The San Blas Islands, A Magical Place…Travel with Us to See… #40

“This is it… This is What I Have Been Waiting For”

Years and years of longing and dreaming about going to Panama in our own boat and anchoring at the San Blas Islands, where the natives row up in their canoes and trade or sell stuff.

I know, you are asking WHY was this my dream.

Well a little history. Back in 2011-ish, don’t even really remember the year for sure, Dan and I were in San Diego. We enjoy boat shopping while we were in areas with yachts. We had stopped at a couple yacht brokers and asked to see motor yachts with the particular features that we were looking for. During one of these stops we had a fairly young broker that showed us a few boats for sale. After the tour the broker invited us back to his office, he was going to do some type of research for the questions we had asked. img_6038During this point I asked this young 20-something broker  “how did you get into this business”. He told me something about his family always had boats…. Blah, blah, blah…. But then he said, “he and his wife spent a year in Panama, San Blas Islands on his sailboat living off fish, swimming and trading fresh water with the locals for fruits & other local items” That was it, I was hooked! I told Dan, that is what I want to do! I think it just sounded so romantic and alluring being anchored off islands and the local come up asking for stuff, just for basic survival.

~And so, our dream began~

Let’s walk through a bit about these beautiful Islands, San Blas.

  • Over 340 Islands
  • A lot of islands are unoccupied
  • The locals are Gunas Indians
  • The local Gunas call their Islands “Guna Yala”
  • Approximately 55,000+ Gunas across the islands
  • The Islands are officially part of Panama as a country
  • The Gunas have their own laws and are not governed by Panama
  • The law is set by chiefs on each island, some have multiple levels of chiefs
  • No Guna is allowed to inter-marry a non-Guna, unless with approval from chiefs
  • You can not be on these Islands after dark, unless approved or staying in a hut
  • The islands all have huge reefs around them
  • The Guna people speak a combination of Spanish and Guna (the local language)
  • Almost no crime on these islands and they are non-aggressive people
  • Most recently the islands near the Colombian border have had some crime
  • Fresh water and electricity are in short supply
  • The economy runs on selling coconuts. The coconut trees are all owned by someone that collects them and gets income from them. You are not allowed to take any coconuts
  • The husband moves into the wife’s compound and she controls the money
  • The Guna Flag has a swastika on it. The flag was created before German Nazi took the symbol as their own.
  • Barely touched by the modern world
  • Some Guna’s will not let you take photo of them, some will charge you $1 and some are okay with the photos being taken of them.

After dreaming about this for so long, I didn’t really know what it would feel like or even look like. But with all dreams our minds/brains attach some type of image to how “we” think it might look or feel like. That is, until it becomes real. Then you are able to replace it with the “real” pictures.

“Your dreams MUST be put into action, otherwise it is something you do while you sleep”

The Islands felt like time had just gone by them. The kids had the run of the island and everyone knows whose kids they were. I’m guessing like a small town might be, but this is a very small town that you can’t leave unless it is a boat. Everyone takes care of each other. They are all in the same boat together, no pun intended. The rules and laws set by the Chief of their island or islands. (usually an older, very respected man) Time is mostly governed by the sun, they depend on the sea for food and sell coconuts and other hand made items which generates some income. Some have jobs on the islands and some go away to work. They are such a helpful, friendly group of people. I cannot ever remember meeting such warm welcoming group of people.

Our main goal was to see as many islands as we could, but also keep out of the swells and stay safe while anchored. When we arrived at a new island the canoes are all in force, coming at us from all directions as we are trying to anchor. They want to be the first one in and against our swim step as we turn off engines and go to greet them. I can’t understand them, they speak a mix of Spanish and guna (their own language) but I’m assuming that they are in a bit of a friendly competition, it is money for their family. The first couple canoes in against our swim step get the honor of stepping out on to our boat and showing off all their goods. The others hang back a bit and hold them up for me to see. The canoes are mostly full of ladies with their beaded bracelets/anklets, head bands, etc. and their molas.

“A mola is an elaborate handmade embroidered panel”

60443156900__ee390d91-0f37-4d38-9e5a-0c4e927865426e0c30f5-046d-43a9-bad3-473b0b375009The Molas are beautiful and range in price from $5 to $40 depending on the size. I am doing my part with keeping their families fed by purchasing as many as I can. This process is overwhelming, viewing and picking out what I like. They start pulling out their goods and laying them out one over top another. I cannot see them all, there are just too many and many different ladies. At some point I start to pick the ones that I have no interest in and hand them back so I can narrow down my choice. When I am done buying or picking out the ones I like, then I ask how much for the ones I picked out. This is usually a miming exercise with me holding up fingers and pointing to the molas that I have picked out… uno, doce, trace…. $5, 10, 15 fingers go up or whatever the price and quantity happen to be. A very limited group can speak english or know the amount in english. I can see the ladies happy and sad faces. Some I bought something from, some I didn’t. It is really hard for me. I wish I could buy something from everyone, but it is just not possible. This happens at every island we pulled into. Once in a while we got someone selling something unique or different, a small wood carved items & a bone/gord type rattle.

Later we might have boats that come with fish, lobster, crab, bananas, limes, mangos. Sometimes the Gunas are looking for fresh water. We like to trade with these guys as much as possible.

img_5443Our first english speaking Guna was “Nester”. Nester was a nice man that helped us learn more about the islands, he took me over to the island by his dugout canoe to check into the San Blas Islands. Nester cleaned a couple fish for us that we had purchased from a boat. We took them on a cruise in our boat when we moved from one island to another. We gave them some of our food and drinks to try out and visited with their family. We were invited back to his home, served coconut water with a straw in the actual coconut. This is an honor, because they sell their coconuts. Dan tried to help him with his solar unit that wasn’t working well.

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Dan helped a couple Gunas with their outboard motor. (very few had motors). He was surprised that they didn’t really understand much about their outboard motor. He helped fix the spark plug and off they went.

We heard that different local man had homemade bread daily. So we went on shore early one morning to find Alfredo and his bread business. Alfredo also spoke pretty good english and we later learned that he is the second level Chief over all the islands and had just come back from a trip to Panama City to discuss schooling. The small rolls we got were $0.15 a piece. We bought $2.00 worth. We ate a couple and froze the rest. While we were on shore we stopped by the local market that had only a few items, Rice, some type of wheat, bottles of juice. That is it, period.

Another Guna with english skills was “Justino”. He came and asked us for help with his solar unit on his house. He said that his wife would have handmade jewelry for me. Dan did some of the same type of diagnosis but this time he was more prepared with what to bring with him. Dan wrote down what he needs to buy in town. We then took them over to a neighboring Island to accomplish a few things that their island didn’t have. We were just his taxi service. In trade the next day Justino gave us a river tour and took us to where the trees are cut down to make the canoes they use. Dan was also excited to get the bottom of our boat scraped by a local, Ronaldo who was Jusitino brother-in-law. Ronaldo did the whole boat in 3 hours with snorkel only. These people are amazing.

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Some islands now have water pipes leading to their island. (not exactly sure how, but they do) Some Islands are close to mainland and family members with 5-gallon jugs haul 8-10+ containers in their hollowed-out canoe to collect fresh water from a river and back. They do this every day. Pictures of “nesters family getting fresh water from us. They do have schools on some islands that kids attend until 9th grade & a town hall where grievances are brought forward and worked out with chief.

We also visited an island where you could rent a hut. It isn’t as crowded with homes and such as the other islands were. Dan chatted with a couple ladies that said they were from Canada and had nothing to do, they were board stiff. Not much to do on the islands, that’s for sure.

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Pictures of mushroom, bark with sharp needles sticking out & used for pain medicine, mangroves we floated underneath & some type of tree with red petals.

Islands we visited in our 11 days at San Blas

  • Isla Povenir
  • Wichubhuala
  • Nalunega
  • Chichime Cays, Uchutupu Dummat
  • Bahia Nalia on Punta San Blas
  • Islas Robeson, Tupsuit Dummaat (aka Gerti)

We wanted to visit more islands and stay longer but the weather was not cooperating. Just too much wind/waves & swells to keep us there.

So here we are living the dream and seeing what the real images look like. Replacing our dreams with real memories. Not just made up in our brains. We are “Living Life to the Fullest Extent!”

If you are busy dreaming up something of your own and you are not putting action items in place to help you achieve it. Remember it will remain only a dream unless you work towards it.

Cheers to those that dreamers that are working towards living those dreams!

Congrats! 

Dan Literally Saved my Life and A Waiting Game on Caribbean Side…#39

We have been sitting at “Shelter Bay Marina” after our Panama Canal Transit, waiting for the wind, waves and swells to subside. We weren’t planning and certainly didn’t expect this at all, we had hoped to keep traveling within a day or so after our arrival. We wanted to head to the San Blas Islands for a few weeks and couldn’t even leave the Marina. img_5403-1Our friends Ken and Cheryl decided to leave and come back at another time. It was hard to see them go!

Thanks Ken and Cheryl!! 

We were lucky the marina was inside the breakwaters of the Canal, we had very little movement other than the wind blowing. We could actually see the breakwater wall from our slip inside the marina and it wasn’t a pretty sight with large wave lapping over the 9 foot seawall. (of course there is high & low spots along this wall) The 3 pictures I included are from “windy.com”. You can see both side of Panama with the wind blowing over the land (green). The Waves & Swells are the dark pink/Red pictures, which isn’t a good color. Light blue/white is good. Red is not. So we will stay put until it is better.

Shelter Bay Marina is sitting on a piece of land that has old American buildings on it from 1903 – 1980’s. These building were put in place when the USA built and managed the Canal. The Jungle Warfare school was here for some years. We walked around part of it and drove past the other part while in the shuttle bus into town. Most of the buildings are empty and falling down, but it is fun to look at them and think about how they were used. We can also see lots of wildlife here too. Monkeys, parrots, many types of birds, ants, termites, wild cats (one pregnant one), cockroaches, spiders… I’m sure snakes and scorpions too.

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We were also invited to multiple different events with other boaters! It is fun to get to know all these people from all over the world. Scotland, Wales, England, Netherlands, Denmark, & USA were the countries represented. We had events on the “Undaunted” motor yacht and “Super Tramp” sailboat. And you think we have traveled far with our boat… Not as far as some have.

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A Life Saving Event….

One evening Dan and I went to the restaurant for dinner. We don’t go too often but had worked hard that day on some projects and I didn’t want to cook. I got lucky and we sat outside on the patio. Normally it is too hot, but the wind was blowing nicely and the sun had set.  We had ordered our meal and my Daughter Kylie had called me and we were chatting about her Volleyball team. She coaches a club team and they are doing really good this year. They got 1st place on their last tournament and were planning for the next. I was super excited for her. Dinner came and I didn’t want to stop talking, so I put her on speaker and sat the phone down on the table. (okay maybe not the best decision, but we were outside and not near anyone). As I was eating while chatting and I started to choke. I had taken too big of a bite of my steak and it was caught in my throat. I knew I was in trouble as I quickly stood up, hoping Dan would figure out what had just happened. If you have ever seen this happen to a person, they can not talk or breathe. Dan had good situational awareness that evening, he was trying to figure out why I was standing up when Kylie was chatting with me. He quickly saw that I was choking and started to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Two pulls on my stomach and it hadn’t come out yet. He was a bit panicked. I felt it move but it wasn’t hard enough pull. Dan did it again and it popped out onto the ground, just like they say. I was grateful and thanked Dan for saving my life. He was more shook up over it then I was. I was more embarrassed and just processing what had just happened. I certainly had gotten distracted by my phone call and wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing. (no multitasking when eating, haha) I decided to tell the story in hope that others would learn by my mistake. Please, Please be aware of the signs and how to perform this process, I’ve included the link as a refresher.

CLICK HERE for refresher on how to perform the Heimlich maneuver

When thinking back on this event, it all happened so quickly and I didn’t really have time to think about what could have happened if it didn’t work. Dan and I have chatted multiple times about what happened and I am so very grateful that it turned out well and I didn’t leave this earth earlier than I should. The impact to my family and friends would have be devastating. I have so much yet to do and give to others with this life, I’m just not done yet! I am definitely bless and count them every day.

THANK YOU for being part of my life! To my family, friends, acquaintances and those that are following our adventures that I have never spoken to… THANK YOU for reading and following our adventures!

Love and Blessing to you All.

-Angela ♥

 

 

 

Our TERRORIZING Cruise to Panama, It is a Nail Biter!…37

It was time to check out of Costa Rica and head to Panama. Checking out of a country is a bit complicated. You have to check out of customs and immigrations in addition to the normal port to port check in/out. We were in Golfito, Costa Rica at Banana bay. These guys made it as easy as they could, Thank you Andrei.

This Map shows planned route and areas we stopped with black “X”. Red “X” is at Punta Mala (Bad Tip) and our difficult nail biting path with red line.

panama to vista mar map
Map from Golfito to Vista Mar Marina, San Carlos Panama

Our plan was a 3 leg jump to Vista Mar Marina in San Carlos Panama. Our first leg was Isla Parida, Bahia Catalina. This is a nice quiet cove protected from wind and waves. We had some dolphins off our bow multiple times during the day and we had our fishing lines out. (see dolphin video at end of blog) We caught lots of Bonito, which we don’t really like, so they went back in. But mid afternoon we caught a Dorado which is Mahi Mahi. img_5308We were so excited, sorry no pics of the catch. It is really hard work with just two of us catching fish. Not only do we have to take care of getting the fish into the boat, cleaning and packaging, someone has to drive. Luckily we are in a big wide open ocean and Dan was able to help me get it in. Then he cleaned it and I preparing it for packaging while we switch off driving. I saved some for dinner and froze the rest. We had a great dinner with a fresh homemade pineapple salsa. It was awesome.  We had a nice evening.

Next morning we were off to Isla Cebaco. This island had a nice cove for us to pull into. It was calm spot for an evening at anchor. The only issue was the water was deep close up to the shore, making it hard to anchor. This caused us a bit of an issue, as we like anchoring in about 25-30 feet of water but that was only a few hundred feet from the shoreline. When we put out the anchor we were swinging way to close to shore. Time to pull it back up and try again in a different spot. Second try was a success, we were still a bit close to shore then we would normally like, but we put on our anchor alarm & depth alarm to assure we didn’t get pulled too far. We had a nice evening and we were all good, all night long, with our anchor spot. We had decided to sleep in a bit because our next run was going to be a 24 hour run, so there was no need to hurry.

We left the anchorage around 9:00 am. The first 8 hours were pretty uneventful, we had fishing lines back out, but didn’t catch anything worth keeping. Around 4pm the waves started picking up a bit, but it was no big deal, it happens often, just a little rough water. (start of the red line on map above) We decided to pull in the fishing lines. It was getting almost dinner time, dark would set soon and it is no fun catching & cleaning a fish when it is a bit rough & dark. The waves and wind continued to pick up, it got worse and worse. By 6pm it was dark and we were getting hit hard with waves head on.

Funny thing about bad waves in the dark, you can’t see them coming, they just hit you!

Normally Dan and I do swaps “on watch” where I sleep between 10-2ish, then he sleeps and I watch until sunlight. So we started our normal routine. Dan went to rest sometime around 7 so he could take over about 10pm. Dan was starting to not feel well.

We were taking the waves pretty hard straight into the bow of the boat. I decided I needed to talk to Dan about it. We discussed  and we decided to turn a bit east taking the waves at a 20° angle on our port bow. This did help a bit but the waves were really big. Dan took over watch and I went and attempted to rest a bit but could not sleep. I could hear Dan getting sea sick and decided to let him take a rest. For a while he just crashed on the floor at the helm, but he eventually moved to the couch in the salon. I was in auto pilot, standing at the wheel, holding on for dear life. I used my legs as springs for up, down, side to side over and over again. It was exhausting. These waves were about 8 feet tall and we were taking green water over the bow on each hit. You have to understand that this was not a easy run and we had no choice about going forward. There was no turning around or a bay to hide in, as the nearest anchorage was exposed to the open sea. It was go forward, slowly, period!

The waves were now increasing in frequency to about 4 secs apart at 8 feet high.

If you are a boater, you know the golden rule about square waves. If the frequency is 4 seconds, you want the height of the wave to be much less than 4 feet. When height is taller than seconds, it is not fun.

Well, we were in a considerable amount of discomfort at 8 feet, 4 seconds. I was just focused on doing my job and not focusing on any fear, won’t do any good to be afraid! WELL, until a crazy unexpected wave hit us so hard, BANG, CRASH, BOOM! it is dark and I couldn’t see a thing. I was very concerned, I wasn’t sure what broke but something did!! Then the water started to pouring in on me at the helm. The side helm doors were closed, so it wasn’t that. It was coming down the flybridge hatch over my head. Water was just pouring in and I’m now standing in water and was really frightened of what could have broken.

My first thought was, the sink in a cabinet on the flybridge, maybe it broke loose and the water pipe broke.

Whatever happened I was going to need Dan and quickly! I hollered for him to come see what happen up top. (he didn’t tell me at the time) but said later, the flybridge had a couple inches of water moving around up top. BUT, It wasn’t fresh water, it was sea water. We had taken a wave so big and at such an angle that it hit over top of the flybridge windscreen, 20 feet above the waterline. Ok, now I was frightened!!! My fear was related to, what happened if more waves hit us in the same way. We cleaned up the floor, but we were still not close to being out of the woods yet.

We realized, as the bow of our boat was down at the bottom of the wave a another big wave quickly hit us while we were at a vulnerable position sending water over the flybridge window and down the hatch at the helm!

Dan went and laid back down and I kept at it. We turned a bit farther east. Dan came to check on me around midnight. I was tired, my feet hurt, my nerves were rattled and I hadn’t had any sleep yet. Dan was planning on going back to the couch, since he was still sea sick. But I had another idea and told him I couldn’t take it any longer, I was just too tired. Dan had to take over, vomit bag in hand. Yay.

I slept for 3 hours, pretty hard sleep, even in the rough seas. We had discussed earlier in the evening that as we passed Punta Mala, translations: bad point/tip (red x on map), and cut across the bay, we were expecting a bit calmer waves/wind situation. Obviously NOT!! When I woke up around 3am the waves were still big but had adjusted a bit to our benefit. We were still not counting our chickens before they were hatched! Dan went and laid back down to sleep some more and the sea condition continued to get better & better.

By 5:15-ish the sun was starting to come up, the waves continued to get better and I cracked open one of the side helm doors for some fresh air. I saw our life ring laying on the side deck. I didn’t want it gone, so I pulled open the door a bit more to grab it. img_5312Then I saw something else, I wasn’t sure what it was and had to get a flashlight. I understand now what the noise was when we took that big wave over the flybride. Our heavy dock box that was filled full of cleaning supplies was picked up, flipped over and shoved down the side deck.  Underneath was part of the life ring, cushions from the bow seat piled around the box. WOW, the bow seat had a cover over it. I wondered where that went along with the other cushions and all the contents of the box and anything else that was on the bow. I opened up the other side door to find our heavy stern anchor and rode laying on the other side. I could see another cushion, but wasn’t going to get it yet.. still too dark. I was sure we lost many of the pillows/cushions overboard along with cleaning supplies & the bow seat cover. Who knows what else?? 

As the sun came all the way up, Dan woke to see how we were doing. We found some items that had slid all the way along the side deck to the back door. We picked up some cleaning bottles that survived, a couple cushions/pillows and found our bow seat cover too. I was feeling pretty good we didn’t lose too much. We still needed to take inventory once in the marina. Dan was doing a bit better and we headed into Vista Mar Marina, San Carlos in much calmer seas on the last hour of our trip. 

We were both pretty wiped out after arriving at the marina and were really happy nothing worse happened to us or the boat. We lost some items, but with all the inventory done we had just a few items gone. Feeling very lucky that all my cushions and seat cover were all recovered. Later when Dan analyzed the snaps on the seat cover to see why it came undone. The dock box had hit many snaps and destroyed them and the wind/waves took it the rest of the way off. We were grateful for our Hatteras, she performed well in such rough seas!

We also should have been more prepared. We didn’t take the rough seas and dark night as seriously as we should have.  We just didn’t think it was going to be that rough. We are always so cautious and always take safety first. We just needed to be a bit more diligent about it, remembering the items on the bow.

The prediction of the waves and wind were off…as we all know, they are just predictions. We do the best we can with the forecast we have. We feel lucky and keep focused on the positive side…. We could have lost more items, the rough seas could have lasted longer than our horrible 14 hour journey, the dock box could have slammed into the helm window and we could have both been sick. But we made it, we learned stuff and don’t ever want to get caught in that rough seas, for that long of a time again!

We are grateful for you as readers and that we are both safe and sound to report back to you of our adventures. The good and the BAD!

Next Blog… A Panama Transit, A time lapse adventure on film! And photos too, of course.

Dolphin video…that I mentioned about above. If you watch closely you will see a mom and her baby side by side.

 Thanks again for your continued support!

The crew and owners of Angelique CPMY

Side Note: We fixed the snaps on the seat cover, installed padeyes to hold the dock box in place and stowed the rest of the items.