Archive for: ‘March 2013’

Road Trip: Bocas to Panama City and Back

March 30, 2013 Posted by Deb


OK, it’s not our rental car. It’s actually the America Sin Limites folks who are attempting to drive at least the Americas in a caddy. We checked out their blog and they were recently in Columbia and you can’t drive from Columbia to Bocas (or even Panama to Bocas) so there must be a ship and a ferry involved somewhere.

On the second round of unexplained lymph gland flare-ups (for Chuck), we decided to head to the Johns Hopkins hospital in Panama City and get a check up. A phone call, a couple of plane tickets, a reservation at the cruiser’s B&B in Panama City and we were off. Chuck got an executive physical with full blood work for less than our copay in the U.S. and had the follow-up with the doctor all on the same day. The verdict … still no clue about the lymph glands but the sugar hits, especially the rum cokes, gotta get dialed down. Damn.


Escudo Veraguas from the Air: Wonderful mostly empty island where we stopped on our way to Bocas

Escudo Veraguas from the Air: Wonderful mostly empty island where we stopped on our way to Bocas

Our vehicle for the trip was a monster … a small four banger Hyundai Accent with barely enough horsepower to get out of its own way. It turned out to be adequate for three trips up into the mountains for El Valle, Santa Fe, and the run to Almirante separated by two trips to the beach in Coronado and Las Lajas. Worked the tranny pretty hard though.


The hype exceeds the reality. I’m sure the properties are nice and we know a number of folks that participated in the land grab there, but …

  • Public access to the beach is a joke
  • Parking is very limited
  • The roads are a disaster
  • The beach is “salt and pepper” and we would say more pepper … very dark and dirty looking with a long series of concrete walls bordering the private properties. It also seems like beach erosion has claimed several feet of sand.
  • Concrete wall lining the whole beach
  • We don’t get the allure of that place


El Valle

Nice town, great drive, beautiful views and a number of B&B’s. We chose Los Capitans which was written up well in our guide. It was OK but the former German owners built up a reputation that was not maintainable by the new folks. We saw a number of folks come in expecting a lot from the restaurant and didn’t stay around for their surprise.

Hiking in the area was very good since El Valle is in the crater of an ancient volcanic explosion. We doubled the advertised distance by going up the wrong trail on attempt one of finding La Dormida. The locals helped us find our way back down and up again and we will have to admit that despite our hiking pedigree, we could not keep up with ma and the kids. They really fly through the rocks and mud wearing anything from platform wedge sandals to rubber chore boots (to protect them from snakes).

Petroglyphs in El Valle

Petroglyphs in El Valle

Topof  Mountain #1 : The family has to walk down a long, steep path every day for school and work

Top of Mountain #1 : The family has to walk down a long, steep path every day for school and work

Top of Mountain #3: La India Dormida

Top of Mountain #3: La India Dormida

Thermal Hot Springs and Mud Bath Apres Hike

Thermal Hot Springs and Mud Bath Apres Hike

Santa Fe

Very nice country, even nicer than El Valle. We stayed and Mariposa on night one. Mariposa is a three-customer B&B, and we got a full-blown fancy house to stay in right next to their toucan sanctuary. The chef drives in around 4:00 pm and prepared a crusted sea bass meal that was the hit of the trip on the food front. We were the only guests that night so we had our own private meal on the terrace. They were booked the following night so the owner, Kevin, made reservations for us at the Coffee Mountain B&B for night two.






The morning we left Mariposa, we got to help feed the toucans. The birds have been acquired as either injured, homeless, or on the brink of starvation from the local illegal toucan seller. Two pair are about to produce offspring which means the accommodations and food are great.


Las Lajas

Nice beach that goes on forever. We did not come close to finding an end in either direction. We were about to leave the area because the lodging was booked due to the Easter weekend but Deb noticed a Canadian couple standing around waiting for a cab and chatted with them. That conversation led to the B&B called Journey and a great time in a nice, new setting with a home cooked meal for $6.00 and a free breakfast. The owner, a Forrest Whittacker look alike, watched Lord of the Rings with us and we ate popcorn into the night. He was very intrigued by the parts we filled in from having seen the extended version and he may be buying it. Then his movie collection would include two movies, Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Rings extended.



David, Almirante, Leiza, and Home

We stayed in the best place in David, the hotel Cuidad de David, hit the hotel gym and pool hard, scored our biggest and possibly best breakfast there and hit the road for the mountains and home. We worked the transmission to death through the go cart mountain roads and made Almirante by noon. We were chased by a loud guy on a bike from the outskirts of town and knew that if he caught us we’d be having to fight off a “helper.” That can be hard to do when you’re loaded down with two large boat fenders, two large bags, and two backpacks. We lost the battle, he caught us, and he was actually pretty helpful getting into Leiza’s and getting to the right water taxi. Leiza is a local woman who converted her gated front yard into a sanctuary for cars at $3 per day. Some friends on a boat called Sinan would be picking up our rental and taking it back to Panama City. The potential liability for that is huge but we’re hoping for no wrecks and no ding issues when they turn it in.

We got back to the boat at 2:00 pm on the Saturday after Good Friday in the hopes of getting down to Palmars on the beach for Saturday pizza. It turns out a yoga group from Canada rented the whole place and it is shut down for outsiders until April 6th. A few drinks, food at Kayukas, and we were back in Bocas mode. The sunshine stopped the day we got back and it has been raining on us again … good old wet Bocas. We heard on the radio that they broke a record for low rainfall in the first quarter. They’ve had 10 inches and the former record was 19 inches. We don’t even want to think about what normal rainfall would be like.

Designer Tans and Andersons

March 19, 2013 Posted by Deb

Congrats to our guests for discovering a new designer tan. If you block up with suntan lotion and lay on a catamaran trampoline, the tramp rubs the suntan lotion off in a grid pattern. Roll over to complete the process. This is top secret so no pictures.

We left the marina on a loop of the archipelago, going out through the Gap and zigzagging through the coral to Jackanally Cay, a name most have never heard of. We did a snorkeling refresher, food, and kicked back for the evening. A large dolphin checked us out but not all got to see him/her. The next day started wet but dried as the day went on and we moved to Cindy’s anchorage in Laguna Poros, completing the mandatory dolphin citing for all.






SnorkelDebEmWe checked out Jim Jackson’s farm (the eco farm in limbo since he died three years ago) and hiked through a fruit salad meeting Fueron, one of the workers who has no clue who owns the property now. He said to come back in a month for great pineapples and told us to make sure we checked out the rock circle maze. Apparently Jim was fond of that circle and stood in the middle of it looking up at the stars (if my Spanish is at all correct). In any event, Jim created a beautiful place.




We stopped in Dolphin Bay for snorkeling on a small reef off a mangrove island with no name that has some of the best color we’ve seen in a long time. A few of us saw a large manta jump clear out of the water near the boat and all of us saw his second jump which was even higher. It looked like he was trying to fly.





Our final day had a long agenda so we pulled the hook and were off to Bocas Town. The main reason for the stop was that we were down to one beer and zero wine. We don’t have a drinking problem unless we can’t get any. We scored a half dozen lobster from Mike on Finisterre (a deal we made over the radio while they were way out at Zapatillos Cays), loaded up with necessities, and pulled the hook for the final leg back to the marina, garbage disposal, and showers. We arrived just in time for a large birthday party for Beth on Diversion. Intermittent rain made it challenging but the party went on. We had one final shot at the beach and a mangrove tour before heading for the airport in Bocas. The Andersons started home in a water taxi at 3:00 p.m. on a Thursday and arrived home at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Tough trip.

Monkeying Around on Bastimentos

March 12, 2013 Posted by Deb

We moved onto the boat, giving the Andersons the port side, and did the marine head 101 and marine shower 101 routines. We were on shore power and had marine water so we waited on the energy and water Nazi routines. We dropped our gear and headed for Red Frog beach and began a two day soak and hike of Bastimentos.











Lenny and the Jets

March 10, 2013 Posted by Deb

We headed out by water taxi in a pouring rain wrapped in a tarp provided by Cholo our driver. A packed water taxi took us to Almirante with the sides pulled down due to rain. The taxi hit something in the water and killed the engines. It was softer than a log. We hated to think what it could have been. After Almirante we had a large van to the border of Panama and Costa Rica.


We cleared Panama customs and immigration in the rain and were pretty sure we were in a cold war movie doing a prisoner exchange across from East Berlin. We had rain, fog, and a very strange bridge. Once across, we had more immigration and customs before getting into a different van for Puerto Viejo and the Coco Loco Lodge.


We arrived around noon, checked in, and went downtown for food. That is where we met Lenny. He worked the streets doing a hard sell on pot. I sat down with him while I waited for Deb, chatted, and said “No” a lot. After meeting Lenny, we told all the other Rastas we were with Lenny … nice way to duck the hassle since they tend to respect each other’s turf. We rented bikes and did a lap around the area and down the highway about three beaches.


The Andersons pulled in late after about 5½ hours in a van. We were all starving so we found one of the last restaurants open in town, grabbed a land taxi and pounded pizza for awhile.



 Meat on a Hook

We had a bit of rain in Costa Rica, actually everywhere in the Caribbean, and decided to try the zip lines near Puerto Viejo. The ride up in a van on 4 wheel roads was interesting and we crossed one creek (no bridge). There were around eleven zip lines in all and we used glove braking. We found out too late that glove braking causes zip line goo to drip all over your face and chest so we were well decorated by the end.







Bocas Blended and Boquete

March 5, 2013 Posted by Deb

As the U.S. gets pummeled by snowstorms we are not immune here, though I doubt we’d get any sympathy. Cold fronts just don’t make it to Panama but guess what … now they do. The Boquete climate change committee is in overdrive (we sat next to one of the committee members at the Jazz Festival in Boquete). The weather is wet and cool in Bocas and has been for weeks. Another front is scheduled for March 6 and we have company flying in. Oops.

Bocas Blended is a nice little truck converted to a restaurant that we finally visited. The young Austrailian owner flys around inside the truck with from one to three other cooks. They pump out the best wraps in town.


Boquete Blues and Jazz Festival


Long on our list of places to see, Boquete is at 1,300 meters and advertises one of the best climates and prettiest locations in Panama. A large ex-pat community has taken up residence there and the subdivisions and golf courses are sprouting. At the last minute, literally only two days before the event, we and three other boats (Casa del Mar, Wildest Dream, and Flying Fish) decided to go to the International Jazz and Blues Festival in Boquete. Deb searched the Internet and scored a large, super modern home in the new subdivision of Valle Escondido.


In true cruiser fashion, the eight of us took off on a planes, trains, and … well no planes or trains but the trip involved a 7:00 a.m. water taxi to Bocas town for $5, a 20 minute water taxi to Almirante for around $7, a one dollar taxi to the bus depot in Almirante, a four hour packed bus trip to David for $9, and a 45 minute school bus ride to Boquete for around $3. The school bus was made in Mt Pleasant, Iowa (Bluebird) and we were going take a picture but everyone knows what a school bus looks like.


As the property manager drove us to our house from the subdivision gate, she mentioned that we’d be going right by the outdoor theater for the jazz festival. We had no idea our rental house was only a couple hundred yards from the festival so … no need for a rental car. We were able to walk to town, too. Couldn’t help taking a picture of the sign outside the casino on our walk into town … “Sloth Machines.”



One of the highlights for us was the blues singer from Venezuela. She looked twenty something, maybe early 30’s and we found out on her website that she was 53. No way. There was a bass player on day two that could play like August Rush by slapping and not picking or strumming. Pretty cool.



On the trip back, we took a straight shot private tour bus for about the same money and had great seating and even WIFI. The trip was hours shorter because they took a shortcut over the continental divide. It was howling up there with 30-50 kt winds and major rain. Nice have a mountain range to strain the rain out of the air before it dumps on you. Bocas del Toro was not so lucky and we came home to tales of anchors dragging, horrible rainy weather, and one sunk boat.