Monday, April 29, 2013

Panama Canal or Bust!

********April 29, 1:52 Panama Time********
Update 2: Looks like we will be going through around 4:30-5:00 today.  Turns out the camera of the locks is not a video, so you have to refresh every few minutes to get a new image.
********April 29, 12:51 Panama Time. *********
Update:  Pick the GATUN LOCK camera.  That is the one that we will be going through today.  Probably in a few hours.  Around 4-9pm.  No definite answer.

The first set of locks at the canal.

Looks like a miracle came through and we will be going through the Panama Canal today!  Our time is set for 1:00 p.m.  However, that depends on how fast everything falls into place.  Fingers crossed

The Panama Canal is 48-miles long and the journey takes about two days to get through it.  If all goes as planned, we should be through the Canal by Tuesday afternoon.  Then we will be in the Pacific!

If you want to try and find us.  The Panama Canal has a live camera that runs 24-hours focused on the first two locks—I'll be the girl in the large catamaran wearing a pink shirt if anyone wants to try and find Amara.  When you go to the site, you can even request an angle change if you see us.  They will focus right in on Amara. 

The website to view the locks is: http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html

We will go through one lock at a time and probably be tied to one or two smaller boats.  Depending on the speed of your internet, you can watch it in regular and high-resolution (Mom, you can watch it in high-res on your computer ;)   If anyone does watch it and sees us, could you take a few screen shots for us?   If you are on a mac you can take a snap shot by doing: command + shift +3.  If you are on a PC just push the the “Print Screen” (prtSCr) on your keyboard.   Please end to sailingamara@gmail.com.

Wish us luck!  We are a little excited down here in Colon.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Panama City... I Think We Saw It?


Standing in front of a LDS chapel in Panama City, Panama
Today, Martin, Lily and I went to Panama City to "try" and attend church.  I thought I had everything in order by hiring a driver the day before and making sure he was at the dock at 8:00am sharp!  He arrived only to tell me that his brother-in-law was going to take us instead.  "Fine," I said, "As long as he knows how to get us there."  

Well, here's where the story takes a turn.  We knew that we were already going to be a little late for church, because we knew that Panama City was an hour and a half away and there was traffic to consider.  What I forgot about was that we have to cross over (actually through) the Panama Canal to get to the freeway that takes us to Panama City. 

When we got to the Canal, the locks were just closing and we missed our green light to pass through.  Meaning, we had to wait for a large freighter and cruise ship to pass through the Canal.  Which takes anywhere from 30-40 minutes.  
Since we had to wait, we might as well take a picture.
Lily and me standing in front of the Panama Canal.
The cruise ship is barely squeezing in through the locks.
This ship didn't have more than a few inches on each side.  
It's amazing to watch them each go through the locks.
Once we finally got past the canal, we were off to Panama City.  Our first clue that our driver had no idea where he was going (even though we had provided him directions from Mapquest) was when he asked the woman at the toll booth, "Which way to the temple"?  What?  It's that popular?  Pretty soon, Martin and I realized that he wasn't taking us to the LDS (Mormon) Temple, but to some other type of temple.  Uh oh.  When we pointed it out to him, he acted confused and started driving and driving and driving... with a few twists and turns and U-turns in between.  Finally, I downloaded the app "WAZE" onto my phone while in the taxi (it's known to be the best app to use to get around Panama) and had to type in the address myself and get the directions... again.  At one point, I had to laugh listening to Martin yell out directions to the driver while holding my phone as my phone yelled out directions to him from the app.  

Finally, 4 hours later we found the LDS church.  We got there just as members were piling out of the church.  We stopped and talked to them for awhile, and even invited a few to come and stay at our home if they were ever in town for the LDS conference that is held twice a year in Salt Lake City.  We even had one sweet member snap a picture of us in front of the chapel.  (Hence, the first picture in this post.)

I was beyond disappointed because I am always so excited to meet new people from various parts of the world, but mainly just to feel the peace that going to church brings to Martin and me by attending.  

No use in crying over spilled milk.  So, from there, we got our driver to take us to "Old Town" which I had read about online and was told it was a "must see!"  As we get to Old Town the driver promptly says, "I haven't been here since I was three years old" (...He had a son who was 26.  The kicker is, that I hired the original driver because he could supposedly give you a "tour of the city.")  The driver then proceeded to just drive through a little road and then back down the hill.  In the course of the driving, we had a minor fender bender that included another driver and a cop.  We were exhausted and tired of being in the car.  Poor Lily was white as a ghost.   
From what we could see from the car, Old Town 
looked like a fun place to visit, but how would we know?
By then it had been a good 5 hours of us really having done nothing so far but drive around in a car.  We were starving and just wanted to get out of the car and find our way around alone.  So, we told the driver to just take us to the "mall" and we would be done with his services.

The driver drove us to Albrook Mall, and if any of you are familiar with this mall, there is nothing like it.  It goes on and on for hours.  If you have missed the GAP, good luck because it is a mile and a half down one end of the mall.  If you are looking for ZARA, well that's another mile on the other side.  
Food courts can be so amazing for Lily.  She had a ball.



























Finally, we just stopped and decided to have lunch in the food court.  I saw a Johnny Rockets, which I hadn't been to in 15 years, and ordered pretty much everything on the menu.  I was starved.  Lily was starved and Martin was apprehensive by all the "junk" I had ordered.

Needless to say, I was stuffed from all the food, but boy was I happy!
A little too happy.
Knowing this was going to be our last chance to buy anything we need at a reasonable price.  We walked around the mall for a bit and bought a few things that we probably didn't need but felt that if we didn't purchase the item that we may never, ever see it again.  

Now to get us home.  Sue and David had told us about a bus that we could take for $3.25 a piece.  We found the bus, jumped on it and then realized, we had NO idea where we were supposed to get off.  Finally, I told the driver that we just needed to find a taxi and the next time he saw one to please stop the bus so we could flag it down.  (Insert "Kym getting nervous" here, and Martin not caring in the least bit that we were in the middle of one of the roughest sections of Colon.  He rarely gets nervous over these types of things because I do it for us both).   Unbelievably, the driver waived down the first taxi that he saw and I jumped off the bus and negotiated a price with the taxi driver.  

When we got into the taxi driver's car, we realized that it was less of a car, and more like a go-cart.  Bungee cords were wrapped around everything keeping the car doors, trunk and seats in place.  When we jumped in, we noticed a woman sitting in the front who was obviously a bit inebriated.  (Insert "Kym SUPER nervous" here) and the cab smelled like boiled cabbage and pachouli oil.  I had to put my shirt up over my nose for a second or two.  Then I proceeded to sit erect for the rest of the ride and immediately put my hair in a bun and pulled out tissues in case I needed to touch anything within a 10 inch path in front of me.  I kept swathing Lily in purell and let Martin fight it out on his own.  Martin and I kept silently laughing every time we realized what we had gotten ourselves into.

We took off and zoomed over and around streets  I was certain that the driver had no idea where he was going but he assured me that he did.  (Yeah, yeah, I've heard that before.)  All the while me thinking that the Frey's were going to be front page news the following morning.  Oh, and did I mention that our taxi driver was making out with his 'girlfriend' at every stop light?

When we got to the Canal, as luck would have it, we had to wait for THREE huge ships to go through that lasted exactly 1 hour.  I timed it.  By then I was a nervous wreck.  I just wanted out of the car because I didn't think I could watch the driver and his girlfriend makeout in front of me one more time.  Finally, the gates opened and we were off. 

Words can not express how happy I am to be home after about 8 hours of traveling and doing something that I can't even figure out what we actually did.  Nonetheless, we are safe and sound and dear Lily is tucked away in bed.  

Moral of the story.  Next time, rent a car. Period!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Our First Video Production—The San Blas Islands

Here is the first video production of our adventure through the San Blas Islands last week!  Given the Wi-Fi services, I'm not sure how often I'm going to be able post these types of videos (since this one took me six hours to upload).  However, I'll probably keep plugging along and making them because they are a lot of fun to create and watch down the road.      
  
Tomorrow, Martin, Lily and I are off to Panama City (about an hour and a half away) to attend church and then walk around the city.  We are trying to make the most of this wonderful time together in this amazing part of the world.

Just a quick update...  Monday we are set to leave and go through the Panama Canal at 1pm.  We are more than happy to have been slated for Monday and even more excited that this is finally happening.  More on that tomorrow...

Until then, enjoy our first video!

P.S. Check your pc's volume before playing.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Carti Sagdup Island—San Blas Islands Continued...


Monday morning, Martin and David took the tender in to clear us through Panamanian immigration so that we could go and visit some of the islands in the San Blas.  There are over 120 small islands in this area, and most of them are uninhabited.  There are four main islands (yet small) that a lot of the Kuna Indians call home. 

With Martin and David at customs, Sue and I got busy cleaning up the boat.  After six days at sea, there were linens to be changed, floors to be cleaned and showers to be scrubbed.  I have found my kindred spirit in cleaning, as Sue loves a good scrubbed sink as much as I do.  We were all too happy to get Amara back to her lovely self again.  After we had done some laundry and were getting ready for lunch, Martin and David returned.  We promptly pulled up anchor and headed for the island, Carti Sagdup.
Passing through a house to get to the
main street from the dock.
Now, I don’t mean to sound na├»ve, but I was preparing myself to go to a bunch of stores on Carti Sagdup to buy the local handicrafts.  What I wasn’t prepared for, until we set foot on the island, was how primitive it was.  

There, we were met by “John” who was an older fellow who said he once helped in the building of the Panama canal back in the forties.  John was also a snide entrepreneur because the minute he saw us driving up in our tender, he ran out to welcome us to the island and “invite” us to his home.  While walking from the dock (which was hardly a dock) we had to walk through someone’s home to get to the main street.  John turned us left, and then right, and then left again.  Winding us down alleys until we finally made our way to his home. 
John's home.  This is a typical Kuna family home.  Sand floors, little to no furniture with hammocks.  The roofs are made of palm fronds and keep the hut dry even in the harshest of tropical storms.
Purchasing  traditional "Molas" from John's wife.
I was in a bit of a shock when we got to his home to see that he and his family were actually living on a dirt floor with hammocks as beds.  I was more than happy to purchase some Molas from his wife as well as some long-strand beads that the women use to wrap their legs in daily.  John was very proud of his large and spacious home and even pointed out his satellite television to us.  I let him give me a tour, still in shock at how primitive these people still live. 


The Kuna's have a matriarchal society, where the woman handle the money and the men move into their wife's home.  Most of the women in the village were dressed in traditional Kuna Indian clothing.  They take the Mola’s and fashion them into shirts and wear a colorful sarong around their waists with the beads around their legs and feet.  Of course, I was mesmerized by the fashion of these women.  I had just come from a swim in the ocean and was still in my tank top and shorts and felt severely underdressed standing next to them.




Walking the dirt alleys of this island called Carti Sagdup was very humbling, yet what I noticed was that the kids were just kids having fun in the streets.  Mothers were reading to their children in their huts.  Children were attending school and everyone was going about their daily lives.  
The local school where the classroom was
outside as well as smaller classes being held inside.
Children playing in the streets.
Of course, Lily in her stroller was a big attraction to the local women and children.  Everywhere we went, the children would run up to Lily and say, “Hola!” and then I would tell the children in Spanish that Lily couldn’t walk or talk.  They were very silent as they just stared at her.  We would then go on to the next house to see the handicrafts and then come back out to see even more children had gathered to see the little girl being pushed in a stroller.  
Three little girls especially loved seeing Lily in her stroller.  We watched them as they eyed her and looked at the specifics of Lily's stroller.  Then they disappeared.  Sue and I thought that maybe they were so interested because they had never seen a stroller.  However, we were tickled when they came running around the corner with their baby doll in her stroller!  Then they started laughing as they came over to me and pushed their baby as I pushed mine, all the while smiling and laughing.
We walked all around the island and went from house to house looking at their crafts.  Sue and I purchased several Molas as well as some purses made from a Mola pattern.  

Pretty soon we were “Mola-ed out” and decided it was time to start heading back to our tender.  The problem was that we had twisted and turned so many times that every time we thought that we had found our way to the dock, we would end up in someone’s living room.  I know it’s hard for most to understand how we would end up in someone’s living room.  However, most of the homes were part of the ally as well.  
The bathroom cabinet.  
One point, I ended up at one of the many outhouses that the Kuna’s use to bathe and use as a restroom.  I really was set back by the filth on the outskirts of the island, but found the people trying their best to keep their homes as clean as possible when living on a tropical island with a dirt floors.   It was very humbling for me as it would be for anyone that came to visit these people.
Traditional dugout canoes "pangas" and behind
them are the local outhouses.

When we returned to the boat, I told Martin that I was sold on our new cruising lifestyle.  I loved our little adventure and only wished that more of my family and friends could have been with us to share in this experience.

I am sure that through the course of our journey and through this blog, I am going to say over and over again about how blessed we are.  However, let me make it clear that being “blessed” can be relative.  For example, some people are blessed with health.  Others are blessed with healthy children, and others are blessed with the opportunity to have the kind of experience that Martin and I had today.  I believe that the Kuna’s are blessed because everyone we saw, old and young, appeared to be happy, surrounded by family, and were very proud of their heritage.   It was such an amazing experience for all of us.

San Blas Islands Passage From St. Maarten

Amara leaving St. Maarten

On Sunday, April 20th, we finally made it to San Blas islands after six days at sea!  I haven’t had access to the internet, and I am currently sitting in a little cafe at the marina sucking up their wi-fi before they close up shop for the evening.  I have to type fast!
Arriving in the San Blas islands was a long haul (at least for me).  We covered over 1000 miles in 6 days.  It was so nice to finally leave St. Maarten behind us and head out into the great big ocean.  It was my maiden voyage on Amara and I was so excited to finally start sailing!

We had planned to leave that Sunday, but as luck would have it, Martin and David were doing a routine check of the boat and went snorkeling under the hulls and noticed a missing cover that led into the generator compartment.  It was a problem that had been fixed in France, but the plate covering the hole had fallen off somewhere between France and St. Maarten.  The hole wasn’t going to sink the boat but it could have shorted out all of our electrical equipment.  So, erring on side of caution, they decided to go back into St. Maarten where David found an aluminum plate (which was a small miracle) to cover the hole.  Then Martin and David spent the better part of the day in a dinghy under the catamaran gluing the plate into place.

As I have been saying all along, plans can change quickly while sailing, so we postponed our departure until Monday. 
Martin and David working under Amara.
We finally set off on Monday of last week.  I can say now that the passage was actually a lot of fun, however, there were a few days there where I was a little, “touch and go.”  The sea was angry there for awhile, and I wasn’t sure that a sailor’s life was for me.  More on that later…
Our  Crew Watch Schedule
Each member of the crew (which includes me) had to cover one, 4-hour watch and one, 3-hour watch (except me, since I had to watch Lily during the day.)  My 3-hour watch was from 6-9:00 pm.  I actually enjoyed that time alone under the stars listening to music and getting lost in my thoughts.  All the while looking out for any ships that were getting within a certain distance from Amara.  Martin and I also had a lot of time to spend with each other, since our night watches were back-to-back.  Martin’s night watch started at 9:00 pm and lasted until 12:00 am.  So, he would come up to relieve me and we would end up sitting under the moonlight for about an hour and just talk and enjoy one another’s company.   We are lucky that we not only really love each other, but we also really like each other.  We have some wonderful memories now of us just sitting under the stars in the middle of the ocean.

I have to admit, there were two days during the passage that I would have paid anything to get off Amara.  ANYTHING!  The passage was relatively easy other than Thursday and Friday where we were in 25-30 knot winds in a cross current.  The boat rocked relentlessly during those two days.  Every time a wave would hit the hulls it would make this LOUD crashing and knocking sound.  I didn't sleep at night during this time because the hulls were so loud that it sounded like someone was rolling a bowling ball up and down our bedroom all night.  I finally found peace when I put on my eye shades and noise-cancelling headphones.  Finally got a good night's sleep.
A self-portrait while blindfolded is
apparently a little difficult to center the photo.
There was a moment during this time, when I felt so sick that I asked Martin if he could call in a chopper for me to get me off the boat!  I was standing in the hallway with my feet firmly on each side of the aisles with my hands holding onto the doorway.  I yelled to Martin, “I feel like I am in the belly of the whale!  I gotta get outta here!”  It was a minor meltdown that lasted all of 1 minute, but during that minute I was scheming up all kinds of plans to get me off that bobbing boat!  

During those two days, the boat was rocking and rolling around so much that all I could do was stay in bed.  I spent the majority of those two days holding on to Lily’s leg.  It was all I could do when Martin was on watch to make sure she didn’t fall off the bed while I just tried to sleep and have my dreams take me far, far away from Amara.  Luckily, Martin watched her for the most part during that time so that I could just recoup.  Just when I would think that I was starting to get better, I'd look over and read the title of a book and then feel a rush of nausea coming back over me.

Speaking of Lily, she’s a natural.  So far, she has had the time of her life sitting at the helm with her dad and with me, or just playing in the cockpit with all her toys.  She seems to be adapting to being a sailor quite well.  And yes, she is still stuffing herself with all of Sue’s epicurean creations.
Lily is a natural.  She loved the rocking 
and rolling and found it quite fun!
Lily loved hanging out with dad.
...and playing outside in the cockpit.
By Saturday, the winds had calmed down and the rest of the passage was enjoyable.  I was back to wanting to be a sailor again. Whew!  Martin assured me that those were the two roughest days on the water even for him since he set foot on Amara.  I am kind of proud of myself for enduring those two days, but I am so glad they are a faint memory now. 
One day during our passage, we were quite entertained by a pelican that came and visited us for about an hour in the middle of the ocean.  He (assuming he was a HE) would fly in front of the boat, land on the water and then let Amara pass over him.  Then, once he was behind the boat, he would fly to the front and do it all over again.  He did this over and over.  In the end, he finally flew onto the boat and sat there balancing on Amara’s lifelines. The pelican would just sit there and pose for me as I snapped away taking photos.  I have a feeling I wasn’t the first person to take his picture as he seemed quite sure of himself.   
Examining Lily's bedroom hatch.
At one point while I was taking pictures of him, I saw him zeroing in on the open hatch right over Lily’s room.  Realizing what he might be thinking, I ran out of the salon and started yelling and shooing him from the deck like a crazy lady.  All I could think of was that pelican flying into Lily’s bedroom hatch and wrecking havoc in her room while she was sleeping.  I turn into an angry mama bear when my cub’s safety is at stake.  Let's just say that Mr. Pelican met his first bear that day. 
Our first catch!  A mahi mahi.
Fresh sashimi straight from the sea.
Another highlight was catching fish!  I never knew how much fun reeling in fish would be.  Every time the lines would start making the slightest of noise, I would run out to see what the sea might be offering up to us.  The second morning of the voyage, at about 6 in the morning, I heard the lines peeling off the reel and I ran out to see that Martin and David had caught a mahi mahi (which we promptly ate for lunch and dinner that night).  We caught a few more fish during the week but somehow they managed to wiggle away from our lines.  I was getting a bit discouraged as the score was about: Sea-5 and Amara-1.  Not to be discouraged, on Sunday, Martin and David caught a yellow fin tuna.  We made fresh sashimi for lunch and had seared tuna that evening for dinner.  
Pulling into the San Blas Islands custom's office.
We hadn't even put down our anchor yet and the Kuna Indian women were floating up to our boat to sell us "Molas".
When we got into the San Blas islands on Sunday evening.  While putting down our anchor, the local Kuna Indian women promptly rowed up to our boat and met us wanting to sell us their handicrafts.  In the San Blas, the Kuna Indians make something called a “Mola” which is a process of stacking material on top of one another and then sewing a design within the stacked material.  It is usually in a geometric shape but lately they are doing animals and boats (for the tourists).  It is an important part in maintaining the Kuna economy.  They are so beautiful once you realize all the stitching and handwork that went into creating them.  
Sue looking at all the colorful Molas and making her selection.
Sue was kind enough to purchase from the Kuna women that rowed out to our boat.  I held off until the next day knowing that we were going to go into one of the islands (Carti Sagdup) and would be able to do a little local shopping there.

To be continued...