Author Archives: Tanya

Head Out on the Highway, Looking for Adventure

Q: What’s scarier than teaching your teenager to drive a car?

A: Teaching three teenagers to drive at the same time!

Eli Driving 1
Eli Practicing at Lego Land
Eli Driving 2019
Eli practicing in a local neighborhood
Aaron Driving 1
Aaron Hot-Dogging It at Lego Land
Aaron Driving 2019
Aaron Playing It Cool in a Parking Lot
Sarah Driving 1
Sarah at a Lego Land Intersection
Sarah Driving 2019
Sarah Parking at IHOP

We’ve merged into the fast lane. Having arrived in the U.S. one month ago, we’ve made a lot of progress toward re-integration. Eli turned 18 and registered to vote. The three teenagers got phones and learner’s permits. At the end of the month, assuming they’ve jumped through all the right hoops, they’ll start their first dual enrollment classes at the local community college. Eli and Aaron are dipping their toes into the wide world of work this week as they join a construction crew with our friend Andrew (remember the captain of s/v Abby Singer?). Sarah sailed in her first regatta as crew on a Hobie 16. Sam is taking his Florida boater’s safety course to operate the dinghy solo. And Rachel checked out her first library books!

I’ve joined a Wednesday-morning Bible study, a yoga class, and committed to teaching high-school home-schoolers a U.S. Government class this fall. Jay has been fixing broken things on our boat now that we have access to parts and shipping, and working like crazy using unlimited high-speed internet. We’ve been having weekly date-nights to organize all these new adventures and support each other so that we’re ready for whatever comes our way.

Digesting the Experience

“Far too often in seasons of transitions, we tend to do one of two things. Either we forestall the ending because we cannot face the grief of the conclusion of an era, or we leap over the finish line and bound headlong into the next race without pausing to reflect on where we have been on the road to where we are going. Transition– good, heartful transition– requires both. Experiences do not change us. Reflecting on our experiences changes us. For every shift between a then and a now, our task is to reflect on what was and, as a result, what can now be. We must digest our experience in order to [go into the future].”—Chris Bruno

Track of Take Two, March 2016-July 2019

When we bought Take Two in 2008, we talked of taking our kids down to the Caribbean, enjoying beautiful clear water, catching fish, seeing the world in the microcosm of islands, and maybe learning another language. On Tuesday, July 2, we finished that dream trip as we crossed our track and motored toward our mooring in Boot Key Harbor, a place we left over three years ago with our then 14-, 13-, 11-, 9-, and 4-year-old children. We left as coastal cruisers with kids, but we came back seasoned blue-water sailors with young adults. The world seems wider now, but the boat smaller. We came back because it’s time to let the kids begin their own journeys, and our family and support systems are here. We came back to the same place, but we are not the same people.

Take Two in Boot Key Harbor
Take Two, Marathon, Florida, 2019

All of us are “digesting the experience” in different ways. It is wonderful, but weird, to be back in Florida. Some of us were excited to return to “the Land of Plenty” and familiar places and faces. Others of us are happy travelers, reluctant to rejoin the daily routines of land-life. Most of us won’t really understand what the travel has done to us until we gain some life experiences here in the U.S. and get a little perspective. The memories of the last three years, complete with the whole range of joy and misery, friendship and loneliness, excitement and boredom—are still too fresh. Even so, I asked everyone in the family to pause, if for only a moment, before a “new normal” sets in and we’re off exploring in different directions, and to reflect on their experiences as travelers.

Happy hour San Pedro
‘ Jay, San Pedro, Belize

Jay: I’m not really a cruiser. I’m just a guy who lives on a boat. I like the self-sufficiency: the boat is our house, it’s our office, it’s our school. We’ve just been doing “regular life” in foreign countries. In that way, coming back to the United States represents conveniences like easy shipping, good grocery stores, and fast internet, but doesn’t really change my day-to-day. There’s not a strong delineation between then and now.

For me the travel was really about the kids. It started as a way to show them the world, have some fun, and learn new things. We wanted our kids to see different cultures and get a broader picture of the world, but also to avoid being indoctrinated in the U.S. with negative things like materialism, promiscuity, entitlement, and instant gratification. While we had a lot of fun in the Eastern Caribbean, the trip really changed when we went west at the end of 2016. We had wanted our kids to learn Spanish, and what better place than Central America?

I think all our goals were met. Some of the results of the travel remain to be seen, but I’m happy with where our kids are right now. I would have liked some of them to step out of their comfort zones more often, but I think they saw enough and picked up enough because we were there so long. My comfort zone definitely grew. Things that would have freaked me out early on didn’t bother me later, and I realized I really like Central America. I can imagine traveling again, being nomadic, maybe spending more time in South America. Having done it once, leaving again would be easier.

Happy Hour
Tanya, San Blas Islands, Panama

Tanya: I’m struggling with this “conclusion of an era” part. This is likely the last big sailing trip we take with all seven of us. I knew it couldn’t last forever, but part of me secretly wanted the kids to stay small so we could just keep traveling around as a family. The other part wants to see the result of this experiment—parenting and homeschooling and traveling—to see what kind of interesting people my children will become as independent adults. Seeing your child transform into an adult is like giving birth in slow motion—it is painful, requires a long labor, and inspires curiosity—and I’m dying to meet the person emerging into the world.

Eli will be 18 this month, Aaron is 16, Sarah, 15, Sam, 12, and Rachel, 8. I am well on my way to becoming the shortest person in the family (even Sam is passing me up and Rachel shows no sign of slowing). There will be a steep learning curve as we rejoin our culture and the requirements of life in the U.S.—learning to drive, taking tests, figuring out educational options, meeting with old friends and new, and finding our places here (both literally and figuratively). I am sure we will continue to travel, as it is more who we are than what we do, but some of our trips will be by land, others by air, and the ones by sea might find us short a few hands.

Despite my sounding a little sad about the conclusion, the bottom line is that I have no regrets: we did what we set out to do. Take Two traveled around the world without having to cross an ocean—her crew met people from all over the globe, heard many languages spoken, experienced the cultures of the Old World while traveling in the New, lived in Central America long enough to understand and passably speak Spanish, made lifelong friends, gave back to the community, came into contact with indigenous peoples and remnants of their ancient civilizations, encountered incredible natural scenery and wildlife, and broadened horizons.

While the results of our book-learning remain to be seen, the benefits of travel and real-life learning are evident: we can sail, tie knots, take a night watch, fish, cook, play musical instruments, solve problems, make art, wash dishes, converse intelligibly with people of all ages, perform in public, hail a taxi or catch a bus, fix broken things, weave baskets, teach a class, get lost and find the way back, express our thoughts in writing, freedive, speak another language, drive on the other side of the road, and make friends cross-culturally. Not all of us can do all of these things, of course, but a wide range of skills and talents are evident, and I believe we have all developed a kind of confidence and comfort in the world that only travel can impart. I am not minimizing the difficulty and discomfort of rejoining the flow of life in our own culture, but as citizens of the world, I think we have a leg up. Furthermore, I have memories to cherish (and write about) for a lifetime, and without a doubt, more adventures to anticipate.

Eli, Finca Paraiso
Eli, Finca Paraiso Hot Waterfall, Guatemala

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”              –Roy Batty (Blade Runner)

Eli: Now that we’re back, I’ve had some time to reflect on our grand voyage. So, what exactly did this whole trip mean to me? Well, my home was there, so it wasn’t really a “trip.” We only left people behind. We had all our stuff; we did chores; we did school. The only thing missing was the social environment in which we would have been immersed if we had stayed. But we didn’t stay. We went far away and had all sorts of awesome adventures instead of staying in the same place with the same people. We spent many years and months away from the United States. My “social development” basically stopped when we left our society, and barely advanced in all our time among the islands. I don’t have a phone, I don’t know how to pick up a check, I don’t know how to drive a car, I don’t have a job, I don’t even know very many people here. I’ve been left behind by all my friends, and I feel like I don’t fit in.

But I’m not sorry I missed out. Not at all. I don’t think I ever fit in, and I’ve never been very comfortable around other people. I like to travel. I liked seeing new places, and freediving and hiking and swimming and sailing every day. It was an amazing adventure. It was my life. But now that phase is over, and we’re here in the Keys, and I’m feeling both like I missed out on all my friends’ lives and like I would have regretted staying and missing out on the adventure. But I couldn’t have both. I’m happy with how things went, and I want to reconnect now. I want the relationships, but I also miss the cruising life. Technically speaking, our life now isn’t much different than it was in, say, Isla Mujeres or Guatemala. The real difference is that it’s not new. It’s an old place, with old memories associated very deeply. It feels totally different now than when we visited briefly here last year. It’s the end of an era, and that knowledge changes everything.

Our life didn’t radically change when we left “civilization,” but it did change in small ways. I feel that we became closer as a family, we became more conscious of our wealth in relation to others, and we learned to be more comfortable around the foreign. I came to feel sure and confident in that environment, and everything was good. Now, I don’t know what comes next, now that we no longer swim and hike and climb every day. School is changing, locations are changing. I miss the years spent on the ocean, if only because I know they’re over.

Aaron playing at camp
Aaron, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Aaron: When we left the U.S., I was newly 13 and gave zero care to jobs, driving, college, and other related subjects, which was fine. Now that we’re back, I am almost 17 and still don’t care much about any of it, which isn’t so fine. I think I lost my motivation because I live on a boat, spend most of my time at home, and have next to no friends, so all of the aforementioned subjects seem far away and unimportant, while the opposite is true.

Aside from this almost complete lack of concern for untaken developmental steps and vacant area where “social status” ought to be, I think I’m basically the same person as I would have been if we’d never left. I grew my hair out, discovered new music, started working out, and started forming my outlook on life, regardless of location. I can understand the value of living in Central America for a couple of years, but it comes at a cost; it builds insulation from normalcy. I like being on the outside looking in, but I’m thinking that at some point I’m going to have to get in myself, and it won’t be any easier with such a late start. It’s a bit distressing to me to think that I could have been a licensed driver almost a year ago if we’d never left.

The most important things that I did while we were away were working at Agua Dulce Marina, making local friends in Guatemala, volunteering at Casa Agua Azul and the Rio Dulce summer camp, and climbing up the Acatenango Volcano. While similar opportunities in the U.S. might have built skills and self-confidence as effectively as the ones I had, I probably wouldn’t have been interacting with my surroundings in a different language and culture in the way that I was in Latin America. Also, our parents separating us from our peers was successful in sparing us from any teen drama that there might otherwise have been.

In conclusion, the position in which I stand isn’t entirely good or bad. I’m getting a late start in the flow of normal life, but I’m also entering with an outsider’s perspective. And I think Mom and Dad were right when they said, “trust us, when you look back on your life, you won’t regret this part of it.”

Sarah Diving, Roatan
Sarah, Roatan, Honduras

Sarah: All good things must come to an end. Not all good things are all good. And while I didn’t have a good time all the time, I think the last 3 years, 5 months, and 8 days we spent as a family traveling around the Caribbean were spent well, and I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for anything. When we left the United States to begin our trip, I was 11 years old. When I was 11, I would think things like “Someday I’ll get a job” or “Someday I’ll learn to drive a car.” Well, now it’s “someday” and that is scary. I didn’t spend a lot of time preparing for “someday” while we were in the Caribbean, so now that we’re back in the States and about to be immersed in normal life (as normal as it gets for us anyway), I feel like I’m being hit in the face with responsibilities and choices that I’m not quite ready to take on. In a word: overwhelmed.

In a way, I feel like our trip back to the United States last summer helped me prepare for what we’re facing now. Before our visit I had very little idea of what was expected of someone in my age group, or how to accomplish those goals. Now I feel like I have a better idea of what to do and how to do it. It’s also great to be back in a place I can call home, to see familiar faces, and to know where I fit in. Living on a boat has always been, and always will be, a trade-off, and now we’re about to experience something completely different than we’ve been used to; but then, fear of the unknown is normal.

Sam Pacaya 1
Sam, Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

Sam: Each country or island we visited is like an individual person; each has a personality, a culture, and a history. When we went on our three year “tripwe were not on vacation, hanging out on white sand beaches or relaxing somewhere in a resort. When we came to a new island or country, we met it and we made friends with the locals, and learned from it, if we could. So when we came back recently to the United States, I did not necessarily look different on the outside (besides growing taller) but I carry with me on the inside something from the places I went and people I met. I carry not only experiences, like swimming with whale sharks and jumping in waterfalls, but skills, like freediving and palm-weaving, for example, and lessons, like “never interfere with wild animals,” or, “the ocean is unpredictable.” We also came back to the U.S. with a knowledge of the history of the places we have been. I feel that I am a happier person when we are traveling and if I sit too long in one place, I tend to get bored with it.

Little Surfer Girl
Rachel, Nosara, Costa Rica

Rachel: We live full-time on the boat. I can’t really explain what that’s like because it’s normal for me, but I can tell you some of the places we have been. We went to the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean. Then we went west to Bonaire, Colombia, Panama, Grand Cayman, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and back to Florida. I loved our adventures. I am a little sad that the trip is over (except for the times when I was seasick.)

Completing the Circle

One of the things I love about a traveling life is how things come full circle—sometimes literally. We are one passage (a mere 400 nautical miles as the crow flies) away from crossing our outbound March 2016 track in our circumnavigation of the Caribbean Sea. In another sense, because we keep meeting up with old friends, we complete circles in relationships—sometimes a friend to whom we’ve offered assistance ends up assisting us.

We arrived in Isla Mujeres, Mexico in early May. A year ago, we were on the Western side of Roatan, anchored conveniently near the reef where we were freediving every day in clear water. One day, a youngish guy dinghied over and introduced himself. Originally from Argentina, Joaquin is a traveler, a sailing and SCUBA instructor, a musician—and now, a friend.

Joaquin

After introductions and polite conversation, he asked if he could borrow a SCUBA tank. He was taking a friend diving, and the local dive shops would not rent him gear unless he was going out diving (read “paying to go out diving”) with their outfit. We lent him the tank.

When he returned it, we had another good conversation and parted, as we often do, by saying “until next time.” Next time happened to be about 9 months later in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. The boat Joaquin had been sailing on, owned by his friends, was on the hard at our marina, where he was working on it and getting it ready for sale. He had spent much of the time since we saw him last working on a wooden ship-building project in Costa Rica (a conservation-minded program called CEIBA, find it at www.sailcargo.org). We got to catch up a bit, swap travel stories, and even share some music (he’s a great harmonica player). 

When we headed up to Antigua, Guatemala, at the end of March, we ran into Joaquin again. We invited him over for dinner and shared a lovely evening. He had shown us pictures of his trip up the Acatenango volcano and recommended Walter, the guide we chose for Eli and Aaron’s hike. He even (coincidentally) showed up to play live music at the restaurant where Jay and I were celebrating Jay’s 44th birthday later that week. When he mentioned he’d be heading to Mexico soon, we were pretty sure we would see him again. As it turns out, he was staying in Morelos, a small town near Cancún, and when I asked for advice about a field trip I was planning (to visit cenotes), he made a generous offer to help me plan—and even act as guide for—our outing.

Joaquin, Aaron, Sam at Cenote

We were about a dozen people from three boats coming over on the ferry for the day. Joaquin met us with a van and driver and we drove through Cancún, past all the beach hotels, and out into the wilds of the Yucatán. When Jay and I honeymooned here twenty years ago, this place was all about the beach. Sure, we went to Chichen Itzá and did some horseback riding in the jungle, but cenotes were not even “on the map.” Now, due in part to the hostile takeover of the beach by persistent Sargasso seaweed, people are looking for other ways to stay cool, and swimming in cenotes is big business.

A cenote (derived from the Mayan word for “well”) is basically a place where rainwater has dissolved limestone bedrock to expose groundwater—in Florida we would call it a sinkhole. In Mexico, it is a sacred watering hole that sustained the people and the animals of the Yucatán for thousands of years. The water is cold and clear, purified as it trickles though porous rock or runs through underground channels. Cenotes were believed to be an opening to the underworld, and there is archeological evidence that sacrifices were made in some of them to the Mayan rain God, Chaac. Some of them are “open” so that you can see the wide circular opening and others are “closed,” meaning a cave with water in it, often accessible through a small opening. There are thousands of them in Mexico. Some are still quiet little places in the middle of the jungle, but the ones near Cancun are popular with tourists. The wilderness has a paved road now, with good signage, and entrance fees.

So, given that ours would be a day-trip, we drove about an hour away, down the “Ruta de Los Cenotes” and went for a swim. Joaquin, ever the thoughtful guide, wanted to make sure we got something from—and gave something back to—the experience. As a community of long-term travelers, we are more than tourists with a vacation mentality; we are visitors and observers, aware of our impact on fragile environments and communities. Instead of buying plastic-packaged snacks, for example, we stopped at a local fruit-vendor to buy natural goodies. And conversations throughout the day centered on the history of these sacred places, the pros and cons of development, the economic and cultural impact of tourism, the thoughtless destruction of nature, and what we can do about it during our short lives on earth. Of course, in addition to these more serious thoughts, there was plenty of monkeying around, both figuratively and literally.

Cenote Fun

We arrived early to Cenote Verde Lucero, nearly the only visitors in this quiet place. The spider monkeys were still out and about, and we were warned not to leave snacks where they could be snatched. It was a beautiful place—it was easy to ignore the deck, the stairs, the picnic tables, and other signs of tourism—and see only the mirror of sky in a fresh water pool fringed by trees in the littoral forest. After the initial quiet of observation, the kids made the most of the cool water—shattering the surface of the mirror by jumping in from the top of the steep sides, dropping in from the zipline, and shaking each other off the rope suspended across the cenote.

Sarah Jumping in Cenote

With masks and fins, some of the kids explored the cenote and discovered that the middle was shallower than the sides (evidence of roof-material from a cave-in) and that there were small fish hiding among the rocky ledges and tree roots. I paddled around, taking pictures, laughing at the kids’ antics, and admiring the trees, which were thirstily reaching down the steep sides of the cenote for a drink of water.

Cenote Tree

After swimming, we came up for snacks. We had carefully hidden all our fruit and drinks, but it turns out the monkeys had grown bold with all the tourists, and they weren’t merely reaching into bags—they would come up to the table and snatch whatever they could find, right in front of us. They caught us by surprise while we were snacking, and we lost a bunch of small bananas before we scrambled to hide the rest. Rachel, having had a bad experience with spider monkeys (see “When Monkeys Attack,” December 2017), quickly retreated to a safe distance.

Banana Thief at Cenote

We took a short walk through the littoral forest, remarking how similar the flora looks to that of south Florida, and then turned back toward the cenote. A large group had arrived and was noisily entering the cenote—a couple dozen people in orange life jackets. We beat a hasty retreat.

On the way out, we noted, off to the side, a clearing in the center of which lay a “temazcal”—a Lakota sweat lodge where people can come for purification ceremonies. The spiritual significance of the cenote may have changed in the last five hundred years, but there is still a sense that the place is sacred, and an acknowledgment that fresh water in a hot place is life-giving and precious.    

We went next to a closed cenote, La Noria. It was removed from the main road by a long and bumpy dirt path, a promising sign that things hard-to-get-to are less-frequented. It was nearly noon when we got there, and the sun was directly overhead, perfect timing for the light in the cave. Once again, we were nearly the only people there, and after we arrived, the other small group left and we had the place to ourselves. There were two entrances, one a small tunnel into which descended a spiral staircase, and another bigger opening in the cave roof.

Noria Cenote Swim

Inside, it was beautiful, with its reflections of stalagtites in the water, bats flitting around, and clear, cold water lit only by a column of sunlight from the narrow entrance. It was a stark contrast to the wide, sunlit swim of the morning.

Noria Cenote

Once again, some of the kids donned masks and fins and explored beneath the surface, and several of them jumped into the water through the skylight. I was interested again by the appearance of tree roots—some reaching through twenty-five feet of limestone in search of moisture. Without sun exposure, the water was cold, and we swam until our teeth chattered.

Noria Cenote Opening, Joaquin

Afterwards, we went to Morelos for lunch—Joaquin knew a local place with good food. It always makes me happy to hear my kids ordering confidently in Spanish. We then went for a short walk on the beach—noting the rafts of sargassum that clog the shoreline and rot in the sun. More conversations ensued—what kinds of change we can and cannot control, the growing awareness among young people of a need to take care of the environment, but also our own joy and gratitude in the face of these difficulties. It had been a wonderful day—perfect weather, good friends, cool, clear water, food, and fun. We parted, as always, with the acknowledgment that our lives are transient, and though goodbyes are frequent, so are the serendipitous reunions.

Cenote Group Photo

Bless this Mess

I took some pictures today of what our boat REALLY looks like. Usually we clean up or hide the mess before we take photos to post. But this morning, I took a closer look at our clutter, and before griping about it or demanding the kids tidy up, I took the opportunity to let it tell me something about the stage of life we’re in.

Rachel left some Play-doh out, and her plastic dishes (on which she had made me pancakes and bacon). This reminds me that we are nearing the end of the Play-doh years. Soon, there will be no little bits of blue or pink goo ground into rugs or stuck on the rear-end of my shorts, but also no little girl to clean up after.

Toy Mess

School books, which are supposed to be put away at the end of every weekday, were left out over the weekend. We have two boys nearing graduation, and I am reminded that my work with them as a teacher/academic advisor is nearing completion.

School Mess

The desk/guitar practice area is kept pretty organized by the musicians who play there, but it’s still a lot of stuff in a small area. How quiet it will be when Aaron moves off the boat, taking his beat-up guitar and all the coils of cable and electronic equipment with him.

Music Corner

The kitchen stove is disgusting. We went out for dinner (just grownups!) last night and left the kids in charge of cooking for themselves. The spaghetti explosion is the result. Instead of waking someone up to take care of the mess, I reflected on the fact that I got to go out without kids last night, and that I have capable kids who can cook for themselves.

Cooking Mess

The bar, or catch-all, sports a grocery list, school-work to grade, a computer, an SAT prep-book, camera, sunglasses, a Mexico travel guide, and other detritus from our busy life. A lot goes into organizing school, meals, laundry, boat repairs, and travel for a family of seven. As the kids grow up, I will have a lot more time to keep the boat clean, but I will really miss them and their messes.

Bar Mess

None of this is earth-shattering. Lots of moms have come to the same logical conclusion. If mess=family and family=love, then mess=love. My prayer this morning: Forgive me, Lord, for complaining about that for which I should be grateful. Let me serve this family without grumbling and nagging,and appreciate what I’ve got before it’s gone.

Digging In

We’ve noticed a pattern when we travel to a new place: for the first couple of months, we feel like strangers, after three months things begin to feel familiar, after six we’ve made friends with locals, and after nine we feel at home. Beyond that, it gets hard to leave and the place keeps a little piece of our hearts. Places are like onions—you have to peel back the layers. And a lot of the places we visit have a skin of tourism that puts us off initially, but once peeled away, reveals something fresh and interesting.

Little by little, we have begun to dig beneath the surface here in Guatemala, both literally and figuratively. Through a friend in the Keys who is starting an orphanage on Lake Izabal for abandoned and abused children, we met the Guatemalan guy who will be the house father, who also works for an organization that runs a high school for indigenous villagers with an itinerant teacher, and who helps organize a week-long kids’ camp in January before school starts (the equivalent of a Vacaction Bible School in the U.S.).

After visiting the orphanage in October, I knew there was something special happening there, and that I wanted to be a part of it. Our boys began to go on weekends to do work at the property— building a privacy fence, digging a pit at the edge of the lake that will eventually be a slip for the orphanage’s lancha, moving rocks, and doing anything else boys with lots of energy can do.

Boys digging (Zuber visiting from Maine!)

By the first week of of January (the last week before school starts here), we were excited to help with the Campamento Rio Dulce. If you didn’t grow up in an evangelical church in the United States, you may not know what a Vacation Bible School is: it is a week of camp, organized by a local church, geared toward introducing kids to the Bible in a fun and engaging way. Kids do arts and crafts, play sports and games, sing songs, and learn Bible stories. In Rio Dulce, the camp was started five years ago by a missions team from a church in Texas that wanted to give the local churches an opportunity to reach out to the children in the indigenous villages along the river. These villages originated as Mayan refugee camps during the civil war, and the people are survivors of an attempt at ethnic cleansing. Some of the kids who come to camp from the 17 villages represented speak only Q’eqchi’. The local churches have taken responsibility for the camp (still funded by an organization in the U.S.) and it is an impressive community effort.

On the way home from camp

On the boat to camp

We rode a large lancha every morning full of screaming and singing children, teenage camp counselors, and volunteers to a remote place on the river, up a mangrove creek through the jungle to the campsite. The fast lancha with the cocineras, the cooks, got a head start so the ladies could light the fires and begin cooking lunch for more than 300 people.

The cocineras

This is not a peanut-butter-and-jelly operation. These are ladies who volunteer to chop vegetables, make tortillas, and cook rice, beans, and chicken soup in enormous pots over open fires in a thatch-covered hut, then hand-wash the 300 plates and cups outdoors—every day for a week.

Lunch Production

Lunch Aftermath

Joining me, Eli, and Aaron were three teenage friends from other boats—two girls from Israel and a boy from South Africa. I was helping with arts and crafts, up to my ears in scissors, crayons, glue, and googly eyes. After standing around much of the first day trying to figure out what they could do, the teenagers ended up helping Josue with sports and games. Our kids’ time in Homeschool P.E. in Marathon came in handy, as they knew lots of big-group games. The language barrier was the biggest obstacle, but once that was overcome (with the help of a kind translator who speaks flawless Spanish with a North Carolina accent), there was no stopping them.

Corn-Sack Races

I loved helping with arts and crafts and felt at home in a roomful of little people jabbering in Spanish, as it reminded me of my teaching days in Atlanta, where I taught Kindergarten in a school that was 80% Spanish-speaking immigrants. Even the groups with big kids, who didn’t need help with the crafts, were a joy—they were practicing their limited English with me, and I was attempting to learn to count to 10 in Q’eqchi’.

Arts and Crafts

Some of my favorite memories from the week of camp come from the assembly time at the beginning and end of the day. Aaron brought his electric guitar and wowed the kids with his rock riffs, and I filled dead time (while he set up) teaching a song I knew in both English and Spanish. I met a guy from Rio Frio named Franklin, and he helped me learn the word for “Hallelujah” in Q’eqchi’. On the last day of camp, we sang a two-part song, one part in English, the other in Q’eqchi’. To me, it was a beautiful illustration of how bridging language gaps draws people together and helps us find common ground.

Aaron playing at camp

After a week of camp, I had made friends with a group of young people (the camp counselors), all of whom were interested in learning English. I decided to start a free weekly English class and the pastor of the local church offered us a space. If it goes well, I hope the class will be the first plank in a language bridge between the locals and the English-speaking cruisers who live here for part of the year. As of this posting, I’ve had two great classes, and had other cruisers ask how they can get involved.

Volunteers and Counselors, Last Day of Camp

Photo: The crew of Take Two with camp counselors, Deon from s/v Dreamcatcher (far left), the crew of s/v Rothim (Hagit in the middle with Naomi and Adi to her right, Zoe next to Rachel), and our friends from Maine, Owen and Zuber (back row next to Aaron and far right).

One of my students, a guy we met at camp, plays guitar and drums and made friends with Aaron. They have gotten together already to practice music. Eli went along too and it makes me happy to see our kids using their Spanish to reach out to locals.

As we’ve peeled back the layers, I have begun to view my surroundings with different eyes. What first appeared as only a loud, dirty, and crowded town, Fronteras has become a place where I see familiar faces, occasionally hear my name called, and feel at home browsing in the produce stalls, waiting in line for fresh tortillas, or chatting in Spanish at the Dispensa Familiar. By the end of April, when our visas expire, we will have been here for more than six months. When we move on and approach the completion of our circle of the Caribbean Sea, Rio Dulce will be out of sight, but not out of mind. It is a place we know now, and love, and to which we may return for a future hurricane season.

A Day in Rio Dulce

We have been back in Guatemala one month, but not back on Take Two! We returned to supervise the bottom job (a one-week process) and decided to do more work. We rented a beautiful house on the Rio Dulce and have been zooming back and forth each day to work on the boat, socialize, or provision in town. This is a snapshot of our daily routine for the month of November.

Take Two Blue

6:00 am.  Jay and Tanya up early for morning quiet time, coffee, and yoga in the rancho overlooking the water.

7:30 am. Breakfast prep, kids start getting up to do school, Jay goes to the boat to work on projects.

8:30 am. Breakfast, morning devotions, school work.

12:00 pm. Lunch, Jay returns in the dinghy to work from home for the afternoon. Finish school day after lunch.

2:00 pm. Tanya goes with Sam and Rachel to the marina to hang out with other boat families or to town to buy produce and get dinner supplies. Big kids finish school and practice music.

5:00 pm Tanya returns as the sun begins to set over the Rio. If there’s time, Jay and Tanya have a chat over sunset drinks in the rancho.

Sunset, Rio Dulce

6:00 pm. Dinner prep with one of the kids. Free time for everyone else.

8:00 pm. Story time for Rachel while big kids finish dishes/evening chores.

9:00 pm  Jay and Tanya head to bed to read until they pass out. Rachel and Sam to bed. Big kids watch a movie, send emails, or read until their bedtimes.

The boat is supposed to go back in the water at the end of the week, when we’ll begin the process of moving back home, cleaning the boat, and readjusting to the space. I’m hoping to get back to a daily ukulele practice and to find more down time to read or write. Jay is hoping to get the boat back in good condition. The kids are looking forward to sleeping in their own beds again. We’ll all begin thinking and talking about what comes next for Take Two, probably a trip north to Mexico.

 

Take Two Takes to the Road

What follows is a series of what we call “Tanya’s famous out-the-window pictures” from our road trip in August, September, and October. I would like to thank all the wonderful folks who hosted our family, made us feel loved, and made all that driving well worth the effort!

Leaving the Florida Keys

Leaving the Florida Keys, August 12

 

Alligator Alley

Across the Everglades, August 12

 

North Carolina in the Rain

North Carolina in the Rain, September 5

 

New York to New Jersey

New York to New Jersey, September 7

 

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, September 27

 

 

Road Trip Self Portrait

Self-Portrait, Maine, October 2

 

Fall Colors, New England

Fall Colors, Leaving Maine, October 2

 

South of the Border

South of the Border, October 3

 

Causeway, Saint Simon's Island

Causeway to St. Simon’s Island, October 3

 

Bridge, Savannah

Leaving Georgia, October 8

 

Sunset, Florida West Coast

Sunset, Florida West Coast, October 15

 

Family Road Trip in the Burb

Family Road Trip in the Burb.                                                                      Total Miles driven: 4,325

To Everything There is a Season

In the last nine weeks, I have held my day-old niece, celebrated my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday, laughed and cried with old friends, taken in some of our country’s most beautiful scenery at Acadia National Park, and seen the first colors of fall in the northern climes.  I have hugged everyone in my extended family, driven by my childhood home, and visited the storage unit which houses the time capsule of our youth—wedding albums, baby photos, homemade quilts—and begun the process of saying goodbye to our older kids’ childhoods and welcoming them to the complicated and exciting world of adulthood. The seasons are changing, both literally and figuratively, and I am thrown a bit off-balance: I’m feeling decidedly autumnal.

Fall Colors, Maine

Solomon said that God has “set eternity in the human heart” and I’ve been contemplating what that means. It means we always want more—more life, more time, more beauty—it is never enough. I am watching my parents age, my children grow into adults, my own hair turning gray. These things are little by little, but also sudden. I am the same age as Jay’s mom was the summer we fell in love. So soon, it seems, I will be in her shoes again—looking back at a life I have lived, surrounded by adult children and grandchildren. It goes so fast.

My newborn niece who I held just a month ago is now making eye contact and smiling and cooing when you talk to her. My older nephews, who I also held as newborns (just yesterday, it seems) drive cars and have girlfriends and go to the homecoming dance. How is that possible? I remember rolling my eyes at my grandparents when they started to talk this way. I guess that means I’m old. Does that mean I’m wise, too? All this waxing nostalgic points to one conclusion. In the words of the immortal Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The lesson in every season is to enjoy it.

Joy in this fleeting world is tied inextricably to longing. Seeing the child from the baby photos become a man induces a kind of grief-delight. C.S. Lewis defines it as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” He says joy “must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”

This kind of enjoying your life, stopping to look around, can cause an almost unbearable contradiction—I miss my children as babies, I wish I could see my mom as she was when I was a child, I long for my highschool sweetheart (who happens to be in the room)—but I also love them right now as they are. He has set eternity in my heart and I want all of it to last forever.

The Spanish word for enjoy is disfruta, closely related to the word for “fruit.” I say, disfruta your life—pick it, eat it, let the juice drip down your chin.  Solomon agrees with me (so I must be wise); his conclusion in Ecclesiastes 3, since life is fleeting, is to “eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all [your] toil—this is the gift of God.”

Apple-picking

Life in the Fast Lane

We’ve been in the United States for two weeks now, long enough for the disorientation and reverse culture shock to take its full effect. We landed in Fort Lauderdale and spent a few days in the Florida Keys, a great place to transition slowly back—good friends, familiar scenery, and fun on lobster boats. And then we drove to Naples. In a sense, it is still the town Jay and I grew up in. On a date night, we drove down to the Ben & Jerry’s we used to frequent, tossed a coin in the fountain like we did in days of yore, and walked on the beach we remember so well. But other things have changed so that they are unrecognizable. Everything moves so fast. The place is so clean. And the people are so busy.

I knew we would be gone long enough to miss our boat and our traveling life, but I didn’t know how quickly I would miss it. That said, I am gorging myself on time spent with family and old friends–storing memories for later. I have been so happy to see relationships pick up where they left off, even though there have been a lot of changes, too. We came back to see friends and cousins who seemingly grew up overnight. They, of course, felt the same way about us—most of my kids are taller than I am now. Our parents have aged, of course, and we ourselves came back with gray in our hair and new wrinkles. These are the little things we might not have noticed if we had been here all along. It’s a bit of a rip-van-winkle experience.

On our boat, we live in slow motion. We got off the fast track a few years ago and chose to live more simply and to take our own sweet time—raising our kids, working, playing, eating—all of these things are done at a more-leisurely pace. We feel a sense of accomplishment if we can get one thing done during the day. Here, I can stick a load of wash in one machine and dishes in another, hop in the car, run to the grocery store, and still have time for a visit with a friend in the afternoon. That’s American efficiency. But it feels a lot more rushed and less satisfying. I can feel the pull of “civilization” and I know  we may need to spend some time in the U.S. while our kids are transitioning to independent lives, but my heart is anchored in the lee of a quiet island in turquoise water. Like the poet John Masefield says, “I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide/ is a wild call and a clear call, that may not be denied.”

Tanya’s Travel Notes: Panama

As a favor to a few friends interested in traveling to Panama, I’m publishing some notes I made about our travels to supplement travel and cruising guides.

Bocas del Toro

Red Frog Marina

A scattered group of islands (some volcanic and rainforest, others mangrove islets) on the western side of Panama, Caribbean side. Great place to spend hurricane season, and surfing is good in the winter/spring (swell coming from Colombia breaks on reefs/beaches). A large expat community, as well as young backpackers/travelers from all over the world. We spent 9 months here and would come back. The main islands are Isla Colon, Christobal, Solarte, Bastimentos, and Isla Popa. Bocas Town is on Isla Colon, and can be noisy, busy, and unsafe. Water taxis can be caught all the time to the islands (prices vary based on distance). Lots of tours offered loudly by water taxi drivers. Check into the country with a team of people from Customs, Immigration and Port Captain—best done by anchoring off town, or calling ahead to Red Frog and the team will come to your boat at the dock.

Marinas

Red Frog Marina (IGY)—The dockmaster, DC, is an especial friend of mine (If you go there, tell him Tanya from Take Two says hi). We plugged in here for hurricane season and had a wonderful experience. Beach a 15-minute walk away through nature-preserve. We found red frogs, oropendola birds, hummingbirds, sloths, birds of paradise, and lots of other natural beauty. Marta (from Colombia) is the massage therapist at the spa and she is a treasure. Uchi does laundry for $6.50 per load, wash/dry/fold…cheaper than doing it yourself because the dryers require two runs. Good hiking/walking on resort roads. Zipline on property—get Amanda or DC to try and get you a good deal. Beach club open—and it has a pool! I heard Playa Tortuga was damaged in swells this past winter, but Red Frog Beach is also lovely. Good tacos at Nachyomama and good food/drinks at Palmar. Salina Hostel is on the Red Frog Property. The restaurant there is also decent. Good for happy hour drinks and ping pong! The marina runs a free shuttle to town for shopping, but also has a small market with a deli, ice cream, some produce and a wide variety of supplies. Less known is the Salina Hostel shuttle to town, which runs several times each day. You have to buy a ticket ($5) and get the schedule at Salina Red Frog or Salina Bocas, but it’s a lot cheaper than a water taxi, which can run between $10-$20 each way, depending on time of day, number of passengers, and mood of the driver.

Agua Dulce marina is run by our friends Bobby and Shirlene (they have 3 homeschooled kids). They have laundry, bathrooms/showers, water and power, and a workshop (complete with sail loft). Bobby is the Suzuki dealer for the area and he knows how to get things. Shirlene is a nurse, and besides homeschooling the kids, she helps take care of the Ngobe villagers who come to her for help, hosts volunteer groups, and teaches English in the village school. Ellie, their oldest daughter, often takes people kayaking or hiking to the bat caves.

Restaurants

Notoriously unpredictable…sometimes great and other times not great. Lots of staff turnover. Many inexpensive restaurants in Bocas Town for backpackers/surfers. Here are some of our faves.

Buena Vista has a nice spot on the water. Kelly, the owner, is a friend of mine, and it’s a really nice place for a cool drink and lunch (burgers and nachos are good). Also, it’s hard to find a place to park a dinghy in town, and Kelly will let you load groceries there as long as you stop in for a bite or drink.

El Ultimo Refugio is also typically very good. A little place across the street, Tutty and Fish has good ceviche, and also sells a wide variety of meats and sea foods.

Casbah has Mediterranean food and tapas. Also good.

La Pirata is predictably good Panamanian food.

Go to the Golden Corral for ice cream and try the Grape-Nut flavor—no joke—it’s the best!

Our favorite date night was at La Loma Jungle Lodge on Bastimentos. We recently heard that Henry and Margaret sold it, so we don’t know what it’s like now.

Don’t miss Ernie’s (Los Amigos) in Tierra Oscura (connected to Dolphin Bay)…really good fried chicken at lunchtime or eggs Benedict on Sunday mornings!

Shopping

Note: There is a storage room in the turquoise building by the taxi dock, but you have to ask about stashing something there. Sometimes they charged me a dollar or two to put bags there.

Isla Colon is the best grocery store in town, and not far from the water taxi dock. Felix, the Chinese guy who runs the store, can get you things that you might not see on the shelves, just ask!

Same goes for Lorelei at Super Gourmet, where prices are a little higher, but she carries specialty items and has the best deli in town. (And the best whole-bean Panamanian coffee—look for the package with the blue butterfly.) A perfect lunch stop, too, with fresh sandwiches, soups, and salads. Across from Super Gourmet is a good veggie stand.

Best bread in Panama is found at the Panaderia Allemana (German bakery)…it’s a misnomer, as the owner is Itailian, and carries a variety of breads and some imported Itialian pastas and specialty items. Two doors down from the bakery (which also serves breakfast and lunch), there’s a fruit and veggie stand run by a very sweet family from Chiriqui province (small green building). Ask Staci what day the truck is coming and you’ll get lots of fresh veggies and fruit at a good price.

Toto is like a Walmart–it has a little bit of everything.

Richard owns three stores: the 3R “Mall” has a wide variety of items and is air conditioned. Richard’s Ferreteria/Maderas  is nearby, and Richard can find you almost anything. He was just opening a new grocery store across the street when we left, with water access!

Things to do

Green Acres Chocolate Farm Tour

Horseback riding on Cristobal with Cowboy Dave’s Horseback Tours (highly recommended)

Jungle ziplines at Red Frog Resort

Surfing at Black Rock or Bluff Beach, classes, rentals, and tours at Bocas Surf School

Turtle Conservancy night tour on Bluff Beach

Snorkeling at Zapatillas Marine Conservancy, Hospital Point, or Coral Cay

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute visitor’s center

Beach day at Bluff Beach, Red Frog Beach, or Starfish Beach

Wildlife Boat Tours: birding at Isla Pajaros (nesting Tropic Birds), Sloth Island, Monkey island

ATV trails with Flying Pirates

Movie theater in town with private air-conditioned viewing rooms

Art or cooking classes for kids (Christin Fjeld) and sometimes a mom’s night out wine-and-paint

Shipping

Lots of expats means lots of things coming in from the US and Canada. You can ship things to the Mailboxes etc., order things from a guy named Bill Kruger who gets containers from the U.S., or go through David Pang in Panama City, who can send things by plane to the Bocas airport. You can also take a bus from Almirante to Changinola or David (you take a water taxi to Almirante) to get things. David has a Price Mart, Novey (household goods), Conway (like Target), and Do-It Center (like Home Depot). There are two sisters, Toby and Lola, who can get things sent from David to Bocas.

Cruising

Islands and anchorages everywhere and you feel like you have the place to yourself. Water mostly clean and clear (sometimes jellies, depends on how closed-in the area is). Holding good in sand or mud, but usually deep. We looked for 30-foot depths. Anything shallower, and you can see the water shoaling to just a few feet. (You’re anchoring in underwater valleys, trying to stay off the mountaintops.) Good snorkeling and kayaking in and around mangrove islands. Dolphin Bay, Tierra Oscura, Sloth Island, Monkey Island, Bastimentos (bays on the south side), Loma Partida (near Isla Popa), leeward side of Cristobal, Starfish beach (leeward side of Isla Colon…after the afternoon crowds leave and in the morning before they show up is best)…and many more to explore! You may occasionally get Ngobe Indians paddling up in cayucos (dugout canoes) and asking for rice or sugar. Sometimes they sell/trade coconuts, produce, or fish.

Travel

Flights leave Bocas several times a day, connecting to Panama City or San Jose, Costa Rica. Jay flew to Boston and made it in one day. When we traveled as a family, the boat was safe at Red Frog. It would be safe at Agua Dulce, too. It’s pretty easy to take bus trips, too, and the price includes the water taxi to the mainland. We took the Hola Panama shuttle to Boquete, (Volcan Baru area, near the cloud forest) and the Carib Shuttle to Costa Rica. Both experiences were very good. We recommend Mount Totumas if you want to see the cloud forest of Panama and do some hiking. We rented their cabin, bought groceries and cooked in several nights. But the food at the lodge is amazing, too. They grow a special variety of high-altitude coffee (and roast it themselves). It is the best coffee I have EVER tasted. Jeff will personally take you hiking and show you all kinds of things. We saw a dozen different kinds of hummingbirds alone. In Boquete, we like the suspended bridges hike at Tree Trek, and a field trip to Boquete Bees to learn about pollinators in Panama, taste honey, and to see the butterfly garden. The boys did some rock climbing with professionals on the basalt wall, and we also rented a car one day and went to Cangilones de Gualaca…google it—it was a memorable day! You can also do coffee tours in Boquete.

Downsides

The heat and the bugs (and sometimes the rain)! The mosquitos aren’t the problem, it’s the chitras or sand flies. They ate me alive, but I was just itchy and have no residual effects. On the windward side of the islands, it can be choppy and uncomfortable, but cooler; in the lee of the islands, it’s usually completely protected, but hotter and buggier. The rain is less predictable in the islands than on the mainland. Mainland Panama disappears for months beneath rain clouds, but Bocas doesn’t get regular rainy season. June and July are usually the rainiest months. Lots of overcast days, but then it’s not so hot! We loved it there, made friends, and found it hard to leave.

Shelter Bay/Colón

View from Car Ferry

Sailing from Bocas

Leaving Bocas to head to central Panama, you have a favorable current, which really helps.  You can take protected waters all the way to Bluefield and then go out at the entrance to the Laguna Chiriqui. The channel between the mainland and Isla Popa is wide and deep. A couple we know is building a castle/house on an isand near that channel…you might see it. A good stop on the way to Colon is an island called Veraguas. It has the most beautiful lagoon to snorkel in (Rachel calls it the mermaid lagoon) and a beach. Good in settled weather, but can be swelly. A great stop for a day or two. Another stop is a night or two in the Rio Chagres. Once you get past the shoals near the entrance (past Fort San Lorenzo on the hill), it’s very deep, and you have to look for a spot to anchor near a bend in the river where you might see 30s on the depth sounder. It is jungle and mirror-smooth water. We saw toucans, howler monkeys, caimans, and lots of wildlife. We kayaked in the little tributaries and loved it. We have been warned that sometimes they open the sluice gates on the dam when the Gatun lake level is too high, but we took the risk during sunny days and loved it.

Marinas

Shelter Bay Marina also has the nickname “Shelter Pay.” It has haulout/full-service boat yard, sail loft (although I just heard the sailmaker we knew was heading out to go cruising), workshop, mini-mart, laundry (expensive unless you do it yourself, but the machines are often busy), restaurant, pool, small hotel (handy if you haul out), boater’s lounge, palapa/picnic area, nature trails, free shuttle to Colon for shopping, and a good cruising community. It’s easy to find or become line-handlers for a canal transit. There’s a morning cruiser’s net for daily announcements, and there are always activities (like open-mic night, dominoes, etc.). Usually there are some kid boats there. The new manager, Juanjo, is a friend of ours from Puerto Rico, where he used to manage Las Palmas del Mar. He’s a good guy.

Restaurants

The restaurant at the marina It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere is pretty good. Nice spot for evening drinks and weekend events. We rarely went to town, and then only to shop at Quatro Altos. There are restaurants there, including a Dominoe’s pizza, but we were always focused on groceries and didn’t dawdle. Shelter Bay is a little isolated from everywhere else. A taxi to/from town runs $20-25, so I usually took the free bus (sign up sheet at the office).

Shopping

Quatro Altos has a large, well-stocked El Rey supermarket, a marine store, an electrical parts store, hardware store, shoe stores, and several department stores. El Rey had everything I needed, but the bus runs into Colon to another shopping area. Shopping trips take several hours because the bus has to cross the canal by ferry or over the locks, which means it has to wait for shipping traffic (can be as long as an hour each way). The first time, it’s amazing, but after a few times, it just means a long bus ride. The driver, Mauricio, is very prompt and cannot wait for late-comers (the bus is also the employee shuttle). He appreciates a tip occasionally.

Transportation to Panama City

Buses are cheap and good (take the express!) and often air-conditioned. Taxi or free shuttle (in the morning) will get you to the bus station. It takes about 2 hours. Sometimes the free shuttle will do a day trip to Panama City as well. A guy named Roger (Rogelio) will drive you in his van as well for about $100, and knows where to find all sorts of things. He often acts as translator as well as driver. He is now an agent for canal transit, too. Ask the marina for his number.

Downsides

We were there in November and the rain was unbelievable! I’ve never seen downpours like I saw there! There were some bugs, but it depends on the wind and location in the marina. The marina is isolated and there’s nowhere to go, but there are lots of cruiser-organized activities.

Panama City/Panama Canal

Panama City, Panama

Before you go: read David McCullough’s Path Between the Seas, a fabulous read about the people who built the canal. Not a dry history book!

Transportation

We tried a little of everything; took the bus, used taxis, used Uber, and hired a driver. We even took the Panama Railroad train back to the Caribbean side (totally worth the expense as the rail runs along the canal and through the jungle—best ride ever!) Sometimes taxi drivers have no idea where things are. Uber works well. Our guide/driver is a family friend, Luis, who Jay’s parents use when they are in the city. He did a city tour with us and it was wonderful. Nice, new van with A/C. He knows when ships are transitting the canal and takes you to the Miraflores locks at the right time. His contact is +507 6536-1179 and he speaks both English and Spanish.

Shopping

You can find everything in Panama City, as long as you have a driver who knows what you’re looking for. There’s a large mall (Allbrook), Discovery Center, Novey, Do-It Center, marine stores, a place that stocks all kinds of tools and stainless steel pieces and parts. Good grocery stores, too.

Things to do

The Museo de la Historia del Canal Interoceanico in the old city is very good, but mostly in Spanish. The visitor’s center at Miraflores also has a museum (not as good) but in English and Spanish. We did both. If you only have time for one, Miraflores will do.

Lots of museums, parks, and restaurants. A hike up Ancon Hill is a must, as is an exploration of Casco Antiguo (the old city was mostly burned by the pirate Henry Morgan, so Cartagena is a better, more-intact Spanish walled city to explore). Flamenco island is nice (there are lots of anchored boats near there, and an expensive marina). There are also beaches and fishing on the Pacific side of Panama.

Restaurants

El Congrejo area of the city has restaurants of every description. Pomodoro is one of our favorites for Italian/Pizza. Casco Antiguo also has many good restaurants. The Seafood market was recommended to us many times, but we didn’t make it there.

Downsides

It’s a large, dirty city, and you have to be careful in certain areas. Taxi drivers don’t really have a mental map, so you might need to help navigate to get somewhere.

Linton Bay (Porto Lindo)/ Portobelo

Fateful Trip

About 20 minutes from Portobelo, 45 minutes from Sabanitas, an hour from Colon, and 2 hours from Panama City. A day sail from Isla Grande to San Blas. Lots of people anchor in Linton Bay or Portobelo waiting for weather to San Blas, or for a canal transit. Rains a lot of the year. For check-in check-out—Port Captain is at Linton Bay (Porto Lindo), but the immigration office is in the yellow building in downtown Portobelo.

Marinas

Panamarina is a small marina owned by French people, and they store a lot of boats for hurricane season, as well as operating a boatyard and a French restaurant. You can get there from Linton Bay via a mangrove channel, but be careful of the coral heads near the entrance!

Linton Bay Marina—Much cheaper than Shelter Bay, but fewer amenities. Under construction, and things always in flux. There is a haulout/boatyard, but nowhere comfy to stay while you’re on the hard. Veggie trucks and bread truck comes several times each week. Free water! Wifi not so great on the docks. Note: people feed the monkeys on “Monkey island”—but don’t take kids ashore! Monkeys can be aggressive…just ask Rachel ☹. The good news is that medical care at the Portobelo clinic is free for tourists!  A lot of people anchor in Linton Bay, but it’s pretty rolly, with ocean swell coming into the bay.  A little more protection (depending on wind) in Portobelo.

Transportation

The “chicken bus” runs along the coast (marked “Costa Arriba”) and is inexpensive. I did some ride-sharing with a friend using a taxi driver named Jack (+507 6727 8277). He lived in the U.S., so is totally bilingual. For about $100, he’ll take you to Panama City for the day and help you find things. He’s a great guy. For $40, you can go to Colon for the day, and for $20-25, to Sabanitas to grocery shop.

Restaurants

Captain Jack’s in Portobelo is very good and has a good atmosphere, excellent seafood, Asian fusion, and curry dishes

Rico Rico has the second best bread in Panama (also owned by an Italian!)

Congo Culture House in Portobelo which is part art gallery, part history museum, part local café. A great stop in Portobelo.

Shopping

Iin Sabanitas there is a new Super 99 and an El Rey grocery store. I found everything I needed there, and it wasn’t as far as Colon or Panama City.

Things to do

Explore the old fort in Portobelo, go to the Culture House museum, go to the museum and to the church of the Black Jesus. Go to the beach at Mame or Isla Grande. Surfing near Isla Grande (reef break) during swelly times of year.

Downsides

A bit far from shopping, but not hard to get to the city. The rain? The hills around there are called “La Sierra Llorada” or “crying hills.” Can be wet.

San Blas

Parting Shot, San Blas

Porvenir has immigration, but not a port captain. If you go there, you will be charged the cruising fee ($20 pp and $20 for the boat). There is a road to Panama City from Carti, but there’s a check-point on the road with officials checking paperwork. Check-in can be done in Obaldia (to the east) if arriving from/departing to Colombia, but can be expensive. Most people arrive from Colombia, hang out in San Blas for awhile, then check in once they get to Portobelo, Colon, or Bocas.

Information

San Blas Facebook group is a good source of up-to-date information. Last we heard, the road to Carti was closed and the Congreso had closed the isalnds to commercial sailing charters. A beautiful place, and nice cruising grounds, though weather (of course) always plays a factor when planning your stops. Sometimes it’s hard to find protection from wind and swell. Provision well before sailing. Anchoring fees are not expensive, and are collected by Guna officials who will give you a receipt.

Cruising

Coco Banderos are lovely, but not in swells. Coral everywhere, very beautiful (but somewhat touristy).

The Hollandes Cays are also popular, and the “Swimming Pool” is often crowded. And there’s a croc there on BBQ island.

Our favorite spots were in the West Lemmons (in the lagoon near Tiadup), where we could get internet (Moviestar) and good protection from Christmas winds, and in the Green Island Group, where there were nice beaches, excellent snorkeling, and veggie boats and fisherman coming by. Also close to Nargana, where you can get basic supplies and internet (Digicel). We avoided the crowded Green Island itself, and the local fishermen said there was still a croc in the area. They showed us places that were “safe” for our kids. We never saw a croc. Or a shark. We did catch some fish. Most of the Gunas are free-divers and are catching big fish in deeper water.

The rule is, the farther east you go, the more traditional the villages. We were welcomed in Rio Azucar by some fishermen we befriended (anyone who comes by in an ulu has been out in the hot sun for a long time and greatly appreciates a cool drink in a shady cockpit.) They sold us affordable fresh seafood and coconuts when we asked. In Rio Azucar, they have bamboo and thatch huts with satellite dishes fixed on top! We have friends who went east past all the popular island groups and said it was like stepping back in time.

The best molas are made in Machina. There are a brother-sister team that come around and speak English and Spanish. Their molas are beautiful. Venancio may welcome you to San Blas, and he markets molas from Machina (some made by him). They are of high quality, but very expensive. Lisa may also come by. She also has beautiful molas, and much more affordable. She is from Rio Sidra near the mainland, and is a popular tour guide—she can take you up a river and show you a traditional village, farms and burial grounds.

We avoided busy places and crowded anchorages and only went to deserted beaches. We stopped once in Carti to do a little shopping but didn’t enjoy the experience.

Downsides

Provisioning is not difficult, just limited to rice, beans, fish and produce. Perhaps this is not a downside…but if you like your butter and cheese, stock up! The mola vendors can be a little intense, knocking on the side of your boat and unloading all their wares in your cockpit, but I tried to buy gifts for people back home a little at a time and spread the purchases over many people. Some cruisers complain about anchoring fees, but we did not find them to be excessive. If you’re looking for an escape from civilization and tranquil, beautiful islands, San Blas is wonderful. If you need internet (for work or school, for example!) then San Blas will present some unique challenges.