Position: N 09 35.059 W 078 41.092
Location: Naguarchirdup, Lemmon Cays, San Blas, Panama
We have traveled almost 14,000 miles on Rachel and have finally made it to paradise. The San Blas , Kuna Yala to the locals - is the one of the most amazing places we have been to date. There are over 300 islands in this archipelago. Some are just a spit of sand with a palm tree or two, while others are almost half a mile long. And then there are the other hundreds that are in between. All are beautiful with swaying palm trees, white sand, warm breezes, and lots of beach treasures, a beach comber's paradise.
|A beautiful island|
|One more beautiful island|
|Another island - are these getting boring?|
|OK maybe just one more lovely island|
Most of the time we get to sail in clear blue waters behind coral reefs which means great wind for sailing without big ocean waves. With winds between 10 and 15 knots for the most part, it's not hard work, and everything is close enough together that we don't have to be in a hurry , we've been sailing a lot down here. After a few hours underway we pick a spot to anchor, sometimes amid a cluster of other boats, but more often away from the pack on our own. Some nights we are the only boat in the anchorage with our own private little island to explore. Nights have been mostly clear with millions of stars above, a sailor's paradise.
The waters between the islands usually run from 50 to 150 feet deep and are a beautiful dark blue. As we approach the islands the depth can go from 100 feet to 10 feet in an instant, requiring us to be alert and have good light so we can see the reefs and sand bars. We nuzzle up to a beach or sand bar, drop the anchor, and drift back into maybe 60 feet of water. This was a bit disconcerting at first but after a week or so we got used to it. Now Rachel is just a few hundred feet from the beach allowing us to easily swim ashore and walk around the islands. Sometimes we have to anchor a little further out but it's still easy to dinghy in, explore, and cool off with a relaxing dip in the water. Each island and chain of islands is surrounded by coral reefs, and also quite a lot of shipwrecks. This means exploring fish and coral heads to your hearts content, a swimmer's, snorkeler's, and diver's paradise.
|Dinghy trip into the jungle up the Rio Diablo with our visiting friends Shep and Deb|
Many of the islands have one or two Kuna families living on them. They seem to rotate families on the islands, all seeming to come from villages on the mainland. We're not sure if this is work related, collecting coconuts, retaining ownership by habitation, or vacation for them. Whatever it is, they seem happy to be out here. At any rate, we're in the third world for sure - the Kuna live in dirt floor huts made from bamboo and palm fronds, and have very few possessions. Hammocks to sleep in, cooking and eating utensils, a few clothes, a machete, and usually a dugout canoe, called an ulu with paddles carved from boards and a sailing rig. Some very well-to-do Kunas have outboard motors for their ulus. So far we have found the Kuna to be honest, gentle, happy, and open, an anthropologist's paradise.
|Isla Gerti, a very traditional island|
|Kuna settlement on Canbombia displaying molas for sale|
|Another Kuna settlement on Canbombia|
|Kuna settlement on the island of Tiadup|
|An old man carving a nuchu, a good luck statue displayed in many kuna huts|
|The standard mode of transportation in Kuna Yala is the ulu or dugout canoe. Sometimes they are paddled and sometimes they have homemade sails, often patchworked with any fabric they come across.|
The men go out fishing every day and will often come around the cruising boats every afternoon selling their catch. Looking out from the boat we see them standing in their ulu wearing only underwear (their version of swimming shorts) with big grins on their faces, holding up a crab or lobster or fish, as if to say 'Look what I caught!'. We usually troll a fishing line when we move around so if we haven't managed to catch a fish we gladly buy from the locals at very reasonable prices - a seafood lover's paradise.
The women tend to stay on shore. They cook fish, bake bread, make molas, and bead. (Note: Google 'Kuna Yala mola' to learn more about molas). Whenever we go ashore on an island that's inhabited we politely ask permission to walk around. Permission is always granted. As the women see us approaching they scurry to get their bucket full of molas and arrange them for us to see. Julie had one of the women make her a beaded anklet, made to measure. It's one long string of beads that they wrap around and around and the beads line up to make a kuna design. Most of the local kuna women wear molas and sport these beads around their arms and legs. The molas and beads also make great gifts, a shopper's paradise.
|Julie with Venancio 'Master Mola Maker'|
|Mola makers will paddle up to the boat and without a lot of encouragement they are on board showing their molas|
|Julie and our visiting friend Deb shopping for molas|
The children sometimes get to go out fishing with the men or go out with women paddling an ulu around the cruising boats to sell molas or bread or they just play on the islands and in the water always laughing and enjoying life. Wherever we go the children appear around us smiling and saying "Hola!" (pronounced OH-la - Spanish for hello), and laughing and grinning when we say "Hola!" back to them. They almost always ask our names and will repeat them several times, we do the same with them. Sometimes we learn Kuna words from them like 'morbep' and teach them that it's 'conch' in English. Being so far from our grandchildren, we always enjoy spending time with the kids, a grandparent's paradise.
|Some little boys on Canbombia 'helping' to sell molas|
Anyway, it's time for us to get back to doing whatever it is we do. Today's a bit breezy so the wind generator is cranking out the amps. Thanks to the wind generator, the water maker is running, producing gallons of clear, fresh water from the sea without using any fuel. So it looks like we may get some reading done today. After lunch we just may take a nap. Or we might go snorkeling. 'Time and tide wait for no man' - no need for us to wait, we hardly ever know the time or the tide - the tide always seems to be less than a foot, anyway. You can tell we're really enjoying ourselves by this snippet of conversation from earlier this morning:
Julie: "What day is it today?"
Mark: "I dunno, maybe Wednesday or Thursday?"
Julie: "I'll turn on the computer. Oh! It's Thursday March 17th."
Julie, looking at the calendar: "Oh, it's St Patrick's Day"
Mark: "Happy St. Patrick's Day, sweetheart!"
Happy St. Patrick's Day from paradise,