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Sailing Letter Dec 2016: San Blas Panama

December 29, 2016




Sailing to San Blas, Isla Pinos, from Santa Marta, Colombia took 48 hours, where of 10 hours by engine. The anchorage of Isla Pinos is easy to enter with a depth of approx. 7meters. We were alone at arrival, but later a US flagged sailing boat entered. Our Dutch friends came 48 hours later from Cartagena, which we did not visit.

San Blas or Guna Yala is a self-governed district of the Caribbean east coast of Panama. The Guna Indian population of approx. 50,000 are extremely determined to protect their culture from western influence. The Guna Society economy is mostly based on Coconut export to Colombia and sale of so called Molas, beautiful shirts made by sewing and cutting different layers of colourful cloth.

The island of Pinos has a small village with palm huts, where the Indians live more or less as they have always done. However there are telephones and solar panels on the island, paid for by the Panama government. First day we took a footpath on the western side of the island. We saw a couple of Guna ladies acting peculiar, talking into poles and trees…….until we saw that they hung the mobile phones in trees facing west for good signal.  The civilisation has brought with it a lot of garbage: huge amounts of plastic bottles and flip flops en masse. The Guna themselves are not taking care of rubbish, but dumping it directly at sea. The ladies are colourfully dressed in their traditional Guna clothing, with the famous mola embroideries on the clothes and arms and legs wrapped in bands on yellow and red. Unfortunately they did not like to be photographed, unless you pay for it. After finding out that picture cards were sold in Panama for one dollar, with their pictures, they decided to grab some money themselves.

Day 3, together with the crews of sailing boats Acapella, Jonas and Helena we took a guided tour up to the top of the island. The jungle is dense and it was raining and hot, but we saw some green spotted frogs, some monkeys and beautiful butterflies. The green parrot was also there in abundance. The day ended with a boat trip (canoe) to the nearby village on the mainland. Here we were presented to the local congregation, celebrating the birth of a girl. The “Chichi”celebration lasted 3 days with a lot of home made sugarcane liquor. Very interesting but the tast of the liquor was not very good.

After 6 days at anchor without contact possibilities we took a small step to the village Ustupu, to buy a local sim card and vegetables. The water around Ustupu is very filthy, with a lot of rubbish dumped in the mangrove close by. The village however, was for us the nicest, with friendly people, dressed in the traditional way. Most houses were built traditionally, with palm leaves as roof and sides from  bamboo (we think). Small dirt roads meandered through the village (which is one of the biggest in San Blas) and everything was clean with flowers and colourful bushes in the small gardens. We managed to buy a Digicel card in one of the huts, but the coverage was poor.

We wanted to see the pristine waters of San Blas that we had read about with possibility to snorkel, so we moved on to an uninhabited island called Mono Island.  Water still dark and visibility low, made it risky to enter the anchorage. The charts were not precise (we were on land some of the time) and the visibility was not good for eyeball navigation, so finding our path in was difficult. We had the same problems coming out, even if we then had the important Bauhaus charts on the computer. The anchorage was OK with good holding, but there was hardly any life to be seen in the water or on land. No birds and the coral reefs seemed to be in poor shape.

To be able to bunker more food and beer we visited another village, the Nargana, which is one of the islands which has abandoned the old traditions. Most of the houses were built in concrete with steel roofs, and they looked a bit worn compared to the “straw huts” we saw in the previous villages. However we managed to get some vegetables etc and set out for the pristine water in Holandes Cays. Very clear water, with good anchoring and a lot of fellow yachties. Potluck on the beach and some cleaning of the hull. We had some difficulties with the wind, stirring up the sand, so no snorkelling. But, we saw Eagle Rays both from the boat and the dinghy. We anchored both in the “Swimming Pool” and in the “Bath tub”.

After a short stop in Chichime Cays, we have now finally left San Blas and checked in to Panama. Staying in Linton Bay for New Year. Next steps are administration for the Panama Canal and sailing to Boca del Toro, but we don’t know in which order yet. A lot depends on the information of timing that we need from the Agent that will do the paperwork for us.

We wish you all a Happy New Year.

From → Sailing Letters

One Comment
  1. John & Elspeth permalink

    Hope that you both have a happy New Year.

    from John & Elspeth


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