Thursday, December 1, 2011

San Blas, Panama

The San Blas islands are absolutely stunning. There are around 365 small islands just off the Caribbean coast of Panama, with only 40 or so inhabited. The difference in those that are inhabited vs uninhabited is striking.

(densely packed wooden houses and shops)

(the inhabited islands are so densely packed that fences are built into the ocean where trash is then filled in. Once enough trash is in place, soil is added, then sand. Then a house is built. They are expanding constantly.)

(a traditionally dressed Kuna woman setting up shop for us tourists)

(traditional crafts)

(drop toilets are the norm. Let's just say that we saw a few Snickers bars floating by when we were swimming just off shore...)

(still room for parades)

(this kid's better dressed than those other young-un's)

(the islands even have piped water from the mainland!)

(on our way to dinner that evening, Malcolm joined a baseball game)

(after dinner dance with lots of running and jumping and still somehow enough controlled breath to play a pan flute type instrument)

In contrast, the unhinhabited islands looked more like this:

(these are a couple that we anchored close to for 2 nights)

We really enjoyed our time anchored at the islands, including bonfires, snorkeling, swimming, lounging, reading, conversing, and relaxing.

(there was a mixup in how the bonfire was going to happen, and the Kuna that Ludwig, our captain, worked with were chased off by the boat on the left. They had already dropped off the firewood, though, and the bonfire happened as planned. Shishkabobs, beer and rum and a beautiful empty island. It was sweet!)

(lounging on the bow)

(Jill testing the crane)

(Mike on his way)

(Mike learned how to dive in after this first attempt. This attempt was not a dive. Giorgio told Mike that he went in like a frog. And the next time Giorgio asked for a chicken. While Mike enjoys imitating animals (especially birds), the next time was a successful dive. He swears)

We also had a chance to snorkel to a couple of reefs around the area. Mike went out to a nearby reef the first afternoon, ending up in a very shallow section with lots of sea urchins. Staying flat and kicking fast got him over a sandy section where he startled an octopus that looked just like a rock. It blubbered off, walking in its weird, tentacly, octopus sort of way. But that monster was really cool to see - it was about the size of a basketball when huddled in. The next day a small group snorkeled farther away at a reef surrounding an island. Daan and Mirjam uncovered another octopus near the island, and also snapped this photo of us.

The Stahlratte is a fine sailing vessel that turned out to be a wonderful vacation within our trip. For anyone looking to get themselves and/or a bike across the Darien, we would highly recommend going with Ludwig and the Stahlratte. You'll be in good hands!

(we lucked out and got the honeymoon suite, maybe because Jill was in charge of making the reservation so it got done early, rather than having Mike's procrastination habits factor in)

(most other bunks were in this shared space below deck)

Our last sunset in the San Blas islands meant that it was time to hit the Pacific and get on towards Colombia.

Although sails were up, the wind was pretty low for our voyage. That makes sailing a little less romantic (seeing as it meant diesel power in our case), but it also makes the seas calm. Even so, it took a bit to get used to the constant motion.

(AWACS plane checking for drugs)

The voyage took right around 24 hours, leaving San Blas in the dark of the morning. Swimming in the open sea was a definite highlight, kind of eerie knowing that the water is over 1 km deep, but still somehow has this amazingly clear blue water. And a refreshing way to break up the day. Not that we were doing much. Mike slept for somewhere around 8 hours during the day, and then again for almost 10 hours that night. It seemed like a better idea than getting seasick. Jill seemed to be doing better than him, bringing her nap time totals to a far more respectable number, like 3 hours or so. But when we woke up the next day, we were in Colombia!

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