In the Western Coco Banderos Cays - San Blas

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Mon 26 Mar 2012 17:14
In position 09:31.176N, 078:38.961W
Finally the weather had decided to brighten up and do what it's supposed to do at this time of the year. Unfortunately our good friends on 'Soul Mates' have just departed for Jamaica.  As the Coco Banderos Cays are so beautiful we decided to stay a couple of days longer until we run out of something we really need. Then we will have to head back to Nargana to obtain supplies. Luckily some boxed wine and bread rolls were provided, at a price of course, courtesy of 'underpant man'.  He is one of the Kunas we so nick-named as his underpants are always showing above his shorts, assuming he has any shorts on in the first place! He plies his trade selling whatever the cruisers may need by way of provisions which are stacked into his outboard powered ulu. The bread rolls were certainly welcome.  Skip had just attempted making 'soda bread' rolls for the first time having had reasonable success with his first ever bread loaf made with yeast a week or so back. Unfortunately his 'rolls' looked like scones and could have been used by Nelson as grape-shot against the French. Fortunately he does have his uses in the fishing department and just as we were deliberating as to what type of curry to cook yesterday evening two very good sized fish kindly offered themselves up to the morsels of tuna adorning the fishing hook. So curry was cancelled as we picked over the barbecue grilled fish with rice and salad. A very healthy meal!
The end of the dry season approacheth - the driest time of year in the Caribbean being from December to April. Many of the yachts that spend that period here as an alternative to the USA or Canada are preparing to lay their boats up either in Panamarina just west along the coast near Isla Lynton or in Shelter Bay Marina in Colon. However, others arrive from the eastern and north-western Caribbean keeping the total number of yachts cruising in these islands at around 120 or so. Some of these craft will be transiting the canal and moving into the Pacific but opt to spend a few weeks in the islands before heading to Colon where the Canal's Caribbean entrance is located.
With the improvement in the weather we've been able to spend quite a few hours snorkelling recently, with the water temperature hovering just below 30 degrees C. Even then we don wet suits as we are often in for an hour or two which can surprisingly bring the body temperature down enough to feel a little chilly. The suits also double as protection against any sharp coral we may encounter. The nearby reefs contain a wonderful variety of exotic colourful fish with the occasional sighting of something larger.  Yesterday we saw a Barracuda which was certainly not a threat due to its small size however on rounding a corner on the reef the unmistakable outline of a largish shark of unknown species was seen. The 'Admiral' immediately grasped one of Skip's legs for security (?) but it was not shark feeding time and it showed no interest in either us or any of the more regular members of it's diet as it lazily swam away into the distance. With the 'Admiral's' grip released Skip was then able to fin unhindered further around the reef followed at a respectable distance by the 'Admiral' who had now amazingly developed 360 degree vision. Has anyone ever though of installing wing mirrors on a diving mask?
Many of the tropical reef dwellers have a personality of their own and hovering over one spot enables us to study their habits and habitat. Unfortunately, many of the edible varieties are understandably shy of swimmers and for good reason as they are often hunting for food. The fish know which of them qualify under the heading of 'tasty'. So when we appear they disappear into any crevice they can find. It all makes for an interesting experience - akin to swimming around in a huge tropical fish tank.
One changing aspect of cruising in the San Blas is that the Kunas are beginning to charge for anchoring off some of the more beautiful of the 365 islands or villages that they may be associated with.  Yet when entering San Blas at Porvenir a flat charge of $20 per month per boat is made by the Kuna Congresso for anchoring as well as a $2 charge per person for the duration of the stay. But in three locations we have recently been asked for further anchoring or 'visiting' fees. If they have the correct paperwork from the Congresso then these charges are apparently legitimate and thus payable.  Naturally some are 'trying it on'.  When challenged for their written authority to make such a charge and they don't have it they become annoyed or just go away and leave you alone. Undoubtedly this situation will develop further in the coming years as they turn from Mola selling (there are only so many Molas you can buy) to more lucrative money-making activities.  And cruisers are seen as a 'cash cow' to be milked. Sadly, much the same as other locations in the Caribbean and beyond.
The San Blas are still one of the most stunningly beautiful island chains in the world.  As soon as we have better internet connection we will post some more photographs.