22/01/2014 – The idyllic San Blas islands

First of all, many apologies for not writing a blog on Sunday and wishing niece Hester a very happy birthday and great-nephew Harry a very happy first birthday and as well. We arrived in the San Blas island group in the early hours of Saturday morning, carefully felt our way in to a large, deep anchorage and crashed for a few hours! In daylight it was stunning, with half a dozen small palm tree covered islands and beyond them the crashing seas, breaking on the surrounding reefs. This is no place for complacency, there are reefs stretching out from most of the islands as well so a large anchorage may well have several areas of reef within it. The area known as Kuna Yala belongs to the Kuna Indians who are largely autonomous within Panama. They are physically small, very happy people who really live an almost stone age existence though we have seen one or two mobile phones and a few outboard engines! Our first contact was a dugout canoe paddled by three men who came to collect a $10 US fee for anchoring for up to 31 days. They had an official bit of paper, in English, stating that a law had been passed requiring us to pay and, more unexpectedly, they handed us a receipt. The next dugout unfortunately arrived just as we were about to go to an island for a fish supper. This one was a family group, Dad paddling, junior helping and Mum with her molas for sale. Subsequently we went ashore on Banedup Island where a few families live. Using a very few words of Spanish, hand signals and lots of smiles we asked permission to walk around the island. There were two main huts which appeared to house families, a couple of closed up huts, a copra packing shed and a generously sized pigsty with one resident. We got back to where we had beached the dinghy and asked a young couple (18ish) about molas. The girl raced off to the end of the island and returned with two women, two buckets of molas, some beadwork bracelets/anklets and about 8 small children! The couple who lived by our landing place returned from the copra shed and the woman went in search of her molas and jewellery. Molas are basically an applique/cutwork panel with several layers of different coloured material, all sewn by hand. Each is unique though clearly they know which designs are the most popular and vary the colours! I had to buy some. The fish supper on Saturday evening was on Barbecue Island, also known as Turtles Island. A couple of enterprising Kuna men have set up a bar/restaurant. For ‘restaurant’ read a rickety table, assorted stools, covered by an awning and lit by a rechargeable lamp! 7 or 8 world ARC boats had booked so they had to catch a big fish which was subsequently cooked over a wood fire and we ate in relays. Fish with a pasta and rice salad cost $5 each, beer was $1.50 a can. It was a convivial evening and we led two other boats back towards their anchorage because we had put some waypoints in a handheld GPS to ensure our safe return! In the end John followed the trail around a reef of our journey to the island on the return rather than bother with waypoints. On Monday we left the East Hollandes Cays to make our way to the Chichime Cays for a World ARC rendez-vous. We did get a little concerned when the GPS gave a distance to a waypoint significantly different from the distance to the same waypoint on the plotter. Reefs are rather unforgiving so, erring on the side of caution, we took the Eden Channel rather than the route between the East Lemon Cays. As we were anchoring two women paddled up in a dugout to show me their wares. Yet again, I had to buy some! These were cheaper probably because they were mainly applique rather than multiple layers, but the stitching was really good. It was a very enjoyable afternoon, with a coconut sliced open and rum added to the water to greet us, a pot luck lunch, a dancing display by a group of men and women and a couple of boys to make up the number, molas for sale and a ‘bar’ selling beer and soft drinks. The dancers provided their own music, the men and boys blowing into pipes, the women shaking rattles. The dance resembled a square dance much like the ones we have enjoyed in Woodley! We still have a few days left among the islands before we need to make our way to Colon and the canal so deemed it sensible to go to Porvenir Island to check in. Check in completed, we set off towards the Lemon Cays but the swell gave us cause for concern about entering between two reefs so we altered course back to the anchorage south of Uchutupu Dummat, the bigger island in the Chichime Cays. Now it is time to go for a swim. More soon. Joyce

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