Back to Guna Yala, then to Shelter Bay, Rio Chagres, Mexico and up to Florida

More chilling in Guna Yala and Linton Bay

We went back to San Blas while waiting for Lukas brother and his girlfriend to arrive. We were happy to meet Noustha and Bryan on Tarka again in the Lemon Cays. In Canbombia we caught up with Kimberly and John-Michael on Pura Vida, who we met in Santa Marta, and also got to know Michelle and John on Pineapple, the boat next to us. We all went to have dinner on the island one evening, which was prepared by the local Kuna family and served by two Kuna girls with headlamps.

In the remote anchorage of Cambombia with very bad internet reception it took me about three days to sign us up for a visa interview in Panama City in order to get a US visa. When you are flying into the US as a German you don’t have to do much, you just fill out a form online, pay 13 dollars and done. But when you want to enter the country on your own boat it’s a complete different story. You have to apply for a tourist visa, pay 160 us dollars per person, fill out a lot of forms, go to an interview in an US embassy and if you pass that, you will get a sticker in your passport that allows you to speak to a border control officer when you arrive in the first port. When I finally finished the application end of January the next date for our interview was March 12, so that gave us some more time to spend in Panama.

Why do we even go to the US? Didn’t we want to go through the Panama Canal, didn’t we want to sail around the world in about 3 years? Well yes, that was our original plan, but that changed by now.

The plans of sailors are written in the sand at low tide.

We needed some time to get this saying, but now we know it is very true and we saw it being verified by many of our sailing friends.

Due to a number of reasons, some of them are home sickness, money running out again, us traveling much slower than expected, the wish to persue our careers and so on, we decided to bring Mila back home to Germany. So our new plan is to cross the Atlantic again, first sail from Florida to Bermuda, then to the Azores, and subsequently back up the European coast. We are quite excited to visit some of the places we really liked again and get to see some places we skipped on the way here. Of course we are also sad we don’t get to explore the Pacific right now, but we both are pretty sure this will not be our last big sailing adventure. Maybe next time we buy a slightly more comfortable boat in Panama or the US and start with the Pacific right away.

We have been sailing for almost 3 years now and it has been a great experience so far, we learned so much about different cultures, got to know awesome, open-minded people, handled some difficult situations, refreshed our French, learned some Spanish, got to enjoy a lot of beautiful sunrises and sunsets at sea, saw a lot of cool wild animals under water and on land. And all the traveling definately improved our geographical knowledge as well. We are very happy we made the decision to live in a tiny floating home for a while and travel where we want with it. For now we feel like it is time to get back to normal life.

Here are some more pictures from Linton Bay

We picked up Lukas brother Urs and his girlfriend Lillia in Linton Bay and went back to our favourite islands in San Blas. We spent some sunny days swimming, snorkeling and grilling some langostinos and peppers on the islands in the evenings.

Shelter Bay and Panama canal on Pangea

The Panama canal was always a big topic amongst bluewater sailors that played with the idea to go to the Pacific. It is a pretty important step, once you are through, there is no turning back. Part of the myth is also that it is very expensive and very regulated, every boat needs to have 4 line handlers and a professional advisor on board. Despite our decision not to go through with our own boat, we still didn’t want to miss out on the experience, so we asked our friends Isabella and Tim on Pangea if we could be their line handlers for their canal transit. They were happy to have us, so our next stop was Shelter Bay, a marina on the Atlantic end of the canal, where Pangea was doing some last preparations. The marina is located on the grounds of a former US military base, which was used to protect the canal in it’s early days. When you walk out of it you find yourself in the middle of lush rainforest full of howler monkeys, sloths, coatis and a lot of tropical birds. You also find some neglected bunkers and ruins of the shacks where the soldiers were living.

On the first day of the transit we rafted up with two other boats, Pangea being the one in the middle, so the four line handlers had not much to do except for tying up to the other boats. The night was spent on a big buoy in Gatun lake. On the next day we had a bit more to do, as it was only two boats rafting up and we got to catch the monkey fists from the workers of the lock and tie our lines to them. Everything worked well and Tim did a great job steering the package of tied up boats through the locks. At the end of the canal we picked up a mooring ball at the Balboa yacht club and had some Balboas (Panamanian beer). The next day we returned the car tires and long lines, which Isabella and Tim rented for the transit, and took a long walk through Panama City. Lukas and I returned to Mila by bus and taxi.

Rio Chagres

After some days relaxing in the Shelter Bay marina we took Mila into Rio Chagres, which was a pretty cool experience, anchoring in a river is so different from anchoring on the sea.

Every morning around 7 am some parrots came to our boat and woke us up. When we used a flashlight in the evening we saw a lot of eyes shining back at us, so it was quite easy to find an owl on a tree and some small crocodiles in the shallow water. In the daytime we explored the smaller arms of the river with our dinghy.

Bocas del Toro

Our next stop was Bocas del Toro, a group of islands in the very west of Panama. It is a popular spot for surfers, so the main island, Colón, was quite touristy. It still had a nice flair and very good international restaurants. I was happy to even find a ping pong table in one of the pubs. Shopping for groceries wasn’t so great though, there were only small and medium sized chinese markets and we found bugs in a lot of the products. The date for our visa interview approached, so we docked Mila safely in the Marina Carenero on Carenero Island. That marina was quite affordable and had a kitchen on the dock. Of course we got excited about the option to use a freezer and a proper oven, so we froze some popsicles and made some pizza. The island has no roads, but there is a path going round, most of the houses are close to the water and build on stilts.

Roadtrip to the US embassy

Our way to Panama city was an adventure. First we rented a water taxi to take us and our bikes to mainland, a small town called Almirante. From there we cycled 28 km to the closest car rental in Changinola. Then we drove over the mountains to the Pacific coast. It was interesting to watch the climate change during the trip, the Atlantic side gets a lot of rain, whereas the Pacific coast is very dry, we even saw some cowboys close to the highway. After about 7 hours we arrived in the Vista Mar Marina, we were lucky to get invited to sleep on Pangea in the marina. The next day we continued our trip to Panama city, where we had booked a hotel close to the American embassy. Our interview went smoothly, the hardest part was wearing long pants and sleeves in the heat and all the waiting. The interview itself was only about 3 minutes, we just answered some questions about our reason to go to the US, our fingerprints got taken, and that was it. We hoped we could collect our passports three days later, which was a Friday, but unfortunately it took longer, so we had some more time to pass. We spend the weekend back in Vista Mar on Pangea, it was nice to spend some more time with Isabella and Tim before they went on their Pacific crossing. And there was an awesome pool in the marina. We also cycled to Valle de Anton, a remote little town in a valley and a beautiful area for hiking and cycling. On Monday we went back to Panama City to pick up our passports, they where still not ready. The next day in the afternoon we finally received them and made our way back to the boat.

Mexico

On march 30, we left for Mexico. The first half of the leg was very light winds and countercurrents, so we had to motor a lot. The second half was smooth sailing on a broad reach. We arrived after 7 days on passage in a marina in Cancun.

We waited for Monday and I went to the port captain to clear in, they told me we needed an agent to clear in, so I contacted the marina agent, it turned out his fee was 400 dollars. He suggested we should go to Isla Mujeres and clear in there. So we did that, clearing in was much easier there, but we still ended up using the marina agent, because we docked in the marina in very bad weather and they told us we could not walk to the immigration office, we would have to dock the boat at the authorities dock. His fee was only 89 dollars and now we met all the officials in the marina office over the next days, a doctor took our temperatures, a lady from agriculture checked what was in our fridge, and done.

There was a nice pool in the marina, and a lot of lazy iguanas were sunbathing on the paths.

Isla Mujeres is a popular destination for American tourists and almost all of them rent golf carts to explore the island while sipping on Margaritas. We explored the island on our bikes, one time around was only about 20 km. Of course we had some tacos and Lukas discovered tacos al pastor, which is tacos with meat from a doner spit like we know from Berlin. On the boat we got into the habit of putting fresh cilantro, limes and chilies into everything. Also pretty refreshing is Michelada, beer with lime, hot sauce and salt.

There are some ferries operating between the mainland and isla Mujeres, so we also took our bikes to the mainland for a little exploring up to the peninsula Isla Blanca and for some shopping in Cancun.

Sail to Miami

The sail to Miami took us three days, the first day we had good wind and then we had to motorsail for two days. Halfway, our bathroom door broke its hinges and fell on me, but Lukas fixed it later on. When we arrived, Miami greeted us with an impressive huge raincloud, that covered the whole skyline. So we drove some circles in the thunderstorm and waited for the rain to stop before we made our way into the mooring field.