Our divemaster drove us to Panama City after our second dive. We were allowed to keep our room until then, so we had time for a quick shower. We checked in to our hotel (Doubletree by Hilton), went out to get cash for our shuttle and sailtrip, and spent the rest of the evening in Istmo brewpub, which was located just a few blocks away. Really nice with some craft beer again! We went home early to repack and try to get a few hours sleep before our pickup at 5.15 am.
We left our suitcases at the hotel, and travelled only with small backpacks. Our shuttle was 45 minutes late, not at all comfortable and with too many people. The last part of the trip to Carti was on crazy steep, winding roads with quite a few potholes. And when we finally arrived, we had to wait more than an hour for the lancha (small boat) to take us to Banedup, where our home for the next three days was waiting for us. The lancha had several stops, delivering groceries and dropping off people on different boats. We were welcomed to our boat, Perle (Bavaria 41 ft), by captain Miro (Polish) and the two other passengers, Debora and Stefan (Argentinian). We had a small breakfast and a quick swim before sailing to Green Island. Debora and Stefan are sailing regattas back home, so they did most of the work and we could just sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Small paradise islands everywhere, palm trees, perfect white beaches and crystal clear water.
The San Blas Islands consists of nearly 400 small and large islands (only 40 are inhabited) on Panama’s Caribbean coast. They are home to the indigenous Guna Indians, who since the Tule Revolution in 1925 have controlled the islands and a narrow band of the mainland and have named their territory Guna Yala. No non-Gunas are allowed to live in this area, and they check passports of everyone going in or out. They have their own tribal laws, traditions and culture, and the 55000 Gunas are organized within a strict hierarchy of tribal leaders. Their main income is from coconuts, even though tourism is getting more and more important.
We spent more than 24 hours anchored outside Green Island or Kanlildup as it is called in the local language. It is surrounded by reefs and sandbanks, so navigation to the island is a bit difficult, but once you are there the waters are calm and the views amazing. We took the dinghy to shore a few times or just swam from the sail boat. It took around 20 minutes to walk around the entire island, and most of the time we were the only ones there. A few other boats were anchored close by, and some Gunas stopped there during the day to cook some lunch on the beach. We did some snorkeling in the area, but it was very shallow, so it was a bit difficult. We did see lots of small fish though, and even an eagle ray when we found a deeper area. On one side of the island there were hundreds of starfish close to the beach. Local fishermen stopped by the boat several times a day to sell fish, lobsters or fruit, and the first day we ended up buying 5 small lobsters, and had a great evening with wine and good food.
Our first night on the boat was very warm, so we started the day with a refreshing swim. Some of us went to the island to try some windsurfing, while others relaxed in the hammock or went snorkeling. We also took the dinghy to an even smaller island (Waisaladup) close by. Paradise! We sailed to Western Holandes Cays, where we anchored outside another island named Waisaladup and the neighbouring Acuakargana. On the way there we saw several of the tiny Guna boats, where one person was holding the sail and the other one was struggling to keep the boat from filling up with water. And when we arrived we were met by a small cruise ship planning to visit the same island as us. Too bad! But while they built a small resort on the beach for a couple of hours, we went snorkeling from the boat, and they soon left so we had the island all to ourselves. The reefs here were much better, with loads of fish, a cool flounder, a barracuda and a trumpet fish. We bought some fish from a local fisherman and had another great dinner on the boat.
On our last day we sailed back to Banedup where the lanchas where leaving from. Banedup is a tiny island with a bar, two docks and a few cottages for rent. We said goodbye to the others who were continuing to Portobelo (around 8 hours sailing), and relaxed on the beach with a cold beer while waiting for a lancha. Fredrik made a deal with some locals that not only got us safely back to the mainland, but also had a car waiting for us to take us back to Panama City. And we paid less than half of what we paid when booking through the hotel!
We arrived at our hotel around 6 pm, and enjoyed the luxury of having internet and a real shower again. We took a taxi (3 dollars) to the old town, and had a light dinner and some craft beer at La Rana Dorada, a brew pub we knew from our trip 2 years ago. We were not really used to staying up late with lots of people everywhere after San Blas, so we went for a walk around the old town before heading back to the hotel. Our flight home was at 6 pm, so we had one last day in Panama City. We walked around in familiar streets, had one last craft beer at La Rana Dorada, did some last minute shopping, stocked up on snacks for the flight and tried to take in that our 2 month adventure was over. After 15 hours travelling, we arrived in cold Norway Sunday afternoon and were picked up by Fredrik’s mother, who not just got us safely home, but had prepared an evening meal for each of us to bring home. So sweet!