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!

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