September 18, 2006

Colon to the San Blas Islands

Three weeks in Colon went smoothly, and we enjoyed stocking up with fresh supplies from excellent supermarkets with reasonable prices--how about 1 liter boxes of wine for less than $2! \

We also restocked our malaria medicine at prices about one-quarter of those in the U.S. Leaving the Colon breakwater I glanced over my shoulder only to discover a freighter closing on us at warp speed--for such clumsy looking things they move very fast. We dodged out of the way and headed out into a lumpy sea.

We were soon motoring under the ramparts of several old forts in Portabello, which claims the dubious distinction of being the wettest place on the North American continent. A stiff climb to the top of a slippery hill brought us to the highest redoubt of one of the forts, and it was picturesque looking down on the cruising boats far below.

The next day we went on to Linton, which is known for its monkey island. None of the guides told us that the monkeys are actually the missing links between man and ape, and they walk perfectly normally on two legs. At first I thought there must be pygmies ashore, but they were awfully hairy ones with rather small heads. The giveaway was the long curling tail behind, which was more like a third leg that they sometimes used for hanging or sitting on. It rained for about 24 hours straight, challenging Portobello for its title, and I had to bail the dinghy three times over the course of the night.

The San Blas Islands were our destination so we pressed on, and were soon anchored at Porvenir where we were able to exchange our zarpe (clearance) for an entry permit to the Kuna Yala--land of the Kuna Indians. The Kunas govern themselves semi-independently, but the area is nominally part of Panama. The U.S. dollar is still the local currency, though you can do some trading if you have the right stuff (mostly food and clothing). The village near Porvenir was classic Kuna/National Geographic: thatch huts, narrow swept-dirt walkways between, Kuna women dressed in and selling molas (intricate embroidered cloths), and lots of happy little children enjoying watching the funny gringos.