Prepping and Provisioning in Panama City

After crossing the canal, we found ourselves in the La Playita anchorage, with a broken alternator and a sheared bolt sticking out of the engine.

Our first order of business was to order replacement parts, because that was ‘definitely’ going to be the long pole for us leaving. So we found a local Yanmar dealer to provide new bolts, and ordered the alternator parts to ship to our local freight forwarder. Then after exhausting our own options for getting the seized bolt out, we called in a local mechanic. He quoted us $400 to take off the water pump to pull the bolt out, which we thought was crazy for removing three bolts. The conversation where we asked “what about this job is that complicated” quickly turned patronizing, increasingly so when Jazz showed up to try to bridge the language barrier. (“Do you know what a hose clamp is?) Apparently the big issue was that access is uncomfortable and he would have to kneel. Story of our lives! So we declined, and added a gasket and o-ring to our Yanmar order. (These parts aren’t available in Panama city; what was the mechanic going to do, add silicone and call it fine? This is why we don’t hire people.) Here’s the offending bolt, with the mirror one needs to be able to see it from the top…

The day after we arrived, we met up with Nautilife for breakfast and a trip to Pricesmart. We brought the dinghy to La Playita’s convenient but expensive dinghy dock, $53 a week, Monday to Sunday with a different colored bracelet. Show up on Friday? Still $53 for the weekend. Anyway, on the way in, we found that the local semi-domesticated animal was a little different than we’re used to. This guy’s begging for food.

It took us two days to get off the boat for dinner, but we managed to have a celebratory post-canal meal at La Fabrica, a pleasant outdoor brew-pub a short ride from the marina.

Taking the water pump off proved to be a simple matter of taking seven bolts off, and took less than an hour, even accounting for the second sheared bolt. With the pump removed, the original bolt came out easily. All in all, a pretty impressive collection of broken hardware. We also took the opportunity to clean out the engine compartment, since draining the coolant had resulted in a good bit of spillage into the bilge. This resulted in the final death of a well-used brush. Captain was not interested in sweaty engine-compartment hugs.

Our first provisioning stop was the Beermarkt, where we found out we were allowed to run our own tasting out of the fridge, just by buying the reasonably-priced cans. This resulted in us avoiding some mistakes that would otherwise have seemed sensible, and adding some beers we would have passed up as too risky. We also lucked out on their wine specials that day, so it was a pretty heavy dinghy that arrived back at Villa when the delivery came.

After our tasting, we stopped in at the dermatologist for a skin check. We’ve been out in the sun, more or less, for the last three years, and we figured we should make sure nothing dangerous was growing. We were pronounced cancer-free, but given a prescription for special *ahem* scuba-butt soap, and two over-the-counter treatments. A few hours later, we went to the dentist for a much-needed cleaning. COVID times have been hard on our self-care.

Speaking of getting things clean, Andrew polished up Villa’s metal over the course of a couple of mornings. Later in the day it gets too hot, and even Captain stays mostly inside. He doesn’t like when he can’t see out the windows, though.

Provisioning continued with an inventory of our dry stores, and some close saves as the wakes in the anchorage tried to destroy our beer haul. This anchorage is well protected from the wind, but still rolls gently with wakes from the big boats passing through the canal, and often much more violently with the wakes from the pilot and ferry boats that zip out of the marina.

Seriously, this anchorage is not good. The wakes can be harrowing, and the water is super dirty. One morning, this creepy doll floated by.

Everyone has told us that provisioning in French Polynesia is expensive and complicated, so we’re laying in provisions for a long haul. In some cases, the available options were unfamiliar, and so we had to orchestrate some home tastings. Don’t knock the ramen, breakfast soup is important! Some other experiments were not as successful, such as Pricesmart wine, or protein-enhanced pancake mix.

Provisioning meant many runs back and forth to the stores, and then from the parking lot down to the dinghy dock.

Depending on the tide, this can be an easy trip or a hazardous one.

One fun project was finding Captain’s food in quantity. American Pets came to the rescue, essentially rounding up every can in the city of the one brand-texture-flavor combination that Captain will currently eat. (Why were they willing to do this for our cat? Was it because Jazz sent the request along with a picture of this beautiful Bengal? We may never know…) This let us stow a roughly ten-month supply, taped into rolls to keep them from crashing when we store them behind the sofa. Being a cat, Captain was much more excited about the box it came in.

Captain continued to put himself in the least convenient places he could find, as we packed all our treasure away and ate embarrassingly bacheloresque meals surrounded by a cornucopia of better options that we just didn’t have energy left over to cook. We were pleased to find that the hold under Jazz’s bed, formerly home to the ditch bag, is the perfect size to fit beer in two-case layers. Not all the beers came in nice flats, so Andrew had to construct some new ones. Captain was sad to see his box go.

When Andrew went back to the dentist to have a seal replaced, Jazz said “make sure you take a picture”, so he did. While he got drilled and filled, Jazz was at a laser clinic with arguably the worst bathroom of all time.

We re-sealed a leak in the hydraulic system, and as we looked more at it, we realized that the hydraulic cylinder was also leaking. It’s a small leak, but having hydraulic steering is nice, and we have a 30-day journey ahead. So we scrambled and put together a last-minute order for a new cylinder. Captain was oblivious to all of this, and hunted boats.

Another project was to take some photos for Jazz’s friend Alex’s wedding, where Jazz is serving as “bridesmaid-at-large”. We rented a small studio space, because there’s just no way to take a background-less picture on our boat. Hopefully we can stitch Jazz into some of the photos beside the other bridesmaids.

Since we were in the city anyway at that point, we stopped into a VR studio, and spent an hour and a half shooting orcs and flying around. For whatever reason, VR games work for Jazz where most other genres leave her yawning, so as soon as there’s a two-player setup, it’s going in our next house.

In another “what do you do all day”, “everything is slower in a new place” story, we had some packages to send to the US and to our friends in Colombia. DHL and FedEx both start at about $75 and go up rapidly, way more than the value of the packages, and the people there suggested we try the local post office. So while Andrew went off searching for a soldering iron, Jazz took these two boxes to the Correo. The simple task of “send these two packages” turned into a multiple-hour ordeal. The post office is on the map, but has no sign, so Jazz walked into the UN trade building at the right location and asked the nice German consulate workers. It turned out that that was the right building, and the post office was on the second floor, a bare-bones office with one tooth-deficient worker and no supplies for sale. Jazz paid the $5 for about thirty stamps, which the lady glued to four different sides of the first box at random, with Elmer’s and no sense of order. She then was sent away to buy a “proper yellow envelope” for the other package, and to print copies of her passport. (“How could you show up here without copies of your passport? Tsk.”) When Jazz returned with the yellow envelope and asked if she could close it, Jazz had the audacity to use tape, which is apparently a huge faux pas. So there followed lots more tsking from the four-toothed post office lady as she painstakingly peeled the tape off, a ten-minute process, and re-closed it with more Elmer’s glue.

So that’s what life’s like sometimes.

Back to projects: we noticed that there was some corrosion on our barbecue gas tank, and figured that since we had the anti-corrosion paint anyway, we might as well give it a couple of coats.

We found a fabrication shop that would work with Nylon, so finally, after at least a year of searching, we were able to replace the chipping sheave in our davits. While we were at it, we also cleaned and greased the gears.

One evening we went for a walk along the pathway opposite the anchorage, and looked back at Villa across the wreck. We’d intended to grab dinner at one of the restaurants there, but nothing looked good, so we grabbed a cab to go back to La Fabrica. The driver brought up Istmo, another brew-pub, and we decided we’d go there instead, since we hadn’t been. We hadn’t asked about price before getting in the cab, since we had planned a short ride, but we ended up going much farther, and the driver figured he could charge us triple the going rate. Our fault for not asking in advance, but it left a sour taste that the mediocre beer at Istmo couldn’t wash away. This is why we use Uber.

The next day, Nautilife came down to visit and see us off. We met up in the commercial area across from the marina, and noticed this Panama sign. Compare the background to the ones in Colon!

Drew and Patricia took us go-carting, which was a ton of fun. Note also the set of adult beverages on display: they are in the yard, which is stressful, and we are trying to leave and waiting for parts. So really that Pepto Bismol could belong to anyone.

We were just turning back into the marina when the security guard stopped us. We turned, expecting to be hassled, and he said “sloths!” And lo, a mother and baby sloth were climbing along the power lines. He lit them for us with his flashlight, and explained that the reason they’re so far down the hill is that there hasn’t been much rain lately, so they came looking for water. (The next day it rained heavily; good for them, bad for us seeing more sloths.) We had all but given up hope of seeing these little fellows, so we were super excited to run into them in our last couple of days.

We met up with Drew and Patricia again the next night, after a day of more cleaning and prepping. We went out to La Rana Dorada’s brewpub, after a short walk along the causeway and a memorably bad margarita at a roadside sports bar. We were all a little zonked, but it was still really nice to see these guys.

About that provisioning we had been up to. We got nine big tubs at Pricesmart, and we inventoried and organized a ton of food into our front bed area, and then covered it so we wouldn’t have to stare at the plastic bins. A labor of love, for which we will be profoundly grateful when the fresh goods in the fridge run out.

Jazz also took a pass through the medkit, updating some of the expired bits, and generally making sure we know were everything is. The first two pictures are the grab-and-go travel kit, with a little bit of everything from the main inventory in the third picture. And yes, that last picture is the cat’s supplies; he’s also well taken care of.

When our alternator spares came in, Andrew whipped our our brand new soldering iron and did the repair. Why is he on the phone? Because Dremel included solder in the kit, but didn’t include a description, so he’s calling them to figure out what it is. It had turned out that the solder he’d bought separately had too low a melting point to use in the hot alternator (facepalm), but fortunately, the lead-free mix in the Dremel kit turned out to be up to the task. When we took it apart, we found that some of the connections the last shop had made had broken already; we assume they used low-temperature solder. Yet again, we find that it’s just safer to buy the tools and do the work yourself.

Captain was very excited to have a bag to sleep in, and not very excited about supporting Ukraine. It’s not a political thing, he just knows to give us a long-suffering face when we dress him up.

When our Yanmar parts came in, we put the water pump back on the engine. We had planned to replace the janky drain that we’d had to install in Puerto Lindo, but when we received the replacement part, it was too small. When we asked the dealer about it, he confirmed that we had ordered and received the right part, and commiserated, “expect the un-expected”. Our best theory is that some previous owner had to drill and tap it larger for some reason. Next owner: it works, but you should know.

We were out getting laundry done when we spotted an engraving and embroidery shop. They were able to crank out some fun labels and stickers for us, and we’re pretty excited to have all of these.

We were about to turn this fridge on when we opened it and saw all this rust. We already had an open can of anti-corrosion paint, so we gave it an Ospho treatment and a couple of coats.

With the end in sight, we squeezed in some Panamanian lasts. Last breakfast out, at the very pleasant Mahalo Cucina and Garden. Last can shopping; Jazz found all the kinds of canned tomatoes, which we’d been looking for for weeks. (After going to probably 14 grocery stores in the city, we endorse the Reba Smith in Bella Vista, the Pricesmart in Dorado, and the Foodies in Patilla.) And last batches of laundry: we tried to leave with as much clean stuff as we could, because from here on out we’re doing buckets.

Jazz took Captain to the vet, to get his exit paperwork. This should have been quick and painless (for her), since she’d called ahead to make sure they had everything he needed. But on arrival, she found that they didn’t have the rabies booster he needed. She called a second vet who did, but they would charge $250 more for the rabies titer test. So Jazz waited four hours at the first place, and then on arrival at vet two, the vet informed her that on hearing the price difference he had called his distributor, and could now charge the same price. Facepalm. They confirmed that Captain’s chip still scans, which is reassuring. But despite Jazz asking several times to confirm that everything was set and that Captain would not have to come back, they texted two hours after she left to tell her that he would need another shot for the paperwork. Andrew had to bring him back the next day. All in all, Captain was not pleased with us.

The hydraulic cylinder was supposed to arrive Wednesday, so we took the old one out in anticipation on Thursday morning, and changed the oil while we waited. When the new one still didn’t arrive, we decided that letting the rudders bang back and forth into their stops with every wake wasn’t our favorite, and tied the tie bar in place. The new cylinder finally arrived Friday, so Andrew went to pick it up in the rain. And when the rain wouldn’t clear up completely, he installed it in the rain too.

With the boat now fully back together, we were ready to do our fresh provision. So we headed out to the San Felipe fresh market on a Saturday morning, and bought five flats of thirty eggs, plus some other fresh goodies. We found “fresh” eggs “del patio”, local rather than factory farmed, and Captain found them unusually interesting. The rest of the vegetables were less successful, and we ended up back at Reba Smith where the produces was fresher.

We dropped off our goodies and went to check out of the country. On the way, we dropped our old oil off at the marina, which had a giant tank for that purpose. The customs office is at the Flamenco marina, and we couldn’t resist their slightly ridiculous selfie frame.

One last task before we could go: the water in La Playita anchorage is pretty gross. Our boat had developed a bit of a smile, and our chain had become almost unrecognizably fuzzy. Since the water is between 25 and 40 feet deep (and did we mention filthy?), the least unpleasant way to clean the chain is to bring it up. So Andrew got in the dinghy and Jazz ran the windlass, and we scrubbed and sprayed and lifted until we could see the metal again. The smile would have to wait until Las Perlas.

We went to bed for one last night in the anchorage, and were sent a part[y]ing gift in the form of this boat, which passed by at midnight, two, four, and six am, blasting techno music loud enough to vibrate our teeth in their sockets. We couldn’t figure out whether there was a special occasion, besides Saturday, but it was a poorly rested Jazz and Andrew who rose the next morning to leave the mainland for (we thought!) the last time.

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