Notes from Guna Yala

It’s a daily topic around here: which is better, Bahamas or Guna Yala? Impossible question, but we surely do love this area.

I was really nervous about navigating in Guna Yala. We’d heard reports from people who’ve struggled; we’ve heard from everyone that all of the electronic charts are wrong; we’ve heard about the holy importance of good light. We knew we’d be relying on paper charts from Eric Bauhaus’ famous book–one guy who has accurately sounded out most of the waters surrounding Panama, and a few of the rivers, to boot–and that’s not how we’re used to proceeding. In reality, we’ve found navigation here easier than in the Bahamas; in any kind of decent light, the contrasts between the deep channels and shallow reefs is very clear, and Bauhaus has so far been right on the money. The electronic charts we use mostly for comic relief.

There are people here who have been tooling around on cruising boats for over a decade. Some of them fly home for the rainy season to see grandkids; some of them are just here full-time. It’s a magnetic place.

In contrast to the Bahamas, we’ve found local Guna people on most of the islands near our anchorages. They come out to our boat to sell us fruit, veggies, lobster, and beautiful embroidered molas; they ask us to charge their cell phones in exchange for a few avocados; they want to know if we have any cold soda. Many of the small islands are set up for tourists to come for the night, or to set up tents and camp; large pangas with powerful outboards run pale visitors from Porvenir to the outer islands. When the Guna ask if we are tourists, we say yes, of course, there is our boat; they shake their heads, no, you are not tourists, you are sailors.

We run our solar oven every day–to keep from heating up the boat, to save our precious fuel, and because we can. It’s so hot, we might not even need direct sun, but we’ve had plenty of it anyway. Excellent success with baking our regular sandwich bread (although it’s coming out round–very French, c’est un boule); two failures with rice, somehow. It’s always a bit unknown how things will turn out when we lift the lid, but it takes a while for the heat to build up in the oven, so we don’t peek and hope it works out. There’s always couscous if the rice fails.

The water is clear, and around 85 degrees. We can swim from the boat to the reefs, towing the paddleboard in case the kids get tired. Amazing soft corals, worlds if fish.

Our new shade for the cockpit is outstanding, although we don’t have good protection in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is low and creeps in from the side. Our windscoop is seeing good use up in the bow; the v-berth is the most comfortable spot on the boat, and where I’m typing right now.

We’ve found a couple of kid boats–an even split between cruising families and charter folks. We’d expected to have two or three weeks traveling with a lovely Aussie family, but their transit date got moved up and they had to scramble back to Colon. Best games for not sharing a language: Uno, Tenzi (dice game), Crazy Eights. Do not attempt Exploding Kittens unless everyone is a native English speaker.

There’s very little cell reception out here; we’ve been leaning on the sat phone to message family, and learning how to use the clunky email program. Unfortunately, many of the messages bounce back as spam. It’s a weird address, I know. I don’t blame you, Gmail spam filter. Still. Michu’s name is right there at the beginning…

In a couple of days, we’ll head to Nargana to resupply. Not are what we’ll find; we hear rumors of a library, bank, bakery, laundromat, WiFi. Either way, we need to fill up on water; the port tank is almost empty, and we’re not skilled at collecting rainwater. Groceries will be a priority, as well; apparently, my provisioning skills are dulled, and we are almost out of flour. Crisis! And seven eggs is not enough (insets “un oeuf” joke here).

Eventually, we’ll be heading back to Colon to be measured, and schedule our own transit date for going through the canal. In the high heat of the day, I sometimes have marina fantasies about air-conditioned lounges, high-speed internet and unlimited showers. Then I take a deep breath; I remember how much we wished we’d spent more time in the Bahamas; I look at the beauty around us; and I jump into the sea.

5 Comments on “Notes from Guna Yala

  1. Love the posts. You are definitely ” living the dream”
    Good Vibrations is now at the North Cape YC ( Toledo )
    To be used in their Adult programs. I’m sad to see her go, but delighted w her new home.
    April in

  2. well we finally have a lovely day in wisconsin, sun and maybe hitting 50’s so quite a contrast to your 85 degree sea! and baking bread on your boat, well that is to cool! so inbetween customers calling for their boats with the anticipation of summer here I am going to check a map and see where the heck you are! Casey goes to Belize in June for a science trip so I think that maybe is around you……

    • Belize is a bit north of us. We hear it’s lovely, but there’s some piracy off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua at the moment, so we skipped that whole coast.

  3. How beautifully written! You make me yearn to follow you…
    Nicki & I have just “finished” our first extended cruise – sailing Sionna from Maine south along the eastern US, across Florida’s Okeechobee canal, south to winter in the Keys, and now the central Gulf Coast of Florida. The boat is on the hard, and we head back to Maine for the summer and Work (the dreaded “W’ word!) Planning to cross to the Bahamas for next winter. So what area of the Bahamas do you wish you’d spent more time in?

    • Thanks, guys! There’s so much we weren’t able to explore in the Bahamas–we’ve heard great things about the Abacos, and we really wanted to make it to the Raggeds. We also wish we’d slowed down on the Exumas, between Highborne Cay and Georgetown. So beautiful!!

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