Panama: Sailing to Colombia Via the San Blas Islands

Disco Schoolbus.

Disco Schoolbus.

On Friday, November 8, Clare, Jove, and I began a journey that would eventually see us climb onto a catamaran for a five-day sailing trip to Colombia.  We got started by making our way to the massive Panama City bus terminal to catch an eastbound bus to a little town called Sabanitas.  In Sabanitas, we stocked up on snacks and adult beverages before waiting outside for another bus that would take us to the seaside village of Puerto Lindo.  We waited.  And waited.  And waited.  A few hours we sat on a dirty curb outside the supermarket, waiting for that bus.  Finally, just as dusk had arrived, the last tacky disco schoolbus of the day to Puerto Lindo arrived, and we along with half of Panama squeezed aboard.  I scored the first-class seat on a bucket next to the driver with my face smashed against the grimy windshield.  With great seat power comes great responsibility:  I was required to take over the job of opening and closing the bus door with every stop, and I rather enjoyed it!

Hello, deserted island.

Hello, deserted island.

A couple hours later (and a couple hours late), we arrived in tiny Puerto Lindo and trekked straight to the town’s lone restaurant to meet up with our lanky German boat captain, Gisbert and our fellow sailing companions:  a lovely Dutch couple, an eccentric Russian-Australian girl, and two hard-partying Peruvians.  We had dinner and a beer, and feeling exhausted beyond measure, we traipsed to the other side of the village to check into an extremely rustic hostel for the night.

Kiddie Kunas.

Kiddie Kunas.

Early the next morning, we all hopped onto a little motorboat that swept us to our marine home for the next few days:  the Santana, a sparkling white Catamaran with bunk beds and a large outdoor area for soaking up Vitamin D and salty air.  We had breakfast and then set sail for our first destination–the San Blas Islands–a cluster of palm-fringed white sand islands off the coast of Panama.  Upon arrival, I jumped into the warm turquoise water and swam to the closest island, home to a Kuna family, the colorful indigenous inhabitants of the archipelago.  I took some pictures and chatted with the curious children who came to greet me at the shore before swimming back to the Santana for dinner and drinks with the others.  Still feeling exhausted, I crashed into my bed quite early in preparation for another rough day of island-hopping.

Idyllic.

Idyllic.

The next morning, after breakfast, we set sail for another tiny island, this one overcrowded with daytrippers from Panama City due to its onshore activities and offshore rusting shipwreck.  I strapped on the snorkeling gear and flippered my way around the shipwreck, futilely searching for hiding sharks and other creatures of the sea.  After lunch we set sail for yet another set of idyllic islands, these being empty and guarding a reef teeming with life (I saw a couple gigantic stingrays).  We stayed there for the night, and that evening after dinner we sailors depleted the remainder of the Santana’s alcohol stash (with three days left on the boat!).

Castaway.

Castaway.

The next morning we sailed to yet another deserted pair of islands, the most picturesque and Robinson Crusoe-ish of the entire trip.  We all swam to a tiny white island boasting a lone palm tree where the testosterone-exploding guys unsuccessfully attempted to make fire.  A local Kuna man came by with a canoe loaded with lobster and beer, all of which we bought with glee.  However, our new purchases went untouched, as we set sail that afternoon away from the placid confines of the San Blas Islands and into the rough and rocky open seas.  Seasickness abounded, and the sight and smell of the freshly-cooked lobsters was enough to lurch the strongest stomach; naturally, alcohol was out of the question.  I didn’t feel sick, but I definitely lost my appetite, and in preventing any potential vomitous moments, I popped a Dramamine and fell asleep on the wooden planks of the open deck, sea spray in my face.  Everyone else, apart from the captain and his skipper, was down for the count.

And another one...

And another one…

The next morning, after a heaving and swelling night spent in a stupor of motion-sickness drugs and muddled dreams, we woke up to a cloudy and calmer day at sea.  I felt much better after breakfast and a long nap, and by the afternoon I had switched my pill-popping for beer can-popping and some reading.  Everyone else had improved by the afternoon as well, and that night we played a dorky Dutch card game before turning in for the night.

The next morning we woke up with the glint of the sun in our eyes as it was reflected off the blue glass facades of the skyscrapers of Cartagena.  We had made it to Colombia!

Glug glug.

Glug glug.

I had a few concerns before going on the sailing trip, enough to make me not want to do it at all in favor of my now defunct “2nd Chance Tour” back up to Guatemela.  As I poetically pronounced in my previous post, I’m pretty insecure about my paraplegic bikini body, especially around strangers.  I also have a hard time being put into a situation that I can’t easily escape; for example, a tiny catamaran in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.  However, the five days on the Santana were much better than I had expected or hoped, and my fellow sailors were very relaxed, non-judgmental, and extremely helpful.  Within the small quarters of the boat, I was able to move around easily without ever needing my crutches  (To get to the forward sundeck, I just squeezed through a tiny window over my bed!).  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the most monumental experience of my entire trip, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, met some great people, and it was a fantastic way to relax in the sun for a few days…and it sure beats flying!

Goodnight, island.

Goodnight, island.

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the Central America portion of A Tale of Two Legs.  Tune into South America for more adventures from your favorite chick on crutches!

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