Valle de Anton

Ivo, Mira and Maya hiking La India Dormida, Valle de Anton, Panama

Ivo, Mira and Maya hiking La India Dormida, Valle de Anton, Panama

If you are a nature-lover visiting the big busy Panama City, there is a place you can go to escape the hustle and heat of the metropolis, the perfect getaway. Set in a tranquil valley surrounded by mountains, high above the sea, inside the second largest volcano crater in the world, is nestled the small picturesque town of El Valle de Anton, offering much more than a quiet retreat in the beautiful countryside.

Thermal Spring, Valle de Anton, Panama

Thermal Spring, Valle de Anton, Panama

The first time we visit El Valle is with our new friends here in Panama Milen, Maylen, Ian and Kristo, a mixed Bulgarian-Panamian family, and a young couple: Ana from Costa Rica and Samuel from Panama. We met Milen Bojinov soon after arriving in Panama City and shared many wonderful moments with him and his family. They helped us with the Panama Canal buffer refund, took us to the fruits and vegetables market and all the other best and cheapest places for grocery shopping and for propane, invited us to their house may times, and came to sail with us around the gulf aboard Fata Morgana one afternoon.

Maylen, Ian and Milen, Valle de Anton, Panama

Maylen, Ian and Milen, Valle de Anton, Panama

Milen is an experienced sailor and the epic story of his Atlantic Ocean crossing with his friend Vassil Beyazov aboard an small salvaged sailboat Peterson 25 from Bulgaria to the Caribbean has been described in a book: The Feeling of Freedom, by Vassil Beyazov.

Milen and Maylen’s family just got bigger today, November 11, 2015 with the arrival of a little girl named Mylena at around 0900 a.m.! Congratulations and may your journey in life be the happiest of all, little princess!

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One Sunday, we start early in the morning with two cars, Milen and his family in one car, Ana, Samuel and our family in the other, driving for over two hours, first on the Inter-American highway for about 1.5 hours and another half an hour on a narrow mountain road winding through a bizarre landscape of pine forests mixed with palm trees. The higher we go, the cooler it gets, and once up in the valley we find ourselves in a climate much different form the suffocating tropical heat of the lowlands. It’s fresh spring in El Valle de Anton, a beautiful sunny day. The town is charming, a preferred destination for everyone from the city, with handsome vacation homes and gorgeous mansions with Tuscan architecture, lush gardens with ponds and exotic plants, belonging to some of Panama’s wealthiest families. It is a main tourist destination too, offering a vast choice of accommodation, from cheap hostels to luxurious boutique hotels and eco lodges with stunning mountain views and renowned restaurants, surrounded by tropical forest and the sounds of birds.

Vacation home, Valle de Anton, Panama

Vacation home, Valle de Anton, Panama

It has been a while since we hiked up a mountain, so the first place we head to is La India Dormida (the Sleeping Indian Girl), a three-hour easy and pleasant hike, passing by a huge boulder with ancient petroglyphs, La Piedra Pintada (the painted rock), a small waterfall, a natural river-pool, and spectacular views of the valley.

Ana, Samuel and Kristo on their way to the India Dormida

Ana, Samuel and Kristo on their way to the India Dormida

The Painted Rock has large pre-Columbian petroglyphs without any archaeological explanation or legend attached to them, so you are welcome to invent your own legend and interpret the drawings and figures using your imagination.

Maya and the petroglyphs, Valle de Anton, Panama

Maya and the petroglyphs, Valle de Anton, Panama

We walk among thick forest in the beginning. By the end only rocky hills covered in thin green grasses enveloped in fog are all around us. Seen from the village below, these desolate naked hills- the rim of a huge inactive volcano crater- look like the contours of the body of a sleeping woman.

Ivo and Maya

Ivo and Maya

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Next on the agenda is El Serpentario (the serpent sanctuary). At the end of a narrow muddy path, we find a small building containing a collection of about a dozen local snakes, who are no prisoners in cages, but injured specimens, ex-pets, and temporary visitors, some to be released back in the wild as soon as they are rehabilitated and ready for independent life. The young guy working with the reptiles is a Panamanian who studied biology in United Stated and worked with conservation programs in Florida. He is one of the most important herpetologists and conservationists in Panama with vast knawlage and passion for the reptiles, committed not only to work for the conservation of local snakes, frogs, caimans and others, but also to educate the population about the importance of the reptiles for the ecosystem, as well as to diffuse some Hollywood myths about snakes.

Mira at the serpentario

Mira at the serpentario

You fear what you don’t know. If you get to know the snakes, if you understand and respect them, their needs and behavior, what to do and not to do in their presence, you will find out that they are not your enemy, and that most of the stuff you know about snakes from films and TV is unrealistic and untrue.

Samuel at the serpentarium

Samuel at the serpentarium

Ivo has been terrified by snakes all his life. Ever since he was a little boy and saw Indiana Johns Raiders of the Lost Ark snakes have been his biggest nightmare. But only after a few minutes in the serpentarium his new best friend is a sleepy very friendly boa. An unwanted pet, she became one of the sanctuary’s permanent residents. She doesn’t mind being held by visitors, and when Ivo places her on his freshly shaved head, she coils around tightly and comfortably, and prepares for an afternoon nap.

Ivo....

Ivo….

A month later, we go back to show El Valle to our Aruban friends who came to visit us in Panama and this time we check out the Thermal Hot Waters and Mud Baths. Set amidst lush tropical vegetation are a few small pools with yellow waters coming from underground volcanic thermal springs.

Maya at the Hot Springs Batsh

Maya at the Hot Springs Batsh

Mira and Patrizia putting therapeutic mud on their faces

Mira and Patrizia putting therapeutic mud on their faces

Ivo

Ivo

This could have become the most awesome and fun experience and our very favorite spot in all of El Valle, if it weren’t for e small nervous guy who was constantly monitoring us, telling us what we can do and what we cannot do, like a prison guard. He wouldn’t let Maya, who quickly jumped in the kid’s pool, to come out of the pool and put therapeutic volcanic mud on her face like the rest of us, just because according to the rules, you have to do the mud first, and then, after you wash the mud off your face, you can go to the pools. But once in the pool, you have no right to come out, do the mud, wash it off, and go back in the pool.

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– Why? I want to know. What is the logic behind this strange rule? And if Maya made a mistake and went in the pool first, why don’t you let her go out, dry herself with a towel, and put some mud on her face?
– No, no and no! the small guy is raving, ready to arrest us if we break the rule!
– Then, can we go out of the Thermal Baths, and then comeback after ten minutes, pay the entrance fee again ($3), and do the procedure the correct way this time?
– No, no and no! She (Maya) cannot use the mud and that’s that!

I am absolutely frustrated at this point, I start screaming at the guy and the entire experience is ruined…

I generally hate most rules, but rules that don’t make sense and people who are idiots just make me crazy. Unfortunately, the world is populated by idiots who make and follow stupid rules.

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There is a lot more to see and do in El Valle de Anton. Besides hiking in the mountains, relaxing in the thermal baths, and meeting the snakes, you can rent a bike or a horse, visit a tropical zoo, do the zipline adventure or simply relax and watch the variety of birds. One day is not enough and once you visit this enchanted place, you will want to return again.

Ivo and Mira (Maya could have been in the picture too...)

Ivo and Mira (Maya could have been in the picture too…)

Ivo and MIra (Maya could have been in the picture too...)

Ivo and Mira (Maya could have been in the picture too…)

Ivo

Ivo

Ivo

Ivo

Ivo and Mira

Ivo and Mira

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Two Years of Sailing Anniversary

Two Years of Sailing Anniversary

In July 2015 we celebrated the beginning of our third year of cruising and sailing around the world. As if it was yesterday when we moved aboard our new floating home in Key West (Florida)- a 38-foot Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana, and sailed south. Two years is not much, yet so many things happened in those first 24 months, it’s incredible!

We sailed for over 8,000 NM, with 5.7 kt average speed, visiting over 30 countries and 100 islands. We fueled 150 gallons the first year and 10 gallons the second for a total of 160 gallons of fuel taken in two years! We caught and ate a lot of fish and tried many new foods.

Fata Morgana sailing wing-on-wing

Fata Morgana sailing

In July 2013 we sailed to Dry Tortugas where we met a small group of scientists researching sea turtles and we volunteered to help them excavate and count hatched turtle eggs.

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Fort Jefferson, Florida

Next, we crossed the mighty Gulfstream to Havana (Cuba) where we met some very poor people and we almost starved to death.

Viktor, Maya, and Ivo walking with bug-repellent palm leaf hats, Cuba This is how we showed up at the beach.

Viktor, Maya, and Ivo walking with bug-repellent palm leaf hats, Cuba
This is how we showed up at the beach.

In August 2013 we visited Isla Mujeres in Mexico for a couple of weeks, and we checked the Mayan ruins of Tulum.

Mira in Tulum

Mira in Tulum, Mexico

September and October 2013 we spent with new awesome friends in Rio Dulce (Guatemala) going on many crazy adventures. We jumped from a hot-water waterfall, we swam in a dark cave, we crawled in a huge canyon tied with ropes, we met howler monkeys, and we were the first white visitors to enter a cave full of human skulls in Sierra de las Minas Mountains.

The boulder.

With friends in Boqueron Canyon, Guatemala

In November 2013, after surviving our first storm in the Yucatan Chanel, we returned to Key West to add more solar panels and lithium batteries to the boat, making her a unique off-grid vessel.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels, Key West, Florida

In December 2013 we celebrated Christmas and New Year in the Bahamas enjoying some of the most beautiful turquoise waters and deserted beaches.

Mira, Bahamas

Mira, Bahamas

From January till March 2014 we were island-hoping in the Bahamas, and everywhere something new and exciting would happen. We met the swimming pigs and visited the Thunderbolt Grotto, we spent some quality time anchored at a private cruising ship island, we had friends visiting us, we helped to repair a hermitage damaged by a lightning, we went to the deepest saltwater blue hole in the world, we met a whale, we swam with dolphins and we shared an anchorage with hundreds of migrating flamingos.

Maya swimming with pigs

Maya swimming with pigs, Bahamas

In April 2014 we were in Luperon (Dominican Republic) for a month. We left the boat at anchor and rented a car to explore the island and its many attractions. We Climbed Pico Duarte- a two day hike with mules and a guide, we jumped down a river with 27 cascades, we went to Santo Domingo, we learned to surf in Cabarete with awesome new friends, we checked out the crocodiles in a lake lower than the sea, and we slept in some pretty weird motels and hostels.

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The Nomadiks at Damajaqua Cascades, Dominican Republic

In May and June 2014 we sailed around Puerto Rico and the US virgin Islands where we had friends staying with us again. We saw a WWII tank on the beach and training torpedoes underwater.

The Nomadiks & Friends at Caja de Muerto, Puerto Rico

The Nomadiks & Friends at Caja de Muerto, Puerto Rico

In July through August, September and October 2014 we sailed south the Eastern Caribbean island chain spending a few days in each island: BVI (snorkeling in The Baths was the best), Saba (an unusual tall and steep island with incredible history), St Martin (too many tourists, but great beer and cheese), St Barth (a luxurious stop for the rich and famous), St Kitts and Nevis (we hauled out the boat for a routine bottom job, we met Sejah, a local kid who took us to a small waterfall in the forest and we met green monkeys in an old fort), Montserrat (we visited the ruins of a capital destroyed by a volcano), Antigua and Barbuda (got drunk during carnival in Antigua and we made fire on a 12-mile deserted beach with pink sand in Barbuda. Here our son Viktor left for Canada and we continued our journey without him), Guadeloupe (hiked up an active volcano), Dominica (our favorite island, so many things to see and do! We snorkeled in bubbling underwater volcano, we hiked The Boiling Lake, and we found unlimited mangoes, avocadoes and bananas in the forest), Martinique(another volcano to conquer) and we stopped in Grenada, where we celebrated Maya’s birthday and Halloween with twenty other boat-kids.

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Boat Kids, Grenada

In November 2014 we sailed with our sailing buddies Mel and Caryn aboard S/V Passages to Trinidad and Tobago. There we saw the biggest pitch lake in the world, a temple in the sea, an abandoned leper colony, and we observed the scarlet ibis colonies on the Caroni river at sunset.

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Mira, Maya, Ivo in Tobago

December 2014 found us in Barbados, where Ivo ran his first 10 km marathon and we spend some quality time in amazing caves full of centipedes and blind spiders. We celebrated Christmas with friends and sea turtles in the Grenadines and the New Year found us back in St Martin where we met a cool Bulgarian-Italian family.

Maya and Robert at the beach, Grand Case

Maya and Robert at the beach, Grand Case, St Martin

In January 2015 we went back for some awesome reunion with old friends in the BVIs.

Ivo, Mira and Maya with Harley and April S/V El Karma

Ivo, Mira and Maya with Harley and April S/V El Karma in BVI

February and March 2015 we spent in Puerto Rico stocking up the boat with provisions and waiting for a window to sail to Aruba.

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Kayak expedition, Puerto Rico

April 2015 was like vacation in one of our favorite islands- Aruba. We befriended a great family who took us to some incredible places, and we learned to kitesurf and windsurf.

Maya Ivo and Mira in Aruba Мая Иво и Мира в Аруба

Maya Ivo and Mira in Aruba
Мая Иво и Мира в Аруба

May 2015 was all about Colombia- camping in Tayrona, visiting the capital Bogota by plane and its many tourist attractions, spending a few days in Cartagena.

Maya at Tayrona, Colombia

Maya at Tayrona, Colombia

June 2015 found is in the San Blas archipelago of Panama where the Kuna Indians live, our last Caribbean stop, before crossing to the Pacific Ocean.

Maya in San Blas

Maya in San Blas

In July 2015 we began our third consecutive year of cruising in Pacific Panama- new adventures are ahead of us. We are planning to visit many of the Central and South American countries by land- Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia) until April 2016, when we will begin the crossing of the biggest ocean in the world to Galapagos Islands and on to French Polynesia.

Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana

After two years, we have learned many new things about the world we have passed through, about sailing, cruising, fishing, and boat maintenance. We have become used to a more simple, more exciting and sometimes much more difficult way of life. We have everything we need and Fata Morgana has proven to be a worthy sailing vessel and a comfortable off-the-grid home. We have met and befriended hundreds of incredible people from all around the world from whom we have learned a lot and we hope to meet them again. Every new friend and every new experience has been a new lesson in the School of Life, and we are so grateful for the opportunity to be able to travel as we do.

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Maya and girlfriends in the Grenadines

We had some difficult moments too of course, some scary, sad and unfortunate moments, but we have managed to pull through, and today we continue. We are proud with the choices we have made and we are proud with the way we live our lives and the way we raise our daughter Maya. And we are curious and excited, as much as you may be, to find out what the future has in store for us.

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Fata Morgana with flamingos, Bahamas

Thank you all for the overwhelming interest and support you have demonstrated throughout this past 24 months, for liking, sharing, commenting, donating, asking questions, and giving us advice and encouragement along the way. Without YOU our journey wouldn’t be the same and we are happy to share it with YOU!

The adventure continues!

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The Nomadiks in San Blas

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Tobago

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Tobago is the smaller of the two main islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It is located in the southern Caribbean, northeast of the island of Trinidad and southeast of Grenada, outside the hurricane belt. Tobago has a land area of 300 km² and is approximately 40 km long and 10 km wide.

 

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Sailing to Tobago from Trinidad proves slower than we expected, heading northeast, very close to wind. We have calculated that if we leave on Thursday in the afternoon from Chacachacare and sail all night we should arrive in time on Friday and check-in before 4 p.m., as we thought there will be an overtime charge for late checking-in if we arrive after 4 p.m. or on the weekend. We are not sure if the overtime charge is 100 $US per boat, or per person, but it is an amount of money we would rather avoid paying. But we are sailing too slow and it looks like we will be late.

Maya aboard Fata Morgana

Maya aboard Fata Morgana

Our friends on S/V Passages, Mel and Caryn, who have been with us every day for the past 4 months and sailing about a mile behind us, agree on the VHF radio that we don’t have many options. We have to motor-sail the last 16 miles if we want to make it on time. The fuel will cost not more than 5$. Yet, Ivo doesn’t like the idea of motoring. A dark cloud of shame and misery envelopes him. Finally he tells me: “Do what you want…” Like an old dictator defeated by circumstances, yet proud, he cannot make the shameful decision and give the order. He wants me to do it. I turn on the engines. He sits alone on the bow of the boat, the farthest point away from the unbearable sound of the propellers, bursting from inside.It has been over one year now since we motored for so long, and it was because of a storm.

We get in the anchorage at Store Bay around 3 p.m., but we need to take a taxi and literally run to the Customs and then to Immigration in order to make it before 4. We do all this running like a small heard on the streets of Scarborough together with Mel and Caryn for the sheer amazement of the locals, only to realize at the end, that there isn’t any overtime fee when sailing between Trinidad and Tobago…The fee is when you are arriving from another country… Anyway…

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We spend only a few days in Tobago, a small island invaded by bamboo trees and vary loud annoying birds called Cocrico, Tobago’s national bird, which serenade us in the mornings. The first time we heard them we thought some weird construction machines are invading the shores.

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Here we found the most beautiful beach, not far from the anchorage at Store Bay- Pigeon Point. Pink sand and palm trees leaning over delicious blue water.

Ivo chilling on a palm tree

Ivo chilling on a palm tree

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We also share a car with our friends Mel and Caryn and tour the entire island, stopping here and there, visiting many fishermen villages, beaches and bays, a small waterfall, enjoying a nice day on the road, even though it is raining most of the time.

 

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Mel, Caryn, Mira, Maya and Ivo , Tobago waterfall

Mel, Caryn, Mira, Maya and Ivo , Tobago waterfall

Many fishermen in Tobago still use traditional long bamboo fishing poles, one hung from each side of their boats. They show us how to clean fish. We learn something every day…

 

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In Tobago, like in Trinidad, the bamboo imported from Asia during the colonial period, has invaded the entire island. Beautiful bamboo forests are everywhere and people use the tree for construction, art, and to make fishing poles and all sorts of other useful things.

Bamboo in Tobago

Bamboo in Tobago

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The economy of Tobago is heavily dependent on Trinidad’s booming natural gas and oil economy. Locally, tourism and fishing are most important.

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Tobago is a much smaller much quieter island than Trinidad and we appreciated its authentic Caribbean atmosphere and tranquility, friendly people, and beautiful nature.

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Our journey in Tobago ended with a nice dinner in the small beach restaurant near the anchorage, where Mel and Caryn invited us for dinner. They had too many of the local Trinidad and Tobago dollars left, and needed to liquidate them before leaving the country and heading to Barbados. We were happy to help with the liquidation of Mel and Caryn’s TT$ and enjoyed some local fish and beers. Thank you guys!

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The Whale Who Came To Say Hi

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This can happen to you when sailing from one place to another, slowly, gentle breeze, the sea surface almost flat, just a few ripples; then the wind dying completely and the boat drifting in some random direction carried by an almost imperceptible current, the sky clear and so bright it hurts your eyes, no land in view only barren sea, a great intense space empty and silent, and then…pffff… a long lazy slow-motion pfff, and you know it’s a whale, and your heart starts, and adrenalin hits you so violently you feel tiny needles in your arms and legs, and you know it’s a whale but you don’t see it, you missed it, so close to the boat, and you look with all your eyes and you scan the sea in all the directions and you know: next time he comes out for air you will see him for sure.

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There he is, coming slowly, like a delayed miracle, pffff, closer this time, just next to the boat, his dark back smooth and shiny, his wet eye looking at you. He circles the boat closer and closer, worried, why are you not sailing, why is the boat drifting like that, do you need help? The water is so clear and completely transparent that when he decides to pass under, just a few feet below the boat, you see every detail on his body. It is a young humpback whale; about thirty feet long, with dark back, a small dorsal fin, two white pectoral fins, and a powerful elegant tail. You are looking down as if suspended in the air. A whale is flowing beneath your feet.

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He decides to stay with the boat for a while, to make sure everything is OK, coming out for air every few minutes sometimes really close. Sometimes he swims on his side his white belly shining through the water, showing off, here I am, look what I can do, how are you, nice to meet you!

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