April 18, 2006

So Long... We Sail Today

Pilot ChartDAVID PANAMA - This is something I must have spent several thousand hours day-dreaming about over the course of my life. It blows my mind to actually stop to realize that I'm doing it. I don´t really even know how I got this far, I just started telling everybody it would happen. We set a date and when the time came I left my job, moved my furniture into storage and just did it; one step at a time.

After 3 weeks of cleaning, painting, varnishing and provisioning we'll be leaving Central America with this afternoon's tide. Our first concrete destination will be the Marquesas Islands, a small and isolated group of islands owned by French Polynesia. This initial crossing will be the longest open water passage on our way to Australia. In fact people say it´s the longest open water passage in the world. Up to 40 days.

There is however a chance that we´ll stop in at the only other land mass along the way, The Galapagos islands. The way the currents and winds work this time of year, we´ll need to sail down to the equator (8 degrees) to catch the trade winds. If the sailing is easy and the wind anywhere but on our bow, there is a chance of making landfall at the Galapagos (10-15 days).

I guess what I'm saying is that I probably won´t be posting again until April 28th and it could be as long as May 28th. Big discrepancy, I know, but such is the nature of sailing. We are at the mercy of the wind.

*In other news
- As I meet more and more people, the traffic continues to grow each month. A couple weeks ago The Gazette, the daily newspaper for the University of Western Ontario featured an article about this site and this week I´m featured on the front page of PublicBroadcasting.ca as a 'Great Blog'. In addition to the donations that keep rolling in, we´ve been helped along by some of the online crew banks including a complimentary membership to Crewbay, one of the more professional crewing services offered online.

April 16, 2006

The Countdown Continues...

Shake Down CruiseDAVID, PANAMA - It was never in the cards for us to leave Panama on the 15th, despite our best intentions. All three of us overlooked the fact that Saturday, April 15th happens to fall smack dab in the middle of the biggest holiday in all of Central America. Easter is a time for Customs and Immigration officials to keep a low profile. Hardware stores lock their doors and virtually all commerce grinds to a halt.

Until Brian showed (2 days ago), everyday was starting to feel like a cross between the film Ground Hog Day and the song Hotel California, by the Eagles; 'you can check out, but you can never leave.'

It´s alright though, the extra time has given us an opportunity to shrink what started out as a massive 'to do' list. It´s now down to a manageable size, we´ve even had time to cast off the bow lines, peel out of marina and take her on a shake down cruise to test all the systems (radar, GPS, Auto Pilot, Engine, Radios etc..) and scrub barnacles off the bottom of the boat in clear water, without the worry of alligators.

Things are shaping up nicely. Today´s major chore will be to provision the boat with nearly 100 days of food for 3 people. wow.

April 11, 2006

A Weekend Trip to Panama City

DAVID, PANAMA - After a weekend of late nights and short days in Panama City, I´m back to the provincial capital of David; back to the quiet little backwater marina I call home. The trip to the city was essential to my mental health. With the captain in the U.S.A and Caroline and Suzi gone. I found myself instantly bored and needing a distraction. The only cure for me was to leave the boat along with its cockroaches and half finished paint jobs for the promise of some excitement in the big city.

It´s Monday now...no, wait...it´s Tuesday and for me, like most of the world, it´s back to the grind. There is a problem with the fresh water pump that needs looking at, the top deck could still use a coat of paint, and I´d better start thinking about stocking the boat with food for 3 guys and nearly 100 days at sea.

For now though, while I'm in town and running errands, I´ll be checking in for my first experience with a dentist outside of Canada. $20. I can´t go wrong. Or can I? Wish me luck.

**Charlotte is still stuck in the hospital in La Paz, Bolivia. She´s has 5 broken ribs and can´t yet walk. The unfortunate part of her situation is that the accident happened before she had a chance to meet people in Bolivia. Her core group of travelling friends are here, in Panama, and her family is in England. She´s probably tougher than I am, but it must be terribly boring for her. If you know her, call her. I can give anybody who asks the phone number. No stalkers please.

April 05, 2006

Takin' Off - The Yacht

Takin' Off - getting ready for just thatDAVID, PANAMA - She´s a Cheoy Lee 44; that is, she was built by Cheoy Lee shipyards in Hong Kong, 1979 and is 44ft long. If you look at the picture closely, you´ll see that she is a Ketch, that is she has two masts. Her name is "Takin' Off". She´s registered in Hayman Island, Australia. Not only is she relatively long along the water, she´s hefty and sturdy as far as modern cruising yachts go. I´ve heard her described by Dominic, a British ex-pat who seems to know something about everything nautical, as 'a good boat, she could use some paint and maybe a wash.' His observation seems to be the consensus around here; that is, she´s seaworthy but a little run down and tired as far as aesthetics is concerned.

With the captain in the USA for the next 6 days, Eduardo and I, a local, have been left to tidy her up. My days are now filled with sanding, varnishing, painting and trying to source materials from a limited Panamanian market. (you can see in the posted photo that we have yet to paint the green trim on the starboard side.)

I´ve managed to convince a couple long time travelling friends to live aboard with me while the captain is away and even to help out. Caroline and Suzi are getting used to living for free on a yacht, but have also been great help.

So this is my life. Caroline, Suzi, Eduardo and myself are living (and working) on a big ol' sail boat in a very small, and backwater marina near David, Panama.

Our target date of departure is April 15th, while the trade winds are still favourable and the rainy season just starting...

April 04, 2006

Charlotte Get Well Soon...

04/06/06: Charlotte is expected to stay in hospital for at least another 5 days. From what I´ve heard from her family, she´s received phone calls from a lot of friends and even visits from people who don´t know her.

The backpacking community in this corner of the world is often surprisingly small. We are constantly running into familiar faces over and over as we've made our way South.

I've just received news that a close travelling friend, Charlotte, has come off a bicycle in Bolivia. From what I understand, she's broken some bones and will be making the Americano Hospital in the capital, La Paz, her home for the next little while. If you'd like to get in touch with her you can email me here for her contact info.

I imagine it's very difficult for her to be suffering in a strange hospital in a strange land virtually alone with thousands of miles separating her from friends and family. So if you know her and are in the area, please get in touch.

¡Que te mejores pronto!

March 31, 2006

My New Home Aboard an Actual Sailing Yacht

IMG_0665[1]DAVID, PANAMA - I haven´t been idle. Within 24 hours of my last post, I had been aboard no less than 3 ocean going yachts. And had succeeded in securing passage on a German boat transiting the Panama Canal. Yep, things were moving along quickly in Panama City. Maybe too quickly.

With Brian back in Canada, Tommy Toman, a good friend who´s been travelling with us off and on since Mexico became my partner in crime for several excursions to various Marina´s and Yacht Clubs in the area. We´d succeeded in making ourselves known and in the confusion Tom, who´d never really even entertained the notion of sailing was offered position as crew for a 7-month journey to New Zealand with a salty old sailor from South Africa. As far as I know, Tom left today on his impromptu oddessy. Good luck, and God speed Tommy. You´ll be a sailor by the time you´re finished.

In the wake of Tom´s luck, I began a streak of luck to match him. It would be a matter of hours before I was on a bus to the town of David (7hrs), in the Western part of Panama to meet with a Captain, looking for two crew to leave in ´3 weeks´ for Australia.

I´ve been living on this boat now for a two days, helping to prep it for crossing the Pacific. We are painting, plumbing, oiling and cleaning constantly. All the while my mind is racing. I´m experiencing some culture shock and perhaps nervousness at the sudden prospect of sailing halfway around the world. Is the boat safe? Is the skipper competent? Will we get along? What will it all be like? These are some of the questions running around my head at the moment. I´ll post more about the boat soon...

In completely unrelated news, you might enjoy this: For context have a look at this article by CNN, then check out this eBay auction before looking at this eBay auction. The seller is my roommate from Toronto. Clever or stupid? My vote is clever.

March 27, 2006

Panama City - Police Escorts and Pouring Rain

If the world had to choose a capital, the Isthmus of Panama would be the obvious place for that high destiny.

Simon Bolivar, 1826

IMG_0616[1]PANAMA CITY, PANAMA - We finished our trip with as much style as can be mustered in the pouring rain, stopping just long enough at the peak of the Bridge of the Americas for some quick photos of ourselves, the giant canal below and a big ol' high-five. Cheesy, I know, but what else could we be expected to do at the symbolic end of a 6-country cycling trip? It felt appropriate.

Once actually over the bridge and in the city we experienced some of the usual navigational confusion one would expect. When faced with the choice of taking the Avenida de los Poetas along the waterfront or the Avenida de los Martirs, we chose the poets, preferring them to martirs. This, of course, is not a scientific way to navigate and led us to a rather sinister city slum. Not to worry though, the policia called for back-up the moment they saw us and arranged a truck with sirens and all to escort us through the slum and into the neighborhood we wanted. Problem solved.

It's been a few days since. Brian and the bicycles are safely back in Canada (he'll be back in Panama on April 9th... the bikes won't). I've had a chance to have a closer look at the fabulous canal. I've seen quite a bit of the city, sampled the thriving nightlife and simply relaxed.

The big question looming now for us is what happens next? Where do we go from here?

The road South physically ends in Panama. It's impossible to drive to Colombia from here due to a gap in the road called The Darien Gap. Where you'd expect there to be a road there is jungle, Marxist Guerrillas, drug runners and the Boogy Man. Continuing overland is not an option for us.

Other than that I don't think we could be in a better place. This city is pretty much the worlds biggest intersection. There are boats sailing west. There are Boats sailing east. There are even boats sailing around the gap in the road south to Colombia and beyond.

My task, while Brian is away, is to come up with a plan. I'm to look for an opportunity. Something to help us along the way on this trip around the world. I'll start as soon as I get some breakfast in me.

March 22, 2006

Broken Bikes and Killer Bees

SAN CARLOS, PANAMA - The last few days have been an adventure to say the least. The Panamerican didn´t turn out to be the dream highway I imagined, just because we´re close the end of our cycling trip, doesn´t mean it gets easier. I was mistaken on that point.

Brian´s bicycle is suffering in the heat and his chain seems to fall apart at least once each day. What we considered a crisis a mere 3 days ago, is now not much more than a minor nuisance as he´s becoming very good at putting chains back together with random bits of steel, and stones found exclusively on the side of the road. Who needs proper tools when we´ve got desperation on our side?

Speaking of desperation, I can talk about it now that the crisis has passed; for poverty is embarrassing and best kept secret. After losing most of my wallet in Honduras, I´ve now lost the rest; My credit card, this usually wouldn´t be a problem except for the fact that through some complicated logistics, Brian also has no access to money. So there we were, two Gringo´s moving slow motion toward Panama on less than $7 per day each; eating bread, cheese, peanut-butter and water and sleeping on the side of the road (in a tent). We lived like this for three full days until we were down to our last $5 USD before we managed a stroke of luck. A bank in Santiago, finally agreed to manually do a cash advance on his credit card at the dramatically appropriate time. Now we´re back in the money (well sorta, we´ve got some decision making to do when we arrive in Panama), and ready for anything.

Umm... oh yeah, Killer Bees. I don´t know much, but what I´ve heard is that they can outrun people and sting so much that one can die from them. That´s pretty much all that was running through my mind as the swarm descended. As the stinging started, I could hear Brian yelping behind me and new something awful was happening. Flight or Flight. Those were my choices. There is very little 'fight' in my nature. So pedal I did, with Brian hot on my tail... 2 km later and heavily winded, we finally slowed to a stop to assess the damage. I was left with 4 stings across my back and Brian was unscathed. (Why was he screaming then? I´m not sure.) In truth, we´re not sure they were actually killer bees, but it makes for a better story, so that´s what we´re sticking to. Killer Bees.

We're hiding from the heat at the moment after having put in 100km already today. A this pace we´ll make Panama city sometime tomorrow.

March 18, 2006

The Continental Divide

BOCAS DEL TORO, PANAMA - I keep trying to tell myself that the reason we've been hanging out so long (5th day)here in Bocas Town, is because of ease of life here. I genuinely like living in a building that hangs into the Caribbean Sea. You know the kind, made completely from wood and built on stilts in the water. It makes for easy fish watching from bed. All one needs to do is close one eye and peek between the floorboards.

I know though, that deep down, part of our hesitation to leave this place is tied up with the fact that we've cycled ourselves into a geographical corner of sorts. With the only road out of here leading straight up and into the clouds.

Panama is described in some circles as a cyclists dream. The only major highway, the Panamerican, runs along the hot Pacific Plain straight toward the capital. People who run in those circles obviously don't start from the remote Bocas Del Toro province. In order for us to reach this dream highway, we first need cross the continental divide. That's right; up and over a giant mountain range. Allegedly 40km run straight up. The fact that it's meant to be some of the most spectacular virgin rain forest in all of Central America is little consolation.

All along we've maintained that we weren't going to be purists about the cycling. If the going got tough, we'd simply throw our bikes on a bus and zoom ahead to flatter (or friendlier) terrain. Thus far we've made all our forward progress solely by bicycle except for a short 30km stretch of road leading to the capital of El Salvador. I'm certain the reason was valid though, as Brian was suffering, at the time, with Dengue Fever. It's easy to say we'll attempt the climb, as I sit here at the computer, but it's an entirely different matter when we're out there on the mountain. I'm not sure how this one will play out...

March 15, 2006

Bocas Del Toro

DolphinsBOCAS DEL TORO, PANAMA - After racing through Costa Rica, I´m happy to say that we´ve made it safely into Panama and are currently holed up on the Carribbean side at the extreme Western edge of the country on Isla De Colon; the main island in the Bocas Del Toro archipeligo.

Yesterday we spent the day touring the islands and putting our new Dive Certifications to use. On route we spotted some playful dolphins and of course, everybody went for their cameras, myself included. I, having more luck than skill, managed this action photo from our boat. For a brief moment, I was the hero as all other cameras turned up nothing more than splashes of water.