The 5 of us and our backpacks squeezed into a tiny cab and headed to the town of Portobelo. We checked in at the hostal and had a few well-deserved beers. This had been a very long hot day, even (or maybe especially) for those of us who were merely sitting in an open container waiting for the cars to be loaded. The hostal had a monkey pet (Cheeky) which seemed to love everyone but Bode. The kid was bitten by a monkey. Cheeky monkey.
Our cargo ship was scheduled to leave 2 days from now, and we had to get to Cartagena, Colombia to pick it up within 6 days. You can easily fly from Panama City for a few hundred bucks. You can hop on a sailboat and go slow for a few hundred more.
But, there’s now a new option that seemed pretty interesting too – we booked ourselves on a speedboat that would skirt the Darien Gap and drop us on the San Blas Islands to camp. The trip would take 4 days and 3 nights. We would get dumped off literally on the Colombian border at Sapzurro, Colombia. Then, we would have to find our way to Cartagena. It was half the price of a sailing trip that would take us all the way to our destination, and we’d heard lots of horror stories about the sailboat captains and seasickness. Besides, we liked the idea of camping with the Kuna indians.
Set to leave at 9:15, we finally got in the boat around 2:30. It wasn’t long before we were stopped by the military. They just checked out our passenger list, told us to be careful of pirates (what?!) and sent us on our way.
Our next stop was one of the San Blas Islands were we played on the beach and the captain took our passports and got us stamped out of Panama. For the next 4 days we would not be stamped into any country, sort of living in limbo. The Kuna Yala is completely independent, but not really a country. We decided we would not age any of those days either.
Just before sunset we got to our destination for the night. One of the inhabited islands of San Blas. We were to set up camp right on the sand, and the Kuna family hosting us cooked up some chicken and fish for the group.
We were a bit disappointed by the amount of litter and filth on the islands. The crystal clear water is the trash dump for these folks.It was an interesting place to camp and see how they live, but certainly not a place where anyone wanted to go swimming.
As we were all staring at their colorful clothes and elaborate beads, they were all starting at the blond 5 year old kid in town. We were told he is the first kid to take this particular trip, and he attracted quite a bit of attention.
All he had to do was walk by someone’s hut and they could see him through the gaps in the bamboo. We couldn’t see inside the houses, but we could hear the commotion and usually the ladies and kids would come running out to touch his head and try to talk to him. He wasn’t too keen on all the attention, but handled it well.