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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bliss in the San Blas

We may have found paradise.  The San Blas islands are truly magical;  remote, palm clad and surrounded by crystal clear water and pristine coral reefs.  Of course the rest of the cruising community and intrepid travellers have discovered it too but there are still some remote islands in the San Blas where you can feel completely alone.

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After a harrowing time in 3rd world Haiti, a busy 10 days in Jamaica and a tough three day/night passage down to the San Blas Islands, we were ready to relax.  And the San Blas was the perfect place to do just that.  It’s absolutely gorgeous. 

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The San Blas, or Kuna Yala, consist of more than 300 islands stretching in an archipelago along Panama’s Caribbean coast.  They are home to the indigenous Kuna Indian who number around 55,000 and still retain their unique culture and tradition.  The second smallest race after the Pygmy, the Kuna live a simple lifestyle in thatched huts on these stunning islands.  Their main source of income comes from coconuts and these are taboo for cruisers – you can’t even take a washed up one!  The Kuna have a strict tribal hierarchy and each village or island has its own chief and it’s protocol to introduce yourself to each one.  The Kuna women make beautiful molas – intricate applique panels that are part of their dress.

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Our first anchorage was Waisaladup in the Holandse Islands, chosen for its straightforward access in the late afternoon light.  The San Blas are strewn with shoal ground, coral reefs, scattered coral bombies and the wrecks of those who didn’t make it – sobering stuff.  We came in cautiously and anchored just before sun set.   First up some sleep- a solid 12 hours- then some exploring.

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We had a quiet few days firstly cleaning all the salt from Bandit (inside and out) after our very wet sail and then exploring the two beautiful islands we were anchored between.  The snorkelling off both islands and on the inside of the outer reef was magnificent with gorgeous coral and interesting fish life. 

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We spent Christmas in Waisaladup – really enjoying it for the first time in several years.  Last year David was laid low with shingles and the year before we were mid-Atlantic in less than favourable conditions.   This year the bubbles came out and we had a wonderful day.  The Kuna swung by with crayfish which we had on Boxing Day, and the days slowly blended into one another.  With a Pacific crossing looming we had lots of jobs to do so spent each morning working (sanding, varnishing, sail and canvas repairs, repairing pumps, oil changes) and afternoons exploring.   We had a great catch up with American friends Jim and Michelle on Wind Machine who we first met in Santorini and again in Bonaire.  

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After a week or so we decided we really should move on so chipped the coral off the anchor and moved further east in the Holandse chain overnighting at several anchorages before reaching the “Swimming Pool” so named for its water clarity as much as its tepid temperature.  As we slowly picked our way in (it’s very shallow) we saw spotted eagle rays, a turtle and even the distinctive black shape of a shark. The Swimming Pool is very close to the main reef and with those strong trade winds blowing a huge swell was crashing onto the reef making snorkelling impossible.

DSC_4757While the constant trades push up the swell they also provide fantastic sailing conditions and we had a lovely morning sail to the gorgeous Coco Banderos group which, unfortunately, were quite crowded.  Anchored off was a huge motor yacht that disgorged its crew to prepare and serve lunch on one of the deserted islands.   They even had a burly security guard keeping curious cruisers (us!) away. 

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Despite the crowds – there were 20 yachts in the anchorage and each seemed to have at least six people on board – it was a wonderful spot.  And as the Coco Banderos consist of several islands we managed to find one of our own – tiny and totally deserted.   Magic.

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We explored all of the islands and nearby Green Island before opting to head to Nagana to restock as our Jamaican fresh fruit and veges were running out.  Then it’s on to explore some more of these magical San Blas islands.

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