Friday, June 14, 2013

Sailing, sun, seasickness and a boat of Germans. 16-21 May.

We needed to get to South America from Panama. We had three choices. Option 1 was to traverse the Darian Gap, which is renowned for cocaine smugling and guerilla warfare. So that left 2 options. A flight, or a 5 day sail for the same price. Obviously the sail appealed, although stories of passengers struggling to stear the boat as their captain was passed out from too much cocaine were a little too frequent for our liking. After much research, we chose a 18 metre yacht built and sailed for more than 20 years by the proud German owners Petra and Manfred. We couldn´t have been more lucky with our crew. We laughed about being at sea with 7 Germans - the good Dad´s Army quote ¨don´t mention the war¨was in the back of our minds. It wasn´t until night three and a lot of rum and coconut juice that Julien managed to mention the war, and get away with it. Even to get some laughs. I don´t know how he does it!

The crew consisted of the aforementioned captains Manfred and Petra. Manfred was in charge of setting autopilot, and Petra was in charge of everything else! She was a professional chef prior to leaving Germany to explore the great ocean. We had been pretty careful to avoid meat on the trip after the many bouts of jelly belly, so tucking into Coq au Vin, roast pork, steak and fresh lobster was well devoured (or more inhaled). As we sailed into Cartagena, the final meal of Canard caserole in a can was enough to keep with vegetarian lifestyle for the rest of the trip (well for me anyway, Julien enjoys the occasional burger!)

The rest of the crew consisted of Christa, Frank and Teresa (German family), Paulina and Lily (19 year old friends) and Etienne (a French-Canadian guy who is cycling from Inuvik, northern Canada to Ushuaia, in Patagonia). Check out his website Incredible guy and brilliant, witty short videos of his travels on the website. There is a San Blas video up as well as lots of Central America which we recommend you watch if you have a spare 5 minutes!  It was a laugh watching him and Manfred balance the bike in the rubber dinghy as they rode out to the yacht. All in all we couldn´t have been luckier with the crew of people that we shared such close proximity with.

We had a pretty rough experience staying at Captain Jacks hostel, the only hostel in the small town of Portobello. We were there for 24 hours as we didn´t board Mintaka until 6pm. The heavens opened and there was nothing to do apart from being ripped off by the cocaine addicted owner who was a real arsehole! This brought the boat crew closer nonetheless, and we eventually found an amazing bakery and all gathered there to escape the rain and the abusive cocaine sniffler. We also stumbled upon a movie set for an upcoming film with Benecio Del Toro and Josh Hutcherson (the dude from the Hunger Games). We chatted to the film crew. The French were much more open than the Americans who didn´t tell us anything about what was going on! We soon found out that the movie would be a pretty big hit though and had stalker eyes for famous people!

Unfortunatly the rain persisted and everything got very wet when we got onto the boat. After a lovely meal and game of Rose Thorn Bud we went to bed. We were supposed to sail that night, however the storm was just too rough. After a sleepless night for Manfred and Petra who were scared the lightening would hit the mast, we turned on the motor and set off for the San Blas at 7 am.
That sail was a nightmare! The roughest seas they had had for 4 years. Thankfully we were fully drugged up on seasickness pills before getting aboard, but there were some pretty sick people on the boat. We just lay down or looked at the horizon.
There was nothing like it when we arrived, jumped in the ocean and sat down for dinner. The rain had stopped and we were rocked to sleep.

Off and away to Mintaka, our floatable home, in the thunder storms. Portobello, Panama. The storm before the calm.

Our bed!

Pauline, Teresa, Jen and Etienne. Coq au vin, first dinner in the thunderstorm. 

Happy to have survived the 12 hour crossing to the San Blas. 

First dip in the San Blas seas.

Belly flop?!
We had 3 full days in the San Blas islands. They were very calm, so we stopped taking the seasickness pills which gave us much more energy. Each day we sailed to a new part and anchored for the night. Manfred dropped us about a kilometre from the boat over a coral reef and we slowly snorkelled back for lunch. His famous line each day - ¨Another f······ island!¨ Snorkelling was incredible! Highlights were the reefs, parrot fish, a gigantic puffer fish, and half a dozen huge crayfish hanging out in the rocks. When we started to swim over sand, we disturbed a gigantic spotted eagle ray and watched it disappear into the distance. Proof that they are more scared of us than we are of them, which was reassuring! The giant starfish were also incredible.

We swam to islands as a group and visited the people who live on the islands, called the Kuna people. They inhabit 50 of the 360 islands that make up the San Blas and live off trading sea food, coconuts and handicrafts. It was incredible watching them fishing and then mooring up to our boat in their wooden sailing boats to intice us with seafood and handicrafts. Manfred and Petra bought 14 beautiful lobsters for dinner from them for $40! It was an interactive dinner time experience picking apart the lobsters legs and avoiding the stomach. I felt like the mermaid in Splash!

We were welcomed onto an island to buy a coconut which was then filled with rum (La Flor Cana, tasty Nicaraguan variety which we´ll never forget and always wished we bought a bottle home!). After much talking and laughing Julien completely wowed the Kuna people as he sang a Geraman opera song. Their jaws dropped and in return, they sang to us. It was a beautiful moment when you feel incredibly lucky to be alive and to share such a heart felt moment together. Of course, the rum was also taking affect at this stage and we got a little silly. Frank (buisness consultant) took the cake as mid dinner the jazz music ran through his veins, and he grabbed the pole and had a dance. Ace!

Gigantic starfish!
Cruising the San Blas and sun blocking the lobsters back.


The Crew meets land.

Etienne exploring an island.

Getting some exercise on land on the way to meet the Kuna tribe.

Kuna village.

The chief Kuna on the island with his proud seventh wife.

Manfred, getting us  drunk on Coco Loco´s (rum filled coconuts). 

The after affects of the Coco Loco.

Fresh lobster for dinner. 


As Manfred said ¨Just another fucking island!¨

Kuna selling handicrafts. 

Another swim from the yacht to the island with starfish!

Giant starfish!

Etienne, Lily and Paulina. 


As the sun set, we took the seasickness pills to prepare for the rough crossing to Cartagena. Luckily we had a fantastic 34 hour crossing. It was really smooth and we sailed for a significant part of it. It was a relief to see South America on the horizon after seeing no land and just the occasional fishing boat or giant floating logs. Thought a lot about Life of Pi during the crossing. The final 6 hours felt like an eternity as we were so close to Cartagena, yet travelling at 5 knots (which was our average speed) is not very time efficient! We sat back and had a rough can of stringy duck and beans (survival food!). Manfred and Petra called hostels for us which we were very grateful for. We felt Land Sick when we walked the streets of Cartagena and were glad for a nice bed and shower! We met up with the crew two days later to retrieve our stamped passports, swap details and say farewell. This is where the Colombian adventure began.

Leaving the San Blas for Colobia. Panama on the horizon. 

At last! Cartagena, Colombia after two days at sea.

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