San Blas | Panama

A PARADISE SAIL 

Adjust the sail as the wind turns; there is always an energy moving forward to be found, one simply needs to open his heart and learn to listen to the whispers.

I had never sailed in open sea and I felt an attraction to the time spent at the mercy of the wind, moving at its dictated pace. Perhaps it was the freedom and excitement of the great unknown, the romanticism of living with the stars and the wind that pulled me. Or perhaps it is the ability to use one of the earth element to its advantage, adjusting the sail as the wind turns. There is always an energy moving forward to be found, one simply needs to open his heart and learn to listen to the whispers.

When I learned of the possibility to sail from the Caribbean coast of Panama, through uninhabited islands, to the colonial city of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, I simply had to embark on the journey.

And it started; we sailed at the speed of the wind, laying down the anchor wherever we desired. The sight of a perfectly shaped island, turquoise water at its feet, white sand rising to the base of the towering coconut trees often dictated our day.

The San Blas islands are composed of an inexact number of islands, depending on waves and currents, some appear whilst some are melted away. We often hear the number of 350 islands. 

Few are habited by a family or two from the Kuna tribe - who administer the region within Panama - they offer delightful coconuts and other surprising products. Drugs still flows between South and Central America. Some ships find an unfortunate end and the boxes end up floating to the islands. Product is then sold to keen tourists.

 

On a grey morning we step on a long and thin wooden boat, made for a handful of people but we end up being a dozen.

One person’s simple job ends up to scoop out the water coming in. A small engine powers us across the channels and the locals show us how to line fish. Patiently, with some frustration, we wait for the moment of capture of dinner. One is caught and cheers are given only to turn around and realise that the local fisherman has already a handful at his feet. 

On the island, the fishes are cooked above a bonfire, fresh coconuts are mixed with rice and we feast on the beach on a delightful meal. In the small huts we meet the families, some children and others whose age approach the century. They live a long outdoor life unpoisoned by the likes of Coca Cola and processed food. 

One night under the stars another story illustrating their character is shared with us; some years ago, representatives of Donald Trump met with the local chiefs and offered a vast sum of money (whispers of USD 50m can be heard) to build a luxury hotel on one of the island. Proudly we are told, that they simply asked them, to return home. 

Floating between the unspoiled islands - spare the plastic brought in by the ocean - is an unforgettable experience. I find myself reincarnated in my five year old body as one night I jump in the water and tumble around, surrounding me the whole sea lights up thanks to fluorescent algae.

Time spent in the islands was extraordinary, we lived at the rhythm of the sea and the sun, blissfully unaware of the existence of time or our phone. Over time, as my travels went on, my views evolved and what I saw as poverty, I now see as simplicity. I also came to first hand see that the lack of basic infrastructure, medical supplies and opportunities still cripples too many people. There is a lesson to be learned from the Kuna and living with nature, thankful for the all providing Mother Earth. We must find a better balance between our modern way of life and the rhythm and needs of nature.

 

Midday we set off for the long sail towards a new land and the rough seas bring to rest my longing for long sails across the unknown. We reach the colonial city greeted by the Colombian Navy and their search force; a tale for another time.

Images provided by Jeremy Perret. All rights reserved.