Kuna Land

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of Panama  , Kuna Yala,
Sunday, June 26, 2011

Having bought out a few pharmacies-worth of Dramamine, we took our last steps on South American soil and boarded the Desdemona for our sailing trip to Panama. We'd already met our captains, Anna and Jeff – an awesome couple who had given up jobs and life in the States to buy a boat and sail around the world, living on their boat 24/7. This was an especially brave decision for Anna who had not sailed much before they left! They had stopped in Panama for a few months to do the trip to Cartagena and back before carrying on through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific at some unspecified time in the future. The rest of the group consisted of two wonderfully Gallic French brothers, Paul & Pierre, an Australian couple, Mike and Ariana, two more guys Erik from Oregon and Robbie from Florida and last but by no means last Anna and Jeff’s gorgeous mongrel-rescued-from-the-street-in-Aruba Frexie.  Having met for drinks in Cartagena it seemed a great group and we were really looking forward to the trip.

However, Gordon in particular was still nervous about the first part of the trip as it would involve 36 straight hours at sea and we’d heard horror stories of how rough it could be.  With Gordon’s record for sea-sickness we’d spent the last few weeks trying to gloss over this aspect of the trip so it was especially helpful to catch Sarah’s parents on skype just before we left and have her father explain to Gordon that there are two stages to sea sickness; the first where you’re worried you’re going to die and the second where you’re worried you’re not going to die.

We left Cartagena late one afternoon and our first night at sea was a very quiet one as we’d all taken heavy doses of sea-sickness pills which pretty much knocked us out.  It was an enormous relief to wake up the next morning to find no land in sight but to realise that we were all feeling fine.  The weather was thankfully absolutely perfect and there was barely any swell at all.  There’s not an awful lot to do while the boat is underway but on the first morning we had a diversion as one of the fishing rods we were trailing out the back hooked something.  One hour and some very tangled lines later we finally got a glimpse of what we’d hooked and not only was it a fish rather than an old boot or something disappointing, but a massive yellow-fin tuna.  Having hauled it in we were soon tucking into the freshest tuna sashimi we’ll ever have (as Gordon will tell anyone in minute detail, the partially filleted fellow was still twitching on the deck when we tucked into the first portion of sashimi).  We were doubly thankful that no one was feeling ill by lunchtime when Anna rustled up avocado salad with the tuna steaks – amazing.

We whiled away the rest of the afternoon teaching the others the Dyce scoring rules for Contract Whist and towards the end of the afternoon the sea started to get a little bit bigger.  By supper time it was quite bumpy; so bumpy that Ariana liked her homemade lasagne so much that she decided to taste it twice and spent a while hanging over the back of the boat.  Despite not feeling fantastic Gordon managed to keep his down and we went with the approach of dosing ourselves up again and sleeping through it.

Next morning we woke up to feel the boat moving through calm waters and went upstairs to find that we’d survived the crossing and arrived in the paradise of the San Blas islands.  Frexie at this point got quite excited and as soon as we were anchored jumped in the water and swam to the nearest island – at which point we realised that she is the dog with the most amazing bladder control in the world as she’d managed to hold it in the whole 36 hours we were at sea.

The San Blas islands are also called KunaYala, or land of the Kuna Indians who inhabit some of the islands and own all the coconuts (no, really, you’re not even allowed to touch them).  The part we’d anchored in consisted of a group of four tiny picture perfect tropical islands with white sands, palm trees, coral reefs in between and even a shipwreck in the distance.  And boy, was it a tough life for us there.  Our days consisted of swimming, snorkelling, napping (for up to an incredible 36 hours at a time in the case of Robbie and the French boys), taking hammocks to the islands and reading, playing cards, plenty of rum cocktails and eating Anna & Jeff’s amazing food. We couldn’t believe the quality and variety of stuff that kept coming out of the tiny boat kitchen: French toast, blueberry pancakes, huevos rancheros, BLTs- and that was just breakfast. Gordon & Mike decided on our second day to take up spear fishing and to the rest of the boat’s amazement came back several hours later tired and sunburnt with 6 fish.  Ok, they were pretty small, and were reef fish that they shouldn’t really have killed, but it was 6 fish nonetheless and they were pretty pleased with themselves.  Well, they were until a friend of Jeff & Anna’s on the boat nearby gave them a ticking off for killing them and explained that the reason they had got those ones was because they didn’t move much....oops.

On what was meant to be our last night in the San Blas we all swam over to one of the islands after dinner for a huge bonfire, complete with s’mores (for the non-Americans that translates as fire-roasted marshmallow stuck between biscuits with chocolate, ie yum) courtesy of Anna & Jeff.  Talking to people on the other boats we were pretty smug in our luck in getting beds on the Desdemona; the food on the others didn’t sound a patch on ours and they were invariably more cramped and crowded.  One boat in particular was absolutely tiny and it turned out didn’t have room for all the passengers to sit comfortably, let alone sleep, and so they set up tents on the islands each night. Goodness knows what they did on the crossing. Talking to one of Anna & Jeff’s sailor friends, Phil, he was very scathing about the boat as on other times they’d visited the area he’d gone to the islands the next morning to find they’d left behind not only rubbish but, behind a palm tree, several little mounds of sh*t.  Nice.  Mike had a guitar with him and after we’d sung through some incredible (ahem) versions of the Cranberries and REM round the bonfire he started making up a new song in honour of the other boat (and its tent-bound passengers who were in hearing distance) which soon became the about-to-be-a-huge-hit song, "Don’t Sh*t On My Island".  By the time we’d finished the rum that night we had a drum section, harmonies on the chorus, about 15 verses and we were all convinced it would make the Top Ten.

In the blazing sunshine of the next morning with very fuzzy heads and stomach muscles that were sore from laughing so much the night before we weren’t feeling quite so musical.  Phil aided our hangovers though by taking us all our tubing behind his zodiac – an unusual but highly effective hangover cure.  Sitting having a picnic lunch of fajitas on the beach of one the islands none of us felt like leaving in a hurry so it was something of a no-brainer when Anna & Jeff said they were having fun and would we all like to stay one more day.  Urr, yes.

And so we had an extra day of paradise and another night of rum, bonfires and “Don’t Sh*t On My Island” – including this time some quite spectacular pole dancing on a palm tree from Sarah which led to some equally spectacular tree-hugging bruises the next morning.  If you’d said to us before we left that we’d be sailing and spending our evenings sitting round a bonfire on a tropical island singing along to a guitar we’d probably have laughed and said it really wouldn’t be our cup of tea, sounds far too hippie for our tastes.  Which just goes to show you really as the trip couldn’t have been more idyllic.  Anna & Jeff made it feel like we were just on holiday with friends (anyone who can rustle up brownies in a ship’s kitchen must be a legend), the rest of the guys on the boat were brilliant (even after 6 days together), we managed only 2 stubbed toes between us, Mike & Eric’s hilarious lyrics had us in stitches non-stop and the setting couldn’t have been bettered.

Sadly this time we really did have to go as several of the group had flights to catch and so we had to bid first the San Blas and then the others goodbye and return to the slightly-more-real world. After an epic night’s sailing from Jeff & Anna we arrived in Portobelo, Panama, Central America. What a way to arrive in a new continent.
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Deborah on

Oh man. I am so jealous. That water looks extraordinary.

Marion on

I am not sure I am going to be talking to you this weekend.

Phil on

gordon what are you doing on a boat and why is sarah doing upside down pole dancing!! see you in 2012

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