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(2009 - mid 2010)
Overview of the past year
We've moved! - Red Frog Marina
Red Poison Dart Frogs
In and around Bocas del Toro
OF THE PAST YEAR (more
details follow below and on pages 34 & 35)
Bocas del Toro, Panama (Caribbean side)
has been our home for two years now, having sailed down from the western
central Caribbean in June 2008. ARGO has been at Bocas Marina (Isla
Colon), but we moved to Red Frog Marina (Isla Bastimentos) in May 2010.
During 2009 Deborah spent some time in the USA
visiting her Dad and working temporarily for a friend. Steve joined up
in Houston and we traveled to visit his family, before returning to ARGO in
September. Since then, we are now finding ourselves integrating into
the land-based expat community here in Bocas (which is quite large), in
addition to the cruising community to which we are accustomed. As you would expect, Steve pretty much knows
everybody in Bocas Town.
September 2009, we've been to Panama City a couple of times, and to David
(Pacific side) and Boquete (mountains) several times. In fact, we are
in Boquete now staying at a friend's house as I work on this long-overdue website update.
Refer to this map as
you read below. This page makes reference to:
Bocas del Toro/Town (El Istmito)
Bocas del Drago (Starfish Beach)
RED FROG MARINA
In May 2010, we moved ARGO to
Red Frog Marina
- it is still in the Bocas del Toro area but located on a different
island, Bastimentos Island. It's a brand new secluded marina, on
the leeward side of the island, hidden behind
a chain of mangrove islands with a backdrop of tropical jungle-covered
high hills. Our
view over the mangroves is of the mainland's highlands,
and on an exceptionally clear day even Volcano Barú, the highest point
in Panama at 11,400 ft., is visible. A 10-minute walk from the
marina through the tropical forest to the windward side of the island
presents very long, beautiful beaches, some with great surfing waves in
mate for life. We frequently see
flocks flying overhead, obviously coupled up
- it's always sad to see an odd number
in the flock . . .
We are thoroughly enjoying the more
remote setting and ambience, the change in scenery and the easy access
to beaches and numerous nature/exercise walks, lots of
birds including coupled parrots flying overhead, and the frequent
sightings of the Red Poison Dart Frogs (see Box below), sloths,
dolphins, resident manta ray and more. If we surfed, we'd be in
The marina is still getting geared up, but the
floating docks are first class. An infusion of funding from a
Russian-American has plans
to increase the size of the marina (from about 40 to 80 slips). They are
currently upgrading the electrical power to the marina, as they want to
eventually attract large yachts to the marina. Future plans are to add
marina amenities (such as dock cabaña,
restaurant/bar, swimming pool) and boat services.
Red Frog area includes a private villa development scattered along the
high hills with awesome views of the Caribbean, which had been stalled
several years ago due to labor disputes but is again geared up.
There's a very nice hostel for backpackers with community kitchen and
laundry, a casual restaurant/bar and a beach bar and grill. They
are currently putting in a zipline canopy tour. There are plans to
add a spa center, nice restaurant(s), bar(s) and another swimming pool.
We decided it was time to leave
Bocas Marina as the town of Bocas has now been dumping the town sewage
with daily frequency, which literally caused a big stink around our boat.
Also, the chitres (no-see-ums, which you can just barely see) had
gotten so bad that it was difficult to go out in the evening without a
layer of deet. Surprisingly here at Red Frog among the mangroves
we rarely are bothered by chitres, and never enough to spray anything on
ourselves. Mosquitoes are not a problem, either.
for the move, besides needing a change of scenery, is the new marina is
less expensive. On the other hand, about the only disadvantage at
Red Frog is that we are a fair ways away from Bocas Town (for shopping), so a
dinghy ride on a calm day, or a water-taxi, are our options for getting to
to Bocas Marina was hard as we had been there for 2 years. Packing
our things up on the deck, we looked a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies as we had to
carry the precious cayuco herb garden (a cayuco is a hand-carved
made out of a single tree trunk), several other potted plants, hoses and water filters, bags of
dirt and other related sundries, and another cayuco to become a
second herb garden. The cayuco garden had to be winched up
using the main halyard and guided
onto the side
deck with 2 guy wires. Sad to
say good-bye to good times
and good friends, but in transit we
received good omens:
As we left Bocas Marina the rain cleared to reveal a double rainbow, and
as we entered the Red Frog channel we were greeted by dolphins!
this cayuco overloaded or what?!
RED POISON DART FROGS
Yep, the Red Frog
marina and development is aptly named for the resident Red Poison Dart
Frogs. Walking through the tropical forest here on Bastimentos
Island we frequently see these red frogs amongst moist, dead leaf piles
and exposed roots. Their loud chirping sound (the male's courting
call) is always audible.
In general, poison dart frogs
(or poison arrow frogs) are very brightly colored (to warn predators)
with or without black spots, and are indigenous to Central & South
America. So named as their toxic secretions were used by Indians
to poison the tips of blowdarts and arrows. Unlike most frogs,
these are active during the day. They are small (about the size of
Bastimentos Island, the Red Poison Dart Frog is plentiful.
However, if you go to other nearby islands here in the
Bocas del Toro
archipelago, you will see the same little frog but each island will have
it in a completely different color and pattern: green (Pope Island);
dark blue (Cerro Brujo); bright orange (Nancy Key); green and yellow
with black polka-dots (Bocas Island); turquoise
Why the color and distinctive patterns vary so completely between these
nearby islands is unexplained. Research shows that there has been
very little genetic divergence between these frogs, but in the overall
scheme of things, this divergence in color/pattern has happened in a
very short period of time.
The poison dart
frog secretes alkaloid toxins through their skin. It is suggested
that these frogs do not synthesize their poisons, but rather take in the
chemical from their prey such as ants, centipedes and mites. Frogs
kept in captivity do not exhibit the same high levels of toxins.
Interestingly, the chemicals removed from their skin may have medicinal
purposes: One such chemical is a painkiller that is 200 times as potent
as morphine; other possible uses are for muscle relaxants and heart
stimulants. The Golden Poison Frog (native to Colombia) has enough
toxin on average to kill 10-20 men, or 10,000 mice. However, human
contact with the Red Poison Dart Frog here on Bastimentos is presumably
their eggs in a leaf litter, the hatched tadpoles are then carried
piggy-back one at a time by the mother to a small pool of water, for
example in a bromeliad. Each tadpole is in a separate pool, and is
attended to by the mother who occasionally deposits unfertilized eggs
for their nutrition.
not unusual for us to see sloths in the trees along the
roads and paths at Red Frog. We saw
this little guy looking for food
(leaves) in slo-mo.
Unfortunately, the tree he chose to climb up, well, was
totally devoid of leaves and ended abruptly (at left). When he
reached the stubbed top, he simply
started back down, then transferred over to another tree.
To read more on sloths,
go to our write up on our 2007 Costa Rica trip
AROUND BOCAS DEL
continue cruiser-based activities such as the occasional ladies'
luncheon. Friday nights are always big at Bocas Marina, sometimes
featuring fire dancing by
Dyllon & Darion (s/v Jackaroo) who run the Calypso Cantina at the
There's usually live music, frequently by cruisers, sometimes by locals,
but always great fun with dancing. A
theme night featured The
Rocky Horror Picture Show projected on a
screen with people coming dressed as the characters and armed with the
appropriate props - it was hilarious. New Year's Eve was filled with
champagne, fireworks and sparklers. We organized the 1st and 2nd annual
New Year's Day Black-eyed Pea Cook-off (a tradition picked up from our
T.A.S.S. sailing club in Houston).
sure hope Darion's mouth is fire-retardant . . . and what
about his crotch? . . . watch VIDEO to find out.
Dyllon & Darion fire-dancing at Bocas Marina on Friday
involved with the community of Bocas Town had us tasting at the
traditional Valentine's Day chocolate contest. It was sponsored by local gringo
residents who own a cacao (cocoa) farm and make their own organic
chocolate - all entries had to use their Cerutti family chocolate.
Carnival (Mardi Gras) was going on at the same time.
The diablitos "little devils"
roam the streets for good fun,
and a huge tanker truck comes
in loaded with water and
hoses down the crowd from time to time (we learned to stay clear of that
area). A new club/bar had just opened and featured a great
band and a Cirque-du-Soleil-esque acrobatic/fire-dancing act (fire dancing
seems to be quite popular down here!). Carnival brings Panamanians
from all over into Bocas, and as such there is much activity on the water -
pictured at left on a sand bar is a picnic table (and umbrella) and lots
of water toys. One popular water toy is a huge clear plastic ball that 2 people strap
themselves into inside and then are pulled around by a ski boat making
the ball roll and tumble all over the place.
top-end resort sponsored a seminar put on by the local Smithsonian
Institute - on spiders and other local creepy crawlers. It was
actually quite interesting
with a great slide show, but got a little tense when a giant tarantula
jumped off the table and made a run for it. After participants
"danced" around a bit it was finally apprehended and put in confinement.
(Note that the right picture is of a
scorpion mother carrying her many young on her back. Ick.)
CENSUS DAY in PANAMA
Sunday, May 16, 2010 was the
national census day in Panama, which is done every 10 years. Over 200,000 census takers, after a 3-day
training course, were set free to count everyone - including the Indians
and tourists. Everybody was required to stay at home until counted
- otherwise, you'd be carted off to jail until somebody got around to
taking your census.
Once you received your individual pass to carry with you and a hot-pink
sticker to display on your house/boat, then you could move about. Consequently, Panama
was essentially shut down for that day - no transportation (except
people were able to fly out of the country), no restaurants, no bars
(alcohol sales were prohibited - they didn't want drunk people answering
the questions). Bets were made if we would be counted in our
secluded marina. Sunday at 9:00 a lady showed up and started the
process. Unfortunately, she was only equipped with TWO census
forms, and after 2 deliveries were made to her by boat, she was able to
complete the 12-page form for each marina residence (about a dozen
boats). The half hour process per "family" went faster for us as
many questions were obviously not applicable. Questions included dwelling construction material (e.g., concrete, wood,
palm, straw, bamboo), where do you poop (e.g., toilet, ground, river,
gorge, sea - many Indians have
"outhouses" built out over the water), source of drinking
water ("puddle" was a choice), and which indigenous (Indian) or black
group, if any, do you belong to.
Steve & Lili, s/v LiWard, took off cruising from Houston the same
year we did, 2003. After all this time, we finally meet up with
them here in
Bocas del Toro. Steve has 2 loves in his life after Lili and
LiWard - playing
the guitar and singing (Jimmy Buffett, rock, country), and surfing the
big waves, both which he got to do in Bocas.
Steve not only played at the Bocas Marina Friday night parties, but also
got a few gigs at this really cool, out-of-the-way place (on Paunch
Beach) called La Coralina . . .
sits up high on a hill with an incredible view of big surf waves and
coastline, has a fun open-air
bar/restaurant with really good food. Lodging choices include
private-garden casita suites, private rooms and
shared-bath dorm rooms for backpacker types. There are garden,
sitting and hammock areas scattered around the lushly landscaped
grounds. We were given a gift certificate for a
garden suite (with a large
shower with 3 shower heads and unlimited hot water - a biggie for a boat
dweller), which included dinner with wine
and breakfast, and basically spent the weekend there lounging, reading
and walking the beaches. Another great beach, Bluff Beach, is a
mile down the road where we took our hammocks and books for the afternoon,
with not another sole in sight. We've been to La Coralina several times, but it's a shame more people don't know
about this hidden gem.
(Bocas del Drago, Isla Colon)
traditional, non-alcoholic drink in Argentina is
yerba mate, which is used as a ritual and
custom, or socially to break the ice and make
new friends while sharing this drink.
mate is made from dried leaves of the yerba
mate (liex paraguayensis) plant which is related
to the holly family. The green dried
leaves are steeped in boiling water. It's
mixed and served in a shared hollowed calabash
or similar wooden cup. You drink through a
metal bombilla, which acts both as a
straw and a sieve so you don't suck up the
chunky stuff. I found it a little bitter
tasting, and frankly, tastes about the way it
And no, you
do not smoke it.
Deb got a real
treat one day when Steve was busy. LiWard Steve's new-found
surfer buddies invited Lili & Deb on their
large and very nice sailboat
Don Juan for a surfing
outing at Wizard Beach (Bastimentos
Island). The outing included the guys and Lili surfing, lunch buffet served on surf boards, hammock
frisbee and beach walking. Using a water
taxi to shuttle us
back to their boat (anchored
out past the breakers)
Steve impressed, and had us
doubled-over laughing, as he
on his surf board behind our water taxi! Back on board, the traditional Argentinean drink
yerba mate (see Box) was served. Trolling (actually,
sailing) a fast moving line we caught a nice
fish but it managed to wiggle off just before getting gaffed.
Coming back into Bocas Marina
- it's unmarked and you have to know the way - the 9 foot
draft boat ran aground, so the guys had to literally
into action" to help heel the boat over so she could be maneuvered around the high spot.
HOW TO STAY CURRENT
Bocas Area Internet Weather & Radio Nets
Information lists several internet sites
giving local weather. If you're a
surfer, you'll definitely want to check
out MagicSeaWeed.com. The single
side band nets for our region, and the
local Bocas VHF radio net are listed.
Panama Guide (www.panama-guide.com) is an online English
language website with daily updates
about current events in Panama.
It's a great resource for the expat and
cruising community, as it keeps you
abreast of changes in the laws (e.g.,
immigration, home/land purchases), among
many other things, that affect us.
Steve checks it out daily along with
5,000 other people!
MORE PICTURES FROM
AROUND THE BOCAS DEL TORO AREA
Sunset from ARGO
Shepherd Is. +
Sloth - at the
Leaf-cutter ants at
Locals fishing for
Indian head ginger
Bastimentos Race Day
luncheon, Polynesian theme
Plumrose: eat sweet
white flesh around seeds
<--- Rana Azul
("Blue Frog"), boat access only, Sunday hangout for
pizza (made one at a time) and yes, that's a machete
she's using to turn the pizza; Austrian couple own/run the
Roots + volcanic
<--- Walking Palm
has stilted roots and actually "moves" in the tropical
rainforest. A few theories are that the roots are
an adaptation for: survival in swampy areas; if seedling
is knocked over by fallen tree it "sprouts" new roots
and can then right itself; seeking more sunlight so it
can grow - they do grow to 75 ft. but max 7" diameter