January 24, 2013

Catalyst Log


Dear Friends and Family,

We are a bit behind in getting logs out to you but I guess we are just too busy having fun to do the writing.  Peg and Vic fly home today and should already be in Texas as I write this log.  We joined them for 2 days in Panama City and returned to the boat yesterday.  So much has happened and I have so many pictures that I will back track and put things in to more than one log.

Let me go back to Coco Banderes where I left off last.  Peg and Vic loved the place and as I said, it was one of our favorite places in 2005.  The trouble with the location is that it can be rough in the anchorage in strong winds.  We spent only 2 nights there but we had good weather for it.  The winds kicked up right as we were leaving.

I got Peg on a good snorkel spot that I remembered taking from 2005 but Vic didn’t have good fitting equipment and with his mustache, his mask was taking on water so he opted out.


We found some interesting things to point out to Peg.  Rob picked up a good size tulip shell that was sitting on some coral on the reef so Peg will have that as a memory of that snorkel experience and the location.  He also dove down and picked up an arrow crab to show Peg.  It was hiding in a hole.  They are pretty unusual looking but very small.

One of the things we see a lot of in that area are the big sea stars and Peg referred to them as a constellation of stars as you see one after another as you snorkel over the sand and grass areas.


We went around exploring the islands by dinghy.  One island there has a home and they have built a restaurant of sorts.


You can pay $1.50 each to use the tables and benches inside the building.  I think they may serve some drinks like beer or wine or soda.


They have a grate over a fire where you can cook dinner and they have fish to sell you for $5 a serving but nothing else to go with it.  You have to bring your dishes, silverware and other sides.  We didn’t do it but it could be a good pot luck place for boaters who are anchored there and $1.50 to use their facility is not out of line.  Note the grilll in the picture on the left.  It is not very high.


Unlike some of the other islands, just coming in and walking around to meet the family was free.  Some islands demand $2 per person the moment you land your dinghy, even if you don’t want to stay.  That is not true everywhere but makes it difficult to know what you are getting in to.  This is new activity since 2005.

We met a man there who is Kuna but lives with his family in Panama City and works there.  His mother is on the island and they have been visiting the island and their home village for almost a month.  He said that going in to Panama City is like being suffocated compared to being on  the islands.  After being in the city just now for 2 days, one can relate to that, though it depends on where you are and what you do in the city as to what the conditions are like.

Vic speaking Spanish was a real plus in communicating with the locals and we will certainly miss that.  It is not just his translations though but his friendliness and attitude of communicating that set the tone for all of us.

We left much sooner than we wanted to.  It was a place both Peg and Vic said they could linger for a time but we wanted to go to a traditional village for a dance competition and so we were off.

We went to an anchorage about a mile away from the village.  Oddly, where the villages are located there are generally small anchorages that are not too comfortable.  Because it was so far and rough seas at the time, we had a local guide come get us on the launcha.    The launcha was good sized but doubt it had any kind of keel and it was very tippy.  In a boat meant to seat about 10 comfortably, we had 19 people.  That was crazy and Rob thought probably the most dangerous thing we had done in all the years of cruising.  He told the guide that we would not return in that situation and so we took two trips to get back.   The picture shows how just the back two seats were crowded as the rest of us were already off.  There were about 4 people in just the small bow area alone.   You can also see where we docked.  It is next to a pig pen that is over the water so no cleaning the cage!

P1070742 P1070680

The day had been billed as a dance competition for almost a month.  We had been told it would start about 9:30 but we didn’t go in until 1:00.  We saw no sign of a dance competition.  We were given a tour of the island.  It is quite small but very crowded.

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We bought some Kuna bread fresh baked and saw the inside of some of the homes and some of the small shops.  Rob and I had been there to check out the place earlier before Peg and Vic came.  At that time, they were just dropping off sugar cane to make a strong alcohol for a coming of age party.

P1070663Rob and I had helped carry some of the cane to the main building where it would be pressed to get the sugar liquid and then make the drink. P1070668 P1070669 You could not know when the party would be for sure because it depended on when the drink was ready.

The party was to be 3 days long and start the day after the day we were there.  We might have stayed but it was time for Peg and Vic to leave.

As it turned out, there was no dance competition but the guide got the locals to dance for us.  The dancing is done to the maracas that the women use and the “pan” like flutes that the guys blow.  It is very simple movements and not much variety in the sound or the steps.

P1070766 Rob and I had seen it in 2005 but we were glad that Peg and Vic got to experience it.  Watching the spectators was some of the fun!  P1070768 PICT0003

Some of the boys especially liked showing off!  They didn’t worry about getting dirty!!


We got to see some of the prep work of getting ready for the big party the next day.  All the women in the village sat in one open area filling large pots and wooden small dug outs with green bananas and Yucca root which would then be boiled with smoked fish for the food for the feast.  It was very colorful to watch because of the colorful  clothes that the ladies wear but they would not allow pictures.

One structure had several caldrons cooking other things for the event.  Women were sitting fanning the fire to keep it very hot.  Again, no pictures permitted.  They sure have to deal with smoky conditions here.  Inhaling smoke is a major health factor for women in countries where open fires are used.

It is a very communal society and one I hope to learn more about.  No one knew when the party would start because the spiritual leaders would know when everything was right.  Then designated young men would serve as town criers and walk around the village to let everyone know it was time to gather.

The two young girls who are to be celebrated are kept in a make shift lodge for the three days while everyone else parties and I guess the sugar cane drink makes things like a college white lighting party!  Lots of throwing up and passing out!

The girls are bathed in salt water several times and at the end, their hair is cut to show the transition into woman hood.  What I was surprised about is that the youngest girl is 8 and the other about 12 or 13.  It was hard to determine the criteria for this.  I guess a lot is left up to the parents and when they want to do it.

The day before when we arrived in the anchorage was a time for Venacio to come sell his molas.


He is from this island and you may remember that Linsey got  one of his molas when we first arrived here.  Peg bought some and I took pictures to send back to a friend who wanted me to shop for her.  This is my favorite mola so far.


It was great to be able to get her opinion before buying.  Like me, she is finding it hard to resist, even long distance.

Speaking of resisting, I just had a mola break in writing this.  We moved to a new anchorage today and a boat with 8 people came up to sell molas.


We invited them in to the cockpit and looked at the molas they had.  They must have had close to 200 to show us but we resisted.  They were nice enough about it.  The older woman in the group saw my molas through the door in to the cabin and they were very interested in seeing them and knowing where they came from.  While we didn’t buy molas, we did give them each a glass of water and some individually wrapped cookies to take home for each of the 8.  That is the last of those cookies!  The oldest young man says he has a baby at home and would like some water for the baby but we didn’t have a bottle to put it in.  I had a very large can from powered milk that I was planning to give away and so I filled that with fresh water.  Hopefully it was worth their stopping.  It is hard to say no to the mola sellers and I don’t always look.  Their large family though reminded me of our daughter’s family.  I figured it was not as likely that such a crowd would be welcome on a boat so this was an opportunity to be friendly to a large family.  One cannot sell if you don’t show your things so at least they had that chance.

Back to what happened with Peg and Vic.  We didn’t stay for the big coming of age party but returned the next day to an anchorage where we could be picked up by launcha to go back to Panama City.  It was also a place where we could leave the boat in the care of friends.  We have done a couple of firsts this trip.  We traveled around without a depth sounder until Peg and Vic got here and we got the part to fix it.  That was about a month!  We also left our boat at anchor for 2 days with no one aboard.  I guess we are becoming either more confident or more relaxed!   In both cases, it all worked out!

We had a great time in Panama City but that is a log of it’s own so that will be the next installment when I get the chance.

Fair Winds,

Sue and Rob

Alone aboard Catalyst

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