Tuesday, December 22, 2009

San Blas Islands...a world without electricity

San Blas Islands...a world without electricity
We spent late November and early December in the lowest latitudes we will see for a long time. The San Blas islands, off the coast of Panama, are a slice of life backwards and forwards. The islands and atolls are mostly uninhabited, and if they are inhabited the huts are what you see on Survivor, the series. In fact the islands are pretty much what you see on the series as well. There are no stores, no roads, and the altitude on these islands is 2-4 feet. Global warming will be taking them away in a short amount of time.
When we arrived to our first inhabited island we were greeted by 2 young men in a hand made wooden canoe called an ulu. They asked for food, and milk, and magazines. After getting a bit from us they pulled out their cell phones, called their wives and wanted us to talk to the wife and kids. Who would of thought we would get cell service out here when we didn't get it in parts of Arizona or Texas? The Indians were hopeful we could also charge their phones for them because there is no electricity out here. Their payment was a promise of fish, lobster, or crab.
In the islands known as the East Lemons we met people who have stayed there for 3 years. Quite a few of the cruisers spend 8 months or more in these islands with a trip to Cartagena, Columbia to meet cruising permit requirements. You can dive off the back of your boat and snorkel in 82-85 degree water with 20 foot visibility. As we were dropping our anchor 2 men in a canoe tried to sell us fish, I waved them off so we could concentrate on setting the anchor and not drifting into one of the 30 boats in this small space. During our week there four of the local mola makers arrived. We bought the beautiful reversed embroidery (that they are famous for making) featuring traditional designs and scenes from their daily Indian lifestyle. Other enterprising locals showed up in bigger wooden boats offering produce and beer, handcrafts, fish, turtles, conch shells, and some even offer to work on your boat for a full day at the cost of $20.00 plus a meal. Our boat is now waxed, polished, and shiny. The man and son who did it worked from 8 AM until 5PM. Over lunch he explained that his new born child needed a towel and that he would have to paddle many miles to the mainland to find a store that sold towels, but that this was so important in their culture that he would make the trip and give up three days of work. At the end of the day, I presented him with a towel and his wages. The look of sincere, deep appreciation and gratitude was unmistakable. He teared up and thanked us for our kindness…
The next island we went to an atoll called the Swimming Pool because of its color and shape. The seas changes from a pale green, to turquoise, and deep blue. There are at least 9 reefs and 8 islands in this atoll. Within its boundary is an area called the Hot Tub which has a rock face that plunges down 70 feet and is home to more coral, sea creatures, and fish than we had yet to experience. I felt like I was in a Jacques Cousteau film and scenes from the Abyss flashed in my mind. Daily we dove off the boat and snorkeled, went on dinghy rides and saw two kinds of sharks not far from our boat, sea horses, conch shells, and all matter of native fish as well as some new species to the area, the dangerous Lion fish are now cruising these waters. What we haven't seen are many dolphins, whales or turtles. However, with the full moon a turtle arrived on one of the islands, dug holes, and laid her eggs. We covered them so the birds and local natives would not harvest them. We stayed long enough to have two Monday get togethers, take yoga lessons, play bocci ball, and meet a bunch of cruisers. Being a sailboat we follow the winds and wait for the right wind to blow our way...

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