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Some whales blow the bubbles, some dive deeper to drive fish toward the surface, and others herd prey into the net by vocalizing. At birth, calves measure 6 meters 20 ft at 2 short tons 1. They nurse for approximately six months. Like other large whales, the humpback was and is a target for the whaling industry. While stocks have since partially recovered, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and noise pollution continue to impact the 80, humpbacks worldwide.

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In Japan, not only humpback, minkes, sperm, and many other smaller Odontoceti, but also including critically endangered species such as North Pacific right, western gray, and northern fin have been targets of illegal captures utilizing harpoons for dolphin hunts or intentionally drive whales into nets.

About 30 nautical miles south of Panama City , the Gulf of Panama is dotted by over small and big mostly uninhabited islands and islets of exceptional beauty, named Islas de las Perlas The Pearl Islands. It is our favorite destination on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama and a place no cruiser sailing through these parts of the world should miss. The Pearl Islands emerged from the ocean over 60 million years ago. Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, they were home of the Cuevas and Cocle indigenous cultures.

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This friendly gesture from the part of the local population was met with violence and only two years after the arrival of the Spaniards the locals were brutally and completely wiped out. After killing everyone, the conquistadores realized that there is no one left to harvest the pearls which were so abundant in the waters of the archipelago. After one unsuccessful attempt to sail to Las Perlas from our anchorage at La Playita the wind died and we spent four hours drifting with the current, covering just one mile in the wrong direction, and decided to turn back … we start again one slightly windier September morning.

Big Ships anchorage and Panama City in the distance. Water in the gulf is covered with floating plastic garbage from the ships. The wind dies down again just as we are crossing the big ship anchorage outside the Canal Zone and we find ourselves drifting with strong current and almost no wind among containerships, some waiting at anchor, others maneuvering, and we almost get run over by a giant metal boat or rather, we run over the giant boat , because Ivo will not turn on the engines even in a situation like this, and with the spinnaker up our options for turning are limited….

In the afternoon, the wind finally picks up and we sail fast now, with 6 knots. Yet, we have lost precious time for the first 5 hours, and we cannot make it before sunset. The charts of The Pearl Islands are notoriously inaccurate and the entire archipelago is a rough area to navigate, especially at night, with lots of reefs and dangerous rocks in the shallows near the islands. This book has been our most treasured crew member since we left Cartagena Colombia direction Panama a few months ago, a crew member we could count on; who never failed us.

Thank you Tina, and thank you Eric! We arrive at night with one final squall pushing behind us, navigating in pitch black, paying little attention to the charts and much more attention to The Book, avoiding shallow areas and reefs, until we see the lights of hotels and houses on Contadora. There are free mooring balls just off the beach and Ivo orders us to catch one, on sail. A few meters away from the ball you turn towards it and towards the wind and quickly furl the head sail. The main sail is up, but the wind is against you and the boat slows down super quickly and stops just next to the mooring ball.

You catch it and drop the main. You have to consider the current as well when you estimate when and where to turn.

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If you turn too soon, or if the distance between the boat and the mooring ball after you turn is too big, the boat stops before you reach the ball and starts drifting backwards. In this case, you have to position the boat sideways to wind, spread the headsail again and repeat the operation.

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  • Always be aware of the surroundings and other boats in the area, shore, rocks, wind and current. In high winds, at night, and in a crowded unfamiliar anchorage, it is much more difficult to do this operation. In our case, the current is super strong, it is pitch black, we have never been here before, and there are a few small fishing boats on moorings all over the place. Yet, after much yelling and running around- Ivo on the wheel and furling the head sail, Maya with the spot light, and me with the long hook trying to grab the damn thing- we manage to catch one mooring ball without turning the engines on, only after the third attempt… A great exercise.

    The next morning, we wake up in front of a small beach with the hilly island of Contadora rising behind it.

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    A few small hotels and private luxurious mansions are perched on the hill, surrounded by trees and flowers. The island is a little more than one square kilometer in territory with a couple of hundred permanent residents and many hotels and vacation homes. With its small airport and small boat port, Contadora is the most accessible and most popular of all Perl Islands among foreign tourists and weekenders from the capital, attracting visitors with its pristine beaches, and gorgeous resorts built without disturbing the nature.

    After the construction of so many hotels and houses, roads and public spaces in the s and s, the flora here has been successfully preserved with lush tropical vegetation looming over buildings, and roads making sudden illogical turns around large centennial tees. The busy tourist season has not started yet, and there is almost no one. The hotels are deserted, many- abandoned and in ruins. It feels so calm and quiet as if time has stopped. It is also the only island from the archipelago that has streets long enough to run, so Ivo can still train for his marathon.

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    This is exactly what we signed up for. And it gets better. If you are a nature-lover visiting the big busy Panama City , there is a place you can go to escape the hustle and heat of the metropolis, the perfect getaway. Set in a tranquil valley surrounded by mountains, high above the sea, inside the second largest volcano crater in the world, is nestled the small picturesque town of El Valle de Anton, offering much more than a quiet retreat in the beautiful countryside.

    We met Milen Bojinov soon after arriving in Panama City and shared many wonderful moments with him and his family. They helped us with the Panama Canal buffer refund, took us to the fruits and vegetables market and all the other best and cheapest places for grocery shopping and for propane, invited us to their house may times, and came to sail with us around the gulf aboard Fata Morgana one afternoon. Milen is an experienced sailor and the epic story of his Atlantic Ocean crossing with his friend Vassil Beyazov aboard an small salvaged sailboat Peterson 25 from Bulgaria to the Caribbean has been described in a book: The Feeling of Freedom, by Vassil Beyazov.

    Congratulations and may your journey in life be the happiest of all, little princess! One Sunday, we start early in the morning with two cars, Milen and his family in one car, Ana, Samuel and our family in the other, driving for over two hours, first on the Inter-American highway for about 1.

    The higher we go, the cooler it gets, and once up in the valley we find ourselves in a climate much different form the suffocating tropical heat of the lowlands. It is a main tourist destination too, offering a vast choice of accommodation, from cheap hostels to luxurious boutique hotels and eco lodges with stunning mountain views and renowned restaurants, surrounded by tropical forest and the sounds of birds.

    It has been a while since we hiked up a mountain, so the first place we head to is La India Dormida the Sleeping Indian Girl , a three-hour easy and pleasant hike, passing by a huge boulder with ancient petroglyphs, La Piedra Pintada the painted rock , a small waterfall, a natural river-pool, and spectacular views of the valley.

    The Painted Rock has large pre-Columbian petroglyphs without any archaeological explanation or legend attached to them, so you are welcome to invent your own legend and interpret the drawings and figures using your imagination. We walk among thick forest in the beginning. By the end only rocky hills covered in thin green grasses enveloped in fog are all around us. Seen from the village below, these desolate naked hills- the rim of a huge inactive volcano crater- look like the contours of the body of a sleeping woman.

    Next on the agenda is El Serpentario the serpent sanctuary. At the end of a narrow muddy path, we find a small building containing a collection of about a dozen local snakes, who are no prisoners in cages, but injured specimens, ex-pets, and temporary visitors, some to be released back in the wild as soon as they are rehabilitated and ready for independent life. The young guy working with the reptiles is a Panamanian who studied biology in United Stated and worked with conservation programs in Florida. He is one of the most important herpetologists and conservationists in Panama with vast knawlage and passion for the reptiles, committed not only to work for the conservation of local snakes, frogs, caimans and others, but also to educate the population about the importance of the reptiles for the ecosystem, as well as to diffuse some Hollywood myths about snakes.

    If you get to know the snakes, if you understand and respect them, their needs and behavior, what to do and not to do in their presence, you will find out that they are not your enemy, and that most of the stuff you know about snakes from films and TV is unrealistic and untrue.

    Ivo has been terrified by snakes all his life. Ever since he was a little boy and saw Indiana Johns Raiders of the Lost Ark snakes have been his biggest nightmare. But only after a few minutes in the serpentarium his new best friend is a sleepy very friendly boa. Set amidst lush tropical vegetation are a few small pools with yellow waters coming from underground volcanic thermal springs. But once in the pool, you have no right to come out, do the mud, wash it off, and go back in the pool. I want to know.

    What is the logic behind this strange rule? I am absolutely frustrated at this point, I start screaming at the guy and the entire experience is ruined…. Unfortunately, the world is populated by idiots who make and follow stupid rules. There is a lot more to see and do in El Valle de Anton. Besides hiking in the mountains, relaxing in the thermal baths, and meeting the snakes, you can rent a bike or a horse, visit a tropical zoo, do the zipline adventure or simply relax and watch the variety of birds.

    One day is not enough and once you visit this enchanted place, you will want to return again. The beach at Punta Chame Panama where Ivo goes to kitesurf with Rado is a beautiful sight at low tide. A vast wet landscape painted with black-and-yellow sand patterns formed by wind and sea, sparkling in the light of the setting sun. Here and there, large driftwood sculptures break the monotony of the mile-long sand strip.

    Little sandpipers run in groups on the edge of the sea searching for small crabs as the waves recede, frigates like dark kites ride the high air currents above, and black vultures roam the shores scavenging for anything dead that comes out of the ocean.