Continuing Saga

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March 30, 2013

Continuing Saga

Dear Friends and Family,

It is the day before Easter.  I have called for a pot luck to celebrate the day but the weather is not helping me out much.  It is to stay windy and wavy and overcast with squalls until about Tuesday.  I know there will be at least a few people here but not as many as if the weather were better.  The good news is that some of the other areas in the outer islands of the San Blas  are having their own celebrations there so people will be able to share the holiday with friends.

The islands around here are really full of vacationers from the main land.  There are 4 islands surrounding the anchorage and all have campers on them.  The smallest has the most number.  It is wall to wall tents.

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If you can see an enlargement of this picture you can see both the boat bringing in more guests as well as the tents on the little island behind us.  We went ashore this morning to check it out.

P1080550We did see one restroom and one shower area with a fresh water storage tank.  P1080554 They bring coolers and camping stoves.  There is a Kuna family on shore there and they seem to be providing some food options as well as canned drinks.   Certainly, it is not getting away to an isolated island.  One leaves the crowded city and comes to this!  People seem to be having a good time though.  I guess people leave tomorrow afternoon as the vacation is the week before Easter and it is back to school and work on Monday.

Friends of ours set sail this morning for the U.S. From Providencia which is just off the coast of Nicaragua.  We will be checking in with them twice a day until they make land fall.  I sure hope they have a better time of it than our friends we talked about on Laeto Loco.  You really need to read the blog accounts of the two girls at http://www.VeldmanSailing.com.  They had a challenging experience in the gulf and you will have chills reading about it.  You will also come away with respect for this family who weathered the storm, literally, and worked so well together to get through all the things that happened to them.  Rob and I had been in contact with them the whole way by SSB radio (HAM radio) but we didn’t know quite how bad things were.  Being a prayerful family, it was not unusual for Paul to ask us to pray for them, but the tone of his voice told us all we needed to know.  Being a fireman, he is used to staying calm in a crisis and was when we spoke to him but still, you could tell!  You will be happy that you read their account.

I almost didn’t suggest you read about it as we are making that similar trip in about a month and we don’t want you worried about us.  We expect that the northerly storms will be done for the season though so we anticipate smooth sailing.  I would guess that learning from their experience would be that we might not rush a window if there is no way to get someplace to stop en route.  The biggest issue will be Mexico to Florida.  It is about 3 days with only one out of the way stopping point at the Dry Tortugas.  Well, enough about what is a month or more away!

Let me get back to the great time we had with Terri and Jon.  Hopefully you read the last log about our hike to the inland Kuna village.  Our next stop put us in contact with more Kuna but this time on an outer island.  The Kuna have their villages on islands close to the mainland.  This makes it easier to get water, cultivate the fields and plantations that are on the mainland and they are a little more protected from some of the bigger waves that may come in closer to the outer islands.

The outer islands are where the Kuna harvest coconuts.  Usually families take turns staying on the island for several months out of the year before someone else takes their place.  They harvest coconuts, keep the island underbrush cleared and generally safe guard this area for their family or village.  Changing out the families that live there really can change the atmosphere of the place a lot.  Some families have many children, sometimes it is just a few adults.  Some are friendlier than others but most seem friendly.

What is changing is that on the outer islands, some of the people are setting up businesses other than coconut harvesting.  Many are becoming day or short overnight vacation places with basic Kuna style lodging, some restaurant type of food, etc.  Some island families are making money by baking bread, burning trash etc.  From how crowded the islands around here are this week, I can tell by the way that they are packed in on the islands that more and more people do this type of thing.  Kuna Yala has been discovered and in such a way that it is now being mined for the tourist dollar.  This changes the islands and since businesses are now run there, I would guess it means some families will stay on the outer islands all the time or families are chosen to rotate by how well they can do business.

With Terri and Jon, we experienced some of outer island life.  We stopped at an island that we had been to earlier in the season.  You can walk around the whole island.  When we were there with Laeto Loco, there were two families living in two different parts of the island.  This time, there were a lot of people but only one spot was being lived in.  The place that had been a viable home in the other part of the island was stripped bare of anything useful.  It seems structures are put together and taken apart and rearranged frequently as needed.

Terri is so creative in making fun things happen.  I had gotten a very large bottle of both hand soap and dish soap in the things I had asked them to bring.  We put some in an empty small jar and made a bubble blower out of wire.  We took that in to the kids that were there and showed them how to use it.  Then the older kids blew the bubbles and the little ones chased them.

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We also took in some reading glasses that one of the women asked for and a loaf of banana bread and some colored pencils and a coloring book that Terri and Jon had brought with them.  Rather than being shy about picture taking, they asked us to take pictures.  I did and then made copies to bring to them the next day.

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Terri and Jon with the Kuna family that was there at the time.  Terri, who is vertically challenged, actually got to stand in the back row for a picture for a change.  Jon almost got cut out of the picture he was so tall in comparison.  Of course he is tall with most comparisons!

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This shows off the very nice launcha that the family owns.  They actually had two large ones but this one looked new and was beautifully painted.  This side has a dolphin on it and the other a sun over a palm island.  Even the inside is painted with meaningful design.

Along this island is a beautiful beach though the water gets quite deep near shore.  Many boaters with kids like to hang out here.  They can turn the boat stern to the beach and tie off to a tree on shore.  That makes swimming to and from the beach for the kids an easy job and that close to the island, it is very calm.  Often the Kuna kids come and play with the boater’s kids.

The day we were there with Terri and Jon, there was no activity on the beach except that in the shallows, it looked like a sea star convention because there were so many just off shore.

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We remembered what my sister Peggy had said about a “constellation” of stars in the water and we decided to make one that is commonly seen in the northern sky.  Can you see it in the picture?  What is interesting is that we moved the star fish in to position and then left to deliver the bubbles thinking that by then the sand we kicked up would settle and make a more clear picture.  When we got back about 10 minutes later, we could hardly see where we had moved them.  We put them back in place and took a picture from one angle and by the time we did that and walked to take another angle, they were already losing their positions.  Those critters can move fast!

We then moved on to a spot that Peg and Vic liked so much.  It is Coco Bandero Cays.  The weather was still not overly clear there and the winds were up a little but we got some snorkeling in.  We met up with another boat that is frequently on the radio and is a net control and weather boat many mornings.  They also charter and had guests with them.  They showed us how to access a little sand spit near the outer reef and we came ashore where they took our picture.  You can even see the wreck along the reef in the background.

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We swam the reef around the island and with the sun still peeking through, we also swam another island reef closer to the boat.  Terri and Jon swam to one of the islands in this group of 4 larger ones and took a little beach walk before swimming back to our boat.

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Since it was rocky there, we moved over to the Hot Tub where we had also been with Peg and Vic.  We were able to do some snorkeling there along a reef.  We tried some swimming off the boat but the current returning was very strong.  The next day, we moved to a place called the Swimming Pool which is less than a mile away.  The sun was coming out in full force and the winds were calming down and the color of the water is impossible to talk about or get a good picture of.  In the right light with calming winds, this place just took our breathe away.  Each of these islands is surrounded by beautiful water so that is not the issue but perhaps it is the expanse you see from this place that makes it so overwhelmingly beautiful.  These places have their names because like in a hot tub or swimming pool, it is easy to see the bottom.  One could clearly see fish and rays swimming below without needing to be in the water with a mask.

We took the boat to a more crowded anchorage on another side of an adjoining island called Bug Island.  This anchorage is protected by the island so can be nice and calm. But in calm winds, the bugs are not blown away from the boat.  Hence, the name.   We took the dinghy ashore there to burn trash and we did a little exploring.

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There are volunteer coconut trees everywhere.

P1080505Rob found a covered termite trail up a palm tree and tasted them to see if Panama termites also tasted like carrots.  They do!

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There is still another island close by where a couple of families live.  We walked around there and found some shells for me and took pictures by some deserted huts at the far end of the island.

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Coming back we took a picture of our boat behind the island that used to be the boaters’ hang out before they started charging to use it.

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We had planned to stay at least one more day but there was a call for a pot luck on that Friday and Terri and Jon said they would enjoy that so we moved to the East Lemons where we have probably spent the most time this season.  It seems to be party central!
We don’t always get colorful sunsets here but we had a good one that night.

P1080523By this time, the wind had gone down to almost nothing.  This was not great for sailing or for staying cool but it was amazing for snorkeling and we had two of the best days we have ever had in all our years of doing this.  The water was like slightly undulating jello.  It was clear and with nothing to churn it up, the visibility was great.

We took the dinghy over to Dog Island, which in windy conditions would have been a wet ride but in this case was smooth and quick.  There is a cargo boat that came in decades ago and was taking on water.  They knew they would sink so they came in shallow water close to one of the islands where they could off load the cargo.  The wreck is still there with parts above water so it is easy to snorkel on.  I am already in and others are waiting to get out of the dinghy.

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The colorful sponges that grow on it get good light and are really pretty.

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I like the bowl sponges.

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We just took our time cruising around the shallow wreck.

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You can see how close to the island the wreck is as Terri and Jon are near the wreck in this picture.

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We had told Jon and Terri that we had seen a school of squid near the wreck on a previous trip.  They were the ones that spotted 12 of them hovering in a line.

PICT0056That was a fun find.

On the way back, we stopped at the outer reef of an island near our boat and Rob dropped the three of us off.  We saw some unusual critters.  Terri is very good at spotting.  There were many large and small schools of fish to enjoy.  Here is Jon over a school of  wrasse.

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We swam back to the boat and it was all pretty easy.  We had covered quite a bit of territory but with no waves and current to get in the way, we were not even winded.

The next day, their last with us on this trip, we took the long dinghy ride out to an outer reef.  We were told how to access the coral heads inside the reef and how to get through a cut to the open ocean side of the reef.  It was a bit of a challenge, even with the calm seas.  I don’t think I would have wanted to do it in conditions like today.  It was safe but enough of a challenge to make it a unique snorkeling experience.  We saw lots of fan coral and many fish.  Terri and Jon spotted a nurse shark and we all got to see a spotted eagle ray but we were up pretty high above the things we saw and the landscape seemed the same so we headed back.  Once back inside the reef Terri spotted a very large southern ray just below us.  We followed this graceful beauty for some time.

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Because we were not fighting the waters and therefore not tired, we took a dinghy ride over to another reef Rob and I had done before.  We got in and just held on to the boat.  When we got further along to where we wanted to quit, we just got back in the dinghy and took it  back to the boat.  I really like this reef.  Terri, our spotter, found three lion fish under a ledge.  Taking underwater pictures is tough but  here is a shot of three of the lion fish.   One is obvious.  Do you see the other two?

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One of the things we have been seeing are a lot of very healthy stands of stag horn coral.

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So often we see this structure and it is dead so it is nice to see healthy coral of many varieties.

I wish we could share pictures of all we saw, the big barrel sponges, beautiful fan and other soft corals that look like swaying trees, along with the beautifully colored fish and sea creatures in so many shapes and sizes.  The waters here are comfortable temperature and reefs are everywhere.  It is a snorkelers dream.

Well, it was a great two day ending to a wonderful time with dear family.  Terri and Jon left with one other boater from here on a launcha for the ride back to Panama City.

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They stayed on there until their return home on Thursday.

Terri and Jon will be moving their boat to the Sea of Cortez from San Diego this coming fall.  They used their time with us to get ideas about  preparing their 37 ft. Island Packet monohull for the trip of over 1000 miles.

How blessed we have felt to share our cruising experience with our family and friends with their visits to the boat.  We also feel blessed to be sharing this with you through our logs.

Fair Winds,
Sue and Rob
Aboard Catalyst
Kuna Yala, Panama

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