San Blas

Trip Start Sep 28, 2009
Trip End May 02, 2010

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Flag of Mexico  , San Blas,
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

 I can understand why the San Blas islands on the northwest coast of Panama are still so unspoilt having been there. The journey starts at 5am in the city with a 4WD - we stop off to buy water & groceries and again halfway through the hilly bit for breakfast. Would be a nice spot with good views over both coasts if the hills weren't cloud covered and there wasn't a heavy drizzle.

Nice to try for the first time what the locals call "bread" but is just deep fried dough of some description.

The road is incredibly twisty & turny plus up & downy so happy not to be in the vomititious back seat. Thankfully it has recently been upgraded, after the last rainy season, when the journey might take as long as 6 hours, so long as the river you have to ford is not too deep - happy to report we arrived safely, in about 2.5 hours, despite the driver's rally style driving.

Then you just hang around on the river bank waiting for your boat. All delayed that day due to rough seas - having seen the state of the arrivals, changed into my bikini - wet, wet, wet!

Due to lies & confusion at the hostel in Panama City, was booked into Una's which shares an island with Robinsons. As Una's boat didn't show up (black mark #1) got a ride with Isla Sunidup and it's charismatic manager Tony.  We dropped his bods off first & proceeded to my place, which didn't look half as nice. The other 4 girls in the boat were booked somewhere else (Pelikano Island) but weren't told it had closed several months previously and were just going to be sent to Una's instead, a completely different kind of island & one they'd been before. They refused to stay, so I jumped back on the boat and got out of there as well - didn't like their attitude & lies one bit.

Sunidup is split between 2 places, Tony's, the party place and Franklins, the other side, quieter. I'd heard it was full but the kind Don Franklin and his staff moved the fridges & other junk from a cabana to another, so I could have one  - apologies to those who got warm beer that night!

The island was real desert island stuff - a few huts, swaying palms, turqouise waters, fine white sand & surrounding reefs - what better place to enjoy a quiet New Year.

As it turned out everyone was up for a bit of a bash and when dinner is before sunset, there's time for many drinking games before midnight!!

We tired of those by 10 and defected to the other side for music, dancing, hula hoops & capoeira, before fireworks at midnight. That was followed by the burning of a firecracker filled human image, which, aided by a good splash of gasolina, went up a treat! I ducked out soon after but many partied into the small hours.

I had hoped to visit an indigenous village NYD morning but it got postponed until pm due to lack of enthusiasm - Rio Sidra was great when we finally got there & and paid the $1 entry fee - that didn't include any photos of people for which the charge was $1 per photo. This meant we were all trying to be very discreet & avoided any close ups, though a number of the locals were so drunk on chiche (and this was only day 2 of the week long celebration!) that they may not have minded. The women (it's a matriachal society) seemed to be doing most of the smoking, drinking & dancing, though there were plenty of guys weaving their way along the narrow hut- lined streets too.

As well as celebrating New Year, it was also the coming of age of a local girl i.e. puberty had been reached & the girl gets shut away in a small hut for the days of her first period so a number of rituals can be peformed, though the elders partying on chiche (fermented maize) seems a prominent feature of all celebrations.

Going into the ceremonial village hall, was like stepping back into the 6th form common room, where women were on one side and men on the other. The women all wear matching local dress with elaborate gold necklaces with the men conceding only to bright pink shirts. Girls before they reach maturity and all the guys wear normal western clothes, whereas the women are like butterflies, lots of big patterns & bold colours, with lots of beaded jewelery, not just in the usual places but all the way up both calves - it has to be tied on to stop it shifting around.

The next day we visited several different islands, supposedly to snorkel, though the places we went were very poor compared to our island, which has surprisingly good snorkelling, including some massive coral heads and a long wall. Sadly all very overfished - nothing big enough to eat. Might explain the complete lack of seafood or fish on the menu? Other people had been to Dog Island snorkelling & said that was better

Did finally get to visit Isla Pelikano and was glad I hadn't ended up staying there - just too quiet & run down. Also, it was forced to close due to drunk manager & boat overturning killing some people.

It was a wonderfully relaxing 4 days & has set the bar very high for the rest of the Atlantic coast going north to Mexico.
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