My Favorite Place

5/28/2017
On Thursday morning Max, Kyle, and myself rowed ashore around 8am. Securing the dinghy to the dinghy dock at Banana Bay Marina we grabbed some hot coffee and walked the 15 minutes to the ferry dock. Buying tickets to Puerto Jimenez we waited for the small ferry to arrive. The ferry was rather fast, traveling about 25 knots and was a small boat with windows that opened, allowing the fast moving air to flow through the boat. It took about 30 minutes and was a pleasant ride. Arriving in Puerto Jimenez we walked around attempting to find the “micro bus” that would drive us the 40 minutes to Doz Brazos, where we could find the trail leading to our hostel. After asking a few locals we found ourselves waiting outside a hardware store, not completely sure we were in the right place. At 11am a woman in a small bus, more like a van, helped us onto the bus with some locals and a few babies. Five minutes into the ride the paved road ended and the remainder of the journey was on a dirt road with an endless amount of pot holes, large rocks, and small dips in the road. The surrounding land was absolutely beautiful. Small colorful homes, lots of children out playing, people on mopeds, and just this feeling of joy, happiness, and community. Despite the houses being small and open aired, I received a feeling of community and of love of their surroundings by the locals here more than anywhere I’ve been in the US. It was quite refreshing. Around noon we arrived at the office of the Bolita Hostel we had reservations at. A nice woman named Val showed us a map, gave us directions, and sent us on our way. This hostel is literally in the rainforest, and it takes about 30-40 minutes to hike up to it. It was not an easy hike, especially since we have been sitting on the boat for so long. But it was absolutely stunning. There was a small river crossing, little waterfalls lining the lower part of the trail, and steep inclines that lifted us up into the canopy. A half hour or so later we arrived at the Bolita Hostel. We were greeted by colorful hammocks, an open air kitchen and living area, and 3 volunteers. After meeting the owner, Ron, we went up to our rooms- Kyle and I had a small room offset from the dorm beds. It was so amazing- the rooms were completely open air, with a nice bug/critter net snugly around the bed. With our stuff unpacked and our beds made, we headed off to spend the next 4 hours hiking.

 The hostel has 16km of self-guided trails that are well marked and maintained. We headed towards the two sets of waterfalls that allow swimming. It took about an hour to get there and the hiking was like none I have ever done before. Walking, quite literally, along the edge of the canopy we saw colorful birds, tons of monkeys, and the most luscious greenery. We spent a couple hours swimming in the waterfalls, walking along the river bank, hiking up small creeks leading to waterfalls, and walking through the rainforest. On our way back to the hostel it began to rain, brining a magnificent smell. It’s pretty cool hiking in the rain in the canopy of trees because even though it was pouring, we were hardly getting wet because the trees above us were so thick.

 That night we made the pasta we had brought with us in the kitchen the hostel provides. After dinner I sat on our bed listening to the rain land on the tin roof above us. Looking out over the rainforest and listening to howler monkeys and tropical birds I smiled from deep within. I stayed up fairly late, just enjoying the feeling of total relaxation and happiness that my surroundings brought. The following morning Kyle and I woke early and went on a hike while Max slept. We then made some lunch and hiked a bit more before heading back down to Dos Brazos to catch a bus back to the ferry leading to Golfito. Had we not have already had our Zarpe (a document allowing the boat to leave port in Golfito) with my name on it, I was going to stay at the hostel and meet Kyle in San Jose next week. That’s how much I loved it  haha. But knowing I couldn’t do that due to customs and immigration, I said my thank you’s for being able to experience such a serene and special place, even if just for a night. Thank you Bolita Hostel!

 As I write this I am sipping on hot coffee over looking the marina and High Climber out on the mooring ball. Max is taking care of a few last minute things, and then we are going to top off our water tanks and head out to the Pacific. In two days we will arrive in Nicoya Bay where we will spend a night or two at anchor to rest and find some snorkeling. From Nicoya we will take two more days to get to Playa Flamingo, where Kyle and I will pack our bags and take a bus into San Jose to start the next part of our journey. Onward!

Isle de Coiba, Panama to Golfito, Costa Rica!

5/27/2017 

The trip from the Pearl Islands to Isle de Coiba took about 36 hours. It was an easy passage, as due to a lack of wind we motor sailed most of the journey. Therefore we could use the autopilot, so being on shift meant just hanging out on deck, reading, walking around, and checking the course and surroundings from time to time. The sea state was fairly calm, although the Pacific seems to constantly have large rolling waves. But due to their size, they are spread out and not as noticeable, despite being much larger than the Atlantic. Not sure how to explain it, but its definitely a different feel than the Caribbean side. Being that we only had a short passage, we stayed fairly close to land and most of the journey could see land off to our starboard side. I enjoyed being able to see the land- tall mountains with their peaks covered in clouds and small islands scattered along the shore. The morning we arrived to Coiba Kyle was on shift and I was on deck with him. It was a quiet morning and hundreds of dolphins, about 4 or 5 pods of 20-30 dolphin, were all around us. These were dolphin I had never seen before, not sure the official name, but we called them spotted dolphins as they were covered in white and gray speckles! Their top fin was much smaller than a bottlenose dolphin as well. They swam so close to the bow and the ones in the distance would jump and do flips in the air. It was a wonderful greeting to a beautiful island. Coiba is a preserve so there is no development other than the ranger station, and some old prison ruins. Approaching the island we could instantly hear the loud howler monkeys from the shore. Waking Max and Itai we chose a spot to anchor and dropped the hook.

 We spent that day exploring the beautiful beach. Jungle lined the beach where we saw a couple monkeys, lots of birds, and climbed trees to get fresh coconut water. At low tide Kyle and I found a tidal pool under a cliff and cautiously walked across the rocks, marveling at the thousands of water snails covering the rocks. Little crabs with one huge claw scurried away from us as we walked the rocks. I loved how untouched the beach felt, other than our footprints, there seemed to be no evidence that anyone else had ever been there. And as soon as it rained, there would be no evidence we had ever been there.

 The following morning we motored 3 miles to the other shore where we could see ruins from an old prison. The history of the island and the prison that was there up until a little over a decade ago is rather interesting, learn more here: https://the-line-up.com/coiba-island-prison/ Itai wanted to stay aboard and fish, so Max, Kyle, and myself rowed over to the shore hoping to explore the prison ruins. We were greeted by a Panamanian Military man who was nice and told us we couldn’t explore the ruins ourselves, but then called two younger guys over who weren’t dressed in uniforms but carried guns, to guide us around the ruins. For the next hour or so we wandered around the old prison and attempted to have conversations in our broken Spanish and their little bit of English. They were both very kind and we ended up picking mangos, these other really yummy red fruits, and drinking fresh water coming from a stream. I didn’t get many photos, but we were able to take a few at the end with the nice guys who guided us around. Waving goodbye we rowed back to the boat.

 The plan was to leave around midnight that night so that we would get to Costa Rica during daylight. So I went to bed rather early in hopes of getting some rest before my 11pm shift. A storm rolled through around 5pm and brought loud thunders, amazing lightning, and lots of rain. I didn’t want to be on shift during the storm, so Max agreed to leave a little later, and around 2am Max and Itai lifted anchor and headed out in the tail end of the storm. By the time I was on shift next the rain had gone and the sky was clear. Again, we had little wind, so we motor sailed most of the way to Costa Rica. Halfway there, the engine shut down and there wasn’t a stitch of wind. While Max trouble shot the engine, we bobbed in the rolling waves. He found the problem to be dirty fuel, which caused the fuel filters to clog. Fortunately he had all the spares needed, and within an hour and some hot, smelly work on Max’s part the engine started again. This happened again, about 15 hours later, and he had to change the filters again. We found out that somewhere along the way we must have picked up dirty fuel. I was very thankful that Max was not only able to fix the engine underway, but had enough spares to get us safely to Costa Rica. Somewhere between the engine troubles our fresh water pump broke as well (clearly High Climber has traveled over 2,000 miles!) and again, Max had spares and Kyle was able to install a new water pump giving us access to our fresh water again. Other than those mishaps which were all quickly fixed, the journey was rather uneventful.

 At 11pm Max woke me for my shift as we were just entering into the channel leading into Costa Rica. Although it was dark, I could make out the shapes of the mountains surrounding us as I guided us between the light houses marking the entrance. My shift was enjoyable as the stars were vivid and plenty above me. When I awoke around 7am we were just entering into the bay leading to Golfito. By 10am we were ashore, checked in, and enjoying free coffee, wifi, and showers at Banana Bay Marina.

 

Lori a sea turtle who has been visiting Banana Bay Marina for 10 years and loves bananas! 
**We have been in Golfito, Costa Rica now for about 6 days. Itai left to head back to Isreal on Tuesday and Max, Kyle, and I took an awesome excursion to the rainforest which I’ll write about later. So far this is my favorite country we have visited and I am looking forward to spending the next 3 weeks in Costa Rica!**

The Pearl Islands, Panama

5/15/2017This morning I awoke to the sound of High Climber’s engine starting. While rubbing my sleepy eyes I peered out of the hatch above me and watched as the clouds moved by quickly, or more so as we moved quickly by the clouds. “I guess we’re off!” Kyle said enthusiastically. I laid in bed another half hour or so before grabbing a cup of coffee and heading on deck. We were a couple miles away from the Balboa Yacht Club and headed towards the Pacific. Having little to no wind we motor sailed with the main sail up, allowing us to travel at a consistent 6 knots. I cooked breakfast, eggs and potatoes, while everyone else hung out on deck. The auto pilot is working now, so no one has to steer the boat- it’s pretty miraculous- everyone just doing their own thing, keeping an eye on our surroundings but otherwise not having to touch the wheel. Knowing that we would be arriving to the Pearl Islands around 4:00pm we all spent most of the day on deck. I lounged in the sun on my yoga mat, listening to music and drifting in and out of sleep. Itai and Max were busy setting up fishing poles, and within an hour caught a medium-sized tuna. For those of you who don’t know, I have a rather hard time with the idea of fishing- killing animals, even bugs, really upsets me. I had to prepare myself for this because I knew that everyone on board was excited about fishing. So I stayed strong and watched as Itai and Kyle brought the fish on deck. I then asked Itai to explain to me how he was going to kill it, and watched as it happened. I accidentally named it haha.. which didn’t help me feel any less sad for the fish. Anyway, 30 minutes later they were eating pan-seared tuna with some seasoning and soy sauce. I had a delicious veggie sandwich. With Panama City behind us small islands began to show on the distant shore. The water was calm and we all giggled as sting rays jumped 5 feet in the air, doing multiple flips on their way back down into the water. None of us had ever seen anything like it.

 Around 3:30pm we began approaching the island where we planned to anchor for the night, Isle Pedro Gonzalez. The luscious green of the trees and jungle lining the shoreline was a stark contract to the white sand below. The sun was shining, causing the water to glisten, a strong smell of flowers and jungle filled our noses, and Itai had just caught another fish- this time a mackerel- which made the guys really excited. For a few moments there it seemed as though there was nothing else in the world but our pristine surroundings. Arriving at our anchorage we got rather close to shore before dropping the anchor, and before the engine was even shut off I was swimming in the water. Kyle climbed up the mast and jumped off the spreaders while Itai cleaned the fish and prepared it for dinner. This time I cried- I tried so hard not to, but I just can’t help it- I feel so bad for the little fish, swimming so happily in the beautiful ocean and then just being yanked out and killed. Haha I was also laughing at myself while tears filled my eyes because I know it’s a bit ridiculous. Oh well, I’ll be having pasta for dinner. 🙂

 After swimming for a while and taking fresh water “showers” with our sprayer we rowed ashore to the beach. Max, Kyle, and Itai immediately went searching for coconuts- Max getting motivated enough to scale up a palm tree and knocked down 6 or 7. I was rather impressed with how quickly he got up the tall tree. We wandered the beach a bit more before hopping back in the dinghy and rowing along the shoreline to check out a rocky, tree covered small cliff face. Four people in a small dinghy is definitely not the most stable, but not once have we flipped! As I write this I am sitting the v-berth taking some time to myself. Kyle just cracked open a coconut and I am munching on the most delicious fresh coconut pieces and sipping on some coconut water. Itai is busy fishing, and Max is lighting up the grill to cook the fish that was caught earlier and has been marinating. The sun is setting below some thunderheads causing the sky to erupt into the colors of fire. A bird of some sort is singing a rather interesting song, causing me to laugh. This entire journey hasn’t been super easy for me, a lot of different factors have made it so I’ve been having a hard time adjusting, but right now at this moment- all the pieces are falling into place and I am feeling filled with joy and gratitude at where I am. Thank you to the universe for providing such a brilliant life and planet. Cheers!  


5/17/2017

The water is a turquoise green, a new color now that the sun is out. There is a slight breeze, so that in the shade the temperature is just right. Max is doing yoga on the foredeck, Itai and Kyle are getting ready to go spear fishing, and I am sipping on some warm coffee, sitting cross-legged on the cabin. We are surrounded, almost 360 degrees, minus a small opening that we entered through, by cliffs, black sand beaches, jungle, and rock covered beaches. The rain that was here this morning has dissipated, the sun bursting through and causing the full trees to glow in a luscious green.

Yesterday after a lazy morning at Isle Pedro Gonzalez, we pulled anchor in the rain, not turning on the engine, using the sails to quietly glide away from the anchorage. Once the rain stopped, so did the wind so the last couple hours were under engine, but it was a beautiful cruise regardless. Around 2pm we spotted the small opening to the cove we planned to spend the night in on Isle del Rey, the largest of the Pearl Islands. I found myself with my mouth hanging open in awe at where we were headed. Sticking to the south side of the opening to avoid rocks, we motored into a small cove, and pulled almost up to the beach. The water here is so deep that in order to find good anchoring we have to pull really close to shore, which is rather different than anything in the Caribbean, and is a bit exciting. Within 30 minutes Kyle and I had lathered up in sunscreen and hopped off the side of the boat. We swam over to the rocky shoreline and climbed up on the boulders protruding from the water. Scaling the side of a small cliff we made our way over to a beach covered in large and colorful stones. The waves have crashed on these stones for hundreds of years causing them to be smooth and gentle on our feet. Walking along the large stones we headed for a cave we saw on our way in. Due to the waves crashing in through the opening we were unable to venture into the cave, but observing it from a distance and listening to the waves crashing was awesome. Max came swimming over to meet us, while Itai stayed on the boat to fish. Kyle, Max and I swam off the beach and headed towards another beach, this one black sand instead of large stones. We explored for a bit, picking up long pieces of bamboo and attempting to get some more coconuts. Hearing Itai yell at us from the boat, I realized he had something very big on his fishing rod. We could see him fighting with whatever he had caught, and he yelled that he needed help. As we swam closer he informed us that it was a large sting-ray. I felt so sad for it and Kyle and Max quickly climbed in the dinghy to aid Itai in freeing it from the hook. Knowing that they can be very dangerous because of their stingers Max and Kyle put on gloves and got pliers to hopefully cut the hook so it would come out. At this exact moment a small panga with 3 guys in it seemed to come out of nowhere and motored into the cove. Fortunately Itai speaks Spanish and he was able to communicate with them. They had seem him fighting with something on his fishing rod so came over to see if he needed help, which he did. Thank goodness for these guys because none of us knew what to do. They stuck their fingers up the stingrays nostrils so that its stinger could stay in the water, a safe distance from anyone. They then took their knife and made a small incision in the stingrays mouth so that the hook could slide out. I sat in the front of the dinghy with my eyes covered- these are the reasons I don’t like fishing. Fortunately the stingray was free of the hook and was let go, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him swimming away with a bleeding mouth. It made me sad, but we were so thankful for the locals who came to help. There is a small village on this island of about 500 people who live there, and that is where the guys in the panga came. They asked if we had any alcohol to share, but we only have water on board, so laughed and asked them the same question. After showering and cleaning up a bit, Itai, Kyle, and Max had a BBQ and cooked their tuna they had caught earlier. I read my book and headed to bed early.

This morning I awoke to the sun shining through the hatch above me. I poked my head out and noticed a light drizzle, but still some sunshine and a warm breeze. I quickly hopped up, made some coffee in the small french press, grabbed some mugs, packed a simple breakfast, and loaded the dinghy. Quietly I woke Kyle up and asked if he wanted to row to shore with me. With Max and Itai asleep aboard High Climber, we climbed into the dinghy and I rowed us to the rocky beach, a light drizzle creating little ripple effects on the water’s surface. Tying the dinghy to a log we poured ourselves some freshly brewed coffee and sat on the log munching on buttered bread.We then spent the next hour or so walking around the rocks, wading into the crashing water coming in from the cave, and found beautiful stones to bring home. For a while it felt as though there was no one else out there, just the two of us surrounded by rocks, cliffs, and dense forest. The drizzling eased and the sun burst through the clouds. Suddenly our surroundings came alive in vivid colors. We climbed up on a big boulder and I closed my eyes, letting the sun shine down on my face with my arms outstretched. The waves getting a bit larger due to the tide, came barreling through the cave creating thunder as they echoed off the rock walls. It was a spectacular, romantic, and refreshing morning. Feeling like Max and Itai would be waking soon, we climbed back in the dinghy and took our time making our way back to High Climber.

This afternoon we are leaving the Pearl Islands and heading North. In about 200 miles, and 40 hours we should be arriving at Isla de Coiba. An island that is a national park and is supposed to be quite amazing, based on our readings and talking with some people who have been there. To be honest, I am not really looking forward to the 200 mile hop. It will be two full nights and two full days, and I just am not feeling the offshore sailing anymore. But oh well, 40 hours will go quickly, and before I know it we will be in Coiba. After that there is just a 100 miles hop to Golfito, Costa Rica! I can’t wait to be in Costa Rica, I have been looking forward to it this entire trip.


**We are currently in Golfito, Costa Rica at an awesome little marina. We’ll be here for 5 days waiting for a propane refill so I’ll post updates on Coiba and Costa Rica soon!**

The Panama Canal and Onward Plans

5/13/2017We made it to the Pacific! My goodness, it was a bit ridiculous what we went through to make it through the canal, but as I write this I am sitting in the cockpit at a mooring ball at the Balboa Yacht Club, just a couple miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. We were supposed to have been through the canal on the 8th, but we didn’t make it through until yesterday, the 12th.

On the 7th around noon Kyle, Max, myself, and three new crew members, Itai from Isreal, Fransisco from Germany, and Richard from California, left Shelter Bay Marina and headed to the anchorage where our pilot was supposed to board the boat. It was a full boat with 6 people, but 4 line handlers are required so we just had one extra person- Richard met Max at the dock and expressed his interest in seeing the canal. Anyway, once we got to the anchorage it started pouring, and it poured all afternoon. Four other sailboats were at the anchorage who were also waiting on pilots to transit, and around 3pm the pilots started showing up. We were all so excited and hanging out in the cockpit, when the pilot boat drove past us and asked us the name of our vessel. “High Climber”, we said in unison. The men on the pilot boat looked a bit sad and shook their heads, “not today, not today” and drove off to the other boats. Max instantly called the agent, as both our agent and the canal authority told us to be there on May 7th. We soon found out that a pilot just didn’t show up to work, and therefore we weren’t transiting that day. Everyone was rather disappointed as we waited for the rain to lighten before heading back to Shelter Bay. Our new date was supposed to be the 9th, but on the night of the 8th, we were told it would be the 10th. They seemed to be just pushing us around, it was rather frustrating and bit disheartening as we started to wonder if we were ever going to get through!

Max fixed the autopilot! No hands needed, yaya!

So finally on May 10th, the same 6 of us, once again headed to the anchorage to wait for our pilot. This time I called the Signal Station on the radio who is in charge of transit times, and bugged them until they confirmed High Climber was a-go for that afternoon. Around 5:45pm our pilot arrived, and so did the rain. It hadn’t rained all day, but once he arrived it started pouring, and it didn’t stop until we were through the first set of locks. Our pilot’s name was Robyn, and he was a really nice guy who has been doing this for over 9 years. While he never takes the wheel, he guides Max through the busy channels and told all of us, the line handlers, what to do. Once near the first lock doors we tied up with another sailboat, and stayed connected to them until we were through all the locks. We went into the lock behind a massive ship, probably 800ft long. Not nearly as big as the ships on the Mississippi, but much much taller, which made it seem bigger as it towered over us. There were 3 locks, and they were right in a row, which made it rather quick once we got through. We raised up a total of 90 feet, about 30 in each lock. Men on the sides of the locks would throw down ropes to us, which we would connect to the ropes we had on board. They would then pull the ropes back, secure us to the sides, and from High Climber we would haul the lines in as the water raised, getting rid of the slack. Itai, Fransisco, and I worked together on the stern line, while Kyle and Richard were at the front of the boat. It was pretty simple as long as we were paying attention and not getting distracted. I was actually surprised how similar it all was to the locks on the Mississippi. Even though things were a bit bigger on these locks, because we were in a bigger boat, the scale seemed similar to when we were in Solvi.

Once through the 3 locks and raised up the 90ft, we were in Gatun Lake which is a large fresh water lake that Panama uses as their drinking water. Our pilot led us to mooring ball and we tied up on one side and the sailboat we went through the locks with tied up on the other. “Your next pilot will be here around 7am tomorrow” Robyn told us and he disembarked our boat. Feeling thankful that we made it and looking forward to finishing the rest of the canal the following morning, we ate some pasta and went to bed.

Max so happy that we are finally transiting 🙂

Itai happy to be going through the canal
Waking up early as to be ready for our pilot, we were in the cockpit awaiting his arrived by 6:45am. It seemed the other 3 sailboats felt the same way, as they were all in their cockpits as well. As usual we waited and waited, until around 8am one of the line handlers on the boat we were sharing a mooring ball with came over and asked if Eric was our agent and if our boat name was High Climber. “Yes”, I said, feeling nervous about why he was asking this. He then handed his cell phone to Max and said “Eric wants to talk to you.” Instantly I knew something wasn’t right- and sure enough Max informed us that, once again, a pilot didn’t show up and that we were going to have to wait until tomorrow to finish transiting the canal. Everyone on board was rather upset and angry at this news, as we had never heard of this happening! They told us we weren’t allowed to get off the boat or to leave the mooring ball and that we had to spend the entire day in Gatun Lake confined to High Climber. One of our crew, Richard, had a flight the next morning at 8am and would miss his flight if he stayed on High Climber. Thankfully the boat we were moored with offered to take him on board, as they were still transiting that day. The line handler who gave us the news said he has been doing this for over 9 years and had never once heard of something like this happening. I guess we are just lucky? Haha. Anyway, we said goodbye to Richard and watched as the other 3 boats loaded their pilots and headed toward the Pacific. Max, Kyle, myself, Itai, and Fransisco spent our entire day on the boat. I spent the day keeping to myself, reading, watching movies, talking to my best friend on the phone, and hanging out in my cabin. The guys had a chess tournament, went swimming, and attempted to do some fishing. It was a long day, but turned out to be rather relaxing and we made the best of it.

Thankfully the following morning by 9am we had a pilot on board and quickly released our lines and motored toward the last set of locks. Crossing the 28 mile lake took about 4.5 hours and we arrived to the last set of locks around 1pm. This time it didn’t rain at all, and it was daylight, so we were able to experience the locks a bit more intimately. We again, tied up with another sail boat, and this time we went into the locks in front of a massive ship called a ro-ro (roll on-roll off car carrier). It was pretty funny being tied up in the lock and watching this massive ship bear down on us, we laughed about what would happen if for some reason it didn’t stop, we would all be crushed! This time, we dropped about 90ft, and so instead of pulling the lines in, we let them out- which for me was much less work and more enjoyable. At the last lock there was a viewing tower for tourists, and hundreds of tourists had paid to come see boats go down the locks- it was pretty funny having all these people take pictures of us. Again, once in the locks the process went pretty fast, and around 4pm we were through the last lock and in the Pacific! Motoring to Balboa Yacht Club our pilot disembarked our boat, and we found a mooring ball, as there are no docks at this yacht club, just a big mooring field (a mooring ball is a permanent anchor that has a large buoy at the top that you tie your boat to). Unfortunately this mooring field is extremely exposed to the massive ships’ wakes, and isn’t very protected from swell, so all the boats are constantly bobbing up and down and rolling around. Also, because some of the waves that come through the mooring field are so large, we aren’t allowed to take our dinghy to shore, we are required to use the yacht club’s 24 hour water taxi service. At first we couldn’t really figure out why they made us use this service, but last night when we all wanted to go to shore and the water taxi came and picked us up, an enormous ship drove by producing a wake that created 4 foot waves. The water taxi surfed down the waves, but had we been in our dinghy we would have totally flipped. The taxi dropped us off at the dock, which is floating so it is also bobbing up and down. Basically everything at this yacht club is just in constant movement and you have to use great care when getting on and off the boat as to not fall overboard. It’s rather entertaining. After using the yacht club’s showers we headed to the bar where Max bought beer for the crew and we cheers’d to making it through the canal and to the Pacific!

Our pilot Guermo (sp?) for the last set of locks

The lock doors opening to the Pacific!

As I write this, it is around 11am on Saturday morning. Fransisco is leaving us today. He has been traveling for over a year after crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat, he hitch-hiked from South Carolina all the way to Colon, Panama, where we picked him up and brought him to Panama City. He is now looking for another boat, as Brazil is his final destination, so he heading south in any means possible. I really enjoyed getting to know him and hearing his stories and learning more about the culture of where he grew up. Itai, who is a pediatric nurse from Isreal, is staying with us until Costa Rica, where he has a flight from San Jose back to Isreal. He found himself unhappy with the direction his life was going, and decided to quit his job, sell his car, get rid of his apartment, and travel for a bit. He met up with some friends from Costa Rica and helped them sail from the Caribbean to Colon. We picked him up in Colon and will take him to Costa Rica. He hopes to go back to work for a bit, save some money, and eventually buy a sailboat and travel on his own. Itai is an awesome guy- just so incredibly kind and good-hearted. He is one of the most genuine people I have come across in a while, and it is very refreshing to spend time around his kindness and positivity. It is also very interesting to learn more about Isreal, because all I knew of it is what I have seen on the media, which in my opinion is an awful place to learn about a country. I look forward to spending time with him for the next few weeks. 

We are going to leave on Sunday or Monday and head towards an island called Isla del Ray. It is a preserve and supposedly one of the most beautiful places on the Pacific Coast. From there we hit a couple more islands on our way to Costa Rica. We will then check into the country in Golfito Costa Rica where we are hoping to leave the boat at a marina for a couple days and check out this national rainforest and hostel. We will then continue up the coast of Costa Rica, doing mostly day and overnight hops and exploring as much a possible. Around the first week of June we will arrive at Playa Flamingo, a port near the Northern border of Costa Rica. This is where Kyle and I will be getting off the boat. Our original plan was to make it to California, but with the delay in the canal and a few other factors we have decided to depart early. Hurricane season starts the first week of June and Kyle and I do not feel comfortable traveling up the coast during this time. Max has friends who will fly into Costa Rica and continue up the coast with him. He also wants to do some large off-shore hops which I am not interested in at all, whereas his friends who are coming to meet him are. So it actually works out pretty great for everyone, and we all feel like the new plan is positive for everyone. Kyle and I plan to explore Costa Rica by foot for 2-3 weeks, as we have a flight out of San Jose on June 17th. Kyle’s friend Ryan is going to come meet us for a week or so in Costa Rica and we are hoping to make it to Montezuma and stay at a hostel and explore the rainforests of Costa Rica. Kyle and I will then fly into Wisconsin for a couple weeks and begin our 2 month road trip back to Florida via Utah, Colorado, and a few other states to visit friends, go to a wedding, back-pack, hike, and hopefully have another awesome adventure, this time by car! (My car is still in Wisconsin from towing Solvi there). I am really looking forward to heading back to Utah and showing Kyle where I grew up and visiting with my friends.

Anyway, as is the case with this type of travel, plans change but for now, I am excited about the next few months of travel we have ahead of us before making it back to Florida. It is a beautiful day today, and the weather seems much cooler on this side of the canal which I am very thankful for. Max and Itai are going to do a major food re-supply while Kyle and I go run a couple other errands to get ready for this next leg of the journey- this time heading North! Thanks for all the constant support and happy Saturday! 

Colon and Exploring Panama City! 

5/6/2017Well it’s been a few days since I’ve had the chance to sit down and type, so I’ll do a quick update! We left Providencia, Columbia last Thursday and arrived in Colon, Panama 50 hours later. While the boat was traveling fast and happy, it was not a very fun voyage. The boat was wet, hot, and for some reason I just really was not enjoying being underway. Waves kept coming up from the bow and crashing into the cockpit causing whoever was steering, or in my case sleeping on the cockpit bench, to get absolutely drenched. A couple times we thought the conditions had calmed down enough to open hatches, and when we’d hit a wave buckets of salt water would pour into the cabin. I can’t really put an exact reason why, but it seemed as though crew moral was somewhat low, mine particularly, and I just couldn’t wait until we arrived in Colon. I didn’t feel very good most of the passage, but never did get sick. Was just sort of in this in between feeling of malaise. Anyway! As always spotting land for the firs time in a day or two instantly boosted moral and two hours after arriving at the marina all the hardships and discomforts faded away.

Around 4:30am on Saturday Mark was on shift and yelled down to Max and Kyle to wake up and come up on deck. “It’s like the Spanish Armada out here!” He joked. I was asleep in the cockpit and when I sat up I gasped in surprise. When I got off shift just 2 hours earlier there was not a light to be seen, and no evidence of land being nearby. But when I sat up the entire horizon in front of us was glowing with lights of various strengths, colors, and sizes. We were sailing towards the big ship anchorage and the break water leading into Colon. Mark captured some of it on camera, but the photos below don’t really do the scale of everything justice.

After hailing the port captain and the marina on the radio we were given instructions on where to enter. There was a large cruise ship behind us called the “Disney Princess” and it was rather entertaining sailing into the channel in front of such a massive ship. It wasn’t until we were inside the break water and just outside of the marina entrance that we dropped sail and motored the rest of the way. Pulling up to a big dock next to mega-yachts we cleaned the boat, and I made breakfast for everyone while we waited for 7am to come around so we could get a slip and get checked in.

Being a Saturday no one from immigration was at the marina, so we weren’t able to get checked into the country, but had full access to Shelter Bay Marina which has showers, a pool, a restaurant, an air conditioned sailor’s lounge, a mini mart, and some hiking trails. Needless to say it is a rather nice marina and the amenities were greatly appreciated after an arduous couple days underway. The marina is rather large and within an hour of being at the dock we met people who had sailed from France, New Zealand, all over Europe, Canada, Barbados, Australia, and many more places around the world.

The following morning we took a taxi into Colon to get checked into the country. We had read in our cruising guides that Colon is not somewhere you want to be walking around, but I didn’t understand the importance of this advice until we parked at the Port Captain’s office. Thankfully for our taxi driver who stayed with us the entire 3 hours it took to get checked in, acted as a translator, and helped us when we were missing a copy of a document, I felt safe, but it was not a nice area and in fact I don’t think I have ever been somewhere with so much poverty and garbage lining the streets. It was an interesting experience to say the least and it made me feel grateful for the area in which I grew up.

Once checked into the country we spent a couple days just relaxing at the marina, enjoying showers and high speed internet. Mark had bought a plane ticket home as his part of the journey ended in Panama and on Monday afternoon we said our farewells to him. We miss you Mark! Kyle and I also packed our bags for a short excursion off the boat. We knew it was going to take anywhere from 1-3 weeks to transit the canal, so Kyle and I decided to head into Panama City for a few nights to take a break from the boat rather than wait at the marina. My dad who has travelled a lot for work had racked up some points since 1994 at the Hilton and he was so incredibly kind to surprise us and used his points to get us a room at the Hilton in downtown Panama. After 3 hours of traveling by various buses and a couple taxis we arrived in downtown Panama on Tuesday afternoon. Walking about 45 minutes through the city we arrived at the Hilton. The second the doors opened I started giggling- we did not fit in at all. My curly hair was a mess due to the humidity and rain, our clothes were wet with sweat and rain water, and our backpacking backpacks large and colorful. We were quite the contrast from the white lobby, and all the people dressed in dark suits and office attire. Regardless the hotel staff was extremely kind and due to my dad being a member we got treated really well. Heading up to the 17th floor Kyle and I couldn’t believe the room that stood before us. It was just soo fancy compared to anywhere I had ever stayed- and this feeling was intensified by the fact that we have been living on the small boat for months. Laughing about the eight dollar bag of peanuts on the table we called my parents to FaceTime with them and show them the amazing room and view they had provided us. I felt like some sort of royalty staying in that room on the 17th floor overlooking the water, the rooftop pool, and the large city. Thanks to my dad for providing such a special place to stay for a couple days 

After our stay at the Hilton we packed up our backpacks and walked to a nearby Hostel where we had a reserved a private room. This was much more our style as when we walked in the door we had to climb over a barricade of backpacks and the room was filled with young travelers from all over the world. Spending 4 nights total in the city we explored some ruins, walked the busy and incredibly loud streets, visited a museum, and walked through a large open air market. We found that Panama City has Uber and it made getting around extremely cheap and easy.

This morning we packed our bags again, and headed back to Colon and to the boat as we are beginning the transit of the Canal tomorrow. I love the bus ride from Panama to Colon because if I look close enough I can find hundreds of monkeys in the trees of the jungle that lines the road. It was a long day of traveling and shopping to pick up supplies for the boat, but I am currently back in the air conditioned sailor’s lounge at Shelter Bay Marina enjoying the quiet.

Tomorrow around 12pm we will leave the dock and motor to an anchorage about 3 miles away. (Since Mark is no longer with us, we have found some more crew- 1 person might be with us until Costa Rica, and 1 might just be transiting the canal with us. There are a lot of young people at the marina looking to be crew and travel to various parts of the world. But we’ll figure out all those details tonight.) Anyway, in order to transit the canal your boat must have 1 captain, 4 crew, and 1 pilot. The pilot is provided by the Panama Canal Authority. Once we arrive at the anchorage tomorrow our pilot will be dropped off at our boat and will accompany us through the first set of locks. We are required to provide him one “manly meal” as our agent calls it, and small bottled water. We will anchor for the night in the large lake between the lock system, and the pilot will leave the boat and return the following morning to guide us through the last set of locks. Kyle and I have gone through countless locks on both our big boat Sirocco, and in Solvi, but this scale seems to be a bit bigger. It’ll be quite the experience and I’m looking forward to what it will entail!

I don’t have very many photos from the last week as there just isn’t much to take pictures of in a big city. I’ll try to post an update about transiting the canal once we arrive at the Balboa Yacht Club on the Pacific side- otherwise it probably won’t be until we arrive in Golfito, Costa Rica in a week or two. Thanks for all the support! Onward 

Exploring Providencia! 

4/29/2017
Well Providencia proved to be just as wonderful as I was anticipating! Max rowed to shore at 2pm on Sunday and by 3:30 we were all allowed to head ashore. Quickly packing our backpacks with sunscreen, water, and some money we all 4 carefully climbed into the dinghy while Kyle rowed us to shore. Being that it was a Sunday the Main Street area was rather deserted- but we did find a small shop that sold cold beer and had an ATM. The buildings lining the Main Street were all very colorful and close together. I could tell right away that this place was not heavily influenced by tourism and that was something I was thankful for. Following a foot path across to another island we followed a trail until we arrived at some stairs leading up the mountain. Hiking up the stairs and then following the trail further we found a place on the side of the hill above a beach which offered cold drinks, fried fish, and some hammocks and beach chairs. Hanging out there for a bit Carlos, a local, gave us some information about the island. We climbed the trail past the tiki hut and ended up at a beautiful overlook. Kyle and Max stripped their shirts and instantly jumped off a small cliff into the crystal clear water below. 

The following day we headed into town in search for a phone, internet, and information on a hotel. It took quite some time to accomplish these things, but with a hotel booked, a phone to call my parents, and some time exploring the Main Street we decided to rent a 4 x 4 golf cart for the afternoon. With Max driving we drove around the entire island, stopping by mine and Kyle’s hotel to check in and get our room key. The golf cart tour turned out to be a great time and we found a hiking trail up a dirt road that led us to the most spectacular views. As we weren’t anticipating a hike like the one we took, I was wearing a dress, the wrong shoes, and didn’t bring water. The climb was extremely steep- ropes lined the trail in order to aid in climbing up. But the moment we arrived at the top the difficulties of climbing up the mountain faded away. A 360 degree view of the entire island and all surrounding islands took my breath away. In fact we could even see the anchorage and make out the spec that was High Climber. Mark and Max took a different trail down while Kyle and I headed back to the golf cart to pick them up at a different trail head. The thought of water caused us to hike really fast and the way down was much quicker and easier than the way up. 

That evening we had reservations at a restaurant called Don Olivo. It was a restaurant at a couple’s house who cook fresh fish in their kitchen for anyone who makes reservations. We were the only ones there and it turned out to be an awesome evening filled with fresh food, great wine, and good conversations with the couple who run the place. Thank you to my parents for providing us this dinner! 🙂 Kyle and I had brought our backpacks as we were heading to the hotel after dinner. We asked the owners of the restaurant if they could help us get a taxi- which they did- but this happened to be a moto- taxi. A man named Carlos fit me, Kyle, and our two backpacking backpacks on his motorcycle. It was quite impressive and rather entertaining! 
The next two days were spent lounging in the A/C of our hotel. We ventured out a couple times to get food, rent a moped for a couple hours to explore, and take a couple walks, but for the most part we just enjoyed reading, sleeping, playing games, and watching movies in the room. It was a wonderful break from the boat- the bed was large and didn’t move, it wasn’t hot, there was so much space, and the food we ate had much more variety. Having access to wifi, regardless of how slow it was, was a nice treat as well. 
On Wednesday afternoon we met back up with Max and Mark and did a big re-supply at the various grocery stores on the Main Street. That evening Kyle and I went ashore and found a private little beach to snorkel and relax in the sand. The snorkeling was spectacular and I saw so many kinds of colorful fish. I love the tiny blue ones that seem to be at every reef we have seen since leaving Florida. I was pretty bummed when I heard we would be leaving the next day. I could have spent months in Providencia. The locals were so friendly and the culture was so unique and not influenced by the Western world. The hiking and snorkeling endless and the beaches pristine. I really didn’t want to leave, but it wasn’t up to me and on Thursday morning we lifted anchor and headed towards Colon, Panama. 

I am so thankful for the time we spent in Providencia. It is not an easy island to get to, requiring multiple plane rides, ferries, and some complicated customs and immigration barriers to get past. So being able to sail there and spend a few days was really special. I hope to visit again one day, but for now I will keep the memories of the mountains and views close in my mind! I have a lot of pictures from our time their so please enjoy! 

**As I post this we are currently in Colon, Panama- the port right before the Panama Canal. The journey here was a tough one and I am so thankful to be on land for a bit 🙂 I’ll post an update soon about the canal and what is coming next!**