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!


  1. The rain and cool weather is here so it's a pleasure to join you, if only virtually. Happy Sails!

  2. We had lost your blog but now were back. Glad you managed to extricate yourselves off the reef and all is well...Say Hi to Larry & Sandy for us. Another season in Mexico for us then maybe further south to follow in your footsteps. The tropics are calling...