Wednesday, April 12, 2006

San Blas to Panama

We spent five incredible days in the San Blas Islands. Our second day took us exploring the islands around the anchorage by kayak, snorkeling on the reef and getting our first experience of the way the Cuna Indians live. We met a couple of cruisers who had almost moved onto one of the uninhabited islands - they had their washing hung out, a hammock set up in the palms and a bbq area, they�d been there for months! We went on a conch hunt and managed to collect 10 conch so we cooked up a fantastic curry that night. The next day we headed west a little to the Lemon Cays, catching another wahoo and another large fish on the way - who needs supermarkets?! We arrived at an anchorage between two islands - Banedup and Nuanedup. As soon as we anchored we were surrounded by Cuna Indians in dug out canoes trying to sell us Molas. Molas are a type of tapestry made by layering fabrics - the Cuna women wear these along with layered clothing, beads wrapped around their arms and ankles and rings through their noses. The women were generally very shy and polite. The men were very friendly and seemed to be keen to talk as much as sell things. We bought a couple of molas and traded rice for bread and coconuts. We visited Banedup where the Indian�s made the bread - they welcomed us to walk around their island and their homes. We met a little man who was 81 who spoke excellent English but unfortunately was as deaf as a post but we chatted to him for a while and learned a little of his life working on the panama canal. Our last day in the San Blas took us to Chichima Lagoon after buying 6 small lobsters and a huge crab for the equivalent of about 4GBP. The man who sold them to us brought two of his Children to meet us but they were too shy to even look at us until they had left R2, then they kept looking over their shoulders - very cute. Chichima was our last stop before we headed for Colon on the mainland of Panama.

The trip to Panama was an overnight crossing which brought us into the approaches of Colon at fist light on 11 April. I had been sleeping and woke as we approached, I couldn�t believe my eyes when I saw the number of ships all around us. Andrew had been doing an amazing job monitoring them all. I counted over 30 waiting to enter the harbour. As we approached the breakwater Andrew called the signal office on the radio and they instructed to pass through and call them when we were in. The breakwaters shelter a huge expanse of water full of ships with docks and tower blocks all around. This was all very strange after the paradise of the San Blas. We came into the anchorage and immediately spotted our friends John and Elaine on Goolka and Nick and Ellen on Kika as well as three other boats we know. John put the coffee on and explained how the formalities work for arranging the canal transit. Andrew has now gone to clear in and arrange an agent for us to make the arrangements which include visiting about five different offices, having the boat measured, hiring 4 very long ropes, depositing a large amount of money at the bank and arranging line handlers to accompany us on the transit. All a lot to take in but it appears that the cruising community is set up here to help. We will probably transit the canal with John & Elaine as two of their line handlers so we know what to expect when we take R2 through. It is likely that we will have to wait 2/3 weeks for transit - so watch this space for news from Panama.


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