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Thinking about building a shanty boat, I’m going to need to have a dinghy and I’m going to build a PDR, but it WON’T be anything like this one…

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Bamboo For Shanty Boat Building

Continuing on the search for building materials for a shanty boat build here in Boquerón, Panama. Five years or so ago I talked to Courtney Parks, owner of the Bocas Marina and a good friend of my friend the late, great Frank Hilson (everyone who knew Frank misses him). Back then Courtney was working on getting a boat yard up and running in Almirante on the mainland. Yard, travel lift, the whole nine yards and rare as hen’s teeth down here. Well, going through a ton of sites this last week it seems he’s actually done it and the yard opened a couple of years ago.

http://cruisingoutpost.com/2012/11/bocas-del-toro-boatyard-construction-underway/#idc-container

Courtney said then, that the plywood they sell here in Panama is garbage, and he usually had what he needed shipped down from the States. So, talk about expensive! Figure in the cost of shipping and then the import duties, sheeesh!

Today I went to one of the largest hardware outlets around, Franklin Jurado, over in Bugaba. They had a limited stock of plywood and while it was marked “Marinero,” I doubt that it really IS marine-grade ply. A 3/4″ sheet is listed at $26.05 and 1/2″ at $22.53. Cochez, the other big supplier in the area prices their stuff within a few cents of Jurado’s prices.

So, building a small, 18′ scow hull like the Atkins “Retreat” which I’ve lways rather liked, http://shantyboatliving.com/2012/shantyboat-living-book-design-options-retreat/ you can figure that the plywood for the scow hull is going to run around $450, not counting framing (2X4X8, untreated pine runs $4.84 each) plus fastenings, glass and resin for sheathing I’d make a very rough guess at about $1,250 for the hull. And remember, of really lousy plywood, too.

So this brings me back to wondering what using bamboo would cost, and what would it look like? Well, they seem to use it quite well in Thailand where these pictures were taken:

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Now I have to track down a source for bamboo for pricing. Besides, I’m thinking of building the cabin with split bamboo because of its light weight.

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Bug Bit Again

In spite of the fact that I’ve worked on some exceptionally fine yachts in my day,

Lady Ann-Hatteras 58

Jolie Aire-Golfe Juan

And had my own small sailboat that I single-handed for a nine-month trip from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala back in ’92 after sailing the boat in the picture above from France to Fort Lauderdale.

Nancy Dawson

I am secretly a HUGE fan of unconventional craft. Boats on the cheap, so to speak.

Back in the early 70s I dreamed of building a pontoon platform and loading one of those pickup truck RV inserts onto it and power it with an outboard. I never did it, but it’s STILL an excellent idea.

You know, sort of like this:

like this

I mean everything you’d need is right there in the insert…galley, living space, sanitary facilities (heads we call them in pirate talk). All together you’d have a relatively inexpensive shanty boat. And the pleasure of being on the water isn’t related to how much the boat costs, either. And it’s true that boats are used in INVERSE proportion to their size. The smaller the boat the more it’s used.

In 1980, after attending my 20th high school reunion (Okay, it was actually our FIRST class reunion. It just took us 20 years to get it together to have it.) I went to Maine to visit some dear friends. The first night there I was browsing through some National Geographic Magazines that were on the nightstand in my bedroom when I came across an article about a couple, Gwen Carpenter Roland and Calvin Voisin, who recycled an old Louisiana shotgun style house, mounted it on a steel barge and had it towed deep into the Atchafalaya swamp where they eventually lived on it for the next eight years.

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http://www.amazon.com/Atchafalaya-Houseboat-Years-Louisiana-Swamp-ebook/dp/B003IT5SKC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403133956&sr=1-1&keywords=atchafalaya+houseboat

I thought it was one of the coolest ideas I’d ever come across. Without knowing it at the time, I would eventually come to know the Atchafalaya Basin extremely well running a crew boat all through the area taking men and supplies to the drilling rigs located there, but I never came across their house.

I think I stole that copy of the Geographic and took it back to New Orleans where I was living at the time. (Coincidentally, I at the class reunion I won the prize for traveling the farthest to get there, but that was only because Sheila Bonnell didn’t make it from Japan where she was working as an architect.) I envied that couple and the realization of their dream. I knew I’d never have enough money to own a yacht of my own, and actually I found it much better to play around on somebody else’s yacht and get paid for doing it than owning one of my own. But the story made me believe that owning and living on a shanty boat was actually doable. Though the cost of a deck barge like theirs was prohibitive for me, not to mention how much it would cost to hire a tug boat to tow it somewhere was totally out of the question.

And it was. In 1984 I found a half build shanty boat tied up to a tree in the Tchefuncte River on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It was essentially a shack on two pontoons made from oil well casings, and it had a 25 hp Johnson outboard motor for power. I bought it for $1,500, and with my friend Woody Northington, a professional seaman like myself, brought the boat across the lake and down to the Mississippi Gulf Outlet Marina on Bayou Bienvenue (Welcome Bayou) in Chalmette, a suburb just outside of New Orleans.

Houseboat trimmed

I lived on the boat for nearly three years and loved it as much as any yacht I ever worked on (and that included the 175′ Gallant Lady). Altogether I had less than $2,000 invested in her, and when I had to leave Louisiana after losing five jobs in three years and getting laid off for the last time ON my birthday I sold her for $2500 and left.

When I decided to retire to Panama my original idea was to build a shanty boat and spend my remaining days being a “character” over in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Well, so far that hasn’t happened. Hasn’t even come close to happening. But like one of those songs that get stuck in your head that you just can’t shake all day long, the lure of a shanty boat has returned to haunt me.

I have been very content with my life here in Panama, living way up in the mountains in Potrerillos Arriba and down here “on the flat” in Boquerón. But this little house I love and have called home for three years is for sale and I’m on a month-to-month basis. So far it doesn’t seem that I’m in any danger of being removed. People aren’t beating down the door to look the place over and possibly buy it, but it could happen at any time. Then what would I do? The houseboat worm is burrowing around in my brain.

(You have absolutely no idea how much I’m craving a cigar right now after having stopped smoking nearly 7 months ago.)

I began to think about a modified version of the Louisiana boat. When I ride the bus into David we pass by a place called Riegos Chiriquí (Chiriquí Irrigation). Out in their lot surrounding the office building are stacks of various sized PVC piping. Some of it easily as big in diameter (24″) as the pontoons of my old boat. I started Googling building shanty boats with PVC piping and found some really cool stuff that the Chinese (wouldn’t you know) are doing.

They are using PVC piping to replace what had once been traditional bamboo construction. And I’m not talking about small stuff, either. They’re making freight-carrying boats in the 30′ to 40’+ range.

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Pretty cool, huh? Well, it turns out that while it is cool it’s too damned expensive to do here in Panama. I dropped in at Riegos a couple of days ago and found out that the 24″ pipe which maxes out at 20 feet (the Louisiana boat was 35′) costs over $1,800 each. The smaller pipe like in the pictures above, also max of 20′ cost over $400 each. Prohibitive for my budget.

We’ve all seen pictures of the reed boats of Lake Titicaca…

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Why couldn’t one use bamboo bundled together to make pontoons for the base of a shanty boat? Bamboo grows wild around here. I’ve seen forests of it in my travels up in the mountains. While at Riegos I asked how much 4″PVC cost, figuring that was about the size of most of the bamboo I’ve seen here. A 20′ length of the  stuff is $23.07, and I haven’t done any calculations on the flotation capabilities of the stuff to know how much would be needed. But at a buck fifteen a foot it, too, is prohibitive.

But what all this has done has been to keep me wandering through various sites and dreaming the dream once again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Not Free, But Cheap Food

I recently wrote a post about how much free food was available here in Panama. Yesterday I went to a supermarket for groceries. Naturally that wasn’t free, but when I went to the bus stop to get back home there was a gentleman about my age who had set up a box on one of the two available seats. It was filled with avocados and pibas.

Now, you all know what avocados are, and there are several large avocado trees along my street. People come with long bamboo poles to knock them down.

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The old man was selling them for 50¢ each. Half of what they go for in the supermarkets. They were all rather soft and ready to eat so I bought one. It was scrumptious, too. Creamy and just right. You know how avocados are judged? You buy them in the market and wait for them to soften up. Each day you give them a little squeeze and goes like this: too hard, too hard, too hard, too hard, too late it’s rotten.

He also had a dozen bags of pibá (known in English as Peach Palm fruit.).

pibas

They are seasonal and people throughout Central and South America love these. In Costa Rica they’re called pejibaye. They’re chontaduro in Colombia and Ecuador, pijuayo in Peru, pijiguao in Venezuela, tembé in Bolivia. The Brazilians know them as pupunha and in Trinidad and Tobago they’re called peewah.

Whatever they’re called they’re about the size of a golf ball and just about as hard when they’re raw. They have to be boiled for hours in order to soften them up enough so you can eat them. Most often they are cooked in salted water over an open fire in a large pot known as a fogón. Cooked this way the fire imparts a smokey flavor to the nuts. Personally I like them. The flesh, even when cooked right, is rather tough but it reminds me a bit of the flavor of artichoke hearts.

What really surprised me was what a bag of them cost. Only 25¢ for a dozen. (Don’t count them in the picture. I ate two before taking the shot.) They were so cheap I wasn’t sure I understood what he’d said the first time and had him repeat it. Twenty five cents a dozen. And they’d already been cooked. As you roam around downtown David (Dah VEED) there are dozens of street venders selling produce and now they all seem to have little plastic bags of pibá .

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