And Paradise Found
22.11.2011 - 25.11.2011 32 °C
The last few days have been nothing but amazing for Kevin and I, and our travels on the Stahlratte (the Steel Rat in German) have certainly been a highlight of our journey so far.
We started out early on the 22nd from Panama City. We were picked up by a 4X4 in which we were packed like sardines with five other travelers. The next three hours, for me, were filled with a combination of nausea and fear as we were hurled up and down curving roads, through a mountain range, on a road that was often not paved but in the process of being washed away. The drive occurred during a torrential downpour during which the 4X4's one working windshield wiper struggled against the monsoon. I do believe visibility was down to five feet at one point but our dauntless driver continued to plunge us ahead at dizzying speeds. After three hours we were able to disembark from the roller coaster from hell, and were quickly herded onto dingys and driven to the Stahlratte.
Video to the ship here.
A brief history of the boat: Built in the Netherlands in 1903, the original purpose of this vessel was for fishing. Since then it has changed owners many times. In 1984 it was bought by a non-profit organization Verein zur Foerderung der Segelschiffahrt (Association of Advancement for Sailing Navigation) and made its home in Germany, although the ship hasn't been home in the last 18 years. Instead it makes several trips a year between Panama, Colombia, and Cuba. The captain, Ludvig, joked about his passport looking very suspicious.
This 40 meter (130 foot) vessel with a crew of three took all 22 of us on board and not once did we feel crowded on the ship! I did have some worries about sharing one toilet with 24 other people, but my fears were misguided.
We threaded our way through the San Blas Islands that evening. This is an archipelago comprised of378 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited by the Kuna Indians. We were told by a resident that 52,000 natives inhabit the islands, making their houses look like barnacles clinging to rock:
We traveled for three hours, during which Kevin and I scrambled up into the crow's nest and took an amazing video.
Then, we arrived in paradise (aka, Coco Bandero).
The next 24 hours were spent in a world you really only see on postcards and I never expected to see in my life. The water was completely clear up to a depth of 30 feet. The small islands contained brilliant white sand and soft shade from coconut palms. There were plenty of fish to swim and snorkle with. The waves were always gentle and the water was not too warm. Phosphorescence glittered in the water at night and the tide is non-existent. It's hard to describe how tranquil and gorgeous the setting was; I hope some of this is conveyed in the photos!
We were treated to a bonfire on an island one night, midnight swimming with the starfish, excellent daily meals, and other jovial passengers who were thrilled to soak in the beauty of San Blas.
We both hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. We were thinking of family and friends on Thursday as we feasted on freshly grilled fish.
We had a wonderful surprise on our last day of sailing when we saw a small pod (6-7) of dolphins dancing on the Stahlratte's waves. The video is here.
Our four day tour came to an end, and on the last night we slept on deck where we gazed at endless stars and were rocked to sleep by the ship crashing through the ocean.
We awakened the morning of the 25th to the skyline of Cartagena, Colombia.
We will be here in Colombia for the next five weeks, but I think we left our hearts back on the San Blas Isles.