Panama to Colombia via the San Blas Islands

Trip Start Mar 29, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Henry's Boat

Flag of Panama  ,
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

After a great time in Panama City, it was time to make our way to the coast to meet our boat and captain for our 5 day journey to Cartagena Colombia via the San Blas islands. The San Blas Islands are inhabited by indigenous people called Kuna, living very simply with very few noticeable modern influences.

After a rough 3 hour jeep ride, with lots of head bobbing, we arrived in the tiny port of Carti. From here, the locals seemed to be ready for us, taking our bags etc into a shuttle boat to take us out to our Catamaran, Ashanti. Once there, we were met by our German captain/owner, Henri. Immediately Henri made it clear that it was his boat and we were to do things his way. He also made it clear that he "hates backpackers". Awwwkwarrd!! His reasoning for this was, the last time he did this trip to Colombia he took 6 Irish backpackers. They proceeded to go Irish on him and get drunk for the whole five days. Puking seemed to be his main complaint. We tried to calm his fears by explaining that we were 6 Canadian folk that would not cause him much trouble. He seemed to chill a bit after that, although the bags and bags of booze couldn't have helped.... Great boat by the way! (see pics below).

So off we went, sailing in the San Blas Islands... hundreds of tiny coconut tree filled islands, beautiful waters, great friends, and a schitzo captain. As part of the deal, and since he was sailing alone, we helped out with the sailing. Was fairly fun until any of us made a mistake, then we would feel the wrath of captain Henri. If we were getting paid, fine, scream at us for doing something wrong that we have never done before... but since we were paying a fairly large amount of money for said cruise, it seemed just a little odd. Ok enough about our captain, all in all he ended up being a good guy. Cooked us good food, made us drinks, got us to Cartagena safely, and actually liked us in the end... we think.

As for the rest of the trip. Our three days in the San Blas were amazing. We visited a local island on the second day to fill up our water tanks. That gave us the opportunity to walk around the tiny yet crowded island. Six or so local children became our island tour guides, showing us their school, local store, and family home among other things.
That night we stayed in a calm cove which was temporarily home to 40 or so other sailboats from around the world. At the local island hut that sold beer, we met quite a few of these world travelers. One interesting American lady in particular had been sailing for 10 years alone, spending the last three in the San Blas Islands, with no idea where to next. wowzers.

The next day we made our way to a 'secret' spot that only Henri and his Austrian buddy knew about. On arrival we all approved. We anchored between two islands, with reefs all around us. No more than 50m's to either island. Perfect. We swam to one of the islands and had a walk around. On our journey we found 3 Kuna men living and working on the other side of the island. They explained that they were there working, collecting coconuts, had been there a year, and were about to leave for the mainland to sell the coconuts in the next few days. Btw, the Kuna people's main trade is coconuts. After our convo with the kuna lads, I(Dave) spotted two fins(?) splashing out in the shallow water 30m off the beach. At first glance I was sure it was a couple sharks, but then realized it was a couple spotted eagle rays! Luckily, and oddly, there was a bodyboard on the beach, so I grabbed it and started paddling out with my mask to have a closer look. The water was never more that a foot and a half deep, so it was a bit difficult getting out there. Once close they seemed to come closer, so I stuck my head under to check them out. Although we swam with them a few times in Belize, and was told that they are safe, seeing them this close(real close!), and seeing how massive they looked, totally freaked me out. I was back on the beach in no time to the amusement of everyone on the beach.... Ok. so i just googled spotted eagle rays to see if they are as safe as I thought when I swam out to them....

"While these rays are non-aggressive and generally avoid human contact,
they can be considered dangerous if threatened by divers that get too
close – their toxic tail spines can inflict serious injuries."

Good times. Moving on, the next morning I awoke at 4-30 to the sound of Henri and Carey on deck getting ready to leave. Since it was dark, I decided to see what I could do to help..... Long, extremely stressful story short, we almost got reefed, but made it out safe, on our way to the open ocean, and a 30 to 40hour journey to Cartagena. 30 to 40hours if we dont hit a massive storm that is. We did. 12 foot waves, sailing into 35 knot winds, pitch black = good times. Somebody was stressed, and finally told us "WE ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT TONIGHT!!".... So after a couple hours of big wave sailing Henri guided us behind an island into a safe bay to sleep for the night.
The next morning all was calm and we set off for our destination. 3 hours later we sailed in to Cartagena, excited to see what this Colombia place was all about.....

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