Checking into the morning radio nets (SW Carib. Net 1315 UTC 6209 USB & Panama Connection Net 1330 UTC 8107 USB, VHF 72 is cruiser hailing and standby) gave us some idea of where to start exploring. Names of boats, people and places were noted as well as what was available there.
After a day we headed for Salardup (many of the island names end in dup - it must mean island in Kuna). Here (9d30.37'N, 78d47.63W, 30 ft) we were to meet 'Lisa' who was to be our guide for a 'river tour' up the Rio Sidra. Lisa is the infamous Kuna transvestite depicted in the Eric Bauhaus Panama cruising guide. She lived down to her her reputation and did not follow thru with her promise of a guided boat tour/hike which we heard from others often happens. We did buy a very intricate mola (native needlepoint handicraft) not from Lisa but from an elderly woman in a canoe traditionally dressed with leg beads and nose ring. Molas can take a few months to complete and cost $30 to $60. Here we meet some cruisers and shared some music, food and drink. One yacht was headed for Cartegena, Columbia for an IOL (lens) transplant for the captain (half price there, not for glaucoma, just corrective). The other was a young pregnant couple who worked as mega yacht skipper and stew and now trying to balance a cruising lifestyle on their own yacht with a home in Hungary.
Our next anchorage was off the uninhabited islet of Myriadup (9d29.69'N, 78d45.30'W, 40 ft) where we launched our Hobie inflatable tandem Mirage Drive kayak. Here we pedaled around the island and then attempted an open fire cookout in the rain (ala 'Man vs. Nature') with the young couple. Kurt set up a computer program for them allowing use of their Iridium satphone for email (there is little to no cell phone connectivity here).
We moved on to the popular 'Swimming Pool' anchorage between BBQ island and Banedup in the Eastern Hollandes (9d35.36'N, 78d40.56'W, 50 ft). Here the water is the clearest in the San Blas being farthest from the mainland and all the rain runoff. Snorkling was good south of Tiadup and we saw a ray and some barracuda in the pass between BBQ and Banedup. There is a couple that have been coming to (looked like staying at) the Swiming Pool for fifteen years. They would have a potluck BBQ on BBQ island every Monday night, cleared the tiny island of all debris, set up tables and other amenities. Recently whichever Kuna village has jurisdiction has taken over control and now charges a $2 landing fee. Needless to say the cruisers are not happy and many now boycott BBQ island.
Having seen the clearest water we now moved to the reputedly most beautiful anchorage: Eastern Coco Banderas (9d30.72'N, 78d37.06W, 30 ft). Here we found a spot amongst the seven other yachts anchored in amongst the four islets and went for another kayak to meet more cruisers. Kurt was even given a new sun/swim shirt to model as a promotional for www.nozone.com We also meet our second expat Austrian in one day. It seem not only Americans get stuck here for years. They all start off with plans of circumnavigating and find this area too beautiful to leave. If only they had made it to the South Pacific...