San Blas Sailing to ColombiaMay 28, 2017 in Panama
After 5 month in Central America I took a sailboat to get down to Colombia via the San Blas Islands.
The boat was leaving from Puerto Lindo and we were meeting our captain there in a restaurant at the beach. As it turned out Puerto Lindo wasn't much mire than this restaurant. I got there quite early as my journey on public transport went quite well. Luckily I wasn't the only one. Sam & Kate from Australia were already there as well. I was happy to find I have a lot to talk about with them as we were about to spend a lot of time together on limited space. After a while the rest of the group arrived. Lara from the Netherlands and another couple Hanna & Otto also from the Netherlands.
We had already spotted our sailboat in the little bay and when we saw two people climbing in the dinghy coming over to the beach we were excited to finally meet our captain. I was thinking if he might speak any english or if this might be another chance to practice my spanish? When he climbed out of the little boat I couldn't believe what I was hearing: a german accent! Captain Erwin was Austrian! But our 2nd crew member was Colombian. Robbie was introduced as our cook but he turned out to also be responsible for our entertainment, cultural exchange, dance lessons and everything else that needed to be done on the boat. We loved Robbie! Erwin was a little grumpy sometimes but in the end he brought us to Colombia save and sound so I guess his grumpiness is excused.
After introducing himself Erwin told us we wouldn't go to the boat before later that night. His plan was to take our passports to immigration first to get our stamps for leaving Panama. Around 8pm we would go to the boat and have dinner. Then we would go to bed and he would bring us to San Blas over night. So we would wake up in the beautiful islands!
So far the plan. After spending the afternoon exploring the 2 streets of Puerto Lindo, using the only available WIFI in a diving school for the last contact to the outside world and learning a new dutch game called "Regenworm" (dutch for earthworm) we finally went over to our sailboat and got to inspect our new home for the next days. The boat could take a group of 10 + 2 staff. As we were only 6 we actually had a lot more space then normally. Under deck there were 2 cabins in the back which were taken by our two couples. Lara and I shared the front cabin which was supposed to be for 4 (it was still less spacious as this might sound. Robbie and the captain would be sleeping in the salon which was also the kitchen. On deck there was a table with 2 benches in the cockpit. This was where we would have dinner and spend most of our time while the boat was moving.
While we were having dinner we could see lightning out on the ocean. Our captain said he had to see if we could leave during the night depending on the weather conditions. When we started to get ready for bed the storm suddenly hit really hard. It felt like we were in the center of the thunder within seconds. The boat was moved so heavy by the storm that our anchor got pulled out so we had to lift it up. The captain shouted at us to stay under deck with the lights of as he wasn't able to see otherwise. We were surrounded by other boats in the bay of Puerto Lindo and he was trying not to hit anyone. That moment was pretty creepy as the boot was shaking pretty wild and turning in circles, we couldn't see anything with the lights off and we didn't know what was going on at that time.
When the storm was gone the captain came down and told us we wouldn't be leaving tonight but wait till the next morning. So we climbed into bed and hoped for better conditions the next day.
I woke up quite early in the morning and climbed out to the cockpit where the captain was already preparing to finally leave. We started moving towards the islands soon after and the others started coming out of there beds as well. The sea was kind of rough and it was raining on and off. But I still liked staring out to the horizon just seeing water and sky. It makes you feel free.
Soon the first people started announcing they felt sick. Like recommended we had all brought seasickness medication but as they are supposed to make you pretty tired I didn't want to take any. But I also didn't feel to bad. And whenever I started feeling a little sick I would just concentrate on the horizon for a moment and felt better soon after. People started moving to the back of the boat where the captain had told us was the best place for throwing up.
But I felt fine. I was confident I wouldn't get seasick and the longer nothing happened the prouder I was. I felt great! Until I didn't. Suddenly I couldn't get to the back of the boat fast enough to say goodbye to my breakfast. This made me laugh. Pretty stupid to be to proud to take medication if this is the result.
The captain told us the best thing to do was probably to try to get some sleep. Most people went back to the cabins but as I didn't really like being under deck with little airflow and no chance to look outside I just climbed to the front of the boat and laid down on deck to sleep. This became my favorite spot and I was there whenever possible.
After about 7 hours we could finally see the Islands ahead of us! We anchored in front of our first island and finally jumped into the ocean! After a while the captain took us over to the island where Robbie was already preparing a BBQ for dinner. We explored the little island which took about 10 minutes. There were a few little hats on the island where about 10 people where living. They didn't have much but a solar panel to generate electricity and an antenna to receive radio. Suddenly one of the little girls pulled out a tablet. Maybe they were more advanced than you would think.
The food was amazing! Ribs and all kind of meat from the BBQ with different fresh salads and potatoes.
After dinner we chilled for a while on the island but asked Robbie to go back to the boat quite soon as we were all quite tired. Even though we all slept a little during the day the whole "trying not to get seasick" was more exhausting than you would think. When Robbie tried to start the dinghy to bring us back to the sailboat it turned out the motor wasn't working anymore. Robbie and Sam ended up paddling us back.
The next morning I was the first to wake up again except for the captain and Robbie who was already fixing the dinghy. I jumped into the ocean right away. We stayed here till breakfast and left for the second island after. Going from island to island the sea was pretty calm so no need to worry about seasickness along the way. When we got to the second island we jumped into the water and swam over to the island. The sand here was made from tiny peaces of shell and would just run through your fingers and of your skin without sticking. We girls couldn't stop playing around with it and were sitting in the shallow water talking till our skin started to wrinkle.
Back on the boat we all had a shower on the back of the boat (yes same spot as we went for seasickness) and put on something that felt a little more like proper clothes (so far I had only been wearing my bikini and maybe some shirt or my rain jacket when the weather asked for it). We all were a little more in the mood for a nice night on the island than the day before. We had another nice dinner with a traditional soup made from shells and fresh fish from the BBQ.
We had some Cuba Libres and started dancing around the bonfire. Robbie was our DJ and dance instructor for the night. But as it turned out keeping a fire going wasn't one of his strength. He put a huge palm leaf over the fire which wasn't really dry and nearly killed it. But luckily the people living on the island saved it. We were wondering how weird it must be to live on an island like this and have people coming over every other night who dance around a bonfire to funny music...
When we got back to the boat for the night I didn't feel like sleeping down in our cabin. So I climbed through the hatch (Lara and I had discovered this shortcut earlier) and lay down on top of the boat. You could see so many stars and even make out the milky way.
The next morning we left for our final island before breakfast. When we got there we went snorkeling around the island and only got back to the boat for breakfast. This was when the clouds finally completely dissolved. With a blue sky the islands looked even more beautiful. Originally our captain wanted to leave right after breakfast to make sure we would get to Cartagena the next day in time for immigration but we convinced him to stay till lunch as we did miss our first day in the islands and wanted to take advantage of the sun finally being out.
After lunch we started what would be a 30 hour trip across the ocean towards Colombia. This time I figured I shouldn't be to proud again and took the seasickness medication. As it turned out it didn't make me tired at all. I was chilling in my favorite spot in the front most of the time and as it turned out with the medication I was even able to read without getting sick. When it got dark I was laying on the deck with Lara watching the moon and the stars showing up one by one the darker it got. Obviously we started philosophical talks about how small we felt down here while watching the stars. This is one of this moments I will never forget. Laying there with nothing than water everywhere around on this tiny boat under the sky...
After dinner it felt to dark to climb back to the front (you really don't wanna go over board in the dark) so I went to bed quite early. When I lay down I realized how much our cabin in the front of the boat was actually moving (I hadn't really been down here a lot while we were moving). In between it almost felt like a free fall when the boat was crashing over the waves. With the medication I was confident I wouldn't get sick so the jumping was quite fun for a while. Until I realized I was supposed to sleep like this. It took me a while but I fell asleep at some point. Still it was definitely the worst night. As the dinghy was laying on top of the boat we couldn't open our hatch so there was no airflow. I woke up every few hours feeling hot and sticky. I was happy when it was finally morning and I could get back onto deck. Ahead of us lay another full day on the ocean. When Sam got up he told me the wind should be alright now to actually sail (so far we had only gone by motor without even setting a single sail). So for a while we at least opened the front sail.
After breakfast we were all chilling on deck when Sam suddenly pointed out dolphins in the far. I had heard that dolphins like to join boats but I didn't expect what happened next. A group of nearly 20 dolphins came closer and closer till they were really close, swimming and jumping around our boat. Kate said: "It doesn't matter how often you have seen dolphins, they always make you happy!" True thing. Especially when they are free like this!
We spend the rest of the day on deck and in the cockpit. Our biggest concern today turned out to be the sun. There wasn't a lot of shade on the boat so we had to be creative. We got out sheets and towels to fix them on whatever was there to generate some shade. By this time everybody had a hand on the seasickness so we were even able to play another round of the dutch game of earthworms.
After over 24 hours of only seeing water everywhere around us we were quite excited when we could finally make out Colombia ahead of us. Cartagena turned out to have quite a skyline (I didn't remember it like this from last year). We got closer while the sun was going down behind us. When we set anchor in the harbor of Cartagena it was already 8pm which was to late for immigration so we had to spend another night on the boat. Robbie went into town (I guess he was allowed to set foot on land as an Colombian) to get Pizza for all of us. Tonight Kate & Sam and Hannah & Otto joined me sleeping on top of the boat. The next morning I watched the sun rise behind the skyline. A nice last image in my head of this amazing trip full of unbelievable beautiful images.Read more