The (Naked) Pool

Deep in the jungle (actually not far at all) you will find a little natural pool that’s a great place to cool down on a hot day.

We discovered the pool a number of years ago when we were looking for a source of water for the property. It was full of gravel and big rocks then but once we had moved the loose sand and stone and used the rock to make the dam higher we found we had created a beautiful little bathing pool.

The area around the pool is a great place to spot our little green and black dart frogs so bring a camera.

The pool is mostly shaded by the forest canopy but the light shining through is particularly pretty in the early afternoon.

It’s there for you to use whenever you like and as the name suggests skinny dipping (though not obligatory) is perfectly fine!

In rainy season the stream that feeds that pool can carry a lot of loose gravel, fallen leaves and branches with it and it’s not uncommon for a particularly prolonged downpour to deposit enough gravel to completely fill the pool. However we usually have it cleared in a day or two!

The Potting Shed

is how we, in the UK,  would describe a small structure somewhere in the garden. Traditionally the home of the gardening tools, plant pots, seeds being sprouted. Somewhere you’d go to hide from the stresses of the real world maybe.

In plan form it started as a storage space, but as the construction progressed, it has morphed. Included in the design are plans for a mezzanine sleeping platform, a tiny kitchen, and the possibility to add a deck and a second floor. It will be the perfect space to put friends and family in, even ‘workawayers’, and I suspect we’ll be sleeping there at some point in the future. But not this year. The rent for friends and family will be very reasonable. Tetley Tea Bags, Branston Pickle, Marmite, Cadbury’s Twirl or Flakes….. is everyone getting the message here?

The roof should go on this week, it will need secure doors and windows, and then we will fill it to the gunnels with all the ‘stuff’ filling the upper construction site :-). And when that upper house gets more ‘liveable’, space will become available in the Potting Shed, for our less intrepid visitors……

The Island

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Jim & Jason at base camp

We can always justify an expedition by calling it research, and our trip to explore ‘Los Farallones’ fell into that category. This loose collection of small islands and breaking rocks sits a few kilometres off the coast near the village of Cacique. The largest island which hosts an unmanned lighthouse was our destination. It was our second attempt, the last time the swell was too big to allow a safe landing, and even this time in the flat calm the lancha could only get us within 50m of the rocks and we had to paddle our gear in on kayaks and a small dinghy.

We ferried our camping gear and supplies ashore as fast as possible, piled it up and quickly covered it with a tarp before an approaching squall hit. Even torrential (warm) rain and wind isn’t really a problem in the tropics, and as the sun quickly reappeared, we assessed where to put up the tents. A stark and vaguely hostile environment, dead skeletal trees, a jumble of bare guano-covered rocks, no shade, curious frigate birds and boobies wheeling overhead. We decided to explore and see if there was an easier place to make a camp.

We scrambled over the rocks, climbed up the scary near vertical steps to the lighthouse. The views were breathtaking but there really wasn’t anywhere obvious to set up. In the end Jim wished he’d brought a pick axe as we worked to create a flat space for our tent near where we came ashore. Jason ended up sleeping on a canted piece of concrete slab ( left over from the sea-destroyed dock ) and Amy & Austin decided on a spot up by the lighthouse. There was very little breeze that night and when it got too hot they abandoned their tent to sleep outside on the bracken-like grass. Amy said there was nothing quite like waking up to the sensation of a hermit crab combing through your hair (!) Jason felt the birds were deliberately using him as target practise, as he woke to find streaks of bird poop ONLY on him, and not his surrounds. We were lucky, slept much better on our lumpy floor than we expected, but it was sweltering.

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If these are Boobies, does that make their perch site a Boobery?

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Base camp from the lighthouse

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Sunset over the Caribbean….

 

Our underwater experiences more than made up for the discomfort of the camping… we had wanted to explore out there for years… the visibility is spectacular, 10m, 15m, 20m? The fish obviously don’t see too many fisherman. We almost got tired of the Angels, both French & Queen. We’ve never seen so many Black Durgons. A pair of majestic Eagle Rays glided (glid?) past  several metres below us. The underwater landscape is like nothing I have experienced since Gozo in the Mediterranean, or Saba in the Caribbean.

The viz is out of this world, far enough from the mainland that runoff from rivers, or aguaceras, has no effect. The current sweeps it clean also.

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Holding on tight!

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A pair of Porkfish

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A beautiful French Angel fish

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Typical sea life

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A Honeycomb Cow fish

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Lined rock and pounding surf

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School of Doctorfish

It was a great trip with great folk, and as Arnie would say “We’ll definitely be back!

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 (!)

 

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….

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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

Frankie’s “Panama Best Bits”

P1070648Good friends Sally and Mark Fulford visited recently from Devon in England and brought with them their daughters Mia and Frankie. We had a great time with them all and thoroughly enjoyed taking them to our favourite places. Frankie was a great hit with us since it became apparent after only a couple of days she was what we call a “nature magnet”. Seldom seen animals and birds presented themselves on a regular basis when she was around and although she was seeing many species for the first time she frequently spotted the wildlife before we did! After the family returned to the UK Frankie was kind enough to send us a post about her stay at Tesoro Verde for the web site. She called it Panama Best Bits, here it is. Thank you Frankie!

“Writing about my best bits at Tesoro Verde, Panama is very hard because it was all so brilliant, from waking up and seeing the beautiful sunrise in the jungle to jumping off the top of waterfalls. It was AMAZING! Though somehow I have managed to shortlist it down to the top three.

At number one is horse riding, snorkeling and a boat ride all in the same trip! We started by driving a short distance to a little village where we got our beautiful horses and began the ride to Playa Blanca. On the hack we went through different terrains and saw many interesting and fantastic sights. When we reached the beach, Playa Blanca, we tied off the horses and went snorkeling. When we were snorkeling I saw a golden spotted eel. Cool! After that we had some delicious food and started to play a little game of piggy in the middle, after about ten minutes it had somehow turned into an intense game with 3 teams of 2. As the day started to come to an end we got a lancha back to the village and then headed back to Tesoro Verde for another amazing night in the rain forsest.

At number two is zip lining! The zip course had 9 different lines weaving through the forest canopy. The veiws you got when in the air were beautiful, it felt very special interacting with the jungle in this way. On one of the lines you had the option of going upside down, all of us wanted to try it but when it came to it we all whimped out! When we finished the course we went for a little walk in the forest and discovered an ant motorway -there were several different little roads leading on to one big road, there were a few tunnels and seperate lanes. Proof that ants go to school!

At three is fishing! When were staying at Jungle Land (on the beautiful Lake Gatun) we had the option of lounging about and swimming in the lake or fishing, I quite obviously chose fishing. We rode in a lancha for about ten minutes before settling down and casting out our lines. It wasn’t long until I got my first bite and then 11 more, it was like the fish were queuing up to be caught! My Mum got 3, Dad 2 and Jim 3. When we stopped getting so many fish we packed up and went to a different spot, unfortunately we had no success so we called it a day and went back to the floating hotel. When we came back we gave the kitchen the fish and had them served up for lunch.

All in all I had a great time in Panama and was really sad when it all came to an end. Thank you Jim and Heather for making my time in Panama truly special, I really loved it!”

What we did with TEA

STRI guests travel in style

STRI guests travel in style

We survived! What’s more we enjoyed it and would even do it again!!!!

As always we were running around like headless chickens prior to their arrival and continued in the same mode more or less the whole time they were here but although it was fairly tiring it was also rewarding and we had a good time. Now we have to get back into work mode and it’s proving difficult. Just a little decompression time is needed I feel.

So to the trip..The first half of the group arrived at Tesoro Verde (we used the name for them to see how it felt) early afternoon Thurs the 8th. Steve had taken Heather’s advice and they all stayed in the city the night before since their flight landed after 9 o’clock and would have had only a few hours sleep before half of them needed to be roused for their visit to Barro Colorado. As it was, it was apparently still a struggle to make it to the dock at Gamboa for the 8 am pickup even though they only had to travel from the Radisson. Since Barro Colorado could not handle them all the same day, half of the group was able to sleep a little longer and they were the ones that arrived first on the Thursday. Poor Steve, who drove them through, then had to retrace his steps with the mini van to pick up the other half and bring them through some hours later. We arranged a BBQ that night and they went to bed sweaty and tired but at least well fed! Following day the group who made it through first, headed back to Barro Colorado and Heather went with them to help Steve with shopping. Meantime the first class was taking place underneath a tarp (for shade). Poetry!

And so it continued, visits to Portobelo and the Miraflores locks, the International School, interspersed with lessons amongst the palm trees and jungle scenery. As we were to learn, this was the school’s first international trip and given that they were coming from high country in May the heat was a major hurdle. The kids coped very well and there was very little moaning. We found out later that counter to our guesses their usual fare on field trips was rather basic so our (in our opinion) modest menu planning met with approval. “wow, no-one ever warmed the tortilla’s for burritos before!” With this discovery Heather and I could relax a bit. The only problem diet issue  was a very bright boy called Florian who was unable to eat gluten.  I felt sorry for him when the others where enjoying some freshly-baked bread but he appeared to be resigned to his fate and had fun making “pizzas” by loading a corn tortilla with sauce etc and popping them in the oven the night we ate Italian-style down by the wood-fired mud oven. Everyone else was happy with our arrangements and didn’t even complain when faced with the schools regularly occurring lunch plan of crackers with peanut butter and jelly. Good grief, we ate better over open fires at Scout Camp!!

Our fears over our water supply on the hill sadly turned out to be justified. It took only two days to run our tank dry, so science teacher Nate not wishing to miss a lesson opportunity took the whole group to the tank where they proceeded to work out what the meagre flow rate related to in terms of gallons per day. Or showers per day if you prefer. Thus was born the one minute shower rule! It stood us in good stead for the trip to San Blas.

This was the part of the trip with we were most apprehensive about. Not only had we never made the trip from Miramar to the lslands before but we had never worked with the lanchero Alexi before either. He had messed us about with the price just before the group arrived so he was not high on our Christmas list when we arrived at the dock to load the gear. However he was there and at least one of the two other lanchas was there also. So while we waited for other boat to arrive we donned life jackets and packed all the backpacks etc into Alexi’s lancha. Then the heavens opened. And stayed open full bore for about an hour and a half. By this time the other lancha had arrived so we squelched aboard, ten to a boat, and set off along the coast in water made dirty from the river’s outflow. The overcast day steadily improved and it was starting to get sunny when we checked into Porvenir and by the time we got to Tortuga Island (BBQ Island as was) it was as  beautiful a day as you could wish for. Principal Taylor was blown away. He really seemed to be struck dumb for a while as the reality of what he had been promised sunk in. The kids were in the water in a flash and the deal was done. San Blas had worked it’s magic. Anyone who has ever been to Kuna Yala  will certainly remember their first sight and watching the smiles we were taken back to our first landfall in ’99.

Of course that heavy rain was the beginning of rainy season on our coast and the following days were a mixture of sun and sullen showers. We got soaked on the Wednesday night and didn’t sleep too well but it made the porridge we ate for breakfast the next morning taste good. The lessons continued and included a raft building morning spent on Bug Island after the entire party swam the channel from Tortuga. The raft then provided wood for the bonfire that night. Heather and I pretty much took over the cooking even though it was supposed to be largely done by the kids. I felt they could do with the extra time to enjoy the island and we enjoy cooking. There was a bit of hunting and gathering with conch being prepared with coconut milk and garlic and lots of snorkeling which for most was their first experience of seeing a coral reef. We played football and volleyball with the Kuna who were kind enough not to try too hard. There was a preformance circle on the Thursday night with poetry, dance, sketches and readings. The standard was extremely impressive.  On Friday morning bang on ten Alexi and the others arrived at the island. I was speechless. To the minute, in Panama,in San Blas. Amazing! However within half an hour the skies opened once more and the islands disappeared. I was glad I had our hand held GPS because the lancheros had no idea of where we were once their landmarks were gone. Through the pouring rain we ploughed, Go Pro’s recording seas flattened by the rain until Porvenir appeared out of the gloom. Once again the weather cleared and we arrived back at Miramar without any problems. Actually we had the waves behind us and occasionally we were surfing down the back of them. Over 20 knots a couple of times!

Back on the land the tents were pitched for the last time and most of us headed for bed after supper. I was tired. Saturday was the last day for us since they had decided to spend the night before their flight in the city at the Riande. I ran the treasure hunt which went down well and then we all went to Don Q’s for an early dinner. A few group photos in the car park, hugs all round and then we went our separate ways. We have heard that they all made it back safely although I don’t know how many turned up to school on Monday morning. Three flights and a bus ride getting home around midnight doesn’t make for very happy kids the next day!

We must have enjoyed the experience since we haven’t stopped talking about what a great bunch of kids they were since they left. Even if it’s not the best paid job in the world working with kids and their teachers is pretty interesting and definitely leaves you feeling like you have done something worthwhile.

 

Peace & quiet returns to Tesoro Verde

 

Rainy season makes itself known

Rainy season makes itself known

Life is returning to normal.It is Sunday lunchtime here on the 18th May, and this is our first morning ‘child-free’. The group from Tahoe flew out from Tocumen early today, and peace and quiet are creeping back to ‘Tesoro Verde’. I have been checking mail etc ( internet was down Friday and Saturday ) and Jim has been trying to tidy, clean, put things away…… on their last day I consciously gave-up trying to maintain a degree of order, I wanted to spend every last second with the Tahoe crew, enjoying their crazy energy and moods up until the last moment. Consequently there’s a mound of dirty laundry staring at the machine (wish it could jump in there all by itself) , coolers and chairs to repatriate to various friends houses, an agenda to check….. I am due to give two Shiatsu massages Wednesday morning, a jungle tour Thursday, organise a pizza night at our mud oven, start designing a custom trip for four people who have two weeks to ‘experience’ Panama, contact two friends due to arrive in July….. just stepping back into my ‘real’ life.Rainy season is here. We had big shortage issues while the school were here, until the kids got the hang of where the water was coming from and that it wasn’t an unlimited supply( our stream or quebrada ) and then got some rain, so muddy, cold, they experienced it all. To see San Blas through fresh eyes reinforces why we go back every year. It is as close to paradise as I am ever likely to get, looking forward to our next trip in August already…… ImageImageImage