San Blas Part 2, Kuna Yala, Bad Cell Coverage and Fish!

The best part of San Blas is the beaches, the Kuna’s ( the local natives), the crystal clear water, the people we meet, snorkeling, lobsters, fishing, sailing, etc. Ok, so that’s most of it…. The NOT so good part is the lack of cell service and connection good enough to post on the blog!
Apologies to everyone who has been following us for our adventure, but the service is soooooo slow, that we couldn’t get a post complete.

One of our favourite islands in San Blas
One of our favourite islands in San Blas

So just to catch up:

Jim and Blieu were with us for almost 6 weeks. We enjoyed their company very much, but they had to get back to Missouri in August to continue their work. They own a company called Tan Through Swimsuit
I wear their suits everyday, I love how they dry quickly and allow the fabric to not leave tan lines. They make both mens and ladies stuff and I highly recommend taking a look. So it was an early morning departure from Portobello for Jim and Blieu. We look forward to sailing with them again as we enjoyed many lobster dinners, jungle walks, and donuts ( Blieu’s favorite part of the day) with the two of them and their wonderful sense of humor.

Dinner aboard FMD
Dinner aboard FMD

Darren and I stayed in Portobello for a few weeks while doing some repairs and maintenence, and trying to catch up on some chores and “real” work.
Portobello is a history rich town. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, during his fourth voyage. It was chosen as the Caribbean transshipment center because of its magnificent harbor and convenient location.
dsc00102

It became one of the most important sites for transferring South and Central American riches. From this port, tons of gold and silver flowed to the commercial capital of the Spanish empire, Seville. Ruins of the solid fortification can still be seen today.

Ruins of the Fortifcation at Portobelo

Looking over Portobelo Harbor from the fort

The wealth of Portobello was a strong temptation for pirates like Henry Morgan, and is known to be the resting place of Sir Francis Drake.

The ruins are strewn with old cannons
The ruins are strewn with old cannons
Some old fortifications
Some old fortifications

Many cruisers use Portobello as a place to anchor and reprovision. It’s simple to go to the closest town of Sabinitas on the bus, a $1.25- 1.5 hour journey. Portobellos wide open anchorage and close vicinity to Colon and its amenities make it a safe place to stay. Colon is one of the most dangerous cities in the Americas, and staying as far away form there as possible is desirable by many cruisers. The colorful busses with their chrome hubs and often pimped out stacks and other accessories, and their LOUD LOUD music make each bus unique.

Getting on the Chicken Bus
Getting on the Chicken Bus

There are often gatherings and functions on shore at a small cruiser friendly “hangout” called Casa Vela, run by Ray and Brigitta, former cruisers. One day we were treated to a fish smoking lesson by our friends Stuart and Stephanie, of Matador. Stuart makes fantastic smoked fish!

Matador Smoking Fish for the Cruisers
Matador Smoking Fish for the Cruisers

The Church of San Felipe is in Portobello as well. The Church is home to the Black Christ of Portobello, a wooden statue of of Jesus of Nazareth. The statue has become Holy and worshipped because of the miracles they attribute to it. Every October 21, the festival of the Black Christ of Portobello is celebrated with people walking from as far as Costa Rica to be part of the celebrations.

People walk on their knees from Costa Rica to worship in this church every October 21
People walk on their knees from Costa Rica to worship in this church every October 21
Black Christ of Portobello
Black Christ of Portobello

We had visitors in September from Canada and England. Kelly’s sister Rhonda joined us from Canada for 3 weeks, and Deb and John, who are Darren’s sister and husband from England joined us for two weeks.

John and Deb on board with Rhonda and our friends Stu and Steph of Matador
John and Deb on board with Rhonda and our friends Stu and Steph of Matador

None of them had spent much time aboard a boat before, let alone a sailing boat. So before they left their respective countries and as guests usually are, they were loaded up with lists of things to bring us. Spare parts, parts that had broken, goodies, and licorice!!!

They arrived to Portobello after being picked up by an arranged taxi driver and arrived in the late evening.

A view from the Fort
A view from the Fort

We spent a couple of nights in Portobelo and introduced Rhonda, John and Deb to the Panama jungle before making our departure towards San Blas.

Jungle Spider
Jungle Spider

A bit further up the coast is a delightful little place called Linton Bay and one of the best anchorages on the coast between San Blas and Colon. There is a small island, which used to be owned by a scientist who researched the behaviour of Spider Monkeys.
The one square mile island is now inhabited by only three Spider Monkeys who enjoy watching people visit when the creatures invade the abandoned house near the anchorage in the afternoon looking for attention.
Spider Monkeys at Isla Linton

There is a mangrove tunnel from Linton bay to another marina area called Panamarina. Dinghys can make it through the narrow covered channel, getting a glimpse at the monkeys and sloths on a good day. You have to look pretty carefully for the sloth, although they stay in the same tree for most of their life, only coming down once a month for bodily functions, they can be difficult to spot. We were lucky.
Sloth in the mangrove tunnel

We spent a few weeks over the last few months in both places while doing more repairs, and provisioning. These seem to be our major activities lately. Living on a cruising boat is not all fun and games, and many days were spend fixing, repairing, cleaning, and finding parts. The ocean environment is a harsh one and Mother Nature takes its toll on anything that is exposed to the salt air.

A worn out bearing from one of the electric winches.
A worn out bearing from one of the electric winches.

Up the mast again.

In Colon, we found an alternator repair shop
In Colon, we found an alternator repair shop

After Visiting these two places we made our adventure back to San Blas. We spent the weeks snorkeling, fishing, swimming, enjoying the beaches, visited with other cruisers we met and endured “Chocosanas”. San Blas has a wind phenomenon called something-de -pollo, which means the ass of the chicken. It is a quickly developing cold system that whips winds up quickly sometimes reaching 60 knots followed by torrential rain and lightening. They come quickly without warning from the southeast often juggling boats around like checkers.
Close quarters anchoring

It can make a peaceful anchorage into a shuffleboard in an instant, and we always hope we are on our boats when they happen. Luckily its usually in the middle of the night or early morning hours when they come through.

Rain squall coming with chocosana winds

At 6am peaceful morning, in Green Island Anchorage, one hit us and the 5 boats in our company, suddenly and fully. Our buddy boat, Matador was struck with a lightening bolt that damaged every bit of electrical equipment on their boat in the bat of an eye. The puff of black smoke that billowed from their masthead after the deafening CRACK of the bolt sent our senses scrambling. It’s a heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, and Steph and Stuart were shaking for days afterward.
Matador at anchor after the lightening

When lightening is that close, you really do feel it on your skin… the hairs stand up and tingle, and you can feel the energy in the air for minutes afterward. Every year dozens of boats in San Blas area have their entire electronic inventory wiped out by lightening strikes.
Its an amazing how the Kunas usually know when one of these blows is coming and we were awakened on the worst of them by the blowing of the a horn made from a conch shell, to warn of the impending storm coming. Rhonda decided that she wanted this horn, and went to buy it off the Kunas the next day. Unfortunately Canada Customs took it from her when she entered Canada.

Rhonda's conch she bought off the Kunas for $10, it also came with three fish and an Octopus!
Rhonda’s conch she bought off the Kunas for $10, it also came with three fish and an Octopus!

Any anchorage you go to, the local women will come to your boat and try and sell their wares, whether it be Molas, or bracelets. We have made friends with two of the most famous of them, Mola Lisa, and Venancio. We have had both of them on the boat for tea and visiting along with purchasing some of their famous Molas.

Visiting with Venancio onboard with Jim and Blieu
Visiting with Venancio onboard with Jim and Blieu
Sorting thru Lisas Molas with Stephanie
Sorting thru Lisas Molas with Stephanie

Well it finally came time for our visitors to leave, we sent Deb and John home to England, and Rhonda home to Canada. It was a sad parting as we never know when we will see Deb and John again, although I think they had a good enough time onboard that they will be back.

Deb and John's early morning departure from Green Island
Deb and John’s early morning departure from Green Island

Rhonda leaving from Chichime
Rhonda leaving from Chichime

For weeks with John aboard, we tried and tried to catch a fish. We trolled, and jigged, casted and speared,.. and came up dry most times. Pity we did not repeat our luck like the last time on our way back to Portobello ……Wham! Wham! Wham! Three in a row as we sailed thru a Tuna school! Holy!!
Tuna!!!

Hopefully this fishing keeps up for the next while as we spend more time in Panama and Kuna Yala.

Watch for our next post with Nephew Bill aboard, more fish, and Colin’s return!!!

3 Replies to “San Blas Part 2, Kuna Yala, Bad Cell Coverage and Fish!”

    1. Yes its been quite the ride,.. wait till you see the next post!!
      Thanks for the positive feedback, missing you both too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *