We moored at the Balboa Yacht Club after
transiting the Canal.  The tides here are
daunting...a full 20 foot swing between high
and low.  We had great views of transiting
ships as they passed under the Bridge of the
Americas. .
Archipelago Las Perlas - the Pearl Islands
s/y Nine of Cups
Balboa - the other side of the canal
The tides weren't the only difference between the Atlantic and the Pacific side. Panama City is
clean, modern and safe. Skyscrapers line the horizon. There are ritzy restaurants and any amenity
offered in a large city. We stayed only long enough to do a bit of provisioning and we were off again.
Welcome to the Pacific Ocean
  • The Pacific Ocean, the world's largest body of water, represents
    half of the world's ocean area and more than a third of the surface
    area of the earth..  If all the continents were placed in the Pacific,
    there would still be room for another the size of Asia.
  • The word pacific means peaceful.  The ocean received this name
    from the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed its
    waters for weeks, driven by gentle winds.
  • The Pacific and its marginal seas cover about 70 million square
    miles (181 million sq/km).  The ocean is about 9,600 miles (15,450
    km) long from the Bering Strait to Cape Adare, Antarctica.  It is
    widest near the equator between Panama and the Malay
    Peninsula.  There, it measures about 15,000 miles (24,000 km),
    about three-fifths of the distance around the world.
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa
On September 25, 1513, the
Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de
Balboa led an expedition across
what is now Panama from its Atlantic
coast to its Pacific coast.  He
became the first European to see the
eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean.  
His discovery provided additional
proof that America was a separate
continent between Europe and Asia.
I provisioned for a couple of weeks
and asked David to catch me some fish
to complete our ship’s stores. "Sure",
said he and proceeded to catch a
trevally… first we’d ever caught, but
good eating.
We’d heard from friends that there were lots of whales in
the area and we were thrilled to see them. A playful pod of
about 5, spouting and sounding and having a good time.
We turned off the engine and drifted towards them. They’
re so massive, yet so graceful.
Without a doubt, the prettiest place we visited in Las Perlas was Punta Cocos on Isla el Rey. This is a photographer’s heaven …breathtaking scenery
and vivid colors. Near the anchorage is the Servicio Nacional de Panama, an agency comparable to the Coast Guard. They hailed us in to ask to
basic boat and crew info. When we asked to walk around the island, one soldier was only too happy to act as a guide for us on a 2-hour hike. He
explained the island had lots of wildlife including wild peccaries, lots of boas, parrots, loros, iguanas and caimans. Beyond the fact that scenery doesn’
t get much better, this area also provided brightly colored scallop shells and lots of sea beans on the beach!
David’s hands are never idle. We
beachcombed on Pedro Gonzalez and
found lots of small conch shells which
soon became napkin rings.
Next we moved to Espirtu Santo, where the flowers alone could have taken days to photograph.
The trimaran,(right) Wind Chaser, hit a reef in August 2003. The captain, Nick, with the help of
some other cruisers, managed to keep her afloat and get her to land on Espiritu Santo. For two
months, they camped out on the island and through hard work and the benevolence of other
cruisers and Neptune, Nick was able to repair the 8x2 foot hole in her center hull. While we were
there, David offered our gasoline generator and we gave him gasoline, expoxy and food. He finally
got her afloat again on September 26th while we were there and we celebrated with pizza and
beer aboard Nine of Cups that evening.  
Mogue and the Darien
  From Las Perlas, we traveled up the Rio Tuira, Panama’s longest navigable river, to La
Palma, the capital of the Darien province.  The Darién is an ecological bridge between
South and North America and it is protected by a national park, the largest in Panama and
the second biggest in Central America. Construction of the Pan American Highway as far
as Yaviza in the Darién has produced deforestation, but the Darién Gap still stands
untouched between Yaviza and Colombia. With 570,000 hectares, Darien is a very
humid, dense, primary rainforest and the home of the famous Harpy Eagle.  The
indigenous tribes here are the Wounaan and Emberra.
  While ashore one day, we met a Canadian who was staying with an Wounaan family.
He introduced us to Amelio whose pregnant wife wanted to get to her home village in the
jungle to pick up her mother who would deliver her baby. We paid for the gasoline for the
motorized "panga" (dugout canoe) and went along for the ride.
We anchored off La Puntita and marveled at the
thatched huts on stilts we saw ashore.
With Amelio and his very pregnant
Emberra wife, Diana, we traveled by
motorized panga up the Rio Mogue
to Diana’s home village of Mogue
As we pulled up to the village, we
saw Diana’s uncle finishing up carving
out a panga.
The Emberra huts are built on stilts about 8’ or so off
the ground. There are no exterior walls, nor internal
walls. Everything is just open and the breeze blows
through. Since there are no walls on which to hang
anything, baskets, tools, interesting pieces of wood,
etc.  are just hung from the ceiling on a piece of cord.
A log with steps notched in it is the
“ladder” to ascend into the hut. We
watched babies, pregnant women with
their arms full and even dogs ascend
these ladders, we figured we could, too.
Requires a bit of balance!
The river and village are quite a pastoral sight.
Several women were washing clothes in the
river, kids were swimming, a young mother
walked in with her baby in arms and starting
bathing. The women are mostly bare-breasted
and wear a brightly colored patterned skirt,
which it seems, they rarely remove…they even
bathe with them on.
We were invited "up" for lunch.We sat on low
benches and were given a spoon and a plate of
rice with onions topped with a piece of the fish
we had provided and prepared by Diana’s aunt.
Diana sat on the floor, as did Minerva while both
their husbands swung in hammocks. The people
sleep on the floor as well, we were told.  
Darien is noted for its rice growing. We saw a
rice threshing building in La Puntita and here in
Mogue, several pieces of corrugated tin roofing
were being used to dry rice.
We saw more huge spiders
(bigger than Buicks!) than I care
to mention.
The women went visiting and Amelio found us a
guide to go through the jungle up into the hills in
search of the endangered Harpy Eagle. We switched
into our hiking boots, crossed the river in a panga
and set out along a muddy red clay path. At first the
path meandered past some huts, but then the trail got
denser. Our guide had a machete in hand and
chopped his way through the thick jungle growth.
The trail was quite apparent some times, but the
jungle quickly takes over when trail use diminishes.  
Leaf cutter ants, indomitable and ubiquitous, marched
across the trail in long lines. It was fascinating
watching the pieces of green leaf, held high above
their heads, pass by as if moving on their own.
We walked very quickly, trekking through a
couple of streams, across a log over a river, up a
gravelly riverbed, scrambling up hills, slippery
with red mud. We hiked about 2 hours in…6+
miles…then the guide told us to sit and pointed
out an eagle’s nest in the crotch of a very tall
tree. We patiently waited for 1½ hours, ants
crawling up our legs, innumerable insects buzzing
around our sweaty heads. The guide whistled for
the eagles every once in a while, but alas no
eagles. A quicker trek back to the village.

In the interest of education, I nicked a harpy
eagle photo from the internet.
Everything grew big here...including this huge
Magnificent Owl butterfly.
Our Thoughts on Panama…

We have four really distinct impressions of Panama.
  • First, the indigenous people we met… Kunas, Wounaan and Emberra and
    the remote areas in which they live. They are trying to maintain their
    centuries-long heritage and traditions by resisting the temptations of the 21st
    century. Their cultures will be harder and harder to maintain as their young
    people succumb to outside influences.
  • Second, the Panama Canal and the ACP…efficient, courteous and a thrill to
    have transited the Canal.
  • Third, the cities.  Colon, poor, dilapidated and dangerous;
    Panama…modern, safe and first world.
  • Lastly, the tranquility, remote and wild nature of the rivers. Howler
    monkeys, hundreds of butterflies and birds, sounds and sights we’d never
    experienced before, wild currents and a peace rarely known.
Now, the plan was to cross the Pacific this year,
BUT we read an article about Ecuador and
thought "What the heck?". So...we hung a left from
Panama and we're going to Ecuador. Care to
come along?
Come with us to Ecuador