OYSTER 825 - ENSO
Follow our adventures around the world on ENSO.
Bocas Del Toro
It’s difficult to express what we felt when we visited the Bocas del Toro archipelago. There are very few places that feel so unforgettable with amazing vegetation, crystal-blue Caribbean waters on the edge of a rainforest, primitive cultures, ancient customs, biodiversity, uncrowded sailing and friendly people. It is such a unique place and one that captured our hearts, but also in a way that was unexpected. Knowing very little about the region it turned out to be the second favourite place we visited.
Go and enjoy Bocas before the rest of the world discovers this place!!!
Things to do:
The best zipline we have been on anywhere in the world.
Amazing beaches, sloths and monkeys.
Chilled out beach vibe with great low key beach shacks/bars, swimming and surfing.
Organic farm and coffee house. Super passionate people who are doing such an wonderful job. Take the farm tour to see (and taste!) all differents sorts of local produce (cacao, jackfruit, and much much more).
Great organic and gourmet grocery for just about everything you need.
Cute restaurant beachside
Other things to do - Cave tours, tour of local villagers, dolphins everywhere while we were sailing around, warm water snorkeling with incredibly coloured of starfish.
The San Blas Islands were the one place in Panama that we went in with high expectations. Having come off the high of Bocas we were expecting amazing sailing in the picture postcard islands. And it certainly lived up to those picture postcards. Some great snorkeling with lots of rays, a few sharks and lots of other interesting things to see. The local Kuna people showed up with their traditional hand-made Molas for sale, but would also bring fresh fish and lobster (and coconuts) if asked.
If you imagine a tropical island you will be imagining an Island in the San Blas.
Interesting fact: There is a different Island for every day of the year (378 to be exact).
Shelter Island, where boats moor and cargo ships anchor to wait for the call-up to begin the canal transit. It had some interesting walks with old military ruins and from shore you could see numerous big container ships lining up to transit.
The canal was another major highlight of the trip (read life) and we can see why cruise ships pay significant fees to come up into Lake Gatun and then go straight back out. It is simply an experience to behold. The Canal Museum close to Panama City is definitely worth a trip as the history behind the canal and the exploits of all those involved and the scale involved is simply mind boggling. Especially when you consider it is over 104 years old.
During the canal crossing it is exciting to get up close to the biggest ships in the world and see them steaming past on lake Gatun doing 20+ knots. Some over 360m (1,200 ft) long and nearly 50m (160 ft) wide carrying over 13,000 shipping containers made our 24m sailing boat feel quite small! The other surprising thing is how fast it takes to either fill or drain the lock depending on if you are getting raised up or lowering down.
Interesting fact: Due to the curvature of the isthmus, one must travel west to get to the Atlantic Ocean, and east to get to the Pacific side.
The other interesting thing about the transit was getting to talk to the canal pilots (a pilot is a professional sailor who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters and is assigned to each boat by the Panama Canal Authority) who must be aboard during all the transit. We were lucky to have 3 different pilots, one whom was ranked in the top 20 for all pilots at the canal for experience and years of service. Amazing knowledge and lots and lots of funny stories about what they have seen over the years.
We also saw a car transporter run aground right behind us when their rudder broke. Luckily it swerved away from oncoming boats and not towards them. We also saw a local cruise boat get caught by the currents in the last locks and nearly get spun out of control...it’s not as simple as it looks.
Panama to Galapagos
Another big highlight was Panama City. Such a vibrant city.
The best coffee we have had, ever, in the whole world, since ever, period. After having transited the canal, we had a week to explore Panama City. When looking up things to do we were also on the lookout for great coffee. The Bajareque Coffee House had great reviews and was listed as having the world’s most expensive Geisha coffee so we had to check it out. We can see now why the top baristas in competition are now using Geisha coffee beans. It was the best, simply the best. We got to meet and talk with Wilford Lamastus Jr., whose family has grown coffee for over 100 years. They have won numerous awards both in Panama and internationally for their coffee and it’s easy to see why. Their coffee is exported all over the world. Their estates are perfect for coffee and whilst the Geisha trees don’t produce a lot of volume, it certainly makes up with the flavours and aromas. If you like coffee you have to make a trip.
Best driver for all of your needs https://vive-boquete.blogspot.com/2012/06/check-this-out-luis-arce-services.html Luis knows all the best spots and speaks perfect English. He sorted out our jungle tours, national parks, local villages, the big Panama fruit and veg market, canal tours and more. He organised all of our transport needs and even did a 5 hr round trip back to the jungle to get someone’s glasses that were left behind. Luis quite simply was a gem. Just a wonderful human being.
Casco Viejo area of Panama City. Vibrant, restored area of the city that used to be filled with gangs. Now filled with great restaurants, hip hotels and shops. We had a wonderful tour of this old part of the city with ex-gang members who explained how life used to be in this area. http://pty.life/tours/
Panama Marina - complete with its own sloths and racoon-like (Coati) animals and just a 5 min walk to go karts!!!
Crossing the Equator
Sailing across the equator for the first time. Surreal to think that we had done it and how far we had come. Of course, had to have a small party to celebrate the crossing complete with costumes.
Nothing we can add that you probably haven’t seen on the Blue Planet and other amazing TV documentaries. Probably only to say that 14 days was still not enough Fun day touring Otoy Restaurant Organic Farm and having a delicious lunch. The best papaya we have ever had straight from the tree.
Swimming with baby sea lions. They would rush into your face and blow bubbles at you then scuttle away. They would tug on your wetsuit string and race about like playful mischievous puppies, as essentially that’s what they are, just the ocean version.
Snorkeling with sharks (self explanatory). Iguana’s, turtles, tortoises, lizards and other assorted prehistoric dinosaurs that still roam the world. Blue-footed booby’s dancing mating rituals, male frigate birds big red necks on display to attract a mate - simply a lot of loving going on.
Volcanic island, oldest “post-office”, scenic walks and incredible views. We took a guide a on board for an 8 day cruise and spent the remainder of the days in San Cristobal exploring.
Manta rays, dolphins, whales, waterfalls and big fish. It truly is stepping back in time.
Fun Fact: The Marquesas are the youngest of the islands in French Polynesia and they are also the most remote islands in the world.
There is a reason why the Tuamotus in French Polynesia ranks in the top one or two destinations for many seasoned sailors who have been all over the globe (no flat earthers here!!!). For us (and also for our crew) it is simply the most amazing place we visited between Southampton, UK and New Zealand. Remote and therefore uncrowded, even isolated. Tropical islands, coconut trees, crystal clear deep blue to turquoise green waters, and warm white sand beaches. The most abundant and healthy ecosystem we saw under water. The Caribbean is a desert compared to this. BIG fish and little fish. Turtles and rays and sharks. Amazing deep sea fishing. We caught many 200-300+kg marlin, a range of different bill fish all while sailing between the islands (and we let them all go so that they could live another day).
Shelter. It was always nice to be able to hide inside the atolls from the sea swell and be super flat and comfortable (something that you don’t get just up the road at the Marquesas...) no matter what the conditions.
We saw another Oyster doing 16 knots SOG coming out of a pass (with the current obviously). You could see the whites of their eyes from miles out, as their speed through the water was probably 4-6 knots.
However, it was this daily occurrence of the water flowing into and out of the channels that made for the best diving and snorkelling imaginable. We would simply get dropped in at the top of the pass depending on which way the current was flowing and simply drift along quite happily at anywhere from 2-6 knots depending on how much excitement you wanted. The current carried like a delivery service, food for all the marine life and as such it was simply the best place to see it all. So many fish, sharks, rays, eels, as we were moving past over the reef at speed. Sometimes upwards of 200 sharks would be swimming slowly in place as we floated above them, completely ignoring us. Snorkeling has never been better than this.
It was something to behold. Even after sailing down to Tahiti, we ended up sailing back up to the Tuamotus again. Having been disappointed with the destruction and overfishing of the Caribbean marine life and marine ecosystem, I can only imagine, at some point in time it must have been like the Tuamotus is today. We can count ourselves lucky that we got to see the Tuamotus today in all its glory. I hope and pray that humanity steps up and takes the necessary steps to protect the oceans. Whether they will remains to be seen but if you want to see the ocean as it used to be you have to come here and experience it before it is possibly too late.
Fakarava South is one of the most stunning locations to anchor. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can get a cold drink or set up diving at Pension Motu Aito Paradise. However, there are no other services in the area at all which is probably why the sea-life is so incredible.
The Tuamotus have Pearl Farms on a few of the inhabited Islands and most welcome visitors for a look and some shopping.
Oh and can’t forget, this is French Polynesia, so many atolls have a French bakery with daily fresh baked baguettes and croissants.
Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora
In Tahiti we were lucky enough to see the world’s heaviest wave being surfed on a big (but not giant) day. Moorea feeding stingrays was a hit with everyone, friends and family alike... Bora Bora swimming for days with four-meter-wide Manta Rays. There is something about seeing these giants of the sea swimming (or flying) up and down so gracefully along the reef. It is both hypnotic and magical in equal amounts and something we never tired from doing. We also got to have a vanilla plantation tour.
Tahiti -- French food everywhere flown in from France.
Best apple tart EVER - O3 Filous
Best Mojito EVER - L’O at La Bouche.
Best Ever Luxury Resort - The Brando on the private Island of Tetiaroa. A step above even the Maldives.
Le Souffle for every flavor and huge!
Moorea - near Tahiti but quieter with gorgeous blue water and stingray feeding
Allo Pizza - Tiny restaurant with a few stools and also takeaway. Best pizza we had since Panama.
Moorea Beach Club - Great for a long lunch and a few cocktails on the water. So nice when you can drive your tender and park out front.
Bora Bora Yacht Club - Eating dinner while watching rays do backflips out of the water.
Swimming with humpback whales on heat runs, swimming with pregnant females and their male chaperones singing to them, and best of all, the curious baby calves that would swim up to look you in the eye. You need to book whale tours well in advance (with some people booking as much as a year in advance to secure a trip). As you can imagine, for many people on ENSO swimming with whales was top of their list of things that they did.
Not easy to provision here but worth the trip for the whales. Falaleu Deli was the best spot for finding imported meat of all types. Interesting Eco-tour of Vava’u Villa Resort for an on-land activity and definitely recommended if you are interested in such things. They also organized quad bike riding.
Wakeboarding in a rainstorm and snorkeling into hidden caves were other highlights. Craziest dinner was at La Paella - a Spanish woman opened a small remote tapas restaurant here in the 1980’s and it has been going ever since. The evening ends with serenade of Spanish music and some traditional dancing.
The best coral and the best underwater colours. The English language makes life easy for those of us who don’t understand the French language in French Polynesia and one of the best Italian markets with a food-passionate Italian man, Flavio, who flies in fresh ingredients each week from Italy. If you are lucky he will cook a meal for you one night in the store. Unsurprisingly his place is called...Flavio’s Italian Shop.
Winning the 2017 Musket Cove Regatta for monohulls.
Remote anchorages (especially the Lau Group of islands) with nobody in sight can still be found, BUT MAKE SURE TO BRING KAVA AS A GIFT for the local chief in whose anchorages you will be staying. Also, NO hats or sunglasses. They are reserved only for the chief.
So many types of dolphins, fish, beautiful walks, remote beaches, clear waters, such a sailing community, some great restaurants, fresh produce and friendly people. Just a laid back country AND they have the America’s cup!!! Nelson and Golden Bay are a must.
Fresh Blue cod fish and chips. No better fish in the world than this! Bluff oysters - best in the known universe. The season opens March 1st and goes till August (unless they get to the quota limit earlier). Get them early to avoid disappointment is all I can say. Depot Restaurant by NZ chef Al Brown in Auckland. Great place to meet friends, have some drinks with the crew and other salty people you meet on your travels.
Giapo Ice Cream - We promise there is no other in the world like it. Incredible creations. https://www.giapo.com/ Viva La Vaca food truck in Nelson area (we can still taste the flavours when thinking about it). Slow cooked Argentinian BBQ with amazing combinations of flavours and ingredients and we even got some extra home-made sausages to take away and cook later.
Farewell spit and my favourite beach in the world, Wharariki Beach. Twice as many people at the beach nowadays, but that means 10 people instead of 5.
Glow worm caves, indoor snow skiing and a visit to Waiheke wineries were just of a few of the activities that kept us busy in Auckland.