We moved on from Snug Harbour. Despite the inclement weather we had experienced we really did enjoy out time there. It was another overcast day to head west but there was a gentle breeze so we hoisted up the full main releasing many litres of rain from its folds, rolled out the headsail and sailed for nearly 3 hours before the breeze dropped out again and we motored in glassy seas. Our anchorage for the night was to be about 20 miles away at Isla Tigre, but with poor light and reefs jutting out where we thought the anchorage should be we took the sensible option, did a u-turn and carried on. Next option was Farewell Island, another island densely covered with coconut palms about a foot above sea level, white sands – looked great but we couldn’t find the indicated shallow patch for anchoring unless we went in far closer than we like, so that one was crossed off the list too. Ever flexible we continued on to the the village anchorage of Nargana at the mouth of the Rio Diablo, yes you guessed – combination of river and village, very very murky muddy waters.
There was however a very good reason to come here, it is rumoured to offer the best provisioning in the San Blas chain and also to have internet available at the local school. But because we hadn’t stopped enroute we had arrived on a Saturday. School - therefore the internet, was closed until Monday. We could wait, the anchorage was safe, there were 4 other boats there and we could stay till Monday, but that was until the wind died completely, the sun set and the no-see-ums came out to play and feast. So on Sunday morning we made a hasty dash ashore and purchased all the mosquito coils, bug spray, baby oil we could find (supposed to keep no-see-ums away) and loaded up on produce. The choice was a pleasant surprise, we found cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, carrot, pumpkin, potatoes, onions, bananas, mangoes and papaya (which actually turned out to be a cucumber!!), all of it looked somewhat wilted but when you have nothing you are not so choosey.
Coco Bandero Cays
With enough fresh supplies onboard to stave off scurvy for a while longer we unglued the anchor from the super muddy seabed and headed for clearer waters. Who would have thought that just 5 miles from Nargana we could find paradise. We anchored in the eastern Coco Bandero Cays, nestled within the island group. These islands are picture postcard perfect and come with the great names of Tiadup, Olosicuidup, Guaridup and Dupwaia, with Whichubdupbipi in the distance. First, and lasting impressions are that paradise may actually have been found!
There were 9 boats lying peacefully at anchor within the group and we had four beautiful small islands within swimming distance to explore. The water was crystal clear, the bottom sandy, the anchorage flat, reefs with good live coral and reasonable fish life also within swimming distance, no bugs and as the photo shows one of the most stunning sunsets we have ever experienced. What a difference 5 miles makes! We do wonder why the Kuna people choose to live in such overcrowded environments when there are so many islands in idyllic settings on their doorstep, we guess they have their reasons and we realise being close to the mainland for their food and water source is a main one.
We had finally found the San Blas that many cruisers we have met over the years have raved about and we spent our days snorkelling all the surrounding reefs, swimming and relaxing. We spent five nights out here, the winds were calm and despite the regular thunder storms most nights daily life was uneventful. A local in a dugout came by one day selling wine and bananas so we stocked up on both while we had the chance. Another day some local women paddled by selling “molas”, the embroidered fabrics the San Blas are famous for. We had heard all about them, seen women in the villages wearing them, but until now had not had an opportunity to look and buy. After looking through 3 buckets full of various mola designs I choose a couple and the ladies went away happy. I’ll look for a couple more along the way – spread my business around!
Friday quickly rolled around, our produce was getting low again so we decided to do a day trip into Bug Village (Nargana) and try the internet again and top up on fruit and vegetables. Just over an hour later we had exchanged our crystal clear waters with even murkier ones than last time, if that was possible. We had had torrential rain overnight and the town anchorage looked like a huge mud bath, oh well. Covered in bug spray, armed with two fully charged laptops and a list of things to do online we ventured ashore. Much to our dismay the school was closed for teacher training (we think), and we were told to come back after 5.30pm. so much for our quick in and out in one day trip. Next up was hunting out the available produce, great if all we wanted to eat were limp carrots. Things were not going so well. Still we had no plans so we decided that another night in Nargana, armed with the knowledge that we needed to be proactive against the bugs, would not be such a bad thing.
We threw caution and bugs to the wind, and did a river jungle excursion on the Rio Diablo by dinghy. We followed a couple of dugouts over the very shallow bar entrance, punting our way along after sliding to a halt 3 times and up into the muddy river waters. The dense jungle vegetation comes right to the rivers edge but in some places we could see through where it had been partly cleared for gardens, we also passed many small cemetery plots. Huge old mango trees dripping with fruit hung over the river in places but we were mindful that all coconut trees are owned so thought that may also be the case with the mangoes, so refrained with difficulty from helping ourselves. Instead we partook in some “on river trading” almost like going to a drive-thru market, we purchased many mangoes, pineapples and bananas – at least we wouldn’t go away empty handed if we could not get anything else ashore.
The jungle was wonderful, it was cooler because of all the trees, noisy with bird and insect life, busy with villagers in their dugouts – washing and doing laundry (but the colour of the water!!!), tending their gardens, picking fruits and just collecting fresh water. It was a hive of activity, Friday afternoon in the jungle! We would have liked a walk ashore but it was late afternoon and we didn’t want to tempt the bugs too much so headed home while the going was good.
The bugs didn’t seem too bad so we decided to “go out” for dinner after our interneting, we took our own mozzie coil just in case, packed the laptops yet again and headed ashore. 5.30pm, 6pm, 6.30pm and 7pm all came and went without any signs of life at the school, no internet tonight either. We took a waterfront table at one of the two “cafes”, ordered Chicken and Chips - the only option on the menu - and sat back and enjoyed our first meal out since Cartagena in Colombia. The drinks menu was as basic as the food menu, beer or beer, but at least it was cold beer, Skipper was happy enough. Several locals gathered around by us and we weren’t sure why. Eventually a large dugout came into the anchorage, stopped at a platform about 30 metres from the cafe, slowly and methodically unloaded their fishing net onto the platform, left it there then pulled up adjacent to the cafe and sold their catch to the waiting villagers. When everyone was gone I asked to buy a couple of fish but they wouldn’t sell us any, we don’t know why. The fishermen then proceeded to gut the remaining fish, about 10 feet from where we ate our dinner! Interestingly they didn’t use knives for this, just their thumbs – guess they have seriously sharp thumb nails and have honed their technique over the years. Our dinner ashore was very good, relatively bug free and provided ongoing entertainment.
We had one last attempt at the internet on Saturday morning but it was all still closed, life will go on without internet (will it???). We took another tour round the small stores and found more produce had appeared overnight, we left with a reasonable supply of vegetables and a huge plumb fresh chicken still with head and feet but at least it had been plucked!! Our experience this time in Nargana was much more positive.
It was time to head for clear water again and we ventured 6 miles this time to another superb anchorage, San Blas seems laden with them. We passed cute little Waisaladup, another postage stamp sized sandy cay and entered the lagoon anchorage at Kanlildup, better known by us cruisers as Green Island. Clear water, surrounded by reef and islands, sandy beach ashore, no bugs - another cracker of a spot and home for the next few days.
For in depth info on our anchoring details and surrounding facilites click here to visit our Cruising Info Blog on a new page