For the past few days our daily routine is to get up, eat breakfast, walk on the beach and visit boats in the area while out and about on our dinghy. Returning to Cream Puff, we eat lunch and go for a swim or snorkel. The waters are crystal clear and warm. In fact, the water is so warm there is no cold shock at all when diving in. The water cools our core body temperatures and makes the rest of the afternoon feel much cooler than the 90°F (32°C) temperature. We might put something on the grill for dinner or cook dinner in our galley. Meals are quickies because the stove heats the inside of the boat and adding a heater to the climate isn’t a good idea. Once in a while we gather for sundowners and appetizers on a friend’s boat. Otherwise we settle in for the evening and enjoy a movie from a vast collection we’ve amassed thanks to other generous cruisers and friends. This was our routine yesterday, today, we’ll do it again tomorrow and the day after. Cindy has a few good books going. I putter about the boat and write blog posts. This is beyond a doubt an excellent way to be passing the time.
When we get tired of the view, we hop to another little island. The funny part of this is the islands are all pretty much the same. It is a piece of land with palm trees, white sandy beaches and clear waters with reefs. It’s very boring but at the same time breathtakingly beautiful. Our most recent anchorage is in the Eastern Holandes Cays parking Cream Puff at a nice spot behind an island called Banedup. We are deliberately avoiding a crowded anchorage here nicknamed the Swimming Pool frequented by a lot of cruisers. Checking it out by dinghy we saw about 25 boats all crammed together. On the morning net a lady made a comment about winds been light and variable meaning boats would swing on anchor in different directions increasing the odds of bumping into each other. We notice later her boat was one of those anchored in the crowded area leaving me scratching my head as to why she’d make the comment and be a part of the guilty party. Perhaps she expected those anchored near her to move. This is definitely not our scene. The internet here is very iffy. It feels good to be disconnected.
Chief Victor greeted us to the group of islands. He paddles about in his ulu, a canoe dug out from a palm tree. His is painted blue. Because Banedup island sits behind a large reef, the waters are as calm as a small bay or lake. Chief Victor collects fees from boats anchored here. It is $10 per boat per month. What a deal! For the $10 we are free to snorkel the reefs and roam about on the islands under his realm. Chief Victor’s realm is De Los Seis Pueblos: Holandes (where we are now), Coco Bandero Cays, Nargana and Green Island. These other islands are in our plans to visit in the coming weeks. He wrote us a very official looking receipt and asked us if we would like to buy some bananas and avocados. “Yes”, we replied simultaneously. “Mañana, I will come back.”
Chief Victor didn’t disappoint. The next morning we noticed him paddling his way toward Cream Puff. This time he has helpers. The grandchildren are with him. The grandson is in the front of the ulu with a paddle, the granddaughter is in the middle with a small white bucket bailing out water and Chief Victor looks like a proud peacock perched in the rear. As if she wasn’t cute enough, his granddaughter sports Mickey Mouse ears and a red bow. Between Cindy’s improving Spanish and Chief Victor’s broken English, beamingly he tell us his daughter, one of three children, lives in Panama City and he has the kids for two weeks. The bananas and two avocados cost us $2. There is no point of bartering at this price. Cindy tells them all to wait for a second and goes below. She returns with a lollipop for each of the kids. Cindy had read in the guidebook about how some of the Kuna might have their children with them in the pangas. And if they do, offering candy or soda wins us big points. She purchased the candy in Santa Marta demonstrating once again how she is the most organized of the Puffster crew. Asking Chief Victor’s permission first, she then offers the lollipops to the kids. Children’s faces have a way of lighting up, don’t they? Chief Victor paddles off after telling us we must visit his house on the island behind us. He points to the house in the middle. We agree we will come tomorrow.
Today we find out we are perfectly positioned in this anchorage. Why? Because we are between the mainland and the Swimming Pool anchorage crowded with boats. Why does this matter? Because when the veggie-boat comes from the mainland to sell supplies to the cruisers anchored here, it stops at Cream Puff and the few other boats around us first before getting to the Swimming Pool giving us first pick at the fruits and veggies aboard. We scored big time today and purchased pineapples, 30 eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, zucchinis and onions. Eddy and Fele operate this panga. The timing of these pangas is critical to their business. The first one here sells the most. But, if they come too early boaters still have supplies and will not buy anything in hope another panga arrives when they run out. If another panga comes tomorrow, we really don’t need very much. However, the boaters at the end of the line in the Swimming Pool will need stuff since there is no doubt in my mind Eddy and Fele ran out of things to sell. Eddy and Fele said they will come back to us in four or five maybe six days. Prefect! We’ll be waiting here. “You come here first?” offering a small tip. “Si senor”, big smile.
Watching the Kuna paddle their ulus about the lagoon is somewhat therapeutic. They have no sense of urgency. Their actions are slow and deliberate. There is no lunge of the paddle deep into the water. Just calm smooth rhythmic strokes with the occasional pause to bail water out. I watch Chief Victor make his way to another boat and noticed he only paddles on one side. If I did this I would wind up going in circles. Victor has a method of twisting the paddle at the back end of the stroke keeping the boat straight. I’m not sure how old Chief Victor is but I’m guessing he has developed this technique over at least 60 or 70 years. In the afternoon we are honored with a visit from Chief Victor’s wife who is selling beaded jewelry. We later learn she is 84 years old. She paddles her ulu with a friend and covers some serious ground selling her wares to the anchored boats. I hope at the age of 84 I am able to paddle a canoe across a bay.
I often find myself in a bit of a daze looking about in awe of the sheer beauty of this small part of the world. I think I am more relaxed now than I have ever been in my life. As I look about I wonder how long we can stay here. Because of this thought a found memory somehow arises from way down deep in the little grey cells. It is a conversation Cindy and I had while eating lunch at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Kapalua, Hawaii. Rewind the clock quite a few years: we decided to go to Maui for our annual 2 week vacation. I used to travel a lot and had amassed a whole bunch of Marriott points enabling us to stay with a deeply discounted rate at the Ritz Carlton, rated as one of the top ten best hotels in the world. During our lunch entrées, I put pen to paper in an attempt to figure out how long we could stay in this hotel if we quit our jobs and moved in permanently using up the balance of the Marriott points and all of our life savings. If I remember correctly both would be completely diminished after just over 3 years. Hmmmm, it would be a great three years.
I asked Cindy how long she thought we could stay in the San Blas. Her rather unusual answer was, until the canned ham is gone. Believe it or not, I understood this answer. Let me explain why. In Puerto Rico a couple of years ago we provisioned the boat at Costco for our journey down the Caribbean Islands. Keeping fresh meat on a boat is difficult. Our freezer space is limited. Often times the meat on some islands can be questionable. We toyed with the idea of buying some canned meats based on an article I read about how far canned meats had advanced regarding improved taste. Now I think about it, the article was probably propaganda written by Hormel Foods, the makers of Spam. Not being at the point where we were willing to try Spam, we opted for some canned ham. Being at Costco we knew two things would be true. It would be good quality and we’d have to purchase a multi-pack. It was in fact sold in a three pack. The picture on the label made the ham look delicious. It wasn’t. After trying one can, the others two cans were tossed to the back of the pantry for a day in the distant future when we found ourselves desperate for food. I had forgotten all about the canned ham.
Running out of money was the limiting factor of the stay in the Ritz Carlton. Running out of food is our limiting factor of our stay in the San Blas. So now I know when Cindy reaches for the canned ham for our evening meal our days here in the San Blas are numbered.