“I really should write in this thing more often, like now out at sea but damn how the boat rolls, it’s impossible…maybe we should buy a Catamaran” -excerpt from Dani’s diary Sept 7th 2015 Providencia to San Blas
One day before our Colombian visas expired we headed to Mr. Bush’s (Providencia’s agent)office to give our fingerprints to the nice Migration lady and formally check out. We then took our remaining Pesos and bought as much fried street food as we could eat and a bottle of scotch. For days we had been preparing Sundowner for the passage south to the San Blas Islands, Panama which included raiding the stores for staple items such as coffee and rum as well as cleaning the reef off the bottom of the hull and stowing the boat. Tate’s hand was healing nicely and we were ready for our next new adventure.
We had 270 miles mas or menos to sail and every indication that the winds would die off and be shifty for about half the trip. MANY times we had heard other cruisers say the winds lighten and you have to motor a bunch to get anywhere once you pass San Andres. This, like most weather predictions turned out to be incorrect. In fact we had GREAT wind literally all the way to Porvenir.
The winds started on the nose at 10-15 knots and eventually curved to the East for more a beam reach before moving even further around until we practically sailed downwind for the last 50 miles, right into the Porvenir area. We average about 5 knots for the whole trip and had to actively slow ourselves down so we wouldn’t arrived at night. Bright and early around 8am we turned the motor on and CAREFULLY navigated these treacherous waters.
The reef as you approach Porvenir is clearly visible by the many shipwrecks strewn about every so often. Just this year alone we’ve heard of 10 people hitting the reefs, many catastrophically. There is reef EVERYWHERE and it goes very quickly from 60 feet deep to less than a foot. To add to the precariousness of these conditions most GPS charts are incorrect. Except of course that is the Eric Bauhaus charts. However we knew this coming in and had obtained copies of all the Bauhaus charts and waypoints. God Bless that man Eric and his spot on points. EVERYONE here in San Blas navigates using them. Regardless having the correct charts it was still a very stressful time as we ever so slowly inched our way near the Porvenir check in office.
It was clear right from the start that we weren’t in Kansas any more. Porvenir and the San Blas islands are just right off the mountainous mainland coast of Panama. Many scenes here involve palm trees blowing in the breeze in front of a back drop of tall hills. This area is home of the Kuna Indians and we could see them hard at work fishing and paddling in their dug out canoes from island to island. More history on them later.
One thing that struck us as soon as we pulled in was how searing HOT it is here. For the first time since leaving Louisiana we have found heat that is similar (in the sun without a breeze) though still not as hot as back home. I suppose this is to be expected during our descent to the equator. The boat inside was getting up to 95 degrees (sometimes more) and we were melting away. The desire to go swimming was greater than ever. But first things first we had to check in. This of course meant dressing up in far more clothes than either of us wear these days…Tate even wore a pair of pants and (gasp) shoes.
Not wanting to mess with the dinghy outboard just yet we decided to row, at least for now. We headed to the beach at Porvenir and to a building that looked inhabited. Upon walking up we asked a T-shirt and jeans guy if he knew where we could find the Port Captain, and as luck would have it, it was him. After his lunch break we headed to his office to formally check into Panama. Poor Tate in the meantime was soaking all of his fancy proper clothes.
Check in went easier than expected and I guess our dressing up and acting civilized made a good impression on Migration and the Policia because they had no desire to search the boat. It was either the shoes or the heat, I suppose we’ll never know. Also most people here prefer to speak Spanish and know un poco Ingles, oh JOY for me. The cost for us with a 32 foot boat was roughly $360 for a boat visa, tourist visas, all good for un ano. Also in this cost is the Kuna Congresso fees of $20/per boat and $20/per person (per month), so $60 for us. Here is a list of what we did to check into Panama via Porvenir (Sept 2015). ASK FOR AND KEEP ALL RECEIPTS.
Checking into Panama via Porvenir
- Dress up a bit, we’ve read that long pants and actual shoes are desired in Panamanian government buildings
- Bring Passports and boat documentation to Port Captain’s office.
- See the Port Captain and pay $100 for a boat import visa that is good for one year. I think boats longer than ours are charged $196 dollars.
- Next see immigration and pay $100 each for Triplantes Tourist Visas that are good for one year. They don’t have the full “Tourist Visa Stamp” in Porvenir so it’s very important you keep the receipt they give you or you will have to pay for your visa again when you check out of the country.
- After that go see the Kuna Congresso people who want the $60/month as explained above.
- Smile and be nice to the Policia who may or may not search your boat.
Earlier in the day while waiting for the Port Captain to finish his lunch we were greeted by a very nice Kuna named Nestor (sp?). He was quite informative about the islands and enjoyable since he spoke English and Spanish and to our great delight he invited us over to his island (whose name I couldn’t spell or remember to save my life…something like WichiWallaDupSip) for a tour and dinner at his casa. How exciting!
We changed into more sane attire and Tate rowed us the LONG way over to Nestor’s hut on the water and he showed us around.
The little village on this island was incredible. It housed about 500 Kuna (mostly kids) in a maze of bamboo huts with dirt floors. There was a school and also a town center building called the “Congresso House” where the official business of the village takes place, everyday we are told. We’ve been told that the average Kuna family has four kids, and after seeing the amount running around I would say that’s probably accurate.
The Kuna women and I do Laundry the same way.
After a few beers at the local “hang out bar place” Nestor took us around with him while he went to three different shops for rice, chicken and some other stuff. In one of these shops we bought a Digicel and +Movil Sim Card, with supposedly no data on them. We wanted to buy some kind of data place for them but the communication barrier was too great and after 20 minutes of “No entiendo” we were in no better shape so we opted to buy the sim cards anyway, hoping later to add data (which worked out well btw).
Eventually we made the one minute walk back to Nestor’s place and waited inside one of the huts on hammocks while the food was prepared in another hut. There were no drinks available but we had what remained from the “bar”. By this time we were hungry and really looking forward to some fresh chicken, rice and beans. Nestor didn’t disappoint and brought out the plates and we dug in. There may have been only 2 small pieces of chicken and 3 cups of rice, but the rice was good and the bit of canned pork and beans truly brought the dish together.
We bought an official(designed in 1925)”Kuna Flag” from a lady there and I rowed us home, happy to get some exercise after our journey down here.
Our flirtation with that populated island quickly came to a close as we headed out the next day in search of Propane and the internet. Porvenir was a pretty place but didn’t quite have the feel of reckless abandon we were searching for, but we could have never guessed just what was in store for us in the days to come but we would soon find out!