San Blas Islands
25 March 2009 | Colon, Panama
We finally made it to San Blas 15 days after leaving Bequia. We had arranged to meet James and Marilyn (Cobbett) there and finally met up in Chicheme Cays on St Patrick's Day. Pat and Pauline Cronin and their friend, Connor, were also with them, the boys having just done some caving out in the jungle somewhere, and Pauline had come for the last couple of weeks to do the sailing bit. We celebrated St Pat's Day well! No Guinness but Pauline provided hats and badges and shamrock transfers and Marilyn had plenty of white wine at $2 per litre! Tasted great at the time but gave me a 48 hour headache unrelieved by paracetamol!
For those of you who don't know (and that included me up to about 6 months ago), the San Blas Islands are a vast archipelago off Panama's Caribbean coast. There are over 300 little islands, about 50 of which are inhabited by the Kuna Indians. They live exactly as they have always done (with the addition of a satellite dish on a couple of the bigger ones which also have a school and a clinic). The men make dugout canoes and fish every morning or paddle to the mainland where they grow vegetables and fruit. The women make molas, sort of appliquéd designs of toucans or fish or turtles which they sell to the tourists. The men wear western clothes but the women still dress in traditional dress with embroidered blouses and leggings and the older ones have a gold stud through their nose. They were all incredibly friendly and, although it could get quite busy with them all coming over to the boat to sell molas or fish or lobster, they didn't hassle you. Pauline bought a mola off everyone and will probably set up her own shop back in Doolin!! The women are in charge of the money and, when they marry, the men move into the women's family compound. If the women want a divorce, they just move the man's belongings out of the hut and he has to go back to his parents!! (I can't help but think this might suit our society!!). Incidentally they are also apparently one of the smallest races after the pygmies. The men only reach about 5' and the women even smaller! Pauline was thrilled to not be the smallest for a change!
James was brilliant as usual and worked out our itinerary so that we would get a real flavour of the Islands. We left Chicheme Cays and went to Cocos Banderos on the second day which was a stunning little island with a bit of barbeque area where we took food and beer and had dinner on the beach. Fantastic evening listening to the waves and trying to spot the different constellations. The next night was spent in Cam Bombia which is inhabited by a couple of families. Marilyn had brought some of her grand-daughter's old clothes for the babies and a copy of Ola! Magazine (or should that be Mola!) They all ask for magazines which I found really weird. I now have visions of them sitting in their huts, breast feeding the baby and saying 'What does Paris Hilton think she's wearing??!" The last island we visited was Gunboat Island where we had one of the best snorkels I've ever had. Clouds of Chromis surrounding you for 50-60 metres plus masses of brightly coloured wrasse and sergeant major fish, trumpet fish, parrotfish, barracuda, sea anenomes and black sea urchins with red and purple insides. Stunning!
It was such a shame to leave but we wanted to get through the canal whilst we still have Joe and Pete with us so are now in Colon (yes, it is the as***le of the world!) We drove by the canal yesterday and it's HUGE and quite scary. We have had to get an agent who organises everything for us like providing line handlers and huge tyres to use as fenders (you go through with a cargo boat and these are just in case you get crushed against the sides!) It's going to cost $940 plus a $600 bond which we get back in a few weeks time if we don't have any problems going though, like the engine stopping and having to be towed out!! We go through strapped to one or two other yachts and it takes two days. We will have a date and time soon and I can put it on here, so you could watch us live on the Panama Canal website should you wish to! For those of you with a nervous disposition, Andy is planning to do a 'front row salute' so I suggest you keep your children and pets well away from the screen. Jxxx