Wednesday, October 3, 2012

72 Hours in Panama's Stunning San Blas Islands - 8-17-2012

From August 15th until the morning of August 18th, I was on a sailing charter that cruised through the San Blas Islands of Panama. I can tell you without exaggeration that the San Blas Islands are among the most beautiful places on Earth, and certainly one of the most beautiful places I have seen myself. A previous post talks all about why you should visit these gorgeous islands. This post covers Day 3 of my sailing charter. Read about Day 1 here. Read about day 2 here.

The San Blas Islands, Day 3:

I woke up in the middle of the night when flashes of light disturbed my sleep. The flashes were coming from outside, above deck. In the dark, I climbed up and saw forks of lightning far off. The storm that opened up just as Ingmar, Ilonka and I returned from the island last night had passed and another storm was coming. The sea was calm now and there were even patches of starry sky through the cloud cover above. Far away, white and yellow flashes lit the night.

A few hours later, we were all woken up in the dark by raging wind and violent waves. At one point the ocean was so violent I was afraid the boat would capsize. My cell phone fell to floor along with some food. My camera would have crashed to the floor as well, had I not fumbled around for it, grabbing it just as it was about to slip over the edge of a cubby hole I found for it. Thankfully, the gale passed as quickly as it was upon us and soon we were all asleep again.

Chichimi, San Blas Islands, Panama
We woke up to a cloudy, drizzly morning. The sky was grey and there were darker clouds on the horizon. Ingmar spent much of the day swimming but I stayed out of the water. I love the water, but I had my fill the last two days. The captain and Mateo rowed to a nearby island, leaving only the passengers and I on the boat (Dina had spent the night on the island with her Kuna friends and hadn't returned). The Da Capo was so quiet and peaceful when Mateo wasn't jumping around it. I nearly fell back asleep in the cockpit listening to the waves gurgle against the dingy while a light rain fell and the far away rumble of thunder sang through the air.

Midday, Ingmar and I rowed to a nearby island. We had to find a Kuna that Captain Mats knew and have him arrange for a water taxi to pick us up in the morning so we could head back to Carti, and then to Panama City. This island was larger than the others we visited and we stopped twice to ask Kuna for directions to our man. Following a path through the jungle in the rain we came upon a small Kuna village and several tourists who were staying on the island. I struck up a conversation with a pretty Spaniard. She was from Madrid. I told her I had visited Barcelona and really liked it. Soon, Ingmar and I found our transport man and we were all set for tomorrow's departure.

Your author in Chichimi looking adventurous.
Ingmar and I left the village to explore the island. Even in a dark and cloudy rainstorm, the San Blas Islands are stunning. Ingmar and I took pictures of white sand beaches, palm trees that reached across the sand above the water. He took a picture of me I wanted for a while. Damn I look adventurous standing in knee deep water, a key hanging from my belt, a bag over my back and paradise behind me! Yay, backpacking!

Ingmar I took a few more shots, then hurriedly rowed back to the Da Capo because the rain was falling harder now. The rest of the day, I just stayed on the boat, alternately writing about my trip and talking to Ilonka. That evening, we all had spaghetti bolognaise that Dina prepared. It was very good, and a fine way to end my last full day in the beautiful and serene San Blas Islands.


The water taxi arrived mid-morning of the 18th to take Ingmar, Ilonka and myself to the mainland and the taxi back to Panama City. Our three day cruise through the San Blas Islands was over. Back in Panama City, the taxi dropped me off first. I said goodbye to Ingmar, who was heading to David, Panama later that afternoon. Ilonka and I spend the next few days together.

Ilonka at Mamallena in Panama City
Playing tour guide for Ilonka through Casco Viejo, along the Cinta Costera, and in Bella Vista was a great way to cap off my trip. I'll never forget Ilonka telling me about the finer points of floor tiling and interior decor for five minutes after she walked back to our streetside table at Casablanca in Casco Viejo and I asked her "what did you think about the inside of the restaurant?" That girl had one hell of an eye for detail. We spent those days talking more about where we've been and she shared some great stories from her 18 months living in Mexcio, her month traveling through Panama and the years she spent building her career and her business.

Spending our last afternoon together in Panama City checking email, organizing pictures and listening to Jack Johnson on her iPhone might be my favorite single memory from my four weeks of backpacking through Costa Rica. I mentioned to Ilonka back on the Da Capo that my favorite singer was Jack Johnson, and she had "Good Together" queued up when she handed me her earphones with a smile. For several days, we were indeed good together.

It was the evening before I was to fly home and she was to continue on to Bocas Del Toro when I saw her for the last time. We were standing on the Via Espana beneath a streetlight. It was a humid Monday night in mid August. We had both extended our night as far as we could and decided it was time to go our separate ways. I waved down a cab for her. She and I hugged and kissed goodbye before I opened the taxi door for her and closed it behind her. The taxi turned right at the first corner and she was gone.