SO WHAT HAVE WE BEEN
UP TO, YOU ASK?
Well our days seem to
have fallen into a pattern. On sailing days, we get up, have a leisurely
breakfast, raise the anchor, sail to the next island, drop anchor, eat, read,
chillax and sleep.
On non sailing days,
we get up, have a leisurely breakfast, read a little, jump overboard and snorkel
for an hour or so, come back to the boat for lunch, snorkel, read, eat and sleep
and so the days go by.
The only deviations
from the pattern are when we have ‘incoming’!! This is when we are being
approached by ulu’s wanting to trade with us. It’s a hard life, but somebody has
to do it L
The days have been
very hot around about 32˚C + and despite slapping on factor 50 spf, we have
still got burned!!!
However, the rainy
season is just beginning and we have had our first rainfall in 2
Shortly after we had
anchored off the island of Waisaladup, a Kuna family approached the
boat in the traditional Ulu, or dugout canoe. I was pleased to find they spoke
Spanish and not the Kuna language I had read about.
Senor Fernandez and
his wife and four children greeted us and then tried to sell me a Mola. As it is
the first island we have visited and we have another 6 weeks to go, I decided
not to buy one, but instead bought myself a bead bracelet, which I bargained
down from $4 to $2.
proudly introduced his children and told me they had been to school. The middle
boy, who told me he was ten years old, though he looked about seven, asked if I
had any magazines, so I gave him a National Geographic. I asked if they enjoyed
school and they said they had. I asked if they would like me to teach them some
English and Senor Fernandez said he would like that. So we arranged to visit his
home the next day at 11 am.
Roger and I spent the
rest of the day snorkelling. It is so nice being able to snorkel off the boat
instead of having to dinghy to the reef. We saw a stingray and lots of other
smaller a fish.
But the most exciting
thing was seeing a huge (about 4 ‘ wing span) spotted eagle ray. Unfortunately,
it was too deep for my camera to pick up, despite Roger diving down to snap
The next day we
headed for the beach. Roger dropped me off and I walked around the island until
I reached the little settlement of Kuna houses.
They are all the same
and made of sustainable materials, bamboo walls and palm
Inside all they have
is hammocks. The roofs can last between 10 and 25 years, it all depends on the
length of time spent making it. If you take up to 2 years to make it, it will
last up to 25 years!
I was shown into one
hut and they brought me a chair. The 3 boys came in, Jose who is eight, his
brothers Cesar who is eleven and the ten year old whose name I regrettably
cannot remember. I gave them all a pad and a pencil. We started with very basic
English and counting, they also had to write whatever they
Then we went on to
simple arithmetic. Jose and his middle brother were very bright, but when it
came to Cesar, Senor Fernandez, rather unkindly, knocked on his head, implying
he was dense. However, it soon became clear to me that this was not the case and
that Cesar was actually as bright as his brothers.
All the family sat
round while we had our lesson (me too as I was having to work at my Spanish).
All the women had a cross painted down their nose, in what I presume was henna.
At one point Senor
Fernandez wanted to do the same to me. Part of me wanted to, but I didn’t know
if they tattooed it on, as the stick he showed me looked very sharp. Also I
wasn’t sure what the implications of having it done would be. So I just smiled
and said yes and carried on with my class. We had lots of laughs, especially
when it came to singing 10 green bottles!!!
I didn’t see much
else of the settlement, except the women working on their Molas.
The next day we set
sail for Carti, in preparation for picking up Lynne and Chris. We sailed up from
Waisaladup and anchored off the island of Nonomulu. We were a little concerned about where
the airport actually was in relation to our anchorage, especially as they were
flying in at 06.30.
As it turned out
we needn’t have worried, we were virtually parked at the end of the
Men in ulus kept
stopping by the boat, so we bought 4 large fresh fish for $10 from one and 2
hands of green bananas for $1 from another.
Green bananas are
great for not only do they last longer, but you can also cook them instead of
potatoes when they are green.
However my top tip
for the day is: If you are peeling and cutting green bananas wear gloves as they
stain your hands dark brown!!!
Bright and early
Roger set off to pick up our new crew and it was only minutes before they were
They had flown across
from Panama city
with Aeroperlas for a cost of $42 (inc taxes) one way. They could also have come
by road for the same price, but it would have taken 3 and a half hours instead
of 40 mins!!! ( notice the airfield in the right top of the picture!)
After a, yes,
leisurely breakfast of Bagels (courtesy of Cheryl in Cartagena) smoked salmon
and cream cheese with tomatoes and onions, we upped anchor and headed out to
Gunboat cay, where we anchored for the night.
Although it was a
vast improvement on Nonomulu, being a palm fringed island as opposed to a
mangrove island, the snorkelling wasn’t very good with heavy sea surge making it
even more difficult at the same time reducing visibility.
There were however,
dozens of very large sea cucumbers everywhere, I have never seen sea cucumbers
that large, to give you an idea, they were probably the length of Rogers’ forearm (finger
tips to elbow) and as thick. We all said that Susan, Rogers’ eldest daughter
would have been in her element.
We decided to head
out the next day for Caobos Island in the East Hollandes Cays, in
search of better snorkelling.
According to our guide books, you are not allowed to dive in the Kuna
Yala, but you can snorkel, which as
we were to find out, was just as good, if not better than
Getting into the
anchorage at Caobos was quite tricky with only a narrow gap in the reef. Perhaps
that is why we were only one of 2 boats there? We didn’t mind, it was worth the
As soon as the anchor
was secure, Roger went overboard to check the anchor and Lynne & I sorted
out our snorkelling gear.
was unable to snorkel as the gear we had on board was too small for him, it was
probably just as well, as he was already doing a good impersonation of a
lobster, despite being covered in factor 50 sunscreen.
However, before Roger
could snorkel he had to unravel the fishing line from the prop, as we had
forgotten to take it in before anchoring!!!
The reef was a good
swim away from the boat, but it was excellent. Lots of marine life and big ‘drop
offs’, where we saw nurse sharks, sleeping, thankfully.
They were the first
sharks we had seen this trip.
The trouble with
snorkelling is that you can do it for hours. I suppose it is like a child being
in a toy shop, browsing. Time almost stands still. Plus, unlike diving, you have
no air limitation, so one hour quickly slips into another. This is wonderfully
relaxing, however, it also leaves you vulnerable to sun burn. Which, despite
sunscreen, we all suffered with at one point or another.
Roger took his
Hawaiian sling with him (a spear for fishing that works a bit like a catapult)
as he needed the practice and we set off for the reef. It wasn’t long before we
spotted a lobster and Roger tried to spear it. As I said, he needed the practice
and the lobster was not for eating that day.
Within minutes we had
spotted another (that’s my job) and Roger came for a crack at it. He had more
success this time as the lobster made the fatal error of trying to swim for it!!
(he obviously prefers a moving target!)
As we already had the
fish for dinner, the lobster was left until the next day, mistake number
Sadly, despite being
kept in water, because of his wound, unlike the lobsters that the locals dive
for and somehow bring up uninjured, he was not fit for eating when I came to
cook him the next day.
The next day we
dinked round to the other anchorage of Swimming Pool and BBQ islands just to
have a look.
It was just like an NCP car park, there
were so many yachts and they all looked as if they were lined up. We were so
glad we hadn’t anchored there, it sort of spoils the illusion of the isolation
of the islands.
That day, while we
were all chillaxing an ulu approached. It was driven by an outboard, most are
paddled. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and one of the men gave us his
business card. His name was Venancio and he was a Master Mola Maker. Just what I
had been waiting for. Although everyone makes Molas, the quality of the work
varies greatly, but the Master Mola Makers produce exceptional work. Stitches so
fine you can’t even see them. I had decided that if I were going to buy a Mola
it would be from a Master. Venancio asked if he could come aboard to show his
work, Roger reluctantly agreed.
We sat in the cockpit
and went through all of his work. He had traditional designs, ‘historia’ designs
(that told a particular story) and tourist designs. They were all beautiful. So
we selected the ones we liked, then whittled it down to the ones we would
purchase. Venancio told me their island was 3hours away, he also gave me his
brothers’ business card. Idelfonso is a tour guide. He speaks very good English
and we learned what little Kuna we speak from him. I suggested that we should do
a trip with him, so we agreed to call him the night before we wanted to visit
We had read that the
Coco Banderos islands were amongst the most beautiful in the Kuna Yala, so the
next day, after paying our $5 fee to the local Kuna, we upped anchor and headed
over. Unfortunately the other 16
yachts that were anchored there when we arrived must have read the same book, so
here we were in another NCP car park. There was also a dramatic reminder of just
how dangerous the reefs were, as we passed a ship that had been
We slowly nosed our
way through the reef, then through all of the yachts, we passed the little
islands and I for one was rather saddened to see that some of the cruisers had
put up gazebos on the beaches.
Seriously, it was
like Majorca in the height of the season. Plus
I thought how arrogant and inconsiderate to all of the other cruisers some
people are, claiming that beach as their own. Even the Kuna Yala happily share
We continued through the
anchorage until we were within a stones throw of one of the islands, then
dropped the anchor.
It was beautiful
there was no question about that. The reef was within swimming distance, so it
There was also a huge
motor yacht anchored just outside the anchorage. With it came 2 tenders and 2
We watched as the
crew also brought the owners’ 2 standard poodles across to our island to do
their ablutions. Once again I thought how arrogant, as there was no way they had
cleaned up after the dogs and there were Kuna living on the island. I also
thought about how little the huge yacht brought to the people of the islands. I
doubt very much that they ever traded with the ulus when they came to sell their
At least, in return
for sharing these beautiful islands, cruisers contribute to its economy. In fact
it is quite a significant amount. While we were checking in I was talking to the
Port Captain asking him how many yachts visited the islands each year (remember
he felt he should have a secretary and Panama said he wasn’t busy enough for
one?). He told me they have 1000 yachts per year. Now each yacht pays $30 to
immigration ($30,000 over a year, though most of that will go to Panama) $69 for
a 3 month cruising permit (once again going to Panama) and $22 to the Congresso
($22,000 a year to the Kunas).
Now, on top of that
you are sometimes required to pay $5 to the local Sahila (chief of the island)
for anchoring in his waters.
Most cruisers will
buy at least 1 Mola during their stay and they start at about $10, but the
average price is probably $30, so there’s $30,000 going to the local people
directly. All the fish and produce you buy and the taxes you pay to the
congresso if you visit an island. If you are allowed to take photos, most Kuna
will charge you $1 for the privilege, so it doesn’t take Einstein to work out
that it is a significant contribution over the year. In addition to that
cruisers will often bring magazines, sweets and drinks to give to the
Anyway, I think you
get the picture, so I’ll get off my soap box and continue with our
As the reef was so
close, we donned our gear and headed out. Once again it was excellent. We had
taken to wearing t-shirts over our swimming gear, to protect ourselves from the
As was our practice
after a snorkel, it was back to the boat for tea and cookies (and to wake Chris
up, he was the ‘Swab’ and did most of the heavy work and it was tiring him
out!!!!) then spend the rest of the day chillaxing.
We have a ‘lookee
bucket’ on board, which is a glass bottomed bucket, so Lynne and Roger decided
to take Chris over to the reef and show him the marine life. As it was
approaching sunset I stayed on board (well all the predators start coming out
then and I don’t like snorkelling with them, don’t mind diving, but not
snorkelling). Lynne was only wearing her bikini and as she was swimming she felt
something bite her. It was so startling that she fished around in her bikini to
get whatever it was out.
Later, after she had
been back on board a while she went to lay down, as she was experiencing unusual
stabbing pains followed by aches. I gave her paracetamol and asked her to
monitor the situation. I have a little book on board about health in the
Americas. As I looked though the
possible causes, there was only one that fitted her symptoms, I believe she had
been bitten by a sea snake. There were 2 puncture wounds, but no pain or
inflammation at the site itself, she later started getting thirsty and her
throat felt constricted. It is not unusual for creatures to get entangled in
your clothing and bite/sting as they try to escape and Lynne did say her bikini
was loose fitting. Fortunately, the severity of the bite depends on how much
venom is injected and in Lynnes case, thankfully, I don’t think it was much.
By the next morning
she was fine, but after that we never wore t-shirts or baggy swimmers (Roger
finally has justification for wearing his Captain Ron speedos).
We took the dink over
to one of the islands which seemed to be of no interest to anyone else It was
quite a distance, but we were rewarded with spectacular snorkelling.
There were huge
corals and a mass of different species of fish. We swam quite a distance and
spent a couple of hours exploring before returning to the island. The island
itself was beautiful with a pristine white beach all the way round. On the
windward side of the island were lots of empty conch shells. We hadn’t seen any
on the leeward side, so presumably they prefer the strong current and
As Lynne and
Chris were on board Roger tried to do as much sailing as possible, which
wasn’t always easy as the next island may ave been as little as 20 minutes
away and hardly worth the effort of getting the sails set. But our next
destination, Kuanidup, was a good 3 hours away.
The winds were light
(but at least in the right direction for a change) so we broke out the spinnaker
and Beaujolais showed Lynne that, despite her
size, she could move as fast as the next boat, clipping along at 7.6 knots at
It was a lovely sail
and we all enjoyed the spectacle of the big blue ‘Commend’ spinnaker against the
beautiful backdrop of the islands.
Now Kuanidup is an
small island with a kuna style hotel on it. This is a few Kuna style huts,
hammocks slung between palm trees and a ‘comidor’ or canteen
We dinked ashore and asked if we could
dine there that evening. The young man we spoke to said yes, the meal would be
fish and it is served at 7pm.
It made a nice change
to eat ashore, so we dressed and headed over to join the other guests. It’s just
as well they served food ashore, as Lynne, despite her claim of being a good
fisherman/woman (whatever) had yet to produce the goods. In fact we sat on the
deck and watched two boys in a water taxi hauling out fish after fish, yet when
Roger & Lynne went to the same area…..NOTHING!!!!
Over a couple of
bottles of wine and an excellent dinner of grilled fish, salad, coleslaw, rice
and beans, we passed a pleasant evening with the guests (more like a meeting of
the UN, there were so many different nationalities) and all for $15 a head (the
meal itself was only $6, the balance was for the wine, which, by the way, was
the same price we had paid in the supermarkets in Cartagena).
It was a lovely
anchorage and we really can’t understand why more people didn’t use it (not that
we were complaining!!)