We are still catching up on some of the sleep we missed when we were rocking and rolling at anchor at Isla Escudo de Veraguas. What a difference it makes to have the boat tied to a dock in the marina. The boat hardly moves at all! When it is not raining at night, we can leave the hatches open and enjoy the cool breezes blowing through the boat.
It is “Pancake Sunday” once again. Today, we had flower-shaped pancakes. J insisted they looked very similar to last week’s turtle pancakes, but I convinced her they were definitely not the same!
This morning, at 1100, there was a Boat Swap at the palapa. We were not trying to sell anything, but anyone who had something they wanted to get off their boat could put it out there for others to see...and possibly consider trading something or buying it.
The two entrepreneurs on EXIT ONLY, Z and J, have fond memories of selling lemonade when Dito and Sarah had a garage sale one time. They immediately asked Sarah if they could sell lemonade at the boat swap...and she said “yes”. Two young girls on another boat made homemade Brazilian candy and cookies to sell at another table. The kids’ refreshment tables sold out all of their goods.
The regular Sunday night BBQ is getting more and more crowded as more and more people are returning to the boats that were stored either in slips or on the hard during hurricane season. Also, a lot of boats are coming into the marina to get ready to transit the Canal this month.
More people than usual are going to transit the Canal this month, because the fees for a boat under 50 feet are around $1,000 through 31 December 2019. As of 01 January 2020, all fees for all boats will double. We are one of the boats I am referring to. We are scheduled to transit the Canal on 11-12 December 2019.
We were all up and ready to get the day started this morning. Dave and Dito went into Colon on the shuttle bus and that means they left the boat at 0730/7:30 a.m.
The plan for school today included a field trip! We went on the Monday nature hike in the jungle that is organized by one of the yachties. This lady just returned to their boat last week, so today was the first hike for “this season”. Sarah, Z, J, and I met up with about 8-10 other people from boats in the marina to go on a 2 hour hike to see what there was to see in the rainforest this morning.
We saw lots of birds, flowers, a sloth in a palm tree, termite nests, a capybara crossing the road, a small snake, and heard howler monkeys in the distance. . It tried to rain off and on during the hike, but it poured on us for only about 20 minutes. Everyone got soaked with warm rain. By the time we returned to the palapa, we were all dry.
In the afternoon, I went on the shuttle to town to look for some graph paper and and gel pens to use for school. I also finished up a little bit of Christmas shopping for Z and J.
While I was in town today, Dave contacted someone who rents the equipment we need for the Canal transit. We will rent large fenders (the inflated tube or ball that keeps the boat from rubbing against whatever we will be tied to... a wall of the lock or another boat). The walls make the fenders very dirty, so we do not want to use our own fenders that we use regularly when we are at a dock. We also will need 4 lines, 120 feet long with a monkey fist (a large knot to help the rope move in the right direction when the rope is thrown by the Canal line handlers on the sides of the chambers to the line handlers on the on the port and starboard deck of our boat.
Every boat transiting the Canal must have a captain from the boat at the helm, two line handlers, port/left and starboard/right on the bow, and two line handlers, port and starboard on the stern. There will be a Panama Canal Pilot standing next to Dave at the helm (steering wheel) at all times. While we are in the Canal, Panama Canal Pilot is in charge of our boat at all times when it is underway or in the chambers of the locks. David and Sarah will handle lines. We decided I would not be a line handler. Instead, I am in charge of supervising Z and J, as well as making the food that we have to provide for the crew, line handlers, and pilot. This means we will hire two line handlers to make the transit with us. These are people who do this job for a living. They know what is expected and how things will happen when we are in the locks.
Things are falling into place. Everyday, we are doing something that makes us closer to being ready for the transit.
We did school this morning. You will not believe me, but it is true...the story in J’s reading book was about a rainforest! We could not believe it! At the top of the page, it said, “Have you ever thought about what it is like in a rainforest?” Then, the story went on to talk about the different levels of the foliage and the common animas found in a rainforest. We started laughing. We were walking in one yesterday! We see the beautiful birds that live there and hear the howler monkeys howling in the rainforest everyday that we are in the marina.
Meanwhile, Dave and Dito were doing several smaller boat jobs that they want to have done before we transit the Canal. They filled the water tank (we will do that again before we leave), cleaned the salt water intake system on the engines, and took the propane tanks to the shuttle bus (the driver takes the empty tank to the propane station and brings the full bottle back to us in 1-2 days).
In the afternoon, Dave and Dito went into town on the shuttle bus. They had bought another drone in the Zona Libre (Free Zone) yesterday. When they got back to the boat, they discovered the control piece was not working correctly, They did not think they would get much help at the store, but wanted to try to get another controller if at all possible. Fortunately for them, the man in the shop did allow them to exchange the non-functioning controller for one that is working.
Back at the boat, I had invited Bella, the 13-year-old girl who made the Brazilian candy for the Boat Swap, to come over and show us how to make the candy. It is a stovetop recipe, so it is easy to do on a boat. She and her younger sister came over, and we all had fun talking about cruising and learning how to make the candy. I always enjoy talking to cruising kids and hearing what they have to say about the experience in general.
We made the candy, put it in a container, and now it has to sit in the fridge overnight. We will shape the candy into balls tomorrow. Bella said this candy is present at every party in Brazil...in fact they say if this candy is not on the table, it is not a party! They roll the balls in nuts or chocolate sprinkles. I rolled them in powdered sugar and they were delicious.
We all are thinking that one week from today, it is our turn to transit the Panama Canal. Of course, EXIT ONLLY went through the Canal in May 1995. Dave, Dito, and I remember it well. I am still in awe of the Canal and all of those huge ships passing literally from one ocean to another. I never tire of watching the parade of ships and support boats go by our front row seat here at the Balboa Yacht Club.
One of the biggest changes that happens going from one ocean to the other, is we will leave the relatively small tides of the Atlantic Ocean and will have to deal with the much larger tides of the Pacific Ocean. With the Atlantic tides, there is only a difference of 2’-3’ between high tide and low tide. In the Pacific, the difference between high tide and low tide is 18’-22’ That means you can leave your dinghy on the beach above the high tide water and come back at low tide to see your dinghy sitting on the terra firma with the edge of the water 20’ away. This means the heavy dinghy and motor will have to be carried out to the water if you want to go back to the boat. This is the kind of thing that happens to everyone once...but, usually one time is enough. You never do that again. Fortunately, there are wheels you can add to the stern of the dinghy that make it easy to move it. We actually have the wheels we used on our circumnavigation stored in a forward locker right now.
Today, after we finished school, we said “good-bye” to some of our friends on the dock who are transiting the Canal today. That is one of the hardest things about cruising...we are always saying good-bye to friends we make along the way. The good news is some of them are going the same directionwe are, so we will most likely see them again somewhere down the way.
I was making lunch today and needed some more vegetables. Our supply on the boat was getting low. J and I went to the mini mart here at the marina. They had some of the biggest carrots I have ever seen! While we were there, we picked up some tomatoes and, of course, two of those hot-out-of-the-oven baguaettes.. I never thought one of my favorite things in Panama would be a French baguette, but it is!
Dave and I took a walk around the marina grounds tonight and spotted a truck parked near the marina office. The words on the truck were”Expertos en Control de Plagas”. Somehow, that sounds much stronger than the word “exterminators”!
A huge storm hovered right over the marina and woke everyone up with huge booms of thunder between 0530 - 0600 this morning. I got right up and went to the cockpit to see what exactly was going on. The thunder was so close, the boat was shaking in the water and the lightning seemed very close to the marina.
I went and stood in the salon, just inside the closed glass doors. I could see streaks of lightning from top to bottom as they came out of the clouds and down. I saw the lightning hitting the radio towers that are located in the boat yard area. The whole tower would sort of glow, then the red lights would go out for a bit, then the red lights would come on and flash again.
Suddenly, I saw a glittering mass go quickly down, then back up one of the masts. The sparkling mass reminded me of a sparkler on the Fourth of July and it is sometimes called “St. Elmo’s Fire”. A very tall mast on a 60-foot catamaran was hit by that lightning. It took out most of the electronics on board, so that was a very expensive lightning bolt for that boat. Replacing the electronics is expensive and time consuming.
After waking us up and giving us something to think about, the storm moved on and the sky cleared. I was glad about that, because I went to Panama City today. One of the yachties rented a car today and three other yachties plus me paid to ride into town, go shopping several places, and return to the marina.
Today, on personal errands, someone in the car needed to go to a mattress store, a bank, and to see a lawyer. Once all of that was accomplished, the whole group went to Discovery Center (Ace Hardware meets Camping World),, Price Smart (like Costco and the driver has a card to get in), and Riba Smith (nice grocery store with many USA products). I spotted a huge reminder on top of the bank and Santa at the Discovery Center. Tried to work on the Christmas shopping today, too.
At the end of a fun day “out and about”, all five of us in the van managed to fill our share of the space with our purchases. There was just enough room on my seat left for me to squeeze in!
We woke up this morning and had to step over all those groceries I brought back from Panama City. The big job of putting it all away was too much for us last night, but we have to do the job this morning so we can move easily in the boat. Fortunately, Sarah, Z, and J are going to pitch in and help like they always do. Also, fortunately, Dave and Dito took the 0730 bus to Colon this morning, so they are not here to ask us “Do you have room for all of that?”
We did, indeed, find a place to put everything away and we did school. After lunch, everyone focused on getting ready for the big activity of the afternoon...Ginger Slam, The First International Version...
When Dito and Wendy were growing up and I was teaching school, we always did graham cracker houses at Christmas time...at school and at home. Dito and Sarah continued the graham cracker house tradition with a twist...they would invite family and friends over to their house to make the graham cracker houses, decorate them with lots of icing and candies, then one by one, they would slam the house with a bottle of water tied to a string and see which house survived the onslaught the best. That person was declared the winner!
There are several family boats (kids on board) at Shelter Bay Marina right now, so Dito and Sarah decided to organize a Ginger Slam. Of course, no one from any country had ever heard of this “tradition” before, but when they did hear words like...candy...frosting...decorations...they were all in. The parents as well as some of the other yachties stopped by to watch the fun. A prize was given for the prettiest creation and for the creation that held up the best to the “slam”.
Later, Sarah made a huge amount of popcorn and treated all of the kids to a movie night in the lounge. Dave and I opted for a quiet dinner in the marina restaurant. All in all, a fun day filled with good memories.
Well, we are getting down to the point where everything is “the last time to ...” on this side of Panama. We have certainly enjoyed our time here and could easily stay longer exploring this side of Panama, but it is time to get serious about transiting the Canal.
Our inspiration for moving on now is the new fee schedule that the Panama Canal Company is putting in place for all vessels as of 01 January 2020. Basically, the new fees are going to be two times what they are now. We had to put $1,800 into an account at a given bank pay to pay for our transit. $1,000 is the amount all boats under 50’ in length pay for a transit. $800 is sort of a “damage deposit”. If for any reason, like an engine break down, or if there is damage done while in the chambers of the locks, or we are not on time to make our transit, etc., we will forfeit the $800. If all goes well with the transit, we will be refunded our $800. Next month it would cost $2000 to go through the Canal, so we are going before the rates go up.
Today, in Colon, I was concentrating on what foods we were going to prepare for the transit. Every boat under 50’ length has to have a captain at the helm and four line handlers...two for port and starboard at the bow and two for port and starboard at the stern. We decided we would have Dave at the helm, Dito and Sarah on the bow, and hire two professional line handlers to be on the stern. I was assigned the job of supervising Z and J and organizing and preparing the food for both days.
I bought the groceries we needed and could see it was going to rain, sooner rather than later. I paid one of the young men who pack groceries to push their cart with my groceries over to where the bus picks us up. I put the groceries on the grass next to where the bus was going to park. Sure enough, the bus came just as the sprinkles started. Ranger, the bus driver, was laughing. He said that was exactly what a Panamanian would do.
Today, I picked up some of the supplies the agent told us to provide for the line handlers. He said we needed to have bottled water and snacks for them as well as meals and he told us to feed them “man food, not just salads”. I am assuming he meant we should feed them “hearty, filling” food. We are thinking curry, croissant sandwiches, lasagne, and breakfast croissants with several toppings.
Dave and Dito met me at the bus to carry groceries when we returned to the marina. Dave and I asked to have our photo taken with Ranger. We really enjoyed hearing his stories about Panama while we were here. We enjoyed the bus rides, too!
Everyday we wake up thinking about the Canal Transit. What can we get done today?
Today, we decided to do an inside and outside clean up. We did just that. Dave has been putting stuff away that was in the cockpit, then he cleaned and polished the fiberglass. It looks really good! Dito has been organizing things on deck and making sure everything is in its place securely. The rest of us worked on the interior of the boat and cleaned the floors, rugs, windows, walls, etc.
In the afternoon, I made brownies and J helped Sarah make bread to take to the Sunday night BBQ. Knowing this was our last one made us kind of sad. We always enjoy these evenings!
We did manage to do school this morning. The girls are good students and did well, but all of us are preoccupied with the transit coming up in two days. Dave is still working on the cockpit. It is already clean, but today he was waxing the fiberglass. Doing this helps protect the fiberglass from the sun. Dito was literally “hanging out” on a bosun’s chair off the bow of the boat doing routine maintenance. The whipping stitches (the large stitches that hold the loop at the end of a rope together) were wearing out on one of the lines for the Code Zero sail, so he was up there sewing the rope loop back together.
Sarah and I made our “last shopping trip to Colon”. We went to the Panaderia for some of their large-sized croissants. We picked up some last minute groceries at El Rey. We have to feed the crew plus the line handlers Wednesday snacks and supper, Thursday breakfast, snacks, lunch, and possibly supper. We picked up our “last pizza to go” from Pizza Hut to take home for supper.
Tomorrow, one day before the transit, is the day we find out what time we will be transiting the Canal on Wednesday. Also, the four 120’ heavy duty lines and the eight extra large ball fenders we rented from the agent will be delivered. We rent lines because sailboats our size do not carry lines this big. We rent the fenders because if we have to tie to the wall or a tugboat, the fenders can get very dirty. We do not want to get our fenders that dirty and we do not want to have to clean them up afterwards.
Today it is all about making sure the little things are taken care of for tomorrow.
The inside of the boat is clean and organized. Check
The cockpit and deck are clean and organized. Check.
The menu has been planned. Check.
The food for the meals and snacks is on board. Check
Bottled water. Check.
The extra pillows and bedding are ready. Check.
The lines and fenders we rented were delivered today. Check.
The line handlers said they will be aboard at 1240 tomorrow. Check.
We called the Panama Canal Scheduling Office this morning to find out what time we are scheduled to go through the Canal tomorrow. They told us to be anchored out on the Flats at 1400/2:00 p.m. “The flats” is the anchorage where all ships, large and small, wait for their Panama Canal pilot to arrive at their boat and tell them it is time to go into the Canal entrance and proceed to Gatun Locks.
We are glad to be receiving that information, but we know from other boats’ experiences, the scheduled time can change.. Our plan is to be ready to go and available to adapt to any changes that might occur tomorrow. This was our last full day in Shelter Bay Marina!
This morning was the “hard part” of saying good-bye to all the friends we have made at the marina. We have been in and out of the marina and have become fond of some of the workers here, plus we have met so many yachties at the docks.
The line handlers arrived early at the marina from Panama City. They boarded EXIT ONLY at 1240 as promised. Juan and Mike have been doing line handing for over 8 years. They make as many as 3 transits through the Canal each week.
Their early arrival made Sarah and I wonder if we were supposed to feed the line handlers lunch today, too. The answer was “Yes”. Sarah made a delicious chicken curry for everyone to enjoy for lunch. We ate while the boat was in the slip, then shortly after that we left the slip for the “last time”. We were out on the “Flats” with our anchor down in no time. The entrance to the Canal is located right outside the entrance to Shelter Bay Marina. Then we waited...
Around 1400/2:00 p.m., we got a phone call from the Panama Canal Scheduling Office. They told us the schedule had been pushed back and our pilot would be arriving at our boat around 1800/6:00 p.m. All I could think of is “this means a night transit”.
We all just waited, hanging out, doing whatever we wanted to do...on board...at anchor...waiting.
Sure enough, a pilot boat bringing our pilot to the boat showed up at 1800/6:00 p.m. Things started happening immediately. The anchor came up and we headed for the entrance to the Canal, then on to Gatun Locks...in the dark.
The Canal puts ships through the locks seven days a week, 365 days a year...day and night. The chambers in the locks of the Canal are very well lit. It is easy to see what is happening in the lock chambers as well as along the edges of the Canal.
Our pilot was very professional and focused on getting our boat into position in the chambers carefully. Small boats go through the chambers with a ship. When the water lifted us up in the chambers, we were positioned behind a huge car carrier ship. When we go down in the chambers, tomorrow, we will be in front of the huge ship.
There were two other small boats besides EXIT ONLY in each chamber...a racing monohull and a large beat-up steel fishing boat. The fishing boat was side-tied to the wall, then the racing boat was tied to the fishing boat, and lastly, we were in the middle of the chamber, tied to the other side of the racing boat. We were hoping we did not have to tie up to the fishing boat, because they were using black tires for fenders. We did not want black rubber marks on our hull!
We all went up three times in the three chambers in Gatun Locks. In chamber one, we tied up properly, the water came in like a huge rip tide, and we rose...then the gates of chamber one opened and we proceeded into chamber two. Again, we tied up properly, the water came in like a huge rip tide, and we rose...into chamber three, next, and the process was repeated. It took over two hours to get through all three chambers and out onto Lake Gatun.
We powered out onto the huge lake in the dark and headed for a mooring where we tied up for the night at 2230/10:30 p.m. We were all really tired...more from the emotion than actual physical work. The transit went smoothly, but we were aware every moment that if things started to go wrong, it would happen very quickly. Without much hesitancy, once we were secured to the mooring, all 8 people on the boat were ready to go to sleep. We were very grateful that so far everything had gone well.
The night transit was unexpected, but it went smoothly. We had done some live feeds from the boat as well as texting and sending photos while we were proceeding through the three chambers of Gatun Locks. It was really fun sharing this experience with some family and friends.
This morning started off at 0545 with “Beep! Beep! Beep!” We woke up immediately and wondered what in the world was making that sound. Then, within seconds we realized the roar we were hearing was the pilot boat and it was beeping at us and the racing boat.
Our pilot for the day was dropped off and we were actually untied and moving away from the mooring at 0600. The pilot was explaining we had to get started on the 35-mile journey across Lake
Gatun, because we were scheduled to go through Pedro Miguel Locks (one chamber) and Miraflores Locks (three chambers) with a specific big ship and the racing boat and the fishing boat. It was the pilot’s job to make sure we got there on time.
Each of the three small boats were side-tied to the wall individually as we went down in front of another car carrier ship in Pedro Miguel Locks. In the Miraflores Locks, the last three down chambers, the small boats were rafted together again with the fishing boat on the wall, the racing boat tied to the fishing boat, and EXIT ONLY in the middle of the chamber on the other side of the racing boat. It is an eerie feeling being so close to the front of that huge ship as the water goes down. When the ship puts its engines in gear to move on to the next chamber, the swirling water is full of strong currents pulling on the smaller boats. Although nothing bad happened, you know it could happen. We were so glad when the moving from one chamber to another was done.
Miraflores Locks has a large visitors’ center beside the Canal. It includes an IMAX movie about the Panama Canal, exhibits with some interactive displays that tell how the Canal functions, and an outside viewing deck where people can watch as ships and small boats go through the locks. Most commercial tour groups make a stop there.
When we were actually going through the Miraflores Locks, there were over a hundred people up on the viewing deck. Dito and the girls were on the bow of our boat and they started waving to the people. Soon the people on the deck started waving back! Then we heard the tour guide on his microphone talking about small boats “like that catamaran down there” going through the Canal with the large ships.
One year ago today is the day Dave and I flew back to Florida to restart our efforts to get EXIT ONLY back in the water and on her way to the Bahamas. Dito, Sarah, Z, and J drove down to Florida on the 12th so they were there to pick us up at the Ft. Lauderdale airport when we arrived. One year later, today, we just finished transiting the Panama Canal. We are grateful to be here.
Our first beautiful Pacific sunrise greeted us this morning as we woke up near Isla Culebra near the end of the Amador Causeway. Later, we pulled up the anchor and moved the boat to the Balboa Yacht Club. Now, we are on a mooring right beside the Panama Canal and near the Bridge of the Americas (the road across the bridge is known as Panama Highway #1 or The Pan American Highway). All day and all night ships and boats are passing by as they enter or exit the Canal. We saw a very nice sunset at the end of the day.
The photo of EXIT ONLY is one Wendy sent to us as she was watching us on the live cameras in the locks yesterday. We thought it was really amazing that she could be thousands of miles away “transiting the locks with us”.
The Balboa Yacht Club is a very special place to Dave and I. We lived in the Canal Zone back in 1974-1975. Dave was an intern at Gorgas Hospital and I taught first grade at Diablo Heights Elementary School. This was our first experience living overseas and we loved it. We loved living in the Tropics. We bought a 22-foot sailboat when we knew nothing about sailing. We kept it on a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club. We learned to sail between that mooring and Isla Taboga, which is seven miles away. So many memories come rushing back to us now! That experience influenced us to pursue an expatriate lifestyle in later years and to continue sailing. Eventually, we completed an eleven year circumnavigation on EXIT ONLY. Now, here we go again!
Of course the Canal Zone no longer exists as we knew it back then. The property was officially turned over to the Panamanian Government in 1999. Today, one of the largest malls in Central America, Albrook Mall, is located only 2-3 miles away from here.
The Balboa Yacht Club runs a launch/water taxi service instead of allowing yachties to bring their dinghies to the dock. It is a convenience in that we call them on the VHF, request a ride, and they come pick us up in a few minutes. The launch runs seven days a week, around the clock.
We had heard how good the bus system in Panama City is, so we looked forward to getting ourselves set up to ride the buses for 25 cents a ride. We found out we had to go to the bus terminal located at Albrook Mall to buy a bus card for $2.00, then add money to the card to cover the cost of riding the bus several times. You cannot pay cash on the bus. You must have a card and hold it up to the card reader. The reader deducts 25 cents for your ride and a screen shows how much money is left on your card.
Knowing all of this about the bus card, we piled into a taxi and headed for the Albrook Bus Terminal so we could buy bus cards. There is a bus stop just a five minute walk from the dock at the Yacht Club.
Lying in the bunk as the sun was rising about 0615, the sound of the vessel was a tad different than most of the heavily-loaded ships going through the Canal. We got up to see what this ship looked like...it was the Princess Line cruise ship called the “Emeralld Princess”. We waved to the few brave souls who were out on deck as the ship exited the Canal, passing under the Bridge of the Americas. Beautiful photo!
After breakfast and cleaning up, Dave, Sarah, Z, J, and I headed for the bus stop. We were heading for the Biomuseum located farther down the causeway from where we are moored, about two bus stops away. We had read online about the museum focusing on biodiversity and the interaction of all species, but we still wondered exactly what that was going to mean. The museum turned out to be one of our favorite things we have seen. We expected the focus to be on how all living things interact, but the beauty of the exhibits and way animals and plants were portrayed surprised us in the best way. I loved the multimedia exhibit where we “stood” on a log while cutter ants crawled all over and around us in a video. Different animals were featured and you felt like you were right in the middle of those groups. Colorful and fun!
There was also a large exhibit dedicated to the history of Panama and the nine major groups of people from other countries who contributed to making Panama what it is today...Spanish, French, Hindu, Chinese, Africans from Caribbean Islands, Hebrews, Greeks, Italians, and North Americans.
We went on the bus two more stops farther down the causeway to find somewhere to eat lunch. There, at the bus stop where we got off, were some yachtie friends of ours. They are heading from here to Hawaii, then up to Alaska. Others are headed north along Costa Rica and Mexico up to the Sea of Cortez and the Baja. Then, like us, another group is headed for Galapagos, then to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. The Canal truly is the “Crossroads of the Worlld”.
This morning was Pancake Sunday and today palm tree pancakes were featured! We had a pretty lazy morning watching ships go by in the Canal! I never get tired of seeing the ships! I do get a little tired of bouncing in the wakes they send our way!
Our crew had made plans to meet the crews from two other boats at a pizza place for lunch at 1230. We rode the bus down the causeway, then walked a short way to the pizza restaurant. We enjoyed seeing one crew we had know over in Shelter Bay again and getting to know the other crew, a cruising family with kids, we had met at Shelter Bay Marina, too.
Before we got to order pizza though...the owner said they were opening late and the pizza oven would not be up to temperature for an hour. We all left and crossed the street to a public park and play area where we stood and talked for an hour while the kids played. We went back across the street to the pizza place at 1330/1:30 p.m. The owner was surprised...and pleased...to see us! We ate outdoors on the patio overlooking the ocean and a marina. The four young kids had their own child-sized table and chairs. They loved it!
The tension, drama, and relief connected to the transit of the Canal are all behind us now and we have caught up on our sleep. We are grateful we had such a good transit. We did not expect bad things to happen,,, but we know they sometimes do. Those are the stories that make the rounds! Our transit went well and what was supposed to happen...did!
We are ready to get a little routine back into our day...like start with school in the morning for Z and J. Dave and Dito went to three chandleries down on the causeway this morning, looking for specific boat project supplies.
The rest of us got the school books out and got started. I think Z and J were ready to get back to their studies, too. Of course so many of the things they have seen and done as we travel are learning experiences, too. They do know quite a lot about the Panama Canal now.. We have gotten them well-trained regarding their journals. We will do something and they will look at Sarah and I and say, “This needs to be in my journal!”. We smile and nod.
The guys came back from the chandleries pleasantly surprised that they had found part of what they were looking for. We needed filters for our water maker and they found out who to contact about purchasing those. Dave called and ordered the water filters. They are going to be delivered Tuesday, right to the cockpit of our boat on the mooring. It is nice to be in a place where we can do that.
As I was just saying yesterday, we are glad to be in a place where we have some resources at hand. Dito’s computer has been giving him some problems again, but this time he thinks there is a major problem. He decided to download as much as he could onto hard drives at the Internet Shop in the mall.
We all ended up going to the mall. We met some yachties in the launch (yacht club launch carries people and goods .back and forth between their boats and the dock) who had just come through the Canal yesterday. We were telling them about the bus cards you can only buy at the bus terminal. We told them to come with us on the bus and we would pay their fare ($.25 each). That is how all of the good information gets passed along...person to person. The photos of Z and J and the bears were taken at the mall and the bus station.
We indulged in lunch at the food court again. We all enjoy the ice cream for dessert, too! My personal mission for today was to find some low-cut sports shoes with a hiking tread. Our next big stop from here will be the Galapagos and I did not bring shoes for hiking in mud and rocks. We will be there awhile, so I will wear these shoes every time we get off the boat and go ashore.
The mall provided interesting entertainment today...a big marching band. The band literally marched from one end to the other of this very large mall playing Christmas songs while marching girls twirled batons and waved large flags. As the band moved through the length of the mall, shoppers would stop and line the edges of the walkway just like a real parade! We loved it!
We are fortunate to have a good location for the boat within a 15-minute bus ride of Albrook Mall. We all have some personal items we wished we had with us on the boat and we are trying to finish up Christmas shopping. We can do all of that and buy groceries at the supermarket in the mall. They have almost everything!
We did school this morning, then got ready for a field trip to Casco Viejo...but, first we made a side trip to Albrook Mall.
A quick bus ride took us to the mall. Dito took his computer to the Mac Store and turned it in for analysis. I do not think he is expecting good news when they give him their summary of the problem, but he can keep hoping until they tell him differently.
He came down to the food court and met the rest of us there for a quick lunch. Then we all were headed out of the mall, through the bus terminal, and over to the metro station. We had not tried this yet, but had heard the metro system works well for Panama City.
We found that to be true. Once we were on the metro, it whisked us away and covered the distance to the nearest Metro station to Casco Viejo (The Old Compound). We took a taxi from the Metro station to the Panama Canal Museum. That sounded like a good place to start.
All of us enjoyed the museum. It is located in a restored building that was once the office building of the French Canal Company, then the United States Isthmian Canal Commission. In 1912, it was a post office. An extra bonus was seeing the beautiful entry hall decorated for Christmas today. The exhibits were very interesting...about the history of deciding to build a canal, the efforts that failed and why...the efforts that succeeded and why...the people who actually participated in building the Canal, etc. The exhibits and the bilingual explanations were very well done.
Back outside, our attention automatically went to the huge old church dominating the plaza...La Catedral Metropolitana. Construction work began on the church in 1673, with improvements being made in 1688. It was finally consecrated in 1796, 123 years later. It is one of the largest Catholic Churches in Central America.
Unfortunately, it started to rain rather heavily, so we decided to cut our visit short and head back to the boat. I do want to go back to the Casco Viejo area and see more another day.
We did school first thing today, then made a plan for the rest of the day.
Dave had a list of supplies he needed for some boat projects, plus we needed to replace some of the buckets that had become brittle from being in the sun. We set them on deck to catch rainwater when it rains, then use that water for laundry. We also were looking to replace the two outdoor chairs at the cockpit table. The two we bought in Florida were too lightweight and not well-made.
Dito, Sarah, Z, and J had errands to run in another part of town. When they finished over there, they planned to meet us at the mall.
Once we were at the mall Dave and I went to the Do It! Store (like Home Depot, except much smaller). Amazingly, we found almost everything on Dave’s list, including the chairs. Our trolley was full of items, plus the jerry jugs and the chairs did not fit in a trolley. It quickly became apparent that these purchases would have to go back to the boat in a taxi.
When the rest of the crew returned to the mall, they callled us and we asked them to come to the Do It Store. We made another plan. Dave and Dito would take all the purchases downstairs and outside to find a taxi. They would move the things to the boat. In the meantime, Sarah, Z, J, and I would go to the bus station and catch the bus back to the boat. Sounded good.
What really happened to Sarah, Z, J, and I, was there was no bus at the station and the app on our phones told us there was no bus coming. What was going on?
We stopped a taxi and the driver agreed to take up to the area where the boat is for $6. It is usually a 20 minute bus ride away. Long story short...The roads between the mall and the destination were in absolute gridlock. After sitting in gridlock for 45 minutes, the driver got out of the traffic and headed in the other direction into Panama City. Oh, good! Sarah and I both had our Google maps out and we were watching where in the world we were going! So, 45 minutes and almost 3 times the money later we arrived at our destination. We were in that taxi for 1 hour and 30 minutes!
P.S...One year ago today, after the crew had returned to Florida on 12 and 13 December, EXIT ONLY went back in the water! The dream was still alive!
We had school this morning. Then Dave and I made a plan to go to Casco Viejo again.
We took the bus to Albrook Mall and had lunch there. Then we headed for the metro line and rode to the sixth stop. Coming up out of the metro onto the city street, we got in a taxi and rode the rest of the way to the Casco Viejo area.
Today, we started with the Panama History Museum. This turned out to be a very small museum with small exhibits filling all available space. The exhibits seemed to be telling about the people who came to this long, thin country and some of the political stands that have been taken throughout their history. We particularly enjoyed the photo of Richard Halliburton. In 1928, he swam the length of the Panama Canal. He had to pay a charge of 36 cents, based on his weight...150 pounds. The 36 cents he paid is the cheapest fee ever paid to “transit” the Canal.
We wandered around the area looking at the buildings even though it was raining off and on. Every time it rained, we went into one of the historic churches to look around until it stopped raining. We saw Iglesia de San Jose, the church that is famous for covering its altar made of gold with black paint, so Henry Morgan would not steal it when he pillaged and destroyed Panama Viejo (the first site of the city) in 1671. The second site of Panama City, Casco Viejo, was built eight kilometers away from the first site, on a rocky peninsula that was easier to defend.
An impressive statue of Simon Bolivar is located in Parque Bolivar. Bolivar is honored in many Latin American countries for urging the union of these countries so they could support each other in 1826. He succeeded in liberating Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela from the Spanish. Panama was a part of the union, which Bolivar called “Gran Colombia. The dome in the background is Iglesia de San Francisco.
We walked up on the huge wall that surrounds the rebuilt town. The French Embassy is located down in the old area today. They have built lovely buildings on the point of the land.
Casco Viejo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. This designation brought money to the country to rebuild and restore many of the historic buildings. The ones that have been completed are examples of what the city used to look like.
Sarah and Dito decided to go to the movies today. They wanted to see the latest Star Wars movie and it was on in English at the cinema at Albrook Mall today at 1100/11:00 a.m.
They headed for the movie while Dave, Z, J, and I headed for the food court. It is a very large food court, so the choices of food were the usual U.S A fast food restaurants, as well as Panamanian fast food. Z chose a McDonald’s chicken nuggets Cajita Feliz (Happy Meal) and J chose a personal-size pepperoni pizza. Dave chose Wendy’s and I chose KFC tenders. The funny thing about all of this is, Dave and I do not really eat fast food back home. Somehow, when you are somewhere else, it is more appealing.
After we all finished our lunches, we did a little shopping for specific things we knew we were going to look for at the mall. We found the things we were looking for, the headed back to the Food Court area. We had promised Z and J a ride on the beautiful carousel there. They had ridden it the other day and Z really enjoyed it and was wanting to go again. J was a tad reluctant to ride and looked serious the whole time she was riding on a unicorn. She decided after she was off the ride that she wanted to go again. So, today was their next chance to ride. They both enjoyed it this time, and at $.50 per ride, we let them ride twice.
Next, on our agenda was ice cream. Z asked fo chocolate chips in her ice cream and J asked for mini marshmallows.
Then it was time for me to get down to the business of grocery shopping. There is a well-stocked grocery store right in the mall. The plan for today was buying heavy items like pop, boxed UHT milk...and bulky things like cereal and paper towel. Also, we bought some delicate items like eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables. Dave and Dito went back to the boat with all the groceries in a taxi while Sarah, Z, J, and I rode the bus back.
While I was doing the actual grocery shopping and Dito and Sarah were at the movie, Dave followed the sound of live music that was moving through the mall. A live marching band was going through the mall playing Christmas music. Beloved story characters like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were also with the marching band. The shoppers at the mall loved seeing the band. It looked like the band was having fun, too.
That about says it all! It was also Pancake Sunday, so Christmas tree pancakes seemed appropriate. It was overcast and humid when we were mixing up cookie dough. The dough was sticky, so we tried to allow for the extra moisture in the air and added extra flour. Finally, we put the dough into the frig for awhile. The coolness made the dough come together!!
Z and J worked hard rolling out the dough and using cookie cutters to make different shapes. After we chilled the dough, they were able to make quick work of filling the baking sheets.
The plan is to take the cookies and some frosting (red and green, of course) to the Christmas Eve Brunch gathering of yachties. The kids can frost a cookie, add sprinkles, then enjoy eating their creation.
We decided not to do school today, because there are so many boat chores that we need to get caught up on.
We needed to do some grocery shopping for supplies to make food for the Christmas lunch we are going to tomorrow. Several crews from cruising yachts are gathering together at a public park on the Amador Causeway.
First thing this morning, we did some laundry. It seems like the mornings are sunny and the rain showers come and go fairly quickly in the afternoon. We wanted to get the laundry hung out on the lifelines, so it would have the best chance of drying. Usually, there is a good breeze, so drying is not a problem.
Next, Sarah, Z, J, and I were off to catch the bus and go grocery shopping at one of the two supermarkets at Albrook Mall. I went to the pharmacy inside the grocery store and asked if they had “bandas” (bandaids). The lady behind the counter pulled a small box off a shelf, opened the box, and pulled out one band aid. She said, “That will be 6 cents.” They sell band aids by the unit...one at a time. I told her I would take 30 band aids and she came up with a box of 30 bandaids. We bought one of the braided circle breads that is a special egg bread only made and sold at the Christmas/Three King’s Day (06 January) time of year. We like to slice the bread and toast it in a skillet.
Since we were doing shopping for the short term, we could carry our small loaded bags and ride the bus with them. The bus rules say “no large, heavy items can be carried on the bus”. Almost all of the shops here expect you to have your own bags for carrying what you have purchased.
I always carry a 15 Liter dry bag with my small purse, money, credit cards, a jacket, and four carry bags that I can pull out when I am shopping. The grocery stores have bags available for purchase if you need more bags. I use the dry bag because it keeps everything dry in the launch, in the dinghy, in the rain, etc.
We spent the morning getting our food ready to take to the potluck lunch today. We are taking the bus down the causeway to an outdoor public park with tables.
Everyone brought food to share and we brought cookies and frosting for the kids to make Christmas cookies.That is J in the purple shirt at the table and Z is wearing the turquoise shirt with pink pants. There were 25 people present from 8 countries....Canada, USA, South Africa, Hungary, Antigua, British Guiana, England, and the Philippines. Good food, good sea stories, good fellowship!
In the evening, back on the boat, we opened Christmas presents. We do have a small Christmas tree made of wood on the boat, but when the time came to put the tree up, we could not find it. We were thinking of other alternatives when Sarah looked at the camera tripod Dito left setting on the table. She got the idea to wrap a sparkly garland around the legs of the tripod and made an instant Christmas tree. Perfect!
The locals celebrated with fireworks that went off at midnight.
We had a slow, easy morning. There were no big plans for the day. Z and J opened their stockings. Everyone was enjoying doing their own thing. I made Christmas (using red and green sauce) enchiladas for lunch.
In the evening, we were back on the boat. We could see the causeway in the distance and the lights on the vehicles still moving slowly on the road. The causeway was still crowded with families enjoying the evening and waiting for the Christmas fireworks. I did not see...or hear...the fireworks when they started at midnight. Dave and Dito saw the fireworks and tried to take photos of them.
I read an article online about seeing some of the tourist sites in Panama using the public bus and/or metro system. Dave and I decided to go visit the Miraflores Locks Visitors’ Center by bus.
We took the yacht club launch into the dock, walked 5 minutes to the nearest bus stop, rode 5 minutes to the Albrook Mall bus terminal, and started asking where we could find the bus to Miraflores Locks. Helpful people pointed out the correct bus, we boarded, and we were on our way.
The bus stop for Miraflores Locks is directly in front of the Visitors’ Center. It could not be easier. We entered the building and purchased tickets to see the IMAX presentation about the Panama Canal and to tour the Panama Canal Museum.
The IMAX presentation included the history of the French and United States’ efforts to build a canal across Panama. The movie talked about the people who were brought in from around the world to work and the almost overwhelming hardships and illnesses they faced as they strove to dig the canal and reshape the land. The Canal was finally completed after Dr. William Gorgas discovered that mosquitos were spreading the yellow fever and malaria that had killed thousands of workers,. Great efforts were made to eradicate the marshy habitats where the mosquitos lived.
The movie also included photography and information about the new, wider locks that had been added to the Canal, Agua Clara and Cocoli. These wider, longer locks were built for a whole new group of ships called the “Panamax” and “Supermax”. These are the longest, widest, and tallest commercial ship carriers in the world.
After the movie was over, we went up and up through the multi-level museum that told the story of the Canal using exhibits and inter-active displays. The top floor opened out onto a viewing platform overlooking the locks. That is where people were standing and waving to Dito, Z, and J on our bow when we were going through the chambers at Miraflores Locks.
After we were done at the Visitors’ Center, we headed downstairs and outside to the bus stop. The bus took us back to Albrook Mall where we once again decided to eat at the food court before we went back to the boat.
Dave, Sarah, Z, J, and I decided to go to another part of town where another mall is located, an Asian Store is not too far away from the mall, and there is a Price Smart near-by. We were not sure we would be able to get to all of these places today, so we decided to check out the MultiPlaza Mall first.
We rode the bus to Albrook Terminal, then transferred to the metro and headed underground. We came out of the metro downtown and walked to a bus stop a short way down the road. That bus took us to a stop close to the mall. We had a quick look around the mall and ate lunch at the food court.
Dave and I decided to stay at the mall and go to the cinema to see “Jumanji 2”. Sarah and the girls walked around the mall and discovered there is a Riba Smith Grocery Store there. This is the grocery store chain that carries the best selection of imported foods from the USA.
Sarah and the girls left the mall and walked 20 minutes to an Asian store that had been recommended to us when we asked a friend where we could buy packets of powdered coconut milk. We like to carry powdered coconut milk, because it is in small packets that are lighter and easier to carry than tins of coconut milk. Sarah makes really good curry and coconut milk is one of the key ingredients. Unfortunately, after all this effort, Sarah, Z, and J got to the store and it was closed for the holidays this week! That means we will make another trip back after New Year’s Day.
We have been so impressed with how clean the buses are. I took a picture of the poster describing 19 bus rules all riders must follow...many of them are things you CANNOT do...carry large packages and bags, lay down on the seats, write or draw on the bus, carry fire arms, have inflammable substances, stand in the yellow area at the front of the bus, distract the driver, smoke, vandalize the bus, busk or entertain the other riders, drink alcohol, bring pets on the bus, eat or drink on the bus. That is quite a long list, but it makes me think they put all of these things on the poster because someone has tried to do each of these things on a bus!
Dito and Sarah have already seen the new Star Wars movie in English. Dito has been telling Dave that he thinks Dave would enjoy the movie. Dito said he would not mind seeing it again, so the decision was made to go see the movie at Multiplex Plaza Mall.
I said I would go along and take the Z and J to see “Frozen 2” ...in Spanish. We could not find the movie being shown in English or with English sub-titles. OK, I thought. It is a cartoon with lots of clues watching the characters interact and my Spanish is passable. I think we can do this!
A bus ride, plus a metro ride, plus a taxi ride got us downtown to the mall. There were two other people in the whole movie theater with us at the 1130 showing. Dave and Dito were the only people in their “personal” movie theater.
We all met up at the near-by food court after our movies were over (NOTE #1...I will add a story about their Star Wars movie at the end of this blog entry.
I went to go get some food for the girls. Between our table and my destination, I stepped in something spilled on the floor and fell down. I stayed alert the whole time and knew exactly what happened. People rushed to help me, helped me to a chair, a young woman immediately came up to me with napkins and was wiping the blood off my fingers from a cut on the inside of my top lip while she is telling me in Spanish that she is a doctor. I spoke to her in Spanish and English until Dave came over. He was startled to see me sitting there.
Long story short, I did not break anything. I did not hurt my arms or wrists at all. I bruised one knee. I did smash my nose, but it is not broken. My eyes started turning dark like I had two black eyes. The only problem that resulted from this is a chipped front tooth. I will have to go to a dentist and see what can done about that. I really am OK. I had to wait to leave until the mall medical forms were filled out and security said I could leave. I went in the taxi, metro, and bus to get back to the boat just fine. I am shook up, but I am OK.
Note #1 about the Star Wars movie...Dave and Dito were sitting in the theater and there were 20 minutes left until the end of the movie. The biggest scenes with the most drama were unwinding and although they knew someone would save the day, it had not happened yet. The movie STOPPED. Lights came on and a man who works at the theater came up the them. The man was speaking rapid Spanish, obviously telling them they had to leave NOW.
They could not figure out what was going on, but got up and headed for the Exit where they saw a large group of people pushing to get into the theater. Turns out, these people had been watching a movie in another theater when the rain started leaking from the roof into the theater. Theater management decided to put all these people in the theater that was not leaking where Dave and Dito were sitting. So...Dave has still not seen the last 20 minutes of “Rise of Skywalker”! Management did hand Dave and Dito four free tickets before they walked away from the theater.
Note #2 about the photos I included today...I took a photo of Z and J by the “”Frozen 2” movie poster at the theater. After I fell and was back on the boat, I realized I did not have other photos from today and I will not be off the boat taking photos for a few days. I will continue writing blog entries, but I am going to share photos of ships going by EXIT ONLY as they enter and exit the Canal and photos of the Balboa Yacht Club area.
The ship photos today are of an ocean survey ship that electronically surveys the bottom of the ocean and a cargo ship carrying a load of wind turbine blades.
Slept through the night and woke up this morning feeling like I needed to sleep some more, so that is what I did. I went back to sleep for awhile.
When I woke up again, I was so grateful no new problems had presented themselves. As the day went along, I actually could feel the strength flowing into my body. By evening, I was feeling strong again.
Today’s ship photos include (1) a pink container ship...some of the largest container ships, the max ships, can carry 20,000 stacked 20-foot containers, (2) a gray service boat...carries gear and provisions out to ships at anchor...this service boat is carrying huge fenders that ships use when they have to tie up to another ship or a dock in a port for loading or unloading, and (3) the bow of a blue ship demonstrates how the huge fenders are attached to a ship.
We called one dentist and he will not be back in his office until 6 January. Called a second dentist and they gave me an appointment to evaluate the damaged tooth on Monday, 6 January.
I am doing well today. We even got some school in this morning. Feeling strong and trying not to freak out about the tooth!
The ship photos today include: (1) a black ship with red bottom paint.. When the ship is full of crude oil, the red paint hardly shows above the waterline. Obviously, this ship is not full of crude oil. (2) a black and white ship with a very distinctive design...This is a ship that carries LPG (liquified petroleum gas). (3) a gray ship and two tug boats...The blue and yellow tug boat works out of Port Balboa. Maybe this ship is going to unload or pick up good at the port instead of transiting the Canal. The smalll black and white boat is a pilot boat. Every boat or ship using the Canal or the Port has to have a Panama Canal Pilot on board. Some of the Panamax ships have three pilots on board during a transit. These small pilot boats move people from shore to the ships and back.
We are sitting here in Panama City thinking how grateful we are to be here. We made it! We were talking about that when we started school this morning.
I am sorry I have to deal with a damaged tooth, but rather here than having this happen in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! At least here, help is readily available.
We are going to be in Panama until the end of January anyway, because it is still cyclone/hurricane season out in the South Pacific right now. After my dental work is done, we plan to leave the bright lights, hubbub, and ice cream in Panama City and head 40 miles to the southeast in the Bay of Panama. Las Islas Perlas, or Pearl Islands are located there. Hopefully, we can hang out for awhile there, then return to Panama City by the end of January to prepare for going to the Galápagos Islands.
Fireworks are a traditional way locals celebrate holidays and New Year’s Eve is no exception, Someone in the marina had expired emergency flares and decided to celebrate by shooting the flares off to celebrate tonight. The city set fireworks off over the water, at midnight.
All three photos are there to say “Prospero Ano en Felicidad”/“Happy New Year” from EXIT ONLY! Thank you for coming along with us in 2019! We hope you will enjoy crossing the South Pacific in 2020, too!