21 May 2011
Yesterday at 8am, Justino arrived in his dug out canoe - an ulu - to take us on a trip up the River Mandinga - Mark and Whit were in the dinghy, towing the rest of us in the canoe towards the river. Once we were in the river, we all rowed up river and then had a walk through the rainforest. Loads of beautiful butterflies and a squirrel but no sloths or monkeys which we were hoping for. Lochy took the walk in his stride, this being what he wants to do when he is older - save animals and live in a jungle. Mia was rather distracted by the several midgey bites she had all over her legs and eventually I had to suggest to Justino that we made our way back to the canoe, as I think he would have walked all day! We passed a pineapple crop tended by the local Kuna school and also, children were collecting large blue crabs for dinner.
Once back on the canoe, Whit took over the rowing from Mark, and somehow, they took a little longer to emerge from the river than we did; Whit reckoned that they went back to look at some wildlife, but I did see them do an inexplicable 360 degree turn just after Whit took over!
An enforced siesta after lunch and then Justino invited us onto his island to see his home and meet his wife and kids. We didn't take our camera as the Kuna are camera shy, but it was fascinating to look around his island which is home to 9 families. Justino showed us the water pipes and taps that are in place ready for fresh water which hopefully in June will be connected from the mainland.
So, an interesting day in Kuna Yala. Mark has looked at the bottom of the boat and, whilst there are some scratches, it was a very slow grounding and so the damage is not too bad. Today, we will check out of the San Blas islands and then leave at 6pm so as to arrive in Colon at first light.
It's abit weird. When we arrived in the anchorage we had chosen, we noticed that there were no dinghies attached to the many surrounding yachts, no-one around on their yachts and no flags on any of the yachts. It's like a ghost town anchorage. Now either there has been a party on shore that we didn't know about, which is unlikely because the Kunas like visitors to be off the islands after dark or.... or..... or....well, I just don't know. There are only three islands in the vicinity and there was no sign of life or dinghies on the beach. So, after going snorkelling for a little bit after school and still not seeing anyone, Lochy Whit and I decided to explore the islands. The first we approached had a vicious looking dog barking as we approached "let's try another island!" The next had a sign saying "private property" in English, which is strange as there is supposedly no private property in San Blas. The third one, we landed on. It looked from a distance a very beautiful idyllic island. As we approached we could see that the beach was made up almost entirely of rubbish, plastic bottles and flip flops. Really upsetting to see how spoiled these islands have become. We continued with our exploring until we noticed we were getting bitten alive by no-see-ums at which point we beat a hasty retreat, then realising why there were so many flipflops on the beach - probably left behind as visitors rushed to get off the beach and back into their dinghy.
This has been the first day where I have needed to sleep in front of a fan at lunchtime just because it is so darn hot. After lunch, we headed back to Isla Elsie as tomorrow we are going on a river tour with a Kuna - Justino - who advised us the quickest way to get to his island. As we approached, we were flagged down by four Kunas who had run out of petrol (or were just looking for a tow to save petrol) As we towed them towards the island, we hit an underwater reef (not a pretty one - just a bunch of rocks) at which point the Kunas jumped into the water and standing up to their waists, pushed us back off the reef and into the deeper water. Hopefully no damage done (except to our pride) but we will need to check fully tomorrow as the sun was setting as we dropped anchor and were accosted by about four boats selling molas and asking us to charge their mobile phones.
I'm really annoyed that we hit the underwater reef as we have been super careful with our navigation, however, the light was low and I guess we shouldn't have taken the advise of someone whose boat draws about 50 cms!! Whilst we were abit peed off at first that the men might be taking the mick, asking for a tow, in the end we were so grateful that they were there as they didn't hesitate to jump in the water and push us off and then one of them came aboard and navigated us through the narrow channel safely into deeper water. Current position: 9.31.15N 79.03.27W
We've arrived in the picturesque San Blas islands - a vast archipelago of coconut tree strewn islands. But don't think of taking a coconut - the local Kuna indians have all their coconuts accounted for and until recently used them as currency. Obviously the US dollar has become more attractive now as all transactions today have been in US dollars; whether it be the beautiful molas for sale, or the Panama cruising permit, a snip at $193 for the year, regardless of whether you stay one year or one week.
This afternoon we visited Dog island which has a sunken cargo ship on the beach, which has become a magnet for fish - that was pretty spectacular, and then Mia was delighted to find a sand dollar, which we hadn't even heard of til Steve Manning educated us! Google it. Now we are in the Lemmon Cays looking forward to snorkelling tomorrow on the extensive reef here.
However, despite the fact that we are in apparent paradise, Mark is stressed. The rudder is working fine, but is making a noise that it shouldn't be. We think it's a loose bearing whic we'll need to fix in Colon. Also the AIS aerial isn't trransmitting as it did, the water filter has slowed done considerably and needs attention and the starboard engine is taking its time going into gear. Now Whit might have been very good as an insurance broker, but handy with the tools he is not (and that's self confessed, not me going behind his back!) COnsequently, Mark can't rest on his laurels and is still working on some of the jobs on his list. It's true that a boat owner's job is never done. And to boot, there is no wind. So it's hot. Poor Mark' maybe a trip up the Clyde would have been more his cup of tea!
17 May 2011
Apologies for not posting my blog yesterday; I wrote it, but forgot to send it! It's been exceptionally calm today (apart from Lochy starting his school work after a few days' hiatus) with dolphins interrupting our maths work for half an hour. Just a beautiful day, if only there was a little bit of wind. It's blowing a little now, so we are motor sailing under the hugest reddest full moon - glorious! We have made good progress. Sometimes there is a current that goes against boats heading this direction, but at the moment there is little current, if anything, a little in our direction, helping us on our way, so we should be in San Blas (Porvenir) in the morning, earlier than anticipated. Current posn: 09.48.71N 77.48.39W
Back on the road again. Mark, Whit and the kids provisioned in the lovely supermarket not 100 metres from the dinghy dock, whilst I waded through some laundry in an attempt to rid our clothes and sheets of that salty feeling. Every time I hung some clothes out, it started to rain, but eventually the sun came out for half an hour and everything dried in that short time. Mark went to the bank to change some pesos into dollars in preparation for Panama, which was an event in itself as he needed his passport and then of course didn't have a stamp for the country, so couldn't change his money. Luckily, Oliver (our fellow yachtie with lots of information that we visited yesterday) was walking past and changed it for us (which was so lucky as otherwise we would have been stuck with several thousand pesos - OK just a couple of hundred dollars but still not the currency we needed in Panama), though it made Mark and I feel like we should head off fairly quickly given that our 24 hours were just about up.
So now, it's a beautiful full moon. There's no wind and so we are motoring, but the wind didn't look like it was going to pick up for over a week and apparently there is always a gale gusting out of Cartegena so we thought we'd make the most of a quiet weather window, even though motoring isn't much fun. However, it's calm and Cartegena is just a few twinkly lights behind us now. 200Nms to Porvenir, the island one checks into for San Blas, so it'll take us approx 2 days, give or take a few hours. Current posn: 10.17.52N 75.58.70W
05/16/2011, Cartegena, Columbia
Arrived at first light, catching a Spanish mackerel on the way in (he wasn't going for the lure; we just caught his fin!) Not huge, but enough for dinner. As we arrived in the bay, there was a torrential downpour, so we hung about a bit waiting for enough visibility to see the channel markers. Having re-fueled, we asked about customs and immigration. It seems you need an agent here and the diesel man set us up with 'his man' who we spoke to on the phone and who was reluctant to come out because it was a Sunday. Thus keeping up the tradition of always arriving in a country on a Sunday in the rain! However, he reassured us that if we left within 24 hours, we needn't check in, we could go to the supermarkets and then head off.
After getting the directions of the nearest supermarket from a fellow yachtie, he told us we couldn't go without seeing the old town, so off we trooped in the taxi (costing 5000 peso - I think about US$2). I'm really pleased we went. There are very few cars inside the wall, but lots of horse drawn carriages. Given that the kids had just been on a boat for 7 days straight, we treated them to a little horse drawn carriage tour of the city. A beautiful beautiful place. I could have stayed for hours longer soaking in the atmosphere had Lochy not been hankering to get back to the boat and if I didn't have a banging headache. Unfortunately my camera batteries died as we arrived, so didn't get many shots. However, many beautiful buildings with arches, balconies, shutters, loads of statues everywhere (traditional and modern) and musicians, may favourite being the lone trumpeter making the most of the acoustics in the city square.
Oh, I almost forgot, just in case people were wondering about the scantily dressed men on the tower on my facebook page, the local yacht club were taking photos for their 2012 calendar - couldn't resist snapping 'January!!'