When Columbo, discovering a new world, arrived to Panama, was surprised by the beauty of the alleged paradise, a former archipelago of volcanic islands, which for centuries have attracted the attention of many navigators and pirates. For Peter and many adventurers from our group, who like Columbus, were feeling as conquerors of distant countries, Panama has represented the realization of long-standing dream and the most exciting part of the trip. Get acquainted with the main artery of Isthmus of Panama, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Pacific, for us was presented a priceless experience full of events and activities.
Ever since we left Columbia, strong gusts of wind and waves, accompanied us all along the way. The knowledge that this part of the Caribbean has never been hit by a hurricane, gave us the mental and physical stability. Detailed preparation, studying satellite navigation and weather forecasting, were promised uncomfortable, but safe navigation. While we watched the day great merchant ships, the nights we stayed up fully armed. Even a strong wave, which is suddenly struck in the stern from starboard side, lifted up, swept over us and with all his strength elegant flew right into the salon, did not break our faith in the boat and ourselves. Hooked with safety hooks for the fence, in disbelief and with a smile on our faces, we looked at each other and shouted “Welcome to Panama,” while is Meermowe, defying the waves, was carrying us further through the thick darkness. The desire to win this leg of our journey was stronger than anything, even from the wave, which is to welcoming us, prepared only problems.
Panamanian and “Q” flag already were fluttering on our mast. The course, which we sailed through Panamanian waters, led us to the dreamy islands of San Blas. After six days of sailing and riding the waves, land that was visible on the horizon, it was a few low- recumbent and palm-covered islands of the archipelago. Stretching the Caribbean coast of Panama, they looked like a strung, ragged, curly point of. Our final destination, from which we have been away only a few hours, was the Island of Cayos Chichime. Now already calmer waters, slowly and cautiously we were circling between the islands, skillfully avoiding the very dangerous shallows and reefs, which has surrounded this area. Unusual sight and the beauty of the Island Perro, Cayos Holandeses and Lemon Cays, were returning us in the pirate past on the seven seas. At that moment I remembered Anne Bonny, famous Irish pirate, about which I read long time ago and who was operating in this part of the Caribbean Sea. She dressed and acted like a male but she’s never hid her gender. Execution she avoided because of the pregnancy and it is not known what was happened to her later. My gaze wandered all over the place and just did not know where to stop it. I was, like pirate mascot, boring parrot Gustav, who, in her enthusiasm, each minute invoked Peter to gain his attention. Fortunately pirates, black pirate flag with skull and crossbones, crocodiles, native people in war paint and floating cocaine was not. Everything that surrounded us, were these beautiful islands and the endless Caribbean Sea. About one o’clock in the afternoon we anchored in the lagoon of the Island Cayos Chichime.
San Blas is a group of 378 islands of which only 49 are inhabited. Mostly unknown, represent untouched nature as well as undiscovered beauty and culture. The tropical climate, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches are just part of this perfect paradise. The islands are completely under the control of nativ tribes Kuna Yala dedicated to his country and a healthy, beautiful and happy life, which makes them unique. With our short stay we had a fantastic opportunity to become part of this community and very proud people, to get acquainted with the way of their life and to find out more about Kuna Yala cultural tradition, which is different from traditional Panamanian culture.
Cayos Chichime is one of the largest islands of the archipelago. Our visit began with a warm and friendly welcoming from beautiful locals. Hundreds of tall palm trees and piles of coconuts, which is a local guy opened with a machete and with a straw gave to each member of ship’s crew, have made a tropical atmosphere. Happiness, that we have felt Peter and I, holding huge yellow-brown nuts full of refreshing protein drink, disappeared within “immediately” when to us was, like an electric shock, through a straw passed insipid and tasteless liquid. “All that is bitter and tasteless it is healthy”, was the motto of my old father, what was on that occasion and confirmed, because coconut milk certainly has a positive effect on healthy living. Anyway, carrying coconuts, we walked slowly to thatch-covered cottage, where our friends, with shouts and laughter, coconut milk enriched with rum, so they could easily drink it. Peter immediately fit in, accepted the situation without comment and completely emptied his and my coconut. Back on the ship was very exciting. Our friends were towed us to the ship with the rope. How we hooked the stone with penta, we lost fuse of the propeller, without which he could no longer spin. I cannot say that we enjoyed it, but it was funny as in the cartoon. The problem was solved immediately upon arrival at the ship.
Unlike the previous destination, lunch with the hosts, the next day, we prepared by the group. With each ship it was to bring something cooked in the sense of traditional meals. Since I have been born in the heart of Dalmatia, I decided to fry the fish, which we caught on the way to Columbia, in dalmatian style with olive oil, olives and potato salad. With good company and a table full of various food and drinks, we did not think about heavy clouds that covered the sky, strong wind which ruthlessly bent palm branches and the rain that just dropped on the island. It was a pure tropical storm, enjoyable time and unforgettable experience.
Kuna Indians are recognizable by their bright decorative blouses called “Molas”, what on Kuna language means “clothing”. The fabric rainbow colors decorates, geometric design, fish and birds, which would certainly impress and the Picasso. How music and dance as well as transferring from generation to generation their history, mythical stories and legends, they are, in this modern world and the surroundings, succesfully preserved its rich cultural identity. Men still catch fish from canoes and money for life comes mainly selling handicrafts and coconuts. Children are very dear, smart and beautiful and regardless of the language barrier, I enjoyed their society playing on the sand. That afternoon, after the performance of several interesting folk dances, accompanied by the sound of pan flutes called “gamma burwi”, flutes and rattles, we said goodbye from Kuna Yalla Indians, and returned to the ship. At Porvenir, the main island of the archipelago, the next morning, we have handled the customs paperwork. Its main attractions are the pelicans, which leave the island at dawn to return before sunset and night slept on palm branches. It was hard to leave this place without time and regardless of the time machine that pushed us forward, we wanted to stay a little longer. Late that afternoon, the San Blas Archipelago stayed behind us, while we sailed on the course toward Colon. The weather conditions were unchanged infusing awed to the wind and sea, stressing their absolute supremacy. Mounted stern wind, we have approaching all the closer to the Panama Canal.
Cook on board on the rough sea, at the same time is the madness and acrobatics. That evening on the menu we had beef stew with vegetables. I never imagined that would Peter’s pliers with the smell of engine oil, be a major tool in my kitchen. “The goal does not choose means,” people say, especially when stomachs are concerned. Adhering them in the hand hooked for the handle, as tango we have danced together, pot and I, over the gas cooker, one step forward two steps back. I felt as if I dance with Patrick Swayze in the movie “Dirty Dance”. Pure art that has finally gave us endless pleasure and enjoyment of a delicious, hot meal and quenched a hunger.
With the program of crossing over the Panama Canal and the preparations for sailing in the waters of the Galapagos, we met even in Columbia. Meermowe was in a group of three ship of the first transit, which was scheduled to get underway in the afternoon, 29 January 2016. It wasn’t time to waste. Pulling the boat out of the sea and repairs were booked in advance. At the entrance to Shelter Bay Marina, we were tied for the barge to fill the tanks of fuel and water. During that time, officials of the Panama Canal were measured the ship and prepared a bunch of papers. Meermowe is, like all other ships, got its identification number, then working team has took matters into his own hands and pulled the boat on dry dock.
How our freezer has a cooling sistem with seawater, after extraction he has not been longer in operation, so we had two bags of frozen food, which we were, with the approval of the manager, took to the restaurant. Everything was going smoothly and easily, as that does not happen to us than to someone else. We sat down at the table to refresh with cold drinks. Shelter By Marina is quite far from the center of Colon. Surrounding area did not offer particular attractions. I tried to find some activities that would shorten the duration of our stay. Sitting and searching the internet, I exclaimed happily, “Sweetie, there’s something that it would be interesting for you. Fort Sherman, a former US military base in Panama. Situated on Toro Point and distant from Shelter Bay 17 km walk in one direction, what do you say, right thing. ” With a dumpling in his throat, Peter was almost lost the will to live. His spontaneous reaction it was equal to winning combination of Jack Pot. The number “17” was spinning in his eyes as at gambling machine, while a slight smile barely graced his face at a temperature of 40 *. “Waiter, another mug of cold beer,” was his reply, which was replaced each comment. I did not hesitated, I have grabbed my flippers and vivacious jumped into the pool. On the boat we got back early evening climbing the high ladder to the cockpit like on Mt Everest.
All the planned tasks on board have took place relatively in the right direction. Although everything seemed all right, we could not believe that we’ll leave Shelter Bay with no problems. How much we were right, confirmed by the fact that we have to replace the propeller because of damage rubber seal, which would cause its slip. Given that are, own power of vessel and its safe maneuver very important in transit, we could not take a risk. Otherwise, this panamanian pleasure would cost us thousands of dollars. Propeller we did not found in Panama, so we ordered it in Louisiana, USA. Delivery time has not promised a lot and it is brought into question our departure, from which we were far only three days. We had no choice. We immediately informed the agent of Panama transportation for our delay, who he organized a new date of transit, but this time as an independent vessel. Our life experience has told us that problems never come alone and that they agree on each other like dominoes. Booking couplings to connect different pipe diameters of black tank, which we had to put in function for entering the Galapagos, and the purchase of ten ordinary small screws to fix rubber cover, since our old has fallen in navigation, they turned this whole story into agony and comedy. It looked hopeless and without end. Screws were arrived like on drag prescription, once a day for two pieces. Five days is supposed to collect them in a pile. With all the efforts, nothing could change. We have left the time that works for us, and the patience as well as positive spirit was our strongest weapon. Forgetting problems, we were rejoiced of going to Panama rainforest to visit Embera Indian village, next morning.
Our exciting adventure began early in the morning. Once again I, before leaving, checked that accidentally I have not forget something. Cameras, of which I have not been separated, small gifts, chocolates and candies for children, raincoats, sunglasses, hats, and two bottles of water, were the main contents of our backpacks. Four minibuses with nice drivers picked us up outside a restaurant at 7 o’clock. The road led us along the canal and Soberania National Park. A little more than an hour it took to get to Lake Alajuela, where we met a group of Embera people who are expected us with “dugout canoes”, which were built with their own hands. In each of them can be embark about dozen passengers, headed by two Indians, of which one was managed by Penta engine and the other was sitting on the top of the canoe. In order to stay dry, Peter and I sat in the background. The start was excellent, and the mood in our canoe was, unlike the others, at a high level. Laughter and noise bounced off the high mountains and back like a boomerang back. Laughter and shouts were rejected from the high mountains and like a boomerang are returned back. Drew Embera Village is located on the river Changres. Going through “virgin rainforest”, we enjoyed the endless clear water and beautiful nature. From the canoe we managed to see a few parrots and monkeys. Driving river was exciting and very interesting. The water level was not the same everywhere, so we were, several times stranded in the rocky shallows and rapids through which are our hosts skillfully manage with canoes. That’s pure mountain life, live with nature away from the city and feel free. Upon arrival in the village we were greeted by traditional music as well as friendly and warmly received in a common hut, where is village leader, in a fascinating way presented us the history, culture and way of life. A delicious lunch of fresh fish, fried bananas, popularly called “patacones” and fresh fruit, after the ceremony, it was served in baskets of palm leaves. My husband and I did not miss the opportunity for the next half hour to take a walk through the village in which lives little more than twenty families. Very simple wooden huts, in which they reside, are covered with palm leaves and raised on high poles to protect them from flooding. School of lower grades, is located on a hill above the village and as we could be noted, is well equipped for children of that age. Area is rich with palm trees and Cocobolo wood, of which are made fine handicrafts for sale. Traditional baskets and fabric are dyed with natural colours derived from the fibers of palm leaves and seeds of trees Achiote and Jagua.
Socialising with these wonderful people was nearing the end. Embera children, like all children in the world have recognized a language of chocolates. They rejoiced sweet gifts that I had in the bag for this occasion. The visit ended by taking pictures and Samanian dancing with the music on flutes of bamboo and hand-made drums. We said goodbye to our friends, who we will forever remain in the memory and heart. On the boat we came back late in the afternoon full of impressions and memories of the warm hospitality of Embera tribes in Panama.
The first group of ships from Transit 1, left the marina in the afternoon the next day, while the Transit 2 was sailed out two days later. With sadness we watched as our group goes, while Meermowe helplessly stood on dry land. We were left alone as the last letter of the alphabet. The date of our departure was for four days. Most of time we spent within the marina swimming in the pool and walking in the evening. Every day we checked a progress of shipment over internet and inventing various jobs in order to shorten the time. The day before departure, with a taxi we drove in Colon to buy food. The Americans founded this ancient city in 1850, which have worked on the Panamanian railway and it is the second largest city in Panama. Driving along its streets to the supermarket, we noticed that in pretty bad shape and apparently, the city with highly developed crime. Despite its dark side, I am convinced it is worthwile to meet people, a peek into his culture and architecture, for which we had no time. With full bags of food, we returned to the ship in the hope of going to sail out tomorrow.
Adventurous life is full of shocking surprises, which like Christmas gifts, daily have jumped out in front of us. One of them was landed that night in the restaurant, while we raised our two bags of “frozen food”. The scene in front of which we found ourselves, have raised our adrenaline. Seeing food that was sloppily placed at the bottom of the refrigerator to drink instead of into freezer, as the head of the restaurant promised us, showered us cold sweat. The bags were lying in water, with already melted vegetables and stinky meat. Instead of heat in the air, we felt that we could strangle the manager. Luckily he had a day off. Otherwise it could be a gunfight at the O.K. Corral. On the way to the ship, this story is famously ended up in the garbage can. The night we slept peacefully because we had enough of everything to Panama City shopping centre.
Frustration and tension reached a culmination on the day of departure because the propeller was still not there. That Tuesday we got up very early. At one o’clock in the afternoon, we had to be at working dock, take extra ropes and fenders, well at three o’clock ready to get underway. The time, just when you do not need, it went faster than usual. It was only a matter of time when would shipment from Panama City arrive in Shelter Bay. Crane was already set up and ready to raise the ship. Nothing is worse, than uncertainty. It was a game of nerves both for us and for the manager. Every minute has played a role. “Set sail or not, that is the question,” I was kidding with my husband, pretending Hamlet. The answer we received exactly at noon, when the boss of services brought our propeller. It was a bomb dismantled in the last second. Finally, at half past two all was ready to sailing out. We had so much time to once again to order a large mug of cold beer in this wonderful country of Panama. Loosening the ropes at three o’clock, we stood happy in the stern of the ship, while we, with a smile on the face, were leaving the marina. Forgetting all the problems, our views were focused in the direction of the Panama Canal behind whose doors were hiding new events and excitements.