Fun and Gifts for Maya’s Birthday

“All kids are excited about their birthdays and expect them so much only because of the gifts. If there were no gifts, no kid would ever care about their birthday…”- Maya, who never before had so many gifts for her birthday.

Maya's twelfth birthday

Maya’s twelfth birthday

On October 27th, 2015, Maya celebrated her twelfth birthday which historically became her Most Presents Ever Birthday, and not because we like to spoil her, but because YOU DO!

It was an epic unforgettable birthday that stretched for a month before the actual day and continued for some time after. And even though we are in Panama, away from friends and family, this year we were not alone in organizing the celebration and buying the gifts, sharing the joy of this day with thirty known and unknown friends from around the world, who all sent us their generous contributions. Shopping for gifts has never been more epic and fun! Thank you all!

Maya shopping gifts for her birthday

Maya shopping gifts for her birthday

Tuesday, October 27 Maya spent with Noee, her friend and only kid-neighbor here in Panama’s anchorage, a ten-years-old girl from New Caledonia, who like Maya is sailing around the world with her mom and dad, living aboard S/V Taff Tumas. For the two girls living at sea, playing at deserted beaches, visiting beautiful islands, hiking in jungles, jumping from waterfalls, climbing mountains and volcanoes, swimming in colorful coral gardens and enjoying the best of World’s Nature is a way of life, a routine, something they do on a daily base. But spending one special day completely removed from nature, in the Game Zone of Panama’s biggest shopping mall, air-conditioned, filled with videogames, with artificial lighting, surrounded only by technology, and not an inch of grass or sky or sea or sand around, was a rare and very much enjoyed experience! Albrook Mall, here we come!

Maya and Noee with Barney at Albrook Mall, Panama

Maya and Noee with Barney at Albrook Mall, Panama

They had a blast and the curious thing is that both girls did not pay much attention to the videogames, but chose to play more interactive games like table hokey, bowling, and dance.

Having fun in the Game Zone

Having fun in the Game Zone

It turned out that Noee is a professional bowling-player and she won a whole bunch of tickets for prizes, as she didn’t miss a shot. Maya, on the other hand spent the two hours we were in the Game Zone mostly dancing and jumping in front of a big screen with super fun Japanese pop songs. Krasi Raycheva, my dearest friend, the Game Zone fun was on you, thank you!

The Dance Floor

The Dance Floor Competition

After the Game Zone, tired but excited and extremely hungry, Maya and her only birthday guest decided it is time for pizza, everyone’s favorite snack, isn’t it! Thank you for the pizza, Peter Ivanov!

Pizza time!

Pizza time!

Back on the boat a chocolate cake decorated with fresh strawberries and twelve candles was awaiting the birthday girl. Thank you for the cake, Zori Beraha!

Maya and the Birthday cake

Maya and the Birthday cake

And the most thrilling of all moments of any kid’s life- the unpacking of the birthday gifts!

From Noee, Maya got a gift certificate which she spent on new markers, crayons and other arts&craft materials. Thank you Noee! Our Aruban friend Patrizia gave Maya a coloring book with Van Gog’s paintings and four new Pet-Shops (Maya’s favorite small plastic animals), who joined the ranks of many others living in small boxes on the boat, each with a name and a story. Thank you, Patrizia!

Meet Alice the bunny, Sam the cat, Fifi the spider and Violet the frog!

Meet Alice the bunny, Sam the cat, Fifi the spider and Violet the frog!

Ivo and I got her a few new outfits and a second-hand Samsung phone with a camera, so she can take better photos for her Instagram account. Thank you, mom and dad!

The rest is all the many wonderful gifts she would probably not receive if it wasn’t for YOUR DONATIONS! Thank you ALL!

Hiking Shoes: Merrell Thermo Waterproof black leather hiking boots for men size 7. Maya fell in love with these hiking shoes, after trying hundreds of different ones in different stores, even though they are for men. Hiking is serious business, she said, and it doesn’t matter if the shoes are for girls or boys, as long as they are comfortable, strong, waterproof and do the job. We bought them at a reduced price for $104.00 together with Columbia Hiker Lite Merino wool socks for $10.00. There is nothing more important for the serious mountaineer than her shoes! Thank you, Dani and Denyu Bostandzhievi, and anonymous!

A backpack: Mountain Hard Wear Fluid 18 L, for $93.00. Super light and fast-dry material, very comfortable and awesome looking backpack for some serious stuff-carrying up mountains and volcanoes. Thank you, Zdravko Simeonov, Carl Robinson, Pavel Vachkov, Media 1 LTD, Kiril Bozhinov, and anonymous!

Maya with her new awesome hiking gear

Maya with her new awesome hiking gear

You will soon have the chance to see this high quality hiking shoes, socks and backpack in action, as in the beginning of December we are heading to the rainforests and volcanoes of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, followed by the high mountains and lakes of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia in January, February and March of 2016.

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Snorkeling gear: Oceanic ION mask with twin lens frame and 100% silicone skirt, and NEO easy adjustment strap; Oceanic Ultra Dry snorkel with dual valves for easy cleaning, flex 100% replaceable mouthpiece; and Oceanic Viper high-stretch open heel fins for a total of $192.00. Living on a boat, in the sea, Maya needs those super amazing fins, mask, and snorkel more than you can imagine. Thank you, Ventsislav Georgiev, Iliyana Koleva, Pascal Pascalev, Doncho Donev, Kocka and Deian Dimitrovi, Vera Nikiforova, Mitko Dimitrov, Boyko Ivanov, and Mihayl Zamfirov!

Maya with her new super amazing snorkeling gear

Maya with her new super amazing snorkeling gear

Hopefully, in April 2016, Maya will be swimming, snorkeling and scuba-diving with her new high-quality mask, snorkel and fins among the seals of the Galapagos Islands, and after the Big Crossing of the Pacific Ocean in May, she will be in the blue liquid-glass waters surrounding the volcanic tall islands of the Marquesas and French Polynesia.

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New bed sheets: 500 thread Egyptian Cotton (made for Europe) Queen size for $40.00. Maya loves the new fashion look of her cozy cabin and the comfort of these quality sheets. Thank you, Silviya Pavlova and Vera Boyadzhieva!

Maya and Buba cozy in her new bed sheets

Maya and Bubba cozy in their new bed sheets

Animal Jam 6-month membership for $30.00. This is Maya’s favorite computer game, an interactive educational on-line game about nature and animals created by National Geographic. Thank you, Robert Stewart, Ivelina Saltova, and Boryana Pavlova!

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About $90.00 from all donations are still not spent and we decided to keep them and buy Maya a surf, something that she would really appreciate a lot, later on, for which we thank you, Garth and Monique Williamson, Dimitar Milenkov, Milkana Nentcheva, and Gergana Ermenkova!

 

Your generosity and support are overwhelming and there is no way we can thank you enough! Your donations, birthday wishes and love have brought to this extraordinary young girl who lives on a boat and travels the world a mountain of joy and a sea of happiness.Hopefully, she will return the joy and happiness back to you through her stories and adventures.

This was a truly heartwarming experience. Thank you!

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Punta Chame. Kitesurfing in Panama

Punta Chame. Kitesurfing in Panama with Rado Barzev

by Mira Nencheva

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At the end of a narrow almost deserted peninsula less than 100 km west of Panama City, we get to a wild beach of extreme tides, black vultures and skeletons; of howling winds and flying people. An hour and a half drive from the city is Punta Chame, a popular kitesurfing spot along the Bahía de Chame in Panama, a prime destination for adrenalin-junkies from the city.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

One of those adrenalin-junkies and kitesurfing maniacs is Rado Barzev, a tall big guy from Sofia (Bulgaria) whom we met the first week of our arrival in Panama City.

Rado Barzev

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado’s family moved to Nicaragua in the 1980s when he was a teenager. He did his master’s degree in Economics in Chile and a doctorate in Holland. Today, he works as a freelance Environmental Economist consulting international organizations on environmental projects based in all of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean region. Thanks to his work, which involves a lot of traveling, he spends a lot of time in Panama City, a central strategic place for the region. His job is done in two stages: first visiting the place and then writing estimates and reports for the projects he is commissioned to work on, mainly from his computer at home. Rado, always chill, positive, and contagiously cheerful, is one of not many people in the world who actually love their work, enjoying the freedom of choosing his next project, working from home, and traveling for work. Thanks to this, he has visited some of the most beautiful natural, historical and cultural destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Rado Barzev

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Nature and travel are the two most enjoyable things for him. Rado also makes sure he has enough free time on his hands, which he spends with his beautiful girlfriend Kenia, visiting interesting places, enjoying the mountains and the sea, reading, playing tennis, but mainly kitesurfing in Nicaragua or Panama, or wherever he happens to be.

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

If you ask me, Rado’s primary occupation is kitesurfing and his work is done in his spare time, that’s how it looks. He is constantly monitoring the wind forecast, and as soon as there is wind strong enough to fill the kite, he jumps in his car and an hour and half later is in Punta Chame.

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

“Tomorrow- good wind! I’m going to Punta, you coming?”, we get his messages once or twice a week and most of the time we pack Ivo’s kite, Maya’s and mine bathing suites, a couple of beers in a small cooler, and off we go with Rado to kitesurf in Punta Chame.

Ivo and Rado at Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo and Rado at Punta Chame (Panama)

Once, we wake up around 7 in the morning and find a message sent at 3 o’clock at night: “There will be wind at 5 a.m., I’m going! You guys want to come?” We missed that invite, as we, unlike Rado, sleep at night. I think he has a beeper that goes off day or night, as soon as a good wind is predicted. A true maniac.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

The first time Rado comes to Amador Causeway to pick us up to go kitesurfing is comical. He is about two meter tall guy and we expect he is driving some sort of a big car, a jeep maybe. A tiny Chevrolet Spark with a kiteboard on top shows up and from it Big Rado emerges, like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. “It is much more economical and much better for the environment”, he explains smiling. “When I grow up, I want to have a car exactly like this one.”, Maya says. “And me, I want to become like Rado, when I grow up…”, Ivo is inspired. Incredibly, we all fit comfortably in the little car, with all the kiting equipment, the beer cooler, and even Maya’s friend Noee.

Rado's car

Rado’s car

All packed in the Chevy, we start west on the Inter-American Highway for the first 70 km and after the turnoff for Punta Chame we continue on a narrow winding scenic road for another 25 km, past rolling hills and small ranches, along a vast bay lined by shrimp farms and mangroves, until we reach the beach.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

It’s low tide and the beach is vast and wet with tiny craters formed by air bubbles coming out of the yellow-and-black sand. A strange and beautiful sight.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

The wind here is unbelievable. A river flowing between high hills and entering the sea forms a large delta and creates a sort of a funnel, so even when there is zero wind in Panama City it can blow 20 knots in Punta Chame. Kitesurfers’ paradise.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Across the bay to the west we see the blue silhouettes of islands posing for spectacular sunset photos. One of them was property of John Wane.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo and Rado unpack the kites and are gone for hours flying left and right parallel to the beach in the company of a few more enthusiasts and two yellow dogs. These must be the happiest dogs on the planet, splashing in the water, and running after the kitesurfers all afternoon.

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While Ivo and Rado are zooming in the sea, Maya and her friend Noee play on the beach and even sneak unnoticed in the swimming pool of a near-by hotel, enjoying every minute of our unforgettable afternoons in Punta Chame.

Maya and Noee

Maya and Noee

Meanwhile, I explore the shore with my photo camera. It is one of my favorite most photogenic places in Panama: a deserted beach with huge driftwood sculptures, patrolled by hundreds of black vultures and frigate birds.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

At low tide, the yellow and black sand, the sea, and the tiny sea creature create abstract patterns of colors and shapes on shore, with different textures every time.

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At the south end there is a community of small fishing boats, abandoned and still, anchored in the sand without sea. At low tide the water beneath them disappears and they just sit on the beach waiting for its return.

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Kitesurfing in Punta Chame with Rado has become the highlight of our time spent in Panama City, while waiting for the rainy season to end, before heading off to the mountains and volcanoes of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Ivo and Rado at Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo and Rado at Punta Chame (Panama)

If you are going to kitesurf in Punta Chame, here a few facts and some useful information about the place:

• On the Inter-American Highway going from Panama City to Punta Chame, there are a few very nice and clean gas stations with fast food restaurants, toilets, and small stores, where you can buy food and drinks.

• In the morning going to Panama City and in the late afternoon going to Punta Chame, you will experience some intense traffic jams on the main highway.

• After the turnoff there is a police outpost stopping every car, checking each passenger’s passport and immigration status. Always bring your passport with you!

• There is not much in Punta Chame besides a few hotels and beach houses. And the kitesurfing school.

• The kitesurfing season is between mid-November to the end of April, with strong winds. Occasionally, there are gusts even off-season.

• You can get kitesurfing curses during season from beginners to advanced. The school is closed off-season.

• There are a few nice and safe spots to park a camper van for free and spend time in the area.

• Often the sea is rough with waves and strong currents.

• The beach is with grey sand, wild and deserted. It is also extremely polluted with plastic garbage deposited by the sea. No one cleans and maintains it.

• At high tide there is virtually no beach and kiting becomes very dangerous, because of the proximity of the large rock wall on shore at the south end. It gets hard lo launch or land the kite.

• At low tide the beach is huge, but the shallow waters are full of stingrays. Swimming is not advisable at low tide.

• Not many services are available in the area, besides a few hotels and restaurants. It is a good idea to bring food and drinks with you.

• The small town of Chame is up the road near the highway and has a bank, an ATM and a few basic grocery stores.

• In the area you will find a few nice beaches: Playa Coronado and Playa Farallón, which are upscale beach destinations, the surfing beach at Playa El Palmar, and the white-sand beach of Playa Santa Clara.

Kitesurf Punta Chame Picture Gallery

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo kitesurfing in Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo kitesurfing in Punta Chame (Panama)

Vultures and skeletons, Punta Chame (Panama)

Vultures and skeletons, Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Maya at Punta Chame (Panama)

Maya at Punta Chame (Panama)

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“Ride the wind of today, for the wind of yesterday will bring you nowhere and the wind of tomorrow may never come.”

Ivo, Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo, Punta Chame (Panama)

Mira, Punta Chame (Panama)

Mira, Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo, Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo, Punta Chame (Panama)

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Ivo

Ivo

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Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

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Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Maya and Noee

Maya and Noee

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Mira

Mira

Ivo and Rado

Ivo and Rado

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

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Maya and Noee

Maya and Noee

Ivo...

Ivo…

Other stories from the blog about Kitesurfing:

Kitesurfing in San Blas

Kitesurfing in Aruba

Rado, Ivo and Shrek

Rado, Ivo and Shrek

About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page: Facebook/TheLifeNomadik

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Our Kayak Got Stolen

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A couple of days ago, as we were returning to our boat in the afternoon, we found the spot up on the rocks under the bushes and next to a big driftwood tree where we leave our kayak named Junior, empty. Our kayak is our only means to get between the boat and shore. It is our transportation up wild rivers inaccessible to dinghies, and in mangrove swamps home to colonies of frigate birds; it is our silent, clean 100% nature-friendly friend and family member who can carry all of us, our backpacks, and a few bags full of groceries all at once. We love him and need him.

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We love him and need him the same way as a family from Sichuan Province in China loves and needs their one and only water buffalo named Strong Mountain for he pulls the plow in the rice fields, draws cartloads of produce and homemade bricks to the village on market day, and patiently carries the heavy bundles of firewood or bamboo home on his broad back. This family, they take good care of their water buffalo Strong Mountain. But us, we failed to take good care of our kayak Junior and abandoned him unlocked and unattended for hours…

Taking the kayak for a ride.

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It is a three-seat new orange kayak very stable, light and comfortable. A gift from our friends at www.kayakshopbg.com – the one store in Bulgaria where you can buy from sailing and fishing Hobie kayaks, to all MalibuKayaks last models. A few months ago, they became our sponsors and gave us this new kayak, just when our old one got badly damaged by the UV after twelve years of staying under the sun. The extraordinary story of how Kayak Shop BG organized the buying of our new kayak while we were in Puerto Rico can be found and read here:  How We Got Our New Kayak.

Иво и Агент Оранжев-Младши

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We were devastated. Junior was gone. The place where we come on shore and leave the kayak is a small rocky beach where no one of the other cruisers from the anchorage at La Playita (Panama City) comes, as it is inaccessible to dinghies. Everyone else uses the dinghy docks at the marina for a 35-dollars weekly fee. I quickly calculate, that our kayak is worth the dinghy dock fee for a year. We used to lock it to a tree with a long cable and a padlock, but after we returned from Las Perlas Archipelago a few weeks ago, we stopped locking it and this is not a good idea. Abandoning a kayak unlocked on a secluded beach in Panama is asking for it.

Ivo tying the kayak to a log at high tide, anchorage La Playita, Panama

Ivo tying the kayak to a log at high tide, anchorage La Playita, Panama

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday and many families are out and about. Four people are having a picnic up on a small grassy patch overlooking the entire bay, fishermen are stationed on the rocks on both sides of the beach constantly looking at the sea, waiting for fish. They have all seen a single guy climb in an orange kayak about half an hour ago and leave paddling awkwardly, just on one side. He went that way, they point. The weird thing is that the guy has left his clothes on the beach. It is also a hopeful sign that maybe he is planning to return.

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Our kayak among the indigenous Kuna ulus in a river in San Blas

We start running around, reporting the theft to the marina security on the other side, asking people if they have seen an orange kayak, but they haven’t. An officer from the harbor police goes up on a small tower from where ships coming in and out are being monitored and with huge binoculars scans the bay in all directions. Nothing. Then he jumps in a motorboat and for half an hour searches the waters around Amador Causeway for the criminal. But no success.

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One hour later all is left to do is for Ivo to swim to the boat and get the old patched-up kayak, so that we can go back home and be miserable. Right then, we spot an orange kayak in the distance towards the marina entrance heading our way!

I just wanted to paddle around for a bit! I never intended to steal the kayak. I know it is yours, I have seen you before. And this is not the first time I take your kayak for a spin after you leave it; I do it all the time. I take it, paddle around and return it to the same spot!- Sais the guy, never apologizing, accusing us for coming back too early!!!

Ivo, with a big rock in his hand, is ready to whack the kayak thief, but the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a Panamian jail in the company of ex-dictators and all sorts of criminals keeps him from killing the guy.

Don’t you ever touch this kayak again, you hear me!

Lesson learned: from now on, we lock Junior every time.

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About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page: Facebook/TheLifeNomadik

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The Ordinary House with the Most Extraordinary Inhabitants

The Ordinary House with the Most Extraordinary Inhabitants

The house where Yiscel Yánguez and her husband Néstor Correa reside looks like any other ordinary suburban house: just like the house on its right and just like the house on its left, and just like the row of houses across the street except that they are all painted different pale colors. Theirs is painted yellow. It is nothing special really.

The yellow house on the left

The yellow house on the left

A two-story house with a garage and a backyard. It has windows and doors like any other house, a living room, a few bedrooms and a kitchen. The floors inside are made of dark hardwood and the walls in all rooms are cream colors. There is a blue couch in the living room, a few chairs, book shelves with books, a ventilator, a table, and a big branch in the corner with three sloths. A big branch in the corner with three sloths???!!!

The living room

The living room

Oh, and by the way, there is a porcupine, a tropical screech owl and an iguana sharing one of the bedrooms, a lemur, an armadillo, a possum, and two baby crocodiles in small cages in the other bedroom, a barn owl perched in the upper corner of the dark room with blankets blocking the light from the windows, a spectacle owl in the total darkness of the garage, and a young tapir named Valencia in the backyard! You see, this very ordinary house has the most extraordinary residents. It’s the most extraordinary story made of many sad and happy stories, and they all take place in Panama.

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Valencia’s mother was killed by poachers in the thick tropical jungles of the Darien Mountains in 2014 when she was only two months old. The baby was rescued and survived and today the 19-months old tapir lives in the backyard of the house which is a temporary home to many animals in need of help.

Mira with Valencia

Mira with Valencia

 

The house serves as the headquarters for the Panamerican Association for Conservation, APPC of which Néstor Correa is the president and his wife Yiscel Yánguez is the director.

Yiscel

Yiscel Yánguez

In 2006 the APPC starts a program for rescuing and rehabilitating injured, sick and orphaned wild animals in Panama and provides care to animals with special needs with particular attention to sloths, Panama’s most common wild animal. Since then, more than 3,000 animals have been saved, of which 95 percent have been reintegrated in their natural habitat. Through education, the APPC promotes environmental awareness, harmony between humans and nature and teaches the community to love and protect Panama’s wildlife.

An armadillo

An armadillo

– Why this house?, I ask Yiscel Yánguez who showed me around the rooms and introduced their unusual residents to me.
– The house is a part of the Historic Town of Gamboa built in the 1930s and 1940s near the shores of the Chagres River to accommodate the American families during the construction of Panama Canal. Today the town is uninhabited and the houses are managed and maintained by the Rainforest Hotel Resort, who became our partner. The house is ideal for the APPC project for saving and rehabilitating animals as it is far away from the city, surrounded by jungle, the area is uninhabited and quiet and we can work with the animals releasing them and reintroducing them gradually in their natural habitat right from our backyard.

The tapir Valencia in the backyard

The tapir Valencia in the backyard

Yiscel Yánguez and her husband Néstor Correa have moved and live in the house permanently, providing special care and attention to the rescued animals, day and night, every day of the week.

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Sometimes volunteers also stay in the house and help. Like the girl who helps with Valencia, the young tapir. In the morning she feeds her and plays with her, running around the yard, and gives her a nice bath, before the animal retires in a small dark shed to take a nap.

It is not easy living in a house full of animals most of which sleep during the day and are active at night, like the owls, the possum, the armadillo, the lemur and the sloths.

The owl

The owl

– The animals make lots of noises, especially the owls. At night we hear them screech, and everyone is running around. Sometimes it is hard to sleep. – admits Yiscel.

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Sloth

 

Taking care of so many different animals, injured and orphans, requires an extensive knowledge about each animal’s habits, behavior and needs, as well as much determination and a big heart. These are not pets, nor zoo animals, and one of the main tasks of Yiscel is to keep them from getting used to people, so that they can remain wild and be reintroduced in the forest as soon as they become healthy and independent.

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But sometimes this is impossible. In most cases when an animal arrives as a baby and has to be nursed, it becomes attached to people and has to remain in captivity. Like Valencia, who came as a baby and is now domesticated. But when she grows up she will take part in the international program for captive breeding of this critically endangered species.

The tapir Valencia

The tapir Valencia

Or like Pino, the Rothschild’s porcupine and the cutest resident of the house, who was just a few days old when she was found alone and injured in the Gamboa area. Most probably a predator had killed her mother.

Pino the porcupine

Pino the porcupine

Pino survived thanks to APPC but is now so used to people; she can never return to the wild and will most probably go to a zoo. She started climbing on my leg as soon as I entered the room where she lives together with an iguana and an owl, and she ate dog food from my hand!

Pino the porcupine

Mira with Pino the porcupine

Unlike Valencia and Pino, the baby spectacled owl is being kept in the garage with minimal human interaction and is being prepared for the wild as soon as she is old enough.

– Feeding the spectacled owl is a bit… We have to give her live rats with broken limbs, so she can learn to hunt. -shares Yiscel.

Juvenile spectacled owl

Juvenile spectacled owl

 

It’s all part of the job: breaking rat’s legs for the owls, giving a hose bath to the tapir, finding the sloths’ favorite leaves, making fruit salad for the iguana, changing the newspapers in the possum’s cage, caring for the injured legs of the armadillo, cleaning lemur’s poop, and listening to the owls’ heartbreaking cries at night.

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But it’s all worth it, as this is just half of it. The other half includes: getting kissed on the ear by a porcupine, playing with a tapir, love and being loved by an armadillo, an owl, a possum and a lemur, and watching sloths smiling like yogis, and slowly disappearing in the forest after being released back in their natural habitat.

My heart remains with the animals at that ordinary house in the abandoned town of Gamboa.

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Thank you Yinscel for your hospitality and generosity, for the work you do with so much passion and selflessness!

Tapir

The tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal, similar in shape to a pig, with a short, prehensile snout. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeastern Asia. Their closest relatives are the other odd-toed ungulates, which include horses, donkeys, zebras and rhinoceroses. The proboscis of the tapir is a highly flexible organ, able to move in all directions, allowing the animals to grab foliage that would otherwise be out of reach. Although they frequently live in dryland forests, tapirs with access to rivers spend a good deal of time in and underwater, feeding on soft vegetation, taking refuge from predators, and cooling off during hot periods. Tapirs near a water source will swim, sink to the bottom, and walk along the riverbed to feed, and have been known to submerge themselves under water to allow small fish to pick parasites off their bulky bodies. Hunting for meat and hides has substantially reduced their numbers and, more recently, habitat loss has resulted in the conservation watch-listing of all four species: both the Brazilian tapir and the Malayan tapir are classified as vulnerable; and the Baird’s tapir and the mountain tapir are endangered. (Wikipedia)

Spectacled Owl

The spectacled owl is a large tropical owl native to tropical rain forests, being found mostly in areas where dense, old-growth forest is profuse. This species is largely nocturnal, starting activity right around the time of last light at dusk and usually being back on their roosts for the day around first light. It is a solitary, unsocial bird. Vocal activity tends to be most prominent on calm, moonlit nights. The primary sound made by the spectacled owl consists of guttural knocking or tapping sounds with a popping effect: PUP-pup-pup-pup-po, POK pok pok bog bog bog bobobo or BOO Boo boo boo boo. Each progressive note becomes weaker and lower in pitch but faster in pace as the call continues. The male is the primary singer to proclaim a territory, often singing from the upper third of a tall tree. However, females also sing, uttering the same song but with a higher pitch. Duets between pairs have been heard on moonlit nights. Females also make a hawk-like scream with an emphasis on the drawn-out second syllable, ker-WHEEER, which has often been compared to a steam-whistle. Young spectacled owls beg with a harsh, high-pitched keew call. The spectacled owl occurs over a very large range and is still a resident in much of its range. Due to this, it is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, being a large, slow-maturing bird of prey with a strong sense of territoriality, it as a rule occurs at low densities. In areas where prey populations are hunted by people and habitats are destroyed or compromised, they may decrease.

New World Porcupine

Rothschild’s porcupine belongs to the New World family of porcupines, or Erethizontidae. All New World porcupines protect themselves using keratinous spines that are loosely attached to the porcupine’s skin, ready to pierce the flesh of predators. Erethizontidae feature quills tipped with sharp, backwards-pointing barbs. Once one of these spines lodges in the skin of the porcupine’s molester, it detaches from the porcupine and works its way deep into the offender’s flesh. The characteristic barbs on New World porcupine spines make removal difficult and painful. Perhaps because he comes equipped with a unique defense against predators, this little guy is not endangered. Conservation efforts in Panama help to preserve the environments that support his natural habitat. Unfortunately, many cousins of Rothschild’s porcupine appear on the endangered species list. For example, Brazil’s thin-spined porcupine is an endangered species, so rarely seen that it was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1986.

Sloth

Sloths are medium-sized mammals belonging to the families Megalonychidae (two-toed sloth) and Bradypodidae (three-toed sloth), classified into six species. They are related to anteaters, which sport a similar set of specialized claws. Extant sloths are arboreal (tree-dwelling) residents of the jungles of Central and South America, and are known for being slow-moving. Extinct sloth species include a few species of aquatic sloths and many ground sloths, some of which attained the size of elephants. Sloths make a good habitat for other organisms, and a single sloth may be home to moths, beetles, cockroaches, ciliates, fungi, and algae. They have made extraordinary adaptations to an arboreal browsing lifestyle. Leaves, their main food source, provide very little energy or nutrients, and do not digest easily. Sloths, therefore, have large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the tough leaves. Sloths’ tongues have the unique ability to protrude from their mouths 10 to 12 inches, an ability that is useful for collecting leaves just out of reach. As much as two-thirds of a well-fed sloth’s body weight consists of the contents of its stomach, and the digestive process can take a month or more to complete. Sloths’ claws serve as their only natural defense. A cornered sloth may swipe at its attackers in an effort to scare them away or wound them. Despite sloths’ apparent defenselessness, predators do not pose special problems: sloths blend in with the trees and, moving only slowly, do not attract attention. The main predators of sloths are the jaguar, the harpy eagle, and humans. . The majority of recorded sloth deaths are due to contact with electrical lines, poachers, and killed by cars while crossing the street, due to fragmentation of forests and loss of habitat. They sometimes remain hanging from branches after death. On the ground, the maximum speed of the three-toed sloth is 2 m or 6.5 ft per minute. Sloths go to the ground to urinate and defecate about once a week, digging a hole and covering it afterwards. (Wikipedia)

 

Visit ACCP Facebook page and like them!

Visit ACCP website for more information about their mission and the animals they work with. Donations are also accepted through the website.

 

 

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About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page: Facebook/TheLifeNomadik

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The World’s Most Expensive Shortcut

How much does it cost to transit the Panama Canal?

Norwegian Pearl

Norwegian Pearl

Many have asked me how much did we pay to cross the Panama Canal?

A lot!

Panama Canal is The World’s Greatest Shortcut with over 40 ships transiting each day of the year. Instead of traveling 20 000 km all the way through Cape Horn- the ocean’s most dangerous passage, thousands of boats choose to cross the 77-kilometer long canal, for a fee. The toll is different for each boat and depends on the type and size of the boat, as well as of the type of cargo transported.

Containership in Panama Canal. The little thing next to it is S/V Anka

Containership in Panama Canal. The little thing next to it is S/V Anka

Yachts and other small boats pay based on boat size between 900 and 2,500 dollars.

Loaded containreships pay based on tonnage and volume between 50,000 and 250,000 dollars

Cruise ships pay for each berth about $100 per berth (occupied or not occupied) a total of 80,000 to 300,000 dollars.

Norwegian Pearl

Norwegian Pearl heading to Panama Canal

The worlds’ record for highest canal toll was held by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl in 2007 and broken by the cruise ship Disney Magic in 2008 who paid $331,200. This is what you will find out if you google the information, but there are no updates for more recent record tolls paid by cruise ships.

We are sitting in the La Playita anchorage at the canal entrance and we see every boat that comes in or our of the Miraflores locks. We have become Panama Canal Vigilantes. Today, October 14, 2015, we just watched the Norwegian Pearl heading to the locks once again, so maybe she broke a new record and paid “the biggest Panama Canal toll ever” in front of our eyes!

Watching Norwegian Pearl from La Playita anchorage, October 14, 2015

Watching Norwegian Pearl from La Playita anchorage, October 14, 2015

With 965ft length, 106 ft beam and 93,530 tons, the Norwegian Pearl is slightly smaller than Disney Magic, but has more passenger and crew capacity (more berths)- 2,394 passengers and 1,100 crew.  She is massive and is built to the maximum size possible to fit in the Panama Canal locks. She is a Panamax ship offering cruises to the Bahamas, to Alaska, as well as Panama Canal Cruises.

For comparison, our Fata Morgana is a small sailing craft, barely 36 feet long and we paid the minimal fee of US$982 to cross the canal. For us this was the biggest toll ever paid in the history of our travels.

Fata Morgana at La Playita anchorage

Fata Morgana at La Playita anchorage

  • Read how we crossed the Panama Canal with a lot of information, historical and interesting facts about the canal here.

 

About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page: Facebook/TheLifeNomadik

 

 

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Welcome to Panama City

Welcome to Panama City

Panama City Downtown. View from Casco Viejo

In the beginning of July 2015 we cross the Panama Canal and drop anchor near Flamenco Island in Panama City, at the Pacific entrance of Panama Canal. It takes us a few days to visit the most important sites in town and to learn all we need to know about the place: how to get around by bus and where to find the cheapest groceries, fruits and vegetables. The anchorage and the city are our new “home” for the next few months.

Panama City

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View of Panama City from Mercado de Mariscos

Panama City is the biggest city and the capital of Panama with many tall dense skyscrapers standing on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, facing west. Almost half of the population of the entire country (3.6 million total population) or about 1.5 million live in the metropolitan area, creating notorious traffic jams in the morning and evening hours when commuters drive to work or back home using the only two bridges across the canal connecting the suburbs with downtown. The Bridge of the Americas and the Centenario Bridge also connect the South and the North American continents, divided by Panama Canal.

Casco Viejo, Panama City

Casco Viejo, Panama City

After sailing in the Caribbean and some of the Latin American countries, Panama City seams surprisingly developed to us, with good infrastructure and big shopping malls; a globalized place greatly influenced by the United States of America during the construction of Panama Canal. Panama City is a hub for international banking and commerce with the largest and busiest international airport in Central America, as well as one of the top five places in the world for retirement, according to International Living magazine (from Wikipedia). With the very noticeable exception of the infamous neighborhood El Chorillo, poor dirty and dangerous place right in the middle of town, Panama City is a big well developed modern metropolis, a clean good-looking city.

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Panama City Downtown view form Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

The main tourist attraction here, besides Panama Canal, is the Old Quarter or Casco Viejo (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with its colonial buildings, cathedrals, fortification wall and ruins from the time when Panama was the departure point for expeditions and conquests to the Inca Empire in Peru and a transit point for gold and silver headed back to Spain hauled by mules and big canoes through the Isthmus, long before the canal was built.

Church built next to ruins in Casco Viejo, Panama

We walk around the narrow streets in Casco Viejo snapping pictures of the bright Cathedral at Plaza de Bolivar; of the National Institute of Culture; of the president’s residence or the equivalent of the White House, Palacio de las Garzas (Herons’ Palace); of the heavy church at Plaza de la Independencia, all surrounded by the Cinta Costera– an elegant highway built in the sea.

Cathedral at Plaza de la Independencia

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Plaza de Bolivar

House of the President

House of the President

We stroll around Las Bóvedas (The Vaults), a waterfront promenade jutting out into the Pacific, where Kuna women from the San Blas islands sell their handcrafted molas to tourists. From here we can see, beyond the small fishing boats at Mercado de Mariscos (the Fish Market), the high-rise buildings of Panama City’s Downtown to the east and the small twin-islands at the end of town to the west, where all big and small ships and boats are anchored at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, waiting to transit.

Las Bovedas

 

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View from Casco Viejo of Cinta Costera highway and the twin islands Perico and Flamenco in the distance.

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The Anchorage

This is the only anchorage area in Panama City. There is no other option to drop anchor but on the east or west sides of Amador Causeway, near the entrance of Panama Canal.

Panama Canal big ship anchorage, Pacific entrance

Panama Canal big ship anchorage, Pacific entrance

Amador is the artificial road built with the rocks and dirt excavated from the canal, linking mainland with Isla Perico and Isla Flamenco. It is a beautiful scenic road with many restaurants, marinas and shops- a popular weekend destinations for locals and tourists alike.

Amador Causeway, an artificial road linking Panama City with Isla Perico and Isla Flameco built with the excavated materials from the building of the Panama Canal

Amador Causeway, an artificial road linking Panama City with Isla Perico and Isla Flameco built with the excavated materials from the building of the Panama Canal

Both anchorages at Amador are far from ideal. Most yachts chose the bigger east one, facing downtown. It is much more densely populated by boats, access to shore is difficult, especially if you don’t have a dinghy and have to paddle in a kayak, as the spots closest to shore are always taken, the bay is dirty and producing water with the watermaker would clog the filters. It is a very protected anchorage with good holding, except during east squalls hitting the area almost every afternoon in the rainy season (from July to November).

East anchorage, Panama City

East anchorage, Panama City

This is why we remain in the west anchorage near Marina La Playita, even though it is not our favorite anchorage at all. It is the worst anchorage we have ever been to when it comes to rocking and rolling, worse than Barbados. The pilot boats going between the marina bringing supplies to the ships out in the bay waiting to transit the canal, or the motorboats going to Taboga Island 7 miles away, are zooming way too fast through the anchorage all the time creating huge tsunamis and sometimes even bumping into the anchored yachts. A guy on a catamaran once fell from his bed because of the huge sudden wave and got hurt badly, and a boat got hit and damaged right in front of our eyes one bright morning. It took us some getting used to this situation and we still wake up at night terrified from the extreme rocking of the boat and the loud engines. In the beginning we thought Fata Morgana will capsize…

Fata Morgana at La Playita anchorage

Fata Morgana at La Playita anchorage

Another inconvenience here is access to shore. The only option for cruisers is to dinghy to the dock at the marina for a fee of 35 dollars per week, no matter how many days of the week you will or will not use the dinghy dock. And you cannot share dinghy rides with other boaters, as the people at the marina who are huge assholes, super rude and greedy, told us only two people per dinghy are included in the price. And no guests are aloud. The rules and the excessive fees are stupid and offending and we quickly found an alternative- a small rocky beach that can only be accessed “safely” by kayak (dinghies would damage their motors on the rocks here and are too heavy to pull up). In fact it too is a bit dangerous, as there are huge rocks and waves and we have to jump out of the kayak as soon as we land on the rocks, otherwise we end up in the water (happened a couple of times). Then we have to pull the kayak all the way up (about 10-20 steep meters, depending on the sea level), as the tides here are impressive (up to 6 meters), and we don’t want our precious kayak to disappear at high tide…

Ivo tying the kayak to a log at high tide, anchorage La Playita, Panama

Ivo tying the kayak to a log at high tide, anchorage La Playita, Panama

And then, we abandon the kayak, unattended, up on the rocks, hoping no one will steal it. Returning after dark, finding the kayak, getting it down, and walking on the rocks is another matter… But we got used to all this too, and it is the only free of charge option to access shore on this side. (We are the only cruisers doing this. Everyone else in the anchorage is paying for the dinghy docks per week.) Here at least the water is a bit cleaner for the watermaker and we are protected from the east winds. A good thing about both anchorages is that they are safe, away from residential areas and fishermen settlements.

Albrook Mall

We established something like a routine. In the morning we kayak to shore and run. Ivo is training for a full marathon in November (42km) and is following a strict program, and Maya and I are training for 5 and 10-kilometer runs. Then we go back to the boat, relax for a bit and then we go to Albrook Mall, at least once or twice a week.

Albrook Mall

Albrook Mall

The first time we went to Albrook was legendary. After a month in the San Blas archipelago where we met the Kuna Indians living on their small islands without electricity and running water, and with very limited supplies of food, we had depleted our stores and were eager to do some shopping. Off we go to Albrook Mall. As soon as we enter through the doors we start laughing like lunatics who have been let out of the lunatic asylum for the first time in years, and we can’t stop smiling for hours walking through the mall. I can’t explain why…

Main food court at Albrook Mall

Main food court at Albrook Mall

Albrook is a different country. A vast country with its own air-conditioned atmosphere smelling of cinnamon, where it never rains and the streets are always safe. The only traffic jams here are created by people walking around, especially near the food courts at noon, and by the small train circulating on the first floor. Albrook is the biggest shopping mall in the Americas (in both the South and the North American continents). It is the 14th largest shopping mall in the world. Albrook is bigger than West Edmonton Mall in Canada and much bigger than the biggest shopping mall in the United States of America (which is on 30th place in the list). It covers a territory of 380 000 square meters on three floors (Paradise Center in Sofia, Bulgaria covers 175 000 square meters), and it has over 700 stores, 3 food courts with over 100 restaurants, a cinema complex, a supermarket, and a video games and bowling room.

Maya at the Kangaroo entrance, Albrook Mall

Maya at the Kangaroo entrance, Albrook Mall

To navigate in Albrook we follow a map. There are many entrances to the Mall and each entrance has a big statue of an animal. The Tiger entrance has an orange tiger at the door, and the Rhino entrance has a statue of a rhino. There is a Dino, a Coala, an Orca entrance, and many many others. Albrook is also the main bus terminal of the city. All buses to everywhere depart from Albrook and for us coming from Amador it’s just a 10-minute bus ride (but sometimes we wait for more than an hour for the bus to come…)

Maya and Mira waiting for the bus at Albrook Terminal. Record waiting time 1hr 50min.

Maya and Mira waiting for the bus at Albrook Terminal. Record waiting time 1hr 50min.

Unlike the two biggest shopping malls in the world (both in China) which are in danger of becoming “dead malls” failing to attract business and shoppers, the Albrook Mall is very much alive and booming every day of the week, even though it is not the only big shopping mall in Panama. Why is Albrook so popular, you may ask? Mainly, because it’s cheap. Most of the stores here offer cheap low quality products, as well as some good quality brand names at discount prices. Here everyone from the middle class as well as the underprivileged families come to buy cheap stuff. We cross path with many Kuna families, the women wearing their traditional dress, here to stock up. (Half of the Kuna Indians have moved and live permanently in Panama City and work in the lowest paying jobs- cleaning and maintenance. The women keep wearing proudly their traditional Kuna Yala clothing.)

Multiplaza

The other mall in Panama City is Multiplaza and it is a much more luxurious, expensive and quiet place than Albrook. It also covers a large territory on three floors.

Multiplaza, Panama City

Multiplaza, Panama City

Some of the high-end designer stores here include: Dolce and Gabbana, Banana Republic, Gucci, Guess, Zara, Versace, Massimo Dutti, Hermes, Fossil, Nike, Totto, Michael Kors, Levi’s, L’Occitane en Provence, Rolex, Nautical, The Gap, Bulova, Tiffany, Skechers, Pandora, Tommy Hilfiger, La Martina, Ermenegildo, Zegna, Mont Blanc, Geox, Carolina Herrera, Louboutin, Swarowski, Salvatore Ferragamo, Cartier, Charles&Keith, Roberto Cavalli, La Senza, Tissot, Mac Cosmetic, Mac Store, Yamamay, Victoria Secret, Missoni, Desigual, Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Guess, Oscar de la Renta, Versace, US Polo, The North Face, Aeropostale and others! No Kuna women are shopping here, but rich expensive-looking ladies with high hills. Us, we like window-shopping here and to check the stores for 50% and more discounts. We also come to Sport Line store in Multiplaza every month to pick up Ivo’s marathon kits.

Maya at Multiplaza

Maya at Multiplaza

Mercado de Abastos

Besides Albrook, where we buy cheap meat, milk, eggs and other groceries from Super99, and anything else we might need from the hardware or clothing stores, and where we sometimes go just to get cheap sandwiches or soup for lunch or to hide from the heat, the Mercado de Abastos is another place we visit on a regular basis. It is not a pretty place but a dirty, noisy, smelly, muddy, crowded place which we dearly LOVE.

Mira with Monique from S/V Heartbeat choosing pineapples at Mercado de Abastos

Mira with Monique from S/V Heartbeat choosing pineapples at Mercado de Abastos

We take the bus from Amador (a bus ticket anywhere in Panama City costs $0.25), get off at Teatro Balboa, and walk for about 20 min. to the largest fruits and vegetables market in town. Like Albrook, this place is massive and impressive. Here you can drive your car through the streets and get lost inside the market. Everything is sold in bulk and in smaller quantities and what is most mind-blowing is how much produce there is.

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Mountains of pineapples next to mountains of watermelons, hangars filled with tomatoes, potatoes and onions, truckloads with bananas, mangoes and papaya. The abundance is unprecedented. I have never before seen so much quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables in one place.

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And the prices…the first time the prices made me hold my breath like a thief in the middle of the night. Everything is one dollar. One watermelon is one dollar. Two dozens of bananas (24) are one dollar. Two small pineapples or one big one is one dollar. Two pounds (one kilo) of any type of tomatoes is one dollar, twenty lemons are one dollar…

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We go every Wednesday with two huge backpacks and a twenty dollar bill and we return to the boat loaded like mules with about 40 kg (80 lb) of produce and some change in the pockets. It is fantastic. We have never eaten so much fruits and vegetables in our lives before, except maybe when we volunteered at the farmers’ markets in Florida in exchange for boxes of unsold produce.

 

About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page: Facebook/TheLifeNomadik

 

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Panama Canal Transit

Panama Canal Transit

Maya Ivo and Mira aboard S/V Fata Morgana transiting Panama Canal

Maya Ivo and Mira aboard S/V Fata Morgana transiting Panama Canal

The distance between the Monkey Island (Linton) to Colon (the city-port at the entrance of Panama Canal on the Atlantic side) is 25 NM. We start at 07:00 a.m. in light north winds 8-10kts together with S/V Anka. Our speed is about 2-3 kts. Anka passes us on engine and soon disappears on the horizon. We keep sailing slowly. At about 10:00 a.m. the wind picks up behind us and we fly our undersized secondhand spinnaker which we bought for 150EU in Martinique a few months ago and until now haven’t had the chance to try out properly. It works like charm!

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We make good speed and progress and the captain is happy. There are these rare moments of bliss while sailing and everything is just perfect: the sea, the wind, the sails, and even the fish cooperates. We pull out a nice big kingfish enough to feed two families.

Ivo with kingfish

Ivo with kingfish

Early in the afternoon we approach Colon- one of the biggest ports in the world, a free trade zone, and the gateway between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It is also one of the most dangerous poverty-ridden cities in Panama where walking in the streets even in broad daylight is not advisable.

Colon

Colon

Many big cargo ships are stationed outside the harbor, at anchor, waiting for their turn to transit the canal. It is the largest community of ships we have ever seen. At night, illuminated, they look like a city in the distance floating on the surface of the sea. We enter between two artificial rock walls in a vast bay. This is the last time we sail in the Caribbean Sea aboard S/V Fata Morgana for a very long time. Inside, the bay is calm like a large blue field with more big ships at anchor and green and red buoys indicating the shipping channels leading to the entrance of Panama Canal.

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We are at the point of no return. A new chapter in our voyage is about to begin. Panama Canal is one of the 7 wonders of the industrial world, along with the Hoover Dam and London’s Sewerage system among others. It connects the two biggest oceans on the planet, and crossing it aboard a boat is the ultimate way to experience it.

I think of my father who was a mariner. It is the anniversary of his death 6 years ago. Today, I am occupying a space, occupied by him before and I am looking for his traces in the air. He has been here crossing the canal aboard a ship some years ago, when he used to work as an officer aboard a cargo ship transporting grain. I look at the containerships getting loaded at the docks, the hge boats heading to or exiting the locks and I imagine my dad up there on the bridge smiling and waving at me. In a way, I share this experience with him.

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Our friends are already nice and cozy at Shelter Bay Marina when we drop anchor just outside the marina’s entrance and invite them for dinner. Breaded fish sticks and beer on the menu.

The next day we move to the place indicated as Small Craft Anchorage on the charts but it turns out there is no way we can access shore from there. The only place around Colon where yachts can drop anchor and dinghy to shore is in front of Club Nautico, with space for not more than a few boats and it is not protected at all from weather. It is just downwind from the huge loading facilities of the port, with ships and pilot boats passing close by all the time. There is a 3-dollar fee per person for the use of the dinghy dock at Club Nautico. No way we can go ashore in Colon for free! Everywhere there are commercial ports and loading docks, fences and no adequate facilities for small yachts at all. This made our preparation for the transit very unpleasant.

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The crew of S/V Anka is in a hurry, so we agree to employ the services of an agent together and cross the canal as soon as possible. An agent will deal with all the formalities around the canal transit: schedule boat survey with the measuring office, as the fee for the canal depends on the boat length and tonnage, providing tires as fenders, special ropes, as well as line handlers, required for the transit, and finally- schedule the transit date and hour. All this is extremely simple and straightforward to do without an agent and we could have easily done it ourselves avoiding the extra fee…which makes Ivo super grumpy. Our friends Ruth and Duncan aboard S/V Impetuous Too have published a great article: How to Transit the Panama Canal as Cheaply as Possible. It is worth checking out.

Getting ready for the canal

Getting ready for the canal

After a few days the time is set and we are all ready to go. Aboard with us are one transit advisor and three local kids whom the agent, Tito, brought as line-handlers. According to regulation, each boat is required to have a transit advisor who will advise the captain what to do in the canal and locks, and four line-handlers besides the captain. Aboard S/V Anka there are another advisor, a pilot, the agent Tito with his wife and daughter and one or two line-handlers. Because Maya and Alex are only 11 and 10-years-old, they cannot be line-handlers, the minimum age is 14. But one of the kids Tito brought doesn’t look much older than Maya and I highly doubt it he is 14 and knows what to do. Plus, the two boats (Fata Morgana and Anka) will be tied side by side inside the locks, a procedure called “nesting” and this means that each boat will only need half the ropes, half the tires and two line-handlers. All the other people who came are just there for the ride and the food. We felt pretty screwed by Tito, even though everything was done according to procedure… The good think about all this is, that Tito runs an organization to take kids off the streets and keep them away from the gangs; he helps them, takes care of them and gives them a chance at decent life. These kids call themselves: Tito’s Sons, and they are many. Three of them are aboard S/V Fata Morgana having a blast transiting the Panama Canal (two of them for a first time), enjoying the ride, helping with the ropes and earning some cash.

Our line-handlers

Our line-handlers

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In the late afternoon we enter the first set of locks, the Gatun locks, behind a huge ship which barely fits in the space. Next to him we seem like a joke. (Small yachts always go together with big ships inside the locks.) The Panama Canal is a three-part journey. At the Atlantic and the Pacific ends are the locks- three sets of huge doors and chambers, and in the middle, some 26 meters above sea level, is the artificial lake Gatun and the many winding artificial channels.

Inside the Gatun locks

Inside the Gatun locks

The massive medieval-looking 2-meter thick steel doors close behind us. The two yachts are together in the center, the ropes are secured on both sides. We feel super excited and happy to share this unique experience together with our friends aboard Anka. Our two boats together represent Bulgaria, Romania, Canada and Australia. Pretty awesome.

Ivo and Adrian- the two captains

Ivo and Adrian- the two captains

Krisha and Mira

Krisha and Mira

The two boats raft together; they are "nesting"

The two boats raft together; they are “nesting”

Water starts rushing in, swirling and bubbling like a boiling lake taking us higher and higher. 52 million gallons of fresh water for each set of locks. The chamber fills. We enter the second one. The water-elevator takes us a level higher to the third and last chamber and we go up and up again.

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As the last doors open, we are 26 meters higher and inside a freshwater lake. Gatun Lake covering about 470 square kilometers (180 sq mi) is an artificial lake, result from the building of the Gatun Dam and the summit of Panama Canal. It provides the millions of gallons of water necessary to operate the Panama Canal locks each time a ship passes through.

It is already late. The advisor tells us to motor to a big red buoy near the lake shores away from the shipping channel where we spend the night. We feed our young line-handlers hamburgers for dinner and let them find the most comfortable spots to sleep in the cockpit or outside on the trampolines. The next morning the journey continues. Another advisor boards Fata Morgana and we slowly start motoring through the marked channels inside the lake of yellow waters towards the Pacific. A few slow hours to pass the next 25-30 miles. No, sailing is strictly prohibited; no matter how much Ivo tries to convince the advisor that the wind and sails will speed up the boat considerably. We keep to the side of the channels as big ships constantly pass us in both directions. Approximately 40 ships transit the canal every day.

lake Gatun

lake Gatun

The nature here is stunningly beautiful and wild. I imagined something industrial, channels made of concrete and iron all the way, but aside from the locks, the Gatun Lake stretch is wild, green and completely uninhabited for miles and miles. The shores are covered in tropical trees home of monkeys and birds undisturbed in their natural habitat, and in the waters of the lake hides the mighty crocodile. This stretch of the journey is tranquil and slow and one has time to relax and ponder. I think about the people who came up with the idea to build a canal linking the oceans; and of the people who dug up all this dirt one hundred years ago to make it possible. It is all very fascinating.

A big cargo ship passing under the Bridge of the Americas

A big cargo ship passing under the Bridge of the Americas

With the increase of maritime trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, more and more ships began crisscrossing the watery ways of the world and the idea to join the two greatest oceans at the narrowest place of the American continent- the Isthmus of Panama became a project.

It has been done before. The Suez Canal was excavated at sea level and in 1869 it allowed ships to travel between Europe and South Asia. It took 10 years to build and it was a great success for the Suez Canal Company, generating huge profits. Ten years later, in 1881, the same French company signed another contract for the construction of the Panama Canal. But the task proved much harder than the French had estimated. Tropical jungle filled with venomous snakes, spiders and mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and malaria, torrential rains and floods killed 20 thousand workers and made it doubtful that a sea-level canal here is at all possible. Ten years and nearly 300 million dollars later, the corrupted inefficient Suez Canal Company went bankrupt and left the job unfinished.

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Four days after the independence of Panama, which was part of Colombia until 1903, USA received (in exchange for the military supported granted to the new nation) the rights to build and indefinitely administer the Panama Canal Zone. The construction of the abandoned French project restarted in 1904 under the new American owners.

The Americans replaced the old inadequate French equipment with a hundred new large, railroad-mounted steam shovels, enormous steam-powered cranes, giant hydraulic rock crushers, cement mixers, dredges, and pneumatic power drills, nearly all of which manufactured by new and extensive machine-building technology developed and built in the United States for the largest American engineering project to date- an investment that cost the Unites States the equivalent of about 8.5 billion dollars.

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In 1914, just over a hundred years ago, the 50 mile (77km) Panama Canal consisting of several artificial channels and lakes, and three sets of locks, joined the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and begun operations with the first transit of the cargo ship SS Ancon. The canal created a shortcut for ships that no longer had to make the long and treacherous passage around Cape Horn- the southernmost point of South America considered the most dangerous area for navigation in the world.

For the next nearly one century, the United States of America had control of the Canal Zone and of course, generate huge profits. On December 31st , 1999- the last day of the old millennium- Panama officially became the new owner of the Canal, which remains to this day the chief revenue source for the country. The canal is also officially politically and permanently neutral, providing service to ships of all nations.

Containership in Panama Canal. The little thing next to it is S/V Anka

Containership in Panama Canal. The little thing next to it is S/V Anka

After a few hours we approach the next locks on the Pacific side. First is the Pedro Miguel chamber- a single set of locks and only a few miles from the Miraflores double chamber. This time we are first in the chambers and our giant companion is looming behind us. There is a big multi-story building on the east side of the locks with balconies filled with spectators here to watch the show.

Maya in Miraflores

Maya in Miraflores

 

There are also satellite cameras broadcasting live from the locks 24/7. People everywhere on the planet can watch the operations in Miraflores live at all times.

Fata Morgana, Anka at Miraflores. View from the webcam

Fata Morgana, Anka at Miraflores. View from the webcam

We feel kind of popular right now with all the public watching us and we are super excited. We are also a bit nervous.

Miraflores locks

Miraflores locks

So far everything has been easy with no problems, but the descent is supposed to be scarier and more dangerous than the ascent, as the draining water creates nasty rapids and currents and the yachts may lose control at the exit and smash to the walls. It also looks super strange being up here, and no water ahead. It is like coming to the edge of a waterfall. I imagine the doors of the last lock will open and we will fall down vertically!

Securing the ropes

Securing the ropes

But it all goes smooth again; the water elevator gently takes us down under the focused gaze of herons and pelicans scavenging the chambers for dead fish caught in the whirlpools.

The last doors open. In front of us is the Pacific Ocean.

The Doors to the Pacific Ocean

The Doors to the Pacific Ocean

Panama Canal Facts

• The size of the locks determines the maximum size of a ship that can pass through them. The locks are 110 feet wide and 1050 feet long. Ships that are wider or longer than this cannot use the Panama Canal. Most ships worldwide are built to the maximum size allowed in Panama Canal. These are known as Panamax vessels.

• Tolls for the canal are set by the Panama Canal Authority and are based on vessel type, size, the type of cargo carried, weight and water displacement. The most expensive regular toll for canal passage to date was charged on April 14, 2010 to the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl, which paid US$375,600.

• In 1928 American adventurer Richard Halliburton swam the length of the Panama Canal. Halliburton had to pay a toll based on his weight and water displacement too. His rate? A whopping 36 cents.

• There was approximately about 60 million pounds of explosives used to help clear the way for the canal.

• The canal is 50 miles (80km) long. If a ship had to travel down and around the southern tip of South America they would have to travel 20,000km.

• The United States uses the canal the most, followed by China, Japan, Chile and North Korea.

• An expansion to double the waterway’s capacity is set to be completed in 2016 with bigger locks for bigger ships.

• It takes between 8 and 10 hours to transit the canal. The fastest transit was completed in 2 hours 41 minutes by the U.S. Navy’s Hydrofoil Pegasus in 1979.

• In 1963 florescent lighting was installed, allowing the canal to begin operating 24 hours a day. It never closes.

• Nearly 20,000 French and 6,000 American workers died during the completion of the Panama Canal.

• Between 12,000 and 15,000 ships cross the Panama Canal every year – about 40 a day. Each pays a toll of a few hundred thousand dollars to Panama.

S/V Fata Morgana and S/V Anka crews

S/V Fata Morgana and S/V Anka crews

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