This was it. This sailing trip was the challenge I had been waiting. At that point, I was still not sure whether I could enjoy this ride: 5 days on a boat with 7 strangers with two days on open sea. So many things could have gone wrong… It surely didn’t help to check the trailer of ‘The Shallows’ just before leaving for that adventure but what can I say? I’m a sucker for such movies… #truestory! While our captain, Mike, was taking care of the immigration formalities, we got acquainted with the quarters that would be ours for 5 days. It was small and cozy and we were grateful to get a room in the rear as it was supposed to be less bumpy… On our first night on board, we were given a delicious meal, cooked by Juan Pablo, Mike’s son and second. We certainly didn’t expect a homemade meal and we were a very happy bunch, ready to conquer the ocean. Fear and excitement started to blend in me. Was I more scared than excited? Or the other way around?
We started to sail late at night. The wind blowing in our hair, surrounded by fluorescent plankton under a sky full of stars was a bliss. We woke up, as promised, anchored in paradise. Everybody jumped hastily in the water and I kept staring at the water, looking out for sharks. It became an ongoing joke on the boat, my shark phobia and me. Sharks should have been my last worry but I guess I didn’t know better. While swimming (yeah at some point I had to leave my safe place) to the (a bit too crowded for our liking) Nuinudup island, I unluckily stepped onto a sea urchin. I simply followed my trip mates: 6 of them swam and stepped on the island before me, 6 of them didn’t have any issue. Typical… I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry… I opted for laughing because 1) shit happens 2) the Kuna lady, who generously came to my help, asked M to pee on me… Some girls get a ring as a proof of love, well my very own M peed on me. Boom! Pain and embarrassment were temporarily forgotten by the sight of the feast prepared by Mike! He had brilliantly barbecued plenty of meat and vegetables. Having a very talented cook as a captain had its perks!
The next day, we reached the next island, Waisaladup, where, ladies and gentlemen, yours truly was convinced to snorkel. This must have been the most terrifying experience I have ever had. On my left side, a major drop into the scary open sea and on my right side, a peaceful underwater heaven and a beautiful reef. Maybe M sensed my panic (I did sound like a whale in distress through my snorkel), he held my hand and led me farther. I couldn’t believe it, I was there, almost enjoying it and feeling proud of my tiny achievement. A small step for the underwater world but a big one for me, myself and I! I almost felt like I was invincible! Well this was until I tried to swim to the island… The ocean had other plans for me and I had a painful encounter with some nasty jellyfish. Did the 6 others swim exactly where I swam? They sure did! I started to panic as the pain spread on my right side. I looked at M and told him I had been attacked (what?! A bit of drama queen effect cannot hurt) and urgently needed to swim back to the boat. I seriously didn’t think I could make it back. I could only think of the excruciating pain I was feeling – yes, my tolerance to pain is extremely low. Actually probably lower than low! But M distracted me with funny stories and we safely reached the boat. Mike, who couldn’t believe it (I mean seriously what are the odds to walk on a sea urchin AND get stung by jellyfish two days in a row?), poured vinegar on my burns (sorry M, no pee needed) and the relief was pretty immediate! Thank fukc!
We sailed to the next island, Ogoppukibdup where M and I got caught in a massive rain storm with lightening and thunder while exploring the tiny island. Scared to be hit by lightening (with my unlucky encounters two days in a row, I would say that my odds were quite high!), we started to run back to the Kuna settlement to realize that everybody had gone back to the boat. We could only wait and hope for a weather improvement. We hung out with the locals, stood in the rain and happily showered with this wonderful sweet water (ah the simple joys of life). M even made me swim back to the boat even though the currents were outrageously strong (this is how much he believes me!) and we made it with enough time to get ready for dinner Our dinner on the island was, and believe me I am a demanding witch when it comes to food, one of the best meals I have ever eaten. Mike, Juan Pablo and the Kuna people went out of their way to prepare some delicious lobster with coconut rice and some tasty octopus ceviche. Mike didn’t stop surprising me. After he easily won me over with his cooking, became my nurse (as it appeared M’s pee didn’t quite solve my urchin issue) taking the spine out of my food and turned into a story teller (what a life he has had!), I knew… I knew that I would trust this man with my life. This might sound dramatic but this was what I needed. I was looking for a captain whose passion for sailing and charisma would take my fears away. Fear, that night, left me and I was ready, filled with excitement and hope. Open sea no longer frightened me and I was now looking forward to sailing. Who would have thought?
The last day of island hopping went by quite quickly. Everybody went snorkeling and took over Sand island but I stayed on the boat, preferring to take some pictures. Our last stop on Quinquindup island was, by far, my favorite. No other humans in sight and the feeling to be a modern Robinson Crusoe. The amount of trash on the deserted beach was a sham though: a wake up call or a reminder that every single rubbish thrown out of a boat, any fridge, chair or backpack (or else! You would be surprised by the items we found!) might end up on a beautiful unspoiled beach (if not eaten first by a creature of the underwater world!). I am not better than anyone else but this definitely made me want to be careful and be a better human as we have only one planet! After this distressing, yet wonderful, time on Ogoppukibdup, it was time to leave the calm waters to face the open sea.
While we were sailing in the dark, surrounded by the noise of the tiny (2 to 3 meter high. Say whaaaat?) waves crashing on our boat, I sat there, unable to go to sleep as happiness took over my body and soul. I was happy and grateful, happy to be fear free, happy to share those unforgettable moments with M, happy to have met Mike and Juan Pablo, two beautiful souls. Once we were ready to sleep, it didn’t quite go according to plan and the sea became rougher than we would have liked. We were shuffled around (Imagine being on a plane with constant turbulences and no seat belt to safely keep you in place!) making sleeping quite impossible. Waves, at some point, were so strong that water entered our quarters, (literally) washing our sleepiness away. Luckily, the next day was nothing planned but chill, eat, fish. Repeat.
And what a beautiful day to sail to Colombia! The sun was shining and this was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Petrus had decided to be generous and for this, we were very grateful. We were doing good, time-wise and Mike was pretty optimistic about reaching Cartagena within 30 hours! Somehow the ocean had a different agenda: the waves got bigger and bigger and the currents were making it difficult to sail. Our speed ridiculously dropped so Mike decided to make a detour (yes, please) and overnight in a lagoon. We were delayed but safe and able to catch up on some sleep! Thanks Mike! The last leg of our sailing trip dragged out and most of us were ready to finally set a foot on the Colombian soil.
We were grateful to travel with those 5 dutchies, through their positivity and life loving state of mind and heart, they made our trip even more incredible and unforgettable. They probably didn’t realize that they helped me, as much as M and our crew did, to go over an irrational fear that had been anchored in me for years. A new me has arrived in Colombia and for this I have to thank those beautiful 8 souls, who through jokes and kind words, allowed me to fully enjoy our first (and surely not the last one) sailing trip and to long for more! After this sappy moment, it is that time again! Goodbye Panama, adios Central America and buenos días, Colombia!