Happy New Year to everybody. Best wishes and a Happy and Prosperous 2010.
January 1, 2010
At 6:30 our new advisor showed up, he was a very nice young Panamanian gentleman. We spend hours motoring down the lake to get to the first lock of the day. Many huge ships passed by us going the other way.
We arrived at the first lock (San Miguel) and tied to a tug boat. This was very easy.The freighter was behind us this time which I felt was much easier, it turned out to be Dockwise, a yacht transportation ship (see pic above). For the next two locks at Miraflores, we centre tied. So we had quite a varying experience in term of lockage. We heard our name on the loudspeaker of the Miraflores visitor centre where there tons of people waving at us and cheering. Once the lock doors opened we motored into the Pacific Ocean. What an experience. We had so much fun. Thank you to all our great competant line handlers who made it all so easy.
There are four options for staying in Panama City. One is the Balboa Yacht Club which has mooring balls for .60/foot, the Flamenco Yacht Club which is very pricey by the looks of all the mega yachts moored there then there are the two anchorages which only one is any good during the dry season - La Playita. We anchored here for a couple of weeks but we were not very comfortable. The huge freighters that motor by going to the Miraflores locks are not the problem - they don't produce any wake at all. It is the pilot boats that come roaring through the anchorage at great speed and cause huge wakes behind them (see pic below). La Playita has a smallish dingy dock, you are only allowed to tie to the ends of the dock, they charge $30.00 a week plus tax for this privledge. La Playita is by the Amador Causeway which is very nice. There are lots of restaurants (Mi Ranchito and the wood oven pizzeria were good ones), two ice cream shops that serve delicious homemade gellato for $1.75 for a waffle cone. The causeway is as two mile long and connects the four small islands of Naos, Culebra, Perico and Flamenco to the mainland. It is beautful to walk along, we used our inline skates several times and Cari has become qute a decent skater! On the weekend it is a very popular place for locals to escape the city as it is extremely busy -- the sidewalks are bustling.
The Panama Cruising Guide lists out in excel format all the stores and shops one could possibly need while in Panama City. We spent several days shopping for boat parts.The best way to get around town when you have many errands is to hire a taxi for the day as they charge by the hour and will wait while you run into different stores around town. We used Roger, he used to be the manager of the old Panama Canal Yacht Club. He is very cruiser friendly and knows where most things are.
We scoped out the Allbrook Mall. Carlingwood has nothing on this mall! It has a bowling alley, movie theatre, mini golf, climbing wall, space play place, the biggest food court we have ever seen and the list goes on.... The highlight for the kids was the climbing wall.
The Culebra Nature Centre is right by the parking lot of La Playita. We spent a few hours there one afternoon. The kids loved it. It is run by the Smithonian Tropical Resarch Institute. They have a small childrens marine museum, aquariums and a nature trail through a patch of dry forest containing sloths and iguanas.
We have been interspersing our shopping days with tour days. One day we took a cab to Panama Viejo. Panama Viejo was the old city which only ruins are left now. In 1671, 1200 pirates led by Henry Morgan ascended the Rio Chagres and then proceeded overland to Panama. After overtaking the Spanish, nearly everything of value was either plundered and divvied up or destroyed by fire. The city is making a huge effort to restore the ruins. The ruins were declared a protected site in 1976.
We found a great dim sum restaurant. The cruisers meet at Lung Fung in the Transmitica area every Wednesday morning. We went a few times on our own and it was so yummy.
We had a setback mid-month, when Chris came down with what we thought was food poisening. (Of course it happened just as we came back from doing an enormous stock up at the Mega Depot, and your truly had to unpack and try to find a place for everything on her own). It turns out that he had Dengue Fever. He got this from a mosquito bite in the city. He was completely out of commission for four days and was very ill.
There is a cruiser who lives here who is an artist and she gives kids art lessons over at the Panama Sailing School so we signed the kids up along with a new kid boat that we met with kids the same age as ours (yeah!!) sv Kamaya. They spent the afternoon in their lesson and Chris and I had a few hours all to ourselves.
Once Chris came out of his dengue fog, he decided that we really did need a new Code Zero sail. We found Quantam Sails in South Africa as the right company for the job so on January 19th we ordered the sail. It's going to take 2 weeks to get it. We were hoping to leave Panama City but we feel the sail is important enough to stick around for another couple of weeks.
We organized with La Playita to go use their dock at 11:00 a.m. to fill with water. We arrived on time but had to wait for their ferry boat to move, then we were told that we only would be allowed 25 minutes to clean the boat and fill with water. As all five of us were rushing around on deck, we were told that it was going to cost us $65.00!!!! We were shocked as water is free in Panama. I told them that they could keep their water for that price and we left and motored over to Flamenco Marina. What a difference! We arrived at a beautfiul, long, calm dock. The dock attendants who met us told us that we could take our time, do whatever we wanted and the water is free!! We filled all our diesel jugs, plus our diesel tanks, filled our water tanks, filled our gas jugs and washed the whole boat with fresh water. We can now check off that item on the never ending list.
January 25, 2010 - Panama City to Isla Taboga - 10.99nm
We left Flamenco Marina and motored over to Isla Taboga for some beach time. There are a ton of mooring balls scattered everywhere. But we found a spot to anchor right by the beach. We all had fun swimming although there were some small biting jellyfish around.
Taboga is a tropical island with only one road and no traffic. However the traffic comes from the water. Several ferries come and go between Panama City (La Playita) and Taboga dropping hordes of people off at the beach. They call it the "Island of Flowers" as it is covered with beautfiul colourful blossoms, alternatively it igot it's name in the 1880s when the French were trying to build the canal, they used Taboga as an enormous sanatorium for workers who had contracted malaria or yellow fever and the Island of Flowers earned its name from all the flowers placed on the graves . One of its claim to fame is that it is home to the second oldest church in the western hemisphere. The church was founded in 1550 (see pic below).
We stayed for a week, but the anchorage was horrid. It was very rolly, with the waves coming in and rounding the little island and hitting us broadside. It would stop in the morning, start building in the afternoon and by dinner it felt like we were on a passage in a storm. However we put up with it as we needed a break from the big city.
If you visit Taboga, do not go to the hotel restaurant or if you do go, just get a drink. It is this gorgeous Parisien-looking hotel on the main road with a beautiful view of the harbour. However the food was horrid. When not one of my three kids will eat pepperoni pizza you know you have a problem. Chris took the kids knee boarding when it was calm enough and they had a great time doing that.
Janaury 30, 2010 - Taboga Island to Balboa Yacht Club, Panama City -- 9.98nm
We motored over to BYC, we really wanted a mooring ball at the yacht club. After a month of rolly anchorages, we needed some sleep!!! Once we arrived, they repeately told us that there were no mooring balls available but we wouldn't take no for an answer. We kept motoring around asking if we could take this mooring ball or that mooring ball. I guess the squeaky wheel.... Luckily for us, the harbour master was driving around in his boat and he very generously gave us a mooring ball. Thank you! The Balboa Yacht Club is cool. It is right at the entrance to the Mira Flores locks. You can sit on your boat and watch all the freighters, container ships and cruise ships go by all day long. You just hope that they stay on course! There is a bar and restaurant (tho not great service) and if they play loud 80's music all day long, I'm listening to U2 and Billy Ocean as I type this!!!, fast internet on the boat, water taxi's that run 24/7 so you don't need to use your dingy, the cheapest laundry that I have ever seen ($0.50 - wash; $0.75 dry). We are happy to be here.
We didn't waste much time, as soon as we were settled, we hailed a cab and took off to get more provisioning accomplished. We found an English bookstore that had a young readers section (Exedra Books). I was worried about what Andrea was going to read on the 25 day passage as she had read all the books that I brought back from Ottawa in August twice over. We found a great selection of children's literature so she is stocked up again.
We hit the Reba Smith, my favourite grocery store in Panama City as it has lots of imported products from North America and I can find things that we are used to eating (I found blueberry begels and natural peanut butter!) We ordered our meat from the butchery at Reba Smith, they are going to vaccum bag and freeze it for us. We will pick it up in a couple of days. (Check - one more thing off the list!)
We went to the Panama Air Show at the old Military Airport. It was one of the best air shows that we have ever been to. There was a lot of activity happening all the time. There were different helicopters landing and taking off, new planes coming in to land and taking off to give people tours, there was a fire demonstration, parachuters doing tricks and one plane from Florida doing tricks. All this was happening right where all the people were standing. There was an official truck that moved people out of the way but other than that there were not alot of gates holding anyone back from the action.