By Sam, first mate aboard the cutter 'Prana':
San Blas was most definitely the most beautiful place I have ever been to.
It is a group of about 300 tiny, sandy, palm tree-laden islands spread over
a few hundred miles, about 60 nautical miles east of Panama. The water was crystal, crystal, clear and amazing.
Whilst snorkeling we saw massive Groupers (30 to 40 lbs), Lobsters (we managed to get one) , Stingrays, Nurse sharks and of course lots of very friendly,
multicoloured, little reef fish.
The people who live on the islands are a tribe called the Kuna Indians.
Not all of the islands are inhabited, only about 25%, and all that is on them is a tiny homemade huts and a few coconut trees. The people have nothing. Coconuts
are the main export of the San Blas.
The chaps go off fishing for the day, similar to our male crew's fishing
trips, except that they do not carry a case of beer in their dinghy and they always come back with several fish for
The women stay at home rearing the family and sewing 'molas', a
traditional form of tapestry that is very colourful and depicts the lives of the
Kunas and which they sell to the tourists.
On our first morning there, we went for a swim, etc., and then saw a tiny
dug-out canoe heading for us.
It was some Kunas coming over to invite us to their island to see if we wanted to buy some
We arranged a time to meet them and, later on that day, two of us headed out to find
Seeing as they didn't have much, we thought we would try our skills at trading.
We took some chocolate, soap, a magazine and even some sparklers!
With my broken Spanish, the trading began, only for us to discover, five minutes
later, that we were still being charged $5 for our purchase, although they accepted our trading items as
They were only interested in US$!
We spent nearly two weeks in the San Blas and we loved every minute of it. We really didn't want to leave for Colon but the Pacific
We made a few stops on the way, including one we really didn't want to make, as we ran aground for several
hours! With a man in the dinghy with the kedge anchor, and myself swung out on the
boom, we eventually got off.
The skipper's cool words, as we touched the bottom, were "Well we needed to calibrate the depth sounder any
way!" followed by lots of swearing as he jumped over the side of the boat to see how badly we were
stuck, only to stand up right next to the boat knee deep!
I missed out on an excellent 'Kodak moment'.
From a charming British couple, John and Cathie
Waugh, whom the editors got to know in Trinidad, West Indies, we received news of the Netherlands Antilles islands of Bonaire and
Curaçao, where they had spent the last couple of
months, aboard their catamaran, 'Lady Cat':
"We certainly had some very nice times, especially the diving in Bonaire, which should not be
missed, however they are probably the most expensive islands in the Caribbean, so stock up before you get
As guests who had spent three weeks with us were preparing to go home, we took a berth in the marina in
Aruba, so they could get themselves organised to leave and, although it is very well
located, the showers are non existent.
After some complaining, we were provided with a hotel room, free of charge, for our daily
showers, so we could no longer complain! "
Lady Cat was currently anchored in The Bay of Cartagena, Colombia, close by Club
"The exchange rate has increased, from 1,720 to 1,900 pesos to theUS$, since we arrived 5 weeks ago.
Despite all the negative press and general cruiser apprehensions about Cartagena, we have found it very safe
here, as long as you remain in Cartagena.
The Club provides a safe place to leave the dinghy, (unlocked!) for a nominal charge of 14,500 pesos a
month, whilst one is visiting town, or simply enjoying a 50c beer at the bar, or a meal of
steak, fish or chicken for approx $3 - $6!!
Tolerable showers are available and Laundry charges run 2,300 pesos for washing and 3,000 pesos for
You simply drop your washing off in the morning and collect it that day or the following
We were warned about a possible thief in the anchorage, when we arrived, but hoisting the dinghy every night, and generally being careful with locking the
boat, seems to work.
Cartagena's old town or 'el centro' is quite breath taking and words really do not do it
justice, it simply has to be experienced. Walking around a city surrounded by approximately 20 to 30 feet of thick
wall, beautifully illuminated at night, and with the interior comprising numerous narrow
streets, with Spanish balconies on every building takes one back a few
It is easy to imagine the Spaniards walking around in their old costumes. It is simply
charming, and one can sit in the numerous squares, which all seem to consist of a beautiful picturesque
church, sipping beer or beautiful cappuchino, all night long, watching the local
activity. Musicians gather in Santo
Domingo square, and we have been fortunate to hear one musician, on a solo mountain
flute, literally awaken the square, with no amplification whatsoever.
On another evening we saw a juggler, and six typically dressed mountain people, performing their local music and
We have been fortunate to make some local friends here and they took us to a Volcano for a mud
Some people pay an absolute fortune for this and, after much persuasion, we found ourselves wallowing in mud and being massaged by a local. We then had to walk down to the lake where two young girls washed us down and rinsed our costumes for the grand total of approximately $10. We hadn't laughed at ourselves so much for a long time!
Cartegena has certainly been one of the highlights of our trip to date.
Another plus here has been the availability of good inexpensive medical
treatment. Cathie has had some major dental work done and we have both been checked out by an
ear, throat and nose specialist. (John's delighted they have confirmed he is not deaf and therefore proved he just does not listen!) Other boaters have had glasses updated and other routine medical procedures handled efficiently and
We are thus pleased to report we are all well and not suffering any problems from our somewhat isolated
The boat is now fine thanks to finding some excellent facilities in Cartagena to completely rewind the
Other boaters have had major stainless steel work done, and hauled out at Todomar very
We took the opportunity of inexpensive labour to assist with compounding the boat
topside, polishing stainless in areas Cathie just could not get bright and some sanding between coats whilst Cathie
varnished. All in all, very successful. Nice, polite and helpful labourers, who are only too happy to be
We found it much more pleasant, and considerably cheaper, than Trinidad.
Our current plans are having to be changed. Where have we heard that before?!
After the San Blas Islands, we are heading for Key West, in the States, to sort out some minor
inconveniences. We anticipate that we should be there sometime in November.
We will stay in the San Blas Islands until the hurricane season is clearly over. We'd like to visit the Cayman Islands on the
way. Depending on winds, this might work out and, if so, we should be able to communicate from
We miss our friends we've made along the way and hate the thought of leaving some more
behind. We hope they will keep the e-mails coming, and we will answer them as soon as we can.
Phone calls, cards, and general mail have been difficult to arrange, in Cartagena so we are relying on family who receive our
e-mails to pass our news on to the rest of the family. "
We are very grateful for such detailed information and hope to hear more of John and Cathie's travels