Monday, November 18, 2013

Migration: Let's Try Again


My new blog is live! Or at least breathing. You will find it at:
www.GalivantsTravels.com
 If you would like to receive my posts via email, you will need to subscribe using the "subscribe" box that you'll find on my new blog's right-hand column. 
Even if you subscribed to the old blog, you'll have to subscribe again for the new one. It should be straightforward and easy to do, and I hope you will! 

See you at the new stand!

Friday, September 27, 2013

We're Migrating to GALIVANTSTRAVELS.COM

Or at least the blog is migrating (meaning that it will be 'hosted' by a different entity), from Blogspot to a new home at Wordpress. Henceforth, that's where you'll find us:
Photo from karthijaygee.wordpress.com
galivantstravels.com


Subscribers should be whisked to the new site automatically, but if you haven't been, or if you would like to received emailed posts when they appear, don't forget to sign up in the clever little Feedburner 'widget' provided to the right.


Where are those geese taking the blog, you say? I say:
galivantstravels.com

See you there!

Galivanstravels.blogspot.com will continue esxist, and to hold all the older posts, and all their associated photos still live there, but there will be no new posts except at: galivantstravels.com.

Galivantstravels.com is a work in progress, with 'under construction' signs in a few places. It's another one of my 'learning by doing' experiences, so hard to say how it will work out after the learning curve.

Galivant's crew is in Maryland this month, with cell phone service, good internet, and we speak the language. So drop us a line and let us know how things are with you!



Thursday, August 29, 2013

San Cristobal Interpretation Center, Natural and Social History

We'll start our tour of San Cristobal, the Galapagos island closest to the continente, at the Interpretation Center, but make a few diversions and finish with a bibliography, just like at school. 


This facility, a gift from Spain,  is about half a dozen years old and is devoted mainly to natural history and the human history of the islands. 

It's pretty well done and worth the visit. I "read" it cover to cover. 

Apparently there was more going on in the Galapagos in the last 500 years than in the last 5? million, and plenty just in this century.
Geologically the Galapagos islands are unusual, being volcanic in origin, currently active, and located at  the junction of three different tectonic plates riding over one another. The islands have arisen in the west and are sinking below the sea in the east. 
The newest island is Fernandina, a fresh shield volcano of 500,000 years, whose lava continues to leak from a hot spot beneath part of the Nazca plate into a bay close to western Isabela, the most western island. 
The oldest islands are the eastern ones, Espanola and San Cristobal,  and they are expected to eventually subside below the sea.


At the same time, ocean currents swirl around, five of them in an intricate dance to the rhythm of the prevailing trade winds - no wonder water temps and sea conditions are so variable in the Galapagos. The nutrient-rich Humboldt Current originates in Antarctic waters so it's cold enough to cool the air, leading to the odd sensation of sleeping under blankets near the Equator. A fine mist, the garua, forms at higher altitudes, but the arid zones are less affected.  I'm told that from January into April, when northeasterly trade winds prevail, the Humboldt loses its grip so the weather is hot and it rains many afternoons, unlike the temperate conditions we experienced during July. Then there are the El Niño years when 'normal' is turned upside down.


The Galapagos are of course noted for the large number of endemic species, known nowhere else in the world, that developed in its isolated location.  


The famous ones are the tortoises and iguanas, which probably drifted in on logs from South American rivers but survived because there was no competition from mammals (tortoises) or adapted (the marine iguanas learned to swim and dive to the bottom). 



Several birds are special: the penguins, the flightless cormorant. Others, like the albatross, simply thrive in the isolation. The finches developed differently on each island from a common ancestor; Charles Darwin was  able to adapt or diversify his observations of them into a successful new theory.




The most notable mammal is the Galapagos sea lion. I like to think of this image as having persisted for umpty-thousands of years. 


Behind my back, though, are youths with surfboards, sunbathers, tourists with cameras, all new in the last century. I wonder what the sea lions make of it.







Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Galapagos Arrival San Cristobal

Here we are in the Galapagos, the easternmost island of San Cristobal to be precise, after an expeditious five-day on-the-wind* passage from Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, on the continente.
 




And here's a cheesecake shot of the new 'poster boy' of Isla San Cristobal, the giant Galapagos tortoise known as Pepe. (The famous Lonesome George-Solitario Jorge, died in 2012. He's being taxidermic for his next posting, to the American Museum of Natural History.) Pepe, a middle-aged hunk who measures  four feet or more (a guess) and  weighs in the hundreds of pounds,  is spending his days posing for photos inside a rock-walled enclosure at the Interpretation Center near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. A native of San Cristobal, he is said to be active in the breeding program for his subspecies - a true patriarch! He keeps a sharp, even intelligent, eye on the corner of the enclosure where all the tourists approach.

Pepe and I came into this world in the ~same year, according to his reader board bio, and are coming to share other certain features as well. With a potential lifespan of  twice mine **, he'll get good service from the tougher carapace he received, even if it is scratched around the edges.

The mere words Islas Galapagos conjure up so many images: ideas in natural history thanks to Charles Darwin of course, but also history, geography, vulcanology, even romance. Herman Melville called them 'enchanted'; but he meant in the 'bewitched' even accursed sense, not  pastel Disney-style of enchantment.

Melville's vivid description sticks in the mind: "Take five-and-twenty heaps of cinders dumped here and there in an outside city lot; imagine some of them magnified into mountains, and the vacant lot the sea, and you will have a fit idea of the general aspect of the 'Enchanted Isles'…it is to be doubted whether any  spot of earth can, in its desolateness, furnish a parallel with this group." Darwin was a little more positive, merely comparing the land to the cultivated areas of the Infernal regions.


A photo of the diorama in the San Cristobal Interpretation Center, with Isabela in the foreground, Santa Cruz the most populated island to the east, and San Cristobal out of sight further east.

Coming upon these islands as we did on a dark night, lit only by star shine and not much of it, one does have a 'present at creation' feeling. The silhouette is bleak, perhaps cloud-draped, and you can imagine, if not actually hear, the perpetual crash of the southwesterly swell on the lava-sharp coastline and offlying rocks and islands, while you imagine being set upon them by unpredictable currents. Desolate indeed! You can actually hear, and feel, as you pass through disturbed patches of what we call 'devil water'

We have real paper charts, and it's a good thing too, because details that you could count upon the British Admiralty charting services for, are entirely absent from some of the electronic charts. X marks the rock, or maybe a speck of tan, but is it awash, submerged, or 50 feet tall? It's irrelevant to the folks at C-Map, but not to me! Also some of the charts are off, so not the place for first time night arrival.


So the reality of the capital of the Galapagos province,  Puerto Baquirizo Moreno on San Cristobal, comes as a surprise. It's anything but desolate. Ashore is an everyday all-Ecuadoran town with nice sidewalk and street paving, which, absent the jokey BlueBooby t-shirts and last-minute specials posted in front of  the dive shops, could be anywhere in the country.

I like this tee shirt better than the Blue Booby ones anyhow.


There is a lot  of new masonry construction,  even a building crane or two. The airport is a ten-minute walk over the hill. The harbor is full of boats, 15 feet to 150 meters. Yellow water taxis and tourist boat 'lanchas' circulate constantly. Cargo is  ferried ashore in lighters, since there's not sufficient depth for freighters at the docks.


Residents and tourists stroll the Malecon, shops line the streets heading inland, and a few blocks further the neighborhoods turn residential. There are hibiscus and banana trees, cats and dogs (not so many as on the 'continente' though, and healthier), bicycles, motor scooters and lots of pickup trucks, nice late-model Toyotas which also function as taxis. Melville never mentioned vegetation! And the whalers he was traveling with didn't look like this.


The only thing a little odd is the welcoming committee.



 



Sea lions are everywhere, dozing on the docks, draped over the park benches, sleeping on the sidewalks. There may be more sea lions than Galapagonians! Wikipedia thinks so. They are cute, and fun to watch as they twitch and rustle in their dreams. But they reminded me of Canada geese, in the sense that you don't want to see them in this way or quite so close. If you're curious, I can report that sea lion droppings are about like those of a healthy German shepherd, only whiter (from fish bones?), and sometimes with a runny 'gravy'. Better than geese (all 'gravy') in this respect. Someone must go thru the waterfront early  with a fire hose to give each day a fresh start.

Sea lions also have a fondness for the steps on the backside of catamarans, and dinghies on the beach or in the water, which contributed to our decision to just use the water taxis, $1 per person each way, and some social benefits. Someone told me that if a sea lion spends the day lounging on your cockpit cushions, you'll be throwing them away. That sounds a little extreme to me!

Our actual welcoming committee consisted of our agent, Bolivar Pesantes of the Naugala agency, and representatives of the port captain and the environmental department. They like banana bread, but didn't want to drink our water, which is not bottled. The environment man put on his disposable gloves and picked through our trash can of paper and plastic (we keep biodegradables and cans/bottles separate but he didn't ask for those). He informed me that neither used Kleenex, nor the stuff I swept off the floor could be recycled and should not be in that can. Yes sir!  What was I thinking?

We paid fees for reception services(?), inspection and quarantine, national park ($100 per person), local government, photocopies and transportation of the authorities, trash, and the agent, who got almost half of our total $840 investment. We knew ahead of time about how expensive it would be but figured we'd not be likely be passing this way again. Plus, They Say it's going up again next year. They can't hear us screaming in Quito and Guayaquil yet.

We know a number of boats who bypass these islands and head straight to the Marquesas because of the expense. I think the authorities prefer it that way too. You the tourist would be much easier to track and manage if you would stay on one of the handful of populated islands and make day trips from your hotel or hostel. And that would be a feasible approach. However tourism in these islands seems to be set up in particular for the tour boats and their operators.
Don't know a thing about the Grace, but for looks alone, this is a tour boat I'd check into, classic-style-wise. UPDATE
Among other things, Aristotle Onassis' wedding gift to Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly.  In the $6K range for 7 nights, per person.
 
National Geographic runs a big cruise ship (96 passengers) that dwarfs the competition and maybe some islands too. Otherwise there is diversity in the fleet: a number of 'steel box' power cats and mega-power-yachts, a few smaller sailing boats,  perfectly adequate to the job but lower on 'ambiance'.

You'd fly in to Santa Cruz or San Cristobal, board your 3- or 4- or 8- night cruise, be ferried around to various islands by night, and to a variety of activities by day, and then you'd be gone. There is a certain logic to this, and as we see the boats moving around, we can see that the passengers are being kept busy, really busy, and they're seeing a lot, including destinations and sights we are going to miss, mainly because we're only allowed the three main islands, and only the main port on each.
I like how even the inflatable dinghies wear nice rope fendering on the bow.
  But despite the limitations on our movements, I think we're getting the gist of the Galapagos.
Playa de Oro, just across the street from the Galapagos Science Center, outpost of the University of North Carolina and University of San Francisco-Quito, a modern new facility where local and overseas semester -abroad students study. That's Galivant in the top right corner, and Grace top left.

And our view of them. Wish we could have gotten their wifi signal!

As for the natural sciences, the history, romance, etc, a good place to start is at the Interpretation Center, just a short walk around the bay. 

 We're heading there now. Stay tuned!


*"on-the wind" meaning bumpier and less comfortable than might have been desirable

**About Pepe and his brethren, Wikipedia informs us: The Galápagos tortoise or Galápagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living species of tortoise and 10th-heaviest living reptile, reaching weights of over 400 kg (880 lb) and lengths of over 1.8 meters (5.9 ft). With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. A captive individual lived at least 170 years.
The tortoise is native to seven of the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 1,000 km (620 mi) west of the Ecuadorianmainland. Spanish explorers, who discovered the islands in the 16th century, named them after the Spanish galápago, meaningtortoise.
Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks - on islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with "saddleback" shells and long necks. Charles Darwin'sobservations of these differences on the second voyage of the Beagle in 1835, contributed to the development of his theory of evolution.
Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals to the islands, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Ten subspecies of the original fifteen survive in the wild; an eleventh subspecies (C. n. abingdoni) had only a single known living individual, kept in captivity and nicknamed Lonesome George until his death in June 2012. Conservation efforts, beginning in the 20th century, have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their ancestral home islands, and it is estimated that the total number of the species exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: a very readable new ebook now available at Amazon. It´s a  "best-of" digest from the Caribbean Compass, a cruiser´s newspaper based in the Eastern Caribbean. There are some great articles in there, and I say that not just because two of them are mine! You can check it out at:
http://www.amazon.com/Cruising-Life-Stories-Caribbean-ebook/dp/B00DO8PHJ4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372851986&sr=8-1&keywords=caribbean+compass+the+cruising+life.













Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Equator Ecuador Mitad del Mundo

The Southern Hemisphere (I think!) as seen from Mitad del Mundo

Middle of the World, that´s what they call the Equator here in Ecuador, a country itself named for that world-dividing line. This spot, owned by the district or province, has been designated as ´´official´´ and it is one of the main tourist attractions of the Quito area. So one Sunday we got on the bus and made our way out to Mitad del Mundo to see what it was all about.


Well, it´s mainly about Tourists having their pictures made on the line, of course. French tourists holding their flag, little kids trying to balance on the yellow line, blase young backpackers shoving each other back and forth. Half a dozen people tried to get the monument pinched just so between their fingers or balanced on their palms while being harangued by their official photographers.


The site is developed with a 100-foot tower topped by a globe. There´s an ethnographic museum inside.  There are several subsidiary small museums on the premises (one containing what might be the world's largest cockroach) as well as restaurants and snack bars, first aid facilities, llamas, and did I somehow neglect to mention the shopping opportunities?




There is  even a church, with a yellow line running right up the center aisle. With, apparently, a service in progress, I hesitated to see just how how far the middle-line went. In the next section a band wearing hats and ponchos was warming up. 

It's all kind of fun, part of the experience of Ecuador on a sunny Sunday.



Trouble is, this attraction is apparently in the wrong place,
0.0022 S, and 78.4558 W, off from the true equator  by a couple hundred meters. Oh well.





I was thinking that whoever built the monument, first in the 1930s and then with bigger stones about 1980, must be thinking 'Let's pretend everything's fine. Just keep smiling!' But in fact, my Wikipedia friends offer a better reason:


" In the modern datum of the World Geodetic System (WGS84), which is used in GPS systems and computer mapping products like Google Earth, the equator is placed about 240 meters north of the marked line. This discrepancy is partially due to increased accuracy but primarily due to a different choice of mapping datum. Similarly, the line marking the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in England is roughly 100 meters from the exact zero of longitude as indicated by GPS receivers."

WGS84 is what we (that is, our trusty Furuno GPS) use to navigate with as well. We're thrilled, mostly, to have a mere 250-meter error. 

So, there is an alternate attraction, the privately owned Inti Ray Solar Museum, around the corner and up a dusty road, where the equator´s location has been ´'verified by GPS'. According to my iPhone, this one isn´t quite right either, but let´s not quibble!



Best to call it an amusement park. In addition to the various statues, totems and reproductions of Amazonian villages, even a real shrunken head,  there are a few location-specific 'educational exhibits'.




The gold-painted sink was my favorite. A bucket of water poured straight down the drain illustrates that exactly on the equator there is no swirl of the Coriolus effect.Water goes straight down the drain. Lo and behold, a mere ten feet to either side, our guide Adriana could make that drain swirl its leaves clockwise or counterclockwise to make her point. Do you think it had anything to do with which corner of the sink she emptied the bucket in?





She´s a fun girl. She can also balance an egg on a nail, only on the actual equator of course, and walk the line exactly with her eyes shut, despite her muscles, or balance,  being debilitated by 'special gravitational effects' at the equator. We tourists could not perform either task, not even for an official certificate.


From there we headed for one of the many Sunday eating places (a shade tent and plastic furniture do not a restaurant make) that had appeared along the highway and were serving a smokey 'mixed grill'. There were half a dozen places all serving the same thing, all in a row, but this girl put her heart into attracting customers and she got Doug and me.
And that's what's happening in the middle of our world. How about you?


Which should make this the view of the Northern Hemisphere
To tell the truth, I´ve gotten a little confused about which panorama is which. We´ve been travelling away from the boat for a month and a half, and I´ve lost lots of photos to the demons of SD card viruses and write errors in internet cafes, plus there are no photo editing programs I understand. There are things that just can't be done on an iPhone, no matter what They say.

PS I found it interesting that the point on earth furthest from the center is also here in Ecuador. Wikipedia reports:
With a peak elevation of 6,268 metres (20,564 ft), Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador. ...While Chimborazo is not the highest mountain by elevation above sea level, its location along the equatorial bulge makes its summit the farthest point on the Earth's surface from the Earth's center.












Friday, April 5, 2013

Passage to Ecuador




We stepped out into the wider Pacific last week.  All the way to Ecuador from the Perlas islands in Panama the wind not only blew moderately but stayed behind us, and the seas did too. The moving sidewalk of current  beneath us was pretty much in our favor as well. At times the speed log was showing above nine knots. A person could get spoiled moving as expeditiously as this!

So it was a fast trip, up until four nights later when we met with either the Humboldt current or one of its eddies at the equator, about 35 miles offshore. We crossed the equator about 10 pm. It was quite dark, the sky thick with clouds threatening precipitation,  the moon not yet up, misty and jacket-cool, and we were pitching uncomfortably as the wind (not much) met the current (3 or maybe 4 knots against us).

On the motor! And break out the Bailey's Liqueur - the equator demands an obligatory tot for King Neptune and one for the crew! Make that two! Then I went back to bed to freshen up for my date in the cockpit at 1 AM.

Maybe we had been going too fast to catch any fish with our trusty pink-and-white squid trolling lure. Or maybe it was because we sometimes forgot to put it out! No fish died at our hands on this passage; we were still eating those we'd caught in the Perlas. But we heard on the radio net from friends who hooked three marlin. Luckily, for both them and the marlin, each time the fish managed to spit the hook. It was a big Rapalla spoon that knew how to lure those fish.

The fleet of about 15 boats bound west and south for the Galapagos was also having generally good conditions and favorable winds, despite the occasional spinnaker wrap or hole with no wind in it. I am as always impressed by the way people in this community help each other along,  and especially by the family boats who have children as well as boats to manage,  the parents like nautical Ginger Rogers, doing it in in high heels, and backwards! I'll miss the radio reports from people we've met, and from those we've never seen,  as they move through the Galapagos and into French Polynesia while we head for the Andes.

We wanted to close the coast of Ecuador to get out of the current, but fear of fishnets kept us in deeper water through the night. On my watch, we steered over the tip of an underwater peninsula about 300 feet deep. A mile or so away (just guessing) a fishing boat turned on his light. Then another, further away. Then, horrors, another light appeared behind me, quite near our track. I hate that! I'd almost rather not know how close I came to hitting something than to have evidence that, yes, there are things to hit out here! And think of the fright I might have given the poor fishermen.

When we eventually got to the town and looked at the fishing boats, here's what we saw.

You'll notice the net heaped in the boat under the black tarp, the foam mattresses and the umbrella for long hours of waiting, and the paint can on a small floatable platform.




This, apparently, is the light. So, did they not see us until we passed, or were they looking for the matches?









To enter the Rio Chone from the Bahia de Caraquez, we need a high tide, and a pilot. So we had to do some dawdling and anchoring to wait for the tide at 5:58 PM on the Saturday before Easter. The tide was 9 1/2 feet that night, and the least water I saw on the sounder as we went in was 9.1 feet. I gather, however, that the currents and tidal rips can be a larger issue than the water level. The pilot, Pedro, stood behind Doug at the helm and waved his hand around, faster, slower, left, right. There is an old light tower standing in the shoreline shoals, offering no information that wasn't already obvious; no other marks, no ranges,  and not much margin for error. I was happy to pay the pilot's $30 fee.

Then Pedro helped us tie up, fore and aft, to buoys in the small mooring field that will be our home for the next while. Anchor-up to mooring ball cleated off, we were snuggly settled in in less than 4 1/2 half days, after roughly 555 miles. So much for the bald-arrow weather forecasts.

A health inspector arrived  to look us over. He looked over our groceries too, not to confiscate but wanting a list of items to pad out his form (leche, huevos, carne, banana) , then wrote it out again by hand as our receipt, and skedaddled away for Saturday night elsewhere. I had been just about to ask him: "Does anyone ever say 'Yes, I am carrying psychotic drugs, lots of them'"?

Our passports and copies of our documents went ashore; we would pay various fees later, but we would also get everything back on Tuesday morning and in the meantime we were free to enjoy ourselves ashore: a shower and dinner out were what the health officer recommended. Welcome to Ecuador!






Here is what Bahia the town, off the Bahia de Caraquez,  looks like.
Maybe you can zoom in to see us  in the Rio Chone close to the bridge at the top left.






Sunday, March 24, 2013

Panama Pacific Equinox


P1150631
You could say we got out of Panama City just in time but, actually, we got out a bit too late. There was a nice wind opportunity, another of those North American cold fronts with a long tail trailing over the Isthmus of Panama, enough to blow the palm fronds sideways. But we weren't done with town stuff like chasing down parts and supplies until the last day of that weather, so only got as far as the Perlas islands.

Now, for the last fortnight, the GRIB files, computer renderings of predicted winds, show big blanks all along our route to Ecuador. What wind arrows there are lie featherless (less than two knots) and scattered  every which-way. There are by now probably a couple dozen boats in the various Las Perlas anchorages hoping for that first breath of wind comes before they use up all their trans-Pacific groceries. There's at least one Galapagos-bound boat (heard him on the radio) who has been happily drifting with the current for a week now, and reports sighting sea lions and sleeping whales.
Image
We celebrated the first day of spring anchored south of the main island of Contadora. Although dreaming of daffodils and dogwoods, I made do with a faint haze of flowers on the few trees that aren't deciduous and/or desiccated now at the end of the dry season. The Intertropical Convergence Zone shifts around us, making for interesting skies; they sometimes look watery but aren't, yet. At times there has been even been mist and dew, enough to wipe out the horizon, and cover the deck, a free-fresh-water wipe down. At other times, the ITCZ is 'indiscernible'.
P1150645
After the serious work of getting the city grit off the boat, we took a dinghy cruise/fish troll over to the island of Mogo Mogo in search of a lime tree we'd heard about. Instead, we got waved off and whistled away by people shouting 'Survivor Island, Survivor Island.' It seems that a Russian edition of Survivor is being filmed right now. There's a line of yellow caution tape strung along the shrubbery as far as the eye can see, and some structures around on the south side beach. Someone really desperate could probably flag a passing fisherman or even one of the yachts anchored at Chapera.

We also took a walk around Contadora, and found a lovely beach on the east end with a beached ferry boat and a semi-derelict resort.
P1150657

Not sure about the ferry, but the resort developer reportedly died, and his wife was apparently unable to pull together all the building liens and financing to complete the project. Someone is working on part of it now though, and it looks like the Survivor people have a little 'studio' round back.

P1150671

We've been calling Panama City the Big Smoke because it's a charming phrase we once read in a Pidgin language dictionary, referring to cities in general. But these days in Panama it's not really a joke. We had been getting bits of ash landing on the boat from hillsides being burned. In fact, Panama City lost its electric power a couple weeks ago when farmers lit a cane field that happened to be right under one of the  country's three main transmission pylons.

This time though, the smoke wafting through the anchorage smelled like man-made substances burning. Turned out it was the always busy Allbrook Mall, the largest mall in the country, which serves as the main bus terminal for provincial buses besides. The Madison/Conway store was badly damaged, and 60 neighboring stores were closed for smoke damage. Either there are no sprinklers installed in the mail, or they did not work. But no injuries or deaths were reported.IMG 5018
A day or two later  the Diablo Rojo (Red Devil) buses were, as scheduled, taken off the road, leaving the entire city, as planned, reliant on the fancy new Metro buses.  It's part of Panama's design to become a player in the World-Class City tournament. The Diablo Rojos are recycled US school buses, often exuberantly painted. You can fit three people in the seats on the left, two on the right, which makes maybe seventy sitting down and maybe not that many, but lots, standing up. Watching them unload is sometimes like watching the clowns piling out of the VW at the circus - how many more can there be?The fare is 25 cents, and the buses are usually full especially during rush hour. But they are old, uncomfortable, often poorly maintained, and considered to be dangerous.

The nice shiny new Metrobuses carry about 35 sitting, and I think I've read 60 standing. You need a preloaded magnetic card to pay; the fare except on certain express routes is still 25 cents. I've read that 300 Metro buses replaced 700 Diablo Rojos, but some of the coverage degenerates into remarks about corruption and cronyism so it's hard to say what's really going on.  The construction of the subway which has so many roads torn up or closed down is another headache and it is rumored that the subway opening has been postponed from October until next February. Panamanians are generally patient people, habituated to spending hours in lines, even for the simplest store checkout, but they want to get home at the end of the day! After a week, the transit people urged patience and announced plans to put signs indicating where the various buses were headed in heavily traveled zones like Cinco de Maio.
Cerropatacon 1 150 100Plus there's a another fire now, this time at a large landfill, wafting toxic fumes over the city, closing schools and sending folks to the hospital. Friends in the anchorage report that half the skyline is obliterated at times. They have some kind of foam fire stopper coming in from the US and also are using explosives to tame the flames. I read it online! Photo courtesy of newsroompanama.com

Googling around, I also found that none of these stories are new - big fire at the Mall back in 2009, riot police have been called in the past for bus problems, and the trash fires are a recurring phenomenon. The economy may be booming here with GDP running near ten percent, and of course the estimated five billion dollars being spent on the new Panama Canal locks and associated upgrades. Still, it seems there's a lot of catching up to do before Panama can claim world-class status, or achieve half of what their role model, Singapore, has managed.P1150495
In our smaller world, now relocated in the clean clear air of the Perlas islands, the boat projects continue. I 'm aware that a lot of these maintenance issues we've foisted upon ourselves by not leading simpler lives, but so far the balance is still in favor of the amenities!  We're getting really experienced at taking the water maker out as we chase down a pesky leak on the high pressure side. Some new engine parts arrived and have been applied with, so far, good results.
.Doug in forepeak
Lubricating the anchor windlass is not one of  Doug's favorite chores.
Getting city-fertilized growth off the bottom and the propellor is more pleasant now that the water has warmed some. Big splurge on a new aluminum-bottomed dingy (more appropriate for dragging across beaches in this land of double-digit tides,) but it needed an intricate fitted cover ('chaps'), the making of which ate almost a week of my life. Software and computer issues spring eternal. Pressure canning 'Meals Ready to Eat' like beef stew, chicken soup, pre-cooked beans, and what may be a lifetime supply of kimchi.
Plus my brother Curt came and we got to be tourists and entertain the locals for a little while. Here Curt makes his own raspado ice drink.
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And we really enjoyed our visit to the Panama Canal Museum at the Miraflores Locks, especially the simulation from the bridge of a ship passing thru. I can't upload that video, so here instead is the bulk carrier Rosalia D'Amato, presently enroute from California to Tianjin Xingang, at an average speed of 12.2 knots,  according to marine traffic.com. I wish I knew how to find out what Bulk they're carrying.
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So here we are, waiting for that light northerly wind predicted for the end of the week. Surely there's one more northerly weather system left in the season! Then we'll be moving towards Puerto Amistad, Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, 35 miles south of the equator, at an average speed of - well, we would hope for 5 or 6 knots, and the chance to travel there in a straight line, but neither is guaranteed, or maybe even probable.
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In the meantime, there are nice rocks on the beaches, which I photograph instead of taking them home like I used to do!
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And we're catching some fish which I photograph, then eat.
That's the report from Panama on the cusp of the season. The Pacific is living up to its name.