To Paradise by Night on the Wings of a Gypsy Moth

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
Trip End Jul 25, 2011

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Flag of Panama  ,
Friday, May 20, 2011

We couldn’t have
picked a better boat to take us to Panama.

The first two
days are straight sailing and can often be quite choppy. In fact, our English/Welsh husband and wife hosts Symian and Amy, said it was rare for people not to be sick on the
first leg. By some miracle, for us the sea was like a pond,
completely flat. So flat in fact, that we had to motor all the way
and couldn't rely on the sails, which was a bit of a shame. There
were three square meals a day, with lunch and dinner cooked by Symian
or Amy and always involving fresh salad as well as hearty pasta, meat
or fish dishes. They insisted on doing all the cooking themselves,
and all we had to do was the washing up, which was bliss!

It should be mentioned here, that Stef "I'm no good with children" Cataldo was a massive hit with baby Hallie. From the instant that she clapped eyes on him, she was besotted and
Stef was near enough the only one who could make her smile and giggle at an instant. I tried to gain her approval by playing games and showing her how to do jazz hands and peekaboo, but all the while, she was peering over my shoulder, getting agitated because she couldn't see where Stefan was. It was very cute indeed.

boat sailed on all through the night for the first two nights, so Symian
and Amy had to take it in turns to sit up and watch the radar for
other ships. On the second night, Stef and I set an alarm and came up
to give Sym a rest, so he nestled down for an hour's sleep and we sat
up in the little captain's command seat, listening to Mark Kermode
podcasts on shared headphones and watching as huge cargo ships slowly
blinked on and off on the radar screen, like the game Battleships.
With no land around us for miles in every direction, the only light
was from a giant moon and millions of stars, and the odd red or yellow light from one of the superships which would glow briefly on the horizon, then fade off on another course. It was funny to think there were other people out there aboard those ships so far away. Unlikely that they had a private cabin and breakfast served on deck for them in the morning, we reckoned.

When we woke up
the next morning, we emerged from our cabin bleary-eyed to find that
we'd actually arrived in Paradise. If these
photos don't make you want to go to the San Blas islands, you can know once and for all that you're definitely not a "beach person". I don't actually think I'm much of a beach person, but perfect white sand beaches
and turquoise seas, fringed with coconut groves and above that, a
cloudless blue sky was very easy on the eye Even Stef, who's been a
dedicated beachcomber for years, said these were the most beautiful islands he'd ever seen.

The next three days were
ours to spend lolling in hammocks reading, diving off the boat,
snorkelling sunken ships and coral reefs, wake boarding (sometimes
well into the wee hours as Sym and Amy were quite the party people
after Hallie was tucked up in bed), walking along deserted beaches,
barbecuing fresh fish over the fire and playing boozy games of Cranium in the evenings. The next morning we eased sore heads by swimming in
the warm, translucent Caribbean sea. You could see huge, bright
orange and yellow starfish at the bottom of the sandy floor from the
boat, that's how clear the water was.

The local Kuna Indians,
indigenous to the islands, would come alongside the boat each day to
sell fish or molas, which are multi-layered images or themes cut and
stitched into fabric. The finer and neater the stitching, the better
the mola. Amy had some old clothes belonging to Hallie which she gave
to some of the women who passed by and every now and again a man
would ask us to charge his phone for him while he fished in his canoe
nearby. You wondered how long since he'd last had full bars of battery.

They're a really fascinating people, the Kuna. Each
community had a leader called a Saila, who guides his village in all
political and spiritual matters. Three Saila Dummagan ("Great
Sailas") guide the population as a whole, which consists of just
49 communities. As we were getting our passports stamped in the tiny
island village of Wichubwala, we saw a meeting going on in the Casa de
Congresso (basically a thatched hut, which acts like a kind of town
hall). It was funny to see everyone in there, strung up in hammocks
as they discussed the topics of the day.

Sym told us that the
Kuna were also a very matriarchal people, with men taking the woman's
name after marriage and going to live with the bride's family rather
than the groom's. So important is it that a girl should be leader
here, that in many families where only boys are born, the eldest will
be dressed as a girl, and we saw one or two very handsome examples of
this wandering around the islands!

The people make these experiences the best, of course, and Sym, Amy and Hallie were such great hosts and interesting people. We really enjoyed getting to know them and hearing about their lives, which are about as different from the normal 9 to 5 as you can get, and were a complete inspiration in how you can live your dream if you just go and do it. Now, we just need to scrape together enough money when we get back to buy a yacht. And learn how to drive it. And then we'll need some money for fuel.... Hmm. Maybe not just yet then.

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Paul Farrugia on

Tell you what, we want a boat too. Shall we do half and half?

emilywhitchurch on

Ah! So simple! £50 each should cover it, right?

Paul on

Yeah £50 is fine by us! ha ha.

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