Just after we arrived in San Blas, 3 Gunu Indians came paddling over to us in their hand made dug out canoe from a tree trunk. Yep a traditional hand paddled canoe, called an `ulu’,…… so cool! They were very friendly and happy, showing us the masses of fish and crayfish they had caught and wanting to trade/sell. We have no idea when it comes to Spanish and haven’t even looked at our ‘Spanish for cruisers’ book yet and they were just as bad at English. Apparently they like to trade fish for goods like – fishing line, small hooks, toiletries, school materials and whole selection of things as per the guide book we have. We didn’t get anything but I’m sure we will see them again. I think the kids are getting an idea just how poor and simple a life these people lead.
As I was cleaning out the blocked shower filter (disgusting), Stu had been sussing out the freezer as we need to try and salvage the defrosting chicken, meat, fish, veges etc. Our freezer had packed it in on passage. So I spent ages sorting the fridge and emptying the freezer with a plan to turn the fridge right down to freezer temp. Stu had a well earned sleep (or should I say pass out). When he awoke much to our glee with a few more jiggles the freezer pump started again, we waited a while and yes it’s working – HOOORAY. More food sorting and freezer cleaning and all is good.
Sienna was asking questions like “where are the shops, when are we going there”. CHILD CENSORED PART AHEAD, DO NOT READ TO A CHILD OR IF YOU ARE A CHILD SEE YOUR PARENT- I was assuming she wants to spend her tooth fairy money which she thanked me for knowing full well who the tooth fairy actually is! Then proceeded to demand to have her tooth back and “where is it?”. Man the attitude sometimes! We explained that we think these islands will not have shops, they may have stalls with food/trinkets, guess we will find out, though most are uninhabited like the 3 we are anchored by.
I was so so so looking forward to a long cold shower to wash my hair. Sienna wanted a shower so I helped her (as the water needs watching, we made water as soon as we anchored as we had none except the emergency 20L jerry can attached to the ditch bag which we had at the ready, just in case on the deck). Soaped Sienna up and the water turned red hot, so the poor thing had to wait half an hour in the shower while the bucket of water cooled down, it was still way too hot but just handle able. So I filled up 2 buckets knowing by the time I had my shower they would be ok to use. I showered hours later and the water was still a little too hot for my liking! That’s what motoring on and off for a few days will do, so we have discovered. Boys off the hook for a shower tonight!
It is peaceful here, totally black night but it’s strange not having any lights from the shore, only one light in the distance. I was excited to see those glowing phosphoresce secreting worms here again, really bright specks in the water attracting a mate with the bright goo they secrete – so pretty. I was flicking my eyes up to the sheet lightening in the distance and the water, there’s just enough wind to cool me a little on this hot sultry night. So tired and great to hit the sack tonight, Stu already out and me not long after.
Woke at 0130 to thunder claps and lightening lighting up all around us and heavy rain coming in through the open side hatches. Jake was up with us looking stressed, putting my camera and iPads back into the oven. The sheet was flapping hard from the wind outside, from the washing we did when we got in. I had to go outside with my jacket as it was bucketing down, the thunder and lightning were unnerving and made me jump as I was on the roof frantically getting washing down, and it was right over us with the lightening and thinker at the same time. Lesson learned – never leave clothes on the line at night here. The anchor alarm shrieks just as I was saying I wonder how much wind there is? We race to see how far we have dragged anchor, it was a fair way considering we are nestled right next to 2 small islands. Stu starts running around obviously getting ready to start engines and pull up anchor, damn we’re going to get wet again, but better than dragging onto reef. The wind is blowing, the sheet is flapping, the lightning and thunder are all around us. It seems for the moment the anchor has stopped dragging, so we check our position on the radar and chart plotter then go outside, even though there is no moon the lightening is lighting up the island and reef nicely, we also used the spot light such a handy tool. We have swung on the anchor that dragged towards the island and now the wind is coming from the NW rather than the east (always blows from the east due to trade winds), so not great. The island and reef look very close, a little too close for comfort but we are not dragging and not on it, we are in 7m of water (initially we anchored in 10m).
If it were daytime we would definitely move but its pitch black night and eye sight navigation is essential here so we decided to go on watch, making sure the anchor doesn’t drag further. It’s now 0430 and I’m letting Stu have a bit more sleep as he needs it, he let me get extra sleep while sailing and I feel great right now writing this uninterrupted (except for boat checks). I was a little apprehensive at one stage when we drifted to the east as we seemed close to the shore but the wind has sent us back to the SE away from land, good stuff. I hear the thunder in the distance again, and the lightening is increasing, doh….. but our position is still good on the AIS anchor watch mode. I’m getting tired so it’s time to wake Stu and hit the sack.
Dorado and Holandes Cays
We have been here almost 2 weeks now. Surrounded by small sandy islands covered in coconut trees. We go snorkelling most days after school and lunch. It’s the start of the wet season so there is a lot of rain, cloud cover and it’s the start of the chocosonos, that explains the lightening we get most nights, we have had 3 nights where it was a bit full on with thunder and lightning over us with pelting rain and up to 30 knots of wind. These are called chocosonos and are hard to research as not mentioned in the guide book and I couldn’t find it on the internet in Aruba, there’s no internet here. So we are finding out about these things from other cruisers and as we experience them!!! We read that there are crocs here, but we were unsure how many and to what extent, we saw the local Gunas in the water at Tigre island so we figured it’s not much of a problem though keeping our eyes peeled. We were met by a fellow cruiser on her SUP board as we anchored in this beautiful group of islands called the Dorado Cays, she mentioned that there was a resident croc by Green island (a fair few islands away) she saw it from the boat it was 3 m. We met 2 girls who privately charter their boat so they can afford to keep cruising and they told us that there is a large croc around the `swimming pool’, which has attacked a lady and a dog (we were also warned from our friend Greer from S/V Tika who is in NZ or Fiji!). Currently we are in Hollandes Cays where this 5 m croc is supposed to be, so I am keen to ask the cruisers what the deal is and if it is here. I’m glad its not been as hot lately as we aren’t swimming off the boat as the water is not clear and we’re worried about crocs.
We all went for a snorkel while in Hollandes Cays, it was overcast and not that inviting, but the water was clear. Towards the end of the dive when we were close to the dingy Stu yells out get out of the water, he didn’t say it with much gusto so when he said it again much louder and forceful we flew out of the water. Apparently there was a Caribbean shark that would have come past the dingy (not that we saw it) and was swimming a little excited according to Stu, it was around 2.5 – 3m. This unnerved me a little, though I really don’t think it would attack. 5m Crocs are more of a worry!
We organised to see the inhabited island we were anchored next to, we arrived and were greeted by a friendly little man who could speak a little English. He introduced us to his 6 month old baby and his wife. The people were very friendly Sienna got dressed up in traditional Guna dress and got loads of attention due to her name! Due to the language barrier I eventually figured out that her name means a type of art they create with materials. There seemed to be more to the meaning of her name but I didn’t know what. Later we found out that her name means ‘womb’, in Guna! No wonder they thought it a very unusual and funny name. There seems to be around 15 Gunas who live on this island, they sleep in hammocks, they have lights and electricity from solar panels, huts made of bamboo, coconut trees and coconut branches for rooves and 2 houses had an aquamarine coloured tin roof. Apparently the island used to be twice the size when they first moved onto it according to two cruisers that have been around this area for the last 5 years. They cleared the island of low lying plants and mangroves to try to reduce the midges, mozzies and `no seem ums’ which allowed the high tides and storms to wash the sand away.
`No see ums’ are the most annoying of tiny biting insects which are so small they get through fly screens, so we had to lock up the boat from 5pm until the am, then they were still in the saloon in the am. I spent my nights hunting them or itching from my blistered bites as I’m a biting bug magnet. I recommend ice, hydrocortisone cream and Phenergan if you can’t sleep from bites. It’s great to be a bit further from the mainland away from the mangroves and biting insects, we arrived here in Hollandes Cays and the biting bug count is much much lower……. yay.
The kids were so stoked last night to catch a fish each, from the back of Neverland and skin and gut their own fish with Stus help. They caught a snapper each all within half an hour, pretty cool. I was cooking mums yummy chicken pie, which I have changed as we can’t use our oven and I use dumplings instead, which are a hit – thanks mum. Poor Sienna just had an injury and swung into the mast, poor little chicken she has an egg on her head and back. The Gunas come up to Neverland in their dug outs some paddling some with outboard motors, Sienna was very cute yesterday we got her a `mola’ which is a traditional top and sarong skirt. She has been wearing it today. I was stoked to buy some art work of fish and turtles to make a cushion for when we get home, yes parents we will be coming home!
In Holandes Cays we were aware that there is a large Croc somewhere and as we are anchored over deepish (10m) waters and its murky so there’s no way I’m letting anyone swim. Our friends have told us (from Tika) and we asked the fellow cruisers about a 3-5 m croc here somewhere in the mangroves, and it attacked a lady and dog recently. So I was way too freaked out to let the kids swim when we went for a dingy drive, we went looking for a croc on a croc hunt by dingying around the mangroves, but saw none, the water was super clear and inviting. Stu went for a snorkel in a channel inlet (away from the mangroves) but I didn’t let the kids get in. I figure Stu is pretty big for a croc to tackle, but a child…….. well more of a meal size so let’s not tempt fate. We went to an island called BBQ island. It had a Guna hut on it so I wasn’t surprised when a man came up and wanted $3 per person (took a while to figure it all out in our non-speaking Guna/Spanish) so we left pretty quickly as we didn’t want to pay and had no cash with us anyway – all good though we went to a nearby island and had a walk around.
The no see ums were really harassing the tasty morsel that I am, so we decided to move on to the Lemmon Cays, the next group of islands. Now these islands were more to our liking, clear water, great anchorage in 5m right by a reef with an island with pretty much no bugs, well none we could see, though we were getting little nips in the evening as these ones we couldn’t see and didn’t leave a bite. The next day we were welcomed while doing school by a chocosono, this one was the most full on we have had as the wind metre peaked at 51 knots and there was a lightning strike quite close. Stu saw the strike but the sound was frightening and I certainly jumped, though tried to cover it as the kids were freaked out. We later realized that some electricity from the lightening must have reset the power metre, and our wind sensor was out. Yes, all the devices were in the oven thanks to Jake. It passed quickly as they do, and the evening was a paradox with calm winds and a beautiful sunset.
We played cricket on the sandbar nearby with loads of star fish. Stu and Jake spotted a scorpion fish (aka stone fish) which was great, as it blended in way too well in the shallows. School the next day involved Jake researching and adding the Scorpion fish to our fish school keynote app. Most days are overcast with rain on and off so when we had a sunny day we made the most of it and went for a snorkel, it was a great reef Stu found and we all enjoyed it. I broke my record and got to 18m deep!!!! So stoked and no ear troubles, I also mainly equalised hands free only using the frenzel equalizing technique just in case as I don’t want to stuff my ears up again. I reached the bottom at 16m and under for 59 seconds (I didn’t want to dive down over the darker deeper water, a little apprehensive) but I should have as I would have gone deeper as I reached the bottom at 16m and swam along the bottom for a little while to reach 18m. Anyway, stoked I am with 18m.
We were at the stunning Lemmon cays for about a week when we needed to move on to check in, naughty us, not checking in straight away but no one does as customs is on the other end of the island group. More importantly we needed to get a SIM card to get internet to pay our massive badly timed and much higher than expected tax bill (Stu was stressed and rightly so as interest would have been massive per day). It was one of those rare sunny days here and extra hard to leave as our friends from Kia Ora (an Aussie couple from Prevally in Margaret River) had rocked up the day before to catch up. Arriving at Isle Porvenir we were greeted by an English speaking Guna man who helped us with the check in process and offered to show us his island and where to provision and find a SIM card.
We arranged a time and met him on the island, he introduced us to his family who were all sitting around a small hut with hammocks, sand floor, coconut leaf roof and not much else. We followed him as he lead us through a maze of sand paths lined with people’s houses. All the houses were pretty much the same, all made from natural materials though some had corrugated rooves. It was a small island and we crossed from one side to the other in a 10 minutes. He showed us the meeting place where all the village congregate and the Sharma and the heads of the village meet to discuss the community. Some people have a job where they all of a sudden bang something really loud to wake up the whole congregation, as it gets pretty boring. On the way back we heard a Sharma chanting in a shack, the Sharma is like the spiritual leader or medicine man of the village and is very powerful. It was such a privilege to be escorted around this island with an english speaking local, and get an insight into their lives, such a different way of living compared to home.
We were tossing up what to do next, by this I mean right now and our future plans. Stu and I needed uninterrupted time together to research. So the whole of the next day we didn’t check in or go anywhere (which was our original plan). So now we finally have a plan and realized we need to be crossing the Panama canal as soon as we can (after going to Panama city by car/bus to lodge the long stay visas for French Polynesia, which is going to be a mission), kids had a day off school that day.
We planned to go to Linton the following day to get our cruising permit and reprovision after going to the nearby island first thing in the am to check in. Of course checking in took ages (but the English speaking man arrived after we had waited a good half an hour and he sped things up). After our passports had been checked and cleared with Immigration (which involved copies emailed to head office in Panama to clear in with immigration, as the immigration officer was not given jurisdiction to pass someone which meant we would have had to go to Linton for this within a few days), anyway it was with surprise that we saw him email this information on his iPhone. We had to wait for ages for the return phone call to clear us. Some Gunas still have a very traditional way of life while others embrace the 21st century.
I took the kids for a walk as Alex especially needed to let off steam, and we found out that the big ferry ship wrecked on the outer reef near Lemmon Cays was trying to help another vessel with 10 people on it who had ended up on the reef, when the ferry’s engines stopped and the ferry also ended up on the reef. This is a real shame as back packers used to come to visit this island and would obviously bring money to the area, this was no longer happening, sad for the Guna people.
So we decided to go back to Lemmon cays for a night as we would get into Linton after dark if we left now. We anchored near Kia Ora which was great and went for a snorkel with them, it was overcast again but a nice dive. We had them over for dinner and Franny and John told us all about the canal as they have transited it 10 times in total. They stayed for dinner and drinks, it was one of those perfect tropical nights, no wind, full moon with lightening a way off and great company – just stunning. Poor little Sienna woke up with a fever and dry reaching with a snotty cold (no idea where she could have got this from!), so Stu was Dad of the day and slept on the couch so she could stay in with me the night.
There was a lot of lightening and dark dark skies on the horizon all day so I wasn’t surprised when we got woken at 5am by thunder claps and loads of sheet and fork lightening close by, though no wind this time. Stu had been up a lot of the night as the lightening light show was on for most of it. We saw Kia Ora up so did some torch light signals to them and they called us up on the VHF for a very early am chat. Stu and I decided to abandon the trip to Linton today as the fork lightening above us made our decision for us!
It feels like we have a lot in front of us, long stay visa application, transiting the Panama Canal, a massive provision is needed, then crossing to Galapagos (may take a week some of which may be not really nice sailing conditions) then doing the big crossing (3 weeks or so) to Marquesas in French Polynesia!!! Oh and there may be a tropical low forming NW of us (Nicaragua, but it won’t cross us but may bring squally conditions!).
Jake – the fishing here is awesome! If any of you at home want to do a boat trip like us, whatever you do do not make your kids do Saxon maths it is horrible, and your life will be happy ever after.
Thanks for reading friends and family.
Love the Neverlandians xxxxxxxx
4 thoughts on “Panama 1: San Blas, May 2017”
So lived reading all about your travels. So great to look back on it now t g at those huge sails are under your belt.
Kids, we b eed more writings from you all. Love to read your stories.
Cariños dear family from Bonaire. Kids are growing up. Besos 😘!
Hey Gaby so great to hear from you, yes growing too fast. 🙂
Just sat down and read this. We miss you guys heaps at the moment! I sent a voice message by email to Stu’s account. I have to hear Alex’s voice! I bet you he sounds so grown up now!
Sienna, you are growing up so big! And Jake… you’re a handsome fella!!!
Not loving the sound of the 3 week trip!! Best not tell me about that until it’s over!! We need a Skype session you creeps. Missing you!!