26 October 2010 | West Lemmons
SAN BLAS 23rd September to 28th October 2010
These islands are picture postcard material. Islands covered in palm trees, white coral sand and beautiful clear waters with amazing coral reefs to snorkel. An abundance of fish, rays, and sharks. Home to the Kuna Indians who effectively control this quarter of Panama. They have preserved their tradition and culture for the most part except for a few villages, Nargana being an example. They are peaceful people and live life simply. The women row in their ulu's ( dugout canoes )to sell their molas, mostly hand sewn. A mola is part of the Kuna Yala women's traditional dress, a blouse with two reverse appliqued panels front and back. The panels have between two to five layers of cloth with different colours being cut away and embroidered to form the patterns. There were some excellent traditional designs and also some more modern designs catering to the tourists. Mostly Spanish spoken though the men often had a smattering of English, some having been educated and/or have worked in Panama city. The women on the islands all wore traditional dress with gold nose rings, gold earrings, headscarves, patterned wrapped skirts, arm and legs beads. I have bought quite a few.
And the men are out early in the morning fishing and then come past the boats to sell their catch. It seems that cell phones and computers are making their way in even though there is no electricity on the outer islands, thus many a cell phone has been brought to us in the morning to charge batteries.
Our time in Coco Banderos was spent snorkeling on the various reefs, happy hours on the beach around a big bonfire, night snorkeling for Vossie( I gave that one a miss due to shark feeding time.) and social evenings with friends. In fact knowing so many people in that anchorage we had a torrid social life.
A few trips in the dingy to Nargana ( 4 miles away )to top up fresh veg and beers when the weather was good and the supply boats from Columbia and Panama had come in. No supply boat equates to no veges. After 2 weeks of this hard life it was time to move on to Nargana for a few days to buy some diesel so we upped anchor and motored to Nargana and anchored near the end of the small runway which is serviced by Air Panama light aircraft. The small aircraft and boats is the only access between the cities and the islands as there are no roads into this area. It was also unfortunate that there was no garbage control here and the anchorage was the garbage dump which spoilt the scene a little. We did a trip up the Rio Diablo by dinghy. There was a constant stream of ulus going up the river to fetch fresh water or for families to go and have a fresh water swim. This was an interesting outing and you were transported from the sea into the jungle of the Panama mainland as you went further up the river.
Having got our much needed diesel we moved on to Green Island a few hours away. We had just anchored when an ulu arrived to sell some seafood. This ulu had a makeshift mast and sail and he got too close to our wind genny and next thing there was much shuddering at the back and we realized that his mast had touched the wind genny and snapped off one of the blades. Being unbalanced is what caused all the shuddering at the back of the boat. Repalcing this blade is going to be a problem. Not happy chappies on Talacam!!! There was a lot a cursing and sending them on their way. We are 4 boats travelling together at the moment and in sympathy no-one would buy their fish. Eventually they were sent back to us to deal with Vossie who managed to get a very good deal on their catch in repayment for the damage caused. Crab, lobster and a big fish from the grouper family. Spent the rest of the day cleaning and preparing all this food. Another feast to be had by all.
The snorkeling was not really that good here but we did explore and swim and it was pretty.
13th October we moved onto the East Hollandaise Cays to the "swimming pool" anchorage. Anchored in 10 foot of water, 4-5 ft under the keel. Totally protected by reef and islands this was a calm, beautiful anchorage with crystal water and aptly named. Sitting on the side of the boat you could see the starfish on the bottom and the rays and fish swimming past. Many reefs to snorkel on. We did a lot a trips in the dingy to find the reefs to snorkel on and to have a look at the wreck of a yacht up on the reef. It was during one of these snorkel trips that we spotted our first shark sleeping on the bottom under a coral head. Granted it was a nurse shark , a large one, but nevertheless there was a lot a back peddling to put some distance between it and us. The snorkeling was really great here! Sundowner time every evening had us in the cockpit watching the rays and fish leaping out of the water . What a magnificent sight!
On rainy days we spent time playing cards or Mexican train dominoes....great fun. And I also let Vossie loose with the graders to cut my hair as it was getting too long. Well now it is short, very short!! No problemo.....it will grow again.
19th October we moved onto the East Lemmon Cays and spent 2 nights. Took the dingy to check out the West Lemmon's anchorage and found a small beach bar with internet so no guessing as to where we are going next. Soonest!! Only excitement here was Passat catching a nurse shark at about one in the morning as he had a fish hanging on a hook at the back of the boat for night fishing. Debbie took a photo so will hopefully post that pic when we have a better connection. Just before leaving we bought another good sized grouper ( $10.00 ) and veges and coke from the vege boat that came around. Well stocked again we lifted anchor and onto West Lemmon Cays. Tricky entrance, less than a foot under the keel in some places and Vossie up front pointing to coral heads. Eventually anchored after some kind yachtie showed us the last channel to enter safely and anchor. All of the anchorages entail reef dodging but I suppose good practice for the Pacific.
Good snorkeling here and of course the bar and internet. Almost back to civilization. This last Sunday gathered at the bar to play Mexican train again, got home late but great fun had by all. Monday we put the 18hp motor on for a dingy trip to Porvenir, about 3 miles away, to check in and out of the San Blas and into Panama. Cost of this paperwork was $ 263.50 and no .50 cents change so effectively $ 264.00, the main cost being for the one year cruising permit for Panama. After this session No cold beers to drown one's sorrows as it is now prohibited to sell beer in San Blas, however rum and whisky seem to be no problem. Very odd reasoning by the Congresso who are the law in this area. But for those of you who know us well, we always have the ever present little cooler with our stock for the journey. Just as we arrived back to the anchorage an arriving boat went hard aground on a sand bank and no amount of maneuvering could get it off, even with the help of many yachties in their dingys . They eventually got off some 24 hours later after some Kuna boys dug a trench for them and the tide rose enough.
Tomorrow we move to Chichime where we will spend 2 nights and then say goodbye to San Blas and move to explore the islands on the Panama side.