Island hopping in Guna Yala

November 10 – December 31, 2022; 9596 nm and 1381 days after departure from La Rochelle.

Well, after leaving the nice village of Achutupu we headed further west. We stopped at several small islands with names like Mono island, San Ignacio de Tupile or Anidup. In Anidup we anchored directly next to a beautiful reef. That was fantastic. A jump in the water and we were right in our private aquarium. Absolutely amazing! By that time we didn’t know that it would get even better. As further west we came, as nicer the islands became. Instead of mangrove islands, the area changed to postcard ready to print like incredibly beautiful looking cristal clear water, white sanded beach surrounded palm tree islands. Sooooo niiiiice. No mangroves and the water just looked fantastic and the reefs presented their collection of coral, fishes and other creatures. Somebody told us that the islands in San Blas all used to be overgrown by mangrove. The Gunas were the ones who planted palm trees for trading coconuts. I think they did a good job😎!

Coco Bandera island, a beautiful small island with only 4 Gunas living there

However, up to Nargana we were always the only boat unless we met up with our friends. Since arriving in Guna Yala we haven’t seen one other sailing boat. That changed as soon as we arrived in Nargana. (A bigger village which gave up their traditional way of living. We only stopped as we were hoping to find some fresh provisions. What we got was rather disappointing.) The anchorage was full of sailing boats, ok full meant 5 boats but still! From now on we almost always had sailing neighbours and the feeling of being completely remote changed a little. Also some of the Gunas seemed to be a bit more business-minded. Every now and then an ulu (dugout) or even bigger boat came to the anchorages and offered veggies, fruit, eggs sometimes even beer, coke, toilet paper … That was great as we were desperate for fresh food and it was so convenient! Slowly we kept going zigzag like towards west. So far our favourite stop was at Coco Bandera. The reef was fantastic and because the anchorage was pretty narrow only a few boats stopped here. On this very small island 4 Gunas lived there. As soon as we arrived they asked if we could fill up some water bottles for them. Having a water maker we can fortunately always provide water. That got me thinking what were they drinking when no sailing boat was stopping? Meanwhile I know that some islands have wells but it seemed that Gunas exclusively used to drink coconut water and even cooked with it. I was glad to hear that. As we had sooooo many bananas I asked them weather they would like some. Thinking that was probably a stupid question as they usually have loads of bananas themselves. But no, they happily took them! Good for all of us, as we couldn’t have eaten all of them anyway. So each day when they came and asked us to charge their mobiles we gave them bananas too. Yes! They all do have mobiles. They lived so very simple. They slept in a hammock only protected by a roof. When I brought back one of their mobiles as we wanted to leave I had a gasp into their hut. There was absolutely nothing, no table, no chair no nothing but the hammock! They used fallen trunks to sit on and Calabash bowls for food. Very impressive to us! I could not imagine to live only on a hammock, the few clothes I am wearing, a machete, a mobile and one ulu to share. Amazing as they all seemed happy and super relaxed.

Ibin’s sister Myrta cooking in the big kitchen

The “swimming pool” at the Eastern Holandes Cays was our next destination. Another beautiful place where we met the amazing chief Ibin at Banedup. A Guna who used to work as a chief at cruising ships and super yachts. He speaks many languages, is a super nice guy and cooks like an angel. Fed up with his previous life he decided to come back to Guna Yala and started his small business with the help of his sister. Out of nothing he is able to cook and present super nice meals. He makes the best foccachia we’ve had in years and if you want, he bakes fresh coconut rolls every morning and even delivers to your boats. With his own grown few vegetables and fruits he provides a delicious meal. Usually a ceviche as a starter, lobster or fish as a main dish and a mouthwatering desert. That sounds like a normal dish, but he knows how to give it the special culinary delight touch. Almost even more important for me was the presentation of his food. Whereas in Colombia the (simple) food was good but often just thrown on a plate (if at all, sometimes in a foam package), he served it on a plantain leave on a proper plate and beautifully decorated. The table right at the beach was made out of natural materials and also simple but lovingly decorated. We loved that! We had many chats with him and told him that we would definitely come back with the kids to have our Christmas dinner there.
It was time to move on. December was coming closer which meant the kids would soon be with us 🙃. We had some more stops at other islands but then headed straight to Linton Bay where we planned to pick up Jana. And after all, we had to buy enough groceries for the next coming weeks to satisfy our four tummies. Jana was coming a bit earlier than Luis as she decided to work on the boat for a week so she could spent a little more time with us.Which we of course loved!!! The plan was to pick up Jana, get the groceries and then head back to San Blas. There, Luis would join us coming with the Gunas in a small boat directly to Altimate. Fortunately we went to Linton bay early! Before Jana arrived we already got the groceries and decided to re-anchor. I can’t remember why but it saved our holidays with the kids in San Blas. Lifting the anchor was still going smoothly. Letting it down, the winch didn’t want to work anymore. The engine was still working but the nut didn’t move at all. Norbert let the anchor down by hand and we started to investigate the problem. Still hoping it would only be a corroded cable or something similar. At least something easy to repair. Soon we found the issue, a shocking failure! The gear housing of the winch was completely corroded. Fully eaten up, there was only powder left. Hell knows, how it did work so long? The engine was completely separated from the upper winch, kind of amazing 🙈.

Ok, its hard to see but there was a whole thick plate missing, all gone due to corrosion

However, long story short, we obviously needed another winch! Checking all the options we had there was only one solution to get a suitable winch in time to be able to take the kids to San Blas. Luis had to bring it and instead of going directly to the islands he also had to come to Linton Bay. Poor guy! Already filled up with many parts for Altimate he now had to carry a second luggage. That one would be really heavy, the winch weighs more than 20 kg. Good thing Luis is a big, strong and very relaxed guy! It was a huge hassle; first to find the right winch and when El Capitano found it, to get it in time to Luis. The trouble was that Luis was on holidays (he likes being on holidays😉) until only one day before his departure to Panamá. I involved our niece to get it delivered to her parents in law, who live in a village close to Aachen. As it was pre x-mas time DHL and co didn’t seem to deliver anymore to the address named in Aachen, instead they would deliver it directly to a post office. Not good enough for us running out of time. So Sarina, our niece picked it up and brought it to Luis in time. First obstacle managed! A lot of people we talked to said we might have problems with customs bringing in such a big part for the boat. Usually being a boat in transit, which we are, you can buy parts and don’t have to pay taxes etc. . But we were in Panamá and things do not always work how they are supposed to be. Jana, also travelling with lots of goodies for Altimate had no problems at customs, so we were just hoping it would be the same for Luis. It turned out to be an expensive, time consuming and annoying obstacle. Poor Luis arrived late after midnight at Linton Bay after travelling more than 24 hours! Customs did not let him through with the winch. They told him to come back early next morning to get it somehow out of customs. Fortunately we had him picked up by Roger, a very nice local taxi driver who speaks very good english. It takes 2,5 hours from the airport to Linton. How were we supposed to get back to the airport in the morning without a taxi? By the time Luis was through customs it was already 10:30 pm. No time to find somebody to take you back to the airport in the morning. Roger was already booked. With the help of Rogers thoughts and knowledge we figured we would need to get up early and take the earliest bus from Linton to get to the airport. We had to get up at 4am to make sure we get the first bus at 5 am. Poor Luis, a good thing he had been already on holidays. The first bus took us to Sabanitas. From there we took the express bus to Panama City. We changed to the metro until a station close to the airport and then needed a taxi to finally reach the airport. That only took a bit more than four hours- easy peasy!

my boys in the fancy express bus to Panama City

At the airport the craziness began. We were send from right to left and back and forward until we understood that Luis needed a pass to enter the customs area. Of course, we were not allowed to join him. We had already decided to pay whatever would be necessary to get the winch out of customs. The process if we didn’t agree to pay, would have been to wait for a free customs guy to come with us to Linton bay to proof that we would bring the winch really to Altimate. We talked about that with Roger who knew all about it. He said it would take probably ages and you have to pay the customs guy and of course his trip back to the airport etc. Our goal was to get it out as fast as possible. In the end we wanted to enjoy our kids and take them to the beautiful islands and not spent precious time with customs officials. Roughly 45 minutes later Luis came out of customs with a piece of paper to go to an old airport nearby where we were supposed to find an agent and pay the fees. They didn’t gave him an address, they just said all the drivers would know. Sounded not too bad but turned out to be super annoying. Only the taxi drivers didn’t know. Especially then I wished my Spanish would have been much better. It was hard to find anybody who spoke a little English. Eventually we found someone who roughly knew where to go. I stayed at the airport as it was more expensive in the taxi with the three of us🤷‍♀️. Fortunately the taxi driver was very nice and asked everybody at the other airport where we needed to go. Nobody seemed to know anything. After ages the driver managed to find the right person. She seemed to be very annoyed about customs as all our papers were correct and we wouldn’t need to pay anything… Yes, but we just wanted our winch and asked her to just let us pay to speed up the process. She gave the boys the invoice with the amount we had to pay. That was fortunately possible at the bank at the airport. With the pink receipt Luis went back to customs to get the winch. After waiting for another 20 min Luis came out without the winch!!! What? We had spent already so much money and now they wanted 5US storage fee for the night! Unbelievable! But then we finally had it out of customs! What a relief!
Going back we had organised Alfonso, another reliable taxi driver who picked up Jana a week earlier. Another fun 2,5 hours ride for Luis with a short stop in between to get some more groceries. Just before sunset we were back on Altimate and reunited with Jana.

a day at the airport just to get out this suitcase

The installing of the winch went fortunately smooth. No unexpected surprises, yeah! Friday the 16th of Dec when Jana had finished working we started our holidays with the kids. Two great family weeks spent together. It started with catching a couple of fish the first day and ended with watching sharks and rays on our last snorkelling day. We did some island hopping, had a bbq with many other sailors, met a lot of nice people, had our x-mas dinner at Ibin’s and had a lovely tour with Mola Lisa up a river at the main land. As always time flies by and the visit felt much too short. On El Capitanos birthday the kids were picked up from a Guna boat and brought back ashore and then back to the airport. We stayed only a week longer, spent New Years Eve with many other sailors at Ibin’s island and then made our way to Turtle Cay Marina where Norbert and Altimate would stay when I flew back to Germany.

the Altimate crew at Waisaladup

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