Monday, 1 November 2010

Summer 2010 Travel report no. 54

by Stein in San Blas, Panama, October 2010

Click here to view the photo album no 54

Once again Diana and I are enjoying tranquil days on White Admiral in the wonderful islands of San Blas, Panama. It is, indeed, very difficult to beat this area when it comes to natural beauty and friendly locals. For a few weeks it is just the two of us aboard, but when we sailed from Shelter Bay Marina on October 8th, 2 weeks ago, we had the pleasant company of Russell Wheelock. Russell is an old friend who now lives in San Antonio, Texas. Despite living so far from the sea in a dry climate, Russell has spent a generation or more sailing or working on yachts. We first met him and his wife ”Kiki” (Martha) in the Indian Ocean when we were all circumnavigating. Their boat was ”Islita”, ours ”Red Admiral”. But more about Russell and our present 7-8 weeks’ cruising here in San Blas in our next report. For now I will do a short review on another summer in Norway and our trip to Panama. This review I should be able to get on Internet fairly easily, but whether I’ll get the accompanying pictures over is less certain. The only Internet connection available in these islands is via satellite a dish on tiny Isla Elefanta next to us here in West Lemons, but the connection is very slow and uploading photos is very, very slow…

After our last visit here in March-April, when we had first sailed down from Cuba and Grand Cayman, we had a number of family and friends visiting us before storing our faithful catamaran in the high security area on land in Shelter Bay Marina.

Back at work.

I was back at work April 24th at Drammen Sykehus. Biking the 10 km back and forth was so easy compared to my dressed up, often very cold expeditions last winter… Starting my second year at the Department of Medicine I was getting to know the people and the routines better, would also be seeing occasional patients I already know. Working with capable colleagues and nurses to solve and treat diagnostic challenges continues to fascinate me. And interacting with junior doctors is one of my particular joys. - Junior doctors, of course, never age as they keep being replaced. It helps to revive an occasional delusion I have of not getting older myself, and it makes me imagine I will never retire from an activity I enjoy a lot! (But I suppose in a couple of years with a stiffer body and a slower mind also I will be forced to accept reality…)

While I have stayed with the same employer, Diana has divided her work between the Eye Dpt. in Tønsberg and two private Eye practices: The one in Mo i Rana, North Norway that she knows from the past, this time doing 2 stints of 2 weeks, and one with new colleagues in Tønsberg. Going to Mo i Rana is several hours on two planes, while to Tønsberg is one hour driving each way. Here she kills time by listening to Norwegian and English audio-books lent her free of charge from the excellent Drammen Public Libray. This way she has digested a small library of books!

Summertime means numerous visits to the cottage in Veierland. My mother Eli, approaching 95, is still able to make it out there with some help from me. The cottage being on an island, and no bridge to the mainland, means a small boat trip back and forth in all sorts of weather. In early June she became very breathless and weak, an X-ray revealed pneumonia, but after antibiotics and a few days staying with us in Lier, she was ok again.

There were a lot of social activities mostly in Lier and Veierland, but we also visited Martin and Tonje in Oslo and friends in Kristiansand. We had a look at our old house in Vigeveien where we had lived for nearly 26 years, a bit nostalgic, but were glad to see it being well looked after.

Klara Ljosland.

There was also some sad news, when our 82-year old friend Klara Ljosland, suddenly died in Kristiansand. I had spoken to her just a few days earlier. Being an SDA (Seventh Day Adventist) she shared our fascination for Pitcairn Island. When we moved house in February last year, we gave her a wood-carving of a shark from Pitcairn, done by one of mutineer leader Fletcher Christian’s descendants.


Happy milestones were a string of birthdays, especially in July: Our daughter Elisabeth turned 38, grandsons Johan 6 and Finn 2 (July 15th, i.e. our 42nd Anniversary) and son Robert 30. When Elisabeth, Hugh and Finn and Robert came over from London for a long week-end in late July, we did an en bloc celebration, including my upcoming 65th for late August. And we got a rare chance of a summer family, four generations’ photograph. (Martin’s 37th birthday was not due until 10.10.10, a celebration in his and Tonjes new house in Stabekk, West Oslo, which we unfortunately could not attend.)

Last weekend in May had Diana and me visiting Scotland for my Glasgow University Delta Club (1964-70) Medical year 40 year reunion. It was held in the Old Course Hotel, St Andrew by the 17th hole of probably the Worlds’ most famous golf course. Scotland, and in particular the historical city of St Andrew, is considered the birthplace of golf.

There was an excellent turn-out for the reunion, about half the class of 200 were present, most with partners. Food and entertainment was excellent, dancing to nostalgic rhythms of the 60’s and 70’s was good (swing and twist and rock & roll typically). But we never got into any of the Scottish country dancing... The kilt I was wearing should qualify, but the heavy garments also had me dripping with sweat long before the band struck up with the Dashing White Sergeant and Canadian Barn Dance!

From Norway came also Reidar Melsom, accompanied by a young lady; Linda, not a new wife as some thought at first, but his charming daughter! (Originally we were three Norwegians in this class at medical school, but Ivar Hauge, sadly, died from malignant melanoma a few years ago.)

Biking and Rowing.

As in the past few years I took part in Birkebeinerrennet, the off-road cycling race from Rena to Lillehammer, this year on August 28th. Last year was the muddiest and most unpleasant ever, but this year turned out to be more rainy, as much mud and much colder. Of the 17000 due to bike that day, 3000 did not turn up and 1000 gave up during the race. I was one that very nearly gave up. It took me a record slow 5 hrs 15 min and the last 2 hours was a constant struggle against cold and a failing bike. I had not dressed well enough, towards the end my fingers were useless and I could not manage to get more clothes on or even get one glove back on. I was so cold I could not even properly appreciate having finished, and only thanks to Diana did I manage to find my bag, get to a warm shower and finally stop shivering. The small highlight just after the end was the warm tomato soup served by an angel in the rain!

From our family, this year only Martin and I took part, but he was better prepared and although had bike-problems, did very well. Tonje stayed at home preparing a delicious sea-food dinner for the four of us, again some celebration for my 65th the next day. When Diana drove me the 40 min home to Lier, I slept the whole way…

A few days later we were off to the annual World Master Rowing championships in St Catharine’s, Canada. This famous rowing course is near Niagara Falls and not too far from where Diana’s brother, Jim lives in Oakville. Not far from him are all his three children; Heather with partner Andy, Andrew and Craig with wives Karen and Jaime and with two children each, so it was also very much a chance to meet up with family and friends. We stayed mostly with Craig & Co who live only 20 min by car from the event. Every night somewhere there was an enjoyable family get-together for dinner.

I had a bad cold when I left on the Wednesday, probably related to all that freezing during the bike race a few days earlier. I raced as planned on Friday and Sunday, but my race on Saturday had to be cancelled with most of the other races due to strong winds. I managed to compete in single sculls, double sculls, mixed double and mixed quadruple sculls. No wins this year either, but in single sculls I was very close – 0.5 sec – grrr! (Distance is 1000 m, time in my age group about 4 min.)

Off again – with some problems.

Back home again it was only 4 weeks work before leaving for London. We closed up Veierland with Eli, who managed to pick a large amount of edible, wild mushrooms of which I am a particular fan, emptied her freezer and fridge, got the boat and outboard safely stowed for the winter, had some final nice evenings with our good neighbours the Platous, before leaving for London, Saturday, 2nd October. Everything was well planned, I thought, Diana was not working the last two days and did almost all the preparations alone, including taking the car for service. But Friday at my job is always demanding, and I had a mad rush before biking home arriving about 40 min before the taxi was due to take us to the railway station. During that time I did my final bit of packing while having a quick bite to eat. Only when safely on the train from Drammen to Sandefjord did I realize I had forgotten the new iPhone (birthday present from Diana) at work! In Sandefjord we walked the 10 minutes from the station to Eli who was waiting with warm supper and a glass of wine. But that wine was not for me, for as she and Diana went to bed I borrowed her car and drove back and forth to the hospital in Drammen to get my new toy… It took me nearly 4 hours as I had to stop a snatch some sleep several times. At least the roads were quiet!

Socializing – then a Tube Strike.

So the real holiday feeling was not really there before we were on the plane from Torp to Stanstead early next morning. In Chiswick, London, we arrived in time for lunch with Elisabeth, Hugh and Finn and our old friends, Yvonne and Jonathan. That is when the good feeling really hit us.

At night we were out for dinner at La Trompette with more friends and the next day Robert came down from Cambridge for the entire day. He is doing another postgraduate computer degree in that grand old university; we are already looking forward to more excuses for visiting him!

Next morning there was to be a Tube (Underground) strike in London. We did not know which lines would be affected, but ordered a taxi to Heathrow. We thought going out of London we would not be so affected by the expected traffic jam. We were wrong and ended up incredibly stressed. With less than a mile to go to Terminal 4 according to the taxi driver, and the terminal supposedly in sight ahead of us, we got out of the cab and started walking with two pieces of luggage each. Well, the driver was wrong, what we saw was the Cargo Terminal and there was still a long way to go, the pedestrian area was littered with puddles, soggy leaves and fallen chestnuts; soon we were panting and sweating and obviously about to lose our flight. During the last mile the traffic started flowing faster, so we attempted to hitch-hike or get another cab, but nobody paid us the slightest notice… Our rescue was a shuttle bus service from a Tube Station we passed, luck had it that Terminal 4 was the first destination. When we came running to the Continental Airlines’ check-in they fortunately ushered us to a free counter. But at Security there was another “traffic jam”, so before long they were announcing our names on the loudspeakers, and we were the last passengers to board that wonderful plane… But we got on! We noticed a few empty seats for Newark; no doubt that Tube strike caused a lot of chaos and delays in London that morning!

Having dried off and washed my face we could again get into the right mood, enjoy a reasonable in-flight lunch and watch a couple of films. In Newark we had 3 hours before the flight for Panama City, and with security and passport control being so slow, especially in USA these days, we needed every minute of it. But we managed to buy some extra food for the flight and some duty-free chocolate (Toblerone and Cadbury’s) from a small store just by the gate. In USA they now deliver the duty-frees to the gate. So we were handed the sealed bag as we entered the plane, did not check the receipt and did not break the seal until Diana wanted a snack the next day in Shelter Bay Marina. She got a bit of a disappointment; the bag contained a bottle of Vodka and a carton of cigarettes! So somewhere else here in Panama I suppose somebody else also got a bigger disappointment! To sum up the journey; never a dull moment when Diana and I go travelling!