NW Panama

March 5, 2002

This message will be coming to you from an internet café in the Panamanian city of Santiago. If you want to find it on your maps it is a little left of center. Satori is at anchor in the river port of Puerto Mutis to the south of Santiago. Let me back up a little and tell you about our time since crossing the canal.

Our last message spoke to you of our need to save some money for a while and we have managed to do just that. From the south side of the canal we crossed to the Las Perlas islands in the Bay of Panama. In order to leave the Bay, cruisers must go south so the visit to the Perlas is usually a forgone conclusion.

On the way to Contadora, our first stop, we had our fishing line in the water with a brand new shiny hook on the end. Cruising friends assured us that, regardless of our fishing luck in the past, we would be sure to catch lots of fish here. We were doubtful.

Many of you know that we have tried throughout the Caribbean and caught only a couple of barracuda. To our surprise we reeled in a very large (10 #) Spanish Mackerel. In our excitement we joined the “catch and release” program, however. Sander was just saying that this fish did not fight very hard for his size when he gave a mighty flip and returned to the deep. From that point on we changed our routine in bringing the catch aboard. We are happy to tell you that besides the luscious mackerel, we have also caught several types of tuna. They are the favorite. We have a big cookbook aboard by Charles Beard. It describes recipes for all sorts of fish and seafood. Mr. Beard begins his section on tuna by saying that this is the only type of fish that is better from the can than fresh. We think Mr. Beard must never have eaten fresh tuna!

Contadora is famous as the once-upon-a time residence of Shah Pahlavi who was ousted by the Ayatollah Kohmeni in 1979. One of our photos this time is taken of the beach where we anchored. The Perlas are also famous for the beautiful pearls once collected here including the 31 carat “Peregrina” owned today by Elizabeth Taylor. Accept for the beauty of Contadora, we were a little disappointed in the Perlas. They are lovely quiet islands but the water is too murky to encourage swimming and snorkeling. We headed south rather quickly to the last island, San Jose, in the hopes of seeing a pod of Whale Sharks which had been there for several weeks as reported by several cruising boats. Guess we were too late for them too, but we stayed at San Jose for a whole week waiting and enjoying the peace and quiet. During that three weeks time we spent a total of $2 for some snapper sold to us by some passing fishermen.

We decided to press on with the crossing to the NW coast of Panama on Friday, Feb 15th. Using our average speed of 4 knots as a gauge (Lordy! ) Didn’t we make this mistake before?!) we decided to leave at noon in order to arrive at our anchorage at daybreak. You guessed it! We went screaming past our anchorage at 2 AM in the morning with a great helpful current and 25 knots of wind off the beam. So we decided to press on to our second anchorage and arrived the next afternoon about 3 PM at the island of Cebaco. You might locate this island by looking on your map for the island of Coiba. Cebaco is the big blue blob to the east of that island. We spent a whole week there as we met a very friendly and helpful cruiser named Rick.

We have been having computer problems since the summer in Curacao. Our keyboard on the Dell computer started dying on us. There are about 50% of the letters that no longer work. The purchase of an external keyboard solved that problem. Then our word processing program froze on us and would not allow us in. Rick was a computer software designer in his past life and it was his feeling that we needed to clear out our hard drive and reinstall our Windows 98 program. He felt that we were having driver problems and that we might be able to clear things up with this brave attempt. Why brave?? The installation of the Windows program must be done using the keyboard on the computer for commands and many of our letters do not function any longer. At many points during the several days of work required, Rick had to help me back up and take various routes to get the whole thing done. He had warned us that the whole effort might fail and we might end up with a dead black box. Scary! It all worked out in the end and (with many thanks to Rick) we hope that the Dell will stay healthy enough til we get home this year to buy a new one. Think that we will buy components this time so that each component could be replaced rather than the whole system. Any opinions?

We have spent the last week or so exploring the river system of the Bahia Montijo. All the way north in this bay is the small village of Puerto Mutis. Rick had assured us that we would enjoy this stop and that we could go inland to Santiago to reprovision. He was on the mark there. This port has a floating dock - very high on our list for the Pacific. We have a heavy dinghy and a large 15 HP outboard engine. We were not ready for the beach and the 15’ tide differences. The first time we ventured onto a beach in the Las Perlas we had quite a time trying to get back off the beach. We had to walk the dinghy out a ways and climb aboard. Before we could get the engine running, the dinghy was turned around and the next big wave swamped the dinghy from behind. We have worked out a better system now - which requires one of us getting quite wet holding the boat into the surf - and can manage without getting swamped. Nevertheless, a floating dock where we can leave the dinghy is a fantastic advantage! The second photo is Satori at anchor in Puerto Mutis. If you look very closely you can see the dark area on the bank. This dark area shows the difference between high tide and low.

The local bus is a 20 passenger van and (following the tradition of most of the third world countries) can and does carry 25-30 most of the time. Yes, the chickens were aboard again…this time in a small box and cheeping all the time. The ride into Santiago takes about 25 minutes through really lovely farming country. It resembles Guatemala and Belize with 2 main differences. There is very little garbage anywhere and there are fences everywhere! Each big pasture and each small yard is surrounded by a fence made of tree limbs joined by barbed wire. We had a glimpse of the past to see the aluminum milk cans by the side of the road being picked by a coop truck to be taken to the processing plant. The yards have lots of flowers and bushes even though the houses are often small and made of simple cinder block construction with no glass in the windows. A strange but lovely tradition seems to be that each new bus rider entering the van says “Buenos Dias”. It was never clear to whom they addressed the greeting as nobody (except the two of us) ever greeted them back.

There is not much to do on the rivers except relax, read and watch the birds in the mornings and evenings. It is quite unusual to ever find absolute silence in today’s world. Jane remembers that it happened to her once in the past waking in the snow filled winter morning in the heart of the woods of Maine. It was a rather a disturbing experience as though the rest of the world had somehow vanished. In the rivers of Panama the silence is constant and magic. Gone is the constant noise of the sea and the wind to which we have become accustomed.

Our first evening on the Rio Ponuga at dusk, we were eating dinner in our cockpit when we heard some loud sounds as though someone were shooting a gun on the bank - in the mangroves??? Several minutes later the sounds came again and then, almost like the end of the fireworks on the 4th of July, a tremendous snapping and popping. On the bank about 30 yards away a mangrove tree began to tip and crashed into the river breaking cleanly in its center. We will know that sound again if it ever comes!

We will take another two weeks or so to wander on west to Costa Rica. Our next message will be from the Gulfo Dulce on the SW side of that country. We hope that this message has not been too boring for you.

Sometimes our lives are not filled with scary sea travels, but rather with the wonderful change of peaceful days and nights and the sharing of new cultures, places and people. We are very blessed to have this life, we think.

The last of the photos is from the Pedro Miguel Lock as we were leaving. It is an old photo but we both thought that it would give you an idea about the immensity of the cargo boats that they send “us cruisers” through with. The big boat behind Satori is the same one we followed through the three Gatun Locks earlier that day.

We hope that you will remember us as well with your notes. It gets lonely traveling without family and friends. We will be sure to write back to you as well.

Best wishes from,

Jane and Sander aboard Satori