Home sweet new home

After an uneventful drive to California, life has “settled down” a bit. Dan has returned to work, I made a trip to Portland to retrieve the Mini Cooper, Gus the dog and to see a couple folks. We have made Petaluma California our new home and our days have not changed that much as we still get cafe time in the morning and ride our bikes in sunny California every day! BUT, the water is potable, the food is DELICIOUS, we have toilets, we can stand up in the kitchen and of course we get to play with Gus at any time! Oh did I forget to mention…I need to find a job!

Our trip to Central America has been a wonderful, exciting adventures which will live long in our hearts until the next one!

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Petaluma, California. The capital of the egg!

Petaluma, California. The capital of the egg!

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From downtown, the bikeriding hills are always in sight!

From downtown, the bikeriding hills are always in sight!

Downtown

Downtown

We found a mini Portland! With its market...

We found a mini Portland! With its market…

....the booths of jewelry  and many wood shitties to purchase....

….the booths of jewelry and many wood shitties to purchase….

....here are those wood shitties! in this instance rock shitties!

….here are those wood shitties! in this instance rock shitties!

....a band and some cowboy/girl dancing...

….a band and some cowboy/girl dancing…

...and of course a dog on a paddle board!

…and of course a dog on a paddle board!

 

Back to good old USA!

After enjoying our last 4 days in Heredia, Costa Rica, and a couple plane rides, we arrive in Galveston, TX!

Aerial view of the small town: Mexico City

Aerial view of the small town: Mexico City

Texan waffle for breakfast

Texan waffle for breakfast

The culture shock is impressive! Between saying gracias to the waiters, and forgetting we can flush the toilet papers in the toilet, it doesn’t take us long to forget the rice and beans and drool in front of bakeries, homemade raviolis and fresh mozzarella. We are happily surprise by the cuteness of Galveston, an island heavily damaged by hurricane Ike in 2008. Our shuttle driver, an islander born and raised on the island. He rode” the 2008 hurricane and saw many homes destroyed by water or lightning. He laughs as he recalls the time he went over his neighbor’s house to cook some leftovers on the hot embers that remained from the house being hit by lightning. Looking at him, his wife says: “I will follow you anywhere”. We hit the beach to perfect our tan! I have to say, the bikinis here, are a little BIGGER than Central America and I feel naked with itsy, teeny winy bikini!

Texas chicks!

Texas chicks!

More beach time

More beach time

Now it is time to pick up Wilma at custom. It takes us awhile to find the place and we decide that Central America is not the only place to make custom confusing! Here she is, in the parking lot! We see her but can’t go to her yet! After a few paper signed, we finally reunite! At first it is just joy then we open the door and our eyes pop out! Wilma has been flipped! Everything that was carefully put away in drawers, boxes and cupboards is now on the floor in a huge pile. Band-Aids, bike parts, clothing, broken phones, pillows, …you name it! They went through everything single items! BUT who is “they”? Custom? Thiefs on the ship? We go back and forth but finally decide it must be custom has nothing has been stolen, not even a $100 dollar bill. It takes us 2 hours under the Texan sun to put Wilma back.

Wilma is here. Hug time!

Wilma is here. Hug time!

More hugs!

More hugs!

Wilma before shippingWilma before shipping

Wilma after shipping

Wilma on arrival in the US

Dan sorting patiently

Dan sorting patiently. SO far they took our fake camera we placed there for bait, some loose change my sun glasses.

They also took one of Miguel's wheel! Damnit!

They also took one of Miguel’s wheel! Damnit!

Then we are on the road again, for our hopefully uneventful journey back through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona till our next stop: Los Angeles.

San Blast Islands or Kuna Yala, Panama.

For the next 4 nights, we will be in the San Blas Islands off the Atlantic coast of Panama. The 365 islands are home of the Kuna community.

"Our" Island

“Our” Island

On a side note, The government has given the Kuna communities lands (or islands) where they can prosper by growing and selling crop. They have invested in tourism by bringing foreigners to their beautiful lands and teach them about their culture while offering fantastic surroundings. Yup! Just like the Native American! Oh wait, no! They were given lands where nothing could grow and left with a huge challenge to succeed

One of the 365 Kuna islands

One of the 365 Kuna islands

Tiny airstrip

Tiny airstrip

Some of the communities choose to leave on land bordering the Darien Gap. No roads go there

Some of the communities choose to leave on land bordering the Darien Gap. No roads go there

Some islands are tiny

Some islands are tiny

There will be no cell phone or internet. To get there we board a 6 am flights in Panama City. The plane is a 6 passenger planes and people, luggage and boxes of good are crammed in. The flight has been delayed for an hour because of weather conditions. The cockpit looks like the plane Amelia Earhart flew over the ocean in 1937 and she was never found again. I am getting a little nervous as we maneuver on the runway but not as nervous as the woman in front of us who starts crying. The pilot slides open the curtain and while driving the plane tries his best to console the girl. He offers the options to return her to the terminal. A few more words and laugh are exchanged and we go on. The flight was fabulous. We flew over the Darien gap and its dense lush vegetation trying to fathom how indigenous tribes can live in there…safely. We saw communities and tiny atolls lost in the ocean. Our first stop was on a small island and an even more than tiny runway. We then landed in another Kuna community where our journey continued with a boat ride to Yandup Island.

Boarding in Panama City

Boarding in Panama City

More cargo than people

More cargo than people

Out final stretch by boat

Out final stretch by boat

Getting closer

Getting closer

We have arrived at Yandup Lodge

We have arrived at Yandup Lodge

Here we were. An island as big as some American backyards. It takes about 1 minute to go around it by foot. Our hut is built on the water. It is fantastic! Do not come here to work things out if you have marital problems, there is no escaping or avoiding the other person!

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Standing in the middle of the island

Standing in the middle of the island

Our casa

Our casa

Charming decor

Charming decor

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Semi outdoor bathroom

Semi outdoor bathroom

After a bit of snorkeling and sea sickness under a cloudy sky, we had a succulent local fish for lunch. Blanco, a Kuna member/host showed us around the mangrove and its inhabitant in the afternoon. There are 3 types of mangroves (white, red and black). The ones we were observing is red mangrove and have multiple purposes in the Kuna community. It is used as a medicine to cure blood diseases. At age 5, little Kuna boys start showering with the leaves to help them become strong fisherman. (Blanco says, it helps bring up more fish). They also used the wood of the red mangroves to build hammocks which are placed 3 meters deep in the ground. On those hammock the dead is placed with all his belonging, shoes, glasses, clothing…etc. More mangrove branches are piled on top as well as dirt forming a little mount. They say: “Mother earth is pregnant with a child”. Small houses are then built on top to protect the edifice of the rain. I believe we will get a chance to visit one of the cemeteries at a later time.

Now, we are catching starfish, sea cucumbers and sea urchins. The sun is picking and the islands are magnificent.

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Sea cucumber

Sea cucumber

Black urchin

Black urchin

One of the many Kuna community is located a boat ride from our island. When you arrive on a Kuna island, you MUST seek the chief of the island, ask permission to visit and pay him a $10 fee. Blanco took us there for a little local history. 3000 people live in this community. Shortly after our arrival, the rain started to pour and naked kids were running in the streets laughing their heart out. All were waving at us screaming “Hola” and checking us out. The “streets”are made of dirt and the homes are made out of palm leaves and close to each other. Homes last 10 to 20 years. The cheap homes last 2 to 5 years. Blanco recalls many stories of homes burning or collapsing when storms come in. Kuna people are very proud of their community and they strive in keeping their independent way of life. We peek at the home where the Kuna congress meets. It is a large palm house and you need to wear pants to enter. The chief always lies in the middle of the room, in a hammock. The hammock is sacred in the community. The village has a clinic, 3 churches, a soccer/basketball field, a school and a police station. Women wear the traditional outfit made with molas. Molas a square of fabric with patterns hand sewed together. You can use those squares to make dresses, pillow cases, or decorate walls. These fabrics are cherished by tourists who come here to buy bags of molas.

As we walked down the streets, I can see many people on their cell phones, chatting and texting. I was told that if you go in the center of their community, you can get internet!

Their economy centers around the harvest of coconuts which they sell mainly to Colombian ships that sail in the region. Coconuts are traded for clothes, food or accessories such as sunglasses.

Another aspect that catches the attention of tourists is the high incidence of albinism in the Kuna territory. Experts attribute this to the fact that they rarely marry outside their community. Children of the moon, as the albinos are called, are revered and treated as special people.

By now the streets are just mounds of mud and mosquitoes are having a feast on my legs. Time to return to our island for another fresh fish/crab/shrimp dinner.

Approaching the Kuna community

Approaching the Kuna community

Kuna homes built close to each other, separated by strips off dirt

Kuna homes built close to each other, separated by strips off dirt

Kids enjoying life

Kids enjoying life

Playing cool

Playing cool

Streets are rivers and kids keep playing

Streets are rivers and kids keep playing

Little girl seen always carrying a baby monkey on her head

Little girl seen always carrying a baby monkey on her head

Old Kuna man

Old Kuna man

Kuna women chilling

Kuna women chilling

Molas made by the local women

Molas made by the local women

One design of a mola

One design of a mola

Women wear bracelets around their arms and ankles called chaquiras

Women wear bracelets around their arms and ankles called chaquiras

Kuna woman wearing the traditional skirt, molas and red scarf

Kuna woman wearing the traditional skirt, molas and red scarf

Maternity ward at the Kuna hospital

Maternity ward at the Kuna hospital

Fishermen arriving to sale their catch

Fishermen arriving to sale their catch

lean and fit Kuna fishermen

lean and fit Kuna fishermen

Dinner

Dinner

Of course there is a basketball court and a soccer field. I think DQ wants to play!

Of course there is a basketball court and a soccer field. I think DQ wants to play!

It is still Central America and the garbage is present everywhere

It is still Central America and the garbage is present everywhere

For the Kunas the land is the mother of all things. She is the guardian of all that exists and represents the spirit, the strength and the vigor of the Kuna culture

Yesterday, a child has died in the Kuna community. He died from an asthma attack. (the clinic can treat simple illnesses but can not place people on respirators if their respiratory system fails). After a death, the child is washed and dressed in his best clothe. For 30 hours members of the community chant non stop about spirits. During that time others go to the cemetery and dig a hole 3 meters deep and the length of the child. The body is then transported by boat (in a hammock hooked to a branch) to the cemetery. The hammock is lowered down the hole but cannot touch the earth. Red mangrove is then used to make a shelf over the body where all the person’s belongings are deposited. Then people fill the hole with dirt forming a little mount at the surface, meaning that mother earth is pregnant with a child. A string is then threaded from the little mound of dirt to a river representing the umbilical cord and will be cut the next day showing that the body is ready to go up to the sky. This is the 4th level of the spiritual life and the last one. People who have sinned during their life are unable to reach the sky and stay on the ground with the snakes. Blanco explains that people do not say goodbye to a person who has died because they will see them “shortly” when they die and meet them in the sky.

First level: Living in the wound of the mother for 9 months

Level 2: Growing up

Level 3: Dying but still being connected to mother earth by a cord

Level 4: Cutting the cord and going up to the sky

(I was not allowed to take picture in the cemetery)

View of the Kuna Community and Yandup Island from the cemetery

View of the Kuna Community and Yandup Island from the cemetery

The Kuna have many rituals and one of them is the cutting of a girl’s hair when she reaches maturity and is “available” to procreate. Therefore you can see most women wearing short hair which is very different from all the other Central American countries we have visited where long hair is cherished among women young and old.

One of the most striking practices is the fact that their young do not receive their names until they reach puberty. Until they reach puberty, the Kuna women are called by a nickname

My favorite spot here at the Yandup Lodge is a grassy spot in the middle of the island where I slowly turn 360 degrees while always looking at water! It is a weird feeling to be standing on this tiny island. We have skipped a couple morning of snorkeling to just hang out on the island by ourselves, relaxing on the little white sand beach. We acknowledge to each other the great satisfaction of doing nothing without being bored. (No cell, internet or movie theaters). The owner and the staff are Kunas and the women wear the traditional skirt and molas while working.

"Our" island beach

“Our” island beach

Dan working on his "non cycling" tan

Dan working on his “non cycling” tan

Remember the story about the tiny bikini back in Costa Rica. Here it is!!

Remember the story about the tiny bikini back in Costa Rica. Here it is!!

Kuna woman who works on the Yandup Island

Kuna woman who works on the Yandup Island

 

Our last night sleeping in damp sheets! Early morning the sun replaces the rain and thunder of the night. A minuscule 8 passenger planes takes off from the Kuna community as kids are walking by to go to school. Women are carrying rod iron pots. They are filled with cream corn, a government program to feed kids at school. At lunch they get beans. All the children look lean and healthy and are smiling. The little one are all wearing red shorts and a white tee shirt. It must be gym day. I notice how spotless the kids’ clothe are despite the fact that no one owns a washing machine or dryer on the island.

That is the airstrip we landed on. It is used as a play ground/street/hangout by the community and cleared away when a plane come in

That is the airstrip we landed on. It is used as a playground/street/hangout by the community and cleared away when a plane come in

Blanco our host, helps his wife bring the cream of corn to the school accompanied with his 2 of his 4 children

Blanco our host, helps his wife bring the cream of corn to the school accompanied with his 2 of his 4 children

We land in Panama City and immediately take off for David where we will have a short wait before flying to San Jose Costa Rica.

Ancon Hill, Panama

Today was our last day in Panama City. We hiked Ancon Hill and were so excited to be able to spot a sloth and 2 toucans. I have to say that I have seen so many toucans on brochures on Central America but have not seen one until today. We ended our hike on the waterfront, a well designed area frequented by many locals. Tonight we had dinner for the second time at Riesen a local Panamanian local restaurant that was incredible and very affordable.

A sloth

A sloth

View of Casco Viejo from Ancon Hill

View of Casco Viejo from Ancon Hill

The ghettos just at the edge of the most touristy area of Panama City.

The ghettos just at the edge of the most touristy area of Panama City.

More government lodging.   These areas have a heavy police presence.

More government lodging. These areas have a heavy police presence.

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Then...there is the waterfront with of course kids playing soccer and basketball

Then…there is the waterfront with of course kids playing soccer and basketball

Pedestrian crossing sign. Baby's got back!

Pedestrian crossing sign. Baby’s got back!

ALWAYS! The tight jeans! Panama has the tighest jeans with the largest buts in all Central America.

ALWAYS! The tight jeans! Panama has the tighest jeans with the largest buts in all Central America.

Transit of Panama Canal

Before being able to fully enjoy the city, we had to go drop off Wilma in Colon (the most dangerous city in Panama, we were told!). Again, we had all our photocopies in hands and steps to follow. Of course, the heat and the humidity accompanied us there. The first step went smooth and then it was a fiasco. We decided that we were too good and too experienced to pay a local to help us out through the steps of immigration, and got into the wrong line. We were told to go somewhere else! But where? I Did not understand the lady’s Spanish and the hand gesture was as usual vague and could have pointed any direction. We tried another lane. Wrong! A couple women grabbed our paperwork and started messing with the originals. Boy, we were sweating and unhappy! The guy who wanted to help us at the beginning came by and told us to follow him. We were relieved and were ready to spare all the cash he wanted to get through this. He led us in between rows of semi-trucks and around some dark corners to arrive at a booth. Unfortunately he walked us to the wrong place then told us we needed to get into a cab to go to another office. We decided to drive ourselves and found the office. Got the important immigration paper and went back to the lines we had started with. It was very confusing. People were waiting in line with bundles of papers and cash in hands then someone would arrive and switch with them, there would be an exchange of money and papers. That went on for an hour. Yup! That is how long we stayed in that one lane! Then it was time to drive Wilma in a parking lot where an inspection would be done. Wilma passed. The drug dog came and sniffed her and she did not budge. We were done.

We took a cab to the downtown of Colon where we played cards for a couple of hours. An awesome train with glass windows and glass roof took us back to Panama along the Panama canal and the jungle. We did have some pics but forgot the cord to the camera in Wilma so I could not post them.

Now, that the planning of the end of our trip is done (plane tickets are booked), we can savor the last weeks of our trip.

A trip to The Miraflores lock museum is a must to watch the ships transit through the locks.

The Miraflores lock commands

The Miraflores lock commands

Ship arriving towards the lock

Ship arriving towards the lock

The "mules" directing the ship inside the lock

The “mules” directing the ship inside the lock

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The gates

The gates

Ship being lowered down to the pacific ocean level

Ship being lowered down to the pacific ocean level

Today we splurged in a transit tour of the locks of the Panama Canal. Touristy? Certainly. Worth it? Definitely.  A little bit of history first. The Panama Canal is a 48 miles ship canal that connects the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Isthmus of Panama. There are locks at each end of the canal that lift boats to Gatun Lake. Gatun Lake is a man made lake created by deviating a river to decrease the amount of work to build the canal.

As we are leaving, view of  Panama City

As we are leaving, view of Panama City

Expensive "art" on the Causeway. Behind, Panama City

Expensive “art” on the Causeway. Behind, Panama City

Parked tug boats awaiting ships to be steered.

Parked tug boats awaiting ships to be steered.

Gigantic port machinery

Gigantic port machinery

France started the canal in 1881 but had to stop due to financial problem and high mortality due to disease (20,000 people died of malaria). Here we go, the French are giving up again! The United States took over and finished the canal in 1914. In 1999 the canal was given back to Panama.

Each boat needs to pay a fee to pass the canal depending of their size and shipment. The record fee was reached 6 months ago with a Norwegian ship which paid $480,000 to go through. The cheapest fee was paid in the 1920s by Richard Halliburton who swam the entire length of the Panama Canal for 36 cents. He was accompanied by marine sharp shooters to kill the hungry crocodiles.

Today our boat cruised under the Puentes de las Americas (Bridge of the Americas) and took us through Miraflores locks where we were lifted 54 feet in two stages.

Puente de las Americas

Puente de las Americas

This is the only time a captain has to surrender his boat to a special canal “specialist” who climbs on board and navigates the ship throughout the canal. As an important safety feature ships are guided though the lock chambers by electric locomotives, known as mulas (mules). We then floated the Miraflores lake to enter the Pedro Miguel locks where we were again lifted 31 feet to then cruise through the narrowest part of the panama canal called The Culebra cut. The amount of dirt/rocks excavated to trench the passage could have made a railroad to go around the earth 4 times! Today, crews are constantly maintaining the canal by digging the bottom due to the constant rain and erosion.

Arriving into lock, sharing space with other smallish boats

Arriving into lock, sharing space with other smallish boats

Doors closing

Doors closing

Water level is rising

Water level is rising

Impressive gates

Impressive gates

Water rising

Water rising

Water is up

Water is up

Again, impressive gates

Again, impressive gates

The mules working at steering ship in the locks

The mules working at steering ship in the locks

Slimy walls inside the lock

Slimy walls inside the lock

Ship leaving the locks in front of us

Ship leaving the locks in front of us

A Ro Ro carrier. Same type of ship transporting  Wilma

A Ro Ro carrier. Same type of ship transporting Wilma

By mid crossing the clouds darkened and lightning filled the skies. A downpour brought all the people in the middle of the boat as water started rising on the dock. We could see gigantic ships go by. It was a fantastic experience! We returned to Panama by bus, dropping off people at various hotels which allowed us to get a tour of the financial district.

Water coming in the boat

Water coming in the boat

Where did he say the life vests were?

Where did he say the life vests were?

New hat! Could not wait to wear it....with the tag still on!

New hat! Could not wait to wear it….with the tag still on!

Passing giant ship

Passing giant ship

Prison where Ex president Noriega spent some time

Prison where Ex president Noriega spent some time

This is Panama city on our way back

This is Panama city on our way back

and there is that Panama City

and there is that Panama City

Financial district

Financial district

The "corkscrew" as they call it here

The “corkscrew” as they call it here