PANAMA - San Blas Islands
27 Jul 2007
|Thursday 26th June
Set off from Cartagena early morning after breakfast and a petrol stop. Federico the captain had his wife Claudia aboard and Marcella his girl friday. Just about had enough time to introduce ourselves to the French, Israelia and Argentinians who made up the rest of the group before we all went a little quiet and found a corner to lie down in as we hit open sea and quickly discovered that we had no sea legs. I sat up front taking on board the fact that we were heading out to the high sea on this tiny yacht which was actually quite a strange feeling, to know we won't see anything but water for a couple of days. Not one to ever suffer motion sickness it was odd to lay across the deck as the sails were being let out without any desire to get up and assist despite Frederico saying he was eager to teach some sailing skills. Lying flat seemed the only way to feel normal but the sea breeze helped however and it wasn't long before I was wondering around and spotted one of the fising lines at the back of the boat reeling out. Frederico pulled in a barracuda which he then set about gutting on the back of the deck. We had it raw for lunch with sauce, well I say we but actually only about two people ate and well Zoe was just over the back of the boat. So anyway we all drifted off again to feel ill in different places around the boat and I introduced myself to the Captains dog, the very cute little poodle 'Reina'. Got together again for dinner which was a really light meal and I started to think that Federico was some kind of Atkins diet nut as I was now suffering quite severe carb withdrawal. Sat up on deck in the evening and spent ages watching dolphins playing at the front of the boat with one of the Argentians who seems to be the only other person not constantly in bed ill.
Friday 27th June
Had an interesting night rolling around in the cabin, rolling left to right so got up early. Federico was surprised to see me and said I was the only person that actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. He spoke too soon though as I seemed to be developing a bad headache which I couldn't decide was down to me reading on deck all morning or my new fake useless sunglasses. Zoe managed to get up on deck after a 24 period of just getting up to be sick and then lying down again and I think the fresh air helped abit even if the rolling left to right seemed to be getting worse. Having waited around ages for lunch that didn't appear as it seems Federico thinks everyone is so sick they don't want to eat I then went for an afternoon nap (well it was more like 5 hours!). I got up for a pasta dinner (yes a plate full of carbs finally!) and then we sat on deck watching a fantastic lightening storm in the distance. Two clouds had lightening just forking back and forward between them. It was rather naive of us at this point to think it was pretty to watch and not actually wonder where the storm was heading. My head wasn't getting any better so I went off to bed and ended up being sick myself. So finally the catering aboard becomes clear...stomachs obviously can't handle big dinners at sea! Feeling very swimmy and wierd I piled into my cabin to drift off to sleep. The next thing I know the boat if pitching left to right and I'm rolling left to right, bumping into Zoe and then the wall of the cabin. Federico was running around the boat shutting everything up as the thunder and lightening got louder and louder and the rain pelted the yacht. It was a strange kind of helpless feeling, I actually felt so ill with the rolling side to side I think if he'd needed help we would have all just laid there...good job he was in control and things weren't that bad!
Saturday 28th June
Woke the next day to quitier seas but the engine was still humming away, so clearly we still hadn't hit land despite being due in the San Blas last night. I went up to check it out and to my surprise saw the San Blas islands littered all around in the distance. Tiny classic palm covered deserted islands. Very excited I ran to the hatch to shout down to Zoe "land ahoy!" and everyone came up on deck for our arrival at the Holandes island group. We dropped anchor and had lunch. Federico told us a little about the San Blas islands, home of the Kuna people who had originally inhabited the jungle covered coast but arrived on the islands by canoe when they were pushed out by some escaped slaves a few hundred years ago. Apparently when the US came to Panama they also fancied a slice of this paradise and declared war. Fearful of their future The Kuna sent out an ambassador to tell the world and succeeded in gaining enough international attention that they were able to declare themselves an independant nation under the protection of Panama and the US had to wander off with their tail between their legs. In the afternoon we swam off the back of the boat and found a passing coconut who was promptly named Wilson and then headed out on the launch to a nearby island to walk around and see some locals and their Mola (a local embroidery). Strangely enough I now found that I had sea legs and they weren't much use on land! Felt kind of queezy and wierd so after a classic 10 minutes walk around the entire island I got in the water and felt kind of better so I decided to swim back to the boat. Now I'm not really an ocean going kind of person and I really didnt'realise what I was getting into. I swam and swam and then the beautiful crystal green waters that had tempted me into thinking this might be a really nice idea turned dark blue and I really wasn't liking the feeling of wondering what was down there. Decided to turn back and then realised that unfortunately Zoe and Nir had heads the size of pins and yet I was still what seemed the same distance from the boat. Decided to plod on (albeit doing backstroke so I could pretend I wasn't really out swimming in the ocean). In the evening we took the launch off to an island for a little walk but were attacked my mosquitos and after I saw a seasnake and there were rumours of a shark we nipped back to the launch!?! Had more of Fecerico's fabulous cooking for dinner and then he broke out the rum and took us on the launch over to an island for a bonfire on the beach where everyone promptly fell asleep - must have been all that swimming!
Sunday 29th July
Federico hung up my hammock on deck...now this was the life! We just lazed about swinging in the sun and taking a dip when it got too hot. In the afternoon we moved on to another group of islands where we went out on the launch to the edge of the reef where the ocean waves were crashing down and went snorkelling. It was getting a bit choppy so we didn't stay long but unfortunately it didn't make for an easy way on to the boat and having been hauled in by a group of people and dumped on a pile of flippers and snorkels I was quite happy to get back. The rain came really strong and someone seemed to think as we were on shower water rations for the week it was a good a time as any to take a wash. So we all jumped in the water and get drenched in the storm. I couldn't actually beleive the boat was still anchored as when you let go of the rope or launch within seconds we were washed 12 feet away. When the weather cleared a local boat appeared alongside and Federico said that this man sold the best Mola in the San Blas. He also told us disturbingly that this man had been raised as a woman and he served as a protection for all the local girls by being given to men! I was really quite upset by this and yet he seemed such a happy little guy! He spent ages showing us all his work and we all bought some and I also got a traditional Kuna anklet. After that Zoe and I set about relaxing in hammocks again but I guess we must have been slightly too relaxed as we woke to find we had the boat to ourselves. We set about making ourselves at home with the stereo and jumped off the boat some more (I seem to have become addicted to that now!) and then had a fresh lobster dinner (bought from a passing fishing boat). Federico had thrown all the lobster bits of the back of the boat and told us the sharks would show up as they love it. When Marcella saw one I felt really quite sick - guess you actually have to be out in the ocean before you realise you don't like something like sharks! Attempted to sleep in the hammock on deck which started out fabulously with my walkman looking at the night sky...but it got a little cold.
Monday 30 July
Moved on to the island of Chichimae in the morning, quickly everyone's declared favourite. Zoe and I swam off to a big sand island and enjoyed standing up in the middle of the ocean. We then swam back past the yacht to Chichimae and snorkelled around the beaches where I was greeting with sloping sand covered in starfish. I snorkelled along the beach and around the corner of the island discovering the most perfect beach on earth! As I turned the corner I almost beached myself on the white sand in the shallow water that looked more like a swimming pool! We had to draw ourselves away to get back for lunch (passsed a rather poor old chained up monkey) and in the afternoon went to another island where we discovered the perfect palmtree (off course no-one else has ever been here so we're the first to discover it!). Then is was back again to the main island to enjoy our favourite beach until sunset. Again I attempted to sleep in my hammock, arming myself with a blanket but as the wind got up there is only so much swaying and bouncing off ropes you can do!
Tuesday 31st July
Got up from breakast and decided to go dive off the front of the boat, because well diving into an ocean is a bit of a challenge for me (don't want to head butt a shark and all that!). Unfortunately had a wardrobe malfunction and the second I hit the water suddenly felt a bit less dressed than I should have been. And what perfect timing, I'm spinning around in circles looking for the lost item when Federico comes out front to tie some ropes!?! In typical French fashion he asked if I had a problem but then said it wasn't really a problem for them at which point I started shouting 'Zoe'! Thankfully the fashionista came to my aid with some quickly thrown on clothing whilst Federico went in armed with a snorkel to look for my swimwear. Didn't think I could get any more embarrased at this point but then discovered my bikini top around my shorts when I got out of the water! So that was a great start to the day. The day continued however with more swimming, more eating and more lazying in the sun trying to really take in the view for the last day. Some passing fishermen sold us Octopus for dinner which (despite the improvements I have made this week is still a step too far!) and then we got a surprise extra bonfire night on the beach at which I went into major fire building mode dragging palm leaves from all over the island - great night to wear white trousers!
Wednesday 1 August
Woke up on the deck, the first time I had actually managed to sleep up there all night, albeit not actually in the hammock - just too swingy! Jumped straight in the water and had then got straight back in after the eggs breakfast. And that's how the day progressed really, generally bobbing about and even dangling off the rope at the back in the water even when Federico motored off to Porvenir customs control. In classic Latin American style they were actually closed for lunch so he came back to make us up a fresh fish dinner. When we finally had our paper work in order after the third attempt (as for some reason they had stamped us in and our of Panama on the same page!) we said our goodbyes to boat, crew and poodle and left on a local boat around 4pm for the 30 minute trip to an island where we expected to get the boat to the mainland. Unfortunately as it was late in the day there was no boat so we ended up being guests of a local man, hung our hammocks in a little hut and stayed in a lively village that was hosting a big coming of age party. Our man showed us around town, introduced us to some locals including one seemingly very important man (who kept telling us if we had any problems he has direct contact to the Panamanian President!), let us into the party hut where it was all going on with the drunkest women I have ever seen in my life, falling over each other giggling and passing out asleep. We got some dinner, enjoyed extremely public toilets (just a hole in a cabin stood out over the water), went back to the party to watch some dancing (I started to think it was going to go on until the last person was standing...literlly) and watched the stars on the pier before the town lights went out at 11pm. Just wish I had been in the state half the town was on the 'chica' they were drinking in which case I wouldn't have woken in my hammock every half an hour my a dog whacking his tail beneath me.
Got up at dawn to get the boat to the mainland which only took about half an hour. We came in up a river and passing locals on boats and villages on the river bank. It was finally dawning on me that I was in Central America now as the landscape was so much more lush and green than even Colombia had been. We climbed up the muddy banks to a 4x4 and set off on a very bumpy road inland. Good job we had got all our passport stamps properly at Porvenir as we encountered a further checkpoint when we got to a main road and we all hung around whilst the Argentinians had their passports checked. After a couple of hours we finally saw Panama City. The skyscrapers were quite a sight as we crossed a bridge over the Canal into the city centre. I think it's been over four months since I was in Buenos Aires that I have seen such modern surroundings.....there are McDonalds everywhere. Said goodbye to Pedro and Ezequel and then looked around for a hotel. None of us had a guide book but it didn't take long to realise we were in a kind of seedy area and when one bargain $10 room sign lured us in and we were told that was for an hour! We decided to head off somewhere else and at some point during all that we said goodbye to Michel so Nir, Zoe and I got a taxi up town to a hostel which I had to say was the strangest building I had ever been in as Zoe and I went up every floor in a lift and couldn't find reception!?! Giving up on that we took the taxi drivers suggestion Hotel Laguna where he went in with me to clarify it was $30 but as soon as he left the receptionist upped that to $40! Too tired to be bothered arguing we checked in and promptly set off to find a launderette. That somehow wound up with Zoe and I on a bus out of Panama on the road to the other side on the peninsula!?! So after getting off who knows where and getting a burger we headed back to town in an attempt to find our hotel. Caught up with Nir later in the day and we all went off for an all mod cons night out...dinner and movie. Unfortunately I had two Transformers fans on my hands so personally I preferred the Italian restaurant part of the night!