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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Panama: San Blas (Cayos Coco Banderos)

The view from our anchorage in the Cayos Coco Banderos
The view from our anchorage in the Cayos Coco Banderos

I thought that the Cayos Holandeses were pretty beautiful, but the best was yet to come. Unfortunately, as day four of our trip dawned, the weather that had arrived the night before started to pick up even more (as Jan had warned us it would), and as we dropped anchor and headed south for a two-hour sail towards Cayos Coco Banderos, the seas began to swell. Switzerland is not known for its maritime expertise, so the 3m swell that greeted us was cause for whoops and yells from the rest of the passengers, but Jan and I looked each other in the eye and muttered, 'Ha, this isn't a big swell.' Just in case, I kept my eyes on the horizon and told myself that I've been through far worse, which seemed to keep the seasickness at bay.

Looking towards the Kuna's island home in the Cayos Coco Banderos
Looking towards the Kuna's island home in the Cayos Coco Banderos
Two-palm island as seen from the pretty little beach to the west of our anchorage
Two-palm island as seen from the pretty little beach to the west of our anchorage

The Plate Incident

One of the Kuna's canoes
One of the Kuna's canoes

Jan dropped anchor in the middle of a cluster of three small, palm-fringed islands, one of which had a small thatched hut on it (though it would turn out that this was just a shelter, rather than a full-time Kuna house). There were a few other yachts sharing the shelter, but it wasn't crowded, which was a relief after finding Swimming Pool anchorage so full. To the north was the inhabited Kuna island, with a handful of larger huts under the trees, and to the northwest was a tiny island with just two palm trees, which we promptly named 'two-palm island'. It was an idyllic spot.

Peta holding a large conch shell
Peta holding a large conch shell
The Kuna's small boat sailing past <i>The Black Dragonfly</i>
The Kuna's small boat sailing past The Black Dragonfly

Two-palm Island

Two-palm island
Two-palm island

That afternoon, we were stranded on our very own desert island. Two-palm island is just 40 paces long and 32 paces wide, and with one large palm and a smaller, rather battered companion in the middle of the island and precious little else to see – except for the usual collection of flotsam and jetson that you find on absolutely every island in the world – it felt more like a clich├ęd comic-book desert island than reality. So Jan dropped us off there for an afternoon of snorkelling and relaxing, because we just couldn't resist.

Looking north towards two-palm island
Looking north towards two-palm island
Marooned on two-palm island
Marooned on two-palm island

Change of Plan

A lovely beach on the island to the west of our anchorage
A lovely beach on the island to the west of our anchorage

Luckily, Jan's main aim on this trip was to make it comfortable and safe for the passengers, and he'd been keeping a close eye on the weather. He contacted his father in Norway to ask him to check out the weather forecast online, as the one Jan was using was by now a week old, and it turned out that the wind was going to pick up even more overnight; although it would calm down the following day, this would mean that the waves would be really bumpy for the ocean crossing, as it takes at least half a day for the waves to calm down once the wind has died. It wasn't looking good for the open ocean crossing to Cartagena (which was always going to be the hard bit of this trip anyway).

Looking towards two-palm island from the Kuna settlement
Looking towards two-palm island from the Kuna settlement
Peta on yet another paradise beach
Peta on yet another paradise beach

Another Day in Paradise

Molas for sale
Molas for sale

Our bonus day, day five, turned out to be the best of the lot. The winds calmed down, just as Jan had said they would, and the sun came out, so finally the islands came out in resplendent turquoise under blue skies, and we got the paradise photographs that we all wanted. We happily spent the morning snorkelling around the nearest island to our anchorage and exploring the deserted island to the west of us, and then in the afternoon we took the dinghy to the Kuna's island to check out their molas.

Headbands and jewellery
Headbands and jewellery
Peta with the Kuna and one of the molas we bought from them
Peta with the Kuna and one of the molas we bought from them