Adventure Sail to Panama


Cocos Banderos Cays, San Blas Islands, Panama


October 18-19, 2007

We headed further East toward the Coco Banderos Cays, which are known for being the most beautiful islands in all of San Blas. There is a four-mile reef that extends around this island group and because it is far out away from the mainland and its rivers, these islands have some of the clearest waters. It was only a few miles from the Holandes Cays, but enroute we lost our GPS navigation system because the chart plotter overheated and blacked out. Mike grabbed the hand held GPS and started plotting points on a paper chart. He had a good time navigating the "old fashioned way", and that is how we made our way into the anchorage between Tiadup & Olosicuidup. Later, Capt. "McGyver" Mark fixed the chartplotter with a toothbrush.

We anchored in about 30ft of water, with 6 other boats in the anchorage.  We could see from our anchorage a large freighter wrecked on the reef nearby and we found out that it was on it’s way from Cartagena, Colombia to Colon, Panama and in a storm, the huge ship lost it’s way and ran up on the reef.  As soon as we set the anchor, the visitors started arriving - one cayuco after another with local people selling their wares.  The first person that arrived was Venancio Restrepo.  He had 2 boys paddling him around and in the cayuco were 2 five gallon buckets full of Molas.  He gave us his business card and it read Venancio Restrepo, Master Mola Maker, from Mormake tupu or Mola Maker Island, Kuna Yala, San Blas and even had his cell phone number on it!  He was very advanced and could speak English rather well.  We invited him aboard and he must have shown us 100 Molas.  They were the prettiest we had seen, the detail was astounding and he told us that some of the Molas take up to 4 months to make.  He had Molas from his whole family to sell.  We bought a good many Molas and sent Venancio on his way. 

A while later some Kuna men came with lobsters or “langustas” in their cayuco.  Yovanni, Antonio and Juan sold us 11 lobsters for $25, tails cut and cleaned.  They were a bit small, but the large lobster they had, probably weighing 6 lbs, they were selling it for $35!  Capt Mark grilled the lobsters for dinner along with some Mahi Mahi we had caught earlier on the trip.  It was succulent!!!  Much better than any lobster in a restaurant!  We had a few more vendors that day.  A Kuna man came by selling bread, which we gladly bought, and he told us he could deliver beer, sodas, take our garbage for us and anything else we needed. We thanked him for the bread, but had already planned to go to the island of Nargana the next day.  Nargana had a grocery store, restaurant, liquor store and more, so we opted to wait.

We snorkeled all over the anchorage and Capt Mark and Walter went out to the ship wreck to get some close-up shots.  We snorkeled around many reefs and explored some of the uninhabited islands - it was great! In the anchorage, the water was very deep in some places over 50 feet deep and there were starfish everywhere.

The next morning we listened to the Cruiser’s Net from Panama and were preparing for a snorkel when a young lady rowed over to our boat.  She was a young French girl named Katherine who asked us if we would like to see some jewelry.  We welcomed her aboard and she had a bag full of jewelry with a fantastic presentation.  She and her husband/boyfriend had been living in the anchorage for 4 years.  They had sailed a 27ft steel sloop from France via Africa.  She was very interesting and well traveled.  She gave us lots of good information on places to visit.  She and her husband make jewelry from a local nut that they find in the jungle called the tagua nut.  The jewelry is exquisite!  She called the seed “vegetable ivory” and they had used it in so many creative ways to create some beautiful works of art - they could sand it, cut it and dye it to create the desired effect.  All of the jewelry was gorgeous, but we held ourselves to just a few pieces.  Later that morning we all went snorkeling next to Olosicuidup.  The coolest snorkel sight so far, with tons of reef fish, coral heads, sea urchins, Bahamian conch and sea biscuits.  It was incredible!  Afterwards we weighed anchor for Nargana & Rio Diablo. 


Another gorgeous island of San Blas, there are so many islands there are not even names for all of them in the guidebooks, although the locals most likely have names for all of them

The freighter from Cartagena

There were a few other boats in the anchorage, a lot of cruisers seem to camp out in this area of Coco Bandero Cays

The Kuna people fished all day long


Kunas sailing a cayuco

Another cruiser in the anchorage

The little blue boat reminded us of "Bluey" it was a 27ft. steel boat that had sailed to San Blas from France

The couple living aboard had sold us some jewelry that they had made from the tagua nut

Kate's (Shelly's) haul from the Coco Bandero anchorage, sea urchins, a sea biscuit, a baby conch, coral, and a triton that had a crab in it, so we had to put it back

The anchorage at Coco Banderos

Sunset our first night at Coco Banderos

Nightfall on Stray Cat

Venancio Restrepo 

Master Mola Maker of Momaketupu or Mola Maker Island

These were by far the best Molas we had seen

The craftsmanship was far superior and Venancio told us about the layers

He told us how the numerous layers make the Molas more intricate and difficult and the more layers, the more time they take to make and also, the more expensive they are

The colors were fantastic

Capt Stu bought this one

Most had animals or flowers or geometric patterns on them

This was the Kuna Tribal Pattern

Very Tradicional Kuna

The colors were fantastic

Turtles or tortugas were very popular

Some Molas told a story, Venancio had one with Jonah being swallowed by a whale

There are lots of indigenous birds in San Blas

Venancio liked this one a lot and he had sewn these 2 Molas, so of course Kate ended up with them

Venancio, Kate & Stuart the "Mola Crew"

The Mola in Venancio's hands was 6 layers and he told us that it took him 4 months to make, he wanted $100 for it - he took that one home with him!


Kate's favorite pastime!

Blue Tang

Blue headed Wrasse

Not sure about the name, but this fish had the most vivid colors of any fish we saw

Blue Tang

Baby Blue



Flowers on the uninhabited island of Dupwala

Walter on the island of Dupwala 

Walter in Paradise

Palm trees in paradise


Kate was loving this life!

Snorkel Gear in Paradise

A King's Helmet, unfortunately the King was at home

A moon jelly

Walter with a Bahamian Conch, King's Helmet and a piece of coral, what a treasure!

I'm Angry!

A Starfish in the deep, there were lots of them from 20-40 feet deep

Our little speckle fish hiding in the coral

Spotfin Butterfly Fish

The elusive Queen Angelfish

Foureye Butterflyfish


More Coral



M&K with snorkel lines



Self-portrait at Olosicuidup

Mike Chillin'

Walt drinkin'

Walt G'in

Katherine selling jewelry

It was gorgeous and made of vegetable ivory or the tagua nut

She had all kinds

The presentation was very good!


I love earrings!!

Katherine and Kathleen with the Booty!

The small spirals on the coral head were animals that would suck back inside of the coral if you got to close to them 

The coral bubbles


More pipe organ coral

Another Trumpetfish

School's in!

It is impossible to look cool in a snorkel!

An incredible angelfish who was very camera shy

The freighter on the reef, it had wrecked on it's way from Cartagena, Colombia to Colon, Panama

Most of the middle section of the ship had been destroyed from constantly being battered on the reef

The bridge deck or pilothouse

My new jewelry rocks!

More Molas!!!!!!!!!!!!!  This happened at least everyday

Here is the daily catch

The lobster Yovanni is holding probably weighed 6lbs and he wanted $35 for it!

We bought 11 lobsters for $25 from Yovanni, Antonio & Juan

Yovanni cut the tails and cleaned the poop out for us

These are called Caribbean Spiny Lobster they are delicioso!!!

The water was some of the clearest we had seen

The locals would keep the heads, boil them, and make soup with them

Walter was purchasing Molas

Capt Mark reading the travel guide



Capt Mark trying for some dinner

La Reyna (the Queen) as she was called by the locals for, being the only girl on board

Another Incredible Sunset!!

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