After deciding on sailing through the San Blas islands as my route to Panama I had to choose a boat. There were a few options but the one that swung it for the Giltano del Mer was the dog. Our captain had a boxer called Mystico who lived on the boat. For this reason I chose the catamaran that that had an 18 person capacity.
The night before our departure we all met JP, our captain, and Jinado, first mate and sushi chef, and our travel companions. There were 17 of us in total:
Josh and Emma, and Dominic and Chelsea from Australia;
Simon and Francie from New Zealand;
Cassie, Ryan and Lindsay from Texas;
Sophie, who I had already met, and Alexander from Holland;
Rachel and Claire from England like me;
Hadie from Jordan;
Philip from Switzerland;
And Lea from Germany.
Adding one more was Elsie, our chef and JP’s girlfriend.
The morning of our departure I spent preparing: changing currencies, buying snacks, visiting immigration and stocking up on alcohol supplies. The Caribbean is famed for pirates, and we all know pirates drink rum so Sophie and I bought a two litre bottle to keep us going over the next five days (as well as beers). As sunset approached we all boarded the ship, stowed our luggage, poured a drink and had a meal together. Then it was time to wave goodbye to Colombia and head out to sea.
Everyone says the crossing from Colombia to San Blas is pretty rough, it’s 30 hours out at sea, though coming the other way is meant to be even worse. JP tried to lighten the mood by arranging a bet. Everyone put in a dollar and drew the name of a travel companion. Whoever had the name of the first vomiter won the pot, unless of course they then were sick, then whoever had them would win. And so on. Rachel was first to go, and by a strange coincidence JP himself had drawn her… Unfortunate for Josh (who had me) because I was next after breakfast, and then lunch.
That first day was spent predominantly horizontal by all, better to deal with the movement, and I could barely eat. Until Jinado served up a sushi feast and I forced myself not to miss out, and then not to waste it to the ocean. Finally at 3am we reached San Blas. Ryan and I had a celebratory beer and then I went back to sleeping on deck under the stars.
The next two days were spent snorkelling, swimming to islands, hanging out in the water and sunbathing. It being wet season the heat wasn’t too oppressive and we did get some cloud cover which was good for a ginger like me.
I even got to hang my hammock one of the nights. We had a big party all together on the third night on one island, it was great to have everyone sat together joining in. Then the last night most of us had a bonfire on another island. JP is a fire artist and he, Elsie and Jinado put us on a show, before letting everyone else play with fire, do limbo and jump a flaming stick. Totally safe when everyone had been drinking, and lots of fun.
Then on the last day it was time for the strangest immigration I have every been to. We all rocked up in our swimwear, some of us wet from swimming over, waited on the island, then went back to the boat again. Very very informal! From there is was time for our transfer to Panama City, a water taxi followed by a winding jeep ride through the jungle.
Some people were headed straight off to Bocas on the overnight bus, or San Jose, but at least half were staying in PC for at least one night (myself included).
I can’t recommend the Giltano enough. We had a fab time and I’ve met people on other boats who didn’t. I managed to luck out yet again with the group, a big factor, but the crew were so awesome. They even provided a lobster dinner with one between two! Amazing.