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Sailing the San Blas Islands

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - My Big Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Sunday, 20 February 2011 | Views [179] | Scholarship Entry

There is something about sailing the Caribbean for 5 days on a small, weather-beaten yacht out in the open ocean with a crazy German captain, a lack of life jackets and a bucket for a toilet that tends to bring people together, don't you think?

It was the outbreak of swine flu that started it all. My flight to Mexico City was unexpectedly cancelled which left me stranded in Colombia and I needed to get to Panama City airport to get home but had no idea how. That is, until I heard that I could hitch a ride down at the local yacht club.

Within a few hours I met Stefan, a fifty-something year old German captain who had left the motherland many years earlier disgusted with society and had been travelling solo aboard his yacht ever since. He looked like a cross between Hercules and someone who had been stranded on a deserted island for a few years, a straight-talking bronzed blonde man whose smile produced teeth equal in decay and gold.

Before I knew it, I was on Stefan’s yacht navigating my way across pristine blue waters toward the San Blas Islands, where we had decided to sail around for a few days en route to Panama City. For days I didn’t see land, with The Beatles and The Doors my friends during the day, and pods of dolphins my night time companions, their sleek bodies reflecting in the moonlight.

When we did reach land, I was suddenly glad that my other travel plans had fallen through. I was confronted with spectacular deserted islands dotted with palm trees leaning over pure white sand beaches. This stunning archipelago was encircled by coral atolls teaming with tropical sea life with water so crystal clear that you could see the bottom vividly even though it was many metres down. Dreams aren't this perfect.

The islands are run by the Kuna, an autonomous indigenous people of Panama, who gave us their blessing to stay on the islands for the price of a few coconuts. I befriended some local kids and had a game of football with them in the piercing midday heat before finishing the day with a session of awe-inspiring snorkeling that took in parrot fish, barracuda, rays and flowery coral formations painting a surreal underground landscape.

In hindsight, my adventure across the Caribbean perhaps was not the brightest of ideas considering we had no life jackets and I knew Stefan all of 10 minutes before I surrendered myself as his ship’s mate. But in reality it was a one-off experience of a life time and one that I'll certainly not forget it in a hurry.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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