A Travellerspoint blog


Moving Continents

Cartegena to Panama City

sunny 32 °C

I have a new ambition in life (for when I grow up of course). It's to get me a dog and a yacht and sail around the world. A couple of obstacles. 1. It seems I have a wee small problem with with sea sickness. 2. Apparently you need a lot of money to buy one of these yachts and I don't have have any! I'm working on both.
Yep, you've guessed it, I've just been sailin'. Two (horrendous) days on the high seas, and then four amazing days sailing around the beautiful San Blas islands off the Panama carribean coast. Gill and I met our captain Fredricko (a nice French/Brazilian man) in Cartegena yacht club and set up to sail from Cartegena to Panama. We got a pretty good deal. We got six days instead of the usual 5 that most other boats seemed to offer as well as drinks (alcohol and soft drinks that most other boats charge extra for). The day we went to meet him, I was feeling unwell and within about 2 minutes of setting foot on the boat, had my head over the side...not a good sign of things to come! The next day we went back to pass over our passports (so he could sort out immigration for us) and a deposit, and he told us he wanted to leave a day earlier than planned. So that didn't leave us a lot of time in Cartegena and meant we had to miss out on our planned mud wrestling in the volcano - damn! Oh well, it meant an extra day for me in Central America.
We met early the morning of departure and introduced ourselves to our travelling companions for the next 6 days. There was the Captain, Fredricko, his Colombian wife Claudia, deckhand Marcel (who we later found out was Claudia's sister), Pedro and Ezequiel from Argentina, Mickael from France and Nir from Israel. Oh, and Reina, Fredrickos tiny little black poodle!
Ok, so the first two days weren't much fun. I have been sea sick before (on a particularly rough whale watching trip in New Zealand) and had heard that this part of the trip can be a bit rough and a lot of people get sea sick. But I was told it was worth it to see the San Blas islands. And having not really been sailing before, I didn't know what to expect. I took some ginger tablets and decided to sleep most of the morning in my cabin. I rose for lunch and that's when the problems began. It appeared that being vertical didn't agree with me and whilst everyone else was enjoying their lunch of salad and freshly caught sashimi barracuda, I was bent over the back of the boat bringing up my breakfast! Nice. Back to bed and then a repeat performance at dinner time. At this point, a storm seemed to be rolling in. The sky was threatingly dark, being lit up with spectacular lightening, and the sea was getting bigger by the second. The only option was to get back to bed and sleep it out.
The next day, I awoke to find the storm gone, but my sea sickness was still very much with me. I decided it would be best to spend the day lying down, but I wanted to lie up deck and as I could only stand up a few minutes before the nausea set in, this had to be done in stages. Get dressed, lie back down, go to the bathroom, lie back down, crawl up deck, lie down...you get the picture! I spent the entire day lying down up deck praying for land, only raising my head to watch the schools of dolphins that came to play beside the boat. We were supposed to reach the islands that afternoon, but as we went to bed (after I actually managed a small dinner), land was still no where in sight.
I awoke the next day to a very early rising, excited Gill, exclaiming "land ahoy!" Thank god for that! We sat up on deck in the early morning light as we neared our first destination in the San Blas, the Holandes islands. They were picture perfect tiny islets covered in palm trees, circled in white powdery sands and ringed in turquiose water. Paradise found.
The San Blas islands, otherwise known as the Kuna islands, are the home to the Kuna indians and have a rather sweet story behind them (and also some rather scary ones about island incest, but I won't go into that!) Originally habinats of the jungle covered coast, they were pushed to the islands by some rather agressive escaped slaves some 500 years ago. They came by canoe and set up homes on the islands. In the beginning of the last century when the US came to Panama, they also discovered the islands and decided they would like a bit of this paradise also. The Kuna people decided, "no more", they had lost their home once before and weren't about to let it happen again. So they declared war on the US and sent out an ambassador around the world the tell of their plight. With international pressure they won their war and declared themselves an independant sovereign under the protection of Panama. (This story was told to me by our captain, so I have no idea how accurate it is, but thought it was a nice story!)
Days on the boat were spent a little like this. Rise early morning to move onto deck, taking time only to change into bikini and slather myself in sunscreen. Go for a swim whilst a breakkie of eggs is being cooked. Get back on the boat for breakfast and jump back into water as soon as finished eating. Take back up position on deck for a little sunbathing before getting into dinghy to head to nearby island for some time on the beach and swimming in the beautiful, crystal clear, warm, shallow waters that surround them. Swim back to the boat for more lounging on deck. Locals would come to us by canoe to sell their wares, some days it was Mola (amazing embroidered peices of cloth that they use to make blouses of, but westerners put on their walls!) or lobsters or octupus for our dinner - this was my idea of shopping! In the afternoon, we'd start having a few beers in the lead up to dinner, where we would have a few more beers and then maybe a couple of rums. Some nights we headed to one of the islands for a bon fire, others we just spent on deck, chatting and listening to music. The food was amazing. Fredricko was a great cook and we had gourmet salads, of papaya and lobster and octupus pasta to name but a couple of his amazing dishes. Now, this is the life!
On day five, I found my perfect beach. I have been looking for this beach my whole life. Coming from Australia, we are a bit spoilt for beaches and I have to say that whilst travelling, I haven't been able to find a beach yet that literally takes your breath away. But on Chichime island, as I walked around it's tiny circumference, I literally did have my breath taken away. This beach was perfect in every way. From it's white, fine powdery sand, to it's lilting palm tree studded shores to the perfectly clear warm waters, I felt like I literally had walked into paradise. I felt extremely lucky and privelaged as I spent the day swimming on this beach.
As day six approached, Gill and lamented our return to the mainland, we really didn't want to leave this paradise we had been so lucky to spend the last four days in. Everything about the trip had been amazing, except of course for the sea sickness, which was already well and truly forgetten. We'd had pretty good weather (one afternoon of rain, which didn't seem to matter as we swam in the sea amongst the storm), an amazing boat and very good company. As we left the boat, whisked away by some locals to the coast, we didn't know that our adventure was no quite over yet. We were pretty late getting away that afternoon and we arrived at the place to catch our final boat to the mainland where we were supposed to meet a car to take us to Panama City, we were told it was too late and we'd have to spend the night in a Kuna village. There was some kind of coming of age fiesta going on in the village, which was basically a bunch of women getting extremely drunk (and I mean extremely drunk, falling over yourself, falling asleep on strangers kinda drunk!) on chicha (alcohol made of corn) and then some dancing later on in the evening. We were introduced to all the important people of the village and had dinner, a few beers and watched the fiesta before heading to bed in our hammocks. We arose early the next day to get a boat and then a 4w4 and then a van to Panama City. After a long journey we finally arrived and said our goodbyes, a great adventure over.

Arriving at the islands
Swimming with our beers
Swimming in the rain
Floating shops!
The perfect beach
Me at perfect beach
All of us on the boat
having dinner
me and Reina
the boys and "wilson"
jumping off the boat
in the village
Dancing Kuna's

Posted by zedgee 07:05 Archived in Panama Comments (1)

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