Sunday, October 10, 2010


We arrived in Bocas del Toro, Panama at the beginning of July and immediately felt right at home.  The layered mountains (OK, tall hills), of the Central American cordillera, often shrouded in clouds and rain, the numerous islands and bays in protected waters, reminds us of parts of the BC coast. But maybe that's just because its been so long since we've been home!  The 32C water temperature is a nice bonus.  Sometimes even a bit too warm - not that we're complaining!
Given that this is the rainy season, we have been surprised by how pleasant it is here in Bocas. We had expected lots of bugs and endless days of rain and cloud, and lots of stinging jelly fish among the numerous mangrove islands and lagoons.  But the bugs really have not bothered us on the boat at all, though the no-see-ums, called chitras locally, can be a bit vicious ashore in the evenings. We have had rain and/or overcast skies only about 1 out of 4 days (and some spectacular lightning shows, after all we are in the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, Toto), and the "stingers" have only been occasional and easily avoided. So we are liking this place. Like they say, "Its Better in Bocas!".

Cathy and Kathy (from s/v Makai) paddling among the islands and looking for good snorkeling spots for later.

Cathy paddling again. This time up one of the many rivers that run into the Bocas area.

We've made it about a mile and a half up this rio past two fincas (farms) cleared out of the jungle by the local Indians.   Gotta duck to avoid the overhanging trees (not to mention that there are huge spiders in those trees!).  Wish we could see the birds making those exotic calls.

Time to get outta that jungle (and away from those spiders!).

Went for a walk with friends on a large eco-estate created by a Texas millionaire.  Unfortunately he died a few months ago, but the estate manager was very welcoming and encouraged us to wander about on the miles of chip trails that they have cut through the jungle. It's like a tropical park - beautiful.  We saw many of these little green guys as well as smaller blue ones. Supposedly they have poisonous excretions on their skins - so look, but don't touch....

Bright splashes of flowering trees contrast with the multi-green jungle foliage.

Anchored with friends in one of the lagoons.  The owners of the house from which this picture was taken were cruisers themselves until they found this property and built their home in the jungle. They are very supportive of cruisers and provide free wifi and invited us up for sundowners. Thanks Carl and Mary!  And Juanita for the dinner!

Our friend Fred on Makai. Little Rohilio would paddle out from the nearby village multiple times a day to ask us if we had anything for him.  We gave him some paper and pencils but he wanted hats and clothes and money or anything else he spotted on the boat. When we didn't give, he eventually stopped begging.  Obviously there had been some positive reinforcement somewhere along the way.  Unfortunately when we visited a few weeks later, he had a couple of friends along in their ulus (dugout canoes) and they got organized and distracted us while one of them stuck his arm through an open (but screened) porthole to see if he could grab anything of value. They managed a paperback book from us and another from our friends' boat, which we only discovered after they had paddled away.  Being that they were 11 or 12 year old boys it was probably more of a dare than anything, and must have been very disappointing that the books were in English - with no pictures!  Nonetheless, not wanting this to escalate and potentially cause more trouble for all parties concerned, we contacted the village's Peace Corp worker (Michelle) and she paddled out with the school teacher the next day to talk to us about what had happened. Rohilio then had to paddle out, dressed in his good clothes and return the books and apologize. Evidently, when he returned home, he packed up his little backpack and was ready to leave the village!  Interesting and often challenging dynamics between the indigenous populations and the yachties, who appear to them to have unlimited wealth.  Makes one think....

And indeed we often do feel like the luckiest people on the planet!  Relaxing on the front porch with Fred and Kathy.

Our son Tristan and his good friend Dave, down for a visit from Victoria.  Life is good!

Wake boarding on a surfboard (thanks Fred!), behind the dinghy.

We all had a turn. Thanks to patient coaching and towing by Tristan and Dave, Cathy and I both managed to get up - in style! Unfortunately it is off season for surf but we did take a lesson and have both been up and actually surfing a few times.

Tristan and Dave loved spearfishing and each of them managed to bag a lionfish. Not only is it good to reduce the population of these invasive and voracious predators, but they are damn tasty, if a little tricky to fillet with those toxic spines - he snipped them off with wire cutters.

A mixed bag.  All tasty - the parrotfish were probably our favourites from this selection. Which is not a bad thing as there are lots of parrotfish around.

The invertebrate life in the shallows is amazing, making for some of the best snorkeling we have experienced.  Usually brittle stars hide during the day in crevices and under rocks, but here there are millions of them twining around brilliantly coloured sponges and tunicates everywhere, all the these little undersea gardens. 

A magnificent feather duster worm 4 inches across.

More brittle stars and sponges.

The boys relaxing after a hard day of snorkeling and boarding.  

Ab Ripper X!  Can't let those six packs ruin the six pack.

Yes, it is the rainy season.  2" in 12 hours.  The longest and heaviest stretch of rain we've had here.  Usually its over before you can even get the soap rinsed off!

Visited a local cacoa (not coca) farm run by two gringos Dave and Linda.  The pods grow straight off the trunk of the trees which thrive under the canopy of a myriad of tall jungle species.

Wait a minute, this doesn't taste like chocolate! The flesh inside the pod is quite tangy and refreshing, almost astringent.  The actual cacao seeds are just big, dark brown seeds that need to be processed before they become anything like chocolate.

First, its all fermented for a couple of weeks.

Then the seeds are dried for several more weeks.  The next step is to roast them carefully (here they are turned by hand in a drum over a propane flame), before grinding and extracting the chocolate liquor to be used in your favourite cake, sauce, brownie or bar.

Looks like this guy could use a cup of hot chocolate - or maybe a double shot of espresso! We were able to bring the dinghy right up underneath this sloth who was huddled in the rain in a mangrove tree about 6' above the water.

The 1/2 lb Riptide Burger.  $6.50 with fries. $3.50 for the 2 liter pitcher of ice cold draft. Together, priceless.

 Waiting for drinks and food and another night of fun at the Calypso Cantina with the crews of Baros and Salida!

Dylan and Darian put on a hot show!

Waiting for the chicas.... on one of the gorgeous outer cays.

Cathy cuddling a kinkajou. It was rescued as a baby with a broken jaw and raised by the couple who own the Cosmic Crab Restaurant.

Vacations have to end some time (or not).  Farewell dinner at the Cosmic Crab in our own little floating dining room.