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.


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  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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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


I like the bowl sponges.


We just took our time cruising around the shallow wreck.


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


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.


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.


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?


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


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.


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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March 26, 2013


It has been about 2 weeks since my last log went out.  We sent one just before my niece and her husband Jon joined us here in the San Blas.  We have been busy having fun ever since so I didn’t have much time for this log or even answering e-mails.

I have gone through the picture files and it looks like I have way too many to share to do it all in one log so you will get some pretty close together so I can catch up.

To get ready for Terri and Jon to arrive, we went closer to the arrival docks in the place we picked up Peg and Vic.  It is a quiet secluded anchorage for the night.  Finally, much later than we had anticipated, Terri and Jon arrive by launcha.


It is a short boat ride from the docks.  I had sent a pretty good shopping list ahead of them so they had a lot to unload but not quite as much as Peg and Vic did.


We got it stowed away and then set sail back to Gerti, the island that we have adopted.   We wanted Terri and Jon to experience some Kuna culture and thought that while it was overcast and windy was a good time as we hoped there would be good weather for snorkeling later.   As it turned out, that was a good call!

Jon and Terri have been on board with us several times over the years and being boaters themselves, they get right to work.  Jon removed the jib sail and got it ready to go.


Terri is supervising!  Note the Christmas lights still up in the back.


They have their own solar panel so take nothing from the boat batteries.  They look cheery from the back and it defines our boat at night so we have left them up.

We took Terri and Jon in to the village and we met some of the other boaters that were there in the anchorage.  There were a lot at that time and many were having work done on their boats by the two local guys who do this work there.  It was a good week for them.

One of the things Justino (one of the guys who works on boats) does is to give tours.  The boaters decided to take one that went to a Kuna inland village.  Terri, Jon and I went.  Rob had a tender knee and didn’t want to stress it so stayed on the boat.  I certainly got exhausted on the hike.  It was about a 30 minute boat ride to the river and then a short ride up the river to where we began hiking.  Most of the ground was flat until you got to the village.  It was about a 1 hour and 45 minute walk each way.  Not that long but the pace was consistent.  We had about 12 of us with Justino and 2 other guys who drove the two boats.

After falling off a short bridge over a ditch last year and breaking my arm, I was not too happy that there were three bridges to cross.  Each was different.  One was a wide sturdy long flat plank and I did fine with that one.  The next was strange.  It was two narrow pieces of flexible metal and you had to walk with one foot on each piece to cross.  One gave more than the other.  Luckily, there was a place to cross walking in the shallow creek to one side of the bridge which was what I did.  Terri and Jon crossed on the bridge.


The next bridge was three long logs next to each other.


We all went this way as there was no real other option.

The only real challenge was to get to the village which was on the top of a steep hill.  Luckily, the path had steps carved in to the hillside which helped.  We got the the village which was like what the island ones look like except that there is more space between the houses.


You can see the houses are built about the same and you have many solar panels but what was different here was the playground equipment.  We don’t know who provided that.  It obviously had been there awhile as some of the things were in disrepair.  It was located in about the middle of the village and near the school


From this part of the village, you could see another part of the village across the river and on another hill.  In this picture you see a splash of yellow.  Note the tree with yellow flowers.  The hill is covered with fallen blooms which make up the splash of yellow.


They had a tienda where we could get snacks and cold soft drinks.


This is the only shopping place for a long distance.  It must have been work to carry supplies like cases of soft drink or beer to the top of the hill!

One of the things this village had was lots of pretty plants.  You can see the row of hibiscus along these houses.


While things are not “landscaped” as we think of it, they did use plants for beauty.  Of course this is in the jungle and things are pretty lush with growth.  One of the plants of interest is called a lipstick plant.


We have seen it before on our travels throughout the Caribbean and it is used as a color source.  The Kuna use it to make the red paste that they put on their faces.  If you remember the picture from the Chiacha ceremony, they had put some on my cheeks and nose.

One of the things we bought was fresh baked Kuna bread.


Here is some ready to go in to the oven.  It is small, and sold for about 10 cents each.  It is best fresh.  They used to bake this in a barrel cut open on both sides with a suspended rack and a fire at one end.  Some places still use that but more and more we are seeing butane ovens in the villages and even on some of the outer islands with only one family living there.

We went across a shallow river to the village where the yellow tree blooms were on the ground.  There was not much there although they had cleared a place to relocate some of the other villagers who wanted to be closer to the river for the water and not on the top of the hill.  We found a place to rest and eat our packed lunch.  It is a church but we didn’t find out how often they have services or what kind of services it is.


If you read the bible you will see that the verse that goes something like, COME TO ME  HEAVILY BURDENED AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST, really had meaning for us that day.  The Kuna have little in the way of furniture.  They have stumps and a few plastic chairs for sitting but otherwise use a hammock for everything else.  Few tables are available and there is not much for outside public use.  There was no place to sit in the village and we were all a little foot weary from the trip.

We did get to “cool” our tired feet when we waded across the river again.


You can see the first village from the water.


It was another steep climb back up and then down on the other side to the path leading back to the boat.

It usually seems shorter to return when you have in mind the route already but I don’t think it seemed that way this time.  I had blisters and put socks on with my crocks and it was such a blessing to be back at the boat.  I was in the slower group and the faster ones had their rest waiting for us.  Since Rob was not with me, I was carrying the back pack all the way and I am not used to that!  It was a wet ride home going against the wind and waves but it was good to shower and relax.  I managed to stay on my feet long enough to make dinner.  I really enjoy cooking most of the time but there have been a few days I miss being able to order out!!!!

This is only the first two days of Terri and Jon’s visit but I will stop here and give you a rest too.  Expect some logs coming in pretty quick order for awhile.

Hope your are planning a blessed Easter.  That is a big holiday here, even for non Christians.  I expect that the beaches will be full of campers and swimmers.  Not sure if the boaters will have anything yet.  I may see about putting something together.

May the blessings of the Resurrection fill you with renewed energy to face this glorious life in the most full way possible.

Fair Winds,
Sue and Rob
Aboard Catalyst
San Blas Islands, Panama

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Catalyst Log, March 10, 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

The pictures and story you will hear happened on Feb. 25th so you can see I am still playing catch up.  We returned to Gerti and I have taught for 4 days.  I will do two days tomorrow and the next but then we will be gone for 2 weeks as my niece Terri and her husband Jon will join us on Wednesday morning.  Unfortunately, we may be getting some bad weather but we will enjoy their company non the less and with two weeks, we are bound to have some sun and fun in the water!

We will return to this island of Gerti to hang out and teach during most of April before we head home.  I will write more about teaching in April when I have been at it longer.  But even with only a couple of classes under my belt, the kids are repeating – “hello, What is your name?  My name is ….  Nice to meet you.  I am so proud!

Rob has been helping to set up the wiring and trouble shooting problems associated with the electrical systems run by the solar panels.  He is in the village now.  We will write more about that work as well.  All in all though, I work now for a few hours during 4 days a week.  I find I am happy tired and for the first time in 13 years, I look forward the the weekend!  When you are retired, you don’t get the chance to have the weekends off!  It sounds like I don’t like the teaching, I do!  Yet somehow, it is nice to have that weekend break.

Now to the title of my log this time, THE REVOLUTION!

Much as we celebrate the 4th of July when we declared independence from Great Britain for excessive taxation and punitive laws that stifled our way of life, the Kuna went through the same thing with the government of Panama in the 1920’s.  The Panamanian government sent in police administrators to the islands.  The Kuna had to ask permission just to go get water from the mainland river to wash clothes.  If they also came back with some bananas or yucca or some other food item, they could be beaten and arrested because they had not asked permission for this and all was property of the government.  The woman were told not to wear traditional mola blouses and not to use the beads on their arms and legs.  Even their traditional dances were forbidden and instead they were to dance as the Spanish style Panamanians danced, with men as a partner.  Men were pulled out of their homes and beaten and put in jail.  If there was no money to buy him out of prison, he would become a slave.  Often the women were used by the oppressors.  The normally peaceful Kuna could take it no longer.  The U.S. Had been involved with Panama in talks with the Kuna which had been going on for 2 years.   11 islands sent a message to the Ambassador of the U.S. asking for help.  When the Kuna revolted, it happened one island and then the next.  Communications and transportation at the time didn’t allow time for the police to send for help.  In fact the U.S. sent a war ship to the area to be sure that the Kuna were not slaughtered.  There had already been such an incident earlier and the Kuna population is still down from that time in history.

The Kuna used some sort of drug (not sure what) but it gave them bravery and took away their reservations about killing so that they could fight.  The Panamanian police were defeated and mostly killed.  Even the half breeds that resulted from the occupation were killed.  It was not a good situation on either side.  Over the years, the Kuna have won different degrees of autonomy.  They are similar to our American Indians in that the government doesn’t interfere in their culture or land autonomy.  The Kuna are very protective of their culture and traditions but what the government could not do at first, time and decreased isolation is starting to do.   I will comment along that line at a later date.

Now that you know the history, let me tell you about the way it was depicted.

There were a lot of boaters there for the event.  About 40 or so cruisers came ashore to experience the one day celebration.  The street was decorated with red flags.  Red is the color of the revolution.  Locals were dressed in traditional clothes.  We don’t usually see the young children in traditional clothes but we saw even the little boys in shirts that I am seeing more and more.  P1080192

The women and even the younger girls were wearing molas.  In this picture, note the little girl in traditional adult dress.


Many people put chairs outside of their houses to watch what was happening.  The spectators  in this picture could be a couple of old farmers in my home town, watching the parade that we do in August back in Nebraska.

P1080207The older women were busy getting molas out to sell.  P1080201Though we each paid $5 for the event and could take all the pictures we wanted to, the one woman is waving us away.  Older women don’t generally like having their picture taken as it was a belief that when your picture was taken, part of your spirit was captured and taken from you.  Today, people have cell phones with cameras and at this event, there were as many Kuna taking pictures as there were cruisers.  In fact, we frequently were the subject of their photography!

In the morning, there was a parade around the village and the cruisers were folded in at one point to be part of the parade.


We also saw some of the traditional dancing in the street.


You can see how wide the separation is between the buildings on the “Main street” of the village.  This island of Tigre had a lot more room and bigger houses and more open space than other villages we have visited.

After lunch, we came back to see little spaces set up to represent individual houses.  In each one would be a “Kuna family.”  The roles were played by the young adults and children in the village.  At each space, you could see traditional Kuna life depicted.  In this one you see, as in many others, the woman making the mola and her husband weaving to make a fan for cooking or some other task.

P1080231In the next are two guys, getting the wheat ready to grind.  P1080232Again, the mola making and fish net weaving are depicted.  P1080233

In this picture


you have a family enjoying a traditional Kuna meal.  Something that you see a lot of in life today is


someone sitting in a hammock, which is generally their only furniture, and someone mashing herbs.


The place where they were showing the drying of the corn showed corn like what we call “Indian” corn in the U.S.  They had used this corn that morning, boiling it and sweetening it to make a breakfast drink.  I don’t see them eating corn in tortillas or things like we saw in Mexico and Guatemala.


This family showed the weaving, mola making and child care.


Has the woman fanning the flames to cook the green bananas.

This last picture shows the building where the police were staying.  They are the bad guys in this enactment.


This is an interesting picture to note a few things.  The man with the green shirt has Pelican bones around his neck.  They are very light weight and used for ceremony although his was the only one I saw.  In the picture, note the young man putting on his shirt.  He is an albino and very active in the event and seems to be a leader among his peers.  You will also notice that the men and women in many of these pictures have their faces covered in the red substance that they put on my face for the Chicha ceremony.  I will have to ask more about it’s significance and what it is made from.

There was a place of honor for the leaders of the village and probably a few important visitors.


One of the main leaders of this village is an albino and you can see him on the far left in the front row.

The cruisers found benches around the side or stood.  Here, Rob has found a place to sit.


The day started cloudy but the afternoon got very sunny and shade was sought after.

Here is a picture of the “Bad Guys” walking around menacing the population.


They would go to each of the “Houses” where people were just being traditional Kuna, and drag the man out on to the street beating him viciously with clubs.  In this case they were made from foam but certainly sounded brutal.  The man stumbles and grimaces with pain.

P1080261 P1080272Often the women would follow, pushing at the police and crying and begging for the beating to stop.  It took a long time for all those families to be arrested and beaten.  We had warned that this part would go on for awhile.  Each person really put their heart into the acting job and if “THE ACADEMY” was there, I think we would have seen some awards!  In fact, it seemed so real that a lot of the children watching started crying.  Of course, what made it seem less real was all the Kuna and Cruisers with cameras getting in close to film the action.  Some young boys got in the act, picking up sand and throwing it in to the faces of the police actors.

The final act was a trick to lure the police with a special dance.  They even got some of the cruisers in to the scene dancing  more western style with Kuna men and women as their partners.  They were quite startled as suddenly the police were violently attacked and in this case killed.  Only two were depicted as being killed in this scene.


There was a woman in white shorts crying over the police.  I doubt very much they had white shorts in the 1920’s but she was obviously not depicted as a Kuna woman but one of the Panamanian women.  Note the young Kuna boy in the red shirt taking a picture of the killing.

Then it was all over and there was more dancing.  Two older men wore very old ceremonial hats and played instruments as the dance troop danced around them.


We had seen Kuna dancing on a couple of other occasions but in this case we saw some that we had not seen before.  We have some on video with the sound so when you see us, we can share that with you.

What was very nice was that there were a few older Kuna who spoke some English and would explain a lot of things to us.  We were made to feel welcome and efforts were made to enhance the experience for us.

When it was all over, many of the boaters went to the one restaurant/bar on the island.


I did a baking class the day before the reenactment since so many of the boaters who wanted a class were there in the anchorage.  It was fun but more on that later.  I actually did another class a few days later at another island.  Unfortunately, since the revolution reenactment, we have had little sunshine and many days of very strong winds.   As I said, forecast is for more of that to come.  It is unusual for this month which is supposed to be the driest.

Hoped you liked the pictures and the story.  I don’t know when I will write next as we will likely be on the go a lot with our company.   Know that you are always in our hearts and on our minds.  I love sharing all we do with you and wish you could each experience this unique part of the world in person with us.  Hopefully this will give you a taste at least.

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

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March 3, 2013


Dear Friends and Family,

It is a cool, cloudy, rainy, windy day.  We have taken cover for a big blow today with winds in the 30 knot range.  That is 33 mph for you land lubbers.  The storm had been predicted for some time and is the result of a cold front that has impacted weather in Florida all the way to the east Caribbean and to South America.  I understand that friends on their sail boat in the Florida Keys are experiencing temps in the 50’s.  We have temps in the 70’s and while cool for us, it is down right cold for the Kuna people who are probably huddled inside.  The kids usually walk around naked or mostly so and their play ground is the whole island.  It must not be much fun on a day like today.  Some houses now have corrugated tin roofs and while it keeps their houses more dry (at least until they get corrosion holes in them) they are quite noisy during a rain.

We are comfortable on our boat.  We are back near the village of Gerti which is in the north west corner of a land mass and so we are well protected from the winds that are coming to us from that direction.  We have very little wave action and are feeling very comfortable.  I think some of our boater friends are in bumpier conditions at anchor.  While this seems the best place to be in this storm, there is only one other boat here.  It is a little out of the way and you need a real reason to come here.

Why are we here?  Well, as the title suggests,  we are here to go native.  We have had a great time with the boaters but I can have boating friends everywhere, including back home.  What is possible here is to make a real connection with the local population and have a strong cultural experience with a group of people who live very different lives than we do, on the surface anyway.

We are waiting a visit from Justino.  He is someone we met 8 years ago.  I sent his picture in another log.  The Saila, or leader of the community, has been eager for me to volunteer teaching English and they were happy to see us return after being gone over a week.  We will talk about when to come to the school tomorrow and I hope to find out how many students I will have or if I will do the whole of the school all at once.  I would like to work with adults too if there is interest.

I may see if anyone can give me mola making lessons.  I sure don’t need another mola but it would be fun to try and see if it is good enough to show anyone.  I am not sure what will occupy Rob.  I may get him to help with the teaching but since there is more solar power on the islands and more electrical things, helping them hook things up correctly or teaching someone about electrical work would be a good thing for him to do.  Of course the language barrier will be an issue but his Spanish is better than mine and when you know the context of things, it is not so bad.

We arrived in Gerti last week for a Chicha ritual.  This is a 3 to 4 day event to celebrate the spiritual life of a girl.  Traditionally, it was done shortly after a girl has her first period.  This time two families went together for the party.  This is not unusual as it is expensive for them and so they can share the cost.  One girl was young, only about 5 or 6 and the other was more like 16.  The ceremony is done to protect the girls from evil spirits and to keep them pure of spirit.  In fact, one person told us that they like doing it for younger girls to insure they are pure at the time of the ceremony.  They thought it also made the whole process of becoming a woman  more calm and beautiful.

What is interesting is that this culture doesn’t discuss things like periods or even where babies come from, much as it was not that long ago in our culture.  When a girl starts her period,  you can imagine the fear she must have.  When a child asks a woman who is big with her pregnancy why she is getting fat, the pregnant woman will say that they are eating too much.  They tell the children that babies are brought by dolphins.  In fact a new baby is commonly called a dolphin for awhile.  (Guess they don’t have storks or cabbage patches here!)
What I am unclear of is how children cannot know about the facts of life.  People live in houses right next to each other without solid walls.  The houses are one large room.  There is little modesty or privacy.  There are enough children around to know that lack of privacy doesn’t stop sexual activity!  It would be great to ask more questions but the lack of clear language exchange gets in the way.

Anyway, back to the Chicha party.  Chicha is the name for a fermented drink made with pressed sugar cane juice and coffee.  The date of the event is tentative as it won’t start until the official chicha maker says that the chicha is ready.  In a previous log, I sent a picture of the pots that the liquid ferments in.  It takes about 20 or so days.  This particular party started a day or so later than we had expected so we only stayed for the first day as we had another cultural event to get to.

We arrived back to Gerti to find a couple other boats that had heard about the event when we announced it on the SSB net in the mornings.  We had not met them yet but one woman was having her birthday and invited us other two boats to have a traditional Kuna meal at the home of one of the Kunas that do jobs for boaters.  It is Bradeo, the one I sent a picture of with the albino baby.  The meals are $3 each and served in his home.  I was a little confused because I had seen his home and it was small with no table or chairs.  We were surprised that he had it fixed up pretty good in his walled in open court yard area.  There was a blue tarp spread over the table as a ceiling and there were two home made rough tables with 3 plastic chairs and a board put on low pieces of wood to make a bench for the other side.  The guys let us girls have the chairs and they sat with their knees up around their chin.  In addition, the plank was thin and their behinds were not!  It was not really very comfortable since you couldn’t really put your legs under the tables because of the way they are made.  Of course, the people they are made for are quite a bit smaller than we are!  The table tops were covered with the same cloth that they use as their wrap skirts.  When it got dark, Bradeo put up a head lamp from a line under the blue tarp.


It was awhile before we got our food.  We brought our own drinks with us but the food was really traditional.  It was the boiled plantain and yucca done in coconut water.  It was hot like a soup might be.  There were two small whole fish grilled or fried, not sure which.


Rob, who doesn’t like fish, especially with bones, tried to eat one but gave up on the second.  By the time you took out the bones, there was not much flesh.  There was salt and lime juice on the table to add flavor but basically, this is what the Kuna eat all the time.  They have bread and rice and sometimes pork or chicken, but little in the way of seasoning happens.  It would suit my Dad as he doesn’t like the natural taste of food to be hidden!

Most Kuna don’t eat around a table together.  Eating is to feed the body, not the taste buds or the soul.  Probably a good thing for your physical health but I would hate all that I miss with the creation and consumption of food.  Still, you see very few heavy Kuna.  Unfortunately,  the western style of foods they are adding to their diets are sodas, sugar water disguised as juices, cookies, candies, canned spam and other like products and cheese whiz!  There is so much they can gain from adding different things from the developed world to their life style but so often I see that they are adding what will harm them more than help.

The next day, we ladies from the boats went in to help peel the large number of yucca and plantains that would need to be prepared for the party.  They feed people for 4 days of drinking and they need something to fill up the stomach.  We didn’t take a picture because we were asked not to take pictures during this spiritual time and many of the women still would prefer not to have their picture taken.  We brought knives and 5 of us helped peel and cut.  There were at least 30 ladies there and the job was done quite quickly.  I guess they did more the next morning but we didn’t go in again.  There is a special hut used just for this kind of event when large amounts of food must be prepared.  They were also boiling large pots of rice with sugar which makes a sweet rice.


In addition to the rice, you can see the things we peeled with some of the ladies from the boats with me.


In addition to the rice and vegetables cooked in a soup, there was smoked and dried iguana.


After seeing that, I was glad that the big chiefs were the only ones that got that treat!  I have had iguana a couple of times but not prepared like this.  The other offering that everyone got was dried smoked fish rehydrated.


One of the boaters tried it but was not even able to get her teeth in to it.  It was worse than jerky.

One of the other things I did that day was to meet with a woman who offered to find me a mola blouse that I could wear for the event.  Here is one I tried on with the woman who arranged things.


I had bought some molas from her 8 years ago so it was so nice to see her again.   This mola was not the one I ultimately used.  Here is a close up of just the work on the blouse I did wear since you can’t really see how wonderful the picture and workmanship is when I am wearing it.  I think  it was made with silk thread as it looked so rich.


I had been unclear if she wanted me to buy it or borrow it.  When I asked if it was for sale, she said no.  I didn’t need another mola but this would have been a beautiful one to have, though I bet it would have cost me.

Here I am, ready to go to the party.  You can see the tiny island village of Gerti behind me.


It is too bad we were not allowed to take pictures at the party.  Most everyone was dressed traditionally.  The leaders of the community that were men were dressed in pink shirts and fedora hats.  All I can show you is us ladies that wore more traditional style


and the group of cruisers who attended the event with us.


The other two ladies wearing the blouses are blouses that the blonde lady had bought on a different island.  Both of them are so slender that they could wear the regular size ones.  They got the head scarves and did their own type of skirt.

Justino met us and after a while escorted us in to the Chicha hut used for this purpose.  It is a large building with benches along the sides and some put in the middle.  The chief people sit in a place of honor and conduct ceremonies here.  We were split up with women on one side and men on the other so we didn’t have Justino to interpret for us.  We thought that the passing of the chicha would start about 5:30.  Some of the people started in the congreso building (the main meeting place for the village) and so were already a little tipsy.  Some already were in to the beer and rum.  Finally, about 8:30 we got to taste the chica for ourselves.  It was not as sweet as I expected and you didn’t really taste the coffee.  It was like a very young wine with a little of the yeasty taste left.  I only had two sips so couldn’t tell you if it was strong or not.  Technically, one should try to get as drunk as possible because it will be more likely to put you in tune with the spirits and send you to heaven.  We didn’t stay “to get to heaven” but left before the party got too wild.  After the chicha runs out, people turn to beer and rum which is provided by the families of the girls.  You can see why it gets expensive.

We didn’t stay for the three following days.  There were ceremonies and different chanting and music.  Many things take so long, are in the middle of the night, or boring for those who don’t understand what is happening.  Some things were done with the girls who stay secluded during this time and don’t even see what else is going on in their honor.  Among other things for them, there is a body painting ceremony and a washing ritual and lastly the big hair cutting ceremony.  Traditional Kuna women will wear their hair short once they marry but we are seeing more and more of the young women with long hair so things are changing.  Some families are choosing not to do the ceremony.  The biggest expense of raising a child is this ceremony.  There is nothing like it for boys and weddings are not this big a deal.  We were told that the average cost of the 3 or 4 day event is about $2000.  When an average income is less than $20 per day, you can see how hard that kind of money is to put together.  Some families can only afford a one day party.  What helps is that each couple attending provides a bit of sugar and rice.  It comes to $1.80 at the island tienda (store).  Several of the boaters upon hearing about it, also contributed a portion of rice and sugar, much to the appreciation of the village.  When there is a wedding, the traditional gift is to give 20 sticks of fire wood for the new couple who is starting out.  Guess they don’t have Bed Bath and Beyond handy!

One last picture.


While we were waiting around to drink Chicha, two older women came around and one put one smudge on my nose and one on a cheek and the second did the remaining cheek.  This was done to every woman, not just us gringos.  I don’t know what this red paste is but women often wear it all over their cheeks when they are in traditional dress, especially for ceremonies.  Of course it is spread out, unlike my finger print ones.  Luckily,  it washed off easily.

We left the next day for Isla Tigre which was a long distance from Gerti.  You will hear about our time there with the celebration of the Kuna Revolution in the next log.

I hope  you enjoy learning something about the Kuna tradition.  Remember, it is obviously brief, incomplete and probably not very accurate.  Before you start judging, think about some of the traditions we have that, if viewed through different eyes, would seem really strange.  I hope to learn more from these generally peaceful and loving people and if I can share a little of who I am with them, that will be a good thing too.

Fair Winds,

Sue and Rob

Aboard Catalyst

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Catalyst log February 22, 2013


Dear Friends and Family,

We are torn between two life styles here in the San Blas Islands.  There is the cruiser side with sun and fun with fellow cruisers and there is the village life with the Kuna people.  It is interesting to me how different and separate these two life styles are.  We have been indulging in the first most of the time we have been here, but this week, we will be concentrating on the latter.

Let me back track a little and share some of what has been up in the cruiser life category.  One of the things I started doing when we were first cruising was to give bread baking classes on the boat.  So many people asked about the rolled sandwich roll I had made for the pot lucks that I decided to offer a class.  This time, I had one group of  5 and a few days later, a group of 2.  I will have about one more class coming up as soon as we are in an anchorage together with those interested.  I forgot to take pictures of all of the playing with dough, but on both occasions, we were interrupted by either Venancio to sell molas, or Lisa, who just came to visit.  You will know who these molas makers are if you have been reading the logs.

On the first occasion, we had someone who wanted to buy from Venancio and so much of the time was spent doing that.

P1080009We got to eat the bread I baked which was a sandwich roll and some cinnamon rolls but the others didn’t do their dough on our boat as planned.  All reported success when they did try though.  It is fun to get the ladies together for any reason.  Trouble is that I am running out of ingredients and some are almost impossible to get locally, especially flour and butter.  Every other year, I could always lay in more after using a lot for a lesson.  Luckily, we are having company in mid March and I will send a shopping list to Panama City so they can bring things with them.

This next section is titled VEGEE TALES!

We also get time taken up with the vegetable boat that comes about every week or 10 days.  After almost 2 weeks without, we had 2 different boats come twice each within 4 days.  We made the mistake of contacting the fleet by radio to let them know the boat was in the anchorage before it actually left our boat.  We were near the back of the anchorage where they come in and so were the first boat they stopped at.  We had not yet finished buying when people started coming up on dinghy’s to shop.


That meant that he was tied up to our boat selling.  Usually, you wait your turn and he comes to your boat, but you have to be alert to signal him or he may not stop.  A few people were angry that others jumped the line, so to speak, and there was a big discussion about Vegee Boat etiquette.  On these boats you can often get chicken, eggs, beer, wine and soft drinks in addition to a range of vegetables and fruits.  The big thing is to float your egg to be sure you are not getting bad ones.  It happens a lot.  Did you know that if an egg is bad, it will float?  If it sinks, it is OK.  All these life lessons I never needed to know at home in Florida.

We spend time visiting with other boaters and with the men, the conversation turns quickly to boat projects and how to fix a broken system.  We had visited a boat with a younger couple and their two children.  He was trying to get his water maker working again.  He and Rob discussed it but a few days later, he came over to visit with Rob about it again.  Here is Rob, drawing a diagram of something he recommended.


It is so great to be on the giving side of experience as we both certainly continue to be on the receiving side.  Rob also talked with another boater who had a similar water maker to ours.  The manufacturer seemed to think the problem was a part that needed replacing and it would cost $500 plus the difficulty of getting the part here.  Rob went over to look at the water maker and found some loose wiring.  Problem solved!  If he had spent the money and waited for the part, it would have not done him any good because that was not the problem.  This happens over and over to capable, knowledgeable boaters here.  They think they have a fix and it is not.  We know boats who have been in one spot for months because they can’t fix the engine.  They have lots of help from other capable cruisers, but nobody is able to diagnose the problem and have it properly repaired.  They keep going back and forth on the arduous and expensive trip to 2-3 day trip to Panama City where hopefully a qualified repair shop will fix it.  They bring the part back, only to find that what they bought or had repaired did not fix the problem.  That is why I like catamarans!  We always have two of most things, including engines.  Thankfully, almost all of the things on our boat still work fine.

What is amazing though is how someone will come on the morning radio net and request some help or some obscure part and Rob will scoff and say, “he will never get that!”  Then, in the next second, someone comes on and has it to offer.  Of course not all issues are solved, but a remarkable number of them are, thanks to the generosity of talent, supplies and labor of the cruising community here.  The boaters really come to the aid of each other, even perfect strangers.  If only all the world could live this way.  User groups or special interest groups on the internet have been a way of spreading this connection and we use those a lot as well.  I think that generosity is easier when you understand and identify with the need.  Even as we speak, another boater called Rob on the radio for advice.  He was able to give some suggestions that helped solve one problem but he is hopping in the dinghy to go over and help trouble shoot the other issue.  It is the HAM radio this time.

Boaters are always working on their boats but we do have time for some fun.  Another boater had started calling for a Sunday Pot luck.  They also organized bocci ball on the beach and snorkel trips.  They moved out of the anchorage to another location and so I called for the regular Sunday pot luck.  It only takes doing a radio announcement and people will come.

P1080109Around here, we drink a brand of box wine called CLOS.  We like to say it is not great wine but it is Clos!  So, some people have made a new shaped wine bag to bring their beverage to the pot luck.


Often there are talented musicians who share their talent and we have sing alongs.


We really enjoy that!  It is very beautiful being in these beautiful palm covered islands looking back on the water and our boats at anchor.


It is idyllic for sure and a big draw so it is sometimes hard to leave it.  What we are looking at next though is getting more involved with the local Kuna life.  But that will be the next logs.

Our Blog master will be out of town until after March 1st but expect a lot of great pictures and interesting stories after that.  Life here is very full and I am grateful that I have friends and family to share it with.  It makes it all the more meaningful.

A correction to the last log.  Two pictures got switched.  The first picture should be the man in the pink shirt.  The first picture goes with the man with the crying child.

Fair Winds,

Sue and Rob

Aboard Catalyst

San Blas Islands, Panama

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Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?

Catalyst Log 2-14-13

Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?

Dear Friends and Family,

We finally made the break from the East Lemons after being there since Peg and Vic left.  I had been feeling a little strange about revisiting a village that we had spent a week anchored by in 2005.  We had gotten to know a few of the villagers and really liked being a small part of the life there but would we be disappointed going back?  People were so friendly, perhaps overly so at times with the kids always rowing around our boat and checking us out.  But we enjoyed it.  I was a little afraid to come back and see changes.  One man we met who spoke English from working in the Canal Zone had been old and we didn’t know if he would be still alive!  Well, we went in to town with his picture from 2005 and were led to him.


He looks great at 78.  We were so glad to see him again and looking so well.  We are in the picture with him and also another boater that came in with us.


He hasn’t changed very much.  We took a picture with his wife.


We asked about his Grandson, Santiago, and were told that he is now 19.   We have a picture of him in our dinghy going to a near by smaller island where we were delivering pictures we had made of the residents.

Gerti San Blas 1 056

Whenever we would come back to town after taking pictures, he would appear and help us find the houses to make the deliveries.  It turns out that he has done quite well.  He is 19 and already in his second year of medical school in Cuba.  He has 4 more years to go.  I would guess that since he is so young, they handle the educational situation a little differently there.  Alberto showed us some news accounts of awards he had won.  We think the awards may be for public speaking.  He went to high school in Panama City and has a scholarship for the training in Cuba.


Though we may have some disagreements with the politics of Cuba, they are recognized to have some of the best medical people in the Caribbean.  The government is building a home for him in his village out of cement so that is pretty big time!  The two room house is already mostly built and he has 4 years to go before he returns!?  He plans to come back and be a doctor in the islands.   Another grandchild is in University to become a teacher.    What a prosperous family!  When you think of the economic and educational background they come from it is really something.  I guess the cream rises to the top and will find a way!

On one of his visits to the boat in 2005, Santiago brought his sister.  Here are the two of them from that time

Gerti San Blas 3 029

and then here is a picture of her today.


You can see that she is not dressed traditionally and could easily fit in with any American teen group.  School will be starting soon and I would guess she will be heading to Panama City for school, but I forgot to ask.

We met Santiago’s mother with his youngest sister who is age three.  The Mom dressed her in a little Mola dress.  Note that the design of the dress is one of three women and a baby and it depicts Moses in the rushes.  This island is visited yearly by a missionary and it seems to be having an impact.


We had also been looking for another man that we met.  We had his picture as well.

Gerti San Blas 3 104

He actually found us because he came to tell us that each of the boats owed $7 for a 30 day permit to anchor by the island.  That is not uncommon around the villages so we were expecting that.  He saw me holding the picture and asked to see it.  I then recognized him.  He had been wearing sun glasses.

Gerti San Blas 3 052

When we met him before, he was trying to learn English.  He still is, but is doing somewhat better.  His only son at the time had asthma and he was trying to get medical care for him.  You can see in the original picture how thin the baby was and we had been concerned that maybe they had even lost him.  Now Justino has three children.


The oldest boy now looks healthy and happy.  Justino, now, is hustling to do work for boaters.  Unfortunately, not that many boaters come so far out of the way here and he doesn’t have a boat big enough to make the trip to where they do come.

Along with Justino on this Island is his brother-in-law who also came out to the boat looking to take us on a tour of the river and a jungle hike.  His name is Bredio and he also speaks some English.  We also went to visit his family.


What is unusual about his family is that their youngest, a daughter, is an albino.  This is not an uncommon occurrence here where the population, has trouble traveling far distances to court others and the size of over all population, causes inbreeding.  There are problems of course because the albino are very sun sensitive, both in the eyes and more easily sun burned.  There is no problem though in raising them in the society.  There is no prejudice against them.  In fact, many grow up to be part of the spiritual and healing class as they are considered more blessed.

We had seen an albino boy near this village in 2005.  We have a picture of him by the side of the boat.

Gerti San Blas 1 006

We were visited on the boat by an albino man who wanted to sell us molas.  He looked too old to be the boy we had seen in 2005 but with the way the sun ages people and the effects it might have on his body, we were wondering if it was the same boy.


We tried asking and showing him the picture from before but it was unclear.  His English was more limited to words used to tell us price of molas.  His lips were very peeling and Rob, who has sun sensitivity in his lips, really noticed and gave him a new very good lip balm.  We also gave him a small tube of sun screen that we had brought just for this purpose.  In addition, I bought 3 more molas!  The prices are better here but I think I have gone crazy.  I also bought one from Justinos wife and a small mola blouse with two sides when we were visiting the island of Gerti.  I have things in mind for most of them but I just couldn’t resist.  I think I am in trouble!!!!  I already have a big supply at home.

In addition to renewing old acquaintances and making new friends, we were told that there would be a Checha ceremony here about the 19th of the month.  We had been wanting to go to one but this would be great as we know people here who would lead us through it.   Thankfully, the anchorage here makes getting in and out of town easier than most populated islands.

The Chicha ceremony will include two girls.   The people in the village have already started to make the Chicha drink.  It is made from pressed sugar cane and we saw a press on one of the islands.  It is basically two branches.  One is supported  off the ground and one is on the top.  You put the cane between and someone stands on the long end to force the two branches together to press the cane.


You can see the pressed cane on the ground.  The cane sugar is mixed with coffee and set in jugs to ferment.


The date of the ceremony is determined by when the drink is fermented properly.  There is a special large enclosed house built just for these parties.  There is another large communal kitchen built for making and serving the food for the community festivals on the island.  The drink creates a lot of intoxication for those drinking it.  I guess that once the drinking starts, the cooking hut is open all the time so that people can soak up the alcohol with food.  The party runs 24/7!  I want to taste the drink but don’t plan on being part of the drunkenness.  According to their tradition, you want to drink a lot so that the spirits can come to you in this less restricted state of mind.

Another thing they do is to get long balsa branches stripped and split in half.  These branches are put inside the Chicha hut on the wall horizontally.  They will be painted with animals on them to bring spiritual blessings.  Here is a picture of the wood ready for painting when the time comes.


It makes me think of the totem poles done in Alaska.  I know the process is different but the idea is similar.

I will write more about the ceremony when the time comes but pictures are forbidden at that time.  The people here are sensitive about getting their picture taken and especially during a ceremony, it is not wanted.

One last event worth noting.  We revisited Justino to take him some pictures.  As we were in the village, a man we had seen carving out a dug out canoe earlier in the day


came to Justino and asked him to see if we could help him.  He had an as yet unused tool but it had a blade that was too long for his comfort.  He asked if we had a way of cutting off about 2 inches off the blade.  Rob thought he could do it but said he might not be able to sharpen it.  The man said he could do that himself!  We took it back to the boat and Rob was able to use a cutting wheel and got the job done in short order.


Justino came over to take the tool back to the man.  It is nice to be able to do things that we can for these people.  Can you imagine trying to get a job done and not having the proper tools?  It is not only the money, which is a big factor, but also availability!  As you go about your day, think about how easy your life is.  You need something for dinner?  Go to the grocery store or go to a restaurant.  Want to do laundry, throw it in the machine and go on with other things.  Want to talk to your family or friends, get on the phone or e-mail.  Want to do chores, pull out the right tool.  Want to read a book?  Turn on a light.  All of these take a different way of thinking for the people who live here.  Life can be a struggle.  At the same time, some things are much easier or not an issue at all.

We are thinking of spending more time here before our company on March 14 and then heading to another island in the less traveled areas of Kuna Yala.  While we enjoy the beauty of the islands closer to the reef and the company of the boaters that spend time there, we are most interested in learning about the local culture.  We hope to share some of what we discover with you.  It may be that we won’t get good e-mail communication once we head east so it may not be photo but just words.  We will see.  Also, our blog master will be out of town from the 23rd to March 1st so no logs published then.  You can anticipate a big flow of information at the beginning of March!

My dear husband remembered that today was Valentines Day.  It didn’t register with me.  No valentines, heart shaped box of chocolates or dinner out but what better way to celebrate with your sweetheart than to spend our days enjoying our lives together.

Hope you have a chance to connect to those who you hold dear in your hearts.  We are connecting to you!

Valentine wishes!

Sue and Rob,

Gerti, Kuna Yala

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Follow Catalyst’s voyage at:

Catalyst Log 2-8-13


Dear Friends and Family,

Have you been wondering where we are?  It has been over a week since I wrote and I am still on stories about our stay with Peg and Vic in Panama!  I don’t really have an excuse.  I have been pretty lazy.  We had committed to a week with Leato Loco which kept us pretty busy but they left and are now in Providencia, a Colombian Island off the coast of Nicaragua.  They will leave there soon to head around the corner to the Bay Island of Honduras and their next adventure.

We did enjoy our time with them and their guests.  We shared many dinners on our boat and theirs and serving for 9 was a bit of a challenge.  Some people say to get a boat that serves cocktails for 6, dinner for 4 and sleeps 2.  I could never be happy with that, and thus we have Catalyst!

One of the things we did was to visit several anchorages together.

IMG_6859 One of the islands was a new one for us.  We met the two families that lived there and some molas were purchased.  I found a couple of shells I wanted.  PICT0011We walked all around the island and found a photo op on a log just off the beach.  Here we are with the Leato Loco family.  IMG_6839

We found some interesting things on the beach.  It is common for the water to undercut trees that have been growing for awhile.  Here is Rob standing next to a tree.  You can see that the sand has been washed away under it and it is just on a small shelf.  I think it will topple before too long.


Along the way we also spotted two dead sharks washed on the beach.  One was a nurse shark and one a hammer head, both young ones.

PICT0021IMG_6874 PICT0022

We anchored in front of a very small island a couple of nights and Rob had to go up the mast so he took a picture of Leato Loco’s boat and the island.  It gives you a little idea of the beauty here though the day was overcast so the water is not as bright as in full light.


We did take the time to go ashore and burn trash.  For boats that don’t flush the toilet paper (and that is the majority) there is a lot to get off the boat and burn.  It was especially so with 7 on board Leato Loco.


Leato Loco is gone now but we enjoyed our time hanging out with them.  The best part of cruising is the people you meet and the worst is seeing them go off and leave.  Still, you are joyful that they are on to the next adventure and of course so are we!

I will regress a little to fill you in on our last afternoon in Panama City after coming back from visiting the Embera tribe which I wrote about last time.

Peg and Vic had spent several days in the city before coming to see us and really felt that they left wanting more.  Panama main land is also very interesting and worth spending some time on.  I will only write about the places we went together.

I think we told you about Deb and her boaters hostel.  Here is a picture of Linsey who had left our boat and had been at Deb’s.  Peg is in the middle and Deb on the other side.  Linsey, by the way, is in Costa Rica now and waiting for her Mom to come visit in March.


Deb is now in a penthouse apartment in the middle of the city.  The views from the big windows are really something.


The problem is that even though it is on the 22nd floor, the windows stay open for ventilation and between the sound of the wind and the city noise below, it is quite noisy!  What is nice though is that it is safe to walk in the area and it has lots of restaurant choices close and a grocery story within walking distance, though you need a taxi to take you back with your groceries.

One area that is of concern to the city is keeping up with the infrastructure.  They are building a subway system that they hope to open at the same time as the new larger locks in 2014.  Lots to take on.  They are not spending as much time doing the wiring for the city.  Here are a couple of examples Peg saw in up scale areas.

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Here is an example in the old town that we visited the rest of the afternoon.

P1070920You would expect it in the old part of the city but, in fact, where buildings have been improved, we didn’t see this type of wiring.

The old part of town really fell in to disrepair.  Currently, there are many streets closed to reconstruct the buildings as well as the streets.  It is built with a combination of French and Spanish architecture and is reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans.  There are many places that have been fixed up right next to those that still need work.

P1070940Here are some of the reconstructed apartments.

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They may sit across the street from an apartment that is as of yet untouched.


We saw alley ways behind some of the doors with apartments looking out along the side.  They were certainly lived in by many people who would not be able to afford to live in the refurbished ones.  It will drive the poor out of the area for sure.  This is a  problem for cities all over.  I think if I lived in the city, I would seriously look at this location as it is much quieter than the main city.  The area of the old Canal Zone would be most like a suburb in the U.S. and probably my first choice.

We enjoyed the buildings and also the areas that held the views of the down town.  There is a long promenade atop what used to be a prison.  It is covered with a wire roof and bougainvillaea growing over it.  People set up tables, usually selling molas and the items like baskets and masks and carvings we found in the Embera village.


There is the ruins of an old church in the city.  It was already in ruins when the U.S. was staking out a place to build the Canal.  The choice of location was between Panama and Nicaragua.  This ruins had an arch that was considered unsupported and yet it still stood.  They took this to support the idea that earth quakes would not cause a problem with the locks.  While Panama does have earthquakes, so far so good on the locks and the arch!


The walls of another ruin defined a craft area and Vic modeled a Panama Hat.  While still famous hats, they don’t last very long as they are very light and easily damaged!


After a dinner at a side walk table in one of the many court yards in the city, we made it an early night as it has been many early mornings.  Rob and I chose to leave a day earlier since we had done our shopping and saw what we wanted to see and so loaded our purchases and 4 large batches of clean laundry on to the 4 wheel drive vehicle and joined 3 other people and their large supply of luggage and made the 2 ½ hour road trip back to the launcha which took us back to our boat.


If  we had not lived in Panama with the Navy in the 1970’s and had not done some sight seeing in the last year when leaving the boat and returning, we would want to spend more time seeing the main land.  Panama has it’s flaws but over all it is a very exciting place to visit and many people have made it an expat haven.  There are good reasons for this.

Well, we have had some leisurely days here but all are filled with adventure and we will share some of that next time.

Fair Winds,

Sue and Rob

Aboard Catalyst

East Lemons, Kuna Yala

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