Exploring San Blas


In my latest blog, over a month ago, I wrote that I would go to the San Blas islands. In the meantime, I am cycling in Colombia already, so there is a big gap of untold stories in between. I decided to split this into two blogs that I will upload soon after each other.


Let me start by sharing the special news that my father will join me on the latest part of my trip. After he told me that he will retire this year, I suggested that he could join me for the  final part. He hesitated at first, saying that he doesn’t want to interrupt during my trip, but I think it would be great to do that together. And now he’s in! He even bought his bicycle already. The idea is to start in Buenos Aires, cycle across Argentina into Santiago de Chile, and to cycle down from there. This is just an idea, it’s all still far away so everything can change.


Back to Panama. Back to the marina where we were about to leave for the San Blas islands. The day before we left the marina, Jana and I visited a former bunker from the US army. Nature completely took over the place in a matter of 20 years. Jana is biologist and interested in all kinds of species, so she was hoping to find some cool animals in the bunker. Armed with a bamboo stick and a lighter, we entered the bunker like real adventurers. It was quite big and dirty, all rooms were inhabited by cockroaches, bats, spiders and salamanders. ‘Unfortunately’, we didn’t see any scorpions or snakes.


When we left the marina on a Sunday morning, the German music was blasting through the speakers once more. It took us half a day to arrive in the next marina, the so-called ‘Linton Bay Marina’. Pirates have recently attacked several anchoring ships outside this marina, so Jan-Dirk decided to go into the marina. In this marina, the German family was reunited with Allen and Maria, a British couple that they have met over a year ago on the Canary Islands. They were sailing together for a little while, before they went their own ways. Jan-Dirk is a real German and enjoys a couple of beers, so the reunion turned into a long and nice evening.


Jan-Dirk, Maria, Allen, Michel, Paul & Jana


Sunset in Linton Bay


The reunion with Maria and Allen


We stayed another day. Allen and Maria still had to officially enter the country at the immigration office. With their boat, Lady Jane, they sailed directly from Jamaica to Panama and they had arrived yesterday. They took a cap to Portobello, a little town not far from the marina. I joined them. After they were done, we walked through the little town. Centuries ago, many Spanish ships left this harbor fully loaded with gold and silver. Portobello does not at all reflect the wealth that went through this harbor, everything looks old and in need of maintenance. Even the historic forts that were used to defend the Spanish freight are poorly maintained.


Portobello in a nutshell


The next day, it was time to go to the islands! We sailed together with Lady Jane. We prepared two rods on the back of the boat, to hopefully catch a nice tuna for the lunch. Unfortunately, both lines broak on the same day. One broke immediately, the other broke while we could almost touch the tuna. Jana fought like a lion to get it in, so it was kind of frustrating when it broke just before we had it. Scheiße!


Jana really did her best


We anchored at the entrance of the archipelago that consists of hundreds of islands. You have to pay a small fee to enter the islands. This money goes to the Guna people, the indigenous community that still live on the islands. These hundreds of islands are officially part of Panama, but they have autonomy. Despite the Spanish conquest, the indigenous managed to conserve their culture quite well.


This community has its own language, Kuna, but Spanish is kind of taking over this language. Decades ago, coconuts was the currency of the indigenous, but the US dollar took over that role. However, the Kuna community still can get angry at you for taking some coconuts off their islands, because it is still very important for them. Some islands are uninhabited, most of these are owned by families. The maintenance of these islands is done in shifts of several months by some of the family members.


The registration at the first island of the archipelago


In the weeks that we were on these islands, we have visited many islands. It was like paradise. Uninhabited islands surrounded by crystal clear and turquoise blue water. It’s much more beautiful to see it with your own eyes. We spend time swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, reading, barbecuing or drinking sundowners while the sun was going down (or long after the sun set). It was a great time and we had a lot of fun together.


What a paradise: Our own private island


Smartphones are unavoidable. Even on the most remote places


A self-made little sailboat during the sunset


On a quiet afternoon, there was an announcement on the radio about a local guy that had cut himself into his hand with a machete. We told them that we had Spanish speakers on-board, so they came to Jajapami. Five minutes later, two locals arrived at the boat and explained what had happened. They had wrapped something really tight around his hand to stop the bleeding, but the wound needed to be cleaned. Luckily, Jana knew what and how to do it. She cleaned the wound of Dioris and put bandage around it. The poor guy had lost quite some blood, because he managed to cut himself into a …. The wound would never heal without stitches, so he needed to go to a hospital. The San Blas islands don’t have medical emergency services to the islands, so he had to wait until the next day. Jana gave him a bunch of painkillers to get through the night. We were going to the island with the hospital anyway, so he could join us.


The next morning, we picked him and a friend up with the dingy. I had never heard of that term before, but the dingy is the small boat behind the big boat. The other people on the island rewarded Jan and Jana for helping him out by giving some coconuts. A wonderful gesture considering the importance of the coconuts. Dioris looked fine, but the pain kept him from a good night of sleep. We sailed to Nargana, the island with a hospital. However, we couldn’t reach the dock of the hospital, because the water was too shallow. The boat operator of the hospital was enjoying his lunch, so a local trader eventually took him to the dock. Later that afternoon, we met him again on the island. He looked relieved and told us that he had 7 stitches in his hand.


Dioris finally arrives at the hospital


After two-and-a-half weeks on these majestic islands, it was time to return to the Shelter Bay Marina. Unfortunatly, I have not been able to find an on-going connection to Colombia, but I have to admit that I haven’t really looked for it either. We made it back to the marina in one long day of sailing. I have had an amazing time with the German family and I will never forget that, lucky me for getting in touch with them via another cyclist. The day before going on alone, the boat had to be lifted onto ‘the hard’. Jan-Dirk positioned the boat through a small entrance, before big machine lifted it on the hard. Some painting needs to be done before the boat goes through the canal.


If you would like to follow the sailing journey of the German family or of Lady Jane, I will put a link below:


https://jajapami.blog/ (German family)


https://untilthebuttermelts.com (British couple)


I said goodbye the following day and cycled back to Portobello in search of boats that go to Colombia. I’ll write about that in my next blog.

 The goodbye picture


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