Here is a quick share of some photos taken in the San Blas Islands (Guna Yala), Portobelo, and Panama City. The books portrayed the Guna as money-grubbing annoyances. However, we found the Guna to be gentle, respectful, and willing to earn their money. Portobelo was an interesting stop and the Panama Canal was absolutely amazing!
On the sail from Santa Marta to the San Blas Islands off the coast of Central Panama, we were joined by some very playful dolphins. They stayed with us for at least 20 minutes. I took some video, but haven’t reviewed it yet. We arrived in San Blas December 8 all safe and sound along with Steve on Slow Flight. Just after we dropped anchor, Jason and Brita on Blue Moon came cruising up. Then we heard that Wade and Hodges on Coco de Mer were a couple bays away! Awesome!
The San Blas, or Guna Yala as the Guna called them, are picturesque archipelago islands in gorgeous turquoise water. However, my first impression after coming in was to call them the San Trash islands. So much trash and debris was floating in the water, it was heartbreaking to see. We weren’t sure if it was a remnant problem left by Hurricane Otto or a more recent storm. Or, having never been here before, they could always be surrounded by garbage for all we knew. I wanted to jump in the dinghy and pick up all the trash out of the water, but it was a losing battle with no place to dispose of it. Ugh!
We started in Cayos Holandes, which is the most popular area for cruisers. It is home of the “Swimming Pool” and “BBQ Island.” These are cruiser names not official names. The swimming pool was supposed to have the clearest water and kiteboarding. With a distinct lack of wind and all the flotsam and jetsam, we didn’t see either characteristic. After a rainy night and morning, we headed to one of the islands for a day on the beach and dinner ashore. There was enough wind to raise a kite, so Dave showed Jason some kite flying techniques. We thought there was too much coral to try body dragging, though. Dinner was fun and interesting. We were glad to have had the experience of a Guna restaurant, but decided we were not big fans of the cooking style: plain deep fried whole fish with coconut rice and some kind of veggies. BBQ Island was a small cute island that we may return to, but we decided to leave the questionable anchorages and holding and go meet up with Coco de Mer in Banedup.
Banedup was a little crowded and more and more boats kept arriving. There were so many cruisers in the San Blas! It was not what I was expecting at all. Banedup was a great area, though, with small islands all around and a lot of shallow water. We found the holding to be better and thus we were much happier to stay a while.
We enjoyed the beautiful full super moon lighting the night and reflecting on the water.
Everyone came over to our boat, so Venacio could show us all his molas at one time. Venacio is truly a talented artist and I recommend him to all my cruising friends heading this way. The quality of his work is second to none that I’ve seen. Every stitch is hand sewn and material is cut and stitched together in multiple layers to make the designs. The pieces Venacio is showing in the picture (3 total, the one on the right still in progress) take about a month each to finish!
We tried another Guna restaurant for lunch and shared the same opinion as before. This was fried chicken and coconut rice. I’ll just say that I will be doing a lot of cooking on the boat! The restaurant itself was cute and intricately built. I’ll go into more detail with more pictures later when I have more time and Internet.
This Guna family came to sell their molas and jewelry and all us girls bought bracelets/anklets that had to be put on us. They weave them on, so they are not easy to do yourself. I have a video of it I will share later.
On a small island with a big beach the guys hope to later kite board from, I bought a shell necklace and admired their fish. This woman called them bonitu, but to me they look like little tunny (a small tuna). We snorkeled from the beach and once we passed some dead coral we saw some great healthy-looking coral and a lot of fish.
The Guna kids are so tiny and cute. The adults are small, too. This boy was probably 5 or 6 years old and that Coke can looks huge in his hand. Steve is such a softy. He went and bought these kids sodas while they were waiting for their dad to run an errand.
I wish I could blow this picture up huge! Be sure to click on it to expand it. I did not alter the picture in any way other than to crop the end off. It shows the full moon out at sunset. The catamaran is Coco de Mer. By the way, I am happy to report that we were not seeing nearly so much garbage in the water. There was still some as well as huge logs and whole trees floating in the water. It must be hurricane damage! I am sure it will clear up eventually.
Our son is coming to visit, so we rented a car from a guy working in the boatyard. We stopped in Portobelo to complete our check in. We did customs and the cruising permit in Linton Bay Marina, where we left the boat. Portobelo had the immigration office. Portobelo saw the most damage to boats by Hurricane Otto and we saw sunken and grounded boats everywhere when we visited the San Lorenzo Fort.
The fort looks so much better in person. The plants growing on the rock walls look cool but darken it up too much in the pictures.
All checked in, we headed to Panama City where our systems went into shock with all the city traffic. There were interestingly shaped glass skyscrapers and more traditional early skyscrapers. We had errands to run and spent two half-days shopping. Steve bought a new outboard for his dinghy and I found various parts for boat projects. I still need to finish shopping today before we go to the airport.
We spent our afternoon playing tourist and toured the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal. Shown are the locks with higher water levels on one side than the other. Once the boats were closed in, they drained the water at 39 inches per minute to the lower level and opened the locks where the process was repeated.
We saw a tour boat, small sailboat, and cruise ship go through the first time, which I’ll share later. The second time we saw this cargo ship come through. This was an old cargo ship that could fit in the original locks. A new canal was built for the bigger cargo ships and we saw one go through there, too, but it was too far to photograph well. That’s all I have time for, but there is so much more. Unfortunately, we won’t have enough Internet for quite some time to post. But there should be some good stuff coming when we can.