Pictures/Journal - page 33

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Part 3:

(2009 - mid 2010)

    Overview of the past year
    We've moved! - Red Frog Marina
             Red Poison Dart Frogs
    In and around Bocas del Toro





  OVERVIEW 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.

Since 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.

We have also been to Costa Rica several times to meet our mandatory Panama immigration requirements.  See separate section on next page, "Our Exile From Panama" for related pictures and journal.  For those cruisers in need of their 72-hour immigration run, we have written up detailed information on our Costa Rica getaways to Puerto Viejo, Puerto Limόn and Golfito - click here for our Recommendations on Where to go for Your Mandatory Immigration Run in Costa Rica






Refer to this map as you read below.  This page makes reference to:
    Red Frog
    Bocas del Toro/Town (El Istmito)
    Paunch Beach
    Bluff Beach
    Bocas del Drago (Starfish Beach)
    Wizard Beach







             WE'VE MOVED!

             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 Bar, 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 season.



PARROTS 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 heaven.






The marina is still getting geared up, but the floating docks are first class.  An infusion of funding from a Russian-American has plans underway 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 cabaa, restaurant/bar, swimming pool) and boat services.


The 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.

Another reason 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 20-minute dinghy ride on a calm day, or a water-taxi, are our options for getting to town.


Saying good-bye 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 boat 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!



Is this cayuco overloaded or what?!



Guess it was!





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 a quarter).

Here on 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 with green(?).  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 benign.

After laying 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. 




It's 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 here.




We 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 marina.  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 large 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).


I 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 nights.



Getting 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.   Coincidentally, 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.


A 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.)



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.


Good friends 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 .  .  .


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.   


STARFISH BEACH  (Bocas del Drago, Isla Colon)



A 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.

Yerba 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 gourd 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 looks. 

And no, you do not smoke it.


Deb got a real treat one day when Steve was busy.  LiWard Steve's new-found Argentinean surfer buddies invited Lili & Deb on their large and very nice sailboat Don Juan for a surfing & sailing outing at Wizard Beach (Bastimentos Island).  The outing included the guys and Lili surfing, lunch buffet served on surf boards, hammock time, frisbee and beach walking.  Using a water taxi to shuttle us from the beach back to their boat (anchored out past the breakers) Steve impressed, and had us doubled-over laughing, as he "slalom-skied" 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 sized 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 "swing into action" to help heel the boat over so she could be maneuvered around the high spot.





Our 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  The single side band nets for our region, and the local Bocas VHF radio net are listed.

Panama Guide ( 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!


Sunset from ARGO Shepherd Is. + mainland La Coralina rest./bar Banana tree
Sloth - at the bitter end Leaf-cutter ants at work Something-pede Another sloth
Locals fishing for dinner Bluff beach Indian head ginger Bastimentos Race Day
Another ladies' luncheon, Polynesian theme Self-peeling banana attracts birds Plumrose: eat sweet white flesh around seeds "Furry" heliconia
<---  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 place
Roots + volcanic boulder      
<---  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


      Go on  .  .  .  on to the next page, page 34 .  .  .

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                                                                          Last updated 02/05/2011                                             

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