Thursday, October 18, 2012

Photos: San Blas Adventure

                                            Some call a stay in the San Blas "a sigh of relief."


        The San Blas Islands, off the coast of Caribbean Panama, are a world class cruising destination for sailors from all points of the globe. Some cruisers never leave.  Chris and I were fortunate to spend 2 weeks here dodging lightning, snorkeling, swimming, visiting with the native Kuna peoples and surviving a 35 knot blow.

   Oh yeah, and we experienced one more thing: full frontal nudity.   But I'm getting ahead of myself.

                                                           A Kuna hut in the Lemon Cayes

                 First stop: The West Lemon Cayes. Negotiating the reefs was a new and slightly harrowing experience for Chris and I. But we made it through the two weeks without hitting anything, which is always one of the goals of any cruise! :-)

                                                                             Espiritu at rest

          We spent hours swimming in and snorkeling in the pristine reefs at West Lemon Cayes.

                                   A spotted eagle ray sighting was a real treat

                                             The reefs of San Blas boast 50+ foot visibility

                                  So quiet you can hear your blood pressure drop

       We had our first encounter with the local Kuna tribes here in the Lemons. The Kunas have inhabited the San Blas for generations and have maintained their traditional way of life even into the 21st century.

               We encountered four very young Kuna children playing in a dugout canoe

                How cute are they? Fortunately for me, the Kuna language has been
               slowly dying out in recent years, and they now speak primarily Spanish.

                                     The Kuna children swim and play in their Underoos

                                   What a privilege it was to visit with these cuties.
                                 We gave them some candies and were on our way.

         Later some young Kunas paddled up to Espiritu in their dugout canoe and sold us 6 small, freshly caught lobster tails for $10.  We used all of our butter stores and indulged in a feast to remember with the table up in the cockpit. As the sun slowly set behind us, the breeze rustled the coconut palms and Espiritu gently bobbed in the water, we counted our blessings as the lobster melted in our mouths.

     The next morning, we explored the tiny islands of the Lemon Cayes.

              In accordance with their surroundings, the palms seem to hula to the left and the right


             There is a tiny bar run by the Kunas here in the Lemons, with an eensy-weensy
                      book exchange and VEEEEEEEEEERY slow dial up internet.

         The Kunas call themselves warriors, but they seem very peaceful and friendly to me.
 History does show that the Kunas put up a good fight against the Spanish conquistadors, however.
                                           Nobody likes their home threatened and invaded.

                 Perhaps this Kuna palm totem gives a clue to the warrior side of their culture

                        Wait -- did I hear you say "book exchange?"     (My two favorite words)

                                              Next stop: The Hollandaise Cayes

          We were excited to visit an area called "The Swimming Pool" in the Hollandaise Cayes. We sailed there but left the catamarans to anchor in the middle of the very shallow "swimming pool," and we anchored in deeper water at the entrance to the reef.

     We immediately jumped in the dinghy and flew over to explore Turtle Island and "The Swimming Pool."

                 The shallow, crystal clear water of "The Swimming Pool" beckons

                                                        Bobbing in "The Swimming Pool"

                                    Chris has a go. We spent more than an hour laughing,
                                      talking and playing in the water, just the two of us.

                                                     Volleyball, anyone?

                                          The other end of "The Swimming Pool"

              A reminder that the Kunas are not the only inhabitants of these islands

            A Kuna hut enjoys prime waterfront property before a crystalline reef

                                  We snorkelled with two pairs of Caribbean reef squids

    Alas, we are still in the rainy season here in Panama. And soon enough, the afternoon storm clouds began to gather and thunder and lightning sent us scampering back to the cozy comfort of Espiritu.

                                       And just like that, a 35 knot blow was upon us.

      We've learned that when these storms blow through and we're at anchor, we turn on the motor as an extra safety measure during the worst of it, in case we drag. Lightning crashed around us, and the wave of sound literally shivers the timbers of Espiritu.

   By the way, another sailboat, "Eyes of the World,"  has been struck by lightning here in Panama. They were anchored in the exact same place we experienced a nerve-shattering lightning storm over in the Las Perlas Islands.

 A local told me that last year he saw a sailboat struck by lightning. The keelbolts went to the bottom, and the sailboat sank in minutes.     Beautiful...   :-/

             Needless to say, we're counting down the days to the end of the bloody rainy season!

              After the worst of the squall blew through, a solid rain settled in for the afternoon.
                We set up the rain catch and Captain Chris played a jolly tune on the fiddle.   :-)

           That evening, we distracted ourselves from the weather by watching "Romancing the Stone." We are, by the way, only about 100 miles from the Columbian border. We've admitted that there have been times on this trip where we have felt more than a bit like Jack and Joan Wilder! :-)

                     The anchor held, the wind and lightning passed, and Espiritu
                        pulled anchor for the final stop in our San Blas adventure...

                                                             ...Chichime Islands

                This place is so shockingly beautiful that I actually had a moment of mild panic:
                how can we ever expect to top this when we get to the "Real" Carribean islands?

       The Kunas have their own religious practice and tradition. Their name for God is "Erragon." Christian evangelism has met pretty persistent resistance with the Kunas. The health of the Kunas is very, very good. They have a very low average blood pressure, and lifestyle diseases like heart disease and cancer are quite rare.

       One effect the missionaries did have is getting the Kuna to wear clothes. They used to be mostly naked except for body painting. But now they wear their famous embroidered molas as an adornment. Speaking of body paint:

                                                               War paint

   The other downside to the San Blas during rainy season (#1 is the lightning and wind) is the bugs. "No see-ums," sand flies, you name 'em -- they've all got a taste for me. It's war. And it's brutal.

  Calamine lotion wasn't working. Benadryl wasn't working. For fear of getting malaria or full blown sepsis from an infected bite, I finally started applying rubbing alcohol directly onto the bites with a q-tip.  And guess what: it works wonders. The itching stops nearly immediately and the drying and healing begins.

                       And speaking of nudity, looks like some of the Kunas have gone back
                                                      to their old ways, clothing wise.

                                                                 Hey there, sailor!

                         Well, what the heck. When you live here, who needs clothes?

     One of the things about cruising that I really love is the process of living on less and less. I love prioritizing and figuring out what simple meals to make based on the few fresh foods I still have left in the coffers. Here in the San Blas, by the time we arrived at Chichime we were down to canned foods and rice...

            you can imagine our excitement when a Kuna fruit and veggie boat
                                            arrived from the mainland! Life is GOOD!    :-)

                                            Now that we've replenished our produce supply,
                                          that means we can stay here a few days longer, right?

                                                Captain Chris: "OK, you twisted my arm..."

                                 You'd have low blood pressure too, if you lived here...

       ...and more thunderclouds roll in to send out another perfect day in the San Blas...

    As I write this, we're back in the coastal town of Portobelo, Panama. We'll spend a few days here, then head back to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon to prepare for the big trip north.

   So, what's up with YOU? What's new? Please let us know at! Nothing makes me happier than dispatches from home...    XOXO Liz and Chris

1 comment:

  1. Great photography and story! Miss you two and the music. How is it going without a rhythm section??
    Freedom's Call is in St. Lucia, again, after sailing with my daughter and her boyfriend up from Grenada. I will be redoing the Eastern Caribbean from South to North, then returning to Colombia for the hurricane season.
    Thanks for being in touch.
    Fair winds and following seas, Rob