Las Perlas Islands, Panama
27 March 2018
If you have watched “Survivor,” “Naked and Afraid,” or “Dual Survivor” you have seen a lot of the Las Perlas Islands, Panama. This group of about 100 islands is only 40 miles south of Panama City but feels like an island wilderness and paradise. Very few of the islands are inhabited leaving plenty of desolate and pristine spots for these shows. We are anxious to head off to Galapagos or we would be spending a lot more time here. Contadora Islands does have plush resort hotels but there aren't many other places for tourists here....unless you come by boat. Calm anchorages are everywhere.
We made a quick trip here before our return to Ohio for Dad's memorial service. We returned here to get ready for the jump to Galapagos and on to Marquesas. But a watermaker hose blew. I had to fly back to Panama City, get a new hose made, spend the night and return to Contadora. Now this essential part of our survival equipment is working fine.
This is our first introduction to the Pacific Ocean. So far, mixed reviews. It's cold! Well, colder than the Caribbean. I bet the water temp is mid-70s. Caribbean is mid-80s. It is also a bit murky due to a lot of plankton in the water. Tides are 14 feet, something else new to Uproar. Between islands there can be some wicked currents caused by the tides. But the beaches and vistas are fantastic. These rugged islands have rocky coves that offer great protection from the gentle, Pacific breezes.
There is some history here besides reality TV. One beach has a 100 year old wrecked submarine! The US built runways on several islands during WWII. The guide book mentions pre-Columbian pottery on the beaches but we haven't found any (saw a lot on Nevis). My return flight from Panama City stopped on Isle San Jose before Contadora. I had no idea there was another stop and was surprised when the Cessna Caravan (turbo-prop 12 seater) descended onto a tiny runway. The cruising guide mentions that San Jose is privately owned. It does mention that cruisers can hike the many roads put in by the owner.
The owner's son, Mark was on the plane with me. We chatted while the plane was being unloaded with food and supplies for the island. They actually have a small hotel and restaurant on the island, Hacienda Del Mar. He invited us to anchor in their bay and dine at their restaurant. Rooms are cottages and they charge per cottage between $180 and $300/night. Four can sleep in the cottages. Trip Advisor gives it high reviews. Mark said it is a paradise to live there. The island is quite large. He has a cattle operation and the many roads and runway were courtesy of the USA. They did have to pave the runway several years ago. There are deer and lots of wildlife on the island. June through October, they can see whales right from their bar.
The best story Mark told me was that there was a German couple who lived on their boat, in a bay on SJ for 45 years! They would sail to Panama once/year to haul the boat, paint the bottom and service the equipment but just lived in that bay full time. His dad gave them several Hectares of land for growing vegetables and they eventually moved onto land. But they lived a reclusive life. When he died, his widow left the island. Mark and his dad visited their camp for the first time. He said it was a real live Robinson Crusoe camp. They later figured out that the guy was a Nazi officer hiding from wartime prosecution. Great story!
There are several small, fishing villages in Las Perlas. Houses are crude, concrete with corrugated roofs. Esmeralda is one town we visited that was supposed to have a store. Well, it was sort-of-a store. A few cans, squashed tomatoes but no onions. The minute we landed our dinghy on their beautiful beach, we were surrounded by a dozen children. They helped us drag the dinghy up the beach, safely away from the rising tide. They followed us everywhere. Lisa was a bit intimidated by them. Some of the pre-teenage girls just couldn't stop looking at Lisa. We went looking for a welder because Chris on Skabenga needed a pin for his anchor roller welded. Miguel said he could do it. On our walk through town, the kids were asking us questions....in Spanish of course. We could answer some but didn't understand a lot of what they were saying. As we left Miguel's house, I felt a little hand in mine. I looked down and a girl, about 4 years old was holding my hand, looking up at me. I proudly held her hand for a block until she scooted off. That was just the day before I became a grandpa! Yes, Liz and Victor had a baby boy, Harlan on March 24.
Chris and I returned the next day with his boat project. Miguel did weld a washer on the end of the pin. The work was crude but he had only a small, stick welder to use. He wouldn't take any money for the job. I brought a few soccer balls and some colored pencils to give away. I made it clear the balls were to share and they understood. Strangely, we had only boys following us around. Without Lisa, the girls stayed away....except for the one girl who stared at Lisa the previous day. She came by and I gave her the colored pencils. She seemed pleased. As Chris and I were leaving, one of the boys came up to me and whispered, “gracious.” I smiled, “denada.”