Welcome to the jungle

The stunning 365 islands of San Blas offer many possibilities to free-dive, relax on beaches and bask in the sun in jaw-dropping scenery, but if you want to do a hike, you need to head inland and for us it was a great welcome to the jungle.

The jungles are thick and the rivers are infested with crocodiles, so it’s not something you should venture out on your own. We teamed up with Wade and Hodges off the catamaran Coco de Mer and arranged to have the master mola maker Lisa as our guide. Wade and Hodges were anchored at Salardup, so in the morning, Maggie and I jumped in our dinghy and sped 7 nautical miles over to Salardup and tied up to Coco, while we were on the tour. The dinghy ride itself was strenuous, because the seas were rougher than expected, but luckily we’re of Viking stock, so this was not a hindrance, but an encouragement 😉

Lisa came with a local canoe style boat and took us to land and up Rio Sidra. The entrance to Rio Sidra was well hidden and just finding it would have been challenging on your own. We headed upriver until the river became too shallow and proceeded on foot from there. We hiked up narrow paths bringing us further and further inland. We stopped by a local cemetery and got an introduction to Kuna burial traditions from Lisa. They bury their dead in hammocks and lower them into the ground in what I would consider a shallow grave. They pack mud on top of it and make sure a bamboo roof covers it. This they believe will allow the departing spirit to leave their bodies, unobstructed by concrete or anything else. It was interesting to note that they mix the Kuna religion with Christian crosses, so you saw Kuna’s buried in a traditional way, but with a cross as a headstone. The shallow graves are probably not the best way to bury the dead, because one of the bamboo roofs had a leak and there was a big hole in the ground underneath, leading straight down to the remnants of a body. We saw fabric down there and it looked freaky, like a zombie had dug its was out … alternatively that an animal had dug its way in…

In one of the densest part of the jungle we came upon a fresh puma or jaguar pawprint crossing the path. Lisa assured us that they don’t attack adults … She also told us about other tribes that live further inland that still practice cannibalism. We haven’t investigated the truth of the claims, but figure they will make a great story.

After a couple of hours hiking, we got to the top of the trail and could enjoy a refreshing dive into the cool river. There was a deep natural pool where we stopped, so you could properly jump in. We got a bit of a fright when something started biting us in the water. It turned out to be small fish marking their territory … I was thankful it wasn’t piranhas.

After a good hour of relaxing in the pool, we started an exhilarating hike/swim down the river. We would slide down small chutes and along the rocks, and jump down from higher cliffs. We swam through sections and hiked through others. In short it was great exercise and a ton of fun.

On the way we saw a spot where they were hollowing out canoes from a large fallen tree. Apparently it takes them close two two months to make a three-person canoe, so not exactly a model of German efficiency.

When we got down to the bottom, Lisa transported us back to Coco de Mer in the Salardup anchorage, where Hodges made a great tofu lunch. The hiking trip is definitely one of the highlights of our San Blas stay and highly recommended to anyone else feeling a bit adventurous, looking for some exercise.