Alan and Jean sharing our cruising news with friends, family.

20 July 2015 | Rabi Island Fiji
29 June 2015 | Suva Fiji
18 December 2013 | Auckland
05 December 2013 | Auckland
27 October 2013 | Vavau Tonga
12 September 2013 | Samoa
24 July 2013 | Moorea, Tahiti
19 July 2013 | Papeete
19 June 2013 | Nuka Hiva
02 June 2013 | Pacific Ocean
29 May 2013 | Pacific Ocean
24 May 2013 | Eastern Pacific Ocean
19 May 2013 | Western Pacific Ocean
16 May 2013 | Western Pacific Ocean
13 May 2013 | Isla Isabella
06 May 2013 | Isla Isabella
08 April 2013 | Shelter Bay marina, Colon.
28 March 2013 | Belize
27 March 2013 | Belize
03 March 2013 | Panamarina, Panama

Cartagena to San Blas

25 February 2013 | San Blas Islands

Alan enjoying fresh mango in Plaza de los Coches25th February 2013

We are now anchored in the gorgeous San Blas Islands, off the Caribbean coast of Panama. These islands are very hard to find in an Atlas, they are tiny dots on the sea running east from Punta San Blas( approx 50 miles east of Colon) to the Columbian border. For many years I have read accounts from cruisers extolling the beauty of the area but couldn't find them on an Atlas, I eventually tracked them down on our electronic charts. The outer islands where we are cruising are surrounded by reefs and clear water. The islands closer to the Panamanian coast have murkier water, negotiating the reefs is more difficult. Our time is limited, we have decided to stay with the blue water and sandy islands. The constant deep rumble of the waves on the outer reef and the whirr of the wind generator do not detract from the overall impression of peace and calm. Calm as the Kuna when negotiating the sale of lobster from a dugout canoe leaking enough water to keep their produce swimming.

Late Friday afternoon we left the busy port of Cartagena, out the main entrance of Boca Chica. We paused to give way to a huge container ship in the entrance and sailed 200 miles into a completely different world at Coco Banderos, our first islands in the San Blas. Little sandy islands covered in palms surrounded by clear blue sea, it had been so long since we had been in such a setting. The Eastern Caribbean had not come up to expectations as far as sandy islands and palm trees were concerned at last this is post card Caribbean. Except fortunately its not an easy place to get too, no hotels just sailboats and the odd tent if you can find your way here. After the anchor was set, we looked around us and one of us commented that we had got here safely even though we had left port on a Friday. Leaving a country on a Friday is meant to be bad luck. The weather was due to worsen so we decided to risk the Friday departure, reasoning that as a NZ ship we would be on NZ time therefore it would be Saturday morning when we left. The other option was that we would probably be in Columbian waters until the next morning. Neither of us checked that one out in case we were wrong!

Cartagena had been a good stop, we walked the lovely old city which on first impressions seemed a bit like a theme park. Horse and carriages full of tourists, women dressed up in bright dresses selling fruit, emerald shop touts and panama hat stalls every few metres. After a few visits into the old city we grew to like it a little more, we enjoyed sitting in the plazas watching the world go by. In Plaza de Bolivar we rested our weary feet and watched the children chasing after shimmering bubbles before they popped on the green hedges. Sitting there looking around the people I realized that this wasn't just a tourist trap it is also a living city. There were families using the cool of the late afternoon to chat, watch children play and catch up with the neighbours.

On the corner of Plaza de la Aduna and Plaza de los Coches we had a beer or two and as the sun set the world came alive. Horse carriages taking people off to dinner, sweet and cigarette vendors doing the rounds with their small tray of goods, a hat man with a stack of hats balanced on his head, families out for a stroll. A group on a photography tour set up cameras, too busy fiddling with buttons and tripods to really appreciate the atmosphere they were trying to capture. Men young and old paused in their discussions to glance appreciatively as young women tottered over the cobbles in their impossibly high heels and brightly coloured equally impossibly tight jeans. Salsa music floated out over the square from the bar and from where we sat we could see a couple dancing on a small square of floor. They were oblivious of anyone else, lost in a world of salsa. Such a different scene from slave trading times, when thousands of slaves were bought and sold just a few cobble stones away in the Plaza de los Coches.

On the church steps of Plaza de Trinidad we shared a takeout tray of arepa de pollo, shredded chicken, sausage and salad on a cornmeal patty covered in mayonnaise and melted cheese. For our cholesterol sake we pushed most of the cheese to one side. We didn't want to offend the street vendor by refusing the cheese on this national dish besides our Spanish is not even close to being adequate to say," I don't want the cheese por favor ". On Sunday afternoon we watched small boys playing soccer and then a group of young girls arrived wearing roller skates but before any of the girls were able to put a roller on the square the boys said clear off this is ours today�...in Spanish of course. The girls clattered off down the road perhaps towards another plaza, a bit too easily given in I thought. But then I guess a standoff in front of a church on a Sunday would not go down well in a fairly religious Columbia.

Whilst wandering between plazas we spotted a familiar face, a young German who had approached us in the Canary Islands for a crewing position across the Atlantic and he was on our short list. We had last seen him in the Caribbean, none of us could remember exactly where, but here we all were in Cartagena, such a small world. Two days later on our way back to Tuatara past our favourite Plaza de Trinidad and there he was again, eating his dinner. We all agreed that maybe we might see each other next in New Zealand, a few streets further on I realized he had no way of contacting us if he ever did get to NZ. Never mind if we can have a random meeting in Columbia then I think it is quite possible to happen in NZ as well.

On our last day we decided we really did need to find that extension USB cable we had been talking about for a while, we asked advice from a semi permanent yachtie, of which there seem to be quite a few in and around the Marina or anchorage. He directed us to a building we had walked past many times and not really looked at. It was a mall of sorts, perhaps a warren of narrow passages and small shops is a better description. It didn't take us long to buy our cable even with our limited Spanish. If in doubt pronounce the word with a Spanish accent and they may understand�... it worked with extension! The shops were an incongruous mix of computer/electronic related businesses and ladies hair dressers with a few snack bars here and there. There was also one hat shop where we think we got a good bargain buying two panama hats, certainly cheaper than in tourist land a few blocks away. The hat man directed us to another building behind the park which would sell us reading glasses, we wanted to trade them here in the San Blas, no luck so far as the dollar is more popular. Behind the park, across the road between two trucks with bellowing cattle, we found another "mall" this time small shops full of mobile phones and glasses with once again some snack bars, shopping is thirsty work. I am not sure what the thing is with phones in Cartagena, there seem to be many many places to buy a phone and recharge a phone but there also lots of people hiring out mobile phones for people to use on the street. The phones are attached to the wall on string and people sit there and use them, no such thing as a private conversation as the renter sits close by keeping an eye on the phone Cartagena is not just about the old city, we took a bus around to Boca Grande, the isthmus of sky scrapers we could see across from the anchorage. This is modern touristville, where the holidaymakers are mostly Columbians enjoying a seaside break. The long stretch of sandy beach was very windy the day we went, the rough sea keeping the beach guards busy making sure people did not venture too far into the waves. Amongst the tourist shops filled with t-shirts, bags, even more hats and dust gathering ornaments we got done, conned. We would like to think it was a mistake but probably not. We have often bought music CDs and Movie DVDs off street vendors, and we thought 3 music CDs full of salsa and other Columbian delights would be great and at about $10NZ for the 3,why not. Got back, put them in the stereo and no music, try the next, no music, the 3rd�....you guessed it no music!! So that was a $10 donation!!! I guess there is a first time for everything!! We noted that next time get them played before we buy�....that is if we remember. Here in Kuna Yala, the Kuna name for the San Blas area, you get what you see when you buy something. The Kuna seem to only have two things for sale, fresh sea food or Molas. More of that next time, I need to send this by Sailmail so short is best also no photos, internet is about 4 days away. Hasta Luego
Vessel Name: Tuatara
Vessel Make/Model: Alan Wright 51
Hailing Port: Opua NZ
Crew: Alan and Jean Ward

Sailing in the Pacific

Who: Alan and Jean Ward
Port: Opua NZ