May 9, 2012
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Dear Friends and Family,
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We have been here almost a week now and have not really done too much of pleasure at this point.  The marina is very nice without bugs or even bird problems as the boats are not in close to vegetation.  That bodes well for a cleaner boat next fall.  We did get off the boat  on Saturday and did some sight seeing on this island.  The area around us is a series of islands, mostly mangrove, so we have lots of water around.  The other side of where we are is open to the Caribbean waters so has beach area and some incoming waves.  They also have warning about rip tides so one has to be careful.  We only went to one of the beaches.  The other one takes about 1 1/2 hours to walk from one side to the other.   As part of this marina development there is an area of villas, a hostel with restaurant and activities, a beach bar on the beach, a spa area which I have not checked out but might when we come back, a zip line, kayak rental and probably more.  People ferry in from the main town of Bocas del Toro and pay $5 each way for the ferry and $3 to be in the area which is actually a park.  We walked to the hostel and the beach and had lunch at the beach bar where we met a couple who live in Boquete, which is in the mountains inland.  They were here with neighbors who had a boat here and are taking it back to Florida to sell.  They had some interesting things to say about life in Panama and were enthusiastic about it.  It didn’t surprise us as we hear about a lot of people doing the same thing or at least looking in to it.  If you want to check out pictures of the marina, go to: http://www.redfrogbeach.com/marina_photos.htmlo   In the second picture, there is a red hulled sail boat.  We are about in that area of the marina.
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One morning, before it gets too hot, I want to walk over and see the villa area.  I guess it is there that you can find the red frogs that this area is named for.
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This marina is probably the only one in this part of Panama that can handle the big boats.  I have some pictures of some of the big yachts that are here now.  One is a very long black sail boat.  The dinghy is black, even the sails are a grey color.  We have noticed that the crew always wears black, which in this weather must be very hot and uncomfortable.  There is a 125 ft. motor yacht here with a crew of at least 9 that I counted.  It took them all day to clean the boat on the outside and actually left the dock and returned facing the other way so they could clean the other side.  It is four stories tall and has room for the crew plus the owner and 4 other suits for 2 each.  They had just dropped the owner off and were staying here until called to the next location.  What a life!  There are a couple of other very large vessels but smaller than the first two I spoke of.
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We took the dinghy in to town yesterday.  We had not been able to go in on the free ferry and the next one was tomorrow so we wanted to get in to town.  It is about 30 minutes in our own dinghy.   About 4 miles.  It was calm going in but by later in the day, it was a bit more choppy, especially where there is a channel leaving out to the open waters.   We took in laundry because we were told about a place that does it for less than the one here at the marina.  Eventually, they will have a do your own facility when they get the bathroom and showers completed, maybe by the time we are back in the fall.  They have it started at least.  By taking the laundry in, we saved $22 on 4 loads over the price we would have here so it really made a difference.  Generally, you pick things up the next day but we were able to get things in about 3 hours.
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We also checked out the food supply at the local markets.  We should be in pretty good shape though choices on things are limited, like crackers for appetizers, but then you need to learn to be creative!  I am still hoping to provision big before going to the San Blas and will likely do so in Colon or likely Panama City.  Before we leave for the San Blas we will need to have everything possible as getting supplies there is tricky at best.  Wish one could keep fresh produce longer as that is the biggest issue.  I wish more enterprising Cuna would sell produce rather than the mola’s.   They would have a consistent market with the boating community.  One does have a limit on mola’s!
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We did find some unusual things in the grocery store.  It is full service, you can even buy your machete!  Of course you may need it to whack off the top of the pineapple or coconut that you buy.
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One of the things I have noted is that people in Central America stick to cabbage, carrots, and onions as their vegetable diet.  They have other things in the store but the locals don’t use them much.  They eat a lot of rice and beans and tortillas and chicken or fish if able to afford meat.  They will eat some mangos, bananas, plantain, and some times pineapple and papaya but mostly the beans and rice.  So even if the things grow here and are available, they may not be prone to eating them.  That may be why the Cuna don’t realize how much the cruisers would like the fresh fruits and vegetables.
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Because Bocas Town (as the locals call Bocas del Toro) is also on an island, though a different one than where we are in Red Frog Marina, all their supplies come in once or twice a week.  Friday is the day to go get fresh produce.  When we went in yesterday, the pickings were not very good.
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We are going in on Friday to make reservations to get to Panama City to catch our flight home.  We have booked a flight from Panama City to Miami on the 15th.  We will be leaving about 12:30 from Panama and getting in about 4:30.  That sounds very easy and is the easy part but nothing is easy in Central America.
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There is a small plane from Bocas Town to Panama city but from where it lands, it is a cross town bus or cab ride to the airport.  Because it is a small plane you are limited to the luggage you can carry to 30 pounds.  We have some very large bags we got last year to bring things down in.  On the international flight you can have 50 pounds plus two carry on pieces which can be heavy as long as they fit on the plane.  We had a full load and will return this fall full, I am sure.  We are taking back things from the boat, including parts that need repair and will be returning with us.  We could pay 85 cents a pound for the extra weight but are taking a chance there won’t be room and then we would not get the luggage until who knows when.  We could ship it ahead of time but because of the parts involved, Rob doesn’t want to be separated from the luggage.  It is about $120 for the plane trip each. We would need to leave on the 14th and spend a night in Panama City to be sure we made the flight on the 15th so that adds hotel and food costs.  If not for the luggage situation, it would certainly be the easiest option but we are choosing option 2.
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Option 2 is to take the bus but it is not that easy either.  First you have to take a ferry from Bocas Town and of course we will need a ferry to get there.  Once the ferry lands on the mainland, we can get to the bus.  It leaves about 8 p.m but has lots of room for luggage.  It is a comfortable bus though we have been warned that it can be too well air conditioned so be sure to dress so you can stay warm.  Since colder weather clothes are some of the things we are taking home, that works.  The bus is a 10 hour ride through the night and arrives about 5 a.m.  We will need a bus or taxi to the airport from the bus station.  May do a taxi because of all the luggage.  The cost of the ferry from here to Bocas Town will be $5 each and then the ferry from Bocas Town to the mainland and the cost of the bus is $32 per person.  No hotel needed.  So even though it is a tougher trip, we are saving a little money.
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There is the option of the 10 hour bus ride during the day.  I like that option so we can see the countryside but it leaves so early in the morning it is difficult to make the connection here.  By leaving at night, we have eliminated at least one night in a hotel and we are having longer on the 14th to get things ready to go.
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Now, after all that, once we get home, we will rent a car and have a 5 hour drive.  I hope we can get some sleep enroute because we will be officially traveling about 30 hours!
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Right now, Lisa is scheduled to bring the kids to see us on the 16th.  We are happy that they are eager to see us.  Not sure how much energy we will have.  The morning after we get home, we have to get the license for the car and be sure it works plus call the insurance company to resume coverage and then of course return the rental car.  We have friends who are still in our house and we are hoping that they might help if necessary.
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Rob is very busy getting the boat ready to leave.  This is not an uncommon practice but this is the first time we are leaving the boat in the water rather than on the hard.  We feel pretty comfortable about the Marina and the area as far as work, security and weather are concerned but it will be an expensive season.
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Rob has a list of things to do that has 106 items on it.  Some are very quick, some I can do, but some take most of the day.  So far he has the jib sail off and stowed and the main is drying and will be folded and stowed by this evening.  He has secured the water maker, generator and one main engine.  That takes changing oil and flushing them with fresh water among other things.  We have put outside cushions away after washing them and any screens that we want removed are done.  Other things need covering from the sun.  Rob will remove the trampolines, which will take less time than putting them back on in the fall.   We do this to protect them from the sun.
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One of the last things Rob will work on is the dinghy engine because we may use it yet on Saturday in case they won’t let us make the reservations for the bus on Friday.  Usually they only do it 2 days ahead of time.  We can’t call, we have to do it in person.
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The weather is bright penetrating sun and very warm.  Rob is always soaked with sweat.  You can see it in the picture with the machete.  We are running the air conditioning on the boat full time.  I am able to help him and do some things on my own but mostly, Rob does the lion’s share.  The final cleaning is at the last so I can’t really finish until he does.  Aint boat ownership fun!  We are doing all this only to have a week or more of work to put it all back to rights once we get back.  I really hesitate to send a pictures of his shorts now!  They keep getting shorter and more raggedy.  One of these days, they will just blow away and I guess then I will be happy.
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We don’t know when we will get back to the boat, maybe as early as late October, but the plan is early November.  That would be 6 months from when we arrived at the marina on May 4th.  We got one way tickets so we can make a decision closer to the time.
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Just wanted to let you know our ETA in Florida.  We are looking forward to connecting with our Florida friends and family before we take off again about June 7 or 8 for about 5 weeks.
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Here is a shot one way as we arrive along a path from the hostel.  The branch in the pictures is a sea grape filled with bunches of grapes.
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As we walk the other way, we come upon a beach bar and more seating and shade area.  The bar is open air.  The other beach is on the other side of a rock outcropping where the bar is located.
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You can see the black sailing vessel with Rob standing beside it.  Also shown are the boat from the back so you can see the deck a little bit.  There is a picture of the big yacht when it pulled away from the dock to turn around for cleaning.  The black sail boat is putting up a sail and you can see it and the dinghy on the outside of the boat are both black.
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There is a picture of me showing Rob how to use a machete and then as we came back from town, we snapped a picture of all the yachts in a row at the dock.
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Fair Winds,
Sue and Rob
Wrapping things up in Panama
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