San Blas Islands, Panama
September - October 2010
Good-bye Aruba, hello San Blas.  The four night, 500 nm, passage was un-eventful, aside from the predicted light southerly winds which actually turned into 25 knots on the nose for 48 hours. Along the way some hitch-hikers flew on board that required a much needed rest.  Sailing approximately 300 miles off the coast of Columbia, we were surprised to see a hawk flying around Blue Sky.  This land bird found a resting spot between our dinghy and the davits, the wind was blowing and the seas were rough.  He was obviously very tired, and we pondered how he managed to get so far away from land.  The raptor slept for almost 48 hours, only to wake and feed on some meat that we carefully placed on the dinghy.  After the much needed rest he flew off, leaving us to ponder once more, where is he heading and hoping he finds land. The second visitor during the evening was a friendly swallow, who landed on Jim's hand and Drake's head.  Also very tired, we placed him inside a dark locker to sleep for the night.  The next morning when we went to release  him in the morning, he pulled a Houdini on us and had miraculously disappeared. 
The third guest was a boobie bird, who slept between the cockpit and rail.  Trying to rest between the jolts of the waves.  Our guests traveled for free, but managed to leave deposits of guano on the deck and in the dinghy.
Phoebe and Drake excited to see land and drop the hook at the San Blas Islands of Panama.
This archipelago on the Caribean side of Panama consists of over 340 islands, the majority of which are uninhabited.  They are home to the indigenous Kuna Indians, who have preserved their culture and traditions for centuries. The islands are part of the Kuna Yala mainland territory.  White sand beaches, palm trees blow in the breeze and clear water for snorkeling.
The cruisers in Panama run a radio net on the SSB at 08:30 local time on frequency 8107 USB.  Through this we gained local knowledge and most importantly learned there were three other boats traveling with children.  Everyone converged on the island group of Coco Banderos and the children played "Lord of the Flies" on the island. The adults enjoyed getting acquianted around the fire, while marshmellows were being roasted and consumed by all the children.
Blue Sky anchored off the Coco Banderos Islands.  Each night we were treated to a show of spotted eagle rays that would gracefully glide around the boat.
Coco Banderos anchorage is surrounded by four islands.  One of which is owned by an extended family from Isle Tigre. Every three months different members come and live here selling molas and crafts, then they trade off with another family member.  To the right are their houses that they live in.  To the left is the camp the children set up, one night they all slept on the beach.  Fortunately one of the mom's stayed with them in case they got scared.  Luck held & it didn't rain.
The elite of Panama utilized the un-seasonably good weather to make for the islands on the weekends in their sport fishing boats.  Those not wishing to travel the three hours by boat will fly in on their helicopters, which land on small patches on the sand.  To the left, we were told after the fact, that the President of Panama, Mr. Martinelli, was visiting the islands.  Flying in via helicopter he was picked up in large tender and transported to his turqoise colored sport fisher, located in the remote anchorage. 
When the sport fishers arrived there was no lack of ice.  They were all very friendly and it was nice to get local knowledge and contacts for Panama City.
A short dinghy ride away from the anchorage is a small two palm island.  Someone has lined up all the flip flops that have washed ashore, and in this part of the world they were all right footed ones.  The family photo displaying Blue Sky sodas on the remote island.  In the background is a large Columbian trading vessel that missed the entrance and ran aground on the reef.
Eva, Toby, Lidya, Drake, Phoebe, Noah and Joshua.
Joshua, from s/v Southern Belle was turning ten.  The celebration was to held on the East Lemons anchorage.  We pulled up the anchor and motored the 15 miles to yet another beautiful island.  George arranged to have a pinata brought from Panama city, where all the children, plus the ones who lived on the island all had a turn.  Once the pinata was be-headed it was a free for all to gather as much candy as possible.
Three miles from Coco Banderos is the island of Nargana, there is a small air strip and most of the buildings are non-traditional and made of concrete.  This is where we did our shopping, on calm days we took the dinghy, to buy our supplies.  The Columbian trading boats are anchored along the wharf and sell fresh fruits and vegetables.  Most shops sell frozen chicken and meat and small bread rolls are baked fresh daily.  Beer is bought at the local dealer and a meal can be enjoyed for under five dollars.
The family that lived on Nuinudup were very gracious and participated in the birthday celebration, enjoying the cake and food that were offered.  The traditional Kunas will not allow you to take their photograph.  Promising the family that I would print copies of the photos for them to keep, they were eager to dress in their most colorful mola's and have their family photos taken.  The teenagers on the island attend a school on a nearby island and as you can see the younger generation do not dress in the traditional way.  The women make money selling "mola's", shirts that are intricately made by sewing and cutting different layers of colorful cloth.  They also adorn themselves with colorful beads the length of their calves and up their arms.  Doning a backpack full of school and fishing supplies the family thanked me by giving me an anklet and mola. 
Officialy a part of Panama, San Blas is ruled by the Kuna general, "congreso".  The women control the money and the husband moves into the women's family compound.  Kunas marry early, at about 13 years of age, with the women chosing the husband.  I was asked many times if Phoebe was of age, thankfully No.  One of the largest concentration of Albinos in the world live in Kuna Yala, they are called Moon Children and oftern become leaders in their villages.
Back in Coco Banderos, fisherman would approach us everyday selling lobster, crab and conch.  This particular one offered us a small green turtle, negotiating the price down to $7.00 we bought it and had a delicious soup for dinner.  Don't worry the soup was black beans and rice.  Ours friends on s/v Bonaire were in the anchorage so we went over and picked up Finn and Sam.  Taking "Flipper" the turtle to the outer reef we released him back into the wild.  Fisherman are not allowed to capture turtles, but unfortunately the rule is not enforced.
The San Blas are supposed to be rainy this time of year, and with our water maker out of commission we were relying on catching rain water to fill our tanks.  Unfortnately we only had a few showers, none of which we could collect water.  Thankfully most islands had wells on them, the water was slightly brackish, but was good enough to do laundry and wash in.
S/V Pacific Bliss arrived traveling up the chain from Cartegena.  Phoebe and Drake were delighted to have Zinnia and Cosmo as playmates again.  The girls continued their creative sand castle building, with each getting more intricate than the other.  They even decorated some drift wood with conch shells and built a fort with palm fronds and drift wood.  Maybe Phoebe will be and anchitect or designer when she grows up.
Our time was coming near to and end in San Blas and we wanted to see a couple more islands.  Next stop was the Holandes Cayes, where we anchored in the "swimming pool" off BBQ island.  Beautiful clear water and a lovely island to play on.
Drake and his friend Joshua where throwing sticks at palm trees, only to realize that they hit a bee hive.  Needless to say, Drake was stung on the cheek. Thankfully he is not allegic to bee's, except his cheek was swollen for a couple days.  The last island we visited was Chicime, where a family runs a small back packer bungalow type place, and actually sell cold beer.  We enjoyed the time with our friends Malinda, George and Joshua from s/v Southern Belle.  They are heading towards Cartegena while we are going the opposite direction. 
Phoebe, Malinda and George. Joshua and Drake to the right.  Colorful Mola's for sale on the left.

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