Sailing in the San Blas

August 31st, 2012

 

Our bikes onboard the M/S Independence, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

So we set sail from El Porvenir, Panamá to Cartagena, Colombia. The fact that the Darién Gap between Panamá and Colombia is an inhospitable and dangerous place to be riding a bike was the perfect excuse for us to load the bikes onto a boat and for James' brother Ed to join us for a holiday cruise across the Caribbean to the start of our next cycling leg in South America.

Fellow guests on the M/S Independence, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

The eleven of us (Seamus is hiding!) who sailed together on the M/S Indpendence. A mix of nationalities and stories...we all rubbed along together very nicely. The boat has space for twenty four people but we were all grateful for it being less than half full.

Buying fruit and veg from the M/S Independence, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

Once we were on board for our five day journey, the captain also needed to take on supplies. Handily, the fruit and veg boat pulled up alongside the Independence and he did a little bit of shopping....

Buying fruit and veg from the M/S Independence, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

....and the fruit and veg men had their work cut out calculating the hefty bill.

Kuna fisherman selling lobster from his dugout canoe; sailing from Panamá to Colombia

Then it was time to visit the next shop. This time it was the lobster man who was selling his catch from a dugout canoe. Our captain Michel bought us a lobster feast for the first night on board.

Kuna tribeswomen selling hand woven souvenirs from their canoes; sailing from Panamá to Colombia

We spent three days sailing in the San Blas, a collection of 378 islands just off the coast of Panamá. 49 of the islands are home to the indigenous Kuna tribe who make their living fishing and selling food and souvenirs to boats like ours....

Tropical island; sailing from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia

...while the uninhabited islands are just cocunut trees and blinding white sand. Close your eyes and think of your typical "tropical island paradise"...yep, exactly. I felt like we'd stepped into the pages of a luxury travel brochure when we woke up each morning to scenes like this.

Kuna's dugout canoe; sailing from Panamá to Colombia

Unlike our luxurious 85ft yacht, the locals go for a more simple vehicle, a dugout canoe.

Sunset on the San Blas islands; sailing from Panamá to Colombia

As the sun went down on our first night in the San Blas...

On deck of the M/S Independence, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

...we played cards, drank beer and looked forward to our lobster feast...

Eating lobster on the M/S Independence, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

...where James got to dissect his dinner a little more intimately than he would have liked.

Sun over the San Blas islands, Panamá

The days then took on a hypnotically laid back routine; spending our time basking in the sunshine and bathing in the pristine Caribbean: snorkelling, kayaking, eating and reading.

Playing volleyball in the San Blas islands

A little more activity on the evening of day two as we headed to one of the islands for a beach bbq. The more energetic of us dabbled with a spot of beach volleyball - Australian Mike showing us how it's done!

The M/S Independence at sunset, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

Having delicious grilled fish on the island, we could look back and admire our yacht from afar: the M/S Independence bobbing in the water as the sun goes down.

Mike and Seamus kayaking out to the dolphins in the San Blas islands; sailing from Panamá to Colombia

Dolphins came to visit on day three. Most of us watched from the boat but Mike and Seamus were lucky enough to be out on the kayak and gave chase for a close up view.

Clouds gather over the San Blas islands, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

The dolphins beat a hasty retreat as black clouds started to gather; we could see a storm brewing and then someone spotted a tornado on the distant horizon. I half expected the captain to shout "batten down the hatches"! He wasn't quite so melodramatic but it was definitely time to move away from the San Blas and set sail for Colombia.

Reading on the boat; sailing on the M/S Indpenence from Panamá to Colombia

The storm never reached us and a calm day of open water sailing meant nothing more to do except read...

Sleeping through the day on the M/S Indpenence from Panamá to Colombia

...and sleep. We weren't the only ones using the boat as a delivery service. In between snoozing on deck, Marcus kept close watch on his motorbike that he was shipping over to Colombia from Germany.

Ropes on the M/S Indpenence; sailing from Panamá to Colombia

The rest of us had little to do as captain Michel took charge and navigated across the open water. It was a relief not to have to helplessly tackle ropes, sails and nautical language as we had done on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico back in December last year.

Rope and sail on the M/S Indpenence; sailing from Panamá to Colombia

Despite being a sailing boat the wind wasn't right and we did the entire journey using the motor. Michel proclaimed this was the calmest crossing he had made in forty years - much to my relief; the sea sickness I was dreading never came.

Swimming in the Atlantic ocean, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

When Michel cautiously offered us the chance to swim in open water, peppered with warnings of sharks and other beasties, we jumped at the chance to take a delicious dip in the vast ocean. Thankfully all eleven of us came back out in one piece. (Photo: Dean Murphy)

Sun goes down over open water; sailing on the M/S Indpenence from Panamá to Colombia

We made quick time sailing under the motor and as the sun went down on a full day spent in open water we were only a few hours from Cartagena, where we slept in the harbour.

Captain Michél and Dean on the M/S Independence, sailing from Panamá to Colombia

The next morning, before we unloaded, there was just time for our quirky captain Michel to show Dean and the rest of a us a few essential self defence moves for survival in Colombia, and then we went our separate ways.

One of the San Blas islands, Panamá

A final, gratuitous shot of the islands we fell in love with. The memorable boat journey was well worth the expense; blessed with fine weather, capable crew, good people, great food and exquisite scenery we couldn't have wished for a finer way to travel from one continent to the next.

Sarah

 

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2 Responses to “Sailing in the San Blas”

  1. Gayle and Mark Says:

    Looks like a wonderful trip, love the island shots, and the incredible skies! Very happy for you that you didn’t have of that sea sickness malarky, but could just enjoy not being on a bike for just a little while! Lots of love, the Whartons xxx

    [Reply]

  2. Sam Wyld Says:

    Ed wasn’t daft with his timing! Looks wonderful, but I think I prefer the hard slog, mwahahaaa xxx

    [Reply]

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