Sofia (9)View from Caledonia Island towards Colombia

It is not that often I go very far off the gringo trail. However this time, the trail was cold. Gabi and I reached Panama, with only a few days buffer to get to Colombia. One minor detail stood in our way – the Darien Gap. Most people end their trip in Panama, or fly to South America. But this was too boring for us.

Legend says that the Pan American Highway stops here because of Colombian guerrillas, or the drug traffickers, or both. Travellers brave enough to venture the Gap do it illegally by foot, and often do not appear out the other side. I entertained the thought of lugging our 20kg bags kilometers across the unchartered swamp but that option wasn´t going to get us to Carnival on time!

The next option was to take an overpriced sail boat through the San Blas Archipelago followed by 40hrs open water sailing to Cartagena. This was more tempting, but they were all booked out.

The more I asked around the more rumors I heard of another way. A chance meeting through couchsurfing gave us confirmation that we could catch a highspeed boat through the San Blas to the border town of Puerto Obaldia, and then to Colombia. It sounded long and risky, but easy to set up. After a day of watching Iron Men in Panama City, we felt fearless. So that is what we did.

Sofia (2)Ironman  watching day in our new sports gear

SofiaEntering Kuna Territory, Note the fake guns

With extra money, beer, food and water we set out towards the San Blas islands. This is part of Kuna Indian territory and they have preserved the Caribbean feel well by keeping the area under populated. They guard their traditions and land by keeping land and business ownership strictly Kuna. On the way in, we receive a yellow poker chip as proof of tax payment to enter.

Sofia (1)Carti, a Kuna town

There are towns, consisting of several islands with lots of families living in huts, and then there are the tourist islands. These are further away and have 1 or 2 families looking after them. Some people go just to get drunk and party, while others go simply to bask in the sun. I fit into the latter category.

Sofia (3)Isla Diablo

Sofia (5)More Islands

Sofia (4)More Islands

We spent a couple of days on the beach on a quiet island, Isla Diablo, enjoying the sun and tranquility. The island had massive chunks of beautiful coral and huge conch shells on the beach. We spent our days swimming, snorkeling, collecting coral and shells, and making marcame creations. At night there was no electricity, so we went to bed with the sun. Our family took us to other islands and fed us chicken, fish, sea snail and lobster. It was a pretty good life.

Sofia (7)

We both knew once we hopped on the lancha our Central America dream paradise would be over, so were in no real hurry.
Our Island family was on to it though. One day they came up in urgency saying the next lancha was leaving in the morning. Not ready to leave our paradise, we wanted to ask all about the boat, but…

Sofia (8)Our sweet ride

Nek minnit we were getting shuttled away. So what if it was dubbed the ¨lancha de la muerte¨ we only had one way to get across the border now. It was a small cargo lancha, 0.5 stars with compulsory life jackets and a waterproof tablecloth to huddle under included. We thought the ride would be 6-8 hours, but after 10hours we got dropped off at a non-descript island somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Feeling stranded, we eat sardine sandwiches and go to sleep in our soggy hammocks.

 Sofia (10)Kuna Lady and Child looking out towards Colombia

Sofia (11)Fashion

The next day we make it to Puerto Obaldia, the last frontier of Central America. After a few hours waiting for the only photocopier in town to start working, we have the luck to catch our third lancha ride. This one nearly flipped a few times, but we make it to Carpurgana ok. We are finally in Colombia, next stop Carnival!!!

Sofia (12)Gabi conquering Colombia