September 2013 - Panama

1 September 2013    Sabudopred, San Blas, Panama
We had an uneventful night and woke up to grey, overcast skies.  A squall passed through just after breakfast and then it rained on and off for the rest of the morning, so we decided to stay here for the day.  I messed about on my laptop, catching up on my web site and editing photographs - I've now got eight weeks of postings to publish when we finally get a good enough internet connection.

It brightened up in the afternoon, so Glenys spent a few hours with a bottle of Brasso, removing the rust spots from all the stainless steel on the arch – a tedious job that has to be done every couple of months.  Meanwhile, I went for a snorkel to see if I could find another conch, but was unsuccessful – they’re a rare as rocking horse droppings around here.  

I swam close to the shore to check out the sunken tree which was worrying me last night and found that it was an eight metre long tree trunk semi-floating in six metres of water, so I needn't have been worried.  I should have swum over yesterday evening, which would have given me piece of mind.

Back on Alba, I cleaned the conch that I picked up yesterday - I’d stored it overnight by hanging it over the side on a piece of string.  I’ve been told that the locals store their conch by tying three of them together on a length of string and leaving them in the shallows by the beach.  The creatures are so stupid that three of them can’t agree on which direction to go to escape.  We had Conch Salad for nibbles with our sun-downers.

2 September 2013    Sabudopred to Yansaladup, San Blas, Panama
It was a nice sunny day, so we were up early and set off for the Western end of the San Blas islands. There only a light wind, which was directly against us, so we motored for four hours to Gunboat Island.  This is a lovely looking, isolated cay with a few Kuna houses, but we had trouble anchoring.  Our first attempt was hopeless – just dragging on what felt like coral rubble.

On the second attempt, I tried to drop the anchor into a sand patch and then immediately jumped overboard to have a look.  Sure enough, we were trying to anchor on the remains of a coral reef. The anchor was five metres from a small sand patch, so I hauled the 60lb beast over the sea bed and dropped it on the sand.  Glenys then backed the anchor in which seemed to hold okay, but I wasn’t very happy with the anchorage.  

Spotted Eagle Ray having a good forage

Just as I climbed back onboard, a boat came out from the island and the owners demanded $10 for anchoring next to their island.  We then had a protracted discussion in broken Spanish, telling them that we weren’t staying because the “ancla esta malo”.  A young man was getting quite emotional about it and kept demanding the money, but I kept saying that we were going and we’d only been here for five minutes.  Eventually, they gave up and we left.

We motored over to the Western Lemon Cays and into the anchorage at  Narguarchirdup, but there’s some kind of building work going on and the islands looked most unattractive.  We turned around and left.  Dismayed, we decided to go to Yansaladup, which we know is a pleasant anchorage with good holding.  With a sigh of relief, we anchored near our friends Robert and Heidi from “Nuwam” and invited them over for sundowners.

3 September 2013    Yansaladup, San Blas, Panama
It was a miserable morning with thunderstorms passing through, but after lunch it cleared up nicely.  The vegetable boat called by with a reasonable supply of food, so Glenys bought a few things including their last six cans of beer, which surprisingly, was cheaper than in Nargana. We also had another visit from Lisa, who managed to get Glenys to buy a couple of cheap molas – we now have eight of them.

In the afternoon, we went for a snorkel around Palm Island, which is a 10 meter diameter cay with a single coconut palm tree.  The snorkelling was surprisingly good and we circumnavigated the small island seeing a nice Spotted Eagle Ray hoovering up sand and having a good old forage around.

In the late afternoon, we went with “Nuwam” for a couple of beers on Banedup, which caters for backpackers and other tourists.  The Kuna still live in grass huts, but have a generator and some accommodation for tourists.  The island is only ½ mile from the Yansaladup anchorage, but it was a real mission trying to find our way back through the various reefs in the fading light.

4 September 2013    Yansaladup, San Blas, Panama
We woke to a sunny day, but with the distant rumble of thunder – will there ever be a day when we don’t hear thunder?  Glenys took the opportunity to wash some of our smalls and hung them out to dry, suspiciously eyeing up the sky for most of the day.

Ocelot kitten, San Blas

A month ago, I bought some fins for the outboard to make it easier to plane the dinghy and I finally motivated myself enough to go ashore to fit them.  We were greeted on the beach by the three small children who live on Yansaladup as well as a slow procession of other people.  Glenys went for a walk around the island, while I fitted the new fins and found that they have a fresh water well, a few chickens and a small pig.  They also have a wild cat that looks like a Ocelot.  It’s only a month old kitten and is very tame, but God knows how big it will be when it grows up.

We went for a snorkel in the afternoon and tested out the outboard fins, which work very well.  The dinghy now comes up on the plane much quicker and I can plane at a slower speed, which should save us fuel.

Robert and Heidi from “Nuwam” invited us over for sundowners and we had a pleasant time sat on the trampoline at the front of their catamaran eating nibbles and drinking beer in the cool breeze.

5 September 2013    Yansaladup, San Blas, Panama
I woke up with a bee in my bonnet about creating a video Christmas card with Glenys and me playing “Meli Kalikimaka” on the ukulele and guitar, so we spent most of the morning messing about trying to play and sing the song together.  I videoed a few attempts and then put together a short video switching shots between the two of us.  We sound awful and both look miserable and terrified, but at least I proved that we could do it with a lot more practise and more video sessions.  Perhaps we’ll motivate ourselves again sometime soon.

In the afternoon we went for a snorkel at the fringing reef to the north of Yansaladup, which was very good.  I found a big Nurse Shark sleeping underneath a ledge and Glenys picked up a large conch, which I prepared when we got back to the boat.

6 September 2013    Yansaladup to Yansaladup, San Blas, Panama
It was raining when we got up, but by ten o’clock it seemed to be brightening up, so we pulled up the anchor and motored over to the Carti Islands, which are the most densely populated islands in the San Blas Islands.  We dropped our anchor to the east of Carti Sugdup, but the sea bed appeared to be broken coral and the holding was only just good enough for a quick trip ashore.

Main Street of Carti Sugdup, San Blas

We took our dinghy around to the north side of the island, pulled up to a concrete dock next to a large brown building displaying a welcoming sign and were immediately helped by an old Kuna guy.  He insisted on taking us to his house, where we had a chat to one of his sons who was lounging around in his hammock.  Our guide then proudly showed us the three pirogues that he operates to take tourists on trips around the islands.  

Our new friend then took us on a tour of the village calling in at various small tiendas, which had basic supplies – Glenys bought a few food items as we wandered around, but surprisingly (and thankfully), we weren't shown any molas.  The houses on the island are a mixture of traditional and concrete buildings separated by very narrow, hard packed dirt streets.  Most of the older ladies wear their traditional costumes with colourful molas and glass beads around their legs and arms, but the younger girls are adopting western dress.

We were taken into the Congreso hut where we were introduced to the head chief of the village swinging in a hammock in the middle of the building.  The congreso is the largest hut in the village and is where the Kuna meet every evening to discuss local issues.  There are comfy looking hammocks for the three chiefs in the centre of the hut, while the rest of the village sit around them on hard wooden benches.  During a congreso, the chiefs impart their wisdom and resolve any problems.  They also sing sacred songs which are a major part of the Kuna oral history.  I’ve been told that the congreso’s can be very long and boring, so as a result, certain people are given the task of occasionally letting out ear-piercing shrieks to keep people awake.

Kids play in their toy dugout canoe, San Blas

We made a stop at the small Kuna Museum where we were given a short presentation by an English speaking guide, who took us through some of the history and culture of the Kuna nation.  One of the most interesting things was how they bury their dead.  They take the body to a special place in the jungle and dig a large rectangular pit.  The body is wrapped in a hammock, which is suspended in the tomb.  The relatives then place the dead person’s meagre possessions around the floor under the body adding some religious items such as small dugout canoes to help the person on their journey to the after-life.  The tomb is then covered with wooden poles and earth is piled on top.

As we were wandering around, we came across four children playing with their equivalent of a toy car – a small, well-decorated dugout canoe.  They were having a whale of a time and happy to have their photograph taken.  

Unfortunately, the weather turned bad on us and it started to rain heavily, so we headed back to the dinghy, tipping our guide a couple of dollars when we left.

We were soaked by the time that we got the anchor up and it looked pretty miserable with dark clouds over the mainland, so we abandoned our original intention of anchoring at the nearby island of Acuadup and decided to head back to Yansaladup where it looked a bit brighter.

It rained all the way back.  We had some wind from behind us, so we tried to sail, but gave up after twenty minutes of plodding along at 3 knots.  By the time that we entered the Eastern Lemon Cays, the visibility was down to 25 metres in the pouring rain and it was almost impossible to see the reefs.  Fortunately, we still had the outgoing track on our chart plotter, so we cautiously followed it back into the anchorage.