Stunning San Blas

We arrived in San Blas last Saturday after a four-day crossing from Aruba. In the first 24 hours we clocked 220 miles (partly because of very favourable current). The last three days went a bit slower and we were glad to see land after having to stand off on the fourth night. The reefs around San Blas are notorious and last year alone 14 yachts ended up as shipwrecks. On top of that, the charts are not accurate and therefore landfall can only be made when the light is good. We safely made our approach in the morning and anchored next to Taff Tumas who had made it in just before sunset the day before (lucky people!). 
San Blas is exactly what one imagines paradise to be like. Little islands dotted all over the place with palm trees, white sandy beaches and turquoise water. The San Blas islands are home to the indigenous Kuna Indians, who have best preserved their culture and traditions out of all the tribes in the Americas. The Kunas are physically small people (rivaled in tribal shortness only by the pygmies!) and they don’t like to get their picture taken, as they believe it takes a bit of their spirit away. Kuna Yala (which means “San Blas” in Kuna) is a matrilineal society. The women control the money and the husbands move into the women’s family compound. The Kunas are friendly people. There are no pushy vendors like in the Caribbean and it feels much safer (and everything is a lot cheaper!). There are no other tourists here apart from other cruisers and some of them have been here for years. So how are we going to manage leaving here in a week or so? We want to get to Panama and keep making our way into the Pacific but on the other hand we could easily spend a few months exploring these beautiful islands. Our days fly past with schoolwork every morning, swimming and activities in the afternoon, fires on the beach in the evenings and even a camping trip for the dads and the kids one night (they built a hut out of palm tree leaves and sticks and slept in it one night).
Yesterday we sailed over to the nearest town (Nargana). People still live in huts here too but there is a hospital, a bank, some shops, a library, a school and a power plant (basically a very large generator that brings electricity to the entire village). The locals were very friendly and showed us where we could buy fruit, veg, bread and beer. We also managed to buy a SIM card for which we had to go to someone’s house. Wifi or internet cafes don’t exist here yet and life is still very simple. Today we went up the river Diablo with a Kuna guide to explore the jungle! We didn’t see any crocodiles (apparently they only appear at dusk) but it was stunning with plentiful wildlife and lush vegetation. We might have to do another trip at dusk to see those crocs!

afternoon swim

school

san blas


san blas

kuna boat

kuna hut

happy camper

campsite

Nargana town


exploring the river Diablo

captain Aeneas

sunset over san blas

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Off to San Blas

The wind has settled down and we are ready to leave for San Blas. We took the bus into town this morning to check out but, contrary to the advice they gave us when we checked in, they wouldn’t let us…. Customs and immigration now insist they have to see the boat. So tomorrow we have a 2 hour sail in the wrong direction in order to clear out and present the boat and ourselves to the officials… We don’t mind following the rules but it’s frustrating when they change from day to day! 

It’s about 700 miles to Sam Blas which should take us 5 days or so and we plan to spend a couple of weeks there before heading to Panama. It’s unlikely that we will have Internet access but we will try to do regular position updates on http://blog.mailasail.com/Rehua

Anyway, here’s a quick update from Seathan too:

Aruba Aroooba, it’s time to leave this beautiful but over populated Isle, we have endured 11 days of maintenance and happy hours, do Yanmar make a liver filter? 

On the boat side some great improvements have occurred, the most rewarding, a thorough clean up of the wiring on the DC side of the boat has been completed and we are now free to make water, keep the fridge and freezer running whilst under auto helm just on solar power, obviously a cloudy day is not welcome! this is a huge relief heading into the Pacific where the doldrums will put our diesel supplies at a premium!

The Caribbean has been special, a great wind down from the last crossing, we are entering new territory and with it comes the vagaries of weather around Columbia, we will take a more northerly route to avoid the permanent low we have been monitoring. Panama, San Blas in particular beckons, let’s hope they have not been changed to the degree we have seen in the Eastern Caribbean.

We will keep position updates via Inmarsat otherwise it’s silence for the next two weeks, that should mean we are in Paradise, here’s hoping!

Swimming pools

It’s still blowing hard! So we decided to wait a few more days in Aruba before crossing to San Blas. Yesterday, Seathan and Stef went off to do some sand-kiting in the north of the island and Sandra and I decided to take the kids swimming. From where we are anchored we can see many big resorts lined up along the beach. Usually, if you take a few drinks or have some lunch at the pool bar, you are allowed to use the facilities. Here in Aruba that doesn’t seem to work though. The first hotel we stopped at seemed perfect and as we looked for a couple of empty sun loungers we were approached by a security guy who told us we were not allowed to swim. We asked if we could have lunch at the bar and apparently that was allowed. So we went to the pool bar and the waiter immediately offered to help us out and told us that he could get us a couple of blue towels (required to sit by the pool) but that we had to wait until there was a change in security guards. Anyway, it all sounded very complicated so we decided to try the second hotel. There, everyone was wearing a special bracelet and soon a security guy spotted us too, so we left. At the third hotel we didn’t even make it through the gate as security was stopping everyone who was trying to walk in and we weren’t even allowed to buy a drink at the bar. So we decided to settle down at a little beach bar to do our schoolwork with our feet in the sand and then go back and try our luck with the barman at the first place. Luckily, by the time we returned the security guy was gone and replaced by someone else so we took our chances. The kids jumped into the pool and Sandra and I had a drink at the bar. After a generous tip the barman happily gave us a couple of the standard blue towels so we could pretend we were hotel guests. But that didn’t fool the new security guy. Somehow he had worked out we were frauds (maybe because we were the only non-Americans in the resort?) and came over to ask us where we got the towels from. He was worried we pinched them from a chair and other guests would subsequently be missing their towels (for which apparently they have to pay a 25 USD deposit). We assured him we didn’t pinch them but also didn’t want to get our friendly barman into trouble. After some pleading he believed us and we were allowed to stay for the afternoon. Needless to say the kids had a great time! 

ABC

We had a pretty rough sail today from Curaçao to Aruba (25 to 30 knots with a peaks of 35 and a very agitated sea) but we were all fine and at least we got here fast! After a two night stop in Bonaire we continued to Curaçao where we left Gert and his 30 year old boat. He made it in one piece but we sailed beside him all the way just in case something went wrong. He’s now safely anchored in  the bay in Curaçao and considering the repairs he needs to make. 

The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) are part of the Netherlands but enjoy a large degree of autonomy. The Hague is now only responsible for defence and foreign affairs. Each island uses a different currency (although the USD is accepted everywhere and in Bonaire that’s their official currency). Dutch is the official language and the local language is Papiamento which has elements of Creole, Portuguese and some African languages. For me it’s been a treat to find lots of delicacies from back home in the supermarket and we’re now well stocked up after a big supermarket shop yesterday. Luckily the supermarket agreed to drive us and all the shopping back to the dinghy dock where we loaded everything into the dinghy and then ferried it onto the boat. Packing and storing everything took a few hours!
Clearing in the ABC has been the most cumbersome on our trip yet. As we arrived in Bonaire late afternoon we decided to check in the next morning. It’s what we’ve done everywhere else and it’s never been a problem. The authorities were not impressed though and threatened us with a 100 USD fine for not having checked in that same evening. Also, as normal, Seathan went to customs and immigrations on his own but they insisted everyone had to come along. So we had to wake up Aeneas (who likes a lie-in) and drag Tyrii away from his schoolwork (well that wasn’t so hard) and all make our way to customs and immigrations. At least they were only a 10 min walk away from the dinghy dock. In Curaçao we had to take a bus for 30 mins into town and then walk another 20 mins to find customs and after that we had to walk another 30 mins across town to immigration (luckily the boys had brought their scooters). If it wasn’t for Gert we would have struggled to find them as their office is in the middle of nowhere near the docks. Again we were told off for not having checked in the same evening we arrived… Even though the pilot book mentioned one can check in within 24 hours after arriving. What a palaver! We checked in and out at the same time and left early this morning. We arrived in Aruba late afternoon and it looks like we still haven’t learned our lesson as we decided to do the clearing-in tomorrow morning 😇
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Islas de Aves

Where to start? The last few days have been amazing. Islas de Aves has probably been the best stopover on our trip so far. And to think that we nearly sailed past those small blobs on the chart! We were heading directly from Grenada to Bonaire but after 48 hours sailing (which was very pleasant with good winds and decent waves) we noticed these two small island archipeligos belonging to Venezuela on the chart, just 50 miles before Bonaire. Although we had been advised not to stop in Los Roques (or Venezuela in general), we decided these uninhabited offshore islands were low risk. So on Saturday afternoon we approached Aves de Borlavento alongside our buddy boat and weaved our way through the numerous reefs and sandbanks into the anchorage. There were two other yachts (one Canadian and one Swiss also with kids) already anchored. The islands take their name after the numerous birds that live and nest here (pelicans, red footed boobies, frigates, herons, and many more). They are perched by hundreds on the dense mangrove trees and make an incredible noise. Soon after we arrived one of the Canadians came over to tell us they were having a bonfire on the beach in the evening and we were welcome to join them. So we all met on the beach in front of a cozy fire and barbecued some fish Taff Tumas had caught. Sandra (who is from the Pacific) also prepared a Tahitian salad (slices of fish marinated in lemon and coconut milk with cucumber, tomatoes and carrots), which was delicious. The kids had their own fire and spent the evening burning sticks and had a great time. The next morning we took the dinghy to explore the mangrove lagoon and admire the birds from close-by. The red-footed boobies apparently are unique to this island and the chicks were nesting in the lower branches. As they get older they move up and than start “flying school” from the top branches. I never imagined myself enjoying bird watching but it was an amazing experience. The day only got better as we dinghied out to the reef and explored some of the beaches there and then went snorkeling off the edge of the reef. This drop-off into the ocean is where most fish and plants can be found and when you dive you descent into an amazing underwater world. For me personally it was the most spectacular snorkeling I have ever done. The colours of the plants, corals and the fishes where unbelievable. And the fact nobody else was there made it even more special. The reef is enormous and inside it’s like one big swimming pool with clear turquoise water which the kids loved of course. We went back to the boat for lunch and cooked a stoplight parrotfish on the barbecue. Delicious! During lunch Stefan came up with the brilliant idea to organize a treasure hunt for the kids on the nearby small island. We came up with questions and a course (based on compass readings the kids would have to follow) and the men went off to set everything up. I’m not sure who had more fun, the dads setting up the treasure hunt or the kids working their way from one milestone to the next by answering the questions and following the compass instructions. Needless to say that we all had a good nights sleep after so much fun in one day.

When we ventured out to the reef we also met one more boat anchored in the next bay. On board was Gert, who has been cruising for thirty years. He lives on the boat on his own and was in a spot of trouble as his boat has been taking in water and needs repairing. It had been patched up but he was worried nonetheless about getting safely into Curacao. So we decided to sail alongside him in case something went wrong. We all left Aves de Borlavento on Tuesday morning and sailed over to Aves de Sotavento and anchored there for the night. On Wednesday morning we left early and sailed over to Bonaire. And here we are. We plan to stay for one or two nights and then continue to Curacao.

Aves de Barlovento

Aves de Barlovento


Pelican

Pelican


Red footed booby

Red footed booby


Red footed booby

Red footed booby


Chick

Chick


Inside the mangrove lagoon

Inside the mangrove lagoon


Mangrove tree

Mangrove tree

shells

crab

kids on a stick

the reef 2 the reef

Start of the treasure hunt

Start of the treasure hunt


Taking compass readings

Taking compass readings


Aeneas on the kitesurf

Aeneas on the kitesurf


Tyrii kitesurfing

Tyrii kitesurfing


Aves de Sotavento

Aves de Sotavento