Paradise Ne'er Found
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
28Trip End Mar 16, 2010
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Where I stayed
Isla Diablo, San Blas Islands
The archipelago is made up of about 370 islands, some only big enough to have one palm tree on its white sands, other large enough to have a small airstrip and stretches to the Columbian borders. You can either fly there for about $37 each way or take a 4x4 trip through the deepest jungle of Panama. We did the latter...
A 5am wake up call is only exciting if you are doing something like this, Alex, our driver collected us from Mamallena and then went to pick up others from Luna“s Castle
Back in the car and we entered the jungle with a series of bumps, the road is as potholed as any in the Transkei! I did however get my first sighting of a toucan sitting way up high in the trees surveying the lay of the land. So excited!
Going to the San Blas is all about the hidden costs, first there is the $50 transfer, then there is the $6 tax you have to pay to the Kuna and the $2 port tax when you arrive at the river. Good business people these Kuna. We eventually arrived at the river port and only had to wait about 10 mins for our boat to take us to Carbanja Carti, or Nixia“s Place as mentioned in all the hostel posters. Nixia is apparently the only Kuna businesswoman and is the daughter of the Chief in the Carti island area
We evetually arrived at Carti to find it an island with no beach, just houses on stilts and a myriad of winding passages through the little village, ending at a dock with a large trestle table were coffee was being served for us tourists. We then had the choice of which island to go to, we could stay at Carti for less money but then would have to take boats every day to the beach islands, or we could go straight to the beach islands and still have boats take us out to different ones.. we again went for the latter.
The boat ride out to Isla Diablo was pretty interesting. With the wind blowing against us we were riding into the waves and withing a few minutes were getting thoroughly soaked. In the beginning it was quite fun and refreshing, but 40 mins later and we were soaked to the skin, fearing that our passports and cameras and other electrical equipment wouldnt make the trip. Our arrival at Isla Diablo was thus slightly marred but not even our sodden appearance could keep us down for long once we took a look at the views
White, white sand. Turquoise waters, gently blending into darker blues. Palm trees swaying in the breeze, coconuts strewing the beach. Hammocks. And two Israelis checking out the new folks. These guys had already been here five days before we arrived, and the day we were due to go back they decided to stay longer, I wonder if they are still there.
Lunch was our first taste of the islands speciality, fish and rice. We spent the rest of the day snorkelling, although having not snorkelled in about 17 years, I was quite surprised to find I had totally lost my nerve and panicked when I got near the edge of the sea shelf. That water just looks a little deep and I hope that by the time I do my open water PADI in Honduras I will have gotten over this fear. I did enjoy the coral and the colourful fish though, my favourites being the angle fish and the lettuce coral.
But more about the island itself. Isla Diablo is about an hours boat ride from Carti, and is situated right next to Isla Perro, which has a little shipwreck about 5m from the beach. Diablo has two families living there permanently, with a massive car battery providing electricity for lights and charging of the all time most important item on the island, the mobile phone
Dinner was fish and rice again this time accompanied with salad. The Israelis had pre-ordered lobster and we watched with envy as they picked and sucked those suckers dry. The price? $5. Bargain.
Our second day started with a swim out to Isla Perro where Al and i snorkelled around the shipwreck. By this stage Al had totally gotten into his snorkelling flow but I was still struggling with my panic about the depth in certain areas and stayed a little behind while he snorkelled further off the reef. We swam back a while later and I spent the rest of the morning lying on the beach. By midday the clouds had rolled in and we scuttled into the hut to lie on our hammocks. I forgot to mention earlier that there is no running water on the island so we had not been able to shower. I decided to rectify this by standing in the rain washing my hair using the rainwater that had collected on the plastic sheeting outside our hut
Our third day dawned bright and sunny and just beautiful. With a friendly reminder from one of the elders to not sit directly under the palm trees (coconut loosened by wind landing on your head results in serious damage) we headed out to the water again and then spent the rest of the morning tanning. Life is tough eh? That afternoon we got what we had been waiting for since our arrival, lobsters! Dinnertime was still a while away but already our mouths were watering at the prospect of fresh lobster on our plates for only 3quid, the price of a Pret a Manger sandwhich or a Happy Meal back in London. We were also joined by some new arrivals, hailing from Panama City, these four were spending the weekend here at Diablo and had brought some fishing rods to entertain themselves. We chatted to them for a bit and the next morning found out that they had caught three white tip reef sharks later in the night, right at the spot where we had swum the day before. This did not help my fear of the waters...
Our fourth day brought our first boat outing
Whilst chilling, watching the sunset, we were interrupted by a big commotion from a boat docking on the island
Al and I had an early night as we were both tired from our boat trip, snorkelling and general sea air. At some point in the night I was woken with a flashlight in my face and a man standing over me. He was speaking rapidly in Spanish and I couldnt make head nor tail about what he was saying. I was trying not to show how freaked out I was and was trying to wake Alan up whilst trying not to show the guy what I was doing. Al woke up and the guy started speaking to him, but Al couldnt understand him either so with a meek No entiendo coming his way, the guy turned around and with a "Sorry guys" (in English!) he walked out
Our final day. We packed up and got back into the boat to head back to Carti Island where we would have breakfast before beginning the dance of payment. We were also lucky enough to be able to taste the big fish caught the night before, however after 4 days of fish and rice I really couldnt face it, especially that early in the morning, so Alan ate my share and I ordered eggs. We then went around looking at the various molas (embroidered cloth sewn by the Kuna) and decided on three different patterns of which two will be turned into cushions back home and one will be framed. The time came for payment and after a bit of umming and ahhing we managed to get a bit of a reduction. Success! Another boat ride back to the river mouth and before we knew it we were being squashed into a 4x4 and heading back to Panama City.
But wait. The adventure continues.
As I mentioned, we were squashed. Four people in a backseat meant for three. I was sitting on Al“s lap, my head touching the roof and an arm hooked around the headrest of the seat in front to prevent me flying through the windscreen. The driver stopped the car a few times to look at the car, the engine was smoking and we thought he was concerned about this. Turns out we were driving with only one nut holding the rear right hand tyre in place
Funny story, the original driver that had started the trip had put a massive lobster on the roof of the 4x4, wrapped up in a black bag for his consumption. We had totally forgotten about this poor thing and assumed that it would have died along the way. However, after two hours of driving, a breakdown, 40 mins of mechanics, another breakdown, heavy rain showers, driving without a fourth wheel, the lobster was still alive! They pulled it down off the roof of the car and put it in a massive tractor tyre lying outside the shop in the rain whilst they fixed the car.
Neither the driver, nor the lobster returned to Panama City with us that day...