A fellow sailor once told me that cruising plans are “written in the sand at low tide.”  So very true.  We hadn’t planned on staying in the San Blas Islands for as long as we did, but it turned out to be the highlight of our trip so far.  And the truth is …. two weeks in San Blas is grossly insufficient.  The surrounding are so relaxing ….  a couple of month would be ideal.  But you only have so much time in the Caribbean before hurricane season begins so we had to keep moving.

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Reef protecting the Islands from the pounding Caribbean Sea.

The San Blas Islands are part of Panama, but are governed by the native Kuna Yala people.  This archipelago consists of about 378 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited.  Imagine the stereotypical vision you have of the Caribbean: azure seas, puffy white clouds dotting the sky, coconut palm islands with white sand beaches scattered everywhere.  Great snorkeling around the reefs, beautiful anchorages and enough wind to keep the mosquitos away.  In fact, the wind blows about 20 knots day and night, cooling us down and providing enough amps to charge the boat’s batteries using our wind generators. Even though those winds whip up the seas the islands are nicely protected in calm waters behind the many reefs.  Plenty of sun to tan these bodies and give us more amps for the batteries via our solar panels.  We wear our bathing suits all day and sleep without any coverings; the temperature is so comfortable all the time.  You anchor in 10 feet of water that is so clear you can see your anchor – which is nice because you can tell how dug in your hook is.

You might have noticed amps are kind of important to those who live on a boat.  We are constantly aware of how many ams we are using and how many we are producing.  In the world of finance you have cash flow, in the world of sailing we have amp flow.  We strive to be amp flow positive, which is just as hard as being cash flow positive.   Sailors are the original “green citizens”.  Long before going green became popular sailors were already doing it.  Using wind to travel, solar panels, wind generators, and water generator to produce energy.  Equipment on board is energy efficient (mostly). LED lights are truly gift, given how little amps they draw.  But I’ve digressed.  


Note how the anchor dragged before the hook dug in.

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The Swimming Pool.

We were visited by native Kunas who sold us a variety of “molas” which are part of the traditional costume of Kuna women and are panels sewn together to make designs.  We sat in the cockpit with “Venancio” who is a master mola maker, and viewed his excellent handicraft and learned a few words in Kuna including “me see” for housecat and a word for the bracelets we bought from the Kuna which sound curiously similar to “weenie.” This made the bracelets (which are worn on the ankle or wrist) seem more masculine to Dante who now dons one on his ankle.

DSC_0138 (2)DSC_0132 (3)The islands are still owned by the Kuna Yala peoples who charge a nominal fee for cruising the islands but let you anchor anywhere you want.  In fact every island, every coconut, every fish is owed by a Kuna family.  The coconuts are a currency they use to trade with the Colombians for other products – the Colombian border is nearby.  The Kuna often come by in their dug out canoes, whole families in a boat, selling their molas or other goodies.  Vegetable boats laden with tropical fruits and vegetables – as well as other necessities such as beer – come by making trips to the store unnecessary.

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There are other boats with kids (thankfully) and Dante has been having playdates every afternoon.  It doesn’t matter if they speak the same language (which sometimes they don’t); they immediately start playing together.  In the cruising world there is no time for being shy.  They realize their time to play may be short and they make the most of it.  One day the kids made a sail from a flag, hoisted it on a kayak and “made passage” to a neighboring island at about 3 knots.

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Crew from Safari, Caminante, and Benevento.


Off to pillage!

There are no shops, no tourist traps, not even street lights.  The only light to extinguish the night stars is that of the rising moon.  It is the paradise of old seldom found in the other parts of the Caribbean. With fresh supplies brought to you, the batteries continually charged up by the wind/sun, and no need to do laundry other than bathing suits and towels, it makes you wonder why anyone would leave!  In fact, we met people who felt exactly that way.  Some had stayed 15 years after cruising all around the world.  There was no place better they’d felt.

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For us, one of the main reasons we had such a memorable time is because of the friends we made.  Together with our new friends from the sailing vessels of Safari, Three Sheets, Ooroo and Caminante we spent evenings sipping rum with sugar and lime on the beach while the kids played.  We had a few epic games of Cranium.  We had dinner cooked for us by the two Kuna brothers on “BBQ” Island – an island smaller than a football field, covered in coconut palm trees and grass.  The fish served were freshly caught and cooked over an open flame in an open air thatch hut.  Alicides, one of the Kuna brothers, climbed a coconut palm to retrieve a “pipa” (unripe coconut) and we drank its milk from a straw.  We sunk a few bottles of tequila, smoked a few Cuban cigars, danced around a bonfire under a full moon and then danced more aboard Safari just because we didn’t want the fun to end.

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On our passage to Jamaica we were a little depressed because we had to leave our friends and the paradise in which we met.  Our two weeks in the San Blas are what makes all the hard work worth it.  Even Jennifer says it was worth sailing through the Papagayos! But life is good and we know new friends and adventures await us.