Panama - San Blas Islands

Trip Start Mar 12, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Onboard the Independence

Flag of Panama  ,
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Before boarding, we headed to the local supermarket to stock up on essential items such as wine, beer and snacks - after all we would be on board for 5-6 days.

We were picked up from the dock by speed boat and transported to the Independence, our new home for the next 5-6 days.  There were 16 people travelling on board: Lou, Mike and Vicky (UK), Guy (UK), Lynda and Fleur (Australia and New Zealand), Becs and Dan (New Zealand and UK), Queva (Australia), Pascal (Switzerland), Felix (Germany) and three more from Japan, who for the life of me, I cannot remember their names (sorry!).  There were three crew members: Jorge (Colombia), Luana (British) and Sasha (Germany) and of course Michel (Captain) and his girlfriend Mah-hoe (it's spelt wrong I know but sound it out and you've got the gist!).  

After we'd all been shown to our room by the Captain's considerably younger girlfriend (by about 50 years!), we all headed to the top deck to have a "chat" with the Captain.  Michel went on about rules and regulations i.e. no peeing in the toilets when the generator is off (boys were to pee overboard and girls were to use the pump toilet), no entering the boat when wet, meals three times a day etc. etc.  
So off we set for our boat adventure.  I'm not going to give you the whole run down of our days aboard, just the highlights.

We'd been going about an hour when Michel announced he had a quiz, he said he'd give $50 to whoever could answer all his questions and could also give one answer that supported all five questions.  There were 5 questions, the first being: where did petroleum come from?  We answered the sea, trees etc.  No, apparently the answer was Venus, yes the planet Venus!  Next was when was the Latin language invented, next being a question about Adam and Eve (I'd lost interest by this point) and for the life of me, I cannot remember the others.  Anyway, his answer for all was "God".  No-one got any of the 5 questions right and no-one got the whole answer - unsurprisingly!  It was at this point that everyone must of been thinking, is this guy for real?  

The first night we were at high seas, I think everyone felt sick - a few even were, I felt quesy and went to bed, and no drinking was undertook that night.  It was a rough ride for sure!  I was glad when we finally arrived at the San Blas.

San Blas Islands = picture postcard dream islands.  I was wondering when Jamie and Louise Redknapp would come galloping past on their horses like in the advert.  There are around 400 islands in the San Blas region, all run by the Kuna people.  

During our trip we visited several of the islands, either by boat or by swimming.  Due to my lack of swimming skills in deep water, I was taken to one of the islands by kayak.  After a few hours wandering around and practising swimming in the shallows, Vicky and Lou came back to the island with a lilo and rubber ring.  Apparently the kayak had yet again been taken for surfing, which meant I'd either have to wait for them to realise someone else might want to borrow it (not likely) or they'd tow me back.  This was extremely embarrassing but I had no option but to lie across the lilo with a rubber ring around my waist and be brought back to the boat!  I really need to learn to swim in deep water!

One night we got to have a bbq on the beach, it wasn't what we were expecting - it was a ready built bbq.  I think we were expecting a bonfire where we could toast our sausages and marshmallows.  Still the food was excellent and wine being only $1 for a large glass, I was definitely a little tipsy by the end of the night and jumped into the dinghy back to the boat with no fears, Vicky was driving the boat too and to be honest, it was the safest journey we'd had back to the boat.

We also got lobster night and red snapper night - in fact, all of the food was excellent.  Although there was one night when a variation of corned beef hash was served, which the chef refused to eat, and a few people felt a little worse for wear after it and there was definitely a lot scraped in the bin, apparently it was Michel's idea to serve it.   

There were a couple of drunken nights on board and a few drinking games were played but as Craig and I were on beer rations, we sat back and watched.  There wasn't anything particular to write home about but Vicky definitely kept me entertained and it reminded me of myself when I get drunk.  I'm not going to embarrass her on here with the ins and outs but if I write "Tottenham Hotspur" she should hopefully know what I mean if she's reading this.  

After a few swimming trips, we were told not to keep showering with sand on us by Michel.  Despite us all querying his logic, he said that he'd had to rip up the entire floor of the boat to remove the sand and apparently there was a lot of it.  Yeah Michel, we all brought sand on to the boat in our pockets and gave ourselves a body scrub with it - idiot!

It was the final full day on board and it was time to pay.  We had agreed with the hostel (and had written confirmation to say so) that we had $770,000 Colombian pesos left to pay, only Mah-hoe decided they'd up the price to $850,000 pesos.  Obviously this was a big difference and we all refused to pay.  After a heated discussion, which at one point Michel commented "it's only money, what's the problem", to which we replied if it's not a problem, he'd accept what we were paying.  When I offered to show him the email stating the final payment, he finally relented but Mah-hoe then counted all the money out individually three times and held each individual night up to the light.

After the money debate, we were taken ashore to complete our papers for entering Panama.  We were treated to a dance by the locals, while we waited for Michel and Mah-hoe to eat their lunch, which was a little strange but entertaining all the same.  When we arrived at the Immigration Office we were a little taken aback, it was basically the man's front garden!  After what seemed like hours, we were given our stamps and sent on our way.  Only Michel came rushing after us, saying we owed a further $5 entry fee into Panama - we all asked for receipts in unison.  
To be honest, Michel and Mah-hoe aside, we had an excellent trip and met some truly great people.  I'm glad we took the plunge to do the trip and I'd definitely do it again.  
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