Thanks to the organizers of the ARC rally, we were able to delay our clearance into Panama until the end of our visit to the San Blas islands.
Normally, when you enter a new country by boat, you have to clear customs and immigration, just like you do when you land at the airport. It’s very much on the honor system but, I assume there are stiff penalties if you are caught by the Coast Guard of that country and don’t have permission to be there.
We were entering the San Blas islands from the east and the prevailing winds are also from the east but the only place to clear (El Porvenir) is at the western end. It would make it unpleasant to have to sail all the way to El Porvenir (several hours of sailing west) and then have to turn around and go back against the wind to the east end to visit some of the more popular anchorages. Thankfully, the ARC arranged to let us clear at the end of our visit but before going to mainland Panama.
We spent several hours waiting for our passports to get stamped but thankfully there was a beautiful, rustic hotel with nice hammocks and good egg breakfasts with freshly baked bread and slices of American cheese.
The kids of the Spanish family that was with us couldn’t figure out how to open those folded-over cellophane cheese packets – I was hopeful for a moment that they could avoid the plague of processed cheese food but then their kids cracked the code, ate the bright yellow goo, and liked it. There’s no going back now . . .
While Joe was waiting for the passports and Cobin played with the kids on the beach, my mother, Marin, and Tully and I took the dinghy to the neighboring island, Wichubwala, that was the most heavily populated place we had visited. We went to buy ice but also to visit the locals and see how they lived.
After procuring our block of ice, we wandered down a main sandy walkway between all the bamboo stick houses with a few people scurrying to get their molas to display. One woman grabbed Tully’s hand and said something to us, then began walking briskly away shouting “amigita, amigita” (little friend) to someone invisible to us. Tully had a panicked expression on her face until we assured her that we were going too. In Santa Marta, she broke into tears during our school visit when she was ushered off to do a painting exercise and thought she would be abandoned.
The woman led us all to an area at the back of the island (it is very small – takes about 5 minutes to cross it) where two girls sat in a shady area along with another woman (her mother) and an older man and 12 year old boy. She wanted to introduce Tully and Marin to her daughter and friend. Like me, she seemed to think it was a good idea for kids to meet each other.
We spent about 20 minutes chatting with them. Jaja got them laughing (with or at her, we’re still not sure) when she started singing and they warmed up enough to let us take their picture.
Later, we made our way back to the docks and bought souvenir bracelets and mola outfits along the way. Jaja again led them in song, but this time they sang along with her. Then they sang a Guna song for us.
Marin and Tully have been enjoying their beautiful outfits every chance they get!