Imagine yourself aboard a comfortable speedboat. Salty water sprays lightly over your face as the Caribbean swell breaks against the bow, and the sun gently warms your skin. You're exploring deserted islands with pristine white sand and crystal blue water lapping their shores...
Sounds like a dream doesn't it? This was our journey from Panama to Colombia.
At 5am on the first day we found ourselves sitting outside Luna's Castle in Panama City with everything we owned wrapped in layers of black plastic ready and waiting for a convoy of 4WD's that would courier us to the awaiting boats. Plastic is your friend on a San Blas Adventures tour and you should double, even triple wrap everything. We had probably gone to the extreme but we wrapped everything inside our bags in plastic, and then double bagged our backpacks for extra protection. One unlucky person on our trip learnt things the hard way when she opened her baggage to find a very soggy laptop. So again, plastic is your friend.
The convoy made a pit stop along the way for breakfast and supplies and while many of our fellow sailors were loading up on rum and coke, we had decided to just grab some water and snacks, opting to purchase cold beers on the islands instead of carrying more luggage. In hindsight, a bottle of rum would have gone down a treat with all the fresh coconuts growing on the islands.
The first time boarding the little wooden dinghy's had me sceptical we would actually arrive in South America and not just end up castaway somewhere along the rugged Panamanian coast. Our little boat in particular had no shade, travelled slower than 5 knots and managed to hit every wave imaginable. By the time we had arrived at the first island, we were sun-burnt and saturated. Not exactly living the dream but we were enjoying the isolation and the company of our new friends. After lunch and a quick swim we made our way to the first overnight stop, and my personal favourite island of the trip.
After picking our hammocks we went for a walk around the island to get some photos. It was then that we realised my camera wasn't working. I was extremely annoyed at this revelation but we had Justin's underwater camera so that would have to do - until the battery died and I literally gave up on the idea of photos and tried to focus more intently on experiences instead. Thank fully, everyone else was taking photos and I have been able to borrow some of their masterpieces to share.
The Kuna Islands (Guna / Cuna / San Blas are other common names) are inhabited by the Kuna people. Many of the Kuna women are talented at making and designing molas (beaded and embroidered clothing) and they adorn themselves in strands of brightly-coloured beads running up their arms and legs in clever patterns. Many of the girls on our boat, including myself, took a few minutes to get a beaded anklet of our own for a couple of dollars each.
Once we had been decorated in the traditional fashion, it was time for a seafood feast. Large trays of freshly caught crab, lobster, and octopus were the centre pieces of our shared long table and they were absolutely delicious. I may have eaten Justin's share (just quietly) but his dislike of seafood is my blessing! After dinner, we drank rum punch ans smoked shisha before retiring to our hammock hut and the gentle sounds of the ocean.
On arrival to this particular stretch of sand and coconut trees, we had been advised that the one and only toilet on the whole island had undergone repairs and wouldn't be available for use until sometime the next morning. Well for me, morning had come and I had business to take care of. After stumbling through some Spanish, I was informed I would not be able to use the toilet for at least another hour. So with nothing else to do, I went swimming. Luckily, the sun had only just begun to rise over the water and everyone except 1-2 other people were awake. It was rather luxurious using the ocean as a bathroom, even if I did almost swim into my own waste trying to escape some seaweed, especially after seeing the for the toilet that had since begun working.
Island number 2 was not what I had dreamt of. They were nothing more than over-built rocky outcrops in the sea. Even though no one was trying to sell us anything, this part of the tour felt very commercial, but I guess that was because we were back to civilisation. Our accommodation for this particular evening was in a shared cabin with a small en-suite and a little back porch for ocean views. It was nice to have a bed but it didn't seem as authentic as our previous night in the beach huts.
Later that day while some chose to rest or sun bake, a few of us decided to go visit the inhabitants of Monkey Island. The monkeys were adopted by the man and his wife living on the island and they were rather impressed that I had bought them bananas. I even got cuddles.
The third and final island we visited was a small community, seemingly made up of a hundred curious kids. Again, this island felt very commercial but we enjoyed seeing how the indigenous people of the island lived. The day was spent hiking to the top of a hill on the island and swimming, followed by another massive dinner feast. After dinner our whole group went for a night walk away from the village, we built a large fire and made s'mores before it started raining and put a dampener on our fun.
The night was spent in a newly built hammock hut that smelt like pig and leaked badly with the increasingly heavy rain but I still somehow managed to get a good nights 'swing' before it was time to put the Kuna Islands behind us and make the final crossing into Colombia.
Once immigration formalities had been taken care of, we disembarked once last time in Sapzurro for a delicious tamale lunch and nice cold beer, before taking a small ferry to Capurganá (COP 7,000) where we'd spend the night and say our final farewells to our new friends from the tour before taking another boat in the morning to Necoclí.
So you've probably already realised this was no luxury tour but it was something unique and definitely special.
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