CARIBBEAN curse is the title I might’ve opted for if shit had got worse on night three of my recent sailboat trip through the Comarca de Kuna Yala. If some cool, death-defying shit had gone down, I might’ve started off the piece by saying something like, “The sea was angry that day my friends!” But it didn’t. Instead of escalating, our nautical troubles subsided and I’m left with a boring story and only a few mediocre photos. Don’t get me wrong, it was a worthwhile trip. But a little part of me was disappointed when our German captain got the boat’s engine started once more and we were back plowing head-on through the briny deep.
If you’re unawares, the Comarca de Kuna Yala (otherwise known as the San Blás Islands) is a narrow 226km long strip of coast, which stretches basically from Panama to Colombia and includes an archipelago of close to 400 islands. The vast majority of these are uninhabited and if I was compiling a dictionary (which I’m not) I would put a picture of one of the islands under the word ‘paradise’. Picture the whitest beaches you’ve ever seen, with masses of coconut-filled palms, surrounded by crystal clear waters swimming with schools of fishies so bright they can give you cataracts. If the place had consistent waves I’d probably be living there right now.
The relative few islands that are inhabited are done so by the Kuna, a pretty interesting and passionate bunch. They run the islands autonomously from the Panamanian Government with minimal interference. They have their own system of government, economy (not that long ago their currency was coconuts, no foolin’) and language, and the fact they’ve been able to do achieve this is pretty remarkable, since theyv’e been in contact with Europeans since way back in 1502 when Columbus sailed past with his cronies. Lonely Planet says the Kuna have one of the greatest degrees of political autonomy of any indigenous group in Latin America.
Nowadays it’s in vogue to jump on a sailboat in either Panama or Colombia, spend five days traveling through the islands, then ending up in another continent. It doesn’t cost that much more than flying so it’d be rude not to. We spent two days actually anchored at islands swimming, snorkeling among schools of crazy fish and a neat shipwreck and drinking (too much) Jamaican rum. Other highlights included a beach party some of the Kuna threw for us and the other boats one night, and getting my pirate steeze on and steering our 39ft-yacht for an hour or so. The shit part of the trip was the final 48 hours – the straight sailing part to get to Cartagena, Colombia. Sleeping becomes a problem when the constant vicious rocking of the boat is trying to throw you out of your top bunk and the temperature of the cabin is that of a steam room.
So back to my original story. Just when a decent-sized storm sprang up on the third night of sailing our engine cut out leaving us stranded in the Caribbean sea getting pounded by these solid swells. We all knew something was wrong when our German captain got his torch out to suss the engine, started saying “scheiße!” (shit) heap of times under his breath, then got out a bunch of dirty toolboxes to try fix the thing. 45 minutes later and we were still all out on deck bracing ourselves, when this huge fuck-off wave somehow broke about 20 metres away with what I can only describe as a deafening roar. But somehow the whitewater missed the back of our boat, our lives were all spared, and the German, now covered in grease, got the boat started 15 minutes later. Crisis over. If I was compiling a dictionary (which I’m now seriously considering), I’d put this story under the word ‘anti-climax’.
P.S. I’m in Cartagena, Colombia now. I’ll be in the country for another 28 days, then I’m in Europe.