Greetings from Panama
BEAUTIFUL SAN BLAS ISLANDS
Current Position 9:22.07N 79:57.06W (Shelter Bay Marina : Panama)
We were told by a number of fellow cruisers in the Caribbean that the San Blas islands were a definite “must see”; so we spent one week cruising various islands in the group. The island group starts about 120 NM east of Panama and is absolutely spectacular. In fact, some cruisers who we met have spent a year or 2 just exploring this area.
The low lying islands are coral fringed, with palm trees and sandy white beaches. Navigation is a bit tricky because of a lack of accurate charts, so a daytime entry through the coral heads into the anchorages is a must. However, a recent cruising guide by Eric Bauhaus proved to be very helpful in finding our way through the islands.
(Mikado and Blues at anchor in Hollandes Cays)
There are no facilities, resorts, hotels or shops – so you have to take everything with you. The local Kuna Indians that occupy the islands are extremely friendly and live a very simplistic life; living in basic huts and fishing out of handmade dugouts. Their only income is from selling coconuts (for which they get 25c each), fishing and selling handcrafted “Molas” to the few tourists and cruising sailors. Little has changed here over the last few hundred years.
(Local Kuna Indian women selling their “Molas” to us)
(Nick and Jenny at Hollandes Cays)
We arrived at one of the westernmost group of islands called “Hollandes Cays” after an uneventful 200NM sail from Cartegena in Colombia in company with our Swedish friends on board “Blues”. At the anchorage called “BBQ Island” (named after all the local cruisers who regularly gather there for beach BBQ’s), we met fellow Aussies, Peter and Donna on “Orano 1” and pommies Jason and Amanda on “Pegasus”. Within the hour a few locals paddled out in their canoes and we were offered Molas, fresh fish and fruit. We purchased a Mola from one of the local women and went ashore to explore the local village of 3-4 families.
After a couple of days we moved on to the next group (about 12 NM), called Lemmon Cays, where the snorkeling was said to be the best in region – and the guide book was right. I have never seen that many tropical fish in any location. And the colorful coral was as good as any on the Great Barrier Reef. On one of the islands near the anchorage, one of the locals had created a makeshift bar for the cruisers and was selling local beer for USD$1 and bottles of Panamanian Rum for USD $8. The bar was open every day from 4:30pm to 7:30pm and was a great opportunity to catch up with the other yachts.
(Nick and Georgina at ChiChime)
We then motored over to the main island called Porvenir to check in and obtain our Panamanian cruising permit before going to an island group called ChiChime. This anchorage would have to be the prettiest one we have ever been to with only a few families living on the islands. We were even invited by the local Saila (island chief) to visit his family and island. Our charge for anchoring there was a donation of a couple of batteries and light globes for his hut (he had a very basic solar cell system and car battery to power his lights at night).
(Locals fishing at ChiChime)
From ChiChime we cruised 35NM to Isle Grande to overnight and then on to Shelter Bay Marina on the Atlantic side of Panama where we are awaiting our transit. It looks like we only have to spend 4-5 days here before going through.
Til next time,
Ian and Jenny Van der Woude