Thursday, 31 January 2013

Summer and Autumn 2012. Report No 60.

Report No 60 (April – November, 2012)
By Diana, January 2013
 For corresponding pictures, go to: AlbumNo60

Not long after returning from White Admiral at Easter, we were again on a plane, this time to London to take part in Soren’s christening on 12th April.  Soren is our youngest grand-child, Elisabeth and Hugh’s younger son.  At 14 months of age, he was pottering about in front of the congregation during the short service, and did not take kindly to having water poured over his forehead!

After the Church of England ceremony, friends and family had a happy get-together in the sunshine at Elisabeth and Hugh’s house, where we ate, drank and sang the song I had made for the occasion. We had managed to get Eli across, a trip which proved to be her last journey outside Norway, it was quite a job with her needing a wheel-chair and a lot of help, but she really enjoyed her final big family occasion. Stein was now back in Drammen Hospital, where he would work all summer.  After working full-time including night duties, he decided that this was “No country for old men”.  I did my final stint of working in May, when I helped in the practice of a colleague recovering from breast cancer. Having already had a pension for a year, I decided that I had seen enough eyes and would finally become and full-time old-age pensioner!

In between working, I had two trips to England in May. The first was a 50 year reunion for my school-leaving class from Hutcheson’s girls’ grammar school. It was quite an experience to see many people whom one I known well for the first time in 50 years! Amazing how personality and voice stay the same despite the passing of the years.  Not appearance, though.  My good friend Fiona said as we arrived   “Diana, look at these of old ladies, is that how we look?” I didn’t answer! 
Fiona and Sandra, good friends and class-mates from Hutchie 
The other trip was to the 90th birthday party of my Aunt Joyce, my mother’s youngest sister and my last aunt. We had a beautiful sunny day in the garden of my cousin Jane’s house in Leicester, with a big gathering of three generations of Fenwicks, including my brother Jim. By good fortune, our cousin Ian on our father’s side of the family was also in England in nearby Derby, visiting his family from Canada, so Jim and I were able to see many of our relatives in the one week-end. Joyce and her husband Donald, who is 92, also came for a week to Norway in early July.

Joyce and Donald, Veierland July 7th, this would be Eli's last visit
'to her beloved cottage. Stein had to carry her up and down to the boat. 

They are now feeling their years, and thoroughly enjoyed being looked after for a week.

Since we moved to Lier over three years ago we have missed our old friends in Kristiansand. So it is a pleasure when our old tour group gets together for a wander. This year they had decided to visit Preikestolen (the pulpit), one of Norway’s best known tourist attractions, a huge flat rock jutting out of the cliff-face 600 meters above Lysefjord. Stein and I drove across the mountains of South Norway to meet them. On the morning of our hike, the weather was grey and raining, so we plodded along trying to make the best of it, but as we approached the pulpit itself, the clouds lifted, and we had a wonderful view over the fiord.

The same group of friends visited us later in the summer for a week-end at the summer cottage at Veierland, together with our old friend Andrew from Switzerland, who taught everybody about geocaching. (If you don’t know what this is, look up!)

Fencing lesson!
By early summer, Eli was going downhill fairly quickly, and to be honest, I felt that after a year and a half of looking after her, I could not manage any more. The home nurses gave a very good service and came in every morning to get her up and washed, but she now needed almost constant attention. Great was our relief therefore when she was admitted to Frogner nursing home on 12th July. Stein was good at visiting her regularly over the summer, but I enjoyed my new-found freedom by going to London for 5 weeks, to a Shakespeare summer school at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). This was a great experience, learning and performing Shakespeare sonnets, monologues and during the last week, we even did a whole play.  I did a lot of amateur dramatics at school and University, but this was my first time on a stage for nearly 50 years, quite a thrill. Poor Stein was left at home working and visiting his mother, but thanks to Hugh, who worked for the British Olympic Committee, he did come over for the opening of the Olympic Games, an amazing spactacle!

Stein did manage to fit in his usual training for the year’s two main events, first the Birkebeiner cycle-race, the “Hell on wheels” race across the mountains, which this year he managed quite comfortably if not in a record time. (But Martin managed an amazing 3 hrs 5 min!) The other event in which he likes to take part is the Masters world rowing championships in early September, which this year was in Duisburg in Germany. He came back with a medal from the single sculls event, so he is managing to keep up a good rowing standard.


8th  September was a hot sunny day in Taormina, Sicily.  Martin and his lovely Tonje were married at mid-day on the roof of Hotel El Jabel, beautifully laid out with white furniture and flowers.  A quarter of an hour earlier, I was standing sweating at the town gate, waiting for Stein’s bus to arrive from the airport, not knowing that it was stuck in a traffic jam! To my great relief he appeared from a taxi with a few minutes to spare, he raced to our hotel room to change, and arrived on the roof without a tie just in time! Martin and Tonje wanted a small wedding, just the bridesmaid Åse and her husband Øyvind, best man Eivind with his brother Karl Yngve who is a minister, Hedda and Johan, and three proud parents; Tonje's mother Selle Marie, Stein and I. (Tonje has unfortunately lost her father). The bride looked beautiful, the view breathtaking, the food delicious, everybody was happy – a great occasion!                                                                                                   

One person, who would have loved to have been there but could not manage, was Eli, who was now failing fast and died a few days later on 16th September. Stein slept beside her in her room in Frogner nursing home the last night. Fortunately, she only had to be in the home for about two months. Her last visit to our apartment was on Stein's birthday, 29th August, when he officially became an old age pensioner. She was then very weak and need help with practically everything, including eating and drinking...
Her funeral was on 21st September, well attended by family and friends. We arranged a non-religious ceremony in the chapel at Drammen crematorium, which seemed to be appreciated by all. Günter played violin, Martin piano, Elisabeth, Robert and Stein gave her a tribute, as well as our good friend Christian, Eli's niece Eva, her neighbour from Sandefjord, Ingar. Hedda and Johan laid their own drawings on her coffin and there were lots of flowers. I introduced everybody and the organist played "Imagine" by John Lennon. Many of her friends from Veierland were present. This was another sunny day, which made it easy to accommodate over 40 people in our apartment afterward as we could spill out onto the lawn, where all the flowers were laid out on the grass. Although a funeral is sad, it was a good get-together for family and friends of Eli. We even had some of Eli's home-made wine from 1976 for a special toast of rememberance.
Eli's home-made rhubarb-and-plum wine from 1976 (discovered in her cellar when we cleared out the house in  2011)

We were able to return to White Admiral at the beginning of October, rather unexpectedly, as we had almost cancelled the flight to Panama when Eli was very poorly.  Now we could travel again without having to worry about her. We visited Elisabeth and her boys in London en route, and found White Admiral newly washed and looking good on the hard at Shelter Bay Marina. This time we paid to have the hulls sanded and antifouled, and we used a couple of days for some other jobs, before she was put into the water. One day when I was painting the wood at the front of the boat, a young guy on a bicycle came riding up and asked me if I knew of any way he could get to Colombia! 

This was Devan from USA who was cycling from Alaska to Chile, and had come to a halt in Panama. The trans-American highway which runs along the west side of North and South America has a bit missing! It comes to a stop in the Darien jungle, and does not start again until Columbia. Strangely there is no ferry to take cars or bikes from one end to the other, this may be an American strategy to try to stop drug traffic.  So a few enterprising sailors have developed a business taking back-packers between Panama and Columbia, which is what Devan needed to find.  He moved on board White Admiral and did find a yacht willing to take him to Colombia for 300 dollars, leaving in 5 days’ time. We have a soft spot for adventurers, so he spent these days with us, enjoying the cooking aboard White Admiral, the marina pool and the showers after months of cycling and camping. Fortunately he was a liberal, thoughtful and grateful American, and we enjoyed his company. 

Once in the water, we were soon ready to leave Shelter Bay for good, and take the boat to Bocas delToro, further west along the Atlantic coast.  Our first stop was the River Chagres, just a few miles from the Panama canal, so we could take Devan for a sail and let him cycle back.  This was a first for him, and he was thrilled when we got the sails up, although it was not for long as there was a contrary wind. The river runs out of the Gatun Lake, part of the Panama Canal, and is a tranquil river with jungle along both sides which makes for a very peaceful anchorage.  In the twilight we took a dinghy tour into a tributary, which was quite magical with drooping foliage, birds flying around and an old bridge with dozens of bats hanging under it.  

The next morning we visited the San Lorenzo fort at the mouth of the river, said goodbye to our guest and his bicycle, and continued out to sea for the 200 or so nautical mile sail to the next stop, Isla Escudo de Veraguas.

 The weather was far from what we wanted, grey and squally, with westerly winds, and we had a rather unpleasant two days, either motoring or sailing in the wrong direction, and a few really strong squalls making the sails bang about in different directions. Bad weather always makes it good to arrive, and Escudo de Veraguas looked very inviting with its tall jungle vegetation and white beaches.

 On closer inspection with the dinghy, it also had some very interesting rock formations, with caves and arches. We rowed ashore on the south coast, it seemed to be uninhabited, but after a long walk up the west coast we found a poor looking village with a few local Indians. 

The children and women seemed shy, but a friendly man finally appeared and told us that the island was a national park, mainly to protect the marine turtles which nest there. He was the keeper, and after showing us his identity papers, asked for a donation to the park. By this time the children had come to have a good look, and ended up giggling at the photos Stein took and showed them. We were now a bit low on fresh food and asked if we could buy any fish or bananas, having seen banana trees. To our surprise he took us to another wooden shack where there was a cooler and produced some lovely fish, and his wife came running out with a bunch of bananas which we willingly bought. On our walk back to the dinghy, we were surprised to see a Chiquita label on the bananas!

The weather had improved the next day, and after a few hours pleasant sailing we anchored north of the town of Bocas, in a new area of Panama for us.  Bocas town is a colourful, rather scruffy Caribbean town, with bars, restaurants, diving operators and souvenir shops along the main street.  We were used to a lot of bureaucracy in Panama and took our passports and Zarpe from Colon along to the harbour master’s office. To our surprise he took our Zarpe, with no forms to fill out and no fees, and just told us to come back when we were taking the boat away again. Amazing!
The first few days we were on our own and decided to have a look at the area before our guests arrived.  Bocas del Toro is a large inlet with many islands, mostly covered with jungle and  lots of mangroves. There are also lovely beaches, but mostly on the windward side where we cannot anchor, so we had to walk to these. However there are also two lovely sandy islands a few miles off-shore, las Zapatillos, with beaches on all sides, great for swimming, snorkeling and walking. 

Our guests this time were all White Admiral veterans, cousin Stein “Buster” who has been several times with Eli, and old friends Anne and Knut, who are always ready to come at the drop of a hat.  They arrived at the little airport right in the town, within a day of each other, and we had planned a round tour of the area, visiting what we thought were the best places.  First stop was Isla Bastimentos, a large jungle-covered island where a Scottish lady and her Argentinian husband have their home and a café in an idyllic wooden building with a large terrace right in the middle of the jungle. We sat on the terrace, enjoying their brownies and drinking chocolate made from their own cocoa trees, listening to the bird song and croaks from the small indigenous red frogs and admiring their brave choice of life-style.
 From here we walked over to the beach on the far side from where we had anchored. The swim in the surf was invigorating, but a little spoiled when we found that somebody had swiped the 200 dollars that Knut had left in his pocket. There is a lot of poverty here, so we should know better than to leave money lying around. After this we only referred to the place as “the 200 dollar beach”! This island also has a rather up-market resort with a beautiful wild tropical garden, where we could wander in a large area where lots of tropical flowers have been planted, among pools with caymans (although we didn’t see any). The resort has a terrace where Buster treated us to wine and Jægermeister as we watched the tropical sun going down behind the horizon.

From here we sailed/motored to our next stop far into the back of the large bay, to a restaurant called Rana Azul, which is Spanish for blue frog. Panama is known for its colourful frogs, we had already seen many red spotty ones, now we saw a few blue shining ones. It is a strange place for a restaurant, completely isolated at the edge of the jungle, only accessible by boat.  It is run by two ex-sailors from Austria, Maria and Josef! Twice a week they are open and the place fills with local people in their motor boats, and yachties who come down from Bocas Town. They are renowned for their good pizzas with garlic sauce as well as fish and salads, to which we could testify after a delicious, reasonably priced meal.

There is no good snorkeling among the mangrove islands where the water is murky, we were now ready to sail off-shore to las Zapatillos, the two sandy islands where the water is clear.  This time we anchored close to shore where it is easy to swim to the beach. The islands are a national park, and lie in a huge reef, with all types of reef- fish and bigger sea-fish, also nursing sharks, so snorkeling is an exciting experience.  Time goes quickly here with dinghy trips, walking around the two lovely islands with their tropical vegetation, and finding the best sites for snorkeling. Before we knew it, it was time to sail back to Bocas town and prepare to go home.

Goodbye White Admiral, see you in three months!
This time we had decided to leave White Admiral in the water, as we will be coming back in early February to begin sailing north towards Norway via Cuba and USA, although this may take a couple of years, depending upon what we find on the way. We got a good deal at Bocas Marina, run by an American Chuck, and it looked like a safe place, in a snug little bay a good bit out of town, with no road connection.  We first anchored north of the town, and said goodbye to Stein “Buster” a couple of days before the rest of us had our plane tickets home. Then we motored round to the marina, where Anne and Knut helped us with the last jobs to leave the boat clean, safe and sound. As always the jobs lasted until the moment our taxi-boat drove up to take us to the air-port…

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