28 August 2005
Bocas del Toro, Panama N 09.20.156 W 082.14.772
There's no Place like Home
We have been away from the boat for six weeks. It isn't so much that we have been away for six weeks as it is that we have been on the move for six weeks. With the exception of a few nights in a hotel, we have been staying with relatives or at Emerald Isla, NC in a beach house rented by my sister, Deanna Carter. The visit to Emerald Isle was to attend the wedding of our nephew Drew to Lizzy. Many family members made the trip and we enjoyed the entire week especially the ceremony which was held overlooking the ICW. Our travels started in Texas where we visited our sons, Josh and Allen and their families. Both boys are stationed at Fort Hood, TX. It was great to meet our "new" daughter in law and her family and especially to visit with all the grandchildren. While in Texas we were able to visit our cousin Fred and his wife Shaun before we flew to North Carolina. From here we put more than 3000 miles on our rent a car visiting our parents, siblings and children Brad and Kim and their spouses and schlepped our luggage into more than a dozen different bedrooms and hotel rooms. We even had the opportunity to visit with fellow cruisers, Mike and Barbara who were aboard the M/V Pelican. Mike and Barbara are building a log cabin high in the mountains of NC. We had a great time and want to thank everyone for their kind hospitality and thoughtfulness. Visit our slide show at the end of the log for more images.
Here are a few of the things we have learned from our visit back: real estate prices are soaring, (non)reality shows dominate TV, it is cheaper to trade a book than buy a book, more and more people are questioning the war and the beauty of the US is unsurpassed. Oh people think that the Caribbean is beautiful and it is. Blue water, white beaches and warm breezes mesmerize you especially when you have just arrived form a cold climate. After a while you even tend to look past the litter you might find in the islands and in some areas of South and Central America. While in the US, we see well manicured green lawns stretching for miles without one piece of litter to be found. Billions are spent on curb appeal and the pride of ownership is evident at almost every income level. Perhaps it is the stark contrast between the untamed arid climates or overgrown wetland found near the equator that we have become accustom to and the seasonal latitudes of the US which promote this tamed green appearance. Whatever it is, we greatly appreciate the great beauty in our homeland. And still we forego this beauty and we might add comfort and the security and choose to explore beyond our boundaries and to learn things and experience things from a different perspective. This perspective is not that of a tourist but more as a short term resident. When we arrive at a new destination we don't feel that we are being processed by the local tourism industry but rather that we are fending for ourselves with the help of our fellow cruisers and spending enough time to gain a little insight as to the local culture, economy and even politics. We aren't isolated by a large hotel or cruise ship but rather visit the local grocery stores and markets and make our own way about. The picture above was taken in Chanquinola and put in for Johnny and Tammy who work at Freightliner.
I think what we really took away from this visit is that we're not done yet. As our experience grows our enthusiasm grows also. The confidence we have gained has complimented the enjoyment of meeting other cruisers and visiting other lands. We have not grown tired of a good snorkeling place, a well reefed sail, porpoise skimming along the boat or an engine that starts upon demand. Of course that confidence is not only in seamanship but also in our becoming better international citizens.
We want to thank all of our relatives. It was great to see you but like Dorothy (her last name was Gale) from The Wizard of Oz, we will click our heels and repeat, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home".
And for now home is where the boat is.
From Buzzards to Backpackers
Upon our return to Bocas we find a transformation taking place in this sleepy little resort town. Before we departed one could find buzzards walking the streets and alleys while shopping for groceries or walking to a local restaurant for a late lunch. There might be half a dozen or so of these very ugly hook beaked vultures brazenly walking around in the middle of one of the dusty washed out streets. If you were to look up you could easily spot another twenty or more soaring on the thermals created by the oppressive heat. These birds are steadfast residents of the community and you can walk within two or three feet of them , should you be bold enough to do so. One wonders just how much carrion it takes to support a flock of thirty some buzzards but on the other hand there are no seagulls to be found. There may be some corollary here but I am just not informed in these matters to know.
Anyway, we now find the buzzards relegated to the back alleys of Bocas since a large flock of backpackers have taken over the streets. Young Europeans and North Americans carrying huge black backpacks trimmed in some florescent colors have started to fill the hotels and restaurants of this sleepy community. We notice also buildings that only a month ago appeared to be abandoned have now become novelty shops. Every place seems to be getting a facelift including the two surf shops. And since Bocas is a terminal point for travel to the many surfing beaches in the area there is a heightened amount of small boat traffic plying their way between the islands. Boat taxis that normally carry 15 people are now crammed to hold around 25. An English language publication titled The Bocas Breeze is now available gratis at most restaurants and grocery stores. You can find it online at www.The Bocas Breeze.com.
Bocas has several grocery stores and a number of fresh vegetable stands . You can buy meat at the grocery stores in Bocas and probably the best place is the Gourmet Shop. But if you really want to stock your freezer you need to go to Chanquinola. You get there by one of the may water taxis. It takes 45 minutes and cost $5.00 per person one way. Take a cooler along to store you meats for the trip home. upon arrival at the water taxi terminal, take a taxi to supermercado "Romero". That seems to be the best stocked grocery and the people working there are accustom to cruisers and can help convey your needs to the butcher. When returning to the terminal in Chanquinola you will find lots of little kids offering to carry your cooler and your other purchases to the boat. Have a pocket full of quarters and pay accordingly. Anyway it is a fun trip up the river taking you through the banana plantation and past Indian homesteads.. On our last trip the taxi stopped to allow a family of pigs to swim across the river. So now you know that pigs can swim! For an extra dollar the water might be persuaded to drop you off at the marina. This saved us from transporting our supplies out of one water taxi into another to get from Boacs back to the marina.
The weather has gone from hot and oppressive everyday to a fair mixture of tropical weather patterns with thunderstorms and breezes. Rain is almost a daily occurrence and with it real estate offices are springing up like mushrooms. Since the price of ocean front property in the US has now risen to an unattainable level, people are turning to Costa Rica and Panama to find their place in the sun. Articles in The Bocas Breeze cover topics such as the favorable banking laws in Panama, immigration procedures, titled property, taxes on foreign retirees, construction in tropical climates and the such. Although Bocas is not much of a town today it is a convenient location for cruisers wanting to stay in the western Caribbean.
We, however, are preparing to depart Bocas to explore other parts of Panama primarily the San Blas, an archipelago of over three hundred islands on the eastern shore of Panama between the Canal and the Colombian border. We understand that the spear fishing is good and since we have never speared a fish before it sounds like a pleasant way to pass a few hours of each day and good way to attract sharks. We haven't seen many sharks either but why would we want to?!
Every tank for propane, gasoline, water and diesel is filled. Everything is working better than ever. The freeboard has been waxed and our three month contract is just about to expire. Now all we have to do is test the watermaker and we will be underway.
So we depart leaving our new friends in hopes of meeting them again in our journey.
Farewell Bocas and thanks for everything.