Panama – March 2018

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but it not what ships are built for.”

John A. Shedd

We have spent a month in Colon, in Panama at the Shelter Bay Marina, for what was supposed to be a 2 week stay to get the bottom of the boat repainted and to reprovision.  Turns out it has taken much……. longer.  After 6 weeks with a sore shoulder, one cortisone injection, an X-ray and MRI, I discovered I had severe inflamation inside the rotar cuff and needed physio, hence our extended stay in Colon.

On the positive not the kids have been able to catch up on school work as we have had interent, they were able to hang out with the Totem kids longer and they have made new friends with the kids off Full Monty.  Another positive is that the paint company agreed to repaint the bottom of the boat after the paint job in Trinidad started flaking off within a month.  We managed to only be hauled out for 5 days, which I’m immensely pleased about as it was a bit of a hike to the toilets.

Utopia hauled out for the 2nd time in 8 months for another bottom coat of paint, hopefully this one lasts better.

On our second day at the  marina, Jenny and her daughter, Justine, from the boat, Full Monty took Ava, Siobhan, Marren and I for a walk to see the howler monkeys, Capucin Monkeys, a sloth and some birds.  If Justine hadn’t pointed out the sloth there is absolutely no way we would have ever seen it.  Justine had a great description of what to look for, ‘look for a growth on the tree’ and that is exactly what it looked like.  Sloths seem to curl themselves up into such a tight ball and blend with the tree colour so that you don’t see them.  We were fortunate to see a big group of howler monkeys quite close up too, including a baby one.  When we got back from our walk the boys rushed up to us, excited as they had also seen a sloth in one of the trees in the marina.


Puerto Perme – 27/1/2018

After a 24 hour sail from Colombia, we arrived in Obaldia, our check in point for Panama.  Unfortunately, it was a very rough and rolly anchorage, so Andrew and Jamie (Totem) decided just one person from each boat should go in as there was no safe place to land the dinghy and leave it or to get everyone off safely.  Some 5 hours later, Andrew and Behan returned back to the boat, turns out their computer system went down so they had to wait to get it working again, at least they had lunch ashore.  It was too rough to stay, so we continued on to Puerto Perme.

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After the last anchorage it was a very welcome relief to be somewhere calm and enjoy a night of uninterrupted sleep.  Near where we anchored is a small village and although we didn’t go to shore to meet the locals, they came to meet us or rather Andrew and Tristan as I slept through it.  Andrew had one gentlemen and his son come aboard and sell us a lovely woven basket with some plantains, coconuts and limes for about $5 US, he did ask if Andrew could take a photo of him and his son and give him a copy, (unexpected as Kuna normally shun being photographed) which he did.  We were also invited ashore to participate in basket weaving, which unfortunately we didn’t do as we were moving on.

our only photo of a person close up and he is only in his early 30s girls marry at 13 and choose the husband

There are no roads linking this small village to anywhere in Panama, the only means of transport is by either boat or dugout canoe.  Whereas in our society teens learn to drive cars to get around, these local teens do so in a dugout canoe.

Main transport is the dugout canoes, even for teens

Dugout canoes are not only used as a means of transport, but also for an early morning fishing expedition and not just the adults are involved.  The man in the photo below has his kids with him too.

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Peurto Escoses – 28/1/2018

Peurto Escoses offers a very calm, protected bay to anchor in.  There was three thatched cottages over the water occupied by a family of five and grandma and a second family in some thatched cottages on shore.  During our visit the family was busy preparing their dugout to carry their goods to market.  Totem was asked if they could take the family as the sea state was bad and it is a long trip to make in a dugout canoe.  Totem were surprised to find that not only did they take the family, but the gun, chainsaw and all their important belongings.  I guess when you have little you look after it and take it with you.

Remote anchorage where two families live, no electricity, phone or water

This pretty little anchorage with the thatched cottages has no running water, electricity or plumbing.DSCF1934 (800x585)

Brief History of the Bay

In 1698, the English Bank co-founder, William Patterson, organised and financed an expedition to establish a settlement in Peurto Escoses, including building Fort Andrew, which only ruins remain.  The Scotts who came to settle faced starvation and disease and had returned to Scotland within two years.  After their return a new fleet arrived to continue the work under similar circumstances.  In 1702 the settlement was abandoned with around 2000 of the 3000 workers having died.

Isla Pinos – 29/1/2018

On route to our anchorage at Isla Pinos, Tristan decided to pull out his fishing gear including a new reel.  Some of the hooks were looking a little rusty so he got to work with the sharpening stone to sharpen them up, unfortunately it didn’t lead to any fish for dinner.

Brief Overview of Isla Pinos

The Kunas name for the island is Tupak which means whale and from a distance the island does look like a whale.  There are two villages on the island, Mamimulu and Pinos/Tupak.

The islands height reaches 150m which had made it popular with pirates and privateers in the past, including Francis Drake, who used the bay in 1571 to plan his attack on Nombre de Dios.

Our Time in Isla Pinos

We had a lazy afternoon, the kids went to shore for a swim and play, Tristan did a bit of fishing and we watched the fishermen casting nets while drinking sun-downers.

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A local guy offered  to take us on a hike up to the radio station at the top of the 150 m hill, so we hiked over to the village to meet him.  On the way there we passed the local cemetery, each plot is covered in a tent like structure with palm fronds and seem to have objects of importance to that person left with them, in the case of the person below, there was a cup and saucer and clay urn.

This is a burial if you look closely they bury people with objects important to them in this case a cup and saucer

After asking a few people we were eventually guided to the home of our guide.  We met his wife and kids before departing on our trek uphill.

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It was a bit of a hike up hill through some mud.  We did see an empty toucan egg and were shown various plants on the way up.  We reached the radio tower and if you were prepared to climb the steps you could get a view of the anchorage and islands below.

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When we reached the bottom there was much excitement as a young guy had paddled to the mainland and caught a deer, which you can see in the canoe.  Judging by how excited his wife was, I imagine meat is a rarity.

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Our walk back took us past the dugout canoes loaded with fishing gear waiting for the evening fish.

What I found funny on our way back was the stuffed jaguar in the tree.  Apparently there are none on the island just the mainland, I guess they have there own stuffed variety on this island.

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Mamitupu – 31/1/2018

Mamiputu is one of the very traditional villages in the San Blas and you can’t take photos at all on the island.  The kids were very friendly and either followed you around or raced out of their homes to wave and shout hola with huge smiles lighting their faces.  One small group of local kids, joined both ours and Totem’s kids near our dinghies and threw what started as a ball between them, but eventually turned to coconuts, giggling as the game went on. 

One side of the island is very crowded with houses, while the other side less due to being inhabited by an evil spirit.  Andrew and the kids met a local man building on the less populated side of the island, who had found ambergris and broken it up to smaller pieces which he had intended to sell for a lot of money to the French.  His plan for the money he made was to build and open a restaurant.

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Snug Harbour – 1 – 3/2/2018

With Tristan’s birthday a day away we were looking for an anchorage with a nice beach where we could BBQ, have a cake and the kids could play.  We passed by our anchorage of choice after seeing how rolly and large the waves were surrounding it and ended up anchoring in the protected area of Snug Harbour.

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During our stay we were visited by a few different local in their dugout canoes selling local produce like coconuts, bananas and fresh bread as well as the traditional hand sewn molas.  Behan and I spent about an hour looking through one families molas and trying to decide on what to purchase, I ended up with two and Behan quite a few.  The mola is made using rectangular pieces of fabrics layered on top of each other, any where from 2 – 7 layers.  They then cut out various shapes on the layers of the mola and use reverse applique to create geometric patterns and/or animals.  It is all hand stitched with tiny stitching.  The two rectangles are then used to create the front and back of a traditional blouse, extra material is added to create sleeves and neckline.  A lot of work goes into making them and offers small communities the ability to make some money by selling them to tourists.  I think mine will eventually be used to create a pillow for our lounge area.

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We went to a nearby picturesque little island, dotted with palm trees for Tristan’s 17th birthday.  While Andrew BBQ sausages, most of the kids played volleyball and swam, no crocodiles were spotted.

After a relaxing lunch, more volleyball and swimming we finished off with a pina colada cake on the beach.

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The kids entertained themselves with tightrope walking, not so successful, limbo, three legged races and swimming.

Happy Birthday Tristan!!!

Rio Diablo – 4/2/2018

Rio Diablo is the beginning of the western San Blas and the first place in Panama where you can get a sim card and internet, which on our first visit I in particular was desperate for.


Rio Diablo is made up of two separate islands and villages, Nargana (Yandup) and Corazon de Jesus, they are joined by a walking bridge.

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The bridge between Corazon de Jesus and Nargana

Neither of the two villages follow the traditional Kuna way of life, although during our many visits we did see a few women in the traditional clothing.  Generally speaking the kuna are thin people, particularly their legs, in both of the villages in Rio Diablo there was quite a few overweight people and a lot of beer seemed to be flowing on the weekends.  On a positive note, each time we visited, there were kids and adults playing on both of the basketball/volleyball courts and around the houses we saw kids playing catch, volleyball, soccer and basketball.

Adults and Children seem to enjoy basketball on both of the islands.  I love the makeshift basketball net someone has rigged up.


Could This Be Gilligan’s Island? – 7/2/2018

As we were coming into the first of the western San Blas Islands, we spotted this island off our starboard side, we all thought it looked like what we would imagine Gilligan’s Island to look like.  We anchored nearby and took the dinghy, while everyone sang the Gilligan’s Island theme song, to shore to explore.

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As beautiful as the island looked from afar, once we got ashore we discovered it was littered with plastic bottles, shoes and other household debris, kind of spoiled the outlook.  Tristan and did find this a starfish upside down and assumed it was dead, until he picked it up and noticed it was still moving, after the obligatory photo Tristan set it back right side up in the water and it washed back out.

Apart from the litter we did find various shells, coconuts and fallen palm trees to keep everyone occupied for awhile. 

There was not a lot of beach on our little island so we went to another of the many in the area.

DSCF2091 (800x388) (2) This island had starfish, lots of starfish.  The island is surrounded by seagrass and amongst the grass were starfish, in quite shallow water.  It was amazing that you would spot one, walk closer to it and then discover another 4 or 5 just nearby, yet from a distance you couldn’t see them.  I enjoyed the starfish, while the Totem and Utopia kids wandered the island looking for treasures.

Tristan’s treasure was a large set of crab claws, minus the crab and yes he did leave them on the island.  Andrew relaxed on the dinghy and chatted to Jamie.

Unfortunately like the previous island, this one too, was littered with plastic and other rubbish.

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Written by Karen

Coco Bandero Cays – 8/2 – 11/2/2018

Eastern Bandero Cays

Our first anchorage for a couple of days was on the eastern side of the Bandero Cays.  One of the islands in the group was inhabited, another used for the kids to play soccer, swim as well as to burn off rubbish and the third was uninhabited. Our second day there I went ashore with the both the kids and adults to the uninhabited island to explore, which didn’t take long.  The walk around the island showed yet another beautiful island, suffering the effects of global warming.  The kids enjoyed looking around amongst the rubbish washed up for hermit crabs and other interesting things.  

Another picturesque island also suffering the effects of global warming with many uprooted palms around the shoreline.  The girls even posed for a photo.

The kids collected a lot of hermit crabs and then held there own beauty pageant to determine which one was the best looking one.  Not sure of the final outcome, but it kept them occupied for a long time and no crabs were harmed in the process.

Amongst the greenery there was also a scattering of pretty purple flowers, not that the kids seemed to notice.  The island is no longer inhabited but the partial thatched house seems to indicate that someone has lived there.

Western Bandero Cays

Our second anchorage was in the western side of the Coco Bandero Cays.  After we finished the school work for the day and Andrew fixed the water maker again we decided to get off the boat for a while and explore one of the little islands.  It was still hot so although the island below was beautiful it offered no protection from the sun, so it was only photographed.

DSCF2130 (800x458)Does this not look like the quintessential tropical island.  Its actually called Warsopguadup or the Two Palm Island.


We ended up on Orduptarboat Island, Jamie, Niall and Siobhan, from Totem, had been earlier to use the drone there and the kids were eager to hang out, so that’s were we went.  Orduptarboat is a very pretty island, a little difficult to access as it has lots of bommies and reef and quite a steep shoreline to drag the dinghy up. 

While the kids played (hung out) we adults wandered around the island, which didn’t take long before sitting in the shade, relaxing and solving the world’s problems.

It appears that the palm tree is not only a good place to hang out, but also a climbing frame and a volleyball court.

No, its not a sloth, just our 17 year old son hanging from a tree, quite amazing really as he is scared of heights.

Besides climbing palm trees, there was also digging holes, burying the girls and Niall rescuing the dinghy that floated away, busy afternoon.

Written by Karen


Esnasdup – 14/2/2018 – 16/2/2018

We spent two nights anchored near the island of Esnasdup.  The anchorage had quite a few boats and is quite a popular spot.  We went to the island with the ‘biggest beach’ which was actually quite small.  We wandered the circumference or most of the circumference of the small island with Totem.  Niall and Tristan did found yet another plastic doll head, which they added to a stick and carried around with them.  A lot of rubbish on the beach but not a lot to see, so most of the adults (excluding me) went for a swim while Niall and Tristan dug a hole, turns out they had spotted something and after some digging it was a rolly suitcase, which held their interest for about 5 minutes.

Niall found this huge sand dollar, I have never seen one before and it was still alive.  Tristan brought it over so I could have a look, the underside was undulating, which felt very weird.  After having a look it was returned to the water.

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When you look at the sand dollar against Tristan’s hand you can appreciate how big it actually is.

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Ava found this little hermit crab and a few shells.  She also enjoyed walking, talking, swimming and playing volleyball with Siobhan.  They never seem to run out of things to say to each other.

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Unfortunately the beach was filled with no-see-ums, which eventually had us retreating to our boats to avoid further bites.

Written by Karen