Roaming the random header image

Dugout Canoes and Mobile Phones

May 9th, 2009 · No Comments

Trip from St Lucia to the San Blas Islands took eight days, we had to slow down toward the end so that we would not arrive in darkness. Weather was kind to us, we did sail a hundred miles out from the Columbian coast trying to avoid the notorious rough seas,(apparently in the top five of rough seas passages in the world) you never know whether it makes any difference or not though. And if you have read David’s daily updates for this trip you will know that we lost the windpilot rudder.

However let me tell you about the San Blas Islands Panama they are wonderful, amazing reef strewn string of islands, which we did not do justice to. You could stay for months and some cruisers do. We arrived in the morning just as the sun was rising (no maidens calling sorry). Ten miles or so out we started the watermaker to top up our tanks and to warm the water for our shower, before arriving. Breakfast of fresh fruit, oats and home made yoghurt, now we are ready to communicate with officials in Porvenir. Porvenir is where you sign in and pay for your cruising permit.

. This is where you land if you come by aircraft. There is not a lot here, an island hotel, mola shop, and the customs offices etc The next island however, has no room to swing a cat the meowing type not the sailing sort you can see the corrugated structure on the left overhanging the sea, you don’t want to tie up there! Big welcome sign, there is one shop and lots of houses and everyone selling molas.

The San Blas islands are occupied by the Kuna Indians, they are peaceful, non aggressive and crime of any form is extremely rare in Kuna Yala. Each village has three Sailas, who have the highest authority at village level, they meet in the equivalent of the village hall

in the evening to discuss any problems or anything to do with the running of the village. Three Caciques rule the nation as a whole. They control this area of Panama.

We motor from Porvenir to Lemmon Cays not far, but not in a straight line. Your course is determined by the colour of the water, not the chart or the chart plotter. Not all of the reefs are marked on the chart, the ones that are not necessarily in the correct place so you only move in day light when you can make your own course.

We do have a wonderful pilot book but even with that we would not move at night.

Lemmon Cays, A small group of islands with a well protected anchorage, we anchor behind a South African boat. Three islands around us, the first is uninhabited, on the second, one family, who sell beer and coke from their fridge and the third island, where backpackers from the mainland come for the day and return to the mainland at night..

We spend our week there, in one spot, just because it is so beautiful, we swim and snorkel which is incredible with coral of every colour, and fish that want to have a closer look at you. We BBQ on the deserted island,

after asking permission of course, with our new friends well into the evening.. We collect shells, sea hearts, and donkey eyes, don’t worry it’s just the name for a seed from a plant, a plant which grows, releases its seed and it is taken by currents to distant shores, most of the beans start of life in the Amazon, South or Central America and end up around the Caribbean or as far away as Scotland or Ireland. They have been used for all sorts of things, and are apparently very lucky.

The mainstay of the Kuna economy is the coconut, every coconut belongs to someone, even if it is on the ground on a deserted island. The Kuna sell them to the Columbians, each year they agree a set price so everyone gets a fair deal. The Kuna women make and sell molas, fabric panels, each design is different some abstract some showing plants, marine life or animals. The fabric is layered, some of the fabric is cut away reverse appliqué, and sometimes little bits are appliquéd on. All hand stitched with tiny stitches, work which must take some time to do and they sell them for a very reasonable price. You can probably tell I’ve bought some!

The mola ladies come in the dug out canoes with what feels like a thousand for you to; look at. When you have seen enough you have to be firm and tell them so. Our other Kuna visitor to the boat was the local fisherman, who would come by every day to see if we wanted something from his catch, fresh fish is not easy to pass by, especially when the fresh meat has run out. So we would usually have something from him. As the week went by and he got to know us the price of the fish went down, but he also felt happy to ask us to charge his mobile phone, the first day we had one phone then sometimes we got two in the bag and they were always dead, not a spark of life in them. Face to face communication was tricky, although some kunas speak some Spanish, they have their own language, but a smile goes a long way and we managed most things.

We have had such a great week here, met other really interesting cruisers, with lots of great tips and common interests, felt we got to know the local culture and people a little bit. It was extremely safe and relaxing.

Would I come here again. What do you think?

Link to gallery

Tags: Atlantic Leg