Day 112, Year 1: In the Land of Comarca de San Blas or Kuna Yala (indigenous)
Date: Monday, February 6, 2006
Air Temperature: 82 degrees F
Water Temperature: 81 degrees F
Latitude: N 09 degrees 33 minutes
Longitude: W 78 degrees 56 minutes
Location: Porvenier, San Blas Islands, Panama

Total trip miles–731. Wow! We are here in the San Blas islands. During the night we had to roll in the head sail and start motoring. There was plenty of wind but it was coming from the wrong direction. This morning at about 0930 we spotted land. At first we saw some very low islands and then behind those islands we saw the mainland of Panama. This was one of those moments that takes you by surprise. We have made many landfalls, but somehow this one seemed different. Judy Martin from Nitro, West Virginia, and Mark Handley, from Mattoon, Illinois–sailing into the San Blas islands. Not something that would have been written in our high school year books as aspirations for the future, but here we are. The moment was almost dreamlike. I found myself asking, “What’s a girl like me doing here?” Mark had to admit this morning that on the night we met and he shared his dream of sailing around the world with me, it was really only a dream. He evidently never really expected to do it. I had to tell him that he made a big mistake sharing that dream with me if he really didn’t want to do it. I might not be the person who dreams up these wild adventures, but I take seriously the job of doing everything possible to make dreams come true. So here we are.

We are anchored off Porvenir, a tiny island that is the western entry point for the San Blas. No one lives here. It is just the official check in station. We had hoped to get checked in and headed to one of the reef islands known for great snorkeling by mid-afternoon, but Caribbean lunchtimes, slow, slow processing of paperwork, and the fact that about 25 other boats decided to enter paradise today, we are still sitting here in Porvenir. This is a small island, maybe a half mile long and the width of a football field. There are some beach huts, a little museum, a small building that houses the check in staiton, an old World War II air strip that is still in use, and a hotel. Well, a hotel of sorts. A small red plane flies in and out about 3 times during the day. The runway runs diagonally across the island to make the best use of the little bit of land. Right now there are about 25 sailboats anchored on the south side of the island, and we have all made sure that we are not anchored at the end of the runway. When the plane comes in it is skimming across the top of the water and when it takes off, it flies right off the north end of the island. There is a beautiful white beach all along the south side and palm trees scattered about to make this look more like a South Pacific island than one in the Caribbean.

Soon after we anchored, Mark headed to shore to check in, but he was only able to do accomplish the first part of the process. The second part would have to take place after lunch. I think I’ve mentioned that lunch time is taken very seriously throughout the Caribbean. At about 1400 we both went back in to get the cruising permit for Panama. What a fiasco! The line was very long and the poor guy processing the paperwork was very slow. It took us two and a half hours of waiting, but at 1630 we exited the tiny room with the required paperwork. It was too late to move to another island for the night, so we will wait until morning. We met some great people while waiting, however. We met a couple from Southhampton, England, off Poco Andante. That is translated as “slower than walking” and that is certainly true of sailing! We also met a couple from the south of France. They are both serious bike racers, but are taking time to sail around the world. We are the only boat from the USA anchored here tonight. The other boats are from Germany, France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Antigua/Barbuda, and the Netherlands. The reason so many boats are here is that the Blue Water ‘Round the World Cruising Rally boats are meeting here this week. Bad timing for us in terms of numbers of people checking in, but once we leave here tomorrow morning we will disperse ourselves and each find out own little piece of paradise. It is nice, however, to meet so many people that will be transiting the Panama Canal at about the same as we hope to go through.

There are literally hundreds of islands here. Some are inhabited and of the inhabited islands, I am learning that some are truly traditional with no schools or churches, while others are traditional but have incorporated schools and churches, and still others are uninhabited but the coconut trees on those islands are owned by various families. We are going to go to an uninhabited island group tomorrow and then on to a village island tomorrow afternoon or on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, our stay here is being cut very short. We have learned that the wait to go through the Panama Canal might take up to a month instead of the two weeks we had allowed. So on Thursday evening we will take off for Colon. We will arrive on Friday morning and begin the process of getting checked in for the Canal transit. Once we are given a transit date, we will come back here if we have a 3-4 week wait. If the wait is only a week or so, we will wait in Colon. If we don’t make it back here this time, we will have to find a way to come back and spend a couple of months here at some time to really get to know the people.

New vocabulary words for us today are ulas and molas. An ula is a traditional dugout canoe. The Kuna world is a matriarchal society and Kuna woman are very skilled in paddling their ulas from island to island. They do this in order to sell their molas. These are beautifully reverse appliqu�d and embroidered squares of cloth that Kuna women craft by hand and wear on the front and the back of their blouses. They paddle through the anchorages quietly offering their molas for sale. I bought only 2 today, but hope to buy more in the next couple of days. So far I have a fish and a turtle. I’ll keep you posted on future purchases.

A couple of notes: We are back on Eastern Standard Time. We will remain so until we reach the Galapagos. And I hear the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Superbowl. I’m sure Jon on Dutchess back at Shipyard Quarters and my nephew Tommy’s wife, Marilou, are very happy people and probably a bit hard to be around right now. In my family, the Cleveland Browns are the team of choice and the Steelers are the “enemy”. I guess all I can say is love thy enemies. I’ll keep my hopes up that Patriots will be back in there next year. But now it must be about time for baseball season to begin. Go Red Sox!

060206 Day 112 Caribbean, San Blas–Arrival in Provenir