Happy New Year from Panama!

Marina Carenero
Bocas del Toro, Panama 

Whoever thought the Pedersens and cats would spend a New Year’s Eve in west of nowhere, Panama!

We arrived here on schedule on the morning of December 20, after a good passage down from Albuquerque Cay. The toughest part of the trip was getting OUT of Albuquerque Cay, given it’s a reef system about 7 miles long and about 3 miles wide, full of coral heads and water so clear you can tell the sex of the crabs on the bottom. It was quite the diaper changer getting out, due to a good breeze and wind chop that distorted our ability to read the water – Jan on the foredeck, Ole at the depth sounder in the pilothouse, with walkie-talkies – it took us nearly an hour to zigzag out with a few narrow misses of coral pillars that arose out of nowhere. 

The passage down was pleasant, especially in the morning as we approached the entrance to Bocas del Toro. There is quite a long fetch, and the wave height increased to probably 6-9 feet – but with a light wind, all we experienced was looooonnnnngggg sloooooowwww rollers that allowed us to just surf pleasantly through the entrance between Isla Carenero and Isla Bastimentos. Waiting for us at Marina Carenero were Kathy and Neil, as well as Mack and the marina boys who helped us tie up. The Port Captain and officials came over to clear us in, collect their beer and fees – then we had to go over to town to finish three more steps in the clearing-in cha-cha, visiting the bank (modern! Air-conditioned!) to buy a stamp, deliver the stamp and our passports to the immigration guy at the airport who licked the stamp and explained our length of stay, then the Port Captain, who typed up the document he had handwritten while aboard. Final tally: $160 and 5 beers. Not bad. But then there are additional fees and stamps for the cats, which the agriculture guy will take care of.

Christmas Eve we hosted our annual glogg party, complete with krumkake, pepparkake, and fatigmann, for all the folks at the marina. We had 15 people aboard until about 5:00 – at which time we kicked everybody off and Ole started cooking our untraditional rib dinner with a slab of pork short ribs we carried from Guatemala (no fat, not much meat) and some packages of red and green sauerkraut we brought back from Norway. The tragedy was that we had to settle for Grey Goose vodka, having forgotten to pack the aquavit aboard this year. But it was Christmas nonetheless.

Neil and Kathy scored a leg of lamb from the gourmet grocery in town and were kind enough to invite us to share dinner Christmas Day with their friends Craig and Nicky from the UK – and, since Mack was alone for Christmas, he came along too (contributing fresh rosemary from his herb garden and a great selection of cheese). Craig and Nicky contributed a no-kidding plum pudding and traditional crackers from England and the evening was full of good wine, good company and lots of laughs, just like Christmas ought to be.

The weather hasn’t been all that great, with lots of equatorial rain falling nearly every day. Ole has been working like a champ installing the new water heater we ordered before we left Guatemala, which finally arrived two days after Christmas (only 10 days late). It’s a good thing, too, since at 20 years old, it’s probably the next thing that would have failed. When he hauled it up out of the engine room the entire bottom was rusted.

Joined up with Neil, Kathy, and Craig and Nicky to form a trivia team – The Intrepid International Idiot Savant Society – to participate in a trivia contest over at Bocas Yacht Club to benefit a fund for school children. It costs each child about $50 before they can even attend school – a uniform (with shoes) is required, plus a backpack and miscellaneous school supplies. The contest consisted of 30 questions put together by Geoffrey of Panache (an ex RAF-type), and the fundraising was done by passing a wizard’s hat. — Look about a third of the way down this link —About 10 teams participated, and we won, answering 22.5 out of 30 questions correctly (including naming all 7 dwarves, and no, Sneaky and Sleazy are NOT two of them), in spite of torrential rain and blowing wind that required us to share umbrellas to cover the soggy answer sheets. Our grand prize was a half gallon of rum (yo ho ho) and an article about Geoffrey in the Bocas Breeze.

We’ve explored a few restaurants in town, and found the food a bit more sophisticated than in Guatemala. With so many ex-pats here in Bocas there are plenty to choose from. There are two good Chinese hardware stores and three good groceries that seem to have everything we need. When those fail, there’s the Super Gourmet, run by an expat who knows about fresh produce, good cheese and deli meat – as well as American and English specialty food.  Rumor has it that someone is actually opening a pet store in the next few months, so we almost have all the comforts of home.

The marina seems to have everything we’ll need for a long stay – good laundry, showers, and nice community of cruisers. One drawback though is the thickness of the cloud of “chitras” (no-see-ums or sand-fleas) that show up every morning at sunrise and every evening just before sunset. They don’t really bite like mosquitoes – they spit a little drop of acid on the skin to break it up for them to eat. And the bites feel like little pin-pricks of acid. Nothing for them except lots of deet and a local soap that seems to keep them at bay. Thank goodness they haven’t penetrated downstairs to the bedroom!

We’re going to celebrate New Year’s Eve next door at a little restaurant over the water called the Cosmic Crab – for $20 we’ll get filet mignon, Caesar salad, dessert, entertainment – and we can bring our own wine! Should be fun.

Happy New Year to All from Emma Jo!

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