Molas, One Tree Islands, and Leaving South America Behind – RTW Week #21

Panama City, Panama – These last seven days, the 21st week into my Round the World jaunt, witnessed a pair of milestones: the first, saying goodbye to South America after 142 days (and 7,754 kilometers, or 4,818 miles), and the second, sailing on the open sea for the first time.

The latter, with three-and-a-half days lounging lazily in the San Blas Islands, fit nicely into the rest and relaxation theme I forced myself to undertake at the beginning of the month. Even now, a few days after returning to solid ground, I’m still feeling the calming sway of those Caribbean waves as I sit at my desk. So much so that I nearly let this weekly review go by before returning to the road tomorrow. But even though I’m still in R&R mode, I can’t and won’t let that happen. Not just four weeks into the project. 🙂

I’m preparing a separate post or two about the voyage itself, one that over a five-day four-night stretch brought myself and fifteen other passengers from Cartagena to Panama. So to save those details for later, I’ll keep this review relatively short and hopefully sweet, allotting no more than four sentences to each day. Almost haiku-like. Onwards.

Tuesday, June 11 – Cartagena, Colombia
I spend a few hours of the morning working and am caught in a sublimely beautiful downpour after venturing out to take some photos in old town in the afternoon. I pay 155,000 pesos, about 81 US dollars, for some prescription medicine. It’s disheartening to learn that the closer I get to the United States the more expensive medication becomes.

Cartagena 021


Wednesday, June 12 – Cartagena, Colombia
The moment most worth remembering is the one when I’m casually walking down the middle of a narrow cobblestoned street in colonial Cartagena carrying six bottles of wine through a torrential downpour and feeling inordinately content.

Cartagena 024

Thursday, June 13 – Cartagena, Colombia, and the open Caribbean
Some two hours after our boat, the 84-foot Independence, sails out of Cartagena harbor, we’re surrounded by nothing but cobalt blue, our setting for the next 28 hours. About two hours before sunset we sail through a school of large dolphins. Immediately after dinner I go outside to lie down and watch a pleasant starry night pass by; I don’t leave my spot until after dawn.

Saying goodbye to South America - one last glance at the Cartagena skyline.
Saying goodbye to South America – one last glance at the Cartagena skyline.

Friday, June 14 – At sea, the San Blas Islands
Land beckons shortly before noon as a pair of birds appear on the horizon. We later anchor within swimming distance of two small islands. On one I see an exquisite mola for the first time while another, just a little farther away, is home to two small trees that can’t hide a large pile of trash. For dinner we have a fresh, succulent lobster, the best I’ve ever tasted.

San Blas 002

Saturday, June 15 – At sea, the San Blas Islands
Much of the day is spent reading, swimming and kayaking. The water is so warm and clear that you can watch the starfish sweat. During a forty-minute journey to our anchorage for the night, we pass a wreck where the handcuffed bodies of a husband and wife were found. I begin to entertain the idea of retracing part of a northbound route I took through Central America twenty-one years ago.

San Blas 003

Sunday, June 16 – At sea, the San Blas Islands
We sail another short distance and anchor among a few small islands, some inhabited. On one, Isla Caracol, or Conch Island, an old woman, typically tiny like most Kuna, sits in the shade sewing a mola skirt. We watch a dolphin swim around the channel looking for a way out the shallow waters. We end the day with dinner on Elephant Island after the week’s most colorful sunset.

San Blas sunset
San Blas sunset

Monday, June 17 – At sea, Panama City
For the fourth straight day I’m awake at just past six, and the boat is already on its way. We reach land about a kilometer up the still and narrow Rio Barsukum, where we’re stuffed into SUVs and drive for an hour on hellaciously steep ascents and descents through the jungles of eastern Panama. Three hours later we arrive in Panama City, home to one of the world’s most modern skylines. It’s a raucous symphony of metal and glass that, coupled with the heavily congested streets, is a parallel universe away from the two-tree islands of San Blas.

Panama City skyline
Panama City skyline

Enjoy your week. I’m already enjoying mine.

[Check out the summaries for Weeks #20, #19 and #18.]


These snaps are this week’s contribution for Travel Photo Thursday (#TPThursday on twitter) hosted by Nancie on her website, Budget Travelers Sandbox. When you have few minutes to browse, check out Nancie’s photos and those of others who take part. You’ll see some great photos and visit some wonderful places.

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