Tag Archives: sailboat

Warning!!

I thought I should put in at this point a little “warning” for those thinking to travel via sailboat from Panama to Columbia (or visa versa) via the San Blas Islands.  As romantic as it sounds, as whimsical as it sounds or as much as it seems like it would be a fantasy to sail through 380+ Caribbean islands with water so pristine and beautiful that you can’t imagine a more beautiful place and sunsets and rises that make you realize a God does exist, it really isn’t a trip for the weak!!

Why do I say that?  Well, unless you are rich enough to be able to afford your own private sailboat or yacht charter, then you are basically “stuck” on whatever sailboat you have chosen AND all the people (there were a total of 9 others on mine- all strangers) whom have chosen that particular sailboat as well.  Which means… well, you tend to have to put up with a lot of interesting things… for example, other peoples ideas of how to stay hygienic… Yes, one particular person was constantly snotting on himself, wiping their hand on their shirt (which became dirty and quite gross quickly) and then actually wore that same nasty shirt for the entire duration of the trip… And you have to put up with the potential of storms, with the reality of having zero privacy for days on end, and for your crew to turn out to be modern day pirates (as my friend so eloquently coined!!).  In addition not all the islands are as pristine as one would think.  Mainly due to the currents, while most of the islands are quite lovely, there are some that have bits that have tons of trash piled up.  This again is mainly due to the waste that boats and people in general dump into the water and the currently simply carry them to the nearest spot of land… All the more reason to take out with you what you brought in, as we did on our boat!!

However, if you are able to withstand all the potential nastiness that I personally never thought of, well then sail away!!  I absolutely never regret my trip and wouldn’t trade it for any other experience in the world!!  Even though it had a lot of squirrely downs, the ups were absolutely fabulous!!  Phosphorescent water, sleeping on a hammock in the open air from the top deck of the sailboat watching the stars (I actually kicked one of the crew out of his bed to sleep on the hammock:)), the islands themselves, the water, the sunrises and sunsets, the yummy meals, the characters met on and off board, the friends I’ve made during the trip and still have to this day.  I wouldn’t trade any of it for a minute, but thought it necessary to at least put in a little warning for others planning a similar trip:)

 

On to Catamaran Disaster

Back to Islas San Blas

 

Capurgana, Colombia

So we made it!  “Smuggled” into Columbia through the San Blas Islands on a sailboat captained and crewed by what Nicki (my German companion on the sailboat) so eloquently named “modern day pirates”.  That they were indeed, modern day pirates!!  We actually arrived and docked in the water on the Panama side in a little inlet that had the teeniest towns nearby.  From there a local took all of our things and put them in a little motor boat, squished us all in (we finally got to get our shoes back, mind you!) and motored us around the inlet bend and into the Colombian side of land and dropped us off at the dock of Capurgana, Colombia.

The first thing I remember thinking about this place was how colorful it was!  It was so Caribbean and the vibrant colors of each building just added to that cool Caribbean vibe of “come as you are and chill, man”!!  Just adorable and quaint and just the place that was needed to go and relax after the onboard adventures of the previous week on the sailboat.

We all disembarked from the little motor boat on the dock and went our random ways to find hostels/hotels for the night.  I chose a place not too far from the dock and stayed the first night in a room fit for several people (though I was the only one) then moved to a smaller, better suited room on the second floor for the next week.  Now, one must remember that after being on the sailboat for 6 days certain things hold true… First and most important, I had to get my land legs back!  Even though we had been on land for little bouts throughout the week on the sailboat, my sea legs were still well intact.  Hence why I chose to stay for several days in Capurgana… Not only because it was so vibrant yet chill, but also so I could fully recover from the crazy sailboat tour we had just come from.

After getting settled in the first afternoon of our arrival (oh and of course getting our entrance stamp from immigration, which was closed for the first several hours we were on land so had to wait a while to actually be legal in the country) Nicki and I headed around town to find a cup of coffee.  Now, honestly I’ve never really been a big coffee drinker in the States.  Maybe because all the famous blends and roasts come from places like Costa Rica and Colombia.  Or rather especially Colombia… So we thought it would be quite easy to find a place that sold coffee since we were afterall in one of the countries that was best known for their production of coffee… No.  Not at all. It literally took us the better part of an hour, plus going into dozens of stores before we actually found a place that begrudgingly made us a cup of coffee!!  And to boot, it wasn’t even anything that special.  Apparently, as we came to learn quickly, coffee in Colombia is served only at breakfast and is really not available at any other time!  Ok, now perhaps I really shouldn’t generalize for ALL of Colombia, so I will just say for sure in Capurgana:)

Anyway, all in all the time spent in Capurgana was quite nice.  One day was full of hiking through the surrounding jungle, others just wandering the small town watching and experiencing life.  The evenings were spent passing time with card games with friends from the sailboat.  Oh and one afternoon was spent watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in England (just to give a time stamp of when I was there:)).

To be honest, though I knew I had to move on, I really wasn’t looking forward to it.  The only way out of the town was either on a teeny tiny plane literally fit for two people and luggage (that could not weigh more than a certain amount) or to take a motor boat from Capurgana, across the bay to Turbo, then catch a bus to the next destination.  After having spent so much time in the simplicity of life, between Puerto Viejo, the San Blas Islands and now the tiny town of Capurgana I wasn’t looking forward to getting back into the “hustle” of the faster life.  Honestly, I don’t even recall vehicles in town, only horse drawn carts.  That’s how isolated and simple Capurgana was.  No roads actually lead into it, only a small airstrip and dock for boats connected this small Caribbean town to the rest of the world.

Alas, I did have to get back on the road again however and booked my trip out of Capurgana via the boat.  Nicki, the Aussies and the British fellow had already or were soon also getting on with their travels too.  We each went separate ways.  Though I had wanted to go to Cartagena, Colombia, oddly enough I had gotten an email from my brother saying he was in Bogota for work.  So I altered my plans to try and catch some time with him in Bogota and opted to head first to Medellin.

 

On to Travel from Capurgana to Medellin

Back to Columbia Quicklinks

San Blas Islands

I’ve never seen phosphorescent water before.  Not until night time did we board our 38′ sailboat barefoot (no shoes allowed anywhere on board) and headed out of the harbor waters into Caribbean waters to the San Blas Islands.  We headed out at night so that in the morning we would be near to one of the islands and would be able to spend a lovely day there.  What seemed like light glistened from the ocean in the otherwise absolute darkness.  Only when disturbed did the water glisten and glow, so as the sailboat motored its way through the harbor it left sparkling and shimmering water in its wake.  Absolutely mesmerizing!!  Nature always seems to find a way to shock and awe me around every corner, and on this night once again it raised the bar!!  I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the beauty that stirred in the water as we coursed through it.  Now to be fair, it really is the algae in the water that actually make the water glow with light, not the water itself.  The algae soak up sun rays during the day and in a sense emit the light caught by the sun when they are disturbed.  So amazingly beautiful!!!

The San Blas Islands are 380 plus islands that run from the southern Caribbean coast of Panama to Columbia.  The people that inhabit these islands are called Kuna.  The Kuna indigenous tribes are and historically have been known as peaceful people.  Being peaceful people, only once did they ever in their history rise up and fight.  And that was a while back now when the Panamanian government tried to claim the islands as part of their government.  Up until that point, all the islands and the law of the islands were governed by the Kuna people.  A bloody battle ensued over rights to the islands, however when Panama tried to take control.  Ultimately Panama lost and left the islands to be governed by the indigenous tribe.  To this day, no other government has any rights or control over the islands.  They are simply governed by the Kuna indigenous tribe members.  There was even talk that the Kuna people were known for “harboring” drug smugglers on the islands; for as long as the smugglers were invited onto the island they were safe from any other marine government agencies waiting on the water in hopes of catching them once they left.  Permission granted was a huge deal there too.  No one was allowed to ever stay or sleep on any island overnight unless invited by the Chief of that island.  Just about every island had its own Chief.  Sometimes a single Chief would be needed for a cluster of smaller islands close by to each other.  And every so often the Chiefs of the islands would get together to discuss affairs.

Kuna fishermen could be seen going around in their wood canoes around the islands in search of conchs or lobsters or other fish to catch and consume.  Their way of fishing however only involved a homemade spear “gun” and being able to swim to very deep depths!  They were very adept at their trade however and the funniest thing to me about it all though was the bucket they each had in their canoes.  It wasn’t for holding caught fish but rather to scoop out water from their canoes!  You see, the canoes were wood and untreated wood at that, so they were constantly taking in water… hence the bucket!  Women of the area went around in their wood canoes (bucket in tow) to each of the tourist sailboats selling bracelets or homemade woven cloths with various images on them.  I eventually did buy an anklet from one of the women when we were invited for a lobster dinner that I wear to this day because it still hasn’t fallen off!!  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

We were warned well in advance about sea sickness.  We were all instructed to take sea sickness pills the night before departing and the morning and night of taking off.  While I believe we all did adhere to that advice, sadly the sea sickness pills did not quite work for all…  I was not a victim of sea sickness thank goodness though after a few beers and passing out in the front bunk for myself and the German woman, I did wake up feeling a little queezy… I made my way to the open air and just had to focus on my breath REALLY hard… and thankfully the nausea went away!  I could not say that is how it went for the rest of the crew…

Well, of course the crew themselves (3 brothers) were just fine.  But the new crew were struggling!  I honestly blame most of it on the booze consumed because as mentioned before there was quite a bit on board and the drinking started the second we got on board!!  After having my near sea sickness episode I opted to stay on the top deck in the fresh air just in case another episode arrived.  People seemed to be just fine that night.  Lots of jovial drinking around me and star gazing.  It was the next morning that the real “damage” began…

 

On to Warning!!

Back to Isla San Blas

 

Time to Leave

Though I had an absolute fantastic time in Puerto Viejo and met a bunch of people whom I consider life-long friends, after about 10 months of living there, it was time to pack up and see more of the world once again.  I still to this day miss a lot of Puerto Viejo and Costa Rica in general, namely the wildlife and captivating nature that surrounds you daily there…. But, if I had stayed there I wouldn’t have had the chance to continue traveling and exploring as I originally planned to do.

Truth be told as well, just as in many places you first go to then get to know better, the rose colored glasses came off.  While there was and is a lot of beauty and great things about Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo, there are also a lot of drugs there.  They are after all in the direct line of drug trafficking, so it’s really no big surprise, but still there gets a point where enough is enough.  Looking around knowing that the majority of people were on one drug or another, just started to wear on me.  And looking at people who had lived there forever and seeing how squirrely they had turned out, just made you wonder if that was the only future to look forward to.  So for that reason and wanting to explore and travel more in general, I packed it up and headed out.

Since I’d already done Bocas del Toro, I decided to simply head back to David, then on to Panama City, then head to Portobello on the Caribbean coast of Panama to catch a sailboat through the San Blas Islands into Colombia…

So the travels continue…

On to Panama City, Panama

Back to Puerto Viejo