Weather-proof Pizza?

Jim and I are always a wee bit nervous around the time of the full moon. As sailors know, the full moon can mean stormy weather, and when you are catering for hungry guests, the last thing you need is a downpour, and, heaven forbid, soggy pizza!

We decided the solution was a roof. Now Jim knows a person very handy with an industrial sewing machine ( that’s me ) and I know a person who can make a simple request of a few tarps over the serving area, into a major design project ( that would be Jim ). Keep it simple is NOT in his vocabulary.

The result, though, as always, is stunning.

From now on, Full Moon Pizza is pretty much weatherproof, and our new, sheltered, eating area was so over-subscribed, we had to do it all again the next night (!)


So what do I write about next?

I have lots of ideas. Plants we grow and how they are used. Animals we’ve seen, and how they impact our environment. People who’ve contacted us, why, and how that affects our equilibrium. It’s been a crazy few weeks. We opened officially for business this year, and the response has been encouraging. I think we may have found our niche?!

Monkeys & Skyways

Three of the four monkeys often seen at Tesoro Verde….

When we first bought this piece of land overlooking the Caribbean, we didn’t have a definite plan of what to do with it, other than plant bamboo. It had been a finca, or farm, several decades back and then left untended. Most of it was infested with a several metres tall plant called paja mala (bad grass). There were very few trees at all, and consequently, it wasn’t an attractive prospect for the monkeys to cross feeling safe. We decided to change that, and from the start almost ten years ago, we either planted trees, or allowed them to grow. I coined what I think is a new word, skyways, ie planted rows of trees that allow the monkeys to cross our land. It means we get to see them close up. Howlers, Tamarins, Capuchins. We see troops of them most days. They are too wary to come close to the buildings, we will never leave out food for them ( I prefer to encourage plants that they can forage for themselves ) and so far it seems to be working. In dry season, as the leaves fall, we notice at least half a dozen sloths everyday, and in the wee sma’ hours, the night monkeys pass by on their regular route. Olingos are frequent visitors, Tayras, Woolly opossums, Armadillos. Jim once even saw an Ocelot ( sooo jealous!). My ‘best’ sighting was an Anteater carrying a baby. This month saw us opening for business as a BnB, and our guests so far seem to love this place. We’ll try to build on what we’ve done so far….

Photo credits; Howler & Tamarin; Kyle Noble. Capuchin; Fraser Andrews




Losing ‘Charmer’

12th Feb; Yesterday morning I got the phone call that anyone who owns a yacht dreads. “Charmer is adrift and moving through the anchorage, don’t worry, there are people in dinghies with big, powerful motors pushing her away from anchored boats and I can see someone onboard, don’t worry, I’ll call you back”

So. That puts your heart in your mouth. Jim was cooking breakfast for the guests, he started turning things off and I looked for the boat keys and rang someone and asked them to pick Jim up at the dock….

It’s been blowing hard for a few days, and it’s always at the back of your mind that something might go wrong when you aren’t onboard.

We were very lucky. If she’d gone on the reef with this weather, she’d have been pounded to bits, and lost. And if it had happened at night, maybe no-one would have noticed. Like I said, heart-stopping.

Over the years we’ve helped save many boats, and maybe we’d built up enough Karma, because certainly some friends and some total strangers saved Charmer for us.

By the time Jim got there, an anchor was down and she was secure… bouncing up and down, but safe for now. We will have to wait for things to calm down a bit, and also work out how to recover the mooring and get her back on it.

In the meantime, our heartfelt thanks to everyone for going to the rescue, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!!!

Update Saturday 20th… I am posting this as a blog, because so many people have contacted me because they heard what happened by word-of-mouth. As of yesterday we have Charmer reattached to her mooring, just by line for now, but hopefully soon with new chain, etc. Still investigating what went wrong. Jim found the mooring at our second attempt with a grappling hook at dusk last night, and we then scrambled to haul up 70 m of chain and anchor then motored the couple of hundred yards in failing light. Back in the lee of the island, she feels like home again, and not like being on a roller coaster in the wide open anchorage. The winds haven’t dropped. We’ve had to relocate several boat trips and kayaking tours because our usual put-in points are too rough. Luckily with the mangroves giving shelter for the kayaks, and the option of several beaches nearby, we’ve managed to keep everyone happy….


Glamping for Carnival!

After the successful visit of our lovely veterinary surgeons from Italy, Laura & Emilio, and their overwhelming enthusiasm for the bothies…..we decided to bite the bullet and take bookings for Carnival. Quite frankly, it’s scary. Despite the good reviews we’ve had so far, we are still nervous about how to describe the accommodation. This is probably the busiest week of the year in Panama, everyone quits the city for the ‘interior’, and it’s high summer here, so the preferred destination is the coast. Our first guests are a family of six from Venezuela, tomorrow the Spanish arrive, and later in the week guests from Bolivia and the United States…… I hope the weather stays good!!12583946_10208007310877995_872171429_n12570947_10208007290597488_2135558223_n

Wildlife moments

Most days Jim and I compete as to who has seen something remarkable. It can be a new animal, or a new behaviour, and if you manage to get photographic evidence, so much the better. Of course, if you didn’t carry the camera, something good ALWAYS happens.

Yesterday wasn’t unusual. Tamarin monkeys in the quebrada ( burn or stream ) at dawn. Our resident Great Black hawk who is now completely unperturbed as we walk under his favourite tree. A couple of sloths above the papaya patch. Capuchins and Howlers crossing from east to west as part of their daily commute across our garden.

So I just want to reassure the many people who have written concerned, I wasn’t bitten by a ‘wild’ animal, and it wasn’t on our property.

Charmer is anchored off an island 5km away. I had just finished cleaning the hull, and as my reward I finned over to the shallows, planning to look for seahorses around the pilings of the abandoned dock.

As I snorkeled along parallel to the shore, I became aware of animal noises. I pushed my self up on my hands to investigate, saw two monkeys staring intently at me and one immediately launched himself from the sand, jumped on my back, and took a bite at me. It happened so fast. His momentum toppled me back into deeper water, which was when he let go, and then I saw all the blood! As luck would have it, Jim wasn’t testing the main engine. He heard my panicked scream, and I waded out backwards into deeper water ( the only easy way with fins on) together enough to want to get further away from them, and also not wanting Jim to have to come in too shallow, with the outboard. I clambered inelegantly into the dinghy, and he told me to keep pressure on the wound, and we headed back to Charmer. Once onboard, I started to hyperventilate, and officially fainted briefly.

Thank heavens for friends. One phone call, someone met us on the mainland to help Jim get our dinghy out and onto the trailer, the vet was on hand to treat me ( who else has better experience of animal bites?) and, the hospital in Panama City were great. Two weeks on, I have graduated to steri strips to help the wound heal, antibiotics done and apart from frustration at not being allowed to do anything, all is good.

The back story? The animals were released there more than twenty years ago, along with some peccaries ( wild pigs) and various birds. As the US pulled out, bases were closed and these monkeys were part of a zoo in Fort Sherman. They were initially fed, just as in their previous life, but not caged, they were always free to roam. A family lived there and cared for them, but after they left, I am guessing it was assumed the monkeys had learned enough to forage for themselves.

The world has changed, and what was once a remote, relatively un-visited part of the Caribbean coastline, has slowly become busier. The white sand beaches nearby attract weekend visitors, and it has become a regular stop on the water taxi routes… stop and feed/watch/photograph the monkeys. But it isn’t regulated. Some days they score a lot of junk food ( no idea how that affects them physically but it can’t be good), other days people throw full beer cans at them…  one of the people who helped placed them notes they were already pretty mischievous when still in the zoo, used to stealing sunglasses and picking pockets.

In the past I had never seen them enter the water, and that’s why I felt secure. Up until two years ago, they were my closest neighbours, and because of the many incidents we observed, we never set foot on the island.

They were, and are, completely unpredictable. Please note this change in behaviour, and give them a wide berth. That was one wildlife moment I intend never to experience again











Archaeological dig anyone?

We know very little about the history of our property. Panama itself is a young country, before it was Panama it was associated with present day Colombia, and very little is known about the centuries before Columbus ‘discovered’ the area.

Our hill is called Loma Vigia, or Lookout Hill. It is the highest in the area and I do wonder who was looking out for whom. Pirates planning attacks on nearby Portobelo, indigenous Indians watching the Spanish ships sailing this coast?

Much of the land toward the summit is incredibly steep, and really only the bottom third of our 20 acres/almost 7 hectares could have supported simple farming or the building of houses.

We keep coming across broken shards of pottery, lots of it, and spread over several areas, hundreds of metres apart. Some of it is quite deep, more than a foot or 30cm down into the thick red clay which lies below the rich black topsoil. Our resident person with any experience at all (aka Jim!) says the pieces haven’t been fired at a particularly high temperature. Only one piece so far shows any evidence of an inscribed design, but several hint at the original shape of the object – and some of them were huge pots. For cooking? Storing water perhaps? We don’t know yet….. another research project for our ‘spare’ time…P1090459

Journey to the centre of the earth!

When you run adventure tours for a living what do you do with your free time? Go on an adventure of course!

The Portobelo Tours crew have been working hard lately so holding to the old maxim that a change is as good as a rest, Amy, Austin, Heather and Jim set off last Saturday on a trip to the legendary caves of Lake Bayano.

The drive was uneventful and when the continuation of the corredor norte to the airport at Tocumen is eventually opened, it will be shortened considerably for anyone wishing to avoid the Panama City traffic on their way towards the Darien.P1090284

We arrived early afternoon at the lake and although we had not made a prior booking for a boat to take us to the south shore where the caves are it didn’t take Austin long to befriend one of the lancha drivers who helped us strike a deal with a colleague for the 40 min trip. The ride reminded me of trips on Lake Gatun since both lakes are man made and have similar features. Small uninhabited islands with only water birds in residence, the lake surface broken by a multitude of eerily decaying trees, drowned when the lake was formed in 1976 for a hydro-electric project.P1090347

Our driver set us ashore at the mouth of a small river and pointed us to a green house a hundred metres or so upstream where we could ask about accommodation. It turned out the people there rented a small cabin which was available for the night so we quickly settled into our new base.P1090293

For anyone planning a visit to the caves we would thoroughly recommend securing this place if you can for one simple reason. IT’S RIGHT NEXT TO THE CAVES! And by that I mean it’s literally less than a hundred metres from the entrance. Being a long time caver Austin was by this time incandescent with anticipation and had to be physically restrained from plunging headlong into the caverns.P1090300

The river we had come ashore at is the same one that runs through the most famous cave system, so with head torches on and sticks to help navigate the rocky river bottom, we waded into the mouth of the cavern. The first stretch of the cave is open to the sky and feels quite spacious as the light filters down the steep canyon walls from the jungle above.P1090301P1090302

As we penetrated further the light faded until we were wading sometimes waist deep through the cavern with the only light coming from our torches.P1090317

The roof and walls are festooned with stalactites in fantastic forms with water from above running gently over every surface.P1090307

In the few dry patches bats roost and whether because of the time (evening was approaching) or our noisy progress the air was filled with the flapping presence of little leather wings. The river winds upstream and at each curve the depth of the water varies so that it’s possible to find a route that keeps that the bottom within reach. That changed when we came to a slightly narrower straight section where the sandy bottom drops away dramatically and there is no option but to swim for it! Thankfully we only had to swim for a few minutes when the bottom rose to meet our feet and up ahead there was a suggestion of light.P1090315

As we continued the roof overhead became taller and taller until it split to reveal the jungle and sky some 30 metres above and we were able to switch the torches off and enjoy the majesty of the cave in the shafts of evening light. Given the late hour we decided to continue only a little further before heading back and were delighted to discover another cavern with access to the sky above only a little further upstream.

After a remarkably bug free night and a breakfast cooked in the little kitchen that is part of the cabin we set off in search of some different caves that Austin had talked to our hosts about. He was looking in particular for dry cave systems where the build up of bat guano could support a population of insects, specifically, hopefully, COCKROACHES! We arrived at the site with muddy feet. The path along the shore is short but pretty poorly drained and consumes shoes with ease. The river that had carved the canyon we were looking for was not running when we arrived but must have been quite a torrent at least part of the time in the past judging by the depth of the gorge. At least 30 meters deep. We followed a two inch pvc pipe uphill for a while until it disappeared into the dry river bed where we could nonetheless hear the sound of running water.P1090329

A nearby opening in the canyon wall led through a low ceilinged, dry floored cave to a chamber where the noise was coming from. The pvc pipe we had followed before emerged from the surface of a splashing pool of water ahead, it’s open end propped to catch an inflow coming from deeper in the mountain. This was the source of the water that supplied the few houses at the entrance to the gorge. Since the water from the pool never re-emerged in the river bed outside we assumed that it probably continued to flow down into the rock below the river until it reached the level of the lake in some flooded chamber below.P1090332

Outside again we continued up the dry river bed climbing slowly taking at turns narrow vertical walled passages and wider more open stretches.P1090340

A large opening a short scramble up one rock face led to a dry chamber beyond and Austin’s hopes rose. It petered out after a few metres but a small opening remained between the limestone ceiling and the earth floor.P1090341

Torch in hand Austin wriggled his way forward into the chamber beyond and was able to walk around. Less brave than the intrepid Mr A, Amy and I took turns to squeeze into the narrow passage where we could see him searching for further openings. Nothing obvious presented itself so he returned to the outside world and we rejoined Heather who had been exploring further still up the river bed.

The disappointment at failing to find any cockroaches was soon forgotten as we came to the realisation that far from having only one cave to explore this region is literally peppered with caverns and caves. Indeed, as we took the boat back across the lake later that day and looked back over the skyline to the south it was clear that it’s jagged outline with barely a gentle slope anywhere is solid evidence that hills are alive, if not with music then with lots of potential adventures. Who knows, lurking in one of those caves there may be an undiscovered cockroach waiting to have Austin’s name on it!

Bala Beach Resort comes to Tesoro Verde

P1090391Yesterday, Tesoro Verde was proud to host a visit from our friends at the Bala Beach Resort. Operations Manager Eric and his assisitant Diadira together with some key members of their staff took a day off work to get a small taste of the range of tours and activities that they will be offering to their guests on our behalf.

Their day started when Austin from Portobelo Tours arrived at the resort with our driver for the day, Kiké from Hostel Puerto Lindo. His busito (mini-van) soon whisked them up the coast to the P1090354little fishing village of José del Mar where a boat was waiting to take them to the pristine waters of Playa Blanca for a couple of hours of relaxation. P1090368Nothing beats a Monday morning snorkeling on a P1090375coral reef or simply bobbing in the clear water with a beer in hand when you know your colleagues back at the resort are hard at work! All too soon it was time to take the boat back to José del Mar for the short drive to Tesoro Verde where the wood burning oven was glowing red waiting to cook P1090377pizza for the hungry trippers. We quickly lost count of the pizzas we made but all were happily consumed. Two of the resort chefs took great delight in showing off their culinary skills and posed P1090384 P1090385for photos with their first (very professional) attempts at jungle pizza. A little break to let lunch settle and then Heather and Austin took the party up the hill by way of the stream bed through the P1090393jungle to look at the view from our lookout platform. It’s a short steep hike but worth it for a terrific vista of the sparkling Caribbean beyond the forest below.P1090388 Back down the hill to the busito pausing briefly to “tidy up” the last few slices of pizza then back to Bala. The work week starts tomorrow!

It was a great day with lots of laughter and we are looking forward to a mutually productive relationship with our new partners in tourism.

The big concrete pour

Our team arrived early on Friday morning, keen to get going before the sun burned off the mist. They were magnificent, hoisting thousands of pounds of cement ( BY HAND!) over a twelve hour day. I kept them supplied with food and drinks all day, that was pretty much a full time job too. Jim finally stopped ‘polishing’ at midnight, declaring he couldn’t move another muscle. It’s taken the three days since for him, and the rest of the crew, to recover. Thanks everyone, magnificent job !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Waiting to start..

Waiting to start..

the first load..

the first load..

mixer to wheelbarrow to bucket to wheebarrow to site....

mixer to wheelbarrow to bucket to wheebarrow to site….

everybody ached for the next two days...

everybody ached for the next two days…

sun didn't let up

sun didn’t let up

cement mixer broke down :-( briefly

cement mixer broke down 😦 briefly

levelling the concrete

levelling the concrete