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Day 574 - San Blas, Panama (N 9° 34.9 W 78° 40.4)
18:02 hrs - December 25th, 2008
Happy Holandes!

We're happy to report that Santa found us after-all and made a delivery to Dream Time! He decked-out our cabin with balloons, colorful candles and two stockings covered in tinsel (that are shedding already and covering the boat in little sparkles). Our stockings were stuffed to the brim with goodies - Tolberones, M&Ms, Mola bags, coconut carvings - the works!

Along with about 40 other sailboats, many of which are crammed together in the famous "swimming pool" anchorage, we decided to spend Christmas in the Holandes Cays, a mostly uninhabited group of 21 islands tucked behind a seven-mile barrier reef and situated a far enough away from the mainland to offer crystal clear waters and reef that's bursting with life. We spent the morning snorkeling on the outer reef, spotted numerous stingrays, colorful fish and even two 6' Nurse Sharks relaxing under a ledge. We also discovered a canon, caked in coral, laying on the seabed and plan to return to the site with a handheld, underwater metal detector (complements of Kenny-the-treasure-hunter from the ketch Makai) to see if there are any hidden treasures in the area.

Christmas lunch was served on BBQ Island at 15:00. The dining room table - a chunk of deck cut from a reefed sailboat that, 8+ years ago, tried to navigate into the islands at night - was covered in food donated by all the cruisers. Drinks and conversation flowed all afternoon until dark. It was a Christmas to remember. Happy Holandes from the crew of Dream Time!


   

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Day 569 - San Blas, Panama (N 9° 34.9 W 78° 40.4)
17:31hrs - December 20th, 2008
The rhythm of Kuna Yala

Life here moves at its own quiet, gentle, pace. Everything seems to be connected, one thing influencing another, energy flowing freely between objects, people, space, and welcomed by all. The warm tradewinds that blow steadily from the northeast are scented with the smoke from a wood burning fire on a neighboring island. Soaring palm trees, huddled closely on the small islands that surround us, sway gracefully together, dancing in the breeze. Clouds, softly tinted red by the low sun, float slowly overhead against a light blue sky. A stingray breaks the surface a hundred feet from our anchorage, its wings flash white, briefly catching the late afternoon sunlight as it flips upside down in mid air before disappearing back to its world. Little explosions of sea spray dot the shallows as pelicans clumsily dive for dinner, scooping-up unsuspecting snapper. Kuna fishermen catching the breeze in a homemade sail, smile and wave as they glide past in a dugout canoe, returning home to their thatch huts after spending a day on the reef. My hammock, rigged on the foredeck, swings lazily with Dream Time as we're rocked by the little waves that ripple across the harbor. This is the rhythm of Kuna Yala, and it is intoxicating.

We've spent 17 blissful days in the San Blas and we may never leave. Today we sailed from one postcard anchorage to another. We're in the lee of Banedup island anchored in a tiny bay shaped by sandy shores and colorful reef. We've decided to celebrate Christmas here. We have a Santa Mola hanging inside our cabin, a far cry from the "traditional" Kuna designs we bought from Lisa, the Master Mola Maker last week, but Christmas decorations are scarce in Kuna Yala so we're making the most with what we have. Presents too are hard to find on uninhabited tropical islands, so this year Catherine will be getting a coconut sculpture I've been secretly carving. And while we don't have a Christmas tree this year, or colorful lights in our windows - only a white anchor light shines on our boat at night, no mountains of presents to open, and there is absolutely no chance of snow, we have more gifts to share this holiday season than we ever dreamed imaginable.

Dream Time: Replaced main halyard, cutter halyard and boom vang. Scrubbed barnacles from hull. Running watermaker on "manual" mode as new microchip doesn't work.


 
 
 

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Day 565 - San Blas, Panama (N 9° 32.6 W 78° 53.9)
16:00hrs - December 16th, 2008
Tuesday in December

Its Tuesday, and anchored off one of the tiny palm tree islands in the San Blas with the thermometer showing 90 degrees, we have 20 knot trade winds to cool us down, and so goes another day in beautiful Kuna Yala. The only sounds here are the birds overhead, the waves rolling over coral reef and the cooling wind blowing over the boat, quite a change from my short but sweet (and very chilly) visit back to London a week ago where I joined the rest of my family to celebrate my fathers 80th birthday, Happy Birthday Dad. Also Happy Birthday Sarah and Claire and Harry (it was a big birthday week!) It was a week of non stop activity which naturally included the inevitable boat supply shopping (inc. 2 great new halyards) but now I’m back on the boat, and it all feels a world away! 

Where we are in the San Blas Islands we are very close to the coast of Panama but that also feels like a world away.  These tiny islands are populated by Kuna Indians who are a tight knit fiercely independent, self governing joy of a people.  They live exclusively on these islands only going to the mainland to farm and hunt, and to sell their wares.  They are a matrilineal society so women are in charge, (girl power!) they don’t marry outside their own people and stick closely to their traditional ancestral ways. It’s a fascinating gentle culture and I’m so glad I got a chance to see it now, as it’s hard to imagine how long it can realistically stay like this before its traditions and culture quietly melt into the rest of the world.

Its so far away from the rest of the world in its ways here, and as a result there is very little in the way of regular provisioning opportunities on the islands, but instead local Kuna tradesmen along with their families paddle from island to island boat to boat in their dugout canoes selling their wares to visiting cruisers like fish, crab & lobster, coconuts and Molas whatever they have available to them that day, its always a surprise and you never know what each canoe holds till they are along side. Occasionally they don’t have anything to sell at all, instead they ask us for things, like candy for the kids, T-shirts, boots for the farmers or medicine, or even surprisingly, to charge a cell phone!. But Molas are the specialty here, they are hand made colorful and incredibly detailed embroidered fabrics that can only be made by the women.  One of the women that sold us some Molas was also a tour guide, and she agreed to take us on a trip that included a river tour in a dugout canoe on the mainland, followed by an energetic hour and a half hike up through lush jungle and a mountain side to a Kuna grave site and a sacred waterfall, it was magical, who knows what we’ll be doing tomorrow? But Ill keep you posted!



 
 
 
     

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Day 558 - San Blas, Panama (N 9° 33.4 W 78° 56.9)
09:57hrs - December 9th, 2008
Panama!

Kuna Yala, the San Blas islands, is perhaps the most beautiful cruising ground in the Caribbean. Consisting of hundreds of perfectly formed, remote, sandy, palm tree fringed islands suspended in clear, 84 degree turquoise waters and a barren Panamanian coastline undisturbed by development, this little forgotten corner of the world is home to the autonomous Kuna Indians, a unique people that live today in much the same way they have for hundreds of years, largely uninfluenced by the modern world and fiercely independent. Kuna Yala will be our home for the next 4 - 6 weeks.

It's been 17 days since our last blog, perhaps the longest delay between postings since we left New York over a year and a half ago, and I apologize for that, but I assure you that our silence has not been due to laziness or a lack of blog-worthy activity, actually quite the opposite. You see Catherine flew back to England on November 26th from Cartagena to surprise her Father on his 80th birthday and only returned to Dream Time two days ago, flying from London to New Jersey, New Jersey to Panama City, and finally from Panama City to Carti - a small remote airstrip carved out of the jungle on the mainland about 7 miles away from where Dream Time is now anchored. While Catherine was away, the lure of four days in Cartagena, a sail across to Panama and five days exploring the San Blas islands proved too appealing for three adventure-seeking, scuba-diving, always-up-for-a-new-experience friends who flew down to Colombia to join me and escape the New York December chill. Rob, Brad and Tom are certainly no strangers to exploring the path less traveled and having spent many years sailing together on Dream Time in the Long Island Sound, up and down the coast of America and even an ocean crossing from Bermuda to New York, the three eased into the cruising lifestyle effortlessly.

For five days the sedate, tortoise-like pace we've been accustomed to on Dream Time was temporarily replaced with daily, record-breaking sprints from anchorage to far away anchorage in an effort to deliver the crew to Porvenir in time to catch their return flights home. Even with our pre-dawn departures, sailing at breakneck speeds through the San Blas islands, the guys left Dream Time full of unique memories and experiences that I suspect will not soon be forgotten; From meeting the village Chief or "Sailas" in Isla Pinos, an island frequently visited by pirates and used as a staging point by Sir Frances Drake in the 1571 attack on Nombre de Dios, to watching 50 dolphins surf our bow waves, dodging 10' breaking seas through a dangerous reef pass, spotting sea turtles, whales, a 7' whitetip shark that swam lazily past our inflatable boat, snorkeling in the Holandes Cays, catching a Albacor tuna, to sharing beers, jokes and stories with a group of Kuna fisherman on Aridup who graciously gave us a tour of their island. It was cruising at its best and in the very best company.

The guys have returned to their fast-paced lives back in New York leaving Dream Time feeling just a little empty without them. That is until three dugout canoes rowed over this morning full of Kuna woman selling their colorful handmade Molas, chattering noisily with broad smiles and hanging off our caprail until we gave in to their charm and bought a Molas with an intricate pattern of shapes and sea turtles - one more cruising souvenir to add to our pile of treasure.