Category Archives: General

Blood, Sweat, and Gasoline

Located on Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro, Panama, Agua Dulce is a small, privately-owned marina run by a guy named Bobby and his family, who have been living in the area for years. We heard about them from some friends we had met in the Keys who used to work there. When we got to Bocas, we looked them up. They have a reasonably long dock, a workshop with metal-working, canvas, and fiberglass sections, a guest house, and a medical clinic, in addition to their own house and large multi-purpose building. They have three home-schooled kids, a boy and two girls, ages 6, 10, and 14, respectively, so at least there are some other kids nearby with which to play.

Previous to our acquaintance, I had been consistently finishing my school work before noon, and had a surplus of free time, so the idea of getting a job sounded pretty good. I started driving the dinghy the two-and-a-half miles to Agua Dulce every day at around 1:00, to volunteer until 5:00. I basically did clean-up/sorting chores or helped a guy named Ben who works there, with whatever he was doing. A lot of the stuff there is related to panga work (local fiberglass motorboats), such as welded stainless tops, painting, motor work and replacement, wood floor pieces, and fiberglass, though they also do boat storage and other things. Ben does all the welding and metalworking, from door handles to tops for pangas, and taught me how to sand down and polish the welds to make them smooth and shiny. I also stripped things like cleats, lights, D-rings, and steering systems off of boats that needed to be sanded and painted. The sanding and fiberglass is handled by “the guys,” a group of indigenous workers hired from the two adjacent villages, led by Felipe, the most experienced of them.

Aaron at Work

Ever since I started working there, I noticed that the guys watched me a lot. One day I needed an extra hand, and asked one of them for help. Though my Spanish was not very good, I was able to tell him what I wanted, and it worked out fine. A couple of days later, now that they knew we could communicate, they asked me what my name was, so I told them. A week later, though I was sure that they knew my name, they started calling me “Crosh.” I didn’t find out what that meant for another couple of months, and as it turns out, the English equivalent in their native dialect is “skinny guy.”

There are several funny anecdotes about the guys, like one time when Ben, Bobby, and I were working on a boat and using the Sawzall. Michael (one of the guys) walked up and asked (in Spanish, of course) “Do you need the Jiggy-Jiggy?” and pointed to the Sawzall. We gave it to him, and when he was gone we all started laughing. The Inspiration for the name of this blog post came one especially hot day when I spent two-and-a-half hours pumping mixed gas out of a boat that was getting a four-stroke motor. I ended up soaked in sweat and fuel, and getting a cut on my hand, hence the blood, sweat, and gasoline.

Bucket Wall, by Eli

After a month or so, Eli began joining me every day, taking over most of my cleaning and organizing jobs, so I leveled up to tasks like preparing motors for removal and installing steering systems on boats. We got to know the place, where all the tools were kept, the names of most of the workers, and got into a regular routine. When a customer wants his boat totally sanded down and repainted, it is taken up the canal and pulled up onto the bank. It is then stripped (my job), sanded down (the guys), and whatever fiber-glassing is needed is done before it is painted. When it is ready, Felipe paints the exterior whatever color the customer wants, then paints the interior gray with black-and-white speckles, and then paints the bottom. Then we reassemble it and make a couple of improvements. If he wants a welded top, then Ben makes it, installs it, and then we give the boat back to him.

The canvas guy, Geoff, had to leave Panama for a month this past summer, and was later followed by Ben. While they were gone, it was just Bobby, the new addition, Zack, and us, working. Until then, we were referred to as “the Interns,” but after we took over some of Ben’s jobs, Bobby started paying us $3 an hour to do what we had been doing for nothing. When Ben got back, Bobby left for his first vacation in three years, leaving Ben to keep things under control until he got back, and nothing went horribly wrong.

I’d like to say that my performance is flawless, but I really can’t, because I still make mistakes now and then, like drilling a hole too big, or breaking off a screw. But that’s another thing I like about Agua Dulce: it’s a good learning environment. Bobby accepts that mistakes are made, and that everyone is still learning, so when someone messes up, we just try to find a solution, and learn from the mistake. The whole experience has been a good way to: (A) fill a couple of empty hours every day, (B) learn some good skills that I’ll use for the rest of my life, (C) hang out with some cool people, and (D) earn a couple of bucks.

Rock and Roll

I just turned 15, and in accordance with family tradition, we did something fun and memorable. I had been wanting to go four-wheeling for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity. There are miles of jungle and beach trails on Isla Colon, and you can rent an ATV for a half- or full-day. So we made a reservation for 10:00 AM for Eli, Dad, and me on the 21st of September (my birthday).

Flying Pirates, Bocas

When we got there, we had to sign some paperwork, then they showed us where to go on a map, showed us how to use the quads (gear shifting, brakes, etc.), and sent us on our way. The first part was a stretch of road, and we used the easy terrain to get used to the vehicles. At the end of the road, we reached the Flying Pirates property, and turned onto a trail that led off into the jungle. The trees and bushes turned to scrub, and the trail to sand. This is when it started to become difficult.

The trail was somewhat compacted, but it was littered with chunks of rock and other debris, then it sloped down to water on the right. We each got stuck at least once on this stretch, and needed each other’s help to get unstuck. Then came the mud pit: it was about 1 foot deep, 30 feet long, and very uneven. It was actually just a short stretch of really bumpy ground submerged in water. The guy who gave us the quads had warned us about this; he said you had to keep up momentum to prevent from flooding the engine. They had even put up a sign that said, “You can do it,” and we did. Eli went first, and gunned the throttle, bouncing and getting thrown around the whole way. I wasn’t any better; I also used too much throttle, lost control, and ran up on the bank, nearly rolling over. Dad went through without a problem. On the other side, we had to stop and get off, because the engines got wet and were steaming like crazy.

Next up was the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is one of the places you can reach on the trails, and is like a giant limestone tide-pool in which you can swim. We were hot, so we jumped in and went for a blessedly cool swim. The next segment of the trail was fairly difficult, and we each got stuck a couple of times. Most notably, there was a mud pit with a deceptively dry crust into which Eli plunged headlong. It created a typical scene with someone bogged down in the mud, spinning their wheels like crazy. Luckily, each of our vehicles was equipped with a rope on a bracket on the front, and Dad hooked Eli’s around his differential, and hauled him out of there.

We also got lost once, and went ahead on foot to scope out the trail. When we got back, my quad wouldn’t start. We thought it was a dead battery, and were pretty worried, until we figured out that the starter was jammed. After banging on it a couple of times, we got it going again. We then encountered a hill that might be considered hard for some people to hike up, let alone drive up on ATVs! Dad, of course, went up with no problem (he always makes it on the first try!), then Eli tried. He went right up, lost control, and began rolling down the side, off the trail. He quickly got off the ATV, and it rolled a little farther before hitting a tree. We then worked together to lift it up and roll it back to the bottom of the hill to try again. There were other times like these, when we just had to gas it, hold on tight, and try to stay on the trail.

On the way back, now that we were familiar with the vehicles we could go much faster—and are those things fast! Fast enough that when my helmet began to blow off of my head, I decided to slow down. When we got back, we had cold sodas (or in Dad’s case, cold beers), watched the parrot-mascot, “Maestro,” climb up the wall, and checked out the shop. Flying Pirates has a good number of ATVs, some of which are being repaired, and they run a pretty big operation, modifying, and even building their own vehicles. The people were also super-friendly and relaxed, which made us feel even more comfortable. To sum up, it was a loud, fast, dangerous activity, and pretty much the best birthday I’ve ever had.

Trip to Costa Rica, Part II

We spent an afternoon driving to Santa Elena, a small tourist town in the mountainous region of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, about halfway along the route between San Juanillo and San Jose. The house we rented had been built 65 years ago, but was now part of the Curicancha Nature Reserve. It was built of wood, and had a stone fireplace and huge picture windows looking out into the forest. We arrived late in the afternoon, and had time only to settle in and relax in our new place and make a plan of attack for the next day.

Vista, Monteverde, Costa Rica

We had one full day with which to explore the area. Over breakfast the next morning, we tried to decide what exactly we wanted to do. On the way in, for example, we had seen signs advertising “Treetop Climbing.” This sounded fun and exotic, so we looked it up. Turns out, you had to pay 50 bucks per-person to climb a 130-foot-tall ficus tree with a hollow inside. Of course, there was also a 12-year age limit, supervision, and safety equipment. It still looked cool, but further research revealed a grove of DIY climbing trees that were a lot closer and could be used at one’s own risk at a 100% discount. Mom also found a horseback riding tour place, and a guided night-hike. Dad stayed at the house to work, so Mom and all us kids piled into the car to look for a tree.

It was close by, and not hard to find at all. We parked by the road, and followed a trail into the woods. We passed several other large and worthy trees before we came to the best one. It was very large and impressive, with two trunks that joined about 50 feet up, and then rose together before branching out at about 70 feet. It looked like something you’d find on Dagobah.

Ficus Tree Climbing

A strangler fig (in the ficus family, similar to a banyan tree) is not exactly a parasite, but it acts like one. A bird eats a fig and lands on the branch of a different kind of tree. The bird deposits the seed. The seed sprouts in the canopy of said tree, and begins to put down roots. The ficus grows up and around the host, using it for support, stealing moisture and nutrients from the soil and hogging sunlight, until the host is completely “strangled,” and dies. It then begins to rot away, but by then, the ficus is too tall and strong to notice a gaping cavity right through its middle.

On this particular tree, the main trunk was tilted at a 30-degree angle, and the cavity where the host tree had rotted away was only partially enclosed, with rib-like strands of wood forming a ladder on the inside slope. Climbing up was childishly easy, but very cool. It was like climbing up the spinal column of a brontosaurus. The view from the top was excellent, wherever there was a gap in the branches. I would have tried to climb out on a limb, but at the last moment, I happened to notice that I was seventy feet off the ground, and decided against it.

Strangler Fig, Interior

We descended and had a snack, then drove to the Bat Jungle, a sort of live bat museum. There was a room curtained off from sunlight which was filled with trees, bananas, and dishes of fruit, and where the cycle of day and night had been reversed so that guests could see the bats when they were active. It was late evening in the bat room when we arrived at mid-morning, and the bats were flapping around behind the glass, or hanging upside down, some of them nibbling chunks of papaya or mango. The museum houses mostly frugivores, as insectivores would have required a prohibitive number of buckets of live insects for food. The bloodsucking vampire bats were also not included, for obvious reasons. We are no strangers to bats, but it was still interesting to see them up close, especially the nectivorous “humming-bat” which uses its ridiculously long tongue to drink from flowers, or hummingbird feeders, in this case.

We returned to the house and ate lunch. The girls went out horseback riding, while Aaron, Sam, and I played a game of Monopoly. When they came back, we had an early dinner and got ready to go on a night hike. We drove up to the main entrance of the Curicancha Nature Reserve, and paid the entrance fee. Dad had to go back to the house to get his tennis shoes. When he returned, the guide handed out flashlights, and we set out. It was 6:30, and the sun was only just setting, but under the trees it soon grew dark. Most animals in the jungle are only nocturnal, and mainly live in the canopy. The guide said that we might not see much, and I believed it would be a miracle if we saw anything at all. And so, we trudged off into the dark and gloomy forest, never to return (for a few hours, anyway).

It was a bit creepy, walking under the dark trees, with the sounds of frogs and insects all around. We didn’t see any kinkajous or arboreal porcupines (darn!), but we did see a woodpecker-like bird with which the guide seemed most impressed. There were also many spiders. They were mostly wolf spiders, but the guide did know where to find a Red-kneed Tarantula, and I saw a second one further along the trail. Oh yeah, and did I mention the fluorescent scorpions? Scorpions glow an eerie green under a black light, and the guide showed us a whole tree-full.

Fluorescent Scorpion, Nightwalk in Monteverde

Once, while stopped at a frog-filled pond, we saw rabbit. It quickly moved off, and after a short discussion on the evils of global warming, so did we. We arrived back at the parking lot at about nine, with some of the smaller family members dragging their feet. We thanked the guide, turned in our flashlights, and went back to the house.

The next morning, we got up late, ate breakfast, washed the car, packed up, mooched around while the slow packers finished, loaded up the car, double-checked the house, actually got in the car, and left Monteverde. We then proceeded to become very lost. We eventually found our way back to San Jose, and we dropped mom and the car off at the car rental place while we went to check into the hotel. At the check-in desk, the receptionist said that, due to the gigantic futbol (soccer) match between Costa Rica and Mexico, all the rooms were full. Well, almost full. The presidential suite on the tenth floor was free, and she was so sorry, and would we mind? We shrugged, and said that it would be alright. She even gave us a complimentary bottle of water. We coolly handed our luggage off to the bellhop, and then sprinted for the elevators, grinning like maniacs. We left Aaron behind to receive Mom, and got settled in our posh new rooms.

After dropping my bag off, I went back down to wait with Aaron, and plan the bamboozlement of Mom. We had been scheming together for about twenty minutes, how we would deliver the bad news that the hotel had overbooked and had to cram all seven of us into one room (only to surprise her when we entered our suite), when Dad came down, and sent us up. Mom was late. Very late. Dad left us at the room, and went to wait for her at the rental car office. They eventually showed up at the room as the sun was setting, and Mom seemed inordinately glad to see us.

It turned out that at the car rental office, she had been informed that we would be charged two hundred dollars for leaving the gas tank partially empty (due to the difficulty of finding an easily-accessible gas station on our way back to San Jose) and been advised to “go around the corner” to the gas station to fill up. Of course, the roads were clogged with traffic, police barricades, and crowds of face-painted, flag-waving fans (futbol match, remember!), and she had gotten hopelessly lost trying to find her way back in rush-hour traffic. No experience of a new country would be complete without having to ask strangers for help in broken Spanish!

San Jose Traffic

We celebrated our successful trip by dressing up and going to dinner at the Japanese restaurant in the hotel, and returned to our luxurious rooms to get some sleep.

Kids, San Jose, Costa Rica

We got up at five for breakfast, the shuttle arrived at six, and off we went. I spent most of the ride back to Panama writing on the computer or reading my book. We had no problems at the border crossing (since we had purchased completely-unnecessary, refundable airplane tickets for flights to our home country). We arrived at Almirante, took the boat to Bocas, then hired a taxi to take us to the marina, arriving at the boat by late afternoon.

Our road trip was a great vacation, but it was also a learning experience and a chance to see another part of Central America, one we were not planning to visit by boat. What we saw of Costa Rica was very different from what we’ve seen of Panama. While still a third-world country, it seems more developed than Panama. Costa Rica realized a few decades ago that their natural beauty was a resource to be exploited. As a result, their eco-tourism industry blossomed, they capitalized on Nature, and it became a very popular vacation destination.

My conclusion: Costa Rica is very touristy. This is both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, tourism means that natural areas are preserved and that activities are more convenient, organized, and established. But on the other hand, everything is more expensive, and feels less authentic. The locals are used to gringos, and are more likely to speak English, and tourist installations have somewhat marred the otherwise stunning wilderness. Panama, on the other hand, retains is wildness, but lacks a sense of appreciation and preservation of what the country has.

Trip to Costa Rica, Part I

We seem to have formed a habit of taking overland trips. This time, it was the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It had been a while since we had gone on a family vacation, and we wanted something a little different. After seemingly endless weeks of planning, the Deciders eventually managed to get our transportation and lodging lined up. We decided on a week at a large rental house in the hills above San Juanillo, Guanacaste province, a detour at another rental house in Santa Elena, Monteverde, and a one-day layover each way at a hotel in San Jose. We looked forward to a week-and-a-half of surfing, nature trails, and a different country.

The first part of the journey was familiar:  water taxis to Bocas and Almirante, and a van to wherever we were going. This happened to be the border crossing. We had to disembark, check out of Panama, take our bags across the bridge to Costa Rica, and check in. Then it was another bus to Puerto Viejo for a lunch stop, and still another bus to San Jose.

The drive through Costa Rica was very different from Panama. We passed vast plantations of banana trees, acres of pineapple fields, forests of bamboo, and wide rivers. The buildings and towns we passed also seemed to be sturdier and more well-built than what we saw along the Panama road. The drive was very beautiful, and became even moreso once we entered the mountains. We busied ourselves with reading, attempting to sleep, and looking out the windows. I got out the computer and started writing this blog post, with Nirvana in my headphones and green farmland and rainforest flashing past my window.

We eventually arrived at the hotel in San Jose, after 10 hours of riding in the back of the van. We checked in, and went out for dinner. The next morning, we rented a car, and started driving out to San Juanillo. This drive was also different from the day before. After a long “quick stop” at a Walmart (a Walmart!) to get internet and some miscellaneous items, we left the snarled traffic and absurdly steep and swarming roads of San Jose for rolling green hills and mountains. We drove through forest, over wide, deep river gorges, and past verdant pasture-land.

We were supposed to arrive at the house at four, but of course we were very late. I don’t blame us. The house was out in the middle of nowhere, and the maze of dirt roads was nearly impossible as it grew darker. We eventually made it. The groundskeeper gave us a tour, we took a quick swim and had dinner, and flopped tiredly into bed.

The house was large and well-appointed, with three air-conditioned bedrooms, a deep pool, a widow’s walk, and a beautiful and unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. It was located on a hill in the middle of the Los Sueños nature preserve, and the nearest neighbors, also on hills, were at least a three-minutes’ drive away.

Casa del Sol, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Casa del Sol, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Probably the best (and sometimes the worst) part about the house was its close proximity to nature. We regularly saw bands of howler monkeys in the trees around the house, and heard them hollering at each other in the late afternoon.

Howler Monkeys

Blue Morpho butterflies became commonplace, and we even saw a pack of coati in a tree on the last day at the house. At around 9 o’clock at night, frogs spontaneously appeared on the pool deck, and started croaking up a storm. Dozens of geckos also came out at night, and it was fun to watch them stalk bugs across the ceiling. There was a wasp nest the size of a grapefruit hanging from the eaves, and moths, crickets, and other insects became regular companions. It wasn’t that the house was unclean, just that it was surrounded by nature, and insects rule the earth.

On Sunday, our third day in Costa Rica, we went exploring in the car. We drove for miles, reconnoitering the local towns, forming an idea of what we wanted to do with our week, and generally getting the lay of the land. The network of dirt roads connecting San Juanillo, Nosara, and the other coastal towns could only be called dirt roads in the loosest sense of the term. They were more like mud roads, with a healthy dose of potholes, stream fords, and largish rocks. We decided, after much experimentation, that driving slowly in our Hyundai Santa Fe 4×4 over this type of uneven terrain only made the ride longer and rougher. No, the idea was to drive as fast as was safe, and only slow down when confronted with a deep trough, a turn, or a river. Then, we just had to hold on to our seatbelts like rodeo cowboys as the car bucked and shook around us. The degraded condition of the roads was not kind to the poor car. Over the course of the trip, we got it covered in mud, knocked loose a piece of plastic trim, and lost a license plate. On Saturday, we woke up to discover that one of the tires was flat, and Dad had to change it before we could go anywhere.

The next few days were all about surfing. Paul, the guy who rented us the house, recommended Cacho’s Surf School on Playa Guiones, Nosara, so we went over there. At least some of us had a little previous experience surfing, but we all needed lessons.

Surf Lessons

The Pacific waves ware rolling and green, and the shallow slope of the beach allowed for some very long rides. Playa Guiones is supposedly one of the best places for beginning surfers. We were certainly not disappointed. We started out on the white water, the waves that had already broken, but by Wednesday, we were surfing the green water (but not very well). We did meet Cacho, but we were taught by the surf instructors, Hector and Steven, who spoke very good English.

Aaron Surfing, Playa Guiones

Catch a Wave

Cacho gave us some sort of deal by which we would pay at the end of the week for all the lessons and board rentals, and get a discount. In addition to surfing, the Surf School also did river kayak tours that included hiking and waterfalls. Being semi-avid hikers and not-so-avid kayakers, but very enthusiastic waterfall-jumpers, we scheduled a hike/kayak for Thursday.

Unfortunately, the weather had different plans. It rained all Wednesday afternoon and night, and when we tried to drive to Nosara early Thursday morning, the first ford was swollen with water from the mountains. While we sat in the car deliberating about whether to proceed, a hapless pickup truck attempted the crossing and bogged down. After about a minute of watching them struggle, we decided that they needed help, and went out to lend a few hands. We waded out into the muddy stream, and after a couple minutes of pushing and shoving, we got the truck unstuck. It was unexpectedly fun, and everybody had a good laugh when the local man was sprayed with mud from the tire as the truck clambered its way to freedom. The good deed for the day accomplished, we turned back to enjoy a day of resting and doing nothing.

We tried again the next day, which was sunny and clear. We all (Dad included) drove over to Nosara, where we met Hector and Karel (who also works at Cacho’s). They loaded up the kayaks onto an ATV trailer, and we followed them out of town to the start of the hiking trail. While Dad followed Karel to a place where he could wait for us at the mouth of the river, Hector took us up to the mountain stream. It was more of a walk than a hike, through cow pastures and rainforest. The waterfalls were quite beautiful. We hiked upstream and played in the rushing water for a while. Then we went back downstream to where we would start the next part of the excursion.

The river was broad, shallow, and very muddy. After the recent rain, there was a good current. We had a quick snack, boarded the kayaks, and started off. River kayaking is different than ocean kayaking. You don’t have to paddle as much for propulsion, as the current generally carries you along. However, steering is extra-difficult because in addition to going where you want to go, you also have to counteract the kayak’s infuriating tendency to hit the riverbank, T-bone other kayaks, and take bends sideways. Another thing that I did not realize when I signed up was just how long we would be out on the river. I thought that we would be mostly hiking and swimming, and therefor neglected to put on sufficient sunscreen. As it turned out, we were on the river a rather long time, about three hours, and there weren’t many shady trees growing in the middle of the stream. Let us just say that I greatly improved my tan the hard way.

However, it wasn’t as bad as all that. It was actually quite nice, with the jungle on either side, or fields of cattle, and every now and then an island with small trees or bushes. The rapids were fun, even if we sometimes got hung up on tree branches. Even the occasional capsize was a refreshing break from the heat and relative monotony. We saw a number of blue herons fishing by the riverside, and occasionally a Jesus Lizard dashing for shore across the surface of the water. We even saw one or two small crocodiles lounging on the banks, though Hector assured us that there were bigger ones around. The river eventually dumped us out at the ocean near Ostional, and there was Dad waiting with the car.

On Friday, our last day in San Juanillo, we all went to Playa Guiones. We had another successful day of surfing the green waves with Hector and Steven, and Rachel caught some waves too.

Little Surfer Girl

Afterward, we went out to lunch, packed our bags, and cleaned the house in preparation to leave the next day for the mountains.

To be continued…

 

The Land of Plenty

 

Things are quiet in Panamá right now, a time of the year when it rains quite a bit and ex-pats tend to head north to visit friends and family during the North American summer. We decided to stay here, despite our fears of getting cabin fever during “rainy season.” As it turns out, the islands in the Bocas archipelago have weather patterns that are less predictable than on the mainland. Somewhere on mainland Panama, it rains every day during this season, but here where we are, you might have two or three rainy days in a row, then a sunny one. Or a rainy night and an overcast day. One month might be rainier than another, but there really are no “seasons” at all—one big happy summer day after another. Gray days, while they may seem drearier than sunny ones, provide a respite from the intense heat of the sun, so I don’t mind them so much.

Sunset Bocas

For the remaining residents at the marina, we had a 4th of July potluck (several Brits were participants, but we decided against a re-enactment), but even there, with friends wearing stars and stripes, I felt no pang of nostalgia or longing to “go home.” It seems that all I miss of my mother country are the people I love there, and the ease with which one can get what one wants.

I have only been back to the United States (a.k.a. the Land of Plenty) one time in the last 15 months. I took a trip in June to see a couple of my best friends and go to my 20th college reunion in Middlebury, Vermont. It was a 6-day-girlfriend-extravaganza, starting with a midnight road trip from Boston to Portland, Maine (thank you, Kimberly!) and continuing with shopping, chatting, a second road trip to and from Vermont (thank you, Heather!), the sharing of bottles of wine, eating, laughing, more shopping, and finishing with late-night packing, and early morning coffee on the way to the airport. It was the perfect get-away.

Mattapoisett Light

Heather and Tanya at Texas Falls

I loved seeing the aerial view of where we live in Panama and the whole Canal system. It’s easy to get tunnel-vision here and forget about the outside world, so getting out of Bocas was like a breath of fresh air. On the other hand, after being away for just a few days, I began to miss my tribe, my tropical-jungle-island home, and hearing Spanish on a daily basis.

I had a bit of reverse culture shock in the U.S. First, the speed at which everything moves is dizzying.  “Island time” is a very real thing, and I’ve been on it for a long time. I felt something similar to the dread I have of driving into Miami from the Florida Keys, only magnified. Everyone seems so harried and stressed out, and not just in the Boston airport, either.

Also, I underestimated the stormy political climate of the United States right now. I get my news when I want it from the internet, and rarely see a television, so I don’t have to be inundated with images and headlines repeated ad nauseum.  When I do see a TV, it’s usually in Spanish and often headlining not some stupid thing the new U.S. President has said or done, but what’s going on in Venezuela.

Finally, I had forgotten how wonderful it is to go into a store, be surrounded by people speaking English, and find almost anything I didn’t even know I needed. I had ordered some things to get shipped to Heather’s, but I did a little shopping as well, and I was overwhelmed by all the shiny stuff! I was paralyzed in the stores and had to be rescued (more than once). I had brought a duffle stuffed with gifts, thinking I could use it to bring back a few things. Ha! I had to borrow a giant duffle from Kimberly (one she had used for the self-same purpose). I lugged it home like Santa Claus, and my little helpers happily unpacked all those goodies from the Land of Plenty!

The contrast of My Life on a Boat and the lives of my Middlebury classmates was startling, and not just to me. I was afraid of the old inferiority-complex, having gone to a prestigious institution whose classmates are among the influential movers-and-shakers in the world. And what did I do with my over-priced New England education? Got married, quit my career just as I was getting good at it, had five kids, and left suburbia for the Simple Life. That doesn’t sound very impressive. But it all depends on how you measure success—more than a few times, I was met by startled admiration from people I would never have guessed think that I’m living the proverbial dream.

Student Center, Middlebury, VT

In truth, going back to America cured me of wanting to go back to America. Thrown into relief, I was reminded why my life is beautiful—the life of my own choosing, with a career in education and home management, and all in a location and at a pace where I can really enjoy it. Sure, I miss my family and friends more than I like to admit, and ordering things online and paying for shipping to Central America is pricey, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences we’ve had for the convenience of staying Stateside.

Panamá!

That’s right, folks, that wee little strip of land connecting good ole’ North and South America. Home of the Panama Canal, Manuel Noriega, and Chiquita Bananas. We’ve been living in the expat republic for several months now, and it’s pretty good. Panama seems like your typical Central American third-world country. The jungle is green, the sun is hot, and the rain is wet. Take Two is situated at Red Frog Beach Resort and Marina, on Isla Bastimentos. Bocas Town, the primary settlement, lies on Isla Colon, another large island a few miles to the north.

Bocas Waterfront

Aesthetically speaking, Bocas del Toro is a cool place. The islands are very different from the low limestone Cays in the Bahamas, or the rocky desert of Bonaire. They are rolling and hilly, rimmed with mangroves and covered with lush green jungle. Dotting the coasts of the islands are indigenous villages and gringo houses. The sides facing the Caribbean Sea have beautiful white-sand beaches lined with coconut palms.

San Cristobal

There are five basic types of people in Bocas. First, you have the Panameños, the Spanish-speaking Panamanians, that live in Bocas town and the surrounding area. Then there are the indigenous peoples. They live in small villages spread around the islands, paddle around in dugout cayucos, fish, and sell coconuts. There are also many people of African descent, as well as Chinese people. And last, but certainly not least, there are the gringos, the white people not born in Latin America. This category can be further sorted into to two sub-categories, with a few exceptions. In the first are the expat retirees, people generally over 50, who spend all or some of the year in Bocas. In the second, you have the backpackers, young singles or couples that migrate through Central and South America in an unending river with nothing but their flip-flops and the contents of their ever-present backpacks.

The preferred mode of transport for the non-indigenous people is the panga. A panga is a medium-sized fiberglass fishing/work boat, with a fabric sun-shade and oversize outboard. They are used by Panameños and gringos alike, and most of them seem to be in a perpetual state of disrepair. The closest equivalent land vehicle is the minibus.

Panga Ride

Since we arrived at Red Frog, we have made a few friends. The most notable is the family that owns Agua Dulce, the other marina on Isla Bastimentos. In addition to running a marina, they house volunteers, do panga and boat repair, and run a small medical clinic for the indigenous people. They have three kids who are home-schooled, fluent in Spanish, and reasonably good at ping-pong.

Rachel's Sixth

On weekdays, Aaron and I take the dinghy over and work at the shop from 1:00-5:00. The work varies from grinding metal and sanding boats, to cutting fiberglass and polishing T-tops. Once, I made a handle for a spigot that had rusted off. Despite the lack of pay (we are often referred to as ‘the interns’), the difficulty/danger of the work, and the fact that we frequently come home looking like chimney sweeps, it beats sitting around doing nothing and we get credit for high school “shop class.”

Every Tuesday, Mom and one lucky volunteer catch the free marina water taxi to Bocas town for groceries and packages. This involves hauling the Red Wagon all over town, in and out of five or six separate stores of varying degrees of cleanliness, and somehow dragging a weeks’ worth of food back to the taxi dock before one o’clock. The main duty of the lucky volunteer is to assist in the portage of the goods. He or she is also usually rewarded with a special treat of some kind. The weekly grocery haul sometimes lasts us less than a week, so further resupply excursions to the small marina store may be required.

On many weekends, we take the boat out of the marina and spend a night or two at anchor. This is the first place we have been able to do this easily. There are innumerable mangrove islands and coral reefs to explore in Bocas, and very few other boats, so it feels like we have the place to ourselves. We spend the weekend swimming, climbing the rigging, wake-boarding, and just generally remembering what it feels like to cruise on a sailboat.

Wakeboarding

The water is pretty clear around here, but the snorkeling is not so great. There are a few good spots that we know about, but most of the coral is patchy and not very interesting. Of course, we are a bit spoiled in that department; compared to the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, or Bonaire, poor Panama just is not that impressive. One thing it seems to have in abundance is lion-fish. One time while we were anchored out, Sam, Dad, and I speared over eight of the nasty little buggers in one afternoon. Unfortunately, they were too small to be worth the effort of filleting.

All the insects are extremely numerous and virile, from the army ants that will carry you off, too the Hercules beetles that will knock you over. The chitras, the local brand of biting no-see-um, are particularly irritating… or they would be, if we didn’t run the AC all night (and all day, as we are doing disturbingly more and more often). Mosquitos are less of a problem then we had originally anticipated, although rainy season has yet to start. I am very glad of this fact, given the quantity of readily available parasites just waiting for the opportunity to infect and permanently maim you (go Google Leishmaniasis or botfly to see what I mean).

Male Hercules Beetle

Aside from a trip to the interior to see the mountains and cloud forests, we have not done a lot of overland travel while we’ve been here. Our proximity to Costa Rica and the Pacific Coast of Central America makes those tempting destinations for future family outings. We’d also like to cruise back toward the islands of San Blas, and to central Panama to see the Panama Canal. For now, since Panama is south of the hurricane belt, we’ve decided to stick around and enjoy what this place has to offer.

Song for My Dad

I’ve taken to doing some songwriting recently, and here is my latest effort. I’m not quite ready to upload video of me singing it and accompanying myself on the ukulele, but here are the lyrics, anyway.

I Never Can Stay

When I was a kid, you took me on long trips
To see our vast country from the back of a car.
We crossed mountains and deserts and saw the big cities;
We meandered on roadways like a wandering star.

Looking out the back window and over the prairie,
My heart would long for things far away.
The stars overhead were the only thing constant–
I knew at that moment I never could stay.

This feeling of moving took hold of my spirit;
I crave open sky and the wind in my hair.
It’s not a question about discontentment;
I wander because I am happy out there.

Looking back at my childhood and all our adventures,
My heart is longing for things far away.
The stars overhead are the only thing constant–
And home is the place where I am today.

So I sail from this harbor in search of another;
Saying goodbye’s a part of my lifestyle.
The boat is my home, the ocean my mother.
If I find a nice place, I might stay for a while.

Looking back at my travels and all my adventures,
My heart is longing for things far away.
The stars overhead are the only thing constant–
And when I find a nice place, I never can stay.

There is always a new place on the horizon;
My new friends become like family.
The old sailors I meet remind me of you, Dad,
And it keeps me from feeling too lonely.

Looking back at the islands and over the sea,
My heart is longing for things far away.
The stars overhead are the only thing constant–
I know that this moment never can stay.

Oh, Daddy, did you know when we drove cross-country
That someday I’d sail for points far away?
My children are growing up far from their grandpa–
I miss you, but you know, you made me this way.

Looking back at my memories and my family,
My heart is longing for things far away.
The stars overhead are the only thing constant–
I’m happy to see you, but I never can stay.

Trip to Boquete

Note: This is part two of our mountain adventure, continued from the March 25th Mount Totumas post.

Our small caravan arrived at our Boquete residence, dumped us and our luggage on the front porch, and sped off. The house was large, and divided into four units. Ours was the biggest, with three bedrooms. We all picked rooms, and plopped our stuff in them. Then we turned our attention to a more-pressing matter: food. We called a taxi, and went into town. We walked around for a while, searching for a restaurant. We eventually found a sandwich place, Señor Gyros, where we ate lunch. Afterward, we went to the store to buy meals for the week, and, toting our loot, made the 2-kilometer walk home, where we had family movie night.

The next day, the first order of business was to do laundry. After all the hiking up at Totumas, we were running out of clothes. Mom also took a taxi into town to pick up a rental car from Cowboy Dave. Dave, one of many U.S. ex-pats living in Boquete, recommended that we check out Los Cangilones de Gualaca. (Yeah, I couldn’t pronounce that on my first try, either.) It was a section of a river that had carved a canyon through a low hill, about 45 minutes away. It was apparently a favorite swimming hole for locals, rather than the ordinary tourist attraction. Mom ran it by us, and it sounded interesting. We would have to swim in our clothes, and bring some dry ones to change into, having neglected to take our swimsuits along on the trip (not many beaches in Boquete).

Cangilones de Gualaca

After lunch, we loaded up in the car, and drove straight there without delay. At least, that’s what should have happened, had mom brought a map or phone along, instead of studying an internet picture back at the house. We became lost, and had to ask for directions from passing motorists. We eventually found it, at the end of a side road just outside the center of a small town. We parked the car, grabbed our stuff, and got out.

Cangilones de Gualaca

The river was just as cool as it had looked on the internet pictures, even with the all the people. The gorge was about ten feet wide, and rose above the water just as high. It was only about 200 feet long, and broadened and shallowed out at either end. The river was moving very slowly, but I imagine it would be quite something to see in the rainy season. Swimming about in the broad area downstream were a number of families, while hanging around the gorge were several local teenage boys.

Rachel, Cangilones de Gualaca

Cangilones de Gualaca

I went up to the edge of the gorge, and looked down. The water was slow-moving, and darkish green. I shrugged, and jumped in. Ironically, I wasn’t all that worried that it would be shallow, so much as I was worried that it would be cold. Happily, it was quite deep, and not nearly as frigid as one comes to expect from mountain rivers. Once they saw that I had failed to freeze to death or break my legs, the other kids soon followed my lead. It was quite nice, swimming in the shade of the gorge walls, after I got over the initial creep-factor. Of course, swimming wasn’t the reason we were there, it was jumping.

Cangilones de Gualaca

We swam out of the gorge into the sunlight, and scrambled out onto the rocks. The wall was only ten feet off the water, about the same as the high dive on our boat. That meant that all the favorite jumps could be performed without having to compensate for altitude change, and the minor psychological barrier of cracking your head on a rock. Knowing this, I confidently went to an overhang, where there was less risk of hitting the edge, and back-flipped into the river. This immediately got the attention of the local teenage boys. Suddenly, their nice afternoon hangout was shattered by some gringo kid jumping into their river, and they weren’t about to be outdone.

What followed was a sort of jumping competition, with each boy, Aaron and Sam included, trying to outdo the others. I am pleased to say that I held my own, only surpassed when one guy pulled off a gainer. A few minutes before we left, I dove down to the bottom of the river. It was 22 feet deep according to my dive watch, and I had to swim with my eyes closed. I brought up a handful of mud to prove I had been there.  Just as we were walking away, I saw several boys come up with handfuls of bottom mud. More evidence that boys are the same everywhere.

Boys, Cangilones de Gualaca

Anyway, we all had a great time, despite having to change into long pants in the hot car. On the way back, we took some photos of the mountains in the distance, and stopped for ice cream in town. When we got home, we were presented with yet another load of laundry to do. Mom also hunted around for more interesting things to do and see.

Volcan Baru

The next morning, Friday, I was awakened at the ungodly hour of 6:30. I was most unhappy, even if it was for a good reason. We were going hiking (again) at Tree Trek, an eco-lodge with cabins, zip lines, and canopy bridges. We ate a hurried breakfast, and drove over to the tour office in town. From there, we took the Tree Trek off-road truck up into the mountains above Boquete. The eco-lodge was much like Mt. Totumas, only more touristy. After disembarking, we were met by a Tree Trek guide who led us into the forest.

It was about 8 A.M., so it was a bit chilly in those woods. No doubt due to a sleep-addled brain, I neglected to take along my fleece. This was a mistake. I was very cold in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt with a light windbreaker. The hike was similar to the Cascadas trail at Mt. Totumas. The trees were larger, the trunks stained black by the damp. Sam caught several tiny frogs in the undergrowth, and our guide showed us a number of plants and flowers. But what really made the trip worth-while were the canopy bridges.

Tree Trek, Boquete

At various points along the trail, hundred-foot-long, steel-cable-and-plank bridges had been strung, spanning the gulf over a deep ravine or connecting the tops of trees. The floors of the bridges were transparent, so you could see, for example, the river running over 100 feet below. It was very cool. Spitting over the edge was my favorite part.

Tree Trek, Boquete

Tree Trek, Boquete

We also had the chance to glimpse the elusive quetzals. The Resplendent Quetzal is a tiny bird with bright green plumage, and a red breast. It is the national bird of Guatemala, but migrates to Panama for mating season in the spring. We were hiking along the last kilometer of the trail, when the guide pointed out one of them, perched on a branch. It was instantly recognizable as a male, because of the two ludicrously-long feathers extending from the bird’s tail. It soon saw us, and flew away, but not before we all saw it and attempted photographs. We later saw a pair.

Pair of Quetzals

The trail, and the guide, dumped us off at the lodge, and with nothing to do until the truck came to get us, we went in. Mom ordered some mocha cappuccinos for us all, and we sat sipping until the truck showed up. We arrived back home at about noon, had lunch, and got ready to go out again. Aaron, Sam, and I had signed up for rock climbing that afternoon.

Mom drove us back to the tour center, paid up, and took off. The two guides introduced themselves, and found us harnesses and climbing shoes. Not long after we had gotten all of our gear sorted out, a taxi pulled up. The five of us squeezed in, and off we went. Our climbing destination was a basalt wall 60 feet high, just outside of town. It looked nothing like the Giant’s Causeway in Scotland that Mom had shown us when she googled “basalt rock formations,” but it was still pretty cool. It looked like a huge stack of gray French fries, covered with graffiti. Drilled into the rock at various heights were anchor points for belaying. We put on our gear, while our guide, Cesar, free-climbed up the wall to set up the belaying line.

We spent three hours there, and had fun every minute. Despite my reputation for climbing stuff, this was my first time climbing actual, real rock, outdoors, and not concrete inside a climbing gym. It was a bit tougher than I expected, and by the end of the three hours, my grip was almost completely shot. Because there was only Cesar and his buddy, (hence only two belaying lines) only two of us could be climbing at any one time. This was just fine by us, because after making it to the top of the wall and back, you needed a break. When we weren’t actively climbing, we spent the time resting, taking photos, or talking to the guides. They were both professional climbers who had been climbing all around the world, but returned to Panama to start a business.

Basalt Wall, Boquete

In addition to climbing up, we also spent some time traversing the wall sideways, without touching the ground. Cesar was especially good at this. We had all done about six climbs each when the taxi pulled up. We packed up our stuff, the two guides coiled up the belaying lines, and we got in. Mom was waiting back at the tour center. After thanking the guides, we got in the car and went back to the house for some much-needed rest. Mom had taken Rachel to Boquete Bees on a field trip while we were climbing, so there was also a sweet treat waiting.

It rained all day the next day. Daunted by the miserable weather, we proceeded to do nothing of great importance on Saturday. We lounged around, played games, and performed other unimpressive feats of imagination, like reading Clive Cussler novels that we found on a shelf. Mom and Dad went for a walk in the rain, but came back in time to make spaghetti, finish laundry, and start to pack up.

We returned home on Sunday, exactly one week after we had left. We packed up our stuff, had breakfast, and waited for the taxi. Mom had returned the car the previous day, so there wasn’t much to do. The taxi arrived and half of us got in. The others had to wait for a second pass. Somehow, we all ended up at the bus stop. Like before, we handed off our junk to be packed on the roof of one of the buses, and sat down for the long ride.

Four hours later, we pulled into Almirante, got out, claimed our luggage, and then it was into the water taxi bound for Bocas. In Bocas, we had lunch at a local restaurant, and enjoyed the change of climate for about 20 minutes before the heat got too oppressive. After lunch, we got in a water taxi for the last leg of our journey. Back at the boat, we turned on the AC, and started the arduous task of unpacking. It had been a great week, crammed with new and fun experiences, but we were happy to be home.

Boat Boys

Picture this: you’re sailing into a harbor of an island nation you’ve never visited before, after a rough day at sea, furling sails, starting engines, and preparing bridles for anchoring or mooring, and a small, multi-colored, wooden fishing boat comes roaring towards you. He comes alarmingly close, does a swift U-turn, then starts shouting at you in heavily-accented English. The first time this happens, you feel a little freaked out…are these the famous Pirates of the Caribbean? But by your third or fourth island with a welcoming committee, you begin to grow savvy, then you get a little jaded. Eventually, you learn to wave, ask the name of the captain, and tell him to come back after you’re anchored, and no, you do not need assistance. Really, no. No, thank you. (No, dammit!)

These are the Boat Boys. Enterprising, opportunistic, and insistent, they are like humane-society pets: one look at those sad eyes and you can’t figure out which one to take home and which one to leave behind. It doesn’t matter how many carved-coconut bracelets you have bought, how many soursops, sugar-apples, and bananas you already have going soft in your fruit bowl, there will always be one more Boat Boy calling your name: “Hey, lady! Nice lady!” “Madame, I have something for you.” “My friend, take a look at what I brought you today!” “Fresh fish!” “Fresh fruit!” “Fresh bread!”

Tropical Fruit

They come in crafts of all sizes and materials: cast-off paddleboards, patched inflatables, locally-built pirogues with fast outboards, leaky rowboats with two-by-fours for oars. Some of them are Rastafari, and go by names like “Warrior” and “Culture.” Others have nicknames like “Beans” (as in “full of”) and “Skipper.” Others are regular guys, just trying to survive and support themselves and their families, like Justin, who works the charter boats to earn enough money to buy his daughters’ school uniforms. Some of them, like Titus, have traveled the world and come back to their island-homes, and others have never been to the island a stone’s throw away. Some of them, like “Lawrence of Arabia,” are part of a boat-boy association, a way of sharing the wealth and taking turns welcoming boats. Occasionally, they are obnoxious and get in the way while you are trying to anchor, or actually bump into your boat, or continue their sales pitch after you’ve said “no thank you.” A few are little better than beggars.

Indian River, Dominica

You pay them too much and they throw in extra produce “as a gift” and they invariably ask for a cold drink, a beer if you have one, or soda or juice if you don’t. They’ll take your garbage for a small fee (you should refuse because you don’t know where that trash will end up), and they’ll sometimes ask if you have used items you’re ready to part with, clothes in good condition, shoes, or household goods.  All of them are trying to make an honest living, something that can be hard on an island in the tourist off-season, or a place hard-hit by a natural disaster, or a village with a high-unemployment rate. They are often relying on multiple revenue streams—picking up odd jobs, fishing, or operating as a water-taxi in addition to selling fruit or hand-made crafts. It is what they are not doing that strikes me as important: stealing, begging, or selling drugs.

You can send them away, and they will reluctantly paddle or motor to the next boat, or you can look at their wares. But if you seem even slightly sympathetic, watch out! They can smell a sucker from the next harbor. There is another thing you can do: sit down on your stern, hold their dock lines, and talk. You will often find them to be floating philosophers.

Some of them are at the beginning of their careers, like Ivan and Derrick. These two half-brothers are seventeen, just graduated from high school in Soufriere, St. Lucia. They come in their older brother’s boat, offering to help us with our mooring lines, asking if we need fish or a taxi or a hiking guide. We tell them we are interested in hiking the Pitons, but we need to discuss it with the kids, to come back in an hour. (This strategy works well with pushy salesmen.) In the meantime, we ask the park ranger who comes to take our mooring-ball fee, what does he think about these two boat boys? Are they ok? Is the price they are asking too high? He says they’re good kids, and we might pay more to hire an official park guide because we would also have to pay a driver to get to the trailhead, instead of going by boat and starting on the beach. They seem perfect for our plan: Derrick can take Eli and Aaron up Petit Piton and Ivan can hike Gros with the rest of us. We arrange it when they come back, bearing fresh bread.

They come the next morning at seven to fetch us. They hike in bare feet. They’re quiet, and seem a little shy around our family. I ask lots of questions as I huff and puff up the mountain, curious about their life on the island. Ivan had a chance to go to university, but isn’t ready to go yet. He would rather get paid to hike than go to school, or fish, or farm. After the hike, we offer frozen lemonade and agree to buy some fish their older brother has caught, and invite them to come for fish tacos. We are surprised when they agree. Dinner is subdued, nothing revelatory, but companionable. We talk about career options on the island, because we just can’t believe these two young guys have no other options than to be boat boys. By paying them, we are supporting this idea. I ask what a “good job” on the island would be. Derrick says, predictably, “Doctor.”  I ask if they could travel, where would they go? Ivan says, unpredictably, “Miami.” They leave our family dinner to go to a Carnival celebration somewhere on the island, and we leave the next morning.

A couple weeks later, while anchored in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, a man in an ancient rowboat knocks on the side of our boat. Despite the fact that I am the family sucker, I also happen to be the family ambassador, so I always get sent out to talk to the boat boys. And I always come back in with fruits or vegetables, or bracelets, or fish, or bread, or wine, and always a new story. I had just bought limes from a produce stand in Clifton (Union Island in the Grenadines), but Warrior has a bucket of limes and nothing else. He has dark skin, gray hair, and the clearest blue eyes I’ve ever seen on a black man. It gives him an otherworldly look. He offers to take our garbage, but I say no. I bring him a cold drink and buy some limes anyway. I sit down to talk with him. He is incredulous that we have five children on a boat. He says in forty years as a boat boy, he has never met someone traveling with five children. I drag all five kids out on deck and introduce them, and give him a boat card with all our names on it.

I ask him about his years visiting boats. He tells me about the first boat he paddled out to, when he was just fourteen, and its recent return to Carriacou. He tells me about what he does to earn a living, and how he has traveled in years when the money was good, most recently to Grenada for Carnival. I tell him about leaving Atlanta, about rejecting suburban American life for a simpler life on a boat. He asks me what I think about life. I say every day is a gift to unwrap. He says a woman told him once that “life is what you make it.” But he completely rejects this philosophy as he understands it. He says you don’t have power to make anything, but to find it and then do with it what you can. Perhaps it is just semantics, but I think I understand what he is saying. He insists, “Life is not what you make it…it’s how you get it.” He gives examples of historical figures who tried to bend things to their wills but in the end were unsuccessful, like Maurice Bishop in the Grenada Revolution. Ultimately, we don’t have control over circumstances (in Maurice’s case, the treachery of comrades), but over our attitudes, and our willingness to work.

He has more to say, but the sun is sinking into the sea, and he sees that I need to get back to my family. He offers to stop by again, with more produce, and I say I would be happy to talk again if we are still here. I ask if I can take his picture, and shake his weathered hand. As he paddles away, I suddenly think of Ivan and Derrick, and wonder if they will still be doing this in forty years. And I am in no place to judge—maybe this is as good a life as any, taking each day as you find it, interacting with people, offering a service, giving and receiving, and getting out of it what you can.

Warrior, Carriacou

Our Trip in a Nutshell: the Log of Take Two

Following the wise advice of my friend Kimberly (s/v Ally Cat), I have been keeping a good record of our trip on my calendar. For those who know me, you know this means actually writing with a pencil on a paper calendar in an old-fashioned Day-Timer. The self-same Day-Timer I accidentally dropped overboard about a month ago and had to swim after. I then used a fan and the tropical sun to dry the pages. I can see you shaking your heads right now! But I managed to save it all, including the names and addresses of every person I have ever met, and my entire boat- and business-card collection. So, before any more drowning accidents can occur, I have decided to digitize and save this record for posterity in the Eternal Cloud. You may not care about every day of our voyage, but now that we sit in a safe harbor in St. George’s, Grenada, I’m enjoying a look back at every mile! Somehow, even with all the sailing days and outings, we managed to get some school and work done, too, though, looking at the calendar, I’m not sure how.

March in the Bahamas

3 Take Two leaves Marathon.
4 Sail from Florida Keys to Chub Cay, Berry Islands.
5 Check into the Bahamas at Chub Cay.
6 Sail from Chub Cay to Highbourne Cay, Exumas. Saw 11.5 kts speed using Code Zero.
7 Anchored in Allen’s Cay, picked up internet from Highbourne cell tower for Jay’s work.
8 Leaf Cay Beach Day (with a zillion iguanas).
9 Cold Front, lots of wind. Anchorage rolly.
10 Lunch date and groceries with Jay at Exuma Café in Highbourne Cay Marina.
11 Allen’s Cay, waiting for weather.
12 Allen’s Cay to Norman’s Cay. Beach Fire and S’Mores.
13 Met up with Jeff and Kelly on s/v Tiger Sea. Drinks/snacks on Take Two.
14 Snorkel Wax Cay Cut.
15 Land and Sea Park, Shroud Cay. Kayak to the beach with Rachel and Sarah.
16 Hike on Hawksbill Cay.
17 Hike on Warderick Wells. Met the crew of s/v Abby Singer.
18 Snorkel near Warderick Wells. Giant lobster—protected in Land and Sea Park.
19 Snake Island near Cambridge Cay. Beautiful sunset kayak.
20 Compass Cay. Swam in Rachel’s Bubble Bath, snorkeled Rocky Dundas.
21 Pipe Creek, Thomas and Joe Cays.
22 Pipe Creek, waiting for weather. Eli gets giant lobster.
23 Anchor at Robinson Island, near Sampson Cay.
24 Lunch date with Jay at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and groceries at Isle’s General.
25 Motor-sail to Black Point, Great Guana. Pizza at Lorraine’s with s/v Abby Singer.
26 Laundry and haircut at Ida’s. Swimming with Paige and Sky from Abby Singer.
27 Easter Sunday, Gethsemane Baptist with crew of Abby Singer. Lunch and swim.
28 Easter Monday, beach party with locals from Black Point Settlement.
29 Sail to Little Farmer’s. Drinks at Ty’s Sunset Bar and Grill.
30 Lunch date with Jay at Ocean Cabin and groceries.
31 Rudder Cay. Snorkel with mermaid and piano, and staghorn reef at Musha Cay.

April in Puerto Rico

1 Sail to Georgetown. Sam catches Mahi!
2 Meet up with s/v Ally Cat. Fish tacos on Take Two.
3 Hike up Monument Hill with Andrew and Sky. Rachel on Ally Cat with Kimberly.
4 Beach Fire with s/v Ally Cat and s/v Abby Singer.
5 Mom’s morning out at Exuma Market.
6 Notes on Caribbean, s/v Ally Cat. Music @ St. Francis. Jay’s birthday—burgers & brownies.
7 Set sail for Puerto Rico, pass Rum Cay.
8 Passage to Puerto Rico.
9 Passage to Puerto Rico.
10 Passage to Puerto Rico.
11 Passage to Puerto Rico—rough night, sailing south using cold front.
12 Passage to Puerto Rico—bioluminescence and calm seas.
13 Last day of passage, motoring over calm seas. Anchor near Fajardo.
14 Check in at Palmas del Mar Yacht Club and Customs and Immigration.
15 Mary flies into San Juan for a visit. Rent car and go to COSTCO in Caguas.
16 Hike in El Yunque National Park, swim in La Mina river falls.
17 Casa Bacardi tour, San Juan.
18 Shopping in Caguas.
19 Visit to Old San Juan with Mary, El Morro fort and tram tour. Lunch at Barrachina.
20 Rio Camuy Cave Park tour. Drive over Cordillera Central.
21 Mary flies out of San Juan. Lunch date with Jay at El Pescadero.
22 COSTCO (again).
23 Pool day at the Yacht Club.
24 Palmas del Mar. Catch up on school and work.
25 Palmas del Mar. Laundry day.
26 Palmas del Mar. Dinner with s/v Renewal.
27 Palmas del Mar. Date night with Jay at Italian Café.
28 Palmas del Mar. Catch up on school and work.
29 Palmas del Mar. Rain.
30 Palmas del Mar. Rain. Met Lara and Jaime, engineer at Arecibo.
31 Palmas del Mar. Rain.

May in the Virgin Islands

1 Palmas del Mar. Rain.
2 Rachel’s birthday. Cake with crew of s/v Dingo d’Isles.
3 Sarah’s birthday. Date with just Sarah at the Italian Café.
4 Rent a car to drive to Fajardo to meet up with girls from Abby Singer & Renewal.
5 Left Palmas del Mar. Motor upwind to Vieques. Kayak in Bio-Bay after sunset.
6 Sail to St. Thomas. Anchor near Charlotte Amalie.
7 Sail to St. John. Hawksnest Bay.
8 Hawksnest Bay, St. John.
9 Beach day with s/v Abby Singer at Hawksnest Bay. Dinner on Take Two.
10 Sail to Jost Van Dyke. Check in to BVI.
11 Met up with Ralph and Kathy from s/v Simplicity.
12 Little Jost Van Dyke, Bubbly Pool and Sandy Spit.
13 Cane Garden Bay, Tortola. Painkillers at Tony’s Welcome Bar and ice cream for kids.
14 Sail to Privateer Bay, Norman Island. Kayak, snorkel caves.
15 Norman Island. Snorkel at the Indians. Dinner with s/v Abby Singer on Take Two.
16 Great Harbor, Peter Island. Deep anchorage—used 150 ft. of chain + 100 ft. of rode.
17 Road Harbor, Tortola. Groceries, Digicel, and talk to Doyle Sailmakers.
18 Sail to Little Harbor, Peter Island. Wake boarding.
19 Jib to Doyle for repairs. Motor to Salt Island.
20 Hike on Salt Island. Snorkel wreck of the RMS Rhone w s/v Abby Singer.
21 Motor to Virgin Gorda. Anchor near the Baths.
22 Breakfast on Take Two and fun at the Baths with s/v Abby Singer.
23 Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda. Nudists! Hang out with s/v Abby Singer.
24 Beach in the AM, downwind sail to Brandywine Bay, Tortola in the PM.
25 Road Town, Tortola. Doyle Sailmakers measure cockpit for enclosure and return jib.
26 Sail to North Sound Virgin Gorda, Prickly Pear Island. More nudists.
27 Dinner on Take Two with s/v Abby Singer. Cuban night!
28 Sail to Anegada. Saw 10 kts of boat speed with reefed main and jib.
29 Beach day on Anegada. Parents’ night out at Neptune’s Treasure w/ Abby Singer.
30 Anegada Beach Club with s/v Abby Singer.
31 Anegada Beach Club. Andrew gives Eli and Aaron kiteboard lessons.

June in the Leeward Islands

1 Sail from Anegada to Road Town for dodger install. Jay broke pinky toe.
2 Sail from Brandywine Bay, Tortola to Gorda Sound.
3 Virgin Gorda safari truck with s/v Abby Singer. Dinner at Rada’s (roti).
4 Leverick Bay, dinner with s/v Abby Singer. Thai night!
5 Sail to Tortola. Dinner date with Jay at the Last Resort, Trellis Bay.
6 Road Bay to finish cockpit enclosure installation. Night in Benure’s Bay, Norman Island.
8 Lee Bay, Camanoe Island to Gorda Sound. Parent’s night at Saba Rock/Bitter End.
9 Check out of BVI in Gun Creek. Fuel at Leverick Bay and sunset drinks at Jumbie’s.
10 Anegada passage. Motorsail in the afternoon.
11 Arrive Anguilla 8AM. Check in at customs and immigration. Ray’s Beach Bar in the PM.
12 Took Rachel to the beach at Sandy Ground. Johnno’s for drinks.
13 Drive around Anguilla by rental car. Family dinner out at Ripples.
14 Meads Bay beach day. Lunch at Blanchard’s Beach Shack. Groceries. Dinner at Veya.
15 Sail from Anguilla to Statia.
16 Check in at Statia. Hike the Quill with the kids. Ice cream at Mazinga’s.
17 Sail to St. Kitts and Nevis. Check in at Basse-Terre. Sail to Nevis.
18 Tour of Nevis by taxi.
19 Beach day. Meet crew of s/v Katta3.
20 Turtle Time with Jay, Nevis. Dinner on Take Two with s/v Katta3.
21 Down day, rain. Sunset on the beach with Anders and Katta and ukulele.
22 Check out of Nevis. Lunch date with Jay at Golden Rock. Groceries. Dinner on Katta3.
23 Attempted sail to Montserrat. Turned around. Back in Nevis.
24 Swedish Midsummer with Anders and Katta.
25 Family dinner with crew s/v of Katta3 at Turtle Time.
26 Sail to Montserrat.
27 Meet up with s/v Abby Singer and s/v Vidorra. Taxi tour with Moose. Burger night.
28 Sail around Montserrat to Five Islands, Antigua.
29 Check in at Jolly Harbour. Groceries. Burgers on Take Two with s/v Abby Singer.
30 Jolly Harbour. Sunset drinks and appetizers with s/v Abby Singer.

July in the Windward Islands

1 Jolly Harbour. Dessert and game night with s/v Abby Singer.
2 Rent a car. Devil’s Bridge and Betty’s Hope Sugar Mill.
3 Tour Nelson’s Dockyard with s/v Abby Singer.
4 Beach Day: Carlisle, Turner’s and Darkwood. Floating Island of Fun.
5 Jolly Harbour. Afternoon swim & snacks with s/v Abby Singer. Date night at Al Porto.
6 Kids at sailing camp with crew of Abby Singer.
7 Sail to Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe.
8 Sail to Dominica. Check in.
9 Indian River Tour with Lawrence. Snorkel near Cabrits.
10 Hike to Fort Shirley, Cabrits National Park. Meet s/v Masim’s.
11 Hike to Boiling Lake, Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica.
12 Groceries AM. Snorkel in Soufriere, Champagne Reef, Bubble Beach Bar PM.
13 Sail to Martinique. Check in at St. Pierre. Digicel.
14 Anchor at Le Carbet. Sea glass beach hunt.
15 Field trip to St. Pierre. Petit Train Tour, Volcano Museum. Groceries. Letibonum date.
16 Fort de France. Meet up with s/v Masim’s. Rachel jumps from high dive!
17 Fort de France. Shopping. Sailbaot races. Swimming. Appetizers/wine w/ Eric and Magalie.
18 St. Anne. Family lunch at Le Paille Coco. Floating Island of fun.
19 St. Anne. Groceries AM. Beach day (by dinghy). Sunset drinks with Jay at La Dunette.
20 Sail to St. Lucia, Rodney Bay.
21 Check in. Hardware store& Digicel AM. Marigot Bay PM. Rainforest Hideaway date.
22 Pool day and lunch at Capella resort with Rachel and Sarah. Haircut. Move to Pitons.
23 Between the Pitons. Hike up Gros. Eli & Aaron up Petit. Ivan and Derrick for dinner.
24 Snorkel Ratchet Point. Check out in Soufriere. Sugar Beach Resort, Hobie sailing.
25 Sail from St. Lucia to Bequia, skipping St. Vincent.
26 Check in. Groceries AM. Taxi tour/whaling museum PM. Drinks on s/v Marlin del Ray.
27 Eli’s birthday. Dive Bequia AM. Tony Gibbons Beach PM. Dinner w/ Eli at L’Auberge.
28 Downwind sail to Tobago Cays. Snorkeling and Beach @ Jamesby. Greg & Maribel PM.
29 Union Island. Check out of Grenadines. Lunch Date with Jay at Big City Grill. Produce.
30 Carriacou, check in to Grenada. Afternoon sail to Moliniere Bay.
31 Snorkel Underwater Sculpture Garden. Check in to Port Louis Marina PM.

August in Grenada

1 Port Louis, St. George’s, Grenada. Drinks with Jay at Victory Bar.
2 19th Anniversary, dinner with Jay at YOLO sushi bar.
3 Walk to FoodLand for Groceries and Merry Baker for bread. Pool in the PM.
4 Port Louis, St. George’s, Grenada. School and pool.
5 Port Louis, St. George’s, Grenada. FoodLand for Groceries.
6 Port Louis, St. George’s, Grenada. School and pool.
7 Port Louis, St. George’s, Grenada. Work on blog…
8 CARNIVAL! Jay leaves for Atlanta 4:30AM.