Monday, November 19, 2012

Isla Pinos, San Blas, Panama

David on Isla Pinos
Isla Rosario

Our first brief stop was the tiny tourist/resort island of Rosario. We glided into the shallow guided by two young Caballeros in a skiff. They introduced themselves as Mollano and Pepe. Pepe would have made a perfect used car salesman back home. We bartered back and forth and eventually settled on a price for two lobsters and a hand-carved stone tortuga (turtle), with four beers thrown in to seal the deal. Then our two contented entrepreneurs raised their homemade sail and drifted off on the afternoon breeze.        
A tiny island shaped liked a whale came into view, some 26 hours of sailing from Isla Rosario in Colombia. Isla Pinos is home to a small community of the Kuna people, including David, the self-appointed tour guide and techie-guy for the island. He invited us into his traditional home to meet his wife Anna and four children (and one on the way!), and try our hand connecting to internet using his cellphone. He also wanted Daragh to troubleshoot his solar power setup. Inside we saw reed walls and an earth floor all covered by a thatch roof. How they manage monsoon season we will never know. 
We were surprised to see, 
sitting in the middle of it all, a Big Screen TV set! "Two hundred and fifty channels"! he grinned through a set of perfect white teeth. No luck fixing his inverter but we did print off some of his family photos on our boat for him. We wished him well with his ambitious plans for this unspoiled island.

   A short stroll away across fallen tree trunks and flooded pathways, we spied the cemetery. A forlorn and solemn air descended as we viewed the small grave of a young Kuna girl, the red clay partially eroded; a sandal, a sprig of dried flowers, the only offerings and mementos to her short life.

Ustupu to Snug Harbour

   A rough passage and gusty winds brought us through some treacherous reefs to a remote town of three thousand souls, Ustupu. It lies off the infamous Darien Coast of Panama, once noted for its' drug runners and associated ruffians. Quite the contrast to the Kuna people themselves, who are known to be so 'tranquilo'.
Huge waves pounded the coast as we approached the settlement. Fortunately, there was a wide lagoon tucked in behind, and we dropped the hook there.
   While it appeared to be chaotic on the surface, with pigs, chickens and ninos (kids), running higgledy-piggledy, it was actually a thriving community with a government office, recreation centre, and large school.       However, most of the buildings were still constructed of reeds and thatch, many with outdoor facilities.  As we continued our search for the elusive Internet, we met Baudillo, a charming fellow who taught at the high school and to our delight, spoke fluent English! Baudillo had three children and a petite wife, beautifully attired in the local vibrant costume, including hand-crocheted leggings and arm bands. He graciously led us to the school which apparently had a good Internet signal that reached outside the walls. Being Sunday, many students were lounging about glued to their laptops, just like at home! A small group were practicing their ballroom dance steps for the final exam next morning.  Once again, the incongruity of the old world and the new boggled the mind. A phrase translated from the school wall and attributed to an elder and Kuna chief expressed it best….

Baudillo at the schoolhouse
" I only hope, by the land of my elders, for an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, and pure air, that we can live happily for the children of the land where we were born."

On The Reef in Coco Banderas!!

SV Respite
Coral Reef at Coco Banderas
The day started out as usual, with clear, sunny skies and calm waters, but alas it was not to be. After we hoisted anchor and aimed the bow towards our pre-set return route out of Coco Banderas, suddenly we heard a dull thud and felt the prop grind to a halt on an unsuspected coral reef!  Our worst fears surfaced as we imagined our helpless Chantey being heeled over and blown onto the reef!  Frantically Daragh jumped into the dinghy and dragged the 
anchor towards the deep water to pull us off. The keel and rudder were wedged 
between the coral and wouldn't budge! At 

that moment two angels appeared in the form of Mike and Gloria, on board SV Respite. They helped pull with their dinghy, and with a little luck o' the Irish (and a few Hail Mary's) we felt the boat give way and slowly drift back into the channel. Daragh checked the prop and rudder, which luckily only had a few chunks out of them, and we were able to continue on our way once more. Whew!   Ooblahdee, Ooblahda...... Another nail-biter, and memorable moment of life on board Chantey V.


Mola Lisa
Happy Hour on Chantey V
     Our final stop in the San Blas was the serene, coconut cluttered palm trees of Chichime Anchorage. After we had set anchor an old dugout floated quietly alongside. "Bienvenidos!".  A cheerful welcome was offered by the smiling Kuna lady in the stern of the canoe. She introduced herself as Lisa, or "Mola-Lisa", master Mola Maker,( the embroidered appliqué designs of the region). We invited her aboard to show us her art. Lisa, it turns out, happens to be a transvestite, an apparently not uncommon and acceptable lifestyle choice in the Kuna culture. We chatted with her and Daragh chose a particularly intricate bird design. Then we watched as she paddled slowly out to sea and back across the miles to her mainland village. Hmmm......She wore the same mysterious smile as the woman in that famous painting! 
      The next morning we left the San Blas bound for Turtle Cay Marina, a few creature comforts, and to meet up with cruising buddies on "SV I Yam What I Yam". No not Popeye, but Larry and Sandy, of Vancouver, BC. and just in time for Happy Hour!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cartagena to Medellin, 'Endless Spring'

 the Tree House
We descended from the clouds, back into our old life in Victoria, BC, right where we had left off over one year ago.  It took us twelve months and great effort to sail all the way to South America, and just a few hours to jet-set home. Oh the wonders of the space age! We arrived to a welcome reunion at 'The Treehouse', literally a tiny house on stilts, overlooking the woods, in brother John, and Linda's back yard in Cordova bay. Soon our BCA sailor friends were reunited for an evening of revelry and stories at Lionel and Barbs. We promptly, but gratefully, picked up Georgie Porgie from Gary and Michelle's relieved but dedicated hands, and set ourselves up on the back patio at Santa Clara for what became our nightly ritual of Happy Hour. Many hours were spent here solving the world's problems, but all good things must end, and in three short months, with recharged batteries, we found ourselves back on Chantey V. Once unpacked, refloated and re-provisioned, we headed for the anchorage at Boca Grande  with the lights of Cartagena twinkling before us like fireflies, and visions of future travels dancing in our heads.

"Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket,
  save it for a rainy day,
  Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket,
  never let it fade away".

Our charming tour advisor/bartender Alex!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   As Hurricane Sandy unleashed her wrath on the East Coast, we decided to go exploring inland, thanks to a recommendation from Alex, our bartender-come-travel-advisor. And so we were off to the bustling metropolis of Medellin, 500km away in the Andes mountains. We were immediately both gobsmacked by the breathtaking beauty of the Columbian countryside! Our coach wound precariously up a steady incline to a towering 8,500 feet above sea level, where vast, lush green valleys unfolded below, dotted with cattle, burro, horse ranches and coffee plantations. Tiny rustic huts and ranches lined the narrow roadway perched timidly on the edge of the abyss. Where was Juan Valdez?
    We arrived at our destination, a little shaky after the descent, to a modest hotel , and were met by Carlos, who bestowed the usual Columbian hospitality upon us. A short stroll later, we were stunned to take in the hustling, modern district of Poblados, with all the trappings of a big American city: trendy restaurants and bars, looming glass office towers, and plenty of parks and greenspace. Later we dined at an Italian bistro in Zona Rosa and polished off the night at a funky wine bar.
   A speedy and efficient Metro system whisked us across town next morning. At the end of the train line it transfers to Metro Cable ( too steep for buses) and takes you several barrios and finally to the top of the mountain. As you are whisked up the enormous bowl that encircles the city, the worlds of past and present collide. All along the hillside many barrios made of red brick houses line the cliffsides. The brick is from the red iron ore that permeates the earth here. Peering down from the cable car it was fascinating to gaze down on the urban peasant lifestyle, and the colourful world of people who live on the fringe of this developing economy. The happy chatter and laughter of the smartly dressed children at play in the schools reached up as we whizzed by overhead.
   Of course, everyone here enjoys, perhaps the most idyllic weather in Latin America. Being high in the mountains, the air is cool and clear and there is much less humidity than at the coast. The days are sunny and balmy and the night cool and fresh year round! The locals call it "Endless Spring".No wonder everyone is smiling!
Medellins 'One Hundred Thousand Welcome's

There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway,
There's a song that they sing when they take to the sea,
A song that they sing of their home in the sky,
Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep,
But singing works just fine for me....

James Taylor

Our trip ended, as usual, at your local Irish Pub,with these words from the Gaelic.....