Thursday 22 January 2015

WILD about Panama !

January 22nd 2015

How does one follow a story about a Monkey bite and ensuing wild emotional roller coaster ride? Well, I guess, with more stories about wildlife !!!  This time however, there won’t be any trips to the emergency room ! (And just to give you an update, Meghan is doing very well, her stiches came out a few days ago!)

Toucan in the wild

Panama is a great place to go to if you want to see interesting species of both flora and fauna alike !  Meg told me the other day that she read somewhere that there were over 100 species of animals here which live no where else on earth !  Could that be true ?  I will have to verify her sources !  All I know is that we have been enjoying catching glimpses of some of these exotic species. Animals I read about when I was a kid, never dreaming that one day I would be lucky enough to see them with my own eyes and share the experience with our children !

Life here at Shelter Bay Marina has offered us many opportunities to satisfy our curiosity. Located on the North West Shore of the Panama canal, it was built on the land which once housed the US compound; where Americans who managed the canal lived until 1999, when the canal operation was passed on to the Panamanian government.  

An Osprey with its fresh catch on Rio Chagres.

The land and the buildings (houses, church, school and even a movie theatre) have been left abandoned and in many cases have been reclaimed by nature. The Shelter Bay Marina was built on that land, in the mangroves, to provide “shelter” for boats waiting to transit through the canal. 

Our daily walk from Shelter Bay Marina

The abandoned US compound, now reclaimed by the forrest

Forgotten road, old US compound 

On many mornings the kids and I got up early, before school, to walk the abandoned paved road which loops around the old grounds , surrounded by pristine untouched forrest, no, not forrest; but a veritable jungle !  As we walk we can often hear the ever growing  calls of the howler monkeys, the sound is somewhat familiar, as it pours through the trees, getting louder and louder, it sounds like a distant pack of barking dogs. Then we look up and see a bird flying in the distance, but there is something different about this bird....what is it  ?  “I’ve never seen a head shaped like this before, a little bit disproportioned, or is he carrying a large banana  ? No wait …. It’s  a TOUCAN !! And what are all those nosy birds up there behind us ? Quick, pass me the binoculars will you ? Oh look! Parrots !"  (Parakeets actually) 

Mark and the kids walking trough the old US compound

The lovely parakeets are as colourful as they are loud !

We have also caught a fleeting glimpse of a mammal, running on all fours, across the “street”. He is very shy, and we only manage to see him from far away, but thanks to a rather large zoom lens on the camera, we are later able to identify him as a “Nyeke”  (spelling unknown) . It is sort of like a smaller version of a capybara, with a slightly elongated snout, and looking also a bit like a hare, he is very quick !

The elusive Nyeke

Nyeke on the move

As we walk further along our daily route, we pass what is left of the buildings (stone staircases really are all that are left). We find ourselves at an intersection with the familiar street signs that are were left behind when the Americans went back home:  “Kennedy Loop”.

Old street signs in the abandoned US compound

This is where we see our first howler Monkeys, up in the trees high above us. They hang, nonchalantly from their toes or tails as they watch us, watching them. One gives us a good demonstration of his howl on the first day. It is a non threatening sound, the same repetitive bark, but it must have a purpose !  Mark gives us his interpretation as he translates for us :  “Mine” “Mine” and “Mine” Hm, I guess they might be announcing their territory to the other monkeys. We enjoy listening and watching. When the monkey finally stops his calls he makes his way across the high canopy branches, finishing off with a daredevil stunt; jumping from one tree to another, a mere fifty feet above our heads.

Our first look at the howler monkey

Howler monkey just hanging in there

Howler monkeys calling his tribe mates

We saw, heard, and smelled the monkeys, for 3 days in a row

During these early morning walks, every now and then we get to marvel at the Blue Morpho Butterflies whose wings “flutter” so gracefully and seemingly in slow motion, so much so  that they look like leaves gently falling from the trees above, except that they aren’t falling. Another species of butterflies, with wings like swallows, were migrating the first week we were here and we could see them everywhere, we even had one visit us onboard Amelie, until we carefully helped it find its way out again. 

Unfortunately, my camera does not do justice to the brilliance  of the Blue Morpho Butterfly

A Giant Swallowtail on our bathroom mirror

A great little zoo 

We visited a great little “zoo”, well not really a zoo, more like a rehabilitation centre for wild animals; where animals who have been injured or abandoned 'pets' can be cared for and, when possible, released back into the jungle. It is a wonderful place, brand new, (opened a few months ago) and run by a Canadian lady and her husband. We got a 'one on one' tour and saw coatis (similar to our raccoons in Canada), capybaras, a great variety of monkeys, an ocelot (a large wild cat), hedgehogs and some really neat birds !  Sadly there were no sloths when we visited, as the three had been released back into the wilderness only a few days before (we are happy for the sloths, just bummed we didn't get to see them !)  We still hope to see one of these slow motion animals, perhaps on Gatun Lake, later on our journey across Panama. 

When we told the manager of the centre about Meghan’s recent misadventure with the Spider monkey, she gently presented her to a baby of the same species. He had lost his mother (we think she was hit by a car) and had been taken in a few months before. He was swaddled in a blanket and very, very sweet. I was told it was ok to pet him on his head and so I did and then Meghan followed suit. It was very therapeutic to be around this little one and to make our “peace” with spider monkeys in this way. 

A Tiny Squirrel Monkey

Geoffrey's Tamarin, 

Meghan meets a baby spider monkey with the help of our Canadian Host.

Rio Chagres Hike : 

Together with our friends from SV Perry, we entered the dense jungle along side Rio Chagres. We didn’t see any monkeys, jaguars or sloths. This time the focus was on the more elusive, less cuddly, creatures such as scorpions, spiders, and caterpillars. We even heard the scurrying of a small lizard which they call the “Jesus Christ” Lizard, called this way because he runs so fast across the streams with his large feet that it looks like he is walking on water !  I managed to capture one with my zoom lens ! 

A scorpion 

Cool little caterpillar

The Jesus Christ Lizard who walks on water

S/V Perry entering Rio Chagres

The City of Colon: 

One cruiser who has lived here for a few years told us that, compared to Cartagena Colombia which is full of culture, historical buildings and beautiful architecture, Panama is more like the “Wild West”…. complete with ruins of historical forts (Portebello and San Fernando- which we thoroughly enjoyed visiting by the way) and a lot of wilderness all around !  We have been advised to be very careful when in the city of Colon, and not to walk around on our own as it can be dangerous. Panama city which is on the Pacific side, ( and which we have visited twice since our arrival) however is quite safe. It is a large and modern city with a very interesting skyline!  

While in Panama City a few days ago, and by necessity, we found the mall, which, I am sure could rival the largest malls of Florida. Walking through All Brooke Mall in search of prescription sunglasses and other items on our list, we felt like we had been transported back home and back to a world of modern commodities and every comfort we could imagine or even dream of. We only spent one day in the big city, having rented a car specifically in order to pick up our replacement outboard engine. Oh, did I forget to mention that our outboard engine was stolen in Colombia ?  Yes, that’s TWO now, in the space of 3 months !!! This time the thieves were pretty daring as they grabbed the outboard off the dinghy which had been hoisted up 6 feet along side the boat, and with Mark sleeping in the cockpit a few feet away ! I guess they really, really wanted that engine !  But that was back in early December and we are so over that now ! What was I talking about?  Oh yes, so we bought a new outboard engine to replace the old new outboard. We also bought a lock !  

The Panama Canal 

We are scheduled to cross the Canal on Sunday the 25th. That is only two days away ! There is lots to do. Everyboat needs to have enough linesmen (linespeople) onboard and an advisor to help with the process. Boats, large and small, cross the canal through the three sets of locks (one set on the Atlantic side and two closer to the Pacific)  and stopping at Gatun Lake for the night half way through. It takes about a day and a half to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific in this way.You are expected to feed (and house) your linesmen and so I will be making a big pot of spagetti bolognese to feed everyone on board and making sure everyone has a clean sheets to sleep on. 

When you are on a “small” boat like ours, you will probably be rafted to one or two other boats to go through the locks.The canal is wide enough for three sailboats side by side. You may be given an outside spot (ie alongside one of the towering walls) or an inside spot (ie between two other boats). We will not know until Sunday where our spot will be. We have rented lines ( you need very long lines) and tires for bumpers. We have our linesmen 'lined up' and we should be going in sometime Sunday evening. There are live webcams available, but I am told that a few of them might be out of order right now, but the Panama Canal has a link if you ever  want to have a look: It is impressive to watch some of the larger cargo ships go through. They take up the entire space in the locks ! We are excited to be going through this historical landmark (the canal turns 101 years old this year!) and to learn all about its history as we go. Of course we will share all this with you once we are on the other side ! 

Dog sleeping in Portebello

Colourful City Buses (retired school buses from USA which have been artfully decorated)

The Famed "Black Jesus" of Portebello


Mark walking along the wall of Portebello

Vultures in the morning garbage near the Marina 

What's left of the American Compound near Shelter Bay Marina 

Fort San Fernando

Thursday 15 January 2015

Tale of One Monkey

The Spider Monkey who bit Meghan

The monkey and his female companion after they had grabbed the bag of popcorn from me

Thursday Jan 15th 2015

What is it that draws us to the monkeys ?  For me, it’s their uncanny human-ness, their facial expressions and their quirky, often funny, behaviours. We recently had an experience which changed our perception of these primates, for better and for worse.

When we arrived at Isla Linton on January 9th after a full day’s sail from El Porvenir, all I had in mind was to finish school and that is was finally Friday ! Yay !!!  I had not done my homework about this new anchorage, had not read anything about it, all I knew was that it was a nice place to stop for the night, close to our next destination of Portobello. 

Soon after anchoring and closing the school books for the weekend, we spoke with our friends who said that they would be checking out the monkeys on the island and that 4 pm was the time when they usually came out, and that it was best to bring food or else they might become aggressive.

Again; I had not read about these monkeys before heading out to the island, and that was a mistake I would live to regret....  

You see, all of my previous experiences with monkeys- Yes, I have met a few monkeys in my time: in Bali, Java and in Grenada- had been mostly positive, they had been shy and tentative, docile, clean and gentle with the exception of one “aggressive” Macaque in Bali who had jumped on my back, pulled my back back off and rooted through it to steal my fruit, that was the worse I had ever encountered. 

So, off we went, camera in hand, to look for these monkeys. 

When we got to the old broken down dock on the island, we met three other people who were just getting out of their dinghy. The three then headed inland across a tiny field near an abandoned building (which, we later found out, had been a research and rehabilitation centre a few years ago). We followed them, and were just a few minutes behind them,  as they headed into the forrest. We waiting in the clearing for a little while but then we saw the group as they came back, bananas in hand, telling us the monkeys were not around today. They gave us the bananas and left. We then walked to where they had been, sat under a large tree and tried to entice the monkeys to come with several silly sounds and calls. I was looking up into the foliage, expecting to see a small Capuchin face, shyly approaching us from the high branches above, but alas, nothing came. By this point Matthew had already asked for a snack 2-3 times and so I offered him the popcorn, which he didn’t want, and having not seen fresh fruit in a while, he promptly wolfed down the banana (which he usually never eats !) So off we went, a little bit disappointed to not have seen the monkeys, and headed back towards the dinghy. 

We were only about 15 steps away from Mark who was waiting for us in the dinghy when all of a sudden we were startled by “two short and hairy humans”, walking towards us. They were walking upright,  with great confidence and purpose in our direction, like “they owned the place” (which, well, they do really !) We were so surprised to see these bipedal and rather large monkeys (these were no Capuchins!) that we immediately started to giggle. Then one of the monkeys walked straight up to Meg and I baring his teeth, hissing! He was blocking our path to the dinghy and coming towards us with his hands above his head.(Matthew was out of harms way, closer to Mark and the dinghy).

When we had first come to the island the three people who had come before us had been “armed” with bananas, as they told us (in broken english) they’d said that they came here often, and that it was best to feed the monkeys. Since I had no fruit on board (we had run out of fresh produce in our last day in Kuna Yala), I had brought along some popcorn, but this was mostly intended for “our” resident monkey: Matthew, the snack master! 

Remembering that he probably wanted food, and since we no longer had any bananas, I dropped the bag of popcorn for him, he did not take it, he just started towards us again while his “wife”, the gentler, calmer female, grabbed the popcorn bag and walked away like nothing unusual was happening. 

So now the male was still coming towards us acting aggressively and we did not have anything to scare him off with, no back pack, no sticks nothing and we had no more food to offer him ! So I just kept Meg near me and stayed calm trying to assess how we would get by him when Meghan, trying to protect herself, or appease the monkey, put her hands down towards his outstretched hands and then it happened, so quickly, I could not have stopped it, the monkey grabbed her right hand, pulled it to its mouth,and as quick as lightning, bit her ! I can’t remember if I screamed, I know Meg did, and I called Mark over urgently : “He bit her, he bit her HARD!” In a flash, Mark was out of the dinghy and coming after the monkey who quickly dashed up a palm tree, still hissing and baring his teeth. Mark was clearly the Alpha male, throwing coconuts at the monkey and yelling at him to keep him away. We quickly got back in the dinghy and hurried on board to assess and clean her wound. 

We were all devastated and traumatized by the apparent seriousness  of the wound. It seemed so big, so deep, especially as seen through the eyes of a parent. I could hardly look at it, feeling sick for Meghan. Nevertheless, keeping a brave face for her sake,  I pulled out the medical kit, quickly read the ships medical book on animal bites and flushed out the wound with water and iodine solution and then covered it up.

While I was helping Meg, Mark quickly took the dinghy over to a nearby boat he recognized as people we had met in Cartagena. He went to ask them if they knew where the nearest medical clinic was. We were incredibly lucky, as these cruisers (Richard and Marina) had been moored at this bay for three years, they knew the area and had a car so they offered to drive us. It took about 1 1/2 hour before we finally made it to the city of Colon, as all the closer clinics were closed. We were grateful to have found a private clinic and to have Marina (who is originally from Colombia) there as a translator. This was especially crucial when the time came for the nurse to explain to me how to properly inject Meghan with the antibiotics ( Meg was prescribed intra muscular antibiotics for 5 days) !

 Meghan was incredibly brave as she received the 8 stitches on her right hand as well as the first of her 5 daily injections. Matthew was a real hero too, waiting patiently and quietly in a chair, until 9 pm, without dinner or snacks !

After running around to three different pharmacies to find the prescribed antibiotics (it was Friday night AND a public holiday so most were closed), and after stopping for a quick bite to eat at a local fast food chicken place, Richard and Marina drove us back to the anchorage. We were back on board, thoroughly exhausted and drained by midnight. 

The next morning, we raised anchor early, said a quick goodbye to our friends on SV Perry and sailed to Colon, to be closer to medical facilities, to look for the rabies vaccination (which we had not been able to procure for her the night before) and to join our friends from SV Mandala who had been contacted via email about the news of Meg’s bite. Both Simon and MarieNoelle on board are ER doctors from Canada. 

When we arrived at the Shelter Bay Marina (in Colon) at noon, we had quite a welcoming committee:The manager of the marina who had a taxi waiting for us to bring us to a clinic and our friends from SV Mandala ! It was a relief to speak with them as they offered us advice and comfort. They had done some research on our behalf and were trying to help us determine if rabies was a concern in the monkey population of Panama.Turns out that this information is not easy to get, as there does not seem to be a national data bank on the populations in this country. Our friends did explain to us that the rabies vaccine does not come without risk (there are some potentially very serious side effects), and for that reason doctors in Canada are reluctant to administer it without good reason. Plus we were told that there were a couple of versions of the vaccine and that we would have to be vigilant about which one was given, if at all, here in Panama. 

So what seemed to be an obvious choice at first: ie absolutely give Meghan the rabies vaccine,  suddenly became a more difficult choice. Plus, we found that both medical clinics where we had gone did not have it. The only place where it was rumored to be was at the public hospital, where we were told not to go (by two sources, one being the actual clinic doctor), because it was “too dangerous”.

 Saturday night on board Amelie IV was a difficult one. We were all anxious, how could we be sure to make the right decision ? It was agonizing to see Meghan so worried and asking if she was going to die of rabies or suffer from the rabies vaccine complications, what were we going to do ?  We spent a better part of the night talking, and going around in circles, knowing that time was ticking  away (we were told we had about 5 days to give her the vaccine!) We searched the internet to find out all we could, and came across a story (blog) of an American lady who had been bitten by a monkey in Central Panama who had tried to find the vaccine in Panama City without success either and she had to go back to the States to get it. 

Throughout this stressful time one thing we were extremely grateful for was the help that our friends from SV Mandala gave us; the care and advice, listening to our concerns, answering our (many) questions and helping with the antibiotic injections ! MarieNoelle even patiently coached me on how to give Meghan the injections the first two times. I can tell you all, that I was not born to be a nurse!  On the first try I even pricked my own finger on the needle and had to get a bandaid for me before I could even attend to Meghan, what a dork ! 

Meg's hand a few days later

MC getting ready to give Meg her antibiotic shot

It was about 4 am on Sunday when I was woken by Mark. He had been up evaluating the situation over and over in his mind and had come up with a plan; Meg and I were to board a plane to Canada to get back to Calgary where we could safely get the rabies shot, and get her hand looked after in case of further complication or infection. 

We called our former Calgary doctor (a Saint) at 5:30 am and asked for his help. He readily accepted and was going to call the infectious disease centre when they opened at 9am. We found some airline tickets which would take us from Panama to Toronto then on to Calgary to get us there by 10 am on Monday.We would ask friends to meet us at the airport with warm clothe ( we don’t currently own boots, toques or winter coats!) and have a car rental to take us to the hospital from the airport. 

We had been told by Simon that the series of rabies shots and serum were usually administered over a period of about 12-14 days. This would bring us to the end of January at least. We had been planning on crossing the canal on the third week of January (before the ARC boats arrived for their slots where they have priority). This newest plan would put that time frame in jeopardy. The cost of the trip home and the aftercare needed would probably put our trip to Peru in Jeopardy, but none of that mattered, all we cared about was to get Meghan the best possible help and we would not let any of that stand in the way. 

So we quickly packed. I found as many long sleeve shirts as I could, found some running shoes and ankle socks which would have to do in lieu of winter boots until we found some. I packed up Meghan school (took pictures of her text book pages to bring along with me) and grabbed the toothbrushes. We got in the taxi, feeling more than a little bit shell-shocked at what we were about to do, leaving Matthew and Mark behind on Amelie, with so many unknowns ahead of us, we were not able to enjoy the lush green scenery and the historic canal’s landmarks that rushed passed us through the windows of the taxi, on the two hour drive to Panama City. 

We were not idle on that long taxi ride though. Mark was on the Satellite phone with our Calgary doctor getting updates from him on what we were to go through on our arrival there. We also had put out a call to our friends on SV Perry and Richard and Marina who were all still at the anchorage where the monkey bite had occurred and asked them to try to find out from the local community if anyone knew anything about the monkeys on the island. Whether they were sick, if any had died recently and if this had happened before. We simply had to find out if this monkey was rabid ! It seemed like an impossible task, but we thought we’d give it a try nevertheless. 

The whole way towards the airport we went back and forth; would we get on the plane or not ? There was the question about the rabies vaccine and the autoimmune disease that it could trigger, was the shot necessary ? If not, why would we go to Canada in the first place ?  But , again we could not get past the fact that rabies is 100% fatal, and we would never risk Meg’s life for an unknown, so round and round we went, until Meghan, who always surprises me in her young wisdom, asked us each this question: "If it was you who had been bitten, would you be getting on that plane ?"  This led Mark and I to pause, for a few seconds: we had to be honest:  No, we would not. But then we explained that the standards were not the same for us as they were for our children. That even a tiny risk of rabies was simply unacceptable to us for any child of ours !

By the time we arrived at the Panama International Airport we had found out that: The Infectious disease centre would not rule on any decision on administering the rabies vaccine until they opened their doors on Monday morning, and by that time Meghan and I would already be at the Children’s Hospital Emergency waiting room. We also found out from our 'scouts' that the monkeys on the island did not look sick, that there had not been any suspicious deaths of monkeys on that island and that other people had been bitten by monkeys there before but without any news on whether there had been concern about rabies, but that none of the locals had heard of rabies  or vampire bats (who could have rabies and bitten the monkeys) in the area. 

I am not sure what it was, perhaps it was a combination of the many things I had heard over the last 48 hours; the research Simon had done, what we had read on the internet, what the two private clinic doctors had suggested (that the monkeys most probably did not have rabies, without any guarantees mind you), what our friends on SV Perry had found out about these particular monkeys, or maybe it was it divine interventions, I don't know, but all of a sudden I felt a complete calm and confidence that the monkey who had bitten Meghan did not have rabies. 

It is also important to tell you that we had been assured by Simon and MarieNoelle, that very morning, that Meghan’s wound was looking good and that with the excellent antibiotic which had been prescribed to her, they felt confident that her injury could be handled very well from here with their help and guidance. 

So, did we get on that plane ? No, we did not. We all agreed that from the information gathered in the last hour about the monkeys, that there was no risk of rabies (There is never 0% risk with any bite, but we felt that the risk was very close to zero). We all agreed that we were comfortable with that decision and we promptly went in to the airport to cancel our flights (which were fully refundable, with only a small cancellation fee !) We grabbed some lunch and then got back into the taxi (same taxi who drove us down!) It was funny to see the surprised look on the drivers’ face-as he had wished us a “safe trip” only an hour before ! (I don’t think he spoke much english as he had not understood the 2 hour long “ Are we going to Canada or not ?” discussion the whole way down). 

We arrived back home, at the Shelter Bay Marina, after our 4 hour round trip to Panama City Airport and back, feeling tired but relieved. But the best part was still to come: 

As we walked back towards the boat we met a cruising couple who asked us about Meghan’s hand. When we told them our story they told us that they knew all about the Linton Island Monkeys, and they knew them very well. They described to us how these monkeys had been abandoned on the island after the rehabilitation and research centre had shut down. They told us that these spider monkeys were often prey to locals coming over to tease and harass them. They told us how one of these monkeys had actually had three of its fingers cut off by a man with a machete. How a friend of theirs had met this monkey shortly after this atrocity had taken place and how the monkey had walked up to him, turning his face away (in shame or fear) and showing him his bloody hand to ask for assistance. Such a human way to ask for help !  

More importantly though, they told us that there were only three monkeys on this island. The larger ‘devilish looking’ monkey with the fingers cut off, and the smaller male and female couple whom we ‘met’. They told us that a friend of theirs had also been bitten by the same male who had bitten Meghan, he is well known “as the aggressive one”. He had bitten her on her face, below her eye and that she was lucky to still have an eye !  This lady, their friend, had never received the rabies vaccine and, other than a nasty scar, was doing fine !  The relief we felt upon hearing this news was tremendous !  It was exactly the sort of news we were wishing for but thought was impossible to expect !  Upon hearing this, we also felt grateful, that Meghan had not suffered a more serious wound, like the one their friend experienced. 

By the time we went to bed on Sunday night, we felt completely comforted, finally, after one of the most difficult 48 hours we have faced together as a family, in a long time. 

We promise you all that the next time we meet a monkey, it will be with a renewed sense of caution and respect. The animal who bit Meghan had suffered at the hands of humans, he was also just protecting his territory. We are sad to have heard of cruelty towards these beautiful distant relatives of ours, but we are also wiser to keep our distances and observe them from afar (armed with a zoom lens!).

And so our tale ends, and it is a happy ending; with Meghan’s hand well on its way to healing and our family recovering and brought closer together after such a scare. We are, once again, filled with gratitude for all of our blessings and the many who have helped us. We have been so very lucky ! 

P.S.  For any cruisers heading out to Isla Linton (Puerto Lindo) near Portobello off the coast of Panama: Please DO NOT get out of your dinghy to see the spider monkeys. If you wait in your dinghy, we have been told that the monkeys will come to you, but that they will not go into the water. You can watch them and see them up close from the safety of your dinghy ! 

Monday 12 January 2015

Kuna Yala; Part 'Dos' !

Crystal clear waters of the Kuna Yalas

Monday January 12th 2015

Is there anyone out there ?! Woah, I feel like I’ve just gone through some sort of detox, this is the first time we have had internet in over 3 weeks !  So I am hoping that the world outside our tiny bubble has not imploded and that there is still life out there, able to read this blog.

She’s-a-blowing !  

For the last 7 days, the winds have averaged 25 knots gusting to high 30s with big swell,  and in an area such as Kuna Yala where the reefs abound,it is not ideal for sailing, so we took shelter in a bay in the East Lemon Cays. Judging by the amount of other boats here, many had the same idea! Today we sailed to El Porvenir to check into Panama officially-even if we have been in Panama waters since Dec 18th! They aren’t too worried about delays here. 

We have seen as many as three boats which ended up on reefs in our 3 weeks in Kuna Yala. The charts are not accurate and using daylight and eyeballs in most important here !

One of the 3 wrecks that we have seen here. This one happened 2 weeks before our arrival.

Off the beaten track:

For the last month we have been living without much outside influence. This, like most things, has its share of good sides and bad sides; Good: We spent more time reading,getting interested in old and new hobbies (cross-stitching, learning to crochet with plastic bags!) and breathing more deeply! Bad : We missed communicating with loved ones and our blogs have been delayed/piling up. Good: I realized today when we checked into immigration that, without even noticing, we had not worn shoes in over a week. I had to dig them out!  Bad: We may never want to wear shoes again (especially Matthew) !  

Slowly becoming amish. I have cooked home made dinners for 28 days in a row now, somebody give me a medal !!!  I know, I know, you guys probably do that all the time, but do you do it without going to the grocery store ??? And is your fridge less than 9 cubic feet ? We had two opportunities in these 27 days, to get a few vegetables and fruit from the Kunas, oh, and we bought a fish and some lobsters from them too one day, but that’s still pretty good right ?!  I know this may sound silly, especially since for many cruisers this is hardly an achievement, some go for much longer (and some without any refrigeration on board!)  but for ME it is an achievement to be proud of ! 

Meghan learns how to clean a lobster ! 

Usually we eat out about once a week to give me a break, but since there really is no where for us to eat out, this has given us an opportunity to test our ability to plan meals and store food. The last time we went grocery shopping was in Cartagena, with the exception of the small provisioning we did as mentioned above.I am happy to say that, (in my opinion) we have eaten well, without feeling like we have had to “go without” anything. We have had all the essentials covered and we have even enjoyed quite a few treats too! Being able to make dinners and feed two growing teenagers with only what we have stored on board,and with what we have caught in the ocean or what we have baked with our own hands sometimes feels a little “Amish” but it is also extremely satisfying to me and,has been terrific for the budget too!

Living on a shoestring :

It’s true ! Sailing in the Eastern Caribbean in the first 8 months had not been cheap, not only because of our boat expenses but also we found that daily living expenses were high (groceries and such). But since we have arrived in the Western Caribbean and Central America our spending has decreased dramatically which is a welcome change !

Making our way across this beautiful Archipelago:

The more we travel Westwards through these idyllic islands of KunaYala, the more beauty we seem to find. There are so many perfect little “deserted Islands” to go to “get lost” on, that if we were to stop at each one, we would be here for months and months !  

Recently we have been to Coco Banderos, Green Island, Holandes Cays and Lemon Cays and these have all been particularly picturesque places to see. We have been hanging out with our fellow cruising families, and every day we seem to meet a new family. We now have a large group who gather daily for an afternoon early evening at the beach. The kids play, dig holes, ride their boogie boards and enjoy the natural settings, the “grown ups” chat and swap sailing stories, share plans and ideas and have a few laughs. After spending Christmas in Coco Banderos (see last blog entry) and a quick stop in Nargana village, then it was on to Green Island, a short day sail away. 

Sharks, Crocodiles and... Sharks , oh my !

As soon as we set our anchor down in Green Island on December 28th we were immediately greeted, as usual, by Kuna indians in their dug out canoes, offering us everything from Live Lobster, Crabs, or hand crafted *Molas. (*See last Blog entry). Soon after the Kuna greeting party left, our friend Gonzalo (SV Kazaio) showed up to welcome us 'to the neighbourhood' and to give us the ‘low down’ on this newest anchorage. He told us that a 4 meter crocodile was spotted swimming in between the islands, that some divers had seen a Tiger Shark (outside the reef) and that others had witnesses a Bull Shark eating a ray (Geez !), and all this in close vicinity to where we had anchored !  Luckily the water is quite clear around our boat and we are told that a crocodile attacks here are very rare, but still, we were feeling nervous about letting Matthew swim for long periods of time, we supervise and keep watch when ever he is in the water. We go to the beach often, so that the kids can swim, together in the knee deep sandy and clear water in front of us as we scan the deeper waters for what may be lurking below.

A small but typical deserted Island of Kuna Yala, over flowing with cocnut trees ! 

The tiny Kuna village on the East side of the Island.

After Green Island we then went to Hollandes Cays (West) one of the furthest (off shore) Islands in Kuna Yala. We found yet another beautiful beach on a semi deserted Island (there was a tiny and lovely Kuna Village situated on the East side) and some great snorkelling too! It is nice to see a healthy reef with many varieties of live coral and NO CROCODILES ! We had a delightful New Years Eve gathering on the beach with our cruising friends, complete with an enormous bonfire, compliments of Gonzalo (S/V Kazaio).

Still heading West, our next anchorage was in the Lemon Cays where we found the largest gathering of cruising boats yet.There are more crowds here, probably because we are getting closer to civilization, and because it is so darn pretty here ! It’s hard to believe there is still more beauty to be seen, after all those other gorgeous islands where we’ve been in the last two weeks, but Kuna Yala keeps on delivering the pristine, beautiful islands and reefs !

On the horizon: We are headed towards Portebello tomorrow which might sounds like an exotic type of mushroom , but its actually a historic port town on the coast of Panama where the infamous Captain Morgan had looted and pillaged and where most of the stolen inca gold and silver came through before being shipped off to Spain. It is a town which we are pretty excited to visit !  The wind is still strong and we have seen quite a few boats in the last two days who weren't so lucky and hit the many reefs around here, we will be careful ! As for our plans for the remaining cruising year: Amelie IV is headed west towards the main coast of Panama and its famous canal by the end of January, and after this, who knows ? Perhaps down South, to the West coast of South America and to Ecuador and Peru ???  We are not sure. All we know for now, is that this crazy journey continues...