I think we might have broken a record in 2019. We only sailed about 700 miles. For two people on a wacky sailing adventure traveling the world, this is pretty pathetic. This has to be some sort of new record. So, why didn’t we move very far? The simple answer is we fell in love with a couple of countries, Colombia and Panama, and really wanted to explore them before moving on. As we reflect back on 2019, my best description of the year is: total surprise.
Colombia was an incredible surprise. We planned to stay there for 4 weeks and ended up staying for about 4 months. Part of the reason we loved Santa Marta so much was because of the location of the marina. It is in the heart of downtown. We could easily walk to the grocery store, tons of fabulous restaurants, and shopping. In addition, it was an easy bus ride to Cartagena, the location of a beautifully preserved Walled City. Colombia is colorful vibrant and friendly.
From Colombia, we sailed to Panama. The Pacific side and the Caribbean side are like night and day. The Caribbean side is very sparsely populated and is home to the San Blas islands. The Pacific side is very metropolitan and modern. We have enjoyed both sides of Panama. We moved to the Pacific side at the beginning of the rainy season to avoid the lightning storms for which the region is famous.
We did a couple of side trips this year with a quick jaunt to the USA and an incredible visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina. As always, we journal our travels and post some of our favorite pictures. On New Year, we love to look back at the year and pick a few pictures that have special meaning for us. Here are our ten favorite memories:
When we arrive in Panama, we were both surprised by the size of Panama City and how metropolitan it is. It has a wicked skyline touting some incredibly creative architecture. In addition to the new modern buildings, Panama features a historic area that is undergoing a massive renovation called Casco Viejo. The old buildings represent an important part of Panama’s history prior to the building of the canal. It is a fabulous place to walk the streets, take in lunch or dinner at one of the area bistros, and a photographer’s dream.
As much revenue the Panama Canal generates for the country, some of the residents have a love-hate relationship with this world-wonder. Because the canal cuts all the way across the country, passing from North America to South America can be a little bit challenging, especially during rush hour. On the Caribbean side of Panama, the construction of a new bridge was recently finished and might allow some development opportunities in the old Fort Sherman area. The Atlantic Bridge has been under construction since January of 2013 and took almost 7 years to complete. It was initially planned for the construction to be completed in 2016.
When we first arrived in Panama before the bridge opened, we crossed this section of the canal by ferry or by driving over a closed lock gate. As you can imagine the wait times could be lengthy. We first crossed the bridge during our visit to the Aqua Clara locks. And recently we traveled over the bridge again as we visited some friends in Shelter Bay Marina for lunch. Cindy snagged these awesome pictures as we drove over.
Seeing new wildlife in its natural environment is such fun. In Colombia, a memorable moment was when we spotted our very first sloth. Not only did we see a sloth but we caught a glimpse of a mommy with a baby. Very very cool! In Panama, sloths are often rescued by motorists as the sloths try to cross busy roads. Everyone is very patient while one driver exits his vehicle, picks up the sloth by the arms while holding it away from their body, then they carry the sloth to safety. Nobody honks or tries to rush past. Panamanians are taught how to handle and help sloths.
The Walled City in Cartegena was one of the many highlights of our visit to Colombia. Once again, a photographer’s dream. This is one of the best preserved walled cities in the world. We had no idea Colombia offered such incredible sights. Our vision of Colombia was slightly tainted by the media and entertainment industry in the USA. It didn’t take us long to understand how incredibly wrong this stereotype is. Colombia remains one of our favorite destinations to date.
One of the most pleasant surprises in Panama is the sheer beauty of the country and the amount of wildlife. It is a top global birding destination and driving the countryside offers incredible views. It is hard not to drive and say “wow” every few minutes. In addition to the green mountainous countryside, butterflies and birds are everywhere. They thrive here because of the clean air. There is zero air-pollution once outside of Panama City. Even inside the city, the air is clean. On days when the humidity is low, we can see for miles and miles from the hilltops. In a town called Boquete, from the top of the volcano it is possible to see the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea by just turning around.
We took a side trip from Panama. Exiting Panama resets our visas and allows us to drive here. Panama law allows tourists to drive on a foreign license for up to 90-days. Although our visas are valid for 180 days not everyone gets the full 180. Some people are only offered 90-day visas, hence the wacky law. We discussed taking a bus to Costa Rico but decided to go a different route. We flew to Argentina. Buenos Aires gave us a massive surprise. It is beautiful. It is so beautiful, we both said, it remains on the list of places to visit again, one day. If you have never been to Buenos Aire, please add it to your bucket list.
I have already touched on the amount of wildlife in Panama. I was lucky enough to meet monkeys twice this year. Once in Colombia, a tame monkey took a piece of mango from my hand. In the Panamanian San Blas Islands, we visited a tiny island where a timid monkey started to look at me from a distance. Based on my learnings from Colombia, I went to the boat to get a mango. This was all it took to make a new friend. The monkey sat on my knee while I fed it slices of mango. When the mango was all gone, I receive a monkey cuddle for my efforts.
While in Panama we had a visit from our Land Crew Member, Mona. Mona voluntarily took on the task of keeping track of Cream Puff and crew for the past (almost) 5 years. We could not do this adventure without her. She is an integral part of our lives and our lives aboard Cream Puff and our safety. Mona is the one person in the world who knows exactly where we are located at all time. When underway, she tracks us and we update her nightly with our progress via satellite communication on scheduled check-ins.
We can always count on some awesome Mona’s Chocolate Chip Cookies to be packed inside her luggage (the best cookies in the world). Having dear friends travel to visit us along our adventures is a true highlight and most certainly a visit from Mona makes the top-ten. Mona, if you are reading this, stay longer next time and we’ll rank you as number one 🙂
We had heard from other sailors how beautiful the San Blas Islands are. There are no words that can describe this place. Because they are closely controlled by the indigenous Kuna people, the islands remain completely undeveloped. To travel here, you must have a boat. Or, you can hitch a ride on a small panga to a few of the islands. Tourists sleep in hammocks inside of thatched huts and eat the local fish catch. Some islands offer a few camping sites. Everything taken onto an island by a tourist must be carried off when they depart. Even being foretold about the beauty of these islands, we both were in awe of the little corner of the world.
In the morning, I sat in the cockpit of Cream Puff sipping tea. Some mornings I was lucky enough to get a faint cell signal allowing me to download a crossword to get the little gray cells going. Every morning when looking out I counted my blessings. This was the reason we worked so hard in life. This was the reason we decided to travel by boat. This is the reason to come to Panama.
It should come as no surprise to you that both of our picks for the fondest memory of 2019 was taking Cream Puff through the Panama Canal. We did a two part post on this. It was an amazing experience. We went to the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Viejo prior to our transit and are so glad we did. Understanding the history and then seeing it first hand was awesome. Without a doubt, this day will always be in ranked as a top highlight of a wacky sailing adventure. We started the day in the Caribbean Sea and by sunset, we arrive for the very first time in the Pacific Ocean. This is Cream Puff’s debut performance on the Pacific and the first time either one of us has sailed on the Pacific. We hope to sail more than 700 miles in 2020.