Greetings family and friends!  In this web site update we are still exploring the cruising grounds of Panama.  In this
    installment we will take you from Colon to the San Blas Islands.  Southern Belle spent a magical 3 months in the San
    Blas Islands before continuing on to Cartagena, Columbia.  We will try to be brief with the text and just let the
    pictures do the talking.  Be sure to check back often!  Remember, you can find corresponding pictures by clicking on
    the Photo Album button above.  And don't forget, you can always look at our previous ramblings by clicking on the
    archived Journal Entries (above) and the corresponding archived Photo Albums on the Photo Album page.

    We departed Colon after staying in the Shelter Bay Marina for only two days.  Marina life is OK, but Island time is
    better!  Our friend and long time crew member, Dave Katz, was with us for this passage.  It took us 2.5 days to reach
    the San Blas Islands and all of it was going to weather (for you land lubbers that means bouncing and crashing into the
    waves and wind).  On our first day out of Colon we made it to Portobello, home of the mushroom.  Just kidding.  
    Originally discovered by Christopher Columbus, from around 1570 to 1700 Portobello was a major shipping center for
    the Spanish to move the gold and silver they plundered from South and Central America.  As such, Portobello was a
    fortified city with forts on both sides of the bay.  We visited the ruins of the San Fernando Fort Battery on the
    north side of the bay.  From our vantage point on the upper level of the fort we could envision how it must have
    appeared when the dread pirate Henry Morgan attacked with his assault troops and took Portobello.

    We left Portobello the next day and continued toward the San Blas Islands.  We took a route by Isla Linton and Isla
    Grande, which both looked like interesting places to stay, but continued on toward the San Blas.  We spent that night
    in a small bay called Bahia Escribamos.  It was a pretty little bay with good protection, but it was extremely shallow.  
    We were lucky we did not run aground even with our shallow draft.  The next morning we continued on and reached the
    San Blas Islands by early afternoon.

    Our first anchorage in the San Blas Islands was at the East Lemon Cays, right between the islands of Banedup and
    Nuinudup.  The indigenous people of the San Blas Islands are called Kuna Indians and they refer to their island
    paradise home as Kuna Yala.  Kuna Yala stretches approximately 130 miles along Panama's Caribbean coast and is
    comprised of over 340 coral islands.  The Kunas, a short-statured race rivaling the pygmies,  are unique in that they
    have managed to resist 5 centuries of invasions, and are the only Amerindians  who have gained real autonomy over
    their territory. Crystal clear water and beautiful living coral reefs abound in the western half of Kuna Yala (which is
    what we have explored to date).  As promised, we will let the pictures do most of the talking, but here is a bullet list
    of some the highlights from our stay in Kuna Yala:

Snorkling!  The clarity of the water along with the variety of sea life and coral type is absolutely astounding.  
To date we have not seen anything that comes close to matching the underwater beauty of Kuna Yala.  Sadly, we
do not have equipment to take underwater pictures so you will have to trust us on this.

Attending the Kuna Regatta at Banedup Island.  The locals used their sailing canoes, called Ulus, to have a
regatta followed by a happy hour and dinner party.  Volunteers were invited to ride along in the racing ulus and
Melinda competed with a group of ladies.  They had a bead on first place but ran aground on a shallow reef near
the finish line and ended up in second place.  Great fun!

Exploring the mountains and rivers on the mainland territory of Kuna Yala.  One river hike, the Rio Sidra, took
us up to a nice waterfall with a swimming hole.  We had fun hiking back down the river where we had to jump off
of small waterfalls and swim across pools to ford the river.

Mola Shopping.  Molas are colorful cloth panels made using "reverse applique" consisting of 3 to 5 layers of
different colored cloth, one on top of the other.  The outline of a design is cut into the cloth, then the cut
edges are finely hemmed.  It can take 2 to 5 weeks to create one mola.  Molas typically reflect scenes from
Kuna life or natural animals or plants.  In every new anchorage you are likely to be approached by several Kunas
in an ulu selling molas.  We spent many a pleasant morning or afternoon looking at molas and chatting with the
local Kuna families.

Justin Salley and his friend Matt Dowd came down for a two week visit.  We had a great time showing them our
favorite islands and reefs.  While they were aboard we visited the Robeson Island Group in Kuna Yala.  There
we saw our friend Justino who had helped us with some boat work a few weeks earlier.  Justino took us to his
Island and introduced us to all his family and friends.  Basically the whole island.  Afterwards all the island
children paddled out to our boat for swimming and playtime.

We attended numerous cruiser functions on different islands.  There was Cajun Night on Banedup where
Melinda prepared chicken and sausage gumbo for over 40 people, Happy Hour on BBQ Island which takes place
every Monday, Texas Night in the Coco Banderas where we celebrated Sam Houston's birthday, and a wedding
on Banedup Island where two gringos from Chicago got married following the Kuna traditions.  The wedding was
something to see.  In Kuna Yala when you get married, first the groom is placed into a hammock.  Then the bride
is carried and placed into the hammock along side the groom.  The bride then jumps out of the hammock and runs
away.  The men of the village then chase her down and carry her back to the hammock.  This happens three
times after which the couple is considered to be married.  So if you are relaxing in a hammock in Kuna Yala and
someone places a woman in there with you.... you're OK up until that third time!

We met a few other boats with children aboard.  Our best buddies were the crew of Toucan.  Mike and Mary
from Rico, Colorado (in the mountains near Telluride) had their three children aboard, Noah (age 10), Lydia (age
8), and Eva (age 5).  We met them while anchored next to a small island near Green Island.  The kids all got
together and built a secret fort on the island and were fast friends there after.  We had a great time hanging
with the crew of Toucan for over 6 weeks.      

    We were so impressed with the cruising grounds in Kuna Yala that we have altered our plans for the future so that we
    can stay here and continue exploring.  We are toying with the idea of running charters in the Islands.  Panama is a very
    easy country to get in and out of, and once in country it is easy to hop an inter-island flight to Kuna Yala.  So spread
    the word that Southern Belle may be doing charters starting sometime around October/November of 2009.

    Until our next update we wish you all fair winds and following seas!
San Blas Islands
Heading into the Panama Canal from the Pacific side