Friday, 18 March 2016

Panama, San blas and Shelter Bay (West Holandes with Stefan) 2015-11-11

The San Blas is seriously a tropical paradise. No people, no towns, no civilisation. Just us, a zillion reefs and a few hundred tiny islands. We eventually ended back at our little sand cay again, in the East Holandes. We couldn't help ourselves! It's just so nice anchoring right next to our own private little island. The snorkeling was still exceptional, which wasn't surprising considering we were there just two weeks earlier.

Then we made our way to the Central Holandes, which was tricky. The water was shallow, there was coral everywhere and there was no path on the charts. We just maneuvered our way slowly over the reefs until we found a nice shallow patch to drop the anchor in. Phew! We thought we had anchored near Stefan, but our neighbouring boat turned out to be somebody else. Whoops.

So the next day out we went again, moving very slowly in between coral heads. I was practically jumping up and down on the bow, gritting my teeth and panicking as I watched the reef go past right underneath our keel. It was close! But we made it out without hitting anything. Then when we got round the corner to Stefan’s actual anchorage, we had to do it all again. He was sitting in the West Holandes, next to Waisaladup (the island next to our hammock island, where we had a beach day with Becca and Dale). Except he was on the other side of it. On our charts, the whole thing was a reef. And it pretty much was. Stefan had to dinghy out to us, bringing a laptop with his tracks. I pretty much closed my eyes as he helped us in - a lot of the navigation had to be very precise in order to avoid the coral! At times we had just 30cm or so between us and the reef. But we made it in!

Looking down from up the mast in Stefan’s anchorage

And it was totally worth it. We sat there for about a week, no other boats in sight. I'm guessing nobody wanted to deal with the stress of getting into the anchorage! The snorkeling was wonderful and so was the company. We shared a few meals with Stefan and his lovely lady friend, and even had a bonfire on the beach together. It was very much a paradise.

Bonfire on the beach!

Before we left I finally managed to find a multicoloured anklet like Liesbet’s. All the others had nice patterns on them - I think the Kunas only make the multicoloured ones out of random leftover beads. But we went to the Waisaladup and found some nice ladies with a huge selection of beads. I guess when they visit us on their Ulus they only bring a few! It took a long time for me to pick one, but I finally made a decision and a sweet girl tied it onto my dirty ankle. She wasn't dressed up (although the older ladies were) so I didn't want to annoy her by snapping the obligatory pic of the beads being tied on. She did a nice little bow at the end of the string, which I untied and replaced with a solid knot a few days later (once I was happy that it was the right size for my ankle). So now I’m semi - permenantly marked by the San Blas, just like all the other sailing women who we met In the South Pacific.

The beach off the village at Waisaladup

Before we left we also managed to score some sourdough starter from Stefan. I had actually been chatting to another couple online who were in the San blas - I checked out their blog and they had a post about an awesome German guy who showed them how to make sourdough bread. Their blog definitely sold me on the idea - it's minimal effort, you don't need to keep buying yeast, and it's no knead. Hooray! So Stefan was kind enough to give us some of his starter and I used the recipe posted on their blog so he didn't have to explain it twice. We’ve made it constantly since! It's not a normal sandwich bread, but it's the only bread I've ever made that doesn't go stale or moldy after a day or two - it’s still moist and fresh after nearly a week. It rarely lasts that long, but it's nice knowing I won't be waking up to moldy bread in the morning. Normal sourdough gets formed into a pretty loaf and goes all crusty on the outside. In our dodgy boat ovens (though my new one isn't that dodgy!), that doesn't really work. So instead of trying to fuss with forming loaves, Stefan’s recipe is all gloppy and you just pour it into bread tins. Awesome.

Now we’re back at Shelter Bay. It's so comfortable, and so expensive. Though the only reason we came back here was to pick up our very shiny new oven. It's beautiful! After cooking outside on a portable camping stove for over a month, I'm beyond relieved to finally have a working stove again. Aside from the very recent pain of the camping stove (good luck if it's raining!), our old one has been tormenting us for the whole time we’ve been onboard. Having to sit on the floor for two minutes holding down the button long enough for it to stay lit has been bearable when we’re in a calm anchorage (If I want to make grilled cheese sandwiches, they're almost done by the time the stove stays on by itself). But forget about it at sea, and really forget about it in bad weather. The stovetop isn't as bad as the oven, but it still doesn't light easily. Which isn't surprising considering the only thing holding it together was rust and wishful thinking. The old oven took half an hour to heat up, and it was so badly insulated that it warmed up the boat to the same temperature as well. I guess it figured that if it had to get all hot and bothered, it was going to take everybody else down with it.

It’s SO SHINY! (You can see my anklet here)

Out with the old

In with the new

So cooking has been hard over the last three years. We figured out how to cook most things on the stove top, because the oven really wasn't worth the effort. You want lasagne for dinner? You're getting pasta with mince and cheese. Pizzas? Those suckers are getting cooked in a frying pan with a lid on top. Bread? Chuck the dough in a pot.

But the new oven cooks everything! The last one didn't get hotter than 180°C, but my shiny new friend goes much higher. It doesn't heat up the boat, it has a freaking button to light it (no more BBQ lighters or throwing matches at it!), and you can actually use it underway. So we’re both very excited. I've been using it as much as I possibly can - I tried to convince Garth to cook steak in the oven the other night, and he almost gave in. Almost.

I've successfully managed to talk about food for almost this entire post. Shocking.

Xxx Monique

Click here for LOTS more pictures!

Friday, 4 March 2016

Panama, San blas, East Lemmons and West Holandes (With Stefan) 2015-10-27

We love the San Blas! We ended up staying two more weeks after Becca and Dale left, mostly just because it was impossible to tear ourselves away. We went back to the East Lemmons again, where we were hoping to meet up with a friend of Mark and Liesbet’s. We found him alright! Or rather, he found us. Rather than visit us in the dinghy like a normal person, Stefan waited for the wind to pick up and then launched his kite, tacking back and forth upwind until he got to our boat. With the kite still in the air he grabbed onto our dinghy and casually sat down for a chat, the wind constantly threatening to drag him away. This was a guy after Garth’s heart!


We just chatted to Stefan as if it was normal to have somebody clinging to the side of our boat with a kite in the air. After a while he got sick of fighting the wind, so he let go and our new friend flew off back to his boat, kicking up huge waves in his wake. He knew how to go fast!

Before we moved closer to him, we decided to explore our unconventional anchorage. We were anchored in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by turquoise blues and nothingness.
I had dropped the hook on top of a little sand bank, the only shallow bit in amongst lots of deep water. There was a tiny sand island* not too far away, so the next day we hopped into the dinghy and went over to explore it. I love tiny islands! You could run around the whole thing in less than a minute, and this one even had some greenery in the middle. And just like the last sand cay, the reef around this tiny island was absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful coral and fish awaited us just below the surface.

After I’d been around the whole island underwater, I came back to the start and discovered the biggest school of fish I'd ever seen. They were the tiny fish that the locals usually pick up as bait, but the whole water was filled with them. I just sat and watched them swim around me for ages. They made swirling patterns in the water, splitting off into different directions as one big group and then twirling back around to go a different way. It was mesmerising. I've played in big schools of fish lots of times, but this was different - instead of the fish swimming In the water, it looked like the water was second to the fish. There wasn't an inch of free space, which is why they were making such interesting patterns in the water - they had to move out of the way or squish closer together for the rest of the school to pass by. It was like one giant game of snake, twisting around trying not to run into itself.

A trumpet fish sticks it’s head out as a Garth dives down

So many fish!

After we were done playing with the fish, we re-anchored closer to Stefan and the island of Yasaladup. On our charts it was marked as ‘Stefanadup’, which we had totally forgotten about. Liesbet had written it in nearly a year ago because this is where Stefan usually hangs out, off the little island of Yasaladup in an area where the kite boarding is great.

While we were there we actually managed to catch the vege boat. It goes to the same places every week on the same day, but we had been moving around so much we missed it the previous two times. Not this week! The boat was huge and it was filled to the brim with all the perishables we could ever want (including whole chickens in an esky full of ice, which we decided not to buy. There were plenty of fish and veges, which are much cheaper than chicken). We loaded up on as much food as we could, and the boat sat alongside us for ages as they sorted themselves out. They cut up some pineapples and handed me over two halves once they were ready, using the stalks as a handle like the locals do in Fiji. I was so happy to have pineapple again! They also had a huge bag of eggplants that were starting to go bad. I had bought some and asked to swap a few for nicer eggplants without rotten bits. They emptied the bag, chucking the really rotten ones over the side. Then the friendly vege guy asked if we wanted them. Hells yes! They were too iffy to sell, but the soft spots were removable. So I ended up with a huge bag of eggplants! I cut the rotten bits out, chopped the rest up, coated them in breadcrumbs and we had eggplant chips for dinner. Hooray for free food!

Vege boat

We actually managed to catch a fish trolling around the East Lemmons as well. It was a Big eyed Jack, and everything I found online said it wasn't great to eat. We were obviously going to eat it anyway, so Garth cooked it well with some lemon and butter and he made a fresh salsa to stick on top. Absolutely delicious. So the new lures I bought in Panama actually work!

Big-eyed Jack (we think)

Xxx Monique

*The tiny sand island was mentioned in Bauhaus but I don't have the coordinates. It's half a mile SE of the main island in the Chichime group and our 3rd edition book said that the island had 2 palms on it - he may have changed it in the newer versions to reflect the lack of palm trees on it now.

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