Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Exploring with company

On July 21st (Jordan's birthday), his close friend Marlow arrived for a week's visit. He rented a car for the time he was here and stayed with us in the forward berth.

He wanted to check out Panama City and the outlaying areas so we tagged along. We headed to some beach areas to the west where new developments are going on. New subdivisions, condos, and home developments.

Jordan collected some very black shiny sand from Playa Coronado on mainland Panama for me as we were all exploring. My other favourite sand was from Isla Coronado in Mexico but it is the exact opposite - very, very white!

We heard of a mountain town tucked in an ancient, extinct volcano crater, apparently the largest inhabited crater, described by some as magical. We found it at the end of a beautiful winding mountain road with flowing verdant terrain. In my mind, the sublime valley town was close to a Shangri La.

We lunched at the Bruschetta Restaurant with about 20 different bruschettas that came about a foot long and 5 inches wide. Then we drove the interior valley perimeter glimpsing mansion estates through their immaculate tropical landscaping.

We all wanted to see the cruising boats and huge freighters transiting the Panama Canal. So one day, we stopped at the Miraflores locks to observe. It was quite mesmerizing to watch...

Everyone with cameras!

It was obvious to Marlow, as to most who visit Panama that the country is making huge strides in its development and popularity as not only a tourist destination but a place expats and businesses are calling home.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Still hangin'

We've been playing tourist a bit lately. We visited the "walking street" (no traffic allowed) and noticed many of the Kuna Indian women that come over from the other side of Panama (Caribbean) in their unique style of dress. The Kuna are the smallest race on earth after the Pygmies. Panama has allowed them to self govern in their home area of the San Blas Islands. Later, we again saw them as they were selling their hand-stitched molas, which are more known in the Caribbean but are sold here in Panama also. The Kuna women adorn their blouses with their beautiful molas.

Displaying her molas with rows of vivid beads on her arms & legs

(Molas are several layers of different coloured material sewn together. A design is then cut out of the layers with the edges turned under and sewn with tiny stitches. It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months to make depending on the number of layers and how complex the design is.)

We also went to Old Town of Panama City called Casco Viejo, this was declared a cultural World Heritage site in 1997. So far, it has only been about 15% restored. Many of the buildings have the French Caribbean flair with narrow streets and overhanging balconies. Incidentally, Panama City has had 3 locations in this immediate area. The original dating back to the 1500s was sacked by Morgan the pirate, and then it was rebuilt in the area mentioned above. In the mid 20th century with its need to modernize, its center was moved about 5 miles down the shore and today sprouts up to 75-storey buildings.

Locals call this inimitable skyscraper the Tornado building

Quite often we need to pass through a rough area of town (via taxi) that is very sad to see. The buildings are all extremely dilapidated, some deserted. This district flanks the Old Town area that is being restored.

We strolled from the dinghy dock over to and through the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, a non-for-profit unit of the Smithsonian in Washington DC. Here, students are trained to conduct research in the tropics and conservation is promoted by increasing public awareness. The first area we covered had different species in large outdoor tanks/pools being studied such as turtles and sharks, and different types of starfish, lobster & fish, corals, etc. which was all very cool to see. Next we walked through the forest trails with trees and plants. The Corotu is one of the largest trees in the forest and on a sunny day can take up to 500 (125 gal) of water from the soil.

Jordan completed reading (and I read about 1/2) of a huge book all about the building of the Panama Canal. (Jordan has written a captivating history of the Panama Canal in the link on the right.) We checked out the Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama museum (with plans to later visit the Miraflores locks). The museum displays were all in Spanish so we were supplied with headphones (in English) so we would know what we were looking at. After reading the very informative book, it was fascinating to see visually items in the museum.

Panama City has a lot of buses driving around with crazy designs painted on them. The paint jobs are always very shiny and never appear to be dirty as far as we have noticed. As they are always moving, I have unfortunately not been able to get a good snapshot. I would never drive any vehicle in this city! But Jordan did fine when he drove a car a few times. You need to be very aggressive and push your way into the busy traffic. We were told that there are 150,000 cabs here - all painted yellow - and they appear to always be busy. Anytime you need one, there are always about a dozen within view. But at rush hour, 99% of cabs are full!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Isla Taboga

We've been anchored outside Panama City at Isla Perico for 21 days now. We decided to leave for the day to make water as the bay here is not presently real clean and we won't be heading to Ecuador for about 2 weeks or so. After motoring for 2.5 hours, we set anchor at Isla Taboga (N08°47'918" W079°33'213"), about 20 km offshore. And Pirate Henry Morgan came here after sacking Panama City in 1671.

A group of 7 boats crossed our stern decorated with balloons and a large statue, with a band playing and lots of happy festive people aboard. Brightly coloured fireworks were set off from shore and several also lit firecrackers. We found out in Lonely Plant that we arrived at Taboga on the day of their annual festival honouring their patron saint. A statue of the saint is carried to shore, placed on board to motor around the island, and then upon return carried around the island while crowds follow.

Many brightly coloured houses line the shore and we noticed the sunbathers escaped as the narrow sand spit to the northeast was soon covered by high tide waters. (The sand spit connects Isla Taboga to the nearby tiny island of El Morro.) We spent the afternoon ashore and admired this beautiful island with its winding hilly roads, bright colours, and aromatic flowers - Taboga is known as the Island of Flowers. We saw their church of 1550 which is the second oldest in the Western Hemisphere, 1 teeny hummingbird, and 2 bluebirds. Weekends see many shuttle boats from the city bring day visitors to mostly enjoy the beaches.

Brightly painted houses of Isla Taboga

We saw 1 enterprising young lad water "skiing" on a surfboard being pulled by a DINGHY! It was pretty slow going but he managed to stay upright. We later saw him being pulled by an accommodating power boat for a faster ride.

Upright behind a dinghy...

With the water tanks almost full, we headed back to our regular anchorage at Isla Perico by Panama City.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Medical emergency

I've not been well lately. Feeling nauseous and been getting excruciating abdominal pains just like I had once in Golfito, Costa Rica. But this time the pain was long lasting, kept coming back, and wouldn't go away. I was pallid and also fainted twice, so we made an appointment with a well recommended English speaking doctor who immediately referred me to a specialist for the next day. Just before my appointment, I fainted in a restaurant and cracked my head open on a hard tile floor. The paramedics arrived, checked me out, and left without charging anything (perhaps because I refused to go to the hospital as we were on our way to the doctor?)

Upon seeing the specialist, he had a lot of lab tests done and performed a Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and with no problem indicated by it, he immediately admitted me to Centro Medico Paitilla (a private hospital) for further tests as the pain was unbearable. After taking X-rays and doing a CAT Scan, he called in a surgeon and they decided it was necessary to perform immediate non-invasive surgery at 23:00 - the CAT Scan showed that I had a blockage between my kidney and bladder, and my kidney had consequently become very swollen and badly infected which was causing all the pain. The infection had also made me anaemic, hence the fainting.

If left unchecked, not only would the pain have been unbearable, but the condition would have gone septic in a short time. So it was good this didn't happen on a major crossing.

The next morning, I felt 100% better! The pain was finally gone! But I stayed in the hospital for 5 more days for intravenous antibiotics and careful observation. I am also on iron supplements to raise my red blood cell count due to the infection and being vegetarian. My specialist and surgeon were both English speaking which helped so much as we could understand everything that was going on.

When checking out, we were given a DVD of the CAT Scan and X-rays, a DVD of the actual surgery, and all the lab test results. This will be very handy to have in the future to show to a doctor if ever necessary.

All in all, we were completely satisfied with how I was treated. Everything was immediate but I was in a private hospital. The pro-rated cost was much cheaper for 5 days than what I was charged for 2 hours in the Golfito public hospital where I was misdiagnosed.

Good news - the Panamanian doctors say that this medical condition is a one-time occurrence!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Panama City

It's time to leave the gorgeous Las Perlas islands and start towards a Panama City anchorage. As we were getting ready to leave Contadora Island, we noticed lots of driftwood all over the beach from the strong wind last night. And we discovered we had dragged anchor, but just a bit.

Then it was off to Panama City, anchoring 6.5 hours later on June 27th. We motored-sailed part way and sailed part way. As we approached, we noticed so many freighters just hangin' out, all awaiting their turn to cross the Panama Canal. The Panama City skyline was lined with tall skinny skyscrapers that were all squished together with hardly any room between them.

One freighter heading out to the Pacific from the Caribbean

We weighed anchor at Las Brisas de Amador (N08°55.098' W079°31.922') about 4 miles from the City. This anchorage is actually at a former island, Isla Perico, which is now connected by a causeway to mainland Panama (as is another nearby island called Flamenco). The causeway connection to these islands was done about 100 years ago with the excavation material from the big dig of the Panama Canal. The causeway also serves as a breakwater to reduce ocean current erosion of the dredged entry channel to the Canal.

We were surprised to see sailing friends also anchored here that we had previously met up in Sausalito CA USA (SV Guinevere 1) as we had thought they were now in the Caribbean. Las Brisas is a very busy anchorage and there must be at least 50 boats here. We were also surprised to notice that many of these boats appear to be semi-permanent.

We have been keeping very busy in Panama City as this is a great location to get things done. So what have we been doing? Well, we had to find someone English speaking to explain our problems with 2 of our computers - 1 needed a new DVD drive installed and the other needed a new hard drive installed - both were repaired successfully.

We also bought a cell phone as we have needed to contact so many local businesses for numerous things. This has been so very handy to have!

And Jordan has been having a bit of a vision problem so he got new lenses for his glasses and has noticed a real difference - he also had them tinted so no more annoying sunglasses needed.

We went to a huge fruit and vegetable market where even the retail outlets go to buy their supplies. Several of the stalls and/or trucks sell only 1 particular item...

Jordan buying delicious papayas from this seller

On Wednesday mornings, several sailors go to Palacio Lung Fung of downtown Panama City for Dim Sum breakfast. We have met the group several times as it is so delicious. And twice a week, sailors also sometimes meet for pizza nights right by the anchorage.

Always on the go...