We have heard the San Blas Islands described as "the closest to the South Pacific you can get without actuallygoingthrough the canal." When we pulled into Snug Harbor, a group of four islands and two islets two days beforeThanksgiving, we felt the saying fit. Instead of a large humpy island like Piños, or crowded ones like Usutupu or Achutpu, or mainland bays like Mono, we had pools of deep blue water defined by shallow reefs glittering beneath the surface and palm-lined islets with sandy beaches. It was a sunny day with plenty of wind, (lets crank in those amps!), but the water was flat and the boat sat steady. Perrrrrrfection!
Snug Harbor got its name from New England schooner-men that used to sail here to trade for coconuts. To me this made a nice connection with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, which it looked like we'd be celebrating on our own as there wasn't another boat in sight. However, the next day Cathy & Bob of the Tayana 37 Briana sailed in to make good an earlier invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. We had, by the way, a delightful T-day dinner with them featuring the sailor's favorite micro-turkeys (Cornish hens!), stuffing, gravy, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, peas, and cornmeal herb bread. No one's locker gave forth either a can of cranberry sauce or of pumpkin for a pie, so for dessert we made do with Bob's special chocolate mousse and some champagne our friends on Sandi Lee had given me for my birthday. The cruising life calls for all sorts of sacrifices!
Our fleeting isolation has been whittled away day by day as more boats have found their way here. Some of them are not even from our cruising group! Imagine! Other boats! Of course, in the San Blas, no matter how far you may think you are from a town, it is not so far that the Kuna won't find you in their ulus (dugouts). Our first visitors were fishermen who sold us some small lobsters and our first crab. Then we were sold some coconuts. Then a mobile sahila came for our fees. Then "Mr. Brown" who took our burnable trash. Etc. Etc. Etc. Obviously it wasn't long before word got back to the town, and there began a steady stream of mola salespeople, initially the same fishermen and coconut tenders with their wives' offerings tucked in a plastic bag in the back of their shorts, then eventually ladies and kids.
The most unexpected mola salesmen we've had were Sean and Stu, two American teenagers doing six months in Playon Chico via AFS student exchange. They paddled out with their host "sisters", frankly admitted to being "used" by their host mothers in hopes of their English facilitating sales, and generally ate up a few hours of English conversation between the three boats that were then anchored here. Frankly, I suspect what they would really like to have eaten up were a couple of greasy American cheeseburgers! We did buy two molas, and we learned a lot from their "inside" perceptions.
One day we dinghied
to town, stopping on the way at Iskartupu, a tiny green jewel of
an island dedicated to a Kuna-run resort - "Sapibenega, The
Kuna Lodge". We'd noticed it as we sailed by when they saluted
us with a toot on a conch shell! A group had just left and they
had a few days before the next, a group from Spain, and although
things were definitely relaxed (the women in shorts and tank tops
instead of traditional dress (Aha! Caught 'em!), they received us
warmly and gave us a tour of the premises. We were quite impressed:
each room in the traditionally-built cane and thatch huts has real
beds as well as hammocks, modern bathroom facilities (including
eco-friendly composting toilets) and 12-volt lighting for around
$75 a night, all inclusive (except beer!) Activities include "presentations
of Kuna dances and other cultural manifestations (?)", fishing,
hiking into waterfalls, snorkeling at an offshore reef, and a chance
to paddle round and even sail in your own dugout canoe! The four
of us arranged to go back for dinner late that afternoon, and we
enjoyed a nicely presented meal of lobster, coconut rice and plantain
patties. Pepsi was included; beer was extra. It was not the $4 steal
that we had in Ustupu, and frankly it was almost exactly the meal
we'd cooked for ourselves the night before
but it is
The town of
Playon Chico was a bit disappointing. We had no warm reception of
adults or children when we pulled up to the dock, perhaps because
we didn't arrive in the big boat but snuck in by dinghy. Nobody
guided us to a
Yesterday, as the swell began to lay down a bit, we went exploring by dinghy and snorkel hoping to find some reefs worthdiving. Outside were some complex coral reefs, but viz was still low and fish non-existent, so we left the scuba gearstowed! We did find a gorgeous lagoon behind the fourth, hidden-from-view island of the cluster. The shallow water coral there, filling up the space that would have made a gorgeous anchorage, was healthy and beautiful, but still no fish.
We are, however, making huge strides in our hunting and gathering. We have now moved on to haggling over price, and getting three-fers, and, by God, we'll dismember these guys first this time! On the other hand we did purchase some embarrassingly tiny lobsters that yielded meat about the size of a good-sized shrimp. We only hope we Mother Nature has forgiven us since we released several of our purchases back to the sea!
It will be hard to leave Snug Harbor. It is a peaceful sort of place with fisherman seining in the cool morning hours, blue herons cronking as they fly over in pairs, and egrets wading the beaches. It is, however, time to move on.