Monday, January 28, 2013

Last Weeks in Kuna Yala

Loyal It’s Irie blog readers might have noticed that there was a bit of a time gap between New Year and canal blogs, earlier this month. Mark and I were so busy with a family visit, boat projects and canal preparations, that – before we knew it – the date of our transit came and went. And, afterwards, I had to report about it, of course. J So, let’s back up about a month, back to the time we spent our last weeks (ever?) in the gorgeous San Blas islands. This time, my cousin and her husband got to enjoy it with us.

Griet and Wim arrived on Irie from Belgium on January 4th and were in for a very diverse and special Panama vacation. The first ten days of their holiday, they received a good taste of the San Blas islands, followed by a great sail to mainland Panama, a short stay in Portobelo, and a totally different “chores” stop in Colon Harbor, with a side trip to the ruins of Fort San Lorenzo and its marvelous view over the Chagres River. Then, they transited the canal with us, to conclude their vacation with two days Panama City. We called their experience the “Best of Panama”!

In Kuna Yala we sailed around and stayed in different anchorages between sandy islands dotted with palm trees. Our guests arrived in the East Lemmons, where they explored three of the four islands. A record amount of over 30 anchored boats made us leave the following day. Yansaladup had us remove and re-install one of the emergency hatches (thanks for helping us clean all the old caulk of, guys!) while in 5 feet of water, and do laundry on shore with water from the well. We also managed to relax one afternoon in the hammock and have a fire on the beach, accompanied by drinks and snacks, a gecko and our German friend Stefan, who we had to say “goodbye” to.

A highlight for many visitors to the San Blas islands, is the river tour with Lisa, a – locally – famous master mola maker and transvestite. Mark and I had never done this daytrip before and figured that having family over was a good opportunity to go. We were accompanied by Vicky and Larry from SV Rocinante. Lisa and a helper picked us up in the anchorage of Salardup for a day of fun. With her motorized boat we drove up a pretty river, where we disembarked into the jungle. She showed us her Kuna family’s traditional cemetery and led us through the dense rainforest, crossing the river a couple of times. While she charged ahead, we - the tourists - lagged behind to have a good look at fauna (Griet, Mark and I spotted some howler monkeys) and flora.

After an hour or so and a short climb, we reached a pretty waterfall with refreshing pools underneath. We all jumped into the gorge, some from a bit higher up than others, and had a chilly swim around. After lunch, it was time to really get wet. Walking stick in hand, stumbling over and – sometimes – falling onto the slippery rocks, we followed the river for a good way back to the jungle trail. Once in a while a jump off a cliff, a short swim, or a slide through the water was needed. It was an interesting and enjoyable experience!

Irie’s freshwater tank was empty, so we stopped briefly in Rio Azucar, to fill up with fresh water from the mountains and to buy a few odds and ends, like freshly baked bread. It was Griet and Wim’s first encounter with an authentic Kuna village. The process went quicker than expected and we managed to sail all the way to the Coco Bandero Cays – another pretty setting of four palmy and balmy islands - the same day. More beaches were explored and refreshing swims were had. The wind had picked up a lot, and so had the amount of visiting sailboats. As a result, we had to skip two favorite anchorages and the morning turned into one of sailing and motoring instead of relaxing and snorkeling. We stopped in the East Lemmons again, where we did have a wonderful snorkeling experience on the reefs in the afternoon.

Then, we started planning our trip to the mainland, so we headed for the Chichime Cays. The first night, we anchored “inside” behind the impressively breaking reefs in 10 feet of incredibly clear water. Diving in was a delight; as if you were in a swimming pool, but with over a knot of current. Showering was a bit challenging to say the least, but we had fun being swept towards the beach, snorkel mask on our heads, then walking back past Irie on the beach and floating back again. The island we were anchored off also had an easy trail, a beautiful beach and some kind of bar. Griet collected many shells and sea beans. The 16 foot waves in the ocean might have been the cause of all the extra flotsam and jetsam.  

Our last night was spent on the “outside” of Chichime, from where we staged ourselves for the 55 mile sail to Portobelo, mainland Panama. We had our last Kuna Yala snorkel and our last cocktail in our – so far – favorite island group. To make the evening even better, Becky and Denny from SV Kokomo joined us in the anchorage and for dinner, drinks and great stories. More friends we had to say goodbye to. L And then, we moved west… to keep moving west!

Griet and Wim filled their suitcase with Belgian goodies for us!

Fixing the emergency hatch: Mark inside, me outside in 4.5 feet of water

Doing laundry with well water on Yansaladup

Pretty surroundings of the East Lemmons

Carrying Mark across the river to keep his shoes dry!

Lisa shows us her family's cemetery

Lunch near the waterfall, before we follow the river back

Sometimes walking, sometimes swimming, sometimes jumping and sometimes sliding...

And sometimes falling...

I finally used my hammock, the way it is supposed to be used! :-)

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