leaving panama

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”  -John A Shedd

We met “The Swedes” (otherwise known as Andreas and Karin) out for dinner and drinks to make sure none of us were too crazy and get any remaining questions answered before we joined them on the Pacific crossing. We got a good feel for them and decided to go for it. Sailing has long been a dream of mine but it always seemed a little out of reach. Last summer Ez and I took sailing lessons and joined a sailing club but wanted some more experience other than in the calm Minnesota lakes. So this plan of becoming crew was hatched and here we are, in Panama and ready for what we hope will be quite the adventure.



It was an interesting first few days learning how to provision for such a massive passage. It was an epic shopping experience (one I hope to never repeat) – three solid days of running around Panama City just buying food. (Another day was spent just filling up water and Diesel.) We filled somewhere in the ballpark of 12-15 grocery carts. Months later we would still be savoring the delicious canned goods on the other side of the Pacific.

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One of our taxi drivers was horrified at what we were about to do (although he was driving us around a little loopy on pain killers-you tell me what’s more dangerous) and so pulled out an 8×11 laminated picture of Jesus (who doesn’t have one of these under their visor?) to take with us on our voyage.  We kept our savior in the hanging fruit basket and asked him to watch over us and our passion of the fruit.  Maybe even turn a few pieces into wine.  We had a great many chats with him in the upcoming months.

I was glad when that tool show was over and we were ready for our first sail out of Panama City. We were finally on our way to Las Perlas islands, a six hour day sail. We were giddy with excitement and I had a hard time processing that we’d made this happen. We spent the next week on the islands of Contadora and Espírito Santo getting used to the our new routine and discovering what life on a sailboat was all about.  How do I do dishes?  Do the solar panels produce enough electricity to power my e-reader?  How often can I shower? We got the answers to these questions quickly.  One night while rinsing my hair with salt water (you use just a bit of fresh water at the end to rinse) I noticed bioluminescense dripping from my hair and hands.   I’m sure this is the closest I will ever be, to feeling like a fairy.  It was an absolute beautiful moment.

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We also beached the boat to do some repairs on the rudder. It was quite an interesting day sitting on a catamaran, on the beach.  Repairs were made, the tide came up and thankfully we were out at sea once again.

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“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

I can’t believe we finally made it to Panama. I wonder how many buses and boat rides it took. (I really need to look into offsetting my carbon footprint.) We crossed the border by walking across the tines of an old railroad bridge. Unfortunately this also happened to be the time that we noticed our hard drive was missing. We decided to keep going and hoped when we unpacked our bags it’d appear.


So we continued on to Bocas del Toro an archipelago off the east coast of Panama. We stayed the first night in the town of Bocas which had all the restaurants, tours and bars you could ever want, but seemed to be lacking a bit of the charm we were looking for. So we took another boat to a smaller island called Isla Bastimentos. At this point it was confirmed… The hard drive was gone. At least we knew where it was, tucked safely under the mattress back at our hotel in Costa Rica. Argh! We tried to make the best of this day and took a hike across the island and went for a swim at a yellow sand beach called Wizard Beach. But poor Ezra was preparing himself for his long day of transport back to Puerto Viejo to retrieve our lost gear. This would entail two boat rides and four bus connections – one way. As you can imagine he was a bit cranky as he woke at dawn and made his way back to Costa Rica.

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Meanwhile I found myself with a day to kill as both of us traveling was expensive and unnecessary torture. The island we were on was pretty but didn’t have a lot in the way of entertainment and so I relaxed and prepared a nice meal for Ezra (we cook most of our meals on a hot plate) when he finally returned for dinner. He told me about his day and the nice German guy he met (who turned out to be Dutch and since I forget his name I will call him Dutchy from here on out) and we celebrated with a nice cold beer and coconut curry.

The rest of our time in Bocas was spent at a leisurely pace. Unfortunately a lot of the activities required tours and being on a tight budget we decided it wasn’t worth it. So one day we biked on the main island of Colon (Dutchy later told us he saw us cruising around) and hung around our little shack with the company of cockroaches, rats, poisonous frogs, cicadas and termites. We also met a nice local guy who showed us his artwork and regaled us with tales of his life from Cuba. He was a cool old cat that said “baby” a lot and shared a few beers.

Next it was on to the town of Boquete, which was named as one of the best places to retire and as such property is being snatched up. I’m not sure I’d want to live in town but the surrounding hills were shrouded in fog and covered with coffee plantations. There were some fantastic trails. One day we hiked what I called the cow path, I’ll give you one guess why, which unsurprisingly reminded me a lot of the Midwest. We also hiked Volcan Baru which was very beautiful along the river and eventually led through bamboo and up to a tall and slightly scary lookout. Of course we ran into Dutchy mid-trail and he convinced us to check out the lookout. I don’t actually think this was part of the trail, more like scrambling up the side of a mountain without a safety harness and at the top you are rewarded with, yes a nice view, but also a sheer cliff crashing down into the abyss. Was this such a good idea, I’m not sure?

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Our time in Central America was almost thru. Now it was time to get to Panama City (where we ran into Dutchy on the way to the bus and two more times in the city. One time while chatting he pulled a beer out of his bag, it was barely noon, I couldn’t help but admire his style) and meet up with the Swedish couple we’d be sailing with. We spent our last week in Casco Viejo, visiting the canal and tying up loose ends as we prepared to join the 38-foot catamaran named Happy as crew.


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