Saturday, 27 March 2010

More San Blas Islands

San Blas first impressions
It has been a week since we left Cartagena. We travelled 200nm to the San Blas Islands of Panama but it is like we have travelled to another solar system. We unfortunately will likely not be able to send any pictures for a while, so we will do our best to describe these amazing islands in words. The San Blas Islands are 350 small islands off the Mainland of Panama. They are property of the Kuna People, who fought ferociously through history to maintain their land. In 1935 they were granted self governing independence. They are a nation of 55,000 people who have a sociopolitical system that is equally if not more effective than any developed nation. Their laws and land belong to all the people so they see themselves as co-owners of these beautiful islands. Every village has a Sahila, or chief who presides over a local daily congreso, in which all members of the village can discuss concerns and grievances. The Kuna society is a matriarchal society, a new husband will move into the wife's family compound. Possibly he will only bring some clothes and a machete. A real asset for the man is a mask and snorkel as their main contribution to the family is to dive for lobster and octopus as well as fishing. The women are the major money earners for the families. The traditional dress for women is very colorful, they wear bright beadwork on their arms and legs, gold earrings in their ears and nose but their most famous article of clothing is their blouse which is called a MOLA. They are a reverse appliqué design often made of 5 layers of brightly coloured cloth and thread. The women, and some men, sell these Molas , and have become quite famous.
So what have we seen during our first week? So far about 10 of the 350 islands, of which only 1 was inhabited. All of the Islands have been covered with coconut trees that are loaded with coconuts and fringed with fine white sand beaches. The water is gin clear and about 85 degrees. We have snorkeled on several reefs seeing a huge variety of fish including a nurse shark. We have seen a few turtles while sitting in the cockpit having breakfast. On Monday we attended a cruisers happy hour on BBQ Island, where we visited with new people as well as cruisers we have met in the past and were thrilled to see again. At some point during the day we are usually approached by kunas in a dugout canoe, called an Ulu who ask if we would like to buy bananas, molas, Lobster, local kuna bread or whatever else they have that day. They are always polite and wear big smiles. Yesterday was the first day we saw and purchased molas. Florinda Salazar was the local kuna woman who with her family approached our boat. We happened to have an Australian family we have befriended visiting us. They had caught a fish earlier that day and had come to cook it on our bbq as they don't have one. Florinda asked if she could come aboard to show us her molas. We of course said yes and were then shown about a hundred different molas. These represent month's worth of work. We purchased 4 and the Australian family from SUNBOY purchased several as well. I think this was a good day for Florinda. Janine made it an even better day by bringing out some magnified reading glasses. We thought this would aid in our negotiations for the molas but 3 pairs of glasses were taken and the price of the molas remained the same. We definitely need to work on our bartering skills!
Florinda told us she was from an island called Tigre, we heard there was a transition ceremony happening on this island and tourist were welcome so along with 2 Australian boats, SUNBOY and GHOST, we headed the 7nm to Tigre. We caught a small Spanish Mackeral along the way but let it go as it wasn't big enough to feed us all.
Tigre looked pretty dilapidated from the water but when you went ashore and saw it from the inside out it was a very nice village. Most of the buildings are made of bamboo and palm fronds built on concrete slabs. There were a couple buildings made of concrete. The transition ceremony ( this is a celebration held when a girl enters puberty and is a big deal) was taking place in a Chichi hut which was a large palm frond meeting hut. It was very crowded inside with local kunas so we decided to just wander around the village until we found a "hotel" at the end of the island with a bar that served cold drinks. The hotel consisted of the bar/restaurant and a couple of huts. This was a pretty upscale hotel for here as there were actual beds for the guest to sleep in instead of the usual hammocks. The other luxury here was toilet facilities with an actual porcelain toilet, a door and toilet paper. The toilet required a bucket of water to flush it, but this was provided as well. Most facilities here consist of an outhouse built on the end of a dock with a hole in the floor. We had a few cold beverages in the restaurant and then decided we would have an early dinner there. They were sold out of fish but would make us lobster and octopus with rice. We gave it a try and were glad we did. It was delicious. (and yes the kids ate it too, and liked it!
) While we were there we met a young couple from Portland, Oregon who were vacationing here. They were hoping to get married while in the San Blas. The Kuna offered for them to have traditional Kuna ceremony where the bride and groom are prepared on opposite ends of the island and then get carried in the center of the island on platforms. A pig gets slaughtered and roasted and a party is had by all. We thought they should do this. They weren't sure they wanted that much of a ceremony. Oh well we hope it all worked out for them.
The next day we headed to an Island called Nargana at Rio Diablo which is joined by a bridge to an island called Corazon De Jesus. These islands have opted out of the traditional kuna lifestyle and in our opinion it doesn't make for as nice a village. There wasn't the same feeling of pride that we had noted on Tigre. There was a definite westernization in the demeanor and dress of the local people. We hope this isn't the beginning of the end for the kuna traditional life. It will be interesting to see how the next decade will change these islands. A lot of the huts on Nargana and Tigre had TV antennas, will this influence the young people of these islands to seek a different lifestyle. It is hard to believe that Club Med or a similar type resort hasn't found a way to set up a facility here. We hope the kuna can continue to keep these developments at bay in the years to come. We didn't stay at Nargana as the the water is murky from the river and the sound of the village generator was disturbing the peace. Sunboy and our selves travelled back to an anchorage called Coco Banderos where the water is clear, warm and the islands are uninhabited.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Farewell to Cartegena, Hello Panama

We made it to the San Blas
Thursday, March 11, around lunch time we pulled into the Eastern Holandes islands of Panama.
(North 9 Deg 35 min, West 78 Deg 40.8min) This is a destination that we have looked forward to since we started sailing. Promises of white sandy beaches, palm fringed islands and warm clear waters have all come true.
The trip from Cartegena, was noisy and slow, there was very little wind and we motored the whoie way. A large pod of Dolphins came by just after dinner and swam and jumped alongside for 10 minutes or so.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Well we have now been in Cartagena for a month. Time sure flies by quickly! We have accomplished several boat chores and a lot of school work. We also took a bus trip to Carnival in Baranquilla a town a couple hours away. The boys actually had a live performance at a local restaurant and received rave reviews. This has inspired them to pull out their instruments so I am being serenaded as I write this blog. I wish I could include the music for you all to hear. We are thoroughly enjoying the old city of Cartagena. Most of it was built in the 1500’s and is like walking through a living museum. As Tavish noted he was in a washroom in a restaurant and the urinal was installed into a 500 year old wall. We just don’t have this kind of history in Canada. The architecture is Spanish colonial with balconies on all the buildings and bougainvillea flowers covering the balconies. As beautiful as the city is it’s real highlight is the people. The Colombian people have great senses of humour and are very easy to get a smile and a laugh from. They make learning Spanish fun for us all as they are more than willing to guess what we are trying to say and correct our mistakes with great patience and humour. On Feb. 15th 40 cruisers loaded on 2 buses at 9am and headed to Barranquilla with our guide Alex, his son and 2 assistants. The bus trip was very pleasant as the bus was air-conditioned. We stopped at a roadside empanada stand on the way for breakfast and arrived at Barranquilla at 11am. This was the day of the children’s Carnival parade which was meant to start at 1pm. We rented chairs to sit on under a canopy and as soon as we were all settled the canopy owners moved the canopy backwards so we were now sitting in the blazing sun. This didn’t last long as our man Alex jumped in and got our canopy back for us. There is enormous value in having a local advocating for you. It wasn’t long before the veteran carnival goers showed the rookies the ways of Carnival. We were covered in spray foam, water, and cornstarch in very short order. Unfortunately for the veterans we catch on quick and outnumbered them! We spent hours waiting for the parade to start having foam and water wars. The water here is sold in plastic bags which you drink out of by biting a small hole in a corner. This also makes for a great water gun when you squeeze the bag of icy , icy cold water. We were warned by the local military presence once that is was OK to spray each other but if we sprayed people we didn’t know they would have to take our weapons away. When the parade started at 3pm this rule no longer applied and then the only people not to be sprayed were the parade participants. This is a good thing as the costumes and makeup were very elaborate. The costumes generally used most of the material for the headdress which left very little to cover the rest of the body. This was a highlight for some of the members of our group, especially when Miss Brazil danced by! Janine was befriended by a local boy named Eduardo. Well the friendship started as a foam/water/cornstarch war but when Eduardo ran out of water he quickly switched alliances. By the end of the parade Eduardo’s mother decided Janine should adopt Eduardo as a 4th son. Janine was relieved when Eduardo’s mother gave her a pair of earrings instead of her son. It was just more proof that the people of Colombia really are it’s true gems. From the parade we climbed on the bus and travelled a short distance further into town where we had the option of going to the band competition. We all voted with our stomachs and chose to go for dinner at various local restaurants instead. At 9pm (which is like midnight for cruisers) we climbed onto our buses and had a quiet ride back to Cartegna and our boats. Of course a shower was required before we could crawl into our bunks. What a great day! While we have been in Cartagena we have been frequenting this great local restaurant called Pacho Y Guillos. It is owned and operated by a wonderful couple. Sandro the husband is Italian and his wife is from Bogota, Colombia. They lived in the States for several years and both speak Italian, Spanish ,English and Yiddish. Sandro makes wonderful thin crust pizza. Every day they have a lunch special for 5000 pesos which is about $2.75, this includes a large bowl of delicious homemade soup, coconut rice, beans, salad and your choice of chicken or meat as well as a drink of Juice. Again all this costs $2.75! It is not possible to go to the grocery store and buy the food for so little money. This what we have for lunch almost every day , and believe it or not the Minielly boys have finally decided they like soup! Pacho Y Guillo is also where Bradley and Tavish had their opening debut. After the crowning of the Cruising Queen ( maybe we will tell this story another time) the microphone was opened up and the boys were coerced into playing a couple of songs. They were awesome and that isn’t just their parent’s opinion. The boys left shortly after their set and their parents with Kevin and Melissa from Solange were left behind to collect the fans appreciation. The line of the evening was “yeah, were with the band”. As mentioned earlier this experience has had the bonus effect of inspiring the boys to dust off their very neglected instruments and start to work on learning more songs. Well now that we have been here for a month and our new mainsail has arrived (thank you Brett for getting it to us so quickly) we are getting ourselves organized to head out to the San Blas islands. These are a chain of over 300 islands off Panama that are inhabited by the Kuna tribe. They are remote and very limited supplies are available here. So how do you fit 6 weeks worth of food for a family with teenage eating machines onto a 46 foot boat? Stay tuned and we will let you know how it goes.