We are finally in Panama. We arrived into San Blas islands on the 9th July and spent two days there, resting and replenishing our diesel tank. We would’ve liked to have stayed a bit longer on those beautiful islands but the waves were calling so we sailed on.
The sail to Isla Grande was really enjoyable. We had only one squall that didn’t really bring too much wind but a crazy outpour of rain. Isla Grande is a small island 30 miles north of San Blas and just before Colon. We had heard there could be good waves there so we decided to make a stop and check it out. We were the only sailboat anchored off the island. Most of the other cruisers choose to anchor a bit deeper into the lagoon next to a spot called Linton Island, a bit more quiet but for us too far from the waves, so we didn’t’ mind a bit of music at night and the constant noise of the motor taxis driving by with all the tourists from panama city that come to the island for the weekend.
We spent three days there and got to surf the point which was a fun little wave. The first day there was a bit of a crowd, probably from surfers from the city but to our delight on Monday morning we had the spot all to ourselves. We also seemed to be the only tourists left in town and we were the new target of some not so friendly Panamanian military.
On that Monday afternoon we decided to go for a walk to the light house on the island. We walked by the house where the military were all gathered in, said our polite good morning and planned to keep walking, when Mick unaware that he was being called “caballero” (that’s gentleman in Spanish) kept walking on. I told him he was being called and we turned back and face the commander in chief. He didn’t want to let the opportunity go by and having a curious crowd of locals decided to use us as a platform to show his power. He went on treating us a bit like we were in the wrong and asking us all different questions like where are passports were, how long did we have to stay in the country, that we needed to wear our lifejackets while on our dinghy and few more things. We played dumb and acted really polite and obedient and continued to walk on.
Unfortunately we had to pass the same house on our way back to the boat and the silly army guy stopped us again. I could hear the locals say the word “otra vez!” that’s “again” in Spanish as they couldn’t believe that the guy was having another go at us. So we politely stopped again, but I was really struggling in hiding all the bad things that I was thinking about him. We again nodded and said “yes sir”, as he continued to remind us that he didn’t want to catch us again without our passports, etc. What a prick! We are tourists here, we weren’t doing anything wrong, and he just wanted to show off. I could even tell that he wanted to laugh, he knew he shouldn’t be treating us that way, but it was a good lesson for us and a reminder that we are in a different area of the world now and we have to obey whatever the authorities demand and always be smarter than them; that means not leaving our boat without a copy of our passports and never let them catch us without a lifejacket on our dinghies again.
We were happy to move on and leave Isla Grande and their controlling military behind, so we set sail to Bocas del Toro, which laid 170 nm north. The passage was slow and painful and full of lightning and rain. We had a strong counter current and the wind was below 10 knots for most of the days, so we motor sailed the whole way. We were heart broken when on the second day we couldn’t make it to Bocas with daylight so decided to spend the night in Zapatillas Cays, only 5 miles away from Bocas, so close but so far away still. It was a good decision to have a good night’s rest and keep moving in the morning.
We got to Bocas around mid morning, cleaned the boat a bit, went to town for a quick check of our new home for the next month and returned to the boat as quickly as we could to do what we had been waiting for months: surf! And so we did. We went to the point called Careneros and it felt so good; warm water, small clean waves and friendly people in the line up. We returned to the boat with a feeling of achievement and satisfaction. We definitely felt at home amongst the waves.
Bocas is a cool little town. It has a mixed of indigenous, black, Chinese and foreigners all in one. It attracts a lot of tourists that come here for the waves and for the diving and all different activities that can be done here. It’s an archipelago with multiple beautiful islands to explore and for the first time in months we have felt like travellers not like “cruisers”. Don ‘t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with being a crusier, it’s a great thing to be, but it feels refreshing to be in a town where there’s a mix of everything and that we can meet all different kind of people and that not necessarily everyone that we meet lives on a boat.
Our days have been really busy since we got here. After only one day of arriving, we had the visit of my brother Daniel who lives in Costa Rica. He came to the boat and spent 4 days with us and we had a great time. We had a short sail back to Zapatilla Cays and spent the night there. We snorkelled, did beach clean ups and on his last morning here, he was happy to come along as we joined a clean up of the small island of Careneros just in front of Bocas that the NGO Sea Turtle Conservancy was organizing. It was a tough morning, and we stayed for almost 3 hours filling up bag after bag of rubbish. It felt good though to contribute a bit and it was great to meet Georgina who is the educational coordinator of the NGO and who we are now teaming up with to organize lots of educational activities here in Bocas in regards their problem with rubbish and plastics.
When the fourth day came and we had to walk my brother back to the airport, we left each other with the promise of hopefully another visit soon maybe when we are on the other side of Panama in the Pacific side. Although it was a short time spent together, it was very valuable and it feels good to know that our relationship as siblings is only growing stronger and better with time.
After almost a month of moving from one place to the next and spending lots of time at sea, this last week has felt like the first time in a long time that we can settle and organize ourselves again. There are lots of little jobs to be done on the boat (those are on Mick’s list). As for me, I’ve been busy visiting the local schools and meeting up with people of the community involved in environmental activities as we are organizing showing the documentary “Bag It” in the schools and motivating the students to participate in a contest to provide the best idea on how to improve the problem of rubbish in their community.
I’ve working alongside two girls in particular: Georgina and Yorlenis. I’ve mentioned Georgina before, she works with Sea Turtle Conservancy and she’s originally from Spain but has been working with turtles in this area of the world for almost four years, first in Costa Rica and now here in Panama. Georgina introduced me to Yorlenis, she is from Panama but from a town called Chiriqui on the Pacific side and she’s been running a project in town called Bocas Eco Huellas, who produces rubbish bins out of plastic bottles. They are both so passionate and fun so it’s been wonderful to hang around them and get energized with their enthusiasm.
In between all of these, we are also surfing a lot and Mick is doing his water photography and getting some great shots. So life is good and although it does rain a lot, we love being here in Bocas. We are definitely going to be here at least until the 14 August because that’s when we are going to join the Smithsonian on their nature event and run our contest between the schools. We’ll probably leave a few days after that and head to Colon to organize our canal crossing. Until then, we’ll make sure we enjoy the waves and the new friends we’ve made. Panama is definitely a good place to be.