Good bye and thank you to the San Blas Islands

We are heading to Colon tomorrow. We will have to wait there (probably for about 10 days) while the boat is measured and we get our slot for going through the Canal. We have plenty of boat jobs and provisioning to do. We really enjoyed the San Blas but as always, are excited about moving on and going through the Canal is definitely on the bucket list.

We had great fishing on our sail from the San Blas up the coast. One tuna and one baby (thankfully) shark. We returned the shark to the sea but were pleased to have tuna for supper and fill the freezer!

One fine Tuna
A shark!

While hanging out next to idyllic Islands is delightful we did feel we should see the jungle and some native villages. The Guna Yala region has some of the most untouched virgin rainforest in the world. Stores were getting very low and there were promises of shops in Nargana. This large village was billed as being the most “advanced” community in our guide book and where the residents have decided to give up the traditional Guna way of life; but I can assure you this is all relative.

In Nargana we did manage a meal out. This was a real treat – basic fare, slightly chaotic but good all the same. There was also excellent broadband and we were able to purchase SIM cards. Although rather ramshackle there were satellites, TV, a tiny airport and a health centre.

Eating out in Nargana

Traditional hut complete with Satellite

I am afraid rather basic sanitation – sit over the sea!

When we arrived the shopping was really dire – a few over ripe tomatoes and bananas. The supply boat was due the next day and, thankfully it did arrive but shopping on the supply boat was a whole new experience! There really is no basic hygiene, and we watched as a raw chicken was chopped up on the top of the cool box (no refrigeration here) and the very same knife then used to cut up an orange. These guys clearly have a tougher constitution than us, and we opted for just whole vegetables and some lovely Guna bread.

Shopping on the supply boat

The shop

and the bakery

In Nargana we were curious to see many dugouts full of barrels heading up the river each day and returning heavily laden. It turned out these little boats were getting fresh water from up the river. One island (there are two joined by a bridge) has running water from a stand pipe and the other does not. It seems interesting to us that people have satellite TV but no running water. Perhaps when time is less limited this is a better option but it looks jolly hard work.

We visited Isla Maquina which is a much more traditional village with a guide named Idelfonso. He spoke reasonable English which he had learnt from a book and with his family had purchased his panga (motor boat) for $14,000. This would be a huge sum of money and we had to give him top marks for his entrepreneurial spirit but he remained very proud of his culture and way of life. It was excellent to see how these people live in such a simple way – sleeping in hammocks, cooking on open fires, very few processions, and experts on re-using just about anything.

Going to collect water at some speed
Heavily laden dugouts full of river water

There are dugouts and dugouts – learning from Idelfonso

A lovely Guna lady making a mola
Off fishing with man’s best friend!

We did have two great hikes up the river Rio Diablo with Bill and Moira, and a second one from Gaiger with our guide, Idelfonso. This was serious jungle hiking including rickety bridges, river crossings and it was very hot. We had been given dire warnings of dangerous snakes, frogs and panthers the previous evening so Julian was prepared with machete and bear pepper spray! Fortunately these were not needed.

The beautiful mangroves
A selfie on the initial exploration trip

Ready with the machete

Aquaduct – Guna Yala style

With Idelfonso
Not elegant but safe

Just as we were getting a little relaxed on our return dinghy trip down the river we saw a large crocodile! I was just taking a photo of the little banana plantation, and had not noticed the crocodile, until it slid into the water! We were all of 5 metres away! but imagined how thrilled I was when I discovered I actually had the photo to evidence the encounter.

What a spot for lunch – we felt like intrepid explorers!

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