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Panama (San Blas islands) and Cartagena, Colombia

sunny 28 °C

Hello everybody,

sorry for the delay on this entry!

so, i got back to Panama City on the 12th of feb and on the 15th Ian left to get the boat across to Cartagena, Columbia. i didnt get the boat because, well, i dont do boats - not out on open water anyway. it's not just the seasickness, i think it's also the not being able to see land anywhere near me, makes me rather panicky....so i chose to spend a few more days in panama and then fly over to meet him in Cartagena.

he left at 5am on friday morning, and was taken in a 4x4 up to San Blas, a collection of islands off the north coast of Panama, inhabited entirely by the Kuna people. they govern themselves seperately from Panama, and nobody but Kuna are allowed to own land there - which is a damn shame since we learned that an island recently sold for only $5000!!! its a hair-raising ride in the car to get up to these islands, especially if it's been raining, because it's ridiculously muddy and the roads are just dirt tracks...but once you get there it is unbelievably beautiful. (mor about that in a minute)

once he got there he was transferred to the boat, and they spent a few days sailing around the islands, going snorkelling, swimming, landning on various islands, having a BBQ, drinking, and generally having an amazing time by the sounds of it! the boat was one of the biggest that sails this route and therefore one of the steadiest and safest, and i think quite comfortable too. they all had to take it in turns to cook for everyone, which was apparently not bad whilst sailing around the islands but not so easy out on the open sea!

ohhh and he caught a seven foot shark!!!! he knew it was down there and stayed up all night trying to catch it, which he finally did, on a hand-line (!) and then woke up the whole boat to show them! he had to wrestle it into the dinghy, and everyone came to look and take photos - obviously he couldnt take any himself cos he was busy, but we're going to get some by email from other people to show soon hopefully! they released it back into the sea once they'd got the photos etc, rather than eat it.

aaanyway they left San Blas on Monday morning and arrived in Cartegena on tuesday night....


I spent a couple more days in Panama City, met some lovely people at our hostel, and arranged to go up to San Blas on the sunday, with Louisa and Sarah, two english girls who were staying in my dorm. we set off at 5am, to do the terrifying journey up to the coast....now, i've seen some pretty crowded buses in the last few months but i've never seen 17 people crammed into one 4x4 before. its was starting to turn into one of those jokes..."how many people can you fit into a landrover"...There were only us three tourists, but also lots of locals! i sat in the front (with a seatbelt i was very glad to find) with 3 bags, then on the back seat sat Sarah, louisa, two panamanian women, and five children (which soon became 4 when the 5 year old screamed and screamed for her mother til they let her out to go and sit in the back with her). then in the back truck part there were about another 6 people, plus luggage, and more luggage on the roof. now, thats a very heavy truck to be going over HEAVILY churned up roads, with ditches and ruts around a foot or more deep, lots of mud, steep climbs and descents. it was scary - we were on two wheels at times. luckily it was a very good truck, the best we saw, and also a very experienced driver - tho we did get a little hysterical when he answered his phone at one tricky part and continued to talk as he navigated a hill...but it was ok in the end!

we arrived at the coast and got into a little boat which took us out to the island we were staying on - i was very proud of myself, never got seasick or panicky on any of these little boats, which is probably because it was very calm, they didnt go too fast, and i could always see an island close by. we were shown to our hut, where there were two hammocks and a "bed" - possibly the most hilarious bed i have ever tried to sleep on. it was a flat frame with a thin mattress on (damp), which was propped up on a bench on one side, and two crates on the other two corners. then in the middle it just sortof collapsed in a huge dip when you sat on it. sleeping on that was an art, i tell you. we took it in turns, so i also had one night in a hammock, which i'd not tried for a full night before, and it was actually quite comfy.

The islands are amazing - tiny little carribean paradises, dozens of them - one we saw had only one palm tree on, nothing else. on our first afternoon we were taken to a little island with just a couple of huts on it and left for a few hours just to swim and relax. unfortunately the weather was pretty grey and overcast, with occasional heavy rain, but on the second afternoon we did eventually get a couple of hours of sunshine.

the second afternoon really made it for me - we had arrived on the island at 11am, rather soggy from the rain on the way over in the boat. the island had a few huts on it, and a couple of families, and there was another island right next to it which you could swim to, and a shipwreck you could snorkel around. unfortunately i forgot my contact lenses so couldnt do the snorkelling, which i was really gutted about cos apparently it was really impressive....but with no glasses or contacts there could actually be a shark dancing a jig right next to me and i probably wouldnt notice, so there wasnt much point!

so, while i was stuck on the first island, not snorkelling, the children who lived on the island came over to me and started whispering and pointing at the football near my feet, which belonged to sarah and louisa. they obviously wanted to play so i started kicking and throwing it around with them for a bit, and they seemed to think it was the best thing ever! anything i did they would copy - kicking it, throwing over my head, through my legs, volleyball passes (they showed me up at this point), anything, they were just such happy enthusiastic kids.
after lunch they wanted to play again - by this time everyone else was napping so it was just me, outnumbered by about 5 or 6 kids, from about 10 mths to around 14 years. they wanted to play football, piggybacks (only the little ones, thank god), and then eventually when i collapsed on the sand they surrounded me, making balls of sand with their hands and finding shells to present to me. i took some of the sandballs and made a mini "sandman" (like a snowman) which they thought was fantastic and immediately ran off to find twigs for arms, seaweed for hair, shells for hats....i dont know if they've ever seen a snowman out there, except for in pictures, but they certainly thought sandmen were brilliant!

i've not been around many kids at home, being the youngest of the family, but i certainly have never met kids like these - they didnt fight with each other, never complained or cried (that i saw), they shared everything without complaint, the big ones carried the little ones and looked after them, and they learned my name and wrote it in a huge heart shape on the sand, ran up to hug me every 5 mins, wanted to hold my hand and sit on my knee (that gets heavy when there's three in one go), wanted to teach me spanish and learn some english......and all in one afternoon. i was just overwhelmed by how much love these little kids seemed to have to share, unquestioningly - it was so refreshing to spend time with little people who dont ask how many countries you've been to or what job you do, or where you're going next.....they just want to know your name and how far you can kick a football!

anyway i will stop with the rambling now, but those kids really made my week! the next morning i left and got the jeep back to pnama city, which was much less scary this way as there were only 4 passengers, all of us with seatbelts on, and much less rain on the track. i enjoyed a much earned shower (none of them in SAn Blas....just a bucket of water to pour over yourself whilst wearing a bikini) and then the next morning flew to Cartagena, Columbia, to meet Ian.

Cartagena was absolutely gorgeous - its a colonial town and totally puts the other i have seen to shame. the Old Town is amazing, every street is worthy of a photograph, and the vibe is just so friendly and arty and interesting. we spent many hours just strolling around, up and down streets and around the city walls, enjoying the see breeze and the beautiful architecture and artwork - there is a lot of public sculpture, and of course the usual street sellers with their displays of brightly coloured jewellery, bags, scarves, purses, shoes, and t-shirts. the whole place just felt nothing like i expected columbia to be - i loved every minute of it.

we're now in a small town/village called taganga, which is very nice is rather more touristy than we expected. Ian is off diving today and is hopefully going to do the Lost city trek maybe tomorrow (Ciudad Perdida, google it) but its too tough a hike for me i think so i will stay here and work on the tan!

right thats all for now cos my fingers are very tired from typing! and im sure you're all tired of reading!!

Posted by ericurly 12:41 Archived in Panama Tagged backpacking

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Wow what a trip in a country that suffers from so much bad publicity. Well done Ian in following your dream may all your dreams come true.
No nighmares!!

by el greco

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