Friday, April 08, 2005

Still in panama

to the crazies,

around the middle of march, i flew home for a brief period because my grandmother on my dad´s side passed away. she was 97, had lived a wonderful life and i was able to talk to her on the phone two or three days before she died. it was great to be with my family and extended family for a week and it was great to get a taste of the cold winter air and snow of massachusetts. by the end of march i was back on the haus, with two visitors, my cousin liza and ted´s sister jenny. the boat at that time was in portabello, panama, and we sailed further east to the san blas islands. before we got to the san blas islands, we stopped at isla grande, where we had some great surfing, and resupplied our food, water and fuel. i was the water man, and i asked a woman walking on the road, and she took me to a house further on. apparently it is not the place that normal yachties go, but i was happy to get water from anywhere. it was a family complex with kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, dogs, cats, chickens, parakeets, and ground crabs. they took me around to the tap, put our five gallon jugs down and slowly they began to fill. because of the slowness, they invited me to come sit on the porch of their small concrete house that they had built themselves. none of them spoke english and i had a great time speaking spanish with all of them. they were quite a group, and my spanish improved as i sat there for about half an hour as they checked on the water. the kids looked at a spanish-english picture book, the grandmother and i chatted, and the animals wondered around or relaxed in the shade of the porch. it was one of my favorite times in panama, and i was delighted to return the next day with lize, for another 10 gallons of water on the following day. from there we headed to the san blas islands.

the islands are made up of many little islands, some with people on them, some without. it was much like the bahamas in terms of the wilderness feel. lots of snorkling and a bit of surfing and some island explorations. it was nice to have a break from towns, shops and other money spending places. at the first island we were anchored near, we had a three on three game of wiffle ball which was quite fun. we drew a crowd of the natives, some of whom had been out in their dugout canoes to ask if we wanted any molas, the decoratively woven squares of fabric. we asked them if they wanted to play with us but they were content to watch. when the ball was lost high in a palm tree, we were all amazed as one of our fans climbed up to retrive it like it was nothing. we gave him a round of applaus and he was all smiles. after the game, i gave the bat to a little girl and then we had batting practice, which she loved. no one else wanted to bat, but she had quite a good time, as did we, watching her enjoyment.

from there we went to another islands, snorkled, surfed, and read. we had great dinners, partly on account of having guests, and partly because the guests helped out so much. some might even say, they cooked for us a few nights. we were running low on food and water so we went to the island called rio diablo to get resupplied. this was a real village and we were taken around by a great helper to boat folks named fredericko. he was a small but strong fellow who had a great high pitched laugh, and brought us everywhere we needed to go. all the houses are made from bamboo poles and have a thatched type of roof. the roads are all dirt, and everyone knows everyone. i went on a picture taking expedition while the others were trying to make some telephone calls, and a few little girls saw my camera and did some mock poses. i took one picture of about 10 of the girls, probably all under the age of ten, and the next thing i knew, i was cheek to cheek with them all as i held out the camera for a picture of me and 10 smiling girls, one of which was wearing my hat another wearing my sunglasses. we were all laughing and having a grand old time. they loved the pics and loved even more to see themselves on the camera´s digital screen. every time i said, "una mas" meaning one more, there were squeels of delight as they raced around me to take their positions. a few more minutes later and after i had told them my name and tried to pronounce all of theirs, much to their delight, i found myself inside one of their homes, dancing to the song gasolina, which is a huge hit here - we first heard the song in jamaica and imagine it will reach the states soon if it has not already. i took a video with my camera and it is quite amusing to see me dancing with 10 little girls, the coreography, i got by the end.

we moved on from rio diablo to get into the wilderness again, and after some snorkling near an island rob and i did some breath holding trials in about 10 feet of water holding on to the anchor. we took a watch down with us and did our best. 1 minute, then two, and by the end of the time we had both done thee and a half minutes by relaxing completely with our eyes closed. watching each other was great fun, because by about two minutes under, our bodies would want to breath, and our diaphrams would begin going up and down, even though we were not breathing. it began slowly and by the time three minutes and thirty seconds were up, i could not keep my head under water becasue i was laughing so hard at rob´s stomach going in and out faster than i had ever seen a bellie move. it was quite fun and we were proud of our achievement.

we had swam to fifty feet down in the bahamas, rob had said he had gone to sixty feet but was not sure and wanted to confirm his estimate. so, feeling strong, we put a line over the side with a chain on the end to guide our way down and back up and in increments let out all the anchor line until we were about at seventy five feet. we were able to make it down and back up without a problem and i even stayed at the bottom for a few seconds. we took turns and even hauled up the guide line and then rode it´s chain all the way down a bit fast and with less effort than swimming ourselves. we wanted to hit eighty feet but the bottom over which we were floating got no deeper in the range of our anchor. so, mightly satisfied with over 75 feet, we heading for a different island to explore in the light winds. but soon we found ourselves over 80 feet. after a few "should we..."´s we dropped the hook and checked the depth meter. 90 feet, then 100 feet. well, over went the guide line, and on went the mask, snorkle, fins, and my six pounds of lead weight. we did a few exploritory runs down, and could barely see the bottom. i then held on to the line to relax, breathing slowly in an attempt to slow my heart rate, took two deep breaths, then a thrid to go down with. i went down, telling myself to relax over and over, followed the line down, saw the chain, then the bottom, figured i could keep going, all the while with one hand on my nose to clear my ears of the increasing pressure. still felt good, so i kept going, resisting any urge to panic, hesitated twice as it took a more concentrated effort to clear my ears, reached out and grabbed a handfull of the moonscape mud of a hundred feet below the water´s surface. i turn around, and without looking up, i told myself, to just start slowly kicking towards the surface. soon i was half way up, feeling good enough so that i could hold onto the mud in one had, and didn´t need to use the line to haul my way up faster. i saw rob come down, as a safety check, and i gave him the customary thumbs up, and then i was on the surface showing the others the mud in my hand. i was quite excited and even more so when rob followed suit and did the same. it was amazing to be so deep, feel so calm and see the boat from so far down. it was a day i shall never forget. i´m hoping to find gills soon growing on my cheeks. (ang, you´d be proud, i owe my skills to you and farm pond depth dives).

the girls had to leave too soon, so we went back to rio diablo where they caught a flight back to panama city. it was nice to have some feminin types on board and we were all sad to see them go, trying not to feel the loss that i always feel when a visiting family member departs.

we went back to isla grande for two days of surfing, and then headed to bocas. 160 miles it was, we should be able to do it in just of 24 hours in good winds from the north east. but the good northeast winds turned to the 5 to 10, then turned to the west (our direction of travel) and then turned back to 15 to 20, 27 hours turned to 40 and included thunder and lightning striking only a few hundred yards away from our own lightning rod shaped mast. it was pouring rain at times and with the lighting we rigged up a steering system so we could steer using lines and pullies from the inside, away from electrically conducting shourds and masts. we got through the storm and finally made it to bocas this morning at 4:30am. the passage was a long one with a bit of motoring, any bit being too much, and our eating mostly considered of ritz type crackers and a few packets of ramen noodles. upon arriving, we slept, then at the marina, showered, ted and chris shaved their heads, and i my fu man chu, as a sort of cleansing from the passage. the passage consisted of our watch of an hour by day, two by night, and when off watch we would sleep or read, myself finishing The Long Walk aka the long read. it is a strange type of life, during the passage days, with steering sleeping and reading, plus little radio activities to get the weather and to try to contact my dad. we all feel our bodies go down to about 80% but we all stay in good spirits. the days just go by, and time takes a new meaning as i find myself either on watch or on a bunk, it being light or dark outside. don´t really have any meals, just a little snack before each watch.

we´re headed in a few days or so up the coast and onto new countries, eager for a new place, but bocas is nice and has good food, water, showers, and internet with which to gather ourselves. so that is where we are, and what we´ve been up to. hope all is well back home. glad to know spring is coming for you.


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