Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Chapter Comes to a Close

As I compose this article it is Easter afternoon and we are back in Colon, Panama. Sue and the kids are playing Mexican Train Dominoes (a Sunday tradition) with the other cruisers and I am enjoying a little quite time to do a bit of writing. We arrived back here last Wednesday after two great days of sailing from the San Blas Islands. It seems odd to be back where we started this little adventure 80 days ago. In many ways it seems like a lifetime ago and in others just minutes seemed to have passed. In either case we are adjusting to our new life and doing quite well.

Monday morning March 17 saw a significant chapter come to a close for us. As Sue and I navigated through the outer barrier reef of the San Blas Archipelago and into the open ocean this past Monday March 17th. I was reminded of the words of Steinbeck when he writes upon departing Baja California, "Adios mi Corazon". We turned the boat from our northern heading onto a due west run and with the main set we flew the Genoa in 15-20 knots of wind and soon the San Blas were behind us. These wonderful islands and their people were fading on the horizon and we were saying goodbye to the place that will always be the first chapter in our cruising adventure. Adios mi Corazon.

One of our last memories of the San Blas will be of receiving a huge Mangrove Snapper as a "regalo" or "gift" from our friend Raphael that we had met the previous week on the island of Mamitupu where our kids ran and played with the Kuna kids. Raphael found us as he was heading from his island to fish near where we were anchored and we quickly took the opportunity to give him a bag of some extra things we had as well as some juice and cookies for his two girls that were going fishing with him. We never expected anything in return. What we have received was more than just a fish big enough to feed us for a few days. We received the gift of friendship from someone that was grateful that we had taken the time to visit his island and spend time with his people. We have left a little of ourselves and our hearts in the San Blas.

Our kids have also been impressed by the islands and their people. Here are a few excerpts from Amy and Marshalls logs. Amy says, "Our trip to the San Blas was an outstanding adventure but a whole different world. The way the Kuna live is so different to that in the U.S. but they seem happier than us most of the time. The kids all play together and think life is great without IPods, TV, DS, computers and all the things we have". She continues,"Another moving experience has been the pets. They cannot take care of pets like we do with no vets and very little food. I saw how the kids looked past the skinny shape and into the hearts of the animals and loved them for what they are".

Marshall writes,"It was so amazing in the San Blas. We saw the Kunas and how little they had yet they did not complain and we have so much and still want more. It was so cool to see a Kuna paddling out in his dugout canoe. It was really weird when we went to one island with a lot of kids because they act like we are a rockstar. I am writing these paragraphs in Colon and yesterday we went to Panama City. Wouldn't you wonder the adventure for a Kuna family going to Panama City for the first time? They would be like what is this knob thing and they would turn it and water would come out or they would walk into a building and it would be air conditioned."

What an amazing place these islands are. Beautiful sandy islets covered in coconut palms with wonderful reefs to dive and sites to see. The Kuna Indians are a warm, happy, welcoming and content people that taught us much in terms of being thankful for what we have and not wanting what we neither have nor probably don't need. We remain grateful for the opportunity we had to explore this wonderful part of our world at such a relaxed pace. Upon leaving Amy asked, "Daddy, can we come back here before we quite cruising?" I sure hope so sweetheart.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Achudup Island, San Blas Islands Panama

Achudup Island, San Blas Islands

March 7, 2008

N 9*30'23.7", W078*48'06.7"

Since our last update it seems as though life has changed in many ways. In one sense we feel like we have been living with each foot in two different worlds about to collide and in another sense we are beginning to feel at home in the space we now occupy. Life has been good these last couple of weeks.

Let me back track a little. You will remember that my last update was sent from the Panama City airport on my way back to Idaho to visit my former boss and more importantly my dear friend Gary who is battling a very aggressive form of brain cancer. I left Sue and the kids at anchor and with a quick lunch stop with Kelly and Becky in Boise and then a trip to the hospital to see Gary and Marilyn I arrived home 52 hours later.

It was very strange to be home. In fact it is a little weird calling our house home because these days Mima is home. It was nice to have all the electricity and hot water I wanted however,and the refrigerator sure looked big (and empty). Anyway, I found myself right back in the thick of things. Sue had a long to-do list for me and I also wanted to touch bases with as many friends as possible.

My time in Nampa proved to be much more emotional than I had expected. I felt like I spent the entire week crying. I went to my old office and cried, had breakfast, lunch and dinner dates with friends and cried, went to visit Gary and cried. Perhaps most surprising was how much I missed Sue and the kids. I could not seem to go an hour without wanting to call and I found myself missing each of them in ways I had never experienced before. One of the things Sue and I talk about is how we will be changed by this experience and perhaps I am already changing and we are all growing together in new ways. We still feel the "smallness" of our current space as compared to our home in Nampa, but are growing more used to being together 24/7, and that may well be the best long-term benefit in our lives.

I enjoyed spending time in my old office and seeing everyone again. Dr. Hagood and I discussed the possibility of me coming back to NNU for 6 months or so to help in the office until things become a little more regular. We love NNU and Sue and I really struggled with what to do. In the end we have decided that with the difficulty of the transition, particularly for the kids, and with our hearts really wanting to continue the journey we are on we will not be coming back at this time. It was hard to say no to NNU and yet we feel very strongly that we have made the right decision.

I spent 24 hours in Phoenix while I was home and it was GREAT to see my mom and dad and visit Grandma Pallett in the hospital. She fell and broke her hip the week before I came home and at 96 years of age that is no minor event. She is doing well and it was so fun to walkin and surprise her. My aunt and uncle were there as well and it was good to be with them. My time in Phoenix was short but treasured.

Six days after arriving I was headed back to Panama. It was like saying goodbye all over again,and yet more crying. 44 hours later I was back with mi familia. What a wild and activity packed 9 days had transpired. Now to get caught up with the family and Mima. Since leaving they have made friends with a couple of U.S. and South African families with kids that I am sure we will be spending time with if we can coordinate travel plans. Perhaps the thing I have noticed most is how much Sue, Amy and Marshall learned while I was gone. Marshall told me it was quieter with me gone but they seem to get along just fine. Every cruiser I talked to in the anchorage said how amazing Sue had been. None of them would have done what she did alone for 9 days.

Perhaps I am just naive but I never doubted her ability to run the ship and outside of a few quirky things I had worked on before all was in good order. In fact I had told Sue prior to leaving that this would be a good experience for her. She felt the weight of the additional responsibility in my absence but in Idaho terms, "cowgirled up". Yeehaw what a gal.

The kids are lifting the dinghy at night and both are very comfortable operating, landing and launching the dinghy by themselves. It is really fun to see them take on new responsibilities and enjoy it. Both are helping set sails and taking time at the helm. Marshall continues to like climbing the mast and both have taken to swinging off the top of the hardtop on the main halyard (check the sailing cheat sheet on the website) out into the water. Just the other morning in a calm anchorage Marshall awoke early after sleeping in our newly acquired hammock and asked if he could take the dinghy out for awhile by himself, just to drive around. I can't help but think how great that kind of freedom feels for an almost 10 year old boy!

The last week has been great. Good weather, nice sailing, great snorkeling and we seem to be settling into this new way of life. One of the highlights has been the two days we spent visiting the island of Mamitupu. We had been told to visit this island, frequently skipped my most, and we had a lovely time. The chief brought us into his home and introduced us to his family and gave us a tour of the island. Amy skipped rope with the girls and Marshall soon disappeared with the boys to play soccer. Sue and I sat with Antonio and his family and talked as much as we could but mostly just observed Kuna life. We took a number of photographs which we printed and brought back to them the next day.

The ladies took a real liking to Amy and dressed her in traditional Kuna attire. They kept handing Amy babies to hold, which she really enjoyed, and all commented that her tan matched the color of the Kuna babies'skin. The Kunas seem distant or at least very shy when you see them in larger cities or in "civilization" but here they "just were". Ladies relaxed in hammocks made of old fishing nets, babies were fed as needed, diapers changed, children came and went, men worked and we were guests. Really a privilege and treat and we hope to return for one of their fiestas in a week or so.

We caught a nice Cero Mackerel (30 inches) sailing yesterday and enjoyed a great sashimi dinner with another cruising couple. Thanks Grandpa Bob for the fishing gear. We are using it almost daily and we are very glad to have the rods, reels and tackle you supplied us with.

I was thinking yesterday that there are times or places in all our lives where dreams and prayers seem to either not exist or not be possible. The first month or so on this journey seemed more like a nightmare than a dream and yet now we are living what for us had been a dream and aprayer. We are all working on being more patient and kind to each other and the dynamic and rhythm on board is really taking hold.

One final personal thought. I owe Greg Bullock a big thank you for recommending the book, "The Shack" to us prior to leaving. Thanks for a paradigm transforming book Greg. My daily prayer is that I will learn what it means to truly love myself, Susan, Amy and Marshall without expectations or an agenda. Also, Jeannette, your unhesitated phone call to Sue the moment you saw our number meant tons to her. It was an example of how we are trying to learn to live; unrushed, without hesitation, but with purpose in our love for others.

Until next time, fair winds and following seas. You are all loved and missed. Sue keeps asking if it is really paradise if so many people we love are so far removed from us? Come visit us soon.

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