Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Panama, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala: Pict.Gallery 46

For corresponding pictures see Pictures Gallery No 46-
Norwegian winter

Well, here we are at the end of another period of sailing, ready to return to Norway and back to work! First a quick review of Winter 2008 after our stop-over in Canada with Diana’s brother Jim. We also stopped in London to see (our daughter) Elisabeth and her Hugh, and in Lincoln and Manchester to see more family and friends. 13th December 2007 Ryanair again brought us cheaply and quickly from Stansted to Sandefjord and a reunion with Stein’s mother Eli, still tanned after her visit aboard here in San Blas last October. On Dec. 19th Stein was also happy to be back at work in the Dpt. of Cardiology, Sørlandets Sykehus, Kristiansand. Diana did not start work until late January, just as well as Christmas was only days away and our house was quickly filling up as Eli, Robert, Olga, Martin, Hedda and Johan came to join us. On Christmas Eve we also had Camilla join us before she took the wee ones for more Christmas celebrations with her own family. Our usual lobster feast, this year also with other seafood, was enjoyed by all.

Towards the end of January, Diana spent a week in Mo I Rana, a town quite far north on the Norwegian coast, to do a week’s locum (fill in) for colleague ophthalmologist Knut Resellmo, who works there alone and is in need of some time off. He has a very busy practice, and she was thrown into it, seeing 30 patients a day. But it went fine, and was a good way of earning money! Then she worked for a month in the local eye department in Arendal, which is more leisurely, and also more sociable with good colleagues. We had a weekend in February in the mountains with our children (except Robert who was busy in England), grand-children and Eli, when we hired a very typical Norwegian cottage in Norefjell. This February reunion has become a family tradition which we hope to keep up.

Time goes quickly when we are both working, training and seeing friends, so it did not seem long until it was time to pack again and head back to the Tropics. We returned to Panama the same way we had come home, via London and Toronto, another chance to enjoy the company of Elisabeth and Hugh and my brother Jim. Due to delays we had an unexpected night’s stay in Atlanta, where we took the opportunity to visit the fantastic Georgia Aquarium, probably the only aquarium in the world which can boast whale-sharks, beluga whales and a copy of the Australian Barrier Reef!

Back in Panama.

White Admiral was safe and sound when we arrived in Shelter Bay Marina on 5th March, but pretty dirty and in need of attention. We had brought a new compressor for the fridge and spare parts for the anchor winch in our luggage, which we were very happy to have got through the long journey undamaged. The two keels had some damage from previous rough handling in marinas, so they needed repair, and the hull needed anti-fouling. So in addition to shopping and cleaning, we were kept busy until the boat was launched on 10th March. Jim joined us on the 9th, for ten warm days away from the Canadian winter. A bit of excitement was going on in the marina, as some filming for the next James Bond film was taking place. Some of the sailing boats had been hired to lie at anchor outside the marina, getting paid US$ 100 a day! It would have been fun to have seen White Admiral on screen, but we wanted to get on our way, and left the marina the day before James Bond alias Daniel Craig himself was due to arrive.

Rio Chagres

Our first sail was a short one, only a few nautical miles to the Chagres River which flows from the Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal to the sea west of the canal. After motoring along the inside of the large breakwater, we emerged into a very bumpy sea at the canal entrance, but once we got away from the opening, we had a brisk genoa sail to the river entrance. This is supposed to be difficult to enter in rough weather, but we followed the chart carefully and got across the shallows without problems. As soon as we entered the river, it was another world; deep, flat water, jungle on each side, the calls of howler monkeys, and birds everywhere. We motored slowly up the river for about 4 nautical miles, enjoying the tranquil scene, and let out our anchor for the night. The next day we motored up the rest of the river which is navigable for yachts almost up to the Gatun locks, here three other yachts were anchored. From the east shore there is a half hour walk through jungle up to the lake and the north part of the Panama Canal where the Gatun locks are located. We had a good look at the enormous ships in the locks before we were chased away by some officials for being too close! As we were on a public path outside the fence, and there were no signs to say that the area was off-bounds, this seemed rather unreasonable, but one doesn’t argue in the face of machine guns! We were up at dawn the next day to motor back down the river, then sail the 23 nautical miles to Portobello, against the trade-winds. Fortunately the wind was light to begin with, and we drove against it all the way. Again, it was very bumpy outside the Panama Canal entrance, and the wind picked up during the last hour making it a bit uncomfortable, but we did catch a nice king-fish on the line. Portobello we knew from before, it is the historical town where most of the gold traded and stolen by the Spanish was shipped to the old world. Comparing the beautiful buildings in Madrid to the shacks of Portobello, it can be seen that not much was left behind! Jim is fascinated by history and enjoyed looking at the old forts built to keep out the British and the Dutch. He and Diana also took a bus trip to the town of Sabanitas, which has nothing much to offer except an excellent supermarket. They loaded up with provisions for the next month, and got a taxi to take them the 40 min back to the boat, stopping at his house en route, where his wife served fried yucca balls.

While in the harbor in Portobello, a couple came by in a dinghy to say hello, and turned out to be a Norwegian couple, Hildegunn and Lakki on their catamaran “Enata”, with Mayni, their beautiful 6 month old daughter. We enjoyed their company and agreed to meet later in San Blas where we were all headed for.

San Blas for a third visit.

Another trip against the trade winds, this time 45 nautical miles to get to San Blas. We left on the evening of 14th March, and by luck picked the calmest night in March to do this trip, and were able to motor in almost calm seas and very little wind, arriving in Chichime early in the morning. Wonderful to be back in San Blas with its palm-covered islands, blue waters and Kuna Indians! Jim had three days left of his holiday, which we spent on this island and on Dog Island, where there is a submerged wreck, great for looking at reef fish. We said goodbye to him on 18th March in El Porvenir as he took off on the morning 16-seater plane to Panama City. Our next guests were due to arrive on 24th March in Nagana; Anne and Knut Kollandsrud Nilsen. Diana knew Anne through work; she is the optician at the eye department where Diana sometimes works, and their daughter Margit rents the flat in the basement of our house in Kristiansand. When D showed slides of San Blas at work,sheI has never known anybody more enthusiastic about our travels. It turned out that she and Knut were able to travel at a time which we had kept free for other friends who now could not make it, so they took the chance and booked up! We spent the time between guests at Salardup, an uninhabited island with the now standard coconut palms, turquoise reefs and 27 centigrade water, snorkeling, relaxing and doing a little cleaning of the boat. Then we had a lovely sail, this time down-wind to Nagana, where there is another little air-strip. Our new guests turned out to be as enthusiastic as expected. They also were with us for ten days, in which time we sailed slowly back to El Porvenir, visiting both inhabited and uninhabited islands. On the first evening Stein took them on a trip up the Rio Diablo, to get a feel for the mainland rain forest. The outboard engine failed far up the river, Stein had to row back, and as it was getting pitch black D was beginning to wonder how long she could wait before calling for help. But eventually they emerged from the shadows, very pleased with the experience! The next day we were the only yacht on beautiful Puyadas where Anne and Knut could have their first snorkeling experience. In addition to the usual array of reef fish, to our great delight we saw a large sting-ray and a nurse shark. From this island we took a day trip to one of the inhabited islands, Niadup, a traditional community with thatched houses, where we were shown round by a young man. Here we bought some souvenirs and gave reading glasses to some of the older members of the community. Anne had brought the glasses from Norway, and we had fun watching the expressions of old ladies as they suddenly saw their sewing clearly!

The cluster of islands named Coco Banderos is one of the most popular places for the foreign yachts to anchor. We had heard on the radio that Hildegunn and Lakki on Enata were approaching here with their guests Christian and Cathrine Thomessen and their two lovely teenage daughters on board, so we made this our next stop for a rendez-vous. The anchorage is a blue lagoon surrounded by white sand, palm covered islands, with several boats at anchor. On the way in, we had a bad moment as the steering suddenly stopped functioning when poor Knut was at the helm, and we had to get out the emergency tiller before we could come in. Stein as usual managed to sort out the problem later. We had two days together with the Norwegian crowd, including a dinner on White Admiral with their baked king-fish and our trimmings, then “sun-downers” on one of the small islands, and lots of Norwegian chat. We even had some medical drama, when Christian ran into the water to catch a run-away dinghy and stepped on flame-coral. He had deep cuts in his foot and a swollen ankle due to the toxic reaction, it was very painful, so we had some use for our first aid kit, bandaging the foot and giving him strong pain killers. Eneta sailed off westwards as we went on towards El Porvenir, with our next stop at the “Swimming Pool”, another protected anchorage where the yachts collect, especially on Monday evenings for the weekly cocktail party. This week featured a jazz concert, with one of the yachties who is a good saxophone player, a magic tropical evening with his soft tones in the background. We came to this anchorage partly to meet up with “Nautibear” again, with German couple Hans and Susanne on board. Hans is a great extrovert, everything is “vonderful” and apart from the usual chatting and eating/drinking, we had a hilarious game of Perudo (a dice game) with them.

From here we had a 10 mile gentle sail in a light NE breeze to Dog Island, for a last snorkel for our guests, and they also enjoyed the submerged wreck with all its colour and life. Knut and Anne were now getting a bit sad at the thought of having to leave soon. More thankful and enthusiastic guests than those two are hard to find, and this makes the experience even more of a pleasure for us, as we see things with new appreciation. On 3rd April we waved goodbye as it was their turn to take off on the morning plane to Panama City. That was the end of guests for this period. Now we had most of April to make our way to Guatemala where we planned to leave White Admiral in the fresh water of Rio Dulce, on an inland lake which has several marinas for yacht storage. This would be a journey of about 800 nautical miles.

Isla Providencia , Guanaja and Cayos Cochino.

We got on our way the same day, intending to sail about 200 miles to San Andres, an island belonging to Colombia. We motored the first 4 hours in a light headwind, but then the NE trade-winds set in, and we had a brisk sail which in fact made us go faster than anticipated, so to make a daylight arrival we skipped San Andres and ended up at Providencia, another Colombian island a bit further north, east of Nicaragua. This is a smaller and less touristy island than San Andres, probably more to our taste. While San Blas was like the Pacific, now we were definitely back in the Caribbean. Providencia is a high, volcanic island, but with some lovely beaches and good snorkeling. We walked the 20km circling road, enjoying the lush vegetation and friendly people. Amazingly, the people here are bilingual. It is 200 years since the island was British, but English is still spoken at home, and sounds very similar to that spoken in Barbados. The colourful, ramshackle homes also reminded us of Barbados. We had a fantastic meal at a beach restaurant called El Nino Divino, a seafood feast with lobster, crab, fish, shrimps and conch, all for the price of about 5 pounds (60 N kroner) each!

The next sail to the Bay Islands off the Honduras coast involves crossing a shallow, reef-studded shelf off the Nicaraguan coast, but fortunately there was a good weather forecast and we had good instructions in our guide book, so again we had a good sail, sometimes quite brisk and averaging up to 9 knots. We took a pause at Vivorillo Cays, a deserted group of atolls where we stopped for an hour and a half just for a swim and a walk. We didn’t stay longer as we wanted to reach Guanaja , the most easterly of the Bay Islands by dusk the next day. We managed this and dropped our anchor about 5 p.m. in a lovely flat bay on the south coast of the island. The main island of Guanaja has few inhabitants, strangely nearly all the population of about 8000 are packed together on a small island called Bonacca, about half a kilometer in diameter. This is a modern town with shops, banks, schools and churches, but no roads! Between the buildings are narrow pavements with no cars, not even bikes or motor bikes, everybody walks. It seemed very safe for children, and an attractive alternative to our car-filled cities. We again felt quite at home as these people also speak Caribbean English. Here we met the biggest yacht we have ever seen handled by just one couple on board; 75 foot “Blue Dawn of Sark” with Englishman Geoff and his French wife Geraldine aboard. We had dinner on board their beautiful yacht, and were amazed at the technology on board, but could not imagine having to sail or look after such a huge craft.

On 18th April we left at dawn for the 46 n.mile sail to Cayos Cochinos. The breeze got less and less during the day, so we finally motored the last few miles, and it was again 5 p.m. before we tied up to a buoy. This is a national park, and we were immediately visited by a representative of the park, accompanied by two young, fully armed naval recruits. He wanted US$ 20 for one day or US$ 40 for up to a month, so our stay of 2 days was poor value. However it was an interesting stop with marvelous snorkeling, and we had a good walk over the main island to a small village (East End) of about 50 people. Here we became friends with Guillaume (“Billy”) who is the watchman for rich Italians who own lots of land and property. After being initially a bit suspicious, he obviously judged us as trustworthy and let us walk around the area he was responsible for, and later showed us the village and the tiny restaurant, where he accepted a drink, in this case a small bottle of spicy-smelling home brewed liqueur! When we decided to stay for lunch, he declined the offer of food, but wanted another drink. We had rather a bad conscience as he got more and more tipsy as he drank this second bottle! The lunch turns out to be excellent, fried tuna fish and plantains with coconut rice, and the helpings were so big there was plenty for Billy, too.

From Utila, Honduras to Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

From Cayos Cochinos it was just a morning sail to Utila, our last stop in the Bay Islands. This is a laid- back place, full of young back-packers and diving schools. You can get PADI scuba-diving certification here cheaper than anywhere else in the world. The village is just one long main street full of small hotels, restaurants, bars and diving schools. The average age of the tourists looked to be about 20, so we felt as if we came from another era. We did our usual walking, including a visit to an iguana research station, founded to save an endangered species in their mangroves; the swamper iguana. Since this is an easy place to fill a diving bottle, Stein had a dive on the reef near the anchorage, while Diana had a last snorkel. It wasn’t the best reef we had seen, but was still special as there were a lot of angel fish and groupers, which we hadn’t seen much of elsewhere. As we were having our last lunch before leaving for Guatemala, we suddenly heard a Norwegian voice shouting to us from a small boat, and we were joined by John Arne Løken, the only Norwegian living here. He enjoyed having a chat in Norwegian, it is several years since he has seen a Norwegian boat here, and appreciated having some brown cheese, something that Norwegians love, and nobody else knows what it is, so he was the perfect person to give a piece of this cheese to, as thanks to our last visitors, we had more than we needed.

Then we set off on the 107 n.mile sail to Livingston in Guatemala, another perfect, gentle sail running down the trade-winds. April has indeed proven to be a great sailing month in this area. We anchored early the next day off Livingston, a small town at the shallow entrance to the Rio Dulce. Here we were checked in. This was a complicated exercise as we were first visited by the Port captain, an Immigration officer and a Customs officer, then had to go ashore to collect our papers from an agent for the quite expensive fee of 925 Quetzals, about US$ 120 (NKr 650). We wandered about the run- down town, although did find a charming spot to have a sandwich, before returning to the boat. By this time the sea breeze had picked up, the anchorage was choppy with a strong current, so we decided to get going up the Rio Dulce Gorge right away. The first few miles of this river cuts through a breathtaking high gorge with thick vegetation up the cliffs, then opens into a large lake where we could sail for several miles more, before coming to a narrower area where the marinas are. This is a good hurricane hole, and about 400 yachts come here each year for storage during the hurricane season. White Admiral is now tucked away in a little corner of Monkey bay Marina, a delightful and friendly place with room for about 20 boats, jungle all around, and a lovely open kitchen and sitting area under a thatched roof.

As I write on the 27th April, we are getting White Admiral ready to be left here until October, this time in the water. Diana has spent the past two days painting the main toilet & shower (known as “the head” on a yacht), getting a bit polyurethane intoxicated in the process, but the yellowish off-white has now been transformed into a fresh, sparkling white. Stein has been attending to the engines, packing away ropes and all loose items from deck, and doing a couple of repair jobs. We are quite well organized and even have some time for reading and socializing with other yachties here. We have our bus tickets to Guatemala City in two days, then it is home again via London. Elisabeth is now 7 months pregnant, so her little son is no doubt making himself more obvious! Next week it is back to work for Diana, first with another week in Mo I Rana, then we both start at hospitals in Kristiansand and Arendal from 19th May. We have had a wonderful two months in this amazing part of the world, but now it will be good to be useful again, and see the family.

White Admiral, Rio Dulce, Guatemala, April, 2008. (Written by Diana)

No comments:

Post a Comment