Tag Archives: island life

Archpielago Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro: Bocas Town

Matt and I spent 13 days exploring Bocas del Toro before Wayne arrived.  Several people told us that these islands were very touristy and nothing like the San Blas island chain (which we loved).  We typically prefer the isolated, quiet islands, but we thought we’d give them a try.  Our first stop, Bocas Town.

The islands that make up the Archipielago de Bocas del Toro are listed below.  We entered the island chain between Isla Colon and Bastimento, then motored around the bottom of Isla Colon to arrive in Bocas Town, the capital of the Bocas del Toro province.

Archpielago Bocas del Toro

Archpielago Bocas del Toro

Bocas Town has a friendly population of about 8k residents.  The town is divided into 8 avenidas, running east and west starting with Avenida A, then Avenida B, etc… Then the streets running north to south are numbered, Calle 1, Call 2, etc….  It is a very laid back atmosphere, with a lot of tourists and even more backpackers.

Bocas Town map

Bocas Town map

There is one main road were most of the shops and eateries can be found and they are crawling with people milling about.

Typical road in Bocas Town.

Typical road in Bocas Town.

The coasts are peppered with bars and restaurants which makes it fun to explore.  Who has the best wifi and happy hour?  So, far El Pirata has smokin hot wifi, great view, and friendly staff.  Buena Vista also had good internet, food, and friendly staff.

Places to eat and drink line the water's edge.

Places to eat and drink line the water’s edge.

Of course Matt sniffed out a local pub that offered beer on tap – the Bocas Brewery.

Bocas Brewery offering beer on tap.

Bocas Brewery offering beer on tap.

We found the local fire station and they had restored a beautiful American France fire truck that was acquired in 1926.  This truck was made between 1914-1916.  This is a car water bomb, not a tanker, its bronze pump is special to work with sea water. The last time it worked was in 1981.

1900 Fire truck.

1900 Fire truck.

A fun little photo op at La Buga – Matt does have his head inside the dive mask but it is hard to see it – you can only see this arm and hat sticking out the side of the statue.

Surfer and diver at La Buga.

Surfer and diver at La Buga.

Matt took a moment out to rest at Hotel Olas as he had a taxing day walking from bar to bar.

Matt's happy spot at Hotel Olas.

Matt’s happy spot at Hotel Olas.

Another cool map of the Archipielago Bocas del Toro:

Map of Bocas del Toro.

Map of Bocas del Toro.

We took some of the down time (while it rained) to work on more projects.  A few months ago, I replaced the helm seat back covers with a tan sunbrella that did not match the rest of the cockpit sunbrella.  Long story short we ordered 15 yards of the wrong “tan” back in St. Maarten.  We used the majority of this fabric for new rain shades to cover our phifertex sun shades.  Anyway, I had wanted to change them out to blue to match the rest of the boat. Yes, a total frilly, girly thing, I know!

We also needed to do some paperwork with the government of Panama.  You are supposed to get a “zarpe” each time you leave a port in Panama.  Our Zarpe had us going to Linton Bay/Portobello so technically we should have gotten a new Zarpe to San Blas, then another one to Bocas del Toro.  We sort of missed those steps.  So, we went into Port Authority to get a new Zarpe to Panama City so our agent can clear us out of the country once we transit the canal.

The port authority agent was off over the weekend, then they took Monday-Wednesday off for Carnival so we had to wait 5 days before making the visit.  The first man was a little put out that we did not follow the rules and told us we had to go back to Portobello to get a new Zarpe (that is well over 200 miles away) – yikes that sucks!  But he then said that this was not his department and we had to go to another department down the hall.  So, we did.

This lady could not have been nicer!  She was all ready to give us our new Zarpe until we told her we would not be leavinft, drat.  Well that is a Sunday and they are not open and if we came on Saturday it would cost us overtime.  So, we changed our departure date to 2/24 and told her we would see her on 2/23.  Done!

Next, we needed to go to the airport to see an Immigration officer.  We entered the country on a Panamanian Mariners Visa which was good for 90 days.  That visa is set to expire on 6 March, the same day that we will be transiting the canal.  You are only allowed to renew the visa the day before or the day of.  If you come after your expiration date it is $50 per person late fee.

We can’t go the day before as we have guests and are supposed to be staging for the transit.  And we can’t go the day of as we will be in transit.  The immigration offices are in Colon or Panama City which is a taxi ride so it looks like we will have to pay the late fee.  Bummer!g the Bocas until 2/26.  She said we had to come back the day before we left.

It was raining a lot here, so we got productive and started working on multiple projects.

One of Matt’s first sewing projects was a cover for our man overboard horse shoe.  He did a great job considering he had no pattern.  In addition, he made it while at home and the horse shoe was on the boat.  But, it was in grey fabric and needed an update so I replaced it with a red cover.

In the photo below you will see the pattern for the man overboard horse shoe, and the new helm seat rail covers.

Two new projects complete.

Two new projects complete.

The boat came with hoakie screens for the salon hatches but they are difficult to put in and didn’t stay up well.  They are very useful to keep the bugs and no see-ums out of the boat – especially since these two hatches are always open.

Top image is Matt building a new frame for the screens using the pvc we bought for the ceiling.  The bottom image shows the old ugly screens.

Window hatch screens.

Window hatch screens.

New screens complete.  The problem is that the no see-um screens don’t let much air in so now Matt wants to make two more sets with normal screens.

No see-um window screen

No see-um window screen

Projects completed and or 75% done in Bocas Town:

  • Make new helm seat back covers – blue sunbrella, done.
  • Sew new man overboard ring cover – red sunbrella (see note below). done.
  • Build new salon hatch screens (in progress)
Aruba dive site

Wreck Dives of Aruba: Renaissance Airplane

There are two dive sites with sunken airplanes in Aruba.  The most famous one is the Renaissance Airplane dive site and the other one is called the Arashi Airplane dive site.  Our following blog will be about our Arashi airplane dive-stay tuned.

We did not get to dive at Renaissance airplane site.  But in the spirit of sharing information, I thought I would still post about it with the hopes that one of you can dive it in the future.   Matt and I tried to find this dive spot, looked at 4 different mooring sites where we thought it could be and never discovered the actual airplane wrecks.  The maps all show different locations for this site which does not help either.  So frustrating!

But, evidently, just in front of the Renaissance Island are two submerged planes.  Aruba has intentionally sunk two airplanes an YS-11 and a DC-3 to help create an artificial reef.  Many of the wrecks we have explored in Aruba have been intentionally sunk and are located in relatively shallow waters.

The DC-3 is a small aircraft at about 23 meters long and holding 40 seats.  In the late 1980’s this plane was confiscated during a drug bust and later sunk by authorities.  Originally it was sunk in fairly shallow waters, but in 1999 hurricane Lenny decided to find a better place for it in deeper waters – 28 meters and cut the fuselage into two big pieces. Several other pieces of the plane have been scattered around the sandy bottom reef called Sonesta coral reef.

Aruba dive site

DC3 Airplane wreck Aruba. Photo courtesy of AquaViews Online Scuba Magazine.

Aruba wreck dive

DC3_wreck_dive_aruba. Photo credit star5112.

The second airplane belonged to Air Aruba who donated it to the Aruba Water Sports Association in 2004.  This plane was a Japanese turboprop passenger airliner that was laid to rest on the Sonesta reef.  She is about 20 meters long and weighed close to 13 tons.  The cool thing about this plane is that she landed with its nose in 13 meters of water and its tail section resting at the 28 meters of water so it gives you the impression it is ready for take off.  The cockpit is still intact and provides for great photo opportunity.

Aruba dive site

Fuselage. Photo courtesy of AquaViews Online Scuba Magazine

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that we could not find the Renaissance airplane dive site.  I am sure we could have paid to go out with a dive group, but that just seems silly when we have all the gear and have found over 50 dives on our own.  This was the first elusive dive spot and it did not help that the dive maps are inconsistent and vague at best.  But nonetheless, it is a cool blog story and I found some great photos online.  Hope you enjoyed it!

Why we couldn’t find the dive site:

Several days later, we went to get our scuba tanks filled at Aruba Watersports and found out that the moorings for the Renaissance airplane site broke off and are no longer visible.  You have to go with a local dive group to do a drift dive in order to see the airplanes.  Phew, at least we weren’t totally off the mark.

Lazy Days and Happy Plays: Good Friends

We are all psyched up about the arrival of our good friends, Shawn and Sharon.  We anchored in Paardenbaai Key which is right by the airport.  It is a fairly nice anchorage but is blowing like stink!  We are seeing white caps all around us and the closest dinghy dock is the Renaissance Marina in Oranjestad Key which is a long and very wet ride.  We scoped out some meeting places, found the trash, got some gasoline, and completed some last minute cleaning chores.

One of the proposed meeting spots was this cool canal that led to a tunnel into the Renaissance Mall which probably was not meant for our dinghy and 25hp (2-stroke) outboard.  We were turning around when another boat came in hot and directed us out of there stat.  Well, that meeting place is out, but it would have been so cool to meet them here!

Renaissance Mall Boat Canal

Shawn and Sharon, loaded down with bags (the biggest belonging to us containing boat parts) and brought them back to the boat to get settled.  Not sure what got into us, but we decided to take a dinghy ride to explore a different anchorage.  It is still blowing 30-35 kn of wind and the anchorage was on the other side of the airport by the mangroves.  Unfortunately for us, it was upwind and we got drenched by the time we arrived.  At this point we all wanted was a cold drink.  We ended up at Amuse Sunset Restaurant which was not ready to open for dinner (at 4:30p) but they were willing to serve us drinks!  We ended up staying for awhile and enjoyed a really tasty, but filling dinner as we watched the beautiful sun set on the ocean.

Aruba Amuse

Sunset at Amuse Restaurant.

The wind would not let up so we could not do my noodling workout or play on the SUP.  However, we were able to enjoy a nice walk each morning. On their second day, we decided to try to find a giant wholesale grocery place called Price Smart.  On the way to the store, there were a dozen pieces of different work out equipment on the path – just keeping the tourists and Arubans in shape.

Price Smart is a membership box store so we joined for a year as it was a better deal than buying a one day pass (and they have locations in Columbia and Panama).  They did have a lot of bulk items but were lacking in fruits, veggies, breads, and sodas which is what we were looking for on this trip.  Somehow we still managed to buy enough to fill several bags so we called a taxi to take us back to the dinghy.

It was still blowing 25-35 knots so we decided to stay in for dinner.  Our friend Barry on “White Shadow” (also known as Adventures of an Old Sea Dog on YouTube) is on a smaller boat which was rocking and rolling, so we invited him over for pork chops on our more stable catamaran.  He is a fine story teller and made a nice addition to our dinner party.

Good friends.

Matt, Barry, me, and Sharon

The next day we moved to Malmok Beach which is at the Northwest end of Aruba.  It is in between two wreck sites and a nice stretch of beach.  It is also a lot more protected than where we were by the airport.  With a little less wind, 15-20 we were able try out a few water activities.

This is a very popular site for all the local charter boats, so we got up early and hit the first wreck dive called SS Antilla which is 400′ in length.  Stay tuned for more on this wreck as Matt and I will dive it later.  As we hopped in the water we were surprised to see the stern of the boat as it was only 7 meters away, clear as day!  We barely made it to the bow of the boat when a huge “pirate ship” full of tourists descended upon us.  We quickly escaped and headed back to Sugar Shack.

Aruba wreck dive

SS. Antilla Wreck Dive

Many a lazy days were spent at this anchorage as it was so beautiful and peaceful.  Plus there was an array of entertainment watching all the charter boats, tourists, swimmers, and divers.

A look at the beach without the charter boats:

Malmok anchorage

Enjoying Malmok anchorage without the charter boats.

The charter boats stop for 45 minutes at the Antilla wreck site for a snorkel first which is behind our boat…

Antilla dive site

Antilla dive site behind our anchorage.

…then make their way to the swim area which is in front of our boat.

Charter boats in Aruba

Charter boats descend on the small swim area for 45 minutes at a time.

The SUP came out, but neither Sharon nor I were as successful as Matt.  The inflatable boards are made for smaller people and they are only 8’9″ in length.  The longer the board, the easier it is to balance and most people use 10’9″ boards.  We did not get these particular boards because we are rock star SUPers, but rather because they were a good deal and we wanted to try them out.

Matt and I were both able to stand on the boards in Bonaire (Matt a lot easier than me), but in Aruba, with the winds and waves it was beyond ridiculous.  Matt fell over twice, which he had never done before.  Sharon and I fell in trying to get on and then only managed to get on our knees.

I had been “patiently” waiting for Sharon to arrive to break out a new boat toy.  This sweet thang came back with me from the States in July and she has been stoically waiting to make her debut ever since.  Sharon and I were enjoying the water, sitting on noodles and holding on to a line trying not to float away to Venezuela. Matt surprised us by inflating our new toy, drum roll….meet Peggy Sue.

Big float

Peggy Sue comes out of hiding.

It was a bit of a $hit $how watching us try to mount her as she was very slippery, the wind was howling, and the waves were not cooperating.  Shawn and Matt had a great laugh watching us try to get on several times, but we eventually tamed the wild beast.

Big float

Peggy Sue 1, Sharon 1, Christine 0

Big float

Peggy Sue 4, Sharon 1, Christine 0,

Big Float

Yeah, we win!

Good friends.

Yep, we are feeling pretty good about ourselves.!

We moved over to Palm Beach or hotel row for our last two nights to experience more of the island life.  This anchorage is right in front of all the big Aruba hotels and has a lot of actives going on all the time.

Aruba Anchorage

Aruba anchorage in front of hotel row at day break

The charter boats leave and return from here, the para-sailors, kite surfers, tubers, and fishing boats are all here too – and then there is one pleasure boat – Sugar Shack.  We found a good anchorage, explored a few dinghy dock options, and set out to find the best happy hour.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.  It was so hard to say goodbye to our friends.  They are always such a joy to have on board, so full of love, laughter, and kindness.  Of course, the girl’s rule and kicked butt in dominoes the first night and then Sharon won Cards Against Humanity the next night.  The boys did make a come back to tie the dominoes score but we just don’t talk about that night 🙂

Shawn, me, Sharon – ahhhh


Good friends

Shawn and Sharon

Matt and I – happy day!

All sorts of trouble

Yes, Matt’s hair is that long and bleached out.  He was a toe head when he was younger and those days seem to have returned.

It’s nice to have good friends!  Thank you Shawn and Sharon for such a fun visit.