San Blas, sailing paradise, but are there sharks and crocodiles?
by Christopher Lozinski, Cruisers Network Online on 28 May 2012
The San Blas archipelago is a cruising sailor's Paradise. It comprises nearly 400 islands spread along the Caribbean coastline of Panama. The vast majority are covered with coconut trees and surrounded by white sand beaches, but only 49 are inhabited.
World ARC yachts in San Blas Panama - World Arc 2012 World Cruising Club © http://www.worldcruising.com
Sailing there is so idyllic that many sailors go for a few weeks and end up staying a few years.
Like many remote places, sometimes information is hard to find, particularly if you are talking about sharks and crocodiles, as Christopher Lozinski tells:
We had so much fun sailing in San Blas, we plan to go back. I was just reading up on it on the web, when one sailor mentioned that they had crocodiles in middle Hollondes Cay. Immediately stories of Australian Salt Water Crocodiles came to mind. Suddenly these idyllic islands did not seem so perfect anymore.
So I am doing my homework. I do not trust the tourist groups to give me accurate information. They could lose business if they told you negative stuff.
So I went to ask the Kuna who work in the market here in El Valle Panama, where I am now. The women were shy to talk to me. The men said, 'Do not go swimming after 5:30 pm, there are sharks.'
Wait a minute, there are sharks AND crocodiles?. These perfect islands are sounding worse by the minute.
He said you could go swimming as early as 6 am. Elsewhere I have repeatedly heard that dusk and dawn are shark feeding times.
Of course this is Panama you have to remember. It is classic for this country. Everyone gives different
Some say the sharks have been mostly eaten. Others say do not go swimming after 5:30 pm. Some say not to .go swimming in the fresh water rivers, although there are a number of tours up to the water falls, and swimming holes.
And I noticed our sailing boat(we were on a skippered charter) only stopped at inhabited islands. Okay the last night it stopped between two islands. One was inhabited, the other had a building that was half built. Why did they stop building it?
They say there are only 50 inhabited islands. They say the Kuna like community. Are you kidding? Everyone wants their own island, all the coconuts to themselves. Nobody else fishing there.
My theory is that the inhabited islands are the ones without crocodiles.
One older lady advised me if you see a crocodile do not go swimming there. Ah yes, but what do you do if you do not see a crocodile?
My new theory is they stopped building the hut when they spotted a crocodile there.
In Costa Rica the tourist guide assured me that the crocodiles are very territorial, swim outside their territory, and they do not bother you. He said only one man had ever been attacked on that river, he was cleaning fish by the water's edge. My kids were by the water's edge. I am pleased to say they did not get eaten on that trip.
One older Kuna gentleman told me the crocodiles do not eat people, not even kids. But they do like dogs. The dogs barking and howling bothers them he explained. Hard to believe they would eat dogs, but not children.
My newest simple theory is always take a local guide. Then make sure the guide says it is okay, AND goes swimming first. Of course taking the guide kills the dream that I am the first white man to ever swim ashore on this island. It reduces the adventure.
Anyhow, I thought I would let everyone know - maybe raise awareness of this issue, and see what knowledge I can find from you sailors out there. Anybody have an answer?
(And while I am at it, certainly do not go swimming in the Panama canal! The Americans used to shoot the crocodiles, the Panamanians do not. So lots of very hungry crocodiles in the canal! Lots of people have been eaten there. Google it!)
Christopher runs a company called http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://freerecruiting.com/!Specialty_Job_Markets
More about the San Blas:
There's no doubt that this is a cruising sailor's dream Although the islands are small, the surrounding reefs are extensive. Thus, even when the prevailing NE trade winds blow hard, the water stays flat and smooth. Furthermore, there is usually no need to sail more than 10 miles from one island anchorage to the next.
It's a better place to go for a week's sailing holiday than either the Grenadines or Greece for example. Not only isthe sailing easy, but the snorkelling is consistently better than in Belize or the Bahamas.
Understandably, the local people - the Kuna - don't like the idea of tourists invading their lands except on their terms, so there are no hotels except for a few basic ones run by the Kuna themselves. Although large cruise ships no longer visit the San Blas a couple of smaller ones, taking 50 passengers each, still do.
There are about 50,000 Kuna, and apparently half of them live outside the San Blas, mainly doing menial jobs in Panama City. They are the second smallest race of people in the world, after the Kalahari Bushmen, of whom there are very few left. Even those of average height will find it strange to be able to look down on all the men and to be head and shoulders above all the women.
In fact, one reason why the area is such a fascinating cruising ground is because of the Kuna themselves, who are resisting the influence of 'stupid white men' to a remarkable degree. Even to the extent that on several islands the islanders have voted not to have electricity as they felt it would change their life style too much.
We have been unable to substantiate any claims that crocodiles or sharks are a danger in the San Blas.
Thanks to the http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Cruisers_Network_Online/!Cruisers_Network_Online for this anecdote
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